Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Do atheists believe that slavery is wrong? Can atheists condemn slavery as immoral?

Note: For a Christian response to the complaint that the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, see this article and this article for slavery in the Old Testament, and this article for slavery in the New Testament. These are all by Christian philosopher Paul Copan. You can watch a lecture with Paul Copan on the slavery challenge here, and buy a book where he answers the challenge in more detail. There is also a good debate on whether the Bible condones slavery here, featuring David Instone-Brewer and Robert Price. My post is not a formal logical essay on this issue, it is more that I am outraged that atheists, who cannot even rationally ground objective morality, insist on criticizing the morality of the Bible. I think that atheists who are serious about finding the truth about these issues should check out those links, if they are interested in getting to the truth of these matters.

In other posts, I’ve argued that without an objective moral standard of what is right and wrong, any judgments about right and wrong are just individual opinions. So, when an atheist says slavery is wrong, what he really means is that he thinks slavery is wrong for him, in the same way that he thinks that,say, that chocolate ice cream is right for him. He isn’t saying what is wrong objectively, because on atheism there are no objective moral rules or duties. He is speaking for himself: “I wouldn’t own a slave, just like I wouldn’t eat broccoli – because it’s yucky!”. But he has no rational argument against other people owning slaves in other times and places, because their justification for owning slaves is the same as his justification for not owning slaves : personal preference.

So do atheists oppose slavery? Do they believe in an objective human right to liberty? Well, there are no objective human rights of any kind on atheism. Human beings are just accidents in an accidental universe, and collections of atoms do not mysteriously accrue “rights”. There is no natural right to liberty on atheism. Now consider abortion, which is arguably very similar to slavery. Most atheists do favor abortion in this time and place. Like slavery, abortion declares an entire class of weaker people as non-persons in order to justify preserving their own happiness and prosperity by means of violence. That’s exactly what slavery does, except abortion is worse than slavery, because you actually kill the person you are declaring as a non-person instead of just imprisoning them.

So how many atheists have this pro-abortion view that it is OK to declare unborn children  as non-persons so they can kill them?

Well, according to Gallup, the “non-religious” are the group most likely to support abortion. In fact, 68% favor legalized abortion, compared to only 19% who oppose it.

Take a look at the Gallup poll data from 2012:

Atheists are OK with the strong killing the weak

Most atheists are OK with the strong killing the weak

The Gallup numbers might actually be low, because “No religion” might include people who are spiritual, but not religious. But what about atheists alone?

As a group, atheists tend to be among the most radical supporters of legalized abortion. The Secular Census of 2012 found that 97% of atheists vote for abortion. There are almost no pro-life atheists. Why is it that atheists look at unborn children and think it’s OK to kill them? Well, let’s see what atheists scholars think about morality, and we’ll find out why they think abortion is OK.

Atheist scholars think morality is nonsense

Atheist William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

Source: http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm

Atheists Michael Ruse says atheists have no objective moral standards:

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.(Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

Atheist Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

Let’s take a closer look at Richard Dawkins.

Richard Dawkins and morality

Here’s how far Dawkins takes his view that there is no evil and no good:

Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism

Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism

But wait! He goes even further than mere abortion:

So, looking at Dawkins, what kind of ethic can you get from Darwinism and atheism? Survival of the fittest. The strong kill the weak.

Richard Dawkins even advocates for adultery.

Now atheists may feign morality in order to get along with other people in a society that is still anchored in Judeo-Christian values, but they tend to vote for liberal social policies, and they oppose political action by those who still hold to objective morality. So what they are working toward, generally, is less and less influence in politics by those who favor objective human rights, objective moral values and objective moral duties. 

So do atheists oppose slavery, or don’t they?

I actually don’t think that atheists think slavery is morally wrong, although they might personally not want to own slaves in this time and place because slavery is illegal – thanks to Judeo-Christian values. But in other areas, like abortion, we can see that atheists are willing to use violence against the weak to augment their happiness and prosperity. Unborn babies are weak, like slaves. Atheists are willing to kill the weak unborn babies who stop them from pursuing pleasure and prosperity. I don’t see how they would have any objections to enslaving other people if they had the strength to do so. In fact, unjust imprisonment and forced labor are happening in atheistic North Korea right now.

But do you know who does oppose slavery enough to do something about it?

Dinesh D’Souza explains:

Slavery was mostly eradicated from Western civilization–then called Christendom–between the fourth and the tenth century. The Greco-Roman institution of slavery gave way to serfdom. Now serfdom has its problems but at least the serf is not a “human tool” and cannot be bought and sold like property. So slavery was ended twice in Western civilization, first in the medieval era and then again in the modern era.

In the American South, Christianity proved to be the solace of the oppressed. As historian Eugene Genovese documents in Roll, Jordan, Roll, when black slaves sought to find dignity during the dark night of slavery, they didn’t turn to Marcus Aurelius or David Hume; they turned to the Bible. When they sought hope and inspiration for liberation, they found it not in Voltaire or D’Holbach but in the Book of Exodus.

The anti-slavery movements led by Wilberforce in England and abolitionists in America were dominated by Christians. These believers reasoned that since we are all created equal in the eyes of God, no one has the right to rule another without consent. This is the moral basis not only of anti-slavery but also of democracy.

And, in fact, you can see Christians pushing the culture hard against abortion today, just as we did with slavery. Defending the weak is what we do. Meanwhile, most atheists think that an unborn child has as much of a right to legal protection as a cockroach.

UPDATE: I don’t know what’s was wrong with my brain yesterday but I totally forgot to mention the growth of the national debt under Pelosi/Reid/Obama. The Democrats have more than doubled the national debt to $17 trillion so that those who are older and more wealthy can increase their own standard of living and make their weaker children (born and unborn) pay for it. So now we have it for certain. Most atheists do in fact believe in slavery, since atheists are one of the most reliable voting groups for the Democrat Party.

UPDATE: I have to put in this caveat to this post from commenter George Yancey:

Great post Wintery. I do have to make one correction as a social scientist although I agree with your philosophical arguments. Stating that 97 percent of all atheists vote to support abortion is a little misleading. I have no doubt that atheists are more likely to support abortion than Christians however, merely voting for liberal politicians – who are the ones more likely to support abortion – does not mean that a person supports abortion. They may support that politician for a lot of other reasons rather than abortion. For example, a lot of African-Americans support liberal politicians but not abortion. So I suspect that the 97 percent is too high of a figure to use to indicate atheists support of abortion.

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18 Responses

  1. WorldGoneCrazy says:

    Powerful connecting of the dots, WK! One of your finest posts ever. Good show!

    What is your best apologetic response to a possible deist, but more likely an atheist, who says that their guiding philosophy is that it is permissible to “do whatever is nice to others?” (Obviously this outlaws abortion and slavery, but you will find that such a person is often a pro-abort and pro-euthanasia, and would have been pro-slavery in olden times – in the name of “choice.”)

  2. John Moore says:

    Again, atheists get morality from universal, immutable human nature. You do yourself and your fellow Christians a disservice by ignoring this idea. To say atheists are simple moral relativists is a straw man.

    It’s also a perversion of evolutionary theory to say it advocates the strong killing the weak. If you are looking for honest truth, you’ve got to get more sophisticated in your thinking.

    • Remington says:

      >> atheists get morality from universal, immutable human nature.

      How does an immutable human nature square with evolution? What does it mean for human nature to be immutable if it arose over time from non-human nature and will eventually disappear into some other species nature?

      Aside from that, you just assert that human nature gives us morality. But even many atheists don’t think it’s possible to get objective morality from human nature. And WK quoted several atheists who would obviously disagree with you about objective morality coming from human nature, since they don’t think there is objective morality. I could add several other atheist philosophers, some of them specializing in ethics, who don’t believe atheism has room for objective morality (e.g., Joel Marks). So how do you derive an “ought” from the “is” of human nature?

      >>It’s also a perversion of evolutionary theory to say it advocates the strong killing the weak.

      Evolutionary theory per se doesn’t advocate anything. But evolution is often thought as a “progressive” process by it’s advocates and the general public. Strictly speaking, evolution just means change. So you could have a species evolve even if its considered regressive given some values we might have. But most people think adapting for survival is a good thing and so evolution makes “progress.”

      Now for evolution to occur it doesn’t require predation just as such, but it seems to be a fact of history that evolution has occurred with the help of predation and we wouldn’t be where we are today without it. Since people tend to think we’re in a pretty good location in terms of the food-chain and our capacities then we should be thankful to past predations. Future predation could further species even more and with human cognitive faculties we could put predation to even better use.

      So while evolutionary theory per se doesn’t advocate predation, it fits nicely within it, has occurred through it, and atheism provides no grounds for moral objections to it.

    • Remington says:

      John,

      After perusing the blog a bit more I see that you’ve been on this merry-go-round before. So let me add to my response to take into account your other assertions made elsewhere.

      Elsewhere, you say:

      >>From the grand cosmic point of view, nothing can be right or wrong, according to the atheists.

      What exactly is “the grand cosmic point of view” here? Obviously it’s not a literal statement, since the cosmos has no “point of view”. What I suspect many atheists mean when they use such language is “how things really are” or “how reality is, objectively”. And if that’s what you mean then you’re just conceding that there really is no objective morality.

      >>The difference is that atheists think the grand cosmic point of view doesn’t matter. Only our human point of view matters.

      Too bad there is no “human point of view” anymore than there is a “cosmic point of view.” There is human *pointS* of viewS. That, is different humans have different points of views about morality and values. Thus, you haven’t escaped relativism.

  3. alycevayle says:

    An outstanding post. If were braver, I would be more free with my opinions on these subjects. IVF is another area of concern for me. In my home country of Australia, it is illegal to pay a woman to be a birth surrogate or to donate an egg or sperm. From what I know, in many other countries, paying women to ‘rent’ their wombs is commonplace. Particularly in India and Greece. I think this is unethical, as (as you say) humans should never be bought and sold. With the growing prominence of families that use assisted reproduction for various reasons, I predict we will see more of this. In fact, with just a credit card now, I can buy sperm, and egg and a womb online and create my own child.

    Freaks me out.

  4. I don’t know what’s was wrong with my brain yesterday but I totally forgot to mention the growth of the national debt under Pelosi/Reid/Obama. The Democrats have more than doubled the national debt to $17 trillion so that those who are older and more wealthy can increase their own standard of living and make their weaker children (born and unborn) pay for it. So now we have it for certain. Most atheists do in fact believe in slavery, since atheists are one of the most reliable voting groups for the Democrat Party.

    Reference:

    http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

    • Jarrod says:

      Hi OP,

      I’d like to begin on a note of agreement. As an atheist, I agree that (without an objective moral standard), moral referents are reducable to some degree of opinion, or (at the very least) to some mind-dependent condition. I’m not sure what to make of the (rather odd) claim that there are no objective moral values “on atheism” however.

      I’m also not sure what to make of your asking the question “Do they believe in an objective human right to liberty?” immediately after declaring that they don’t or can’t. Was this question rhetorical, or do you really want to know? Is this a polemic and uncritical slam against a position you don’t understand, or are you actually interested in learning about what other people really believe?

      You misrepresented the Gallup poll, so I trust I needn’t spend much time on that. The poll addressed the level of support for legalization of abortion, not the practice of abortion as a morally-significant act. To conflate the two is a fallacy. I (for one) believe that the practice of Christianity is immoral, but I wouldn’t support its being outlawed. If you have data on the number of atheists who are actually in favor of the act of abortion, we can discuss that.

      Your claim that “atheist scholars think morality is nonsense” is just a lie. I’m not aware of a single atheist moral philosopher who says this. I notice that you chose to quote evolutionary scientists, so it shouldn’t be any more a suprise to you than it is to me that they might well not have anything interesting to say about the topic of atheistic ethical philosophy. They aren’t philosophers.

      Yes, I oppose slavery as a moral obligation. I’ve even a more radical opposition to slavery that those who have no objection to the form of slavery outlined in the OT of the Christian bible. Any form of the owning of human beings as property is wrong, including indentured servitude. It would be wrong even if ancient Jew practiced it, and even if the creator of the universe permitted it.

      • Remington says:

        Jarrod,

        >>I agree that (without an objective moral standard), moral referents are reducable to some degree of opinion, or (at the very least) to some mind-dependent condition. I’m not sure what to make of the (rather odd) claim that there are no objective moral values “on atheism” however.

        “Objective” in “objective moral values” simply means morality which is not based on what people think… in other words, mind-independent. If you agree that moral values are mind-dependent then you should have no trouble agreeing that there are no objective moral values “on atheism” (on the condition that atheism is true).

        >> The poll addressed the level of support for legalization of abortion, not the practice of abortion as a morally-significant act.

        It’s hard to see what sort of moral objection an atheist could have to abortion, while maintaining that abortions should be legal, all while being consistent. Most abortion supporters that I’ve run into use arguments that would remove any possible moral objection to abortion, since the “fetus” has the same status as a tumor.

        >>Your claim that “atheist scholars think morality is nonsense” is just a lie. I’m not aware of a single atheist moral philosopher who says this.

        Joel Marks.

        >>I notice that you chose to quote evolutionary scientists… They aren’t philosophers.

        Michael Ruse is a philosopher, not a scientist.

        >>Yes, I oppose slavery as a moral obligation

        The question isn’t “do atheists have moral beliefs?” It’s obvious that they do. You assertions about what you believe about slavery doesn’t tell us anything interesting. The question is whether they can provide any rational, objective ground for those beliefs. Since you said you agree that moral values are mind-dependent, you agree that they can’t.

      • xcheshirecatx says:

        Jarrod, the following quote you made gets to the heart of the issue: ” Any form of the owning of human beings as property is wrong, including indentured servitude. It would be wrong even if ancient Jew practiced it, and even if the creator of the universe permitted it.”

        You state a definitive “wrong” in that sentence, which implies a standard that differentiates between right and wrong. If I disagree with your standard (as many people throughout history have), tell me why you are objectively “right” and I am objectively “wrong”.

  5. George Yancey says:

    Great post Wintery. I do have to make one correction as a social scientist although I agree with your philosophical arguments. Stating that 97 percent of all atheists vote to support abortion is a little misleading. I have no doubt that atheists are more likely to support abortion than Christians however, merely voting for liberal politicians – who are the ones more likely to support abortion – does not mean that a person supports abortion. They may support that politician for a lot of other reasons rather than abortion. For example, a lot of African-Americans support liberal politicians but not abortion. So I suspect that the 97 percent is too high of a figure to use to indicate atheists support of abortion.

    • Well, that’s true. It’s possible that many either don’t know about who supports abortion, or they think that it is not an important enough issue to stop them from voting for liberals.

  6. In response to your update, the unborn won’t have to pay for it. Remember all those options that Planned Parenthood provides?

  7. Bob says:

    Actually slavery, infanticide and abortion share common grounds if we look at history right back from the ancient times.

    Slavery is the idea that some in the human race are not fully developed/evolved hence the fully developed/evolved can treat them like their properties. This is different from the word slavery used in the Bible which is more about a way for someone who could not pay their debt to be debt free.

    Abortion says my body my choice much like supporters of slavery said my properties my choice.

    Infanticide was very common throughout the ancient worlds across all cultures until Christianity spread throughout the worlds. The reasons for people to kill (or leave them to die in the wild, which they did not consider as murder) their newborns back in the ancient worlds are the same reasons most people support abortions nowadays: wrong genders, financial/economic burden, disability, maintaining social status / career, eugenic (improving the genetics of the race), the law back then also supported the ‘right’ of people to kill their newborns (there’s even one that said it’s okay as long as you do it before you feed the newborn, after you feed your baby for the first time it’s not okay to kill them. Also Roman law actually compelled their citizens to kill disabled babies).

  8. WorldGoneCrazy says:

    “I (for one) believe that the practice of Christianity is immoral, but I wouldn’t support its being outlawed.”

    Jarrod, don’t you believe that Christianity is immoral in the sense that it is a human rights’ abuse toward individuals and it is terribly bad for societies – much in the same way slavery is / was? That is a view held by many atheists, otherwise why the fight, why the billboards, if it is just a personal preference?

    If this is your position, why on earth would you NOT want to outlaw such a “heinous human rights immorality?” Doesn’t this reluctance on your part to outlaw Christianity just confirm that atheism is “anything goes” and unground-able?

    Also, don’t you think that most atheists, at least in America, are really just anti-Christians? When I was a non-theist, I really did not care for Christians. I mean REALLY. But, I loved Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, some deists, and also hard-core atheists like in the past, say, Bertrand Russell and even Carl Sagan. (Yes, I DO realize that both men described themselves as agnostics, but they both spoke publicly as atheists, making atheistic proclamations.) It never really occurred to me that I was less a non-theist and more an anti-Christian. I’m not trying to force you into the same box that I was in, please forgive me, but isn’t it true that the big topic at atheist meetings is “those darn Christians?”. :-)

    BTW, a few years ago, I debated (informally in a restaurant) a state chapter president of the American Atheists. It took me 5 minutes to convert him from calling himself an atheist to labeling himself a non-theistic agnostic, which is at least intellectually honest on his part – and I complimented him for moving off such nonsense. I’m sure there ARE atheists making a positive case for the statement “there is no god,” but it sure seems like modern atheists are reluctant to stand firm in their faith. Am I missing something here?

    Blessings to you, Jarrod, and I mean that sincerely.

  9. This topic will be especially timely in FEBRUARY, “Black History Month” when the subject is annually be front and center.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    A commenter on my Thinking Christian blog once wrote that in light of his moral relativism, “Yes, I do give up the right to say that slavery, child abuse, and suttee (sati) were wrong in their times and places.” They were, after all, culturally accepted norms.

    I’ve quoted that to various audiences, mostly in the south, saying that what it means is he thinks that right here in Greensboro, SC (for example), in 1846, slavery was not wrong.

    Frankly it’s difficult even for me to say that sentence out loud, even though I’m not affirming it, I’m contradicting it.

    The audience has always been visibly uncomfortable if not openly disturbed.

    Yet this was the fully consistent and rational conclusion this gentleman (a college professor) drew from his (irrational) premises of moral relativism. He went on to say that he could “not like” slavery and he could fight against it. But where it was culturally accepted, he could not call it wrong.

    • And they are so anxious all the time to malign the Bible and its moral teachings, on the basis of their own personal preferences. I think that Christians need to be alert to this – every time an atheist makes a moral statement, hold them accountable to explain the rational basis for it.

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