Matt Dillahunty’s Morality: Right or Wrong?

event_194677242I’ve written in the past about my objections to Matt Dillahunt’s secular morality arguments, how he thinks you can defend an objective morality based on a non-theistic viewpoint and my problems with such claims.  On a recent Atheist Experience show (I say recent because I’m out nearly a month in my posts so it won’t be the most recent by the time you read this), a caller wanted to argue theistic vs. secular morality and Matt made some good arguments and he made some bad arguments.  These were significantly different from what he’d said in the past, or at least what I’d addressed in the past, that it made me want to jump in and address them.

Now before we get going, I want to state unequivocally that I don’t dislike Matt Dillahunty in any way.  Sure, there are some areas in which we disagree, sometimes fundamentally, but I think that he’s done a lot of good for atheism and he’s become a recognizable face for atheism across the nation and around the world and for that, I thank him for all of his hard work and dedication to the “cause”.  I don’t keep going after his views because I have the slightest bit of dislike for him as a person, but because he’s a vocal advocate for his positions and because I am an avid viewer of a TV show that he hosts regularly, thus I get to see his views on a weekly basis.

There are some really good things he did in the above show and, in my opinion, some less than good things.  First, he addressed the caller’s claim that being an atheist means that you inherently have no moral views or values.  This is a point I’ve made often, that we, as humans, get our morality not from an imaginary friend in the sky, but from ourselves and our societies.  Some people will further drape their religious beliefs over those secular morals and claim that they came from a deity, but this is demonstrably untrue.  Being an atheist says nothing about one’s morals, any more than being a theist does.  Stalin was, indeed, an atheist, but his morality did not come from atheism.  He was not a moral or immoral man because he was an atheist, he never made a claim that atheism made him act in any fashion whatsoever.  Of course, Hitler claimed, on more than one occasion, that his belief in God did make him do the horrendous things that he did and many theists, if they are even aware of this fact, desperately try to find some way around this undeniable fact, to the point of bodily ejecting Hitler from Christianity on the basis of not liking what he did in its name.

But then, I feel, Matt went off the rails.  Granted, he is ostensibly part of the absurd Atheism+ movement, although he exists on the fringes and not at the center with people like PZ Myers and Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina and the like.  He wants atheism to have some meaning beyond not believing in gods.  He does, unlike the others, recognize that atheism means one thing and one thing only and for that he gets credit, but he wants to surgically attach secularism and humanism and other typically-liberal positions to atheism, such that when they say “atheism”, they mean “atheism+other stuff”.  That’s where I vehemently disagree, I’m satisfied to leave atheism on it’s own and if I want to talk about secular humanism or feminism or whatnot, I can do that entirely separate from atheism.  Atheism means nothing beyond not believing, it has no beliefs, it has no creeds, it has no teachings, it has nothing whatsoever beyond non-belief.  The second you start talking about anything else, you’re no longer talking about atheism, you’re talking about something else.  It does a serious disservice to atheists when some start treating it as anything but what it is.  I, for instance, am not a feminist.  I’ve explained why several times in the past.  I am not a secular humanist.  I am not a transhumanist (some atheists seem to think the terms are interchangable).  I am not a liberal.  I disagree on many different levels with the views of the Atheism+ crowd and do not want to be tarred with their ideas.  In other words, I don’t want their social movements in my atheism and they don’t want my atheism in their social movements.  They are not two great tastes that taste great together.

Therefore, I think the best course of action here is to acknowledge that atheism, in and of itself, leads nowhere, but that luckily, humans do not have a single label attached to themselves, they can adopt many different and wholly distinct aspects to their beliefs and personality.  Matt can identify himself, if he wishes, as both an atheist and a secular humanist.  He can identify as a feminist.  He can identify as a liberal.  None of those labels has any impact whatsoever on the others.  Being a feminist does not lead one to be a liberal, nor vice versa.  Being an atheist does not push one to be a secular humanist, nor vice versa.  These are all distinct positions that one can hold which do not in any way require that one also adopt other beliefs or ideas.  Atheism, like not collecting stamps, doesn’t say anything about what  you do believe or collect, just what  you do not.

I really wish people in the Atheism+ “movement” would stop and consider the ramifications and logic behind their beliefs, but the craziest of them are probably beyond salvation.  For those who aren’t swigging the Koolade, and I’d like to think that Matt Dillahunty is one of them, thinking about how he presents ideas and whether or not those ideas are reasonable, probably ought to be important, after all, his voice is heard world-wide and I think that gives him a responsibility to consider not only what he says, but how he says it, especially if he wants to be seen as a reasonable, rational, credible spokesperson.  If  you’re going to push critical thinking as your primary goal, being able to critically evaluate your own beliefs seems to be paramount to avoiding hypocrisy.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he and all other so-called “leaders” in the atheist “community” actually think about what they say before they say it and measure all of their positions against the same metric as they do theistic belief. Otherwise, how are they any better than people like Matt Slick and Ray Comfort?

6 thoughts on “Matt Dillahunty’s Morality: Right or Wrong?

  1. I, of course, agree that the label of atheism only addresses one's belief or lack of belief in god(s), but if one believes in transcendent morality and is also an atheist one must explain that–which I don't think one could. I doubt Mr. Dillahunty would say he believes in transcendent morality, as most theists do, rather he seems to believe in a definition of morality which may be applied objectively.
    My recent post Why History isn't Scientific (And Why It Can Still Tell Us About the Past)

    1. I honestly can't answer that question and I'm pretty sure he can't either. In fact, on today's Atheist Experience, a theist called up and asked him why slavery is wrong and Matt ranted at him and hung up on him, but he didn't actually answer the question. It is a question that deserves an intellectual, entirely non-emotional answer and I dob't think he has one. I think you're right on the money that this is an emotional position that he holds and he cannot really explain why he holds that position in purely rational terms.

  2. I have to disagree with critic.
    Since Atheism has only one statement : " I Believe No God exist", any other statement by atheist can be subject of disagreement with other atheists. In that case any form of organized public activity is futile.
    Answering frequently asked question :"You don't believe in God so you don't believe in anything?" Dillahunty made it clear number of times that Atheism refers to only one single proposition/belief. As for other beliefs atheists do or do not share the same standpoint.

    1. Except that's not what atheists say. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods, not the belief gods don't exist. Certainly some atheists can say that as well but that's not what defines atheism. I've made the point many times that morality and other belief systems are not actually atheist, they are things that happen to be held by atheists, but there isn't really a way to get to a "correct" view from atheism than it is to get to a "correct" moral view from enjoying spaghetti. These things just have nothing to do with each other.

      1. Both statements are correct. It depends on the context. If the question is: God exist or God doesn't exist? The answer is I believe no God exist.
        I agree with you about atheism and other belief systems. The point I was tryin' to make is that you expect Matt will somehow strictly stick to Atheism without attaching his world views and that's irracional.
        How would you debate a theist on the question of morality without attaching your other (non)beliefs?

        1. If the question is "does God exist or does God not exist" that's a false dichotomy, the fact is, we don't know, depending on how God is defined. In fact, many theists define God specifically in a way that the question can never be answered, but in the absence of evidence for God, a rational person cannot believe in God.

          I don't expect Matt to stick to atheism when he talks about morality because atheism has nothing whatsoever to say about morality. His moral arguments have other problems. He tries to say that his arguments are objective when they are, in fact, subjective. He decides how he wants to frame the moral question, but he does so subjectively, that's my primary concern. I don't know that you can really debate theists on morality, any more than you can really debate them on the existence of God, because they really have nothing other than "my imaginary friend says so" and there's nothing to actually debate. Morality, in and of itself, is inherently subjective and therefore you must attach other beliefs and positions. Trying to debate it with people who think it's objective, handed down from on high or defined into existence in a certain way, those people really cannot be debated with at all.

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