I know I bring this up time and time again but that’s because it comes up time and time again and, at least in my view, it just keeps getting more and more absurd. On an episode of The Atheist Experience, I can’t say the most recent anymore because by the time this actually posts, it will be a distant memory, but people called in challenging Matt Dillahunty’s view of morality and, as shocking as it might be, I think the people who challenged him were a lot more correct than Matt is! I’ve talked about it before, you can go read my fundamental disagreements of his position
The problem is, Matt is choosing a view to look at morality and then imposing it on everyone. He is adopting a standard, in this case “suffering” and expecting that it is the only standard that anyone ought to deal with. Take his personal bugaboo, slavery, for a moment. He is personally choosing a criteria by which he is evaluating morality and then declaring anyone who chooses a different criteria to be objectively wrong. However, take a look at it from the perspective of a slave owner. Their own criteria, I would assume, would make Matt wrong in their eyes. I suspect Matt doesn’t care, but to watch him rant and not even recognize that his own choice of a criteria is subjective is really absurd. Matt picks a criteria that matches his personal views, just like the slave owner would pick a criteria that matches his personal views. It’s all opinion and while I’m certain that Matt thinks his opinion is best, that doesn’t mean it actually is, it’s just the one he favors.
The fact remains, there is no objective morality at all! That doesn’t mean that there is a relative morality, that everyone is right in whatever moral view they choose, simply because it appeals to them, but that *NOBODY* is right! Right and wrong don’t even enter into it. There is no single correct moral standard on any question you can ask. Unfortunately, this makes a lot of people uncomfortable for reasons I’ve detailed in the past. Most people don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their morality. They don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their beliefs. They just want something that they can cling to for the long term that they don’t have to think about on a daily or weekly basis. They desperately want to believe that they’ve got the truth all locked up and never have to worry about it again. That’s not a rational position to hold.
What Matt doesn’t seem to recognize is that he’s doing the exact same thing as the theists. They select a moral criteria that appeals to them. He did so himself when he was a Christian. When he stopped being a Christian, he selected a different criteria, probably several of them as he transitioned from a Southern Baptist to an atheist. I am sure that, during each and every phase of that transition, his moral views were absolutely correct and true, but clearly that wasn’t the case as he ended up rejecting each of them in turn for something that he thought, at the time, was better. Theists believe that whatever moral standards that are laid down by their deity are true. If they are ever convinced to change religions, say from Christianity to Islam or Buddhism or whatever, those moral standards will change. Does that mean that they didn’t think that the moral standards they believed at the time were true? Of course not. It just means that they changed their mind. Matt can also change his mind, he’s already proven that. Does that mean that, when he was a Southern Baptist, he knew that the morals he was following at that time were false? Certainly not, I doubt he would have followed them if he did.
Ultimately, rights and morals only come out of the collective decision-making of a culture or society. There was a time in America where owning slaves was perfectly fine, it was legal and moral and slaves had few if any rights. Times changed. Society stopped accepting one view and started accepting another view. Today, we have a diametrically opposite moral opinion than we did several hundred years ago. Does that make the old view inherently wrong? Absolutely not, any more than if, in the future, American society again adopts slavery, that makes our views today inherently wrong. There was a time when women had no rights. The fact that they do today does not mean that the people in the past were wrong all along, it just means that we have different views. There was a time when Jews were hated in Germany, among other places, and that went on for hundreds of years, leading up to the Holocaust. Today, we find that abhorrent but that doesn’t change the views of the past, nor make them objectively wrong. The reality is that morals evolve and change constantly as the whims of society change. When it change, it doesn’t alter the reality of the old views, it just means we don’t think that way anymore and, unfortunately, people are supremely convinced that what they think right this second is automatically what everyone ought to have always thought everywhere.
This really comes into play when you have two societies with entirely different views on morality that come into conflict. Who is right? Who is wrong? It doesn’t matter. There have been plenty of wars fought over morality, from the Civil War in America to World War II and in both cases, the bigger guns won the war but didn’t really prove that the losing morals were actually any worse. Bigger guns do not have anything to say about objective morality.
In the end, these debates on morality only work if people are willing to accept each other’s basic premises. If not, people need to be willing to debate which, if either, premises is correct. The whole point of The Atheist Experience is “what do you believe and why”, but apparently that doesn’t apply to Matt’s views on morality because he’s shown himself to be unwilling to debate the “why” behind his moral position. In fact, he’s proven himself to get entirely and irrationally emotional whenever someone questions is views. He hangs up on people. That’s not how you debate. If you cannot support your views with something better than “I like this”, is it really a rational view to have?