Religious Reasoning

altruismYou’ve heard the saying “If there is no god, then everything is permitted.”

Let’s just go with the dubious assumption that any god that exists must be one that grants or withholds permission.
The statement then is a tautology. It is tantamount to saying “If there is no one granting or withholding permission, everything is permitted.” The utterer has said nothing, and nothing has been learned. At this juncture, there are 2 possible directions to take.

  1. Try to determine whether or not there is a “permissioner”.
  2. Start with the assumption that there must be behaviors that are granted or denied permission, then look for the “permissioner”.

Why start with the assumption in #2? The following statement I have heard far too many times, and seems to be the reason that #2 is the default starting point rather than #1.

“What would prevent you from being a mass murderer if you did not believe in god?”

This rhetorical question is disturbing for the following reasons.

  • It shows a disturbing portrait of self. In order to assume that others would become this “evil” if there is no god, it reveals the disturbing fact that the person asking this rhetorical question is convinced that they themselves have the potential to become this “evil” if they were to lose their belief that there is a god. Could this be the reason that incarceration rates are often very high in countries with strong god-beliefs?
  • It shows an ignorance of the world. It ignores the very altruistic side of humanity. The empirical data do not support the notion of an inherently sinful soul. A week in an “atheistic” country such as Sweden or Japan might be convincing enough, but there are also many statistics available on-line that demonstrate that the “evil soul of the godless” assumption is just plain nonsense.
  • It shows a lack of confidence in human reasoning. Theists assume that humans are incapable of discovering solutions to ethical dilemmas. We must be handed a prescription to follow rather than using critical thinking to come to a decision that is the best for all parties concerned. The absence of a “permissioner” places all the responsibility for ethical decisions on cognitive individuals. Those who find this responsibility daunting may attempt to default to the notion of a “permissioner” who prescribes all such decisions, making their participation in a society inflexible and troublesome.
  • It shows ineptitude in reasoning. There is no reason to suppose that the absence of a “permissioner” would lead to evil behavior. The only reason for this seems to be that the “permissioner” most theists default to is the god of the Abrahamic scriptures, and these scriptures paint a very dark portrait of the human soul. So the reasoning is circular since the “permissioner” that is defaulted to out of need for such a “permissioner” is alleged to have described the human soul as “evil” in the very scriptures that generate the concept of the “permissioner”. This claim of a “sinful soul” then makes a choice in that particular “permissioner” an imperative. This is blatantly circular.
  • It is evidence against the alleged relationship between the utterer and the “permissioner” who presumably is also guiding them into truth and away from arguments that are clearly flawed. If you claim to have a relationship with an infinitely wise god, yet employ this fallacious argument, you are either lying about your relationship with this god, or this god does not exist.

“If there is no god, then everything is permitted.”

A rather beautiful concept in my opinion. But then I’ve found humans largely altruistic once they’ve given up the fiction that they are inherently “sinful”.


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