Last week in “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we discussed several ways in which animal society resembles human interaction and why, for some, this seems to support the view that a universal law can exist without necessitating a universal lawgiver. This week, we’ll take a closer look at specific instances in which what is generally considered “moral” behavior amongst human societies may not be moral at all if nature is to be our guide. Once again, it is important to recognize that atheists, like those who believe in a divine being (or beings) do not all subscribe to a single set of beliefs. The view we are addressing here is merely one of many presented by morally upstanding atheists to ground their views of right and wrong.
In order to further explore this view, we must begin by proposing that the trending purpose of nature is to preserve individual species in a viable form. That is to say that while individuals within a given group have a distinct tendency towards self-preservation, the overall “goal” of inanimate and undirected nature is to ensure that entire groups of living organisms (rather than individuals within those groups) will not merely survive, but also thrive. If an action promotes the welfare of such communities it ought to be viewed as morally praiseworthy. Any action which does not must be viewed as morally despicable.
That a morality of this sort would have a clear impact on our views of everything from birth control and euthanasia to homosexuality and the treatment of the physically and mentally impaired should be evident. And that it precludes mindful intervention in the “natural” results of any state of being is also evident.
Let’s begin by looking at the issue of birth control. If the purpose of a species is to preserve itself, then to intentionally intervene with the natural reproductive cycle becomes morally questionable. Indeed, it becomes the prerogative of all humans to seek out the opportunity to reproduce.
If nature is to be our guide, this may be done either through monogamous relationships (as in the case of swans and other animals known to mate for life) or through a series of spurious engagements. In all cases, the woman has no right to attempt to prevent becoming impregnated either through abstinence from such acts at times in which pregnancy could result or through the consumption of chemical inhibitors (though she may retain the right to refuse a given mate for a variety of other reasons). Nor does her suitor have the right to attempt to prevent pregnancy through similar means either natural or mechanical. (Whether it becomes acceptable to engage in intercourse for any purpose other than that of reproduction does become a valid question at this point.) Should pregnancy result from the sexual act, it is important to recognize that it may not be intentionally terminated at any point: even when the woman’s life is in jeopardy. The resulting life or death(s) must be seen as (for lack of a better expression) “the will of nature” and accepted as a moral good.
Where does this leave us concerning acts of rape and homosexuality? We will address both of these issues next week but in the meantime, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!