Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Law of Nature Part III

31 May

In last week’s installment of “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we started to take a look at some of the practical moral dilemmas which arise when we use nature as a model for a universal code of conduct.  We looked at how this model affects our view of birth control and abortion and concluded with two questions concerning the moral propriety of both rape and homosexuality.  This week, we will address the latter two topics (rape and homosexuality) in greater depth.

Before we do however, we must emphasize again that atheism comes in many forms and that atheists, themselves, can vary widely in both their beliefs and their defense of them.  The view which we are examining here is only one of many.  Our purpose is not to “debunk” atheism, but rather to demonstrate that when logically examined, this particular support for a moral lifestyle leads to conclusions which even those atheists who support the view are likely to find repugnant.

Let us begin with the question of whether rape must also be accepted as a laudable act, since there are instances in nature in which the male of the species is seen to force himself upon the female of the species.  While at first blush, this may seem to be the case, I believe that an argument can be made that a difference does exist between a male forcing himself upon a woman for the purpose of sexual gratification and a male forcing himself upon a woman for the purpose of reproduction.  Since rape is (with few exceptions) performed with the former intent, i.e., that of gratification, it would seem that it remains morally reprehensible regardless of whether natural law is accepted or rejected.

What about homosexuality?  While instances of homosexual behavior have been witnessed in nature, it is important to note that by and large this is not the norm.  Natural selection tends towards the preservation of the species and members of the species who engage in acts which do not promote such reproduction are left to their natural end.

Under such circumstances, the need for us as humans to take an interest in preserving the lives of those who engage in or suffer consequences from any sexual act (heterosexual or homosexual) becomes questionable.  Indeed, to attempt to alleviate the suffering and eventual decay or death which result from diseases such as AIDS or other STD’s simply doesn’t make sense if nature is to be allowed to take its natural course.  Indeed, apathy would seem to be morally obligatory in such circumstances.

But if we are to allow nature to simply “take its course”, selecting the strong and eliminating the weak, where does this leave us in regard to other “weak” segments of human society?  And do we have any right to intervene to help or preserve the lives of the elderly or the handicapped?  It would seem that if natural law as it is played out in the animal kingdom is to be our guide, the answer would be “no”… yet even many atheists agree that a strong argument can be made that the presence of the physically or mentally weak does help to strengthen and preserve our society.

We’ll take a closer look at this issue next week, but for now, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

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2 Responses to “Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Law of Nature Part III”

  1. myatheistlife May 31, 2013 at 01:07 #

    You seem to make a lot of presumptions in your thinking. That something is existent in nature does not mean that it applies across all species and therefore does not mean it ‘ought’ to apply to humans. The sexual behavior of all species varies from one species to the other. One commonality is homosexual behavior. What you fail to explore is the fact that sexual behaviors are not binary heterosexual/homosexual only, rather there is a range of behaviors. There seems to be a similar percentage of humans and animals which exhibit homosexual behavior. This is a strong indicator that it is not a learned behavior.

    Further, the law of nature stopped applying directly to humans when they began building societies rather than tribes or familial units. What is right for a lion pride is not right for a human family unit.

    Your presumptions that atheism means applying some general rule or species specific rule to humans is necessary is false.

    • acgheen May 31, 2013 at 07:49 #

      I noticed an odd peculiarity in you response in that you seem to be confusing concepts like “many” and “some” with “all” or “nearly all”. I make no presumptions that all or even most atheistic belief requires that there be objective rules which apply to all humanity. Indeed, if you had taken the time to carefully read both this and my other posts on the subject, you would have noted the frequent explanation that I am addressing views held only by a segment of the atheist population.

      Secondly, you state that homosexual behavior is a commonality between different species. Here, I am making a presumption and you are free to correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as if you feel that it is one behavior which is universal. Oddly enough, current scientific studies indicate that there are only around 1,500 species in which homosexual behavior has been observed. (I am willing to stand corrected if you are able to provide specific studies which challenge this figure.) Given than there are well over 2,000,000 species which have been currently identified and that taxonomists suggest that there may be well over 100,000,000 which live on the planet, it seems that this is far from a universally observed connection.

      If we do, however, take homosexuality to be a commonality and within a “normal” range of behaviors, we encounter two difficulties. The first is that the homosexual behavior witnessed in animals actually tends more strongly towards bi-sexuality. At most, it has been observed to occur only in isolated incidents. While there is still some argument on the matter, the available evidence has led many scientists to conclude that such incidents are triggered by lower hormone levels in the “object” of these affections rather than in any long-standing “preference” for the same sex. (See: Homosexual Behavior in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective” written by Volker Somer and Paul L. Vasey and published by Cambridge Press.)

      But let us propose that homosexuality is a common link between many species and may be accepted as a “norm” or, at least as something which is innate rather than learned and that, as such, it ought to be permitted and/or accepted. Violent acts are also a commonality between species and there are those who seem to have been “born angry”, so to speak. (Again, we do see a difference between natural violence which tends towards the goal of survival and human violence which tends towards the expression/gratification of our feelings.) Ought violent acts also to be permitted or accepted? While doubtless, some would argue yes, I would venture to say that most people (at least most of those with whom I have come in contact) would say no.

      That said, I do have three questions regarding your own views which (though not entirely on topic for this particular post), I would like to better understand. You mention that “the law of nature stopped applying directly to humans when they began building societies rather than tribes or familial units.” If you have the time, would you take a moment to explain the difference you see between tribes/familial units and societies, i.e., what features make them distinct from one another and at which point does one become the other?

      Secondly, what feature of this change either directly or indirectly halts the application of natural law?

      Thirdly, what takes the place of this moral law when it no longer applies?

      I look forward to your reply!

      Blessings,

      A.C.

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