A Question for Stefan Molyneux

The bold Stefan Molyneux tackles head-on one of the more nagging issues which acts as a sea anchor to atheism, namely, if there is no God, why be good.

I confess to being quite a fan of his. He has the skills and temper of a philosopher, and so in him I see a kindred spirit, if not a long lost brother.

Mr Molyneux is a thinker. His breed is rare, and we are sorely in need of more like him.

More than a thinker. In this podcast he utters the code by which he and I and all our brethren live: “I am a philosopher. I go where the truth leads.”

Pause a moment in wonder and admiration. It is because of words like this that Aquinas is given a crown by the archangels of the heaven of the Sun, and Socrates is given a cup by the man of the world.

The man who speaks thus thirsts for the nectar of truth and the wine of the gods, and no untruth or half-truth, howsoever pleasing or convenient or expeditious, will slake that thirst.

Let no one pretend that any disagreement with his conclusions are offered in anything other than as respectful tone, and from a man who honestly admires intellectual integrity wherever it is found.

He proposes, as all atheists of goodwill must, that there are sufficient reasons found in the rational self interest of men living in society to prompt conformity to certain basic standards of behavior.

He says he has written a book length treatment of the question which faithfully discharges his duty to address this question, and I place sufficient faith in his statement that I take him as this word.

An aside: My faith is not blind faith, of course. There is no such thing. Just as the phrase “blind justice” refers to an irrational injustice, the phrase “blind faith” refers to an irrational infidelity: putting trust in an authority experience has shown to be untrustworthy.

Whenever a man trusts a promise, or believes a statement about an event to which he himself is not an eyewitness, he makes an assessment of the character of the witness, looks at any supporting physical evidence, and judges the feasibility of the unseen event happening as described according to his model of how the world works and according to his assessment of what is how likely events in the same category as the described event happen to be.

For the record, “faith” is trusting in one’s the conclusions of one’s serene reason once one’s serenity has fled. End of aside.

While endless local variations on the theme are possible, Eudaemonism or Stoicism are only two possible alternatives to a divine mandate for obedience to virtue. The first grounds virtue in enlightened self interest and the proportional pursuit of reasonable pleasures, the second in universal moral duty whose principles are self evident.

Morality exists because our reason tells us we should not behave merely according to our impulses, but it is so difficult to abide purely by reason and resist all temptation that there is no report of any human being ever having had done so.

Hence, only two logical alternatives exist if the moral law is not the deliberate legislative fiat of a divine creator: either we should act as reason dictates rather than as pleasure tempts us because in the long run, with delayed gratification, more pleasure and more wholesome pleasures are to be gained (Eudaemonism) or we should act as reason dictates whether it is pleasant or not (Stoicism). The option of obeying all impulses is illogical, since all that happens when one pursues pleasure for its own sake is that one trains oneself so that  unwholesome impulses replace wholesome ones.

Neither is difficult to defend on purely secular grounds, with no gods needed.

Ayn Rand wrote out a defense of Eudaemonism that is firmly in the tradition of Aristotle and the Enlightenment political thinkers; Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus of Stoicism, as well as Lucretius, and countless others. I myself wrote enough material to fill a book on exactly that point back when I was an atheist, so I know it can be done.

So I believe he can invent a sound secular justification for obedience to the moral laws of the cosmos which hypothesis no divine origin, authority, mandate, or enforcement of said laws. That is not my point of dispute.

I dispute when he says this:

“The purpose of religion is to give less intelligent people a reason to confine their behavior.”

One can hear the statement in context here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZckFu2txV0&ab_channel=StefanMolyneux) under the provocative title Why Atheists Suck.

I address the words below to him:

This is such an outrageous mis-statement of what we Christians say the purpose of religion is, my dear Mr. Molyneux, that I cannot tell from your delivery if you mean this line sarcastically or literally or what.

I believed this doctrine also, back when I was an atheist. Upon examination, the doctrine seems to have no confirmatory evidence.

I said it merely to pat myself on the back, and tell myself I could be good without retreat to a belief I (at that time) despised as fully as childish as a belief in Santa Claus and Black Peter, who reward the good children with treats and toys, and punish the bad with beatings.

I make no untoward speculation as to your motive for the statement, which I assume to be nobler than mine, but I ask for your foundation for the statement.

When I converted, there was neither a drop nor a rise in my native intelligence. The change in my behavior was to attempt to shoulder additional positive duties, but there were no additional confines placed on my behavior of which I was hitherto unaware.

Indeed, certain social norms that once applied to me — we call it obedience to the world — now no longer apply. I serve a new law, not earthly opinions.

Now, if my case is not typical, it can be dismissed. Perhaps I and Isaac Newton are the only intelligent theists on the planet.

However, other converts I have read or heard speak alike to me on this point.

Not to boast, but my intelligence is at least equal to those of atheists I have met, and in some cases markedly superior.

So how can you reconcile your theory of the purpose of religion (if it is your theory, and I am not misunderstanding your point) with the actual experience of why perfectly intelligent and sane men gain a belief in Christ?

When you meet people who are smarter than you who believe in Christ, and also give more of their time and money to the poor, or do other acts more noble (or at least more socially useful) than your own, how does this fit into your theory?

Or have you not encountered such people, or read of them?

When you say that the core of religion is irrationality, how to you reconcile this with the claim made by Christians that the Christ whom they follow and obey is Logos, that is, the rational principle ordering the universe?

Are we merely mistaken about who we claim to be obeying?

To the contrary, I submit to your candid judgment that we Christians can explain why the universe is rational, whereas the atheist has no rational reason to give: the cosmos is rational because it was made in a rational way by a rational creator, who also created us with the faculty to understand and employ reason, a talent not found in beasts.

The cosmos is rational for the same reason a well constructed cathedral stands or a well composed symphony is sublime: because the skillful maker successfully make it so.

Whereas what account can the atheist give of either the rationality found in the universe or the rationality found in men who presumably descend from irrational beasts?

Can you say anything aside from confessing it is a mystery to you?

I do not mean to imply, nor am I arguing, that because Christianity is more rational than atheism therefore it is true. Perish the thought. That would be a fallacy.

I am instead arguing that, even if Christianity is utterly false, it is a model that is based on reason, takes reason (logos) as its core, and offers a reasonable (even if turns out to be false) explanation for certain things for which no atheist can offer a reasonable explanation.

On this basis I say your claim that the core of Christianity is irrational is a misstatement of the facts.