“If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…” [An interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994].
Jeffrey Dahmer was a sociopath who committed rape, murder and cannibalism. But I think this quote from him really puts forward the question – Is everything and anything permissible without God? I was looking through some of the responses that people made and one of them is from John Loftus, a prominent atheist. His main disagreement with attributing this particular quote to the atheistic lifestyle is that the escape from “eternal horrible consequences” is not the sole reason to refrain from doing evil. His second disagreement is that we are somehow wired to strive for harmony and peace and the first step is to like ourselves. In this particular scenario, Jeffrey Dahmer did not like himself hence committing such atrocities.
Personally, I don’t think this resolves the issue at all. While it is true that the fear of accountability is not the sole reason for wanting to do good or refraining to do bad, the question remains, why should we bother to do good or bad since all this amounts to nothing in the end? Perhaps some might say that due to naturalistic evolution, we are hard wired to strive for things that are good or bad. But what if doing good comes at a cost of me suppressing my wants and needs? In other words, at my inconvenience. Loftus mentions about a “rational self interest” whereby what we do stems for how it may benefit us whether it is to preserve our dignity, honour or image. But hypothetically speaking, would it still make sense for me to help someone if it does not benefit me in any way? Should I not offer my help even if there is nothing in it for me? This has been something that I’ve been thinking of for quite some time. Assuming that there is no afterlife, the time here on earth is all there is, would it matter if I lived my life like mother theresa or stalin? Under the naturalistic view, I cannot find any answer. After all, there is no meaning to this life under that view. The only meaning there is, is the meaning I choose to give it. And here John Loftus at the very least seem to agree.
“Yes, it is true that we will die and so there is no ultimate meaning to anything we do in this life. Our life is ultimately in vain. Nothing we do in this life will ultimately satisfy the longing for eternal significance, and in that sense we cannot find complete happiness without such an assurance. “All is vanity” in that respect. This I admit. That’s the truth–the half truth.”
His second objection also doesn’t satisfy me because it is based on the assumption that how we are hard wired is right. But who determines that? The highest number of us who are hard wired that way? Why can’t Dahmer be the one who got hard wired correctly and us wrongly? This draws my attention to my favourite animal…the panda. Technically speaking, pandas just like any other bears share the same digestive system of a carnivore but somehow, they have adapted to eating bamboos; a stray away from their natural state. Not exactly normal, but at the same time nothing wrong or immoral about it. They just somehow prefer bamboos. In the same way, is it possible that under the naturalistic view, all that can be said is that Jeffrey Dahmer went against the social norms by raping and eating his victims. But there isn’t anything immoral…just slightly different and definitely a bit queer to the large majority of us.
Of course, I am certain that the idea of raping, murdering and eating of victims are more than just subjective moral differences, however, under the naturalistic view, I fail to see how this can be the case. What I am trying to say is that given naturalism, is anything even objectively right or wrong at all? In a debate between Dr William Lane Craig and Professor Louise Anthony, Anthony was asked why under atheism would harming someone be wrong. Her reply to that was “I wonder if you have any friends!” While this might also be thought of me, nevertheless, I think Craig has a point when he says that moral values under the naturalistic framework are arbitrary. In conclusion, I find Loftus’s objection inadequate in refuting Dahmer’s idea of why the absence of God permits anything and perhaps everything.