Recent CNN post about the Atheists’ 10 “Non-Commandments” that were voted upon

 In our own more enlightened age, we’re perfectly capable of crowdsourcing our own commandments — or, at least, that’s what a new project would have us believe.

Lex Bayer, an executive at AirBnB, and John Figdor, a humanist chaplain at Stanford University, delivered their own 10 “non-commandments” in a book they co-wrote: “Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind.” Bayer said the book forced him to clarify and articulate his own beliefs, and he thought others could benefit from doing the same.

“A lot of atheists’ books are about whether to believe in God or not,” he said. “We wanted to consider: OK, so you don’t believe in God, what’s next? And that’s actually a much harder question.”

Interesting idea. Here they are, with a few thoughts:

1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.

 Sounds good. I assume this goes both ways. Interesting use of the word “evidence” here as the basis for deciding what to believe. Of course, the challenge is to not reject evidence that does not support one’s presuppositions; e.g., “I reject the possibility of miracles or of God because the supernatural doesn’t exist.”

2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.

Okay. But of course this assumes that there is objective truth apart from one’s own perceptions or beliefs.  But what determines what is actually TRUE and what is actually WISH?

3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.

 How do you know? What evidence is there to verify this claim? Scientific naturalism is inherently self-limited because it cannot evaluate any reality outside of the natural world. For science to be the final determiner of truth requires you to take by faith that there is not a supernatural world (a reality beyond the physical world).

4. Every person has the right to control of their body.

Says who? What is the basis of authority for saying this is so? Do Rules #1 and #2 apply here? How do you know that this argument is actually true and not just something you wish to be true? What if there is evidence that suggests this is not necessarily right?

How does science account for the fact that it is human beings alone that even conceive of the idea of “rights”? There is no basis in science for this position. Furthermore, who is to say that I ought not be able to exert power over others when it brings me happiness, meaning, or success? Justice, rights, equality, and the like rest upon a view of humanity that goes beyond the natural order. Moral law (of which rights is a derivative) lies beyond the boundary (though not in contradiction) of scientific naturalism. Where did this super-natural perspective originate in human beings?

5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.

How do you know this for sure?  Is this an actual fact or one you wish to be true? Does Rule #1 apply to this statement. If there were evidence to the contrary here, would you follow Rule #1 and change your mind?

Scientifically speaking, to demonstrate that this is objectively true, you would have to have a control group, a universe in which there was clearly no god in existence. You must then compare “goodness” and “meaningful life” between this group and the one living in a universe with “God”. But, of course, science cannot undertake such a study.

That aside, who or what determines the meaning of a “good”, “full,” or “meaningful” life? Each individual person? Where did human beings get the idea of “good” in the first place?As has been routinely pointed out (see C.S. Lewis’ moral law argument for God’s existence), the very idea of “good” presupposes some pre-existing source for what “good” is. 

6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.

Why? What or who is the authority against which my actions are judged? Where does  the concept of “responsibility” come from?

Does Rule #4 apply still apply here? Which one is subordinate when my actions of my own body result in what others may deem to be irresponsible behavior? Why are others’ categories of responsible or irresponsible behavior more right than my own? On the other hand, if Rule #4 overrules this one, then as long as I am exerting my rights over my body (and by extension, my decisions and behavior), then any consequences ought to be nullified.

Logically speaking, Rule #4 and Rule #6 may contradict one another.

7. Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.

Why is this a desirable way to act? What determines that this ought to be a rule for everybody? Observing that this is merely the universal “Golden Rule,” which all religions purportedly contain, it begs the question: where does this moral sensibility come from? Only human beings think universally in such terms: why?

As before, though, what happens when this rule contradicts Rule #4? Why should I be equally concerned or more concerned for the welfare of others than myself, unless doing so brings me some advantage?

8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.

Says who? Where does this idea originate that there is an objective responsibility against which universal human behavior ought to be compared? What does it mean to “consider others”?  Why is using them for our own ends any less acceptable than preserving their future? Moreover, if the natural world is all that exists (a reality without God), then what compelling reason is there for me to think about the future beyond my own life? When I die, that’s it. Logically, I ought to do all I can to satisfy myself and gain pleasure, power, or security while I can.

As before, does Rule #4 still equally apply here?  If, as Rule #5 seems to suggest, living a good, meaningful life here is the primary objective of existence, then Rule #8 should be practiced only when it does not get in the way of me living that good, meaningful life.

9. There is no one right way to live.

Oops. Doesn’t that sort of nullify this list of commandments? Whose to say that following these nice, moral principles is any more “right” than living quite the opposite? If there is no one right way to live, then logically I ought to be free to behave as I wish without consequence. I ought to be able to steal, murder, cheat, or lie as I wish. After all, who’s to say that that is “not right”?

See Rules #1 and #2. What if there is actually strong evidence that suggests there is one right way to live (at least morally and ethically)? As a faithful adherent to these 10 Non-Commandments of atheism, are you legitimately seeking out the truth?

10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

Why should we? What determines “better”? If doing so would cause me to violate Rules #4 and #5, then I ought not do it. Which Rule takes precedence in this case?

If the natural world is all there is and it is temporary, then there is no good, logical reason for me to be concerned with that world after I die (cease to exist). Since there is no God, there is no ultimate standard against which anybody will be judging my life once it ends. So I have no reason to be concerned. It is up to each person to do for themselves what is necessary to exert their rights and make their own good, full, meaningful life.

But a reasonable atheist (or humanist) would argue that there is plenty of reason to be concerned for others, to make things easier on those who come after us, to help ensure they have a better world or an easier path to walk for their own happiness. The question again is where does this impulse come from? Only human beings have this instinct. Science cannot adequately explain why this is true or where it originates.