Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Can there be a system of morality without God?

Some months ago, in one of the Atlas Sunday Meets, we started discussing Atheism and the necessity of it to be an objectivist. There were a few present who didn't belong to that fold, so we all debated. We discussed for long. As usual, there was no conclusion to the discussion regarding ‘existence of God’. We left, with more thoughts to be sorted and more ideas to sort these thoughts.

To, take this discussion to the next level and to concretise the arguments, we invited Father Anthony to come and speak on the topic “Can there be a system of morality without God”. We thought, who better than a God’s man to come and present His case. From the objectivist perspective, we had our own Jerry Johnson to put his thoughts. Deepak was moderating the discussion.

All others who were present, were either atheists, agnostics or with a different belief system than the conservative religion.

The date was set as Sunday, the 20th of June 2010. With the rains pouring down on Mumbai with a vengeance, we all reached the venue slightly drenched and out of breath trying our best to remain dry. The discussion started with Father’s opening comments suggesting secular morality. Here is my account of what transpired.

He said that secular morality is a morality which has come of age through the generations and at present is something which can be defined and re-defined. He presented examples of such a morality for propagating love between people and to make relationships stronger. Morality according to him was, to accept values of other people. The art of doing things for others was to spread love in the world. When you do something unconditionally, you also motivate the same action from the ‘acceptor’. And so, this cycle continues to a stage where there is a world of peace and contentment.

Jerry answered saying that loving everybody is not possible. And that’s what religion demands. Religion demands one to love God , without any evidence or substantiation. Love is not an empty principle to base religious morality. One cannot love a person who is harming oneself. One cannot love an enemy. To expect such a love is itself immoral. When a person loves someone, it’s because of the values. So, if the other person doesn’t have any values, you cannot love him/her. With the same argument, it’s not possible to love God for which there is not verification of such a value-addition.

Father Anthony further responded to Jerry’s comments. There were others present who were passionately presenting responding to either of the takes.

As a conclusion, we had a discussion which perhaps opened our minds to either of the systems of morality due to the direct comparisons. However, those of us who already belong to the “selfish” morality find it difficult to digest the other kind. Same applies to the believers of God. Hence, as useful as it is to have these debates, they will hardly convince the one of the other. So, in the end, we all parted to “agree to disagree”.

*ps: This above is my account of the event. If anybody feels misrepresented, please feel free to comment on the same.


  1. I'm curious to know whether you think of morality as a subjective choice one makes or as an objective necessity? If it's the former, then 'agreeing to disagree' would be the only option among men - and then you would have no place for Objectivism or any of Ayn Rand's ideas in your life. But, if it is the latter, then the question you need to ask yourself is why does Man need a moral code? What aspect of his life on earth makes it necessary for him to have one? If the moral code is needed for making choices that are life-affirming, then is a code based on reason and reality better, or one based on superstition and faith?

    It is true that you may still not convince someone for whom morality remains a subjective choice, or a diktat from God. But you will have the moral certainty to reject those codes as false alternatives and firmly establish their irrational nature. To grant them equal status by 'agreeing to disagree' is to fall into a subjectivist trap.

  2. I think mostly religion is not a choice for the many who follow. There are a few who are conscious of what religion entails and do make a choice. But the majority are just grappling with the "should-do's" and the "shouldn't-do's". It is through this that they take and understand what is morality and the principles they (again) "should" live by. So, here morality becomes and "objective necessity" for the world to function properly.
    However, when a person first differentiates morality from religion, then s/he makes a subjective choice of living morally (as per the principles he has drawn).

    And so, when it is a subjective choice, you have already rejected the 'other' moral code.

    But the person who abides by religious morality cannot and is not willing to see this difference. We saw this in the meet. There were a few who were very 'strong & passionate' in their disagreements rather than wanting to understand any point. At times, producing arguments which were preconceived. And there was no way to make them 'hear' what others were saying.

    Hence, perhaps you are right in saying that there is not common platform where to base the arguments. (?)

  3. Objectivism and religion are fundamentally incompatible - one calls for the celebration of Man's mind, the other for its total abdication. Any attempt to reconcile the two is doomed to fail. More importantly, such attempts can only harm one - just as even a little poison in food can.

  4. A rational individual is one who rejects the concept of God because it is arbitrary.

    An arbitrary concept is one which:
    1. has no referent(s) in reality and hence cannot be _reduced_ to the perceptual level.
    2. has no place in a conceptual hierarchy and hence cannot be _integrated_ with the rest of Man’s knowledge.

    Since the arbitrary has no relation to both physical evidence and mental content, none of the concepts formed to describe human knowledge (e.g. true, false, possible, probable, certain) can be applied to it.

    Furthermore, the arbitrary does not even qualify as a hypothesis because a hypothesis must have at least some evidence for it and no evidence whatsoever against it.

    Nothing in reality exists in a vacuum or in isolation from everything else. Nature consists of interconnected things interacting with one another.

    Likewise, nothing Man knows about reality is stored in his mind without a surrounding context or as fragments disconnected from everything else he knows.

    So if a concept is formed from facts to begin with, it should be possible to show:
    1. what thing(s) in reality it is based on, and
    2. how it relates to the concepts which are based on other thing(s) in reality.

    On the other hand, if a concept is arbitrary, there's nothing in reality it can be linked to: be it the things in reality Man forms concepts from, or the things in Man's mind that represent what he knows about other things in reality.