Keeping a finger on the collective pulse of the religious community, I subscribe to a number of theist YouTube channels. One of the newest additions is the 3 Mormons, a weekly talk show dedicated to everything LDS. This includes in-depth discussions about the Mormon doctrine, evidences for the faith, and even feminism in the Church. A few weeks ago, they released an episode titled “Mormons Respond to Atheism.” I was eager to hear their perspectives on disbelief and was hoping for a stimulating conversation that provoked a healthy discussion of Latter-Day apologetics. However, I was disheartened to find an ill-prepared dialogue regarding morality, as well as a blatant misrepresentation of comments from prominent biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins.
However, before addressing my points of contention, I would like to note—as I’ve done in another post—that atheism should not be viewed as a monolithic community. Short of a disbelief in gods, we do not have shared convictions.
With that being said, I want examine their summary of the claim to knowledge. The 3 Mormons make a statement that the religious spectrum is divided into three parts: theist, agnostic, and atheist. We know that a theist is an individual who believes in a personal god, and an atheist is an individual who has not found sufficient evidence for any god. Agnosticism is a little trickier than the two former labels. The general definition is that agnosticism is the middle-of-the-road, apathetically inclined choice—agnostics do not know what side to choose, nor do many care. However, I argue that agnosticism is not a beneficial term when discussing the possibility of a god. The reason for this is neither the religious nor the non-religious can claim absolute certainty. Simply put, we do not know if a god exists and any statement otherwise is disingenuous. Because, however, we are creatures of logic, we weigh the probability of the debate and operate under the assumption we have chosen correctly. Despite the inability to have full confidence in our position, an educated opinion is a better path to truth than blind faith. It is true that one can side on the weak end or strong end of their perspective, but a neutral position does not exist.
Semantics aside, let’s dive into the video.
Goodness Without Gods
Morality can be a frustrating apologetic to combat, and the video’s description is a perfect example why: “through living the commandments, we refrain from hurting others, from hurting ourselves, and from living in ways that take away our agency.” The unsettling premise of this statement is that a person’s goodwill is dependent on the existence of a god. Subtracting a lawgiver, the 3 Mormons argue that an individual would be free from moral restraints, reducing acts such as rape, murder, and theft to simple daily choices with no admonishments. As repeated a few times by the hosts, if humans are nothing more than chemicals whose existence is equal parts chance and natural selection, how did our sense of morality develop? In the eyes of the Christian, the moral compass of humanity would be missing its true north without divine intervention.
The 3 Mormons emphasize that God wrote the moral code on our hearts, which is why everyone—including atheists—knows right from wrong. However, when we attribute the origin of morality to a divinely perfect being, the unavoidable question of the nature of goodness must be answered. A disconnection exists between the God of the faithful and the God of the Bible. When believers are pressed about the essential qualities of the Heavenly Father, a generic answer is given: either God is love or God is good. However, the word of God makes building a case for either of these answers quite difficult. Leviticus 20:13 calls for the death of homosexuals, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 shows rape is forgiven through monetary repentance and forced marriage, and Isaiah 45:7 shows that God is the catalyst for all evil. Not exactly an irreproachable picture of an all-caring father, right? I doubt that I could find one believer that finds these three verses to be an illustration of objective goodness, which means the Christian’s moral spectrum is independent of their god. If Christians can cherry-pick the Bible in order to create their own moral platter, why do we need God?
The answer to this is simple: we don’t. Because most living things have an intrinsic drive to survive and reproduce, morality acts as an intellectual exercise in determining how to achieve maximum well-being. Years of social evolution have taught us to bury the apish behaviors of our ancestors in favor of a new system of reason. When faced with a moral dilemma, we employ one of our most powerful tools—empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another is the cornerstone of morality because it forces us to hold a mirror up to our actions and examine the fairness of the outcome. If we run the hypothetical in our mind and the consequences maximize our well-being while also minimizing harm to others, we label the decision as a “good” choice. If the opposite is true, we realize that the decision might not be the most ethical.
What Should Be Allowed As Evidence?
When dealing with the supernatural, the hosts state we need to allow a certain measure of faith into the conversation. God works in the metaphysical, so we cannot expect tangible evidence. Latter-Day Saints often refer to D&C 9:8-9, a passage that reveals God’s way of affirming questions of faith. According to the verse, we will feel a “burning in our bosom” when the Heavenly Father is guiding us to the truth. However, this method of revelation is not limited to the Mormon Church. Growing up as a Southern Baptist, we were taught something similar, and I—strangely enough—once used this method to conclude that Mormonism was a false doctrine. So if all that is required to substantiate a claim of faith is anecdotal evidence, how is Claim A more valuable than Claim B? It isn’t. Without some type of objective verification, neither assertion stands up to critical examination. Faith does not equate evidence. And when blind conviction loses its footing, the conversation inevitably leads to Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design is a bit of a misnomer. There are multiple illustrations of naturally occurring traits that fall short of conscious design. For example, any creator who so poorly routes the recurrent laryngeal nerve in mammals doesn’t deserve the attribute of intelligence. While the topic of design is best suited for a separate post, I do want to address the claim that Richard Dawkins promoted the theory of Directed Panspermia. In 2008, Dawkins sat down with Ben Stein to discuss creationism for Stein’s movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. During the interview, Dawkins entertained Stein’s question regarding design and answered with Directed Panspermia, a hypothetical process by which our existence is contingent on intelligent beings from another planet. Much like the existence of God, the idea of life beginning through extraterrestrial creators is not impossible—albeit highly improbable. This was the only point made by Dawkins. He also reaffirmed this by saying that design could never be the ultimate explanation. The beings themselves would have needed evolution. To state that Dawkins was offering Directed Panspermia as a contending hypothesis for our existence is insincere at best.
In the end, the 3 Mormons addressed their interest in opening a civil dialogue regarding religion and disbelief, which I agree is something of great importance. However, genuine conversation is difficult when one side speculates on the opposing view. This can lead to misrepresentation, regardless of the original intent. Our hosts’ attempt at defining morality without god was heavy-handed and frustrating at times. While I hope they tackle the subject of atheism again, I encourage them to invite a nonbeliever on the show to ensure an honest dialectic.