Why The Atheist Ten Commandments Fail Science, Philosophy, And Reason

According to John Figdor of Stanford University, the atheist Ten Commandments have been launched upon the world with the purpose of proving that “no matter where you are from, or what your faith tradition has been—or hasn’t been—there are some things we can all agree on as being important and vital to a rich and fulfilling life.” Unfortunately, when the atheists rewrote the ten commandments they introduced philosophical issues in this first version that may raise a few eyebrows.

In a related report by the Inquisitr, these atheist Ten Commandments were chosen from submissions to Atheist Mind Humanist Heart’s (AMHH) Re-Think Prize, a crowdsourcing project. Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage was asked to be one of the 13 judges who picked out the result shown here.

  1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.
  2. Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.
  3. The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.
  4. Every person has the right to control over their body.
  5. God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.
  6. Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.
  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.
  8. We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.
  9. There is no one right way to live.
  10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

All societies have attempted to encapsulate a basic set of rules that guide humanity. For example, in the Papyrus of Ani from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the ancient Egyptians had a long list of 100 negative confessions in which they detailed what they had refrained from doing in their lifetimes. The list covers everything imaginable, from lying and stealing to specific issues related to fishing. The most generalized statement is the first, which states, “I have not committed sins against men.”

In the atheist Ten Commandments, items six through ten attempt to list several ways in which this goal can be reached. People of all religions will likely agree with the majority of what is written in this section, and commandment seven is essentially a paraphrase of Jesus’ Golden Rule, which states, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Even Jesus was willing to shorten the Bible’s ten commandments when he was asked about the greatest commandment.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The first issue with the atheist Ten Commandments is the first three topics. Many religious people will most likely agree with the first two items in spirit, but their presence here essentially amounts to a backhanded attack on other religions in a document that’s supposed to be edifying. Religious people may also note that the first two commandments are a double-edged sword, since they could potentially cut both ways.

Many atheists may also take issue with how commandment three is ill-defined. Just saying the “scientific method” and the “natural world” wades into the deep waters of the philosophy of science. How do you define the limits of the “natural world” when modern science brings us M-theory, which delves into countless dimensions of unknown phenomena. The usage of “scientific method” probably implies methodological naturalism, a concept coined by Christian philosopher Paul de Vries in 1982, although some claim it’s been the undefined ruling viewpoint of science since Thales of Miletus in the 6th century BCE. Does this mean the viewpoints of antiteleological, antisupernaturalist, and pragmatic naturalism are ruled invalid by fiat?

Regardless of the issues related to the philosophy of science, the major problem with the atheist Ten Commandments comes about with the ninth commandment. The statement introduces moral relativism and indirectly states that the concept of “evil” cannot be defined. Without an objective standard, any practical implementation of the atheist Ten Commandments will be highly subjective. After all, the way one person wishes to be treated can be highly different from others. If thieves fully expect to be stolen from as much as they desire to steal, then who is to say better? But the repercussions extend to issues that affect entire societies.

For example, the idea that “society’s needs come before the individual’s needs” may sound reasonable at first until you realize the quote comes from Adolf Hitler. The concept only sounds good when spoken by a fictional sacrificial hero like Spock, but can also be used to condemn many when wielded by a despot whose moral foundation is lacking.

Many modern atheists would probably not agree with the eugenics movement or the idea that after-birth abortions should be legalized. If you are not familiar with the second concept, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva wrote in the Journal of Medical Ethics that a newborn baby could have his or life terminated if they have not reached the state of “personhood.”

“[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.”

They use this cold logic to determine whether or not someone has has the right to live.

“[I]n order for a harm to occur, it is necessary that someone is in the condition of experiencing that harm. If a potential person, like a fetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all. … In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions. … Indeed, however weak the interests of actual people can be, they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people to become actual ones, because this latter interest amounts to zero.”

This logic does not conflict with the atheist Ten Commandments since the intention behind supporting after-birth abortions supposedly would “leave the world a better place than you found it,” while also considering the needs of future generations. Commandments four and seven have ostensibly not been violated since the baby has not reached personhood. By this logic, the atheist Ten Commandments can condone killing babies, a prospect that even pro-choice proponents may find unnerving.

Does modern atheism want to be compatible with such ideas? Based upon the current version of the atheist Ten Commandments, time will be the cruelest judge.