Because many atheists claim that there is no such thing as objective morals, does it follow that morals are illusory?

I’m not going to speak for the atheists who believe in no such thing as objective morality, as I believe in objective morality. However, if there is no objective morality, that does not mean there is not ‘relative morality’ which follows rules. The problem here is what ‘illusory’ means.

I know, it’s awful getting into definitions. However, I had this discussion with Prayson Daniel and he described “illusory” as “not real”. However, he also said that experience isn’t real (conversation linked). I think experience is real; it emerges from the material world:

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.”

– Francis Crick, 1994.In The Astonishing Hypothesis – The Scientific Search for the Soul, London, Simon and Schuster.

Without the nerve cells and associated molecules, there is no experience. So, in what sense is experience illusory, or not real?

If by illusory you mean false, and yet people have reliable methods by which to keep the ideas and actions of morality, what does illusory mean in this context?


15 thoughts on “Because many atheists claim that there is no such thing as objective morals, does it follow that morals are illusory?”

  1. Without the chemicals (enkephalin) and cellular structures (opioid receptors) there was nothing that could be confused for ‘happiness’ … and life only stumbled on those mechanisms 210 million years ago.

  2. Understanding morality is like understanding measurement.

    Morality units – say, good and bad – are no more objective than measurement units – say, feet and hectares. They are relative to the standard being used.

    There are many possible standards.

    That they are relative in no way reduces the accuracy of their comparative values when used consistently within a common standard. But WE select the standard and WE create the relative units for the standard in both cases. The ‘objective’ comparative differences can only now be calculated to an exacting degree imported into reality not because they are objective but because they keep the same units within a relative standard.

    We really can use the metric standard and land a spacecraft on a tumbling, high velocity meteor successfully. But that doesn’t make the metric standard ‘objective’ any more than it makes the Imperial standard ‘subjective’. These are the wrong terms to describe their function and pretending the metric system exists as a noun, a ‘thing’, independent of people (because it can be used in reality to an astounding degree of accuracy) is really quite silly.

    Measurement, like morality, relies on a relative standard but can be highly functional in reality when used as a common standard. And that’s where the issue of morality hinges: what is the most useful and functional moral standard?

    Well, this is where we get into a discussion about what the comparative standard should be… and exactly the time that the po-mo crowd insist that one cannot possibly derive an is from an ought and so any talk about a common moral standard bogs down into philosophical nonsense and should be dropped into the morass where any relative standard used here but not there is as good as another.


    This is broken thinking. If we followed this terrible philosophical advice outside of morality and into, say, comparative measurement and vilified a subjective standard based on it being relative, we can quickly see that only chaos is served by such befuddled thinking. We wouldn’t successfully measure anything comparatively in theory because everyone would think all measuring standards are relative in function.

    Gee, thanks philosophy. Mental paralysis seems to be your forte.

    1. I’m a metric moralist myself, and imperial morality is inferior!
      It’s true, like the rules of the road, the most important thing is agreement. Like landing a spacecraft on a meteor, agreement on imperial or metric is crucial. The problem is that in morality, different metrics are not just different units measuring the same thing that can be converted (e.g. distance in feet or metres). Different ethical models actually measure different things: agreement with god’s will, well-being, social function, agreement to a contract etc.
      Many people are trying to make god’s will a different unit of well-being (jihad is a spiritual struggle; ‘love thy neighbour’ trumps killing unbelievers, etc). But, short of those kinds of mental gymnastics and disregard for the facts, some people are navigating with measures of distance to aid them, and others are navigating with the measures of the tensile strength of household materials. The challenge is to figure out which is which.

      1. You can measure at your leisure if your units stay the same. That means operating within the same standard for comparative values. But what are we comparing?

        Morality is an empty set until we agree on what it is we’re trying to compare. Here is where the empty terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ enter. So the first task is to determine and agree upon what these terms mean. That’s what makes them relative and not objective.

        Only when our relative terms are agreed upon can we then objectivity compare and contrast some selected behaviour or action because only now are using the same units… the same terms in the same standard.

        And this is why I find the philosophical approach about deriving an ought from an is not just unhelpful but useless. I think we can find agreement for a moral standard even if that standard is relative in the same way we can find agreement for a measurement standard even though it, too, is relative. It is possible and should not be as easily dismissed as the topic usually is under the excuse that unless it’s objectively universal, its relative nature renders it useless. That’s simply not true.

        1. Ah sir tildeb herein lies the problem of the godless mind. Your comment dances all around the obvious while pretending to be intellectual.


          Two plus two’s answer is not left to a set of university professors with their names on their doors. The answer is either right or wrong, and opinions are irrelevant, including the unhelpful and useless avoidance of absolutes.

          The engineer of numbers, as well as the genius of all alphabets, does not care if creatures dismiss the obvious. Simple math condemns a godless society in every way. You will never come to terms with HOW and WHY the answer to two plus two is apart from the standard Holder Himself.

          The evening and the morning were the first day. First above all, as in none before. Then there was the second, then the third day. Even science must bow the mental knee, unless it is simply a bastard science.

          True science always lands at the foot of the Creator. But agreement as to what is right and wrong? Ha. You would be better served to argue the 210 million year opinion of the great magician zandini. This would be a better battle for you, plus or minus a billion years or two, or three, or a thousand billion. What’s the difference when it’s just an opinion………..with no right or wrong……just mindless speculation based on rotten information.

        2. CS thinks he enlightens us when he says Two plus two’s answer is not left to a set of university professors with their names on their doors. The answer is either right or wrong.

          And what answer is that, CS?

        3. Tkx, T, but I make no pretense at all. There is neither cloak nor ambiguity.

          Just chiming in with the spirit of this post about absolutes that’s all. Morality or otherwise, it does not matter.

          I gave you a clue as to HOW and WHY the answer speaks to your point that you neglected.

          The answer is all of one. It is a day, a year, a decade, a generation, a millenium, an hour, a minute, a second.

          The answer is the law of absolutes, which the entire creation sits under the same umbrella, and which need not be taught.

        4. I’m sorry, CS. I presumed you could answer that mathematical equation (hint, I’m looking for a number, you know, the one that you claim is either right or wrong). So drop all the hyperbole and just answer it. Can you provide the right answer? Or is it beyond you?

        5. Well let’s see, since the word ‘illusion’ was tossed around up top, let’s deal with the ‘illusion’ of the question:

          What is five minus 1? Answer HOW and WHY you know this, and the rest is easy.

          Hint: It’s not an illusion.

        6. CS is makes hubris look appealing.

          But notice that he will not submit to even the simplest of follow-up questions if they do not appear to agree with his original – and factually incorrect – claims. He knows perfectly well that reality is not his friend and anyone who can think their way out of a paper bag knows it. That’s why he just spouts claims and serves them up to his devoted followers as if that faith he demands (in the name of his god, of course) is well placed rather than delusional. He has no means to check. That’s why he tries to use math as if that demonstrates his assumption, his belief in objective ‘truth’, and then won’t stand beside his own example… out of fear of being wrong. And he suspects he’s wrong and won’t offer me the opportunity to show him why. It might burst his little bubble world.

  3. There is an easy test of whether or not such a thing as objective morality is real: ask people to agree upon a definition of what it is. I doubt that this will happen, even to a low standard of something just more than 50% agreement. Many, many things are relatively easy to define and come to agreement on those definitions. Those things might just be real (real things should be able to pass the test, while made up things would find it a tougher task).

    Look at the dispersion around religious concepts. That kind of tells you what you are dealing with. You don’t see scientists bickering over the word “atmosphere,” even though all of the processes occurring there haven’t been fully studied or understood.

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