Last July, I ran into Basile, my old high school friend. Basile was a shy man, with little self-confidence, but he was gentle and wanted to do good for others.
On that day, his face looked pained.
That look betrayed anxiety and grief from brave Basile. I went to greet him. After a few courteous exchanges, he explained to me that he had been relocated to an area north of Strasbourg.
A few years ago, everything changed for Basile. A psychopath had infiltrated his house and set it on fire. His parents and brothers were able to escape the fire, at the cost of a few broken bones. But not Basile’s little brother, who had been sleeping in the living room.
He died of the fire when he was only eight years old.
To this day, we do not know the motive that justified the criminal act of this arsonist. We simply know that it was a targeted crime.
I imagine that this anecdote, which is sadly a true story, would make any sane person explode with rage. The heart demands reparation and revenge! Basile’s family had not done anything wrong, and this terrible man allowed himself to inflict much suffering on them.
This feeling of outrage is rooted in human nature. It is, in fact, one of our deepest intuitions.
That said, it is also the beginning of an endless series of philosophical problems for atheists, who think that denying the existence of Allah is rationally consistent. Far from intellectual consistency, these atheists are drowning in an abyss of perplexity.
We have seen that atheism cannot justify the existence of objective good and evil.
But ethics is not limited to this. To have a complete system of justice, it is also necessary to rely on concepts such as responsibility, retribution, civil law, authority, etc.
Can atheism justify any of these concepts?
“Person X is responsible for the fire.”
For this sentence to be meaningful, certain assumptions are required:
- The identity of Person X
- Person X as the decisive cause of the act
- Person X having the will to act
Let us look at the first point, i.e., the question of personal identity. Can the atheist correctly hold responsible the murderer in Basile’s case?
We will see that atheism, in addition to being self-contradictory, contradicts the most basic human instincts and, furthermore, atheism is indebted to religion for its system of law.
During the trial, a video is shown of Person X which clearly shows him starting the fire. However, is this enough for the judge to conclude that Person X in the video is identical to Person Y in the courtroom, even though Person Y in the courtroom looks exactly like Person X in the video?
Yes, because the individual shown in the video and the one present at the trial share the same soul, the immaterial substance that makes us persons. But this answer is dependent on the religious concept of the soul, which could not please our judge who is an atheist, and who judges with a secular and therefore atheistic law.
What makes X and Y the same person according to an atheist? It cannot be their mental state because mental states are constantly evolving and changing. Nor can it be the matter that constitutes X because cells, molecules, and atoms are constantly replaced and change every week, every year, etc. These answers are said to be substance-based because they seek to ground identity in substance, but as we have seen, they lead to the extreme conclusion that an individual does not persist over time! And so Person Y in the courtroom is innocent since Person X on video are not literally the same substance and therefore are not the same person.
Faced with this problem, atheists have sought so-called relational solutions, that is to say, it is a common relationship between X and Y which makes them both a unique being.
There are two main groups of relational theories, those based on psychological continuity and those based on biological continuity. But we will see that they all suffer from the same problems: they lead to absurd conclusions, they are impractical, and they are fallacious.
The best known theory, attributed to Locke, is the one that takes as a criterion of persistence the continuity of memory. Between Person X and Person Y, there is a continuity of memory that makes him one person. In other words, Y remembers having lived what X has done in life, therefore X and Y are the same person.
This explanation only shows us how much trouble the atheist is in justifying his system of ethics. Taken literally, this theory would indicate that if there were a young man suffering from mental problems, that would lead him to remember that he is Hitler and that he is responsible for the Holocaust. Then it follows that he is really responsible for what he remembers. This vision of the past, which is obviously false, nevertheless fulfills all the criteria for it to constitute a case of persistence of identity.
The problem lies in the fact that this position does not differentiate between true and false memories. What if we stipulate that only real memories count? Well, then the whole theory becomes circular. For in order to be able to say that someone’s memory is real, we must presuppose that it is really that person who experienced it. In order to be able to say this, it is necessary to assume that that person has an identity that persists over time. We presuppose the conclusion we are trying to reach and thus this is a circular argument.
Moreover, this theory, besides being contradictory and absurd, is just as impractical as the total negation of identity, because in order to prove that Person Y in the courtroom is responsible, it would be necessary to prove that he remembers something that Person X also remembers. This is impossible for the judge and ironically perhaps for Person Y himself to determine! Is there anybody that remembers what his memories were at the time he started an arson attack?
If that first theory is unsuccessful, perhaps the second theory will be more convincing!
This second theory is based on biological continuity. It claims that what makes your self persist through time is that there is a continuous link between the organism of your past self and your present organism. In this case X is Y because there is a “biological continuity” between X and Y.
This answer, promising at first, cannot suffice as it also leads to the most absurd conclusions. In fact, if this simple criterion were sufficient, then it implies that you and your father are one, for there is a clear biological continuity between you and your father. Thus, the child of a murderer would be just as guilty as his father. And conversely, the father of a rapist would be just as responsible for his son’s crime because there is a biological continuity between the two.
Moreover, atheists and theists agree that we all descend from a common ancestor. Every human being therefore shares biological continuity with that common ancestor. This would further imply that every human being is guilty of the crime of every human being, since there is a biological connection between everyone. Are we all accountable for the burning of Basile’s house? And if you are alive right now, then it implies that you are dead and alive at the same time since the “common ancestor” is dead and you are that common ancestor! A clear contradiction.
Faced with the failure of these two positions, the atheist has no choice but to add criteria upon criteria to his theory, without ever solving the problems he faces. This is because the source of his confusion is fundamental and lies in two errors:
- The criterion is arbitrary
- A relational theory cannot allow for the persistence of personal identity over time
The first point seems obvious. Why choose biology to preserve identity rather than psychology? Or vice versa? In all cases, atheists choose a criterion on the basis that it confirms some of their intuitions or because they find it practical. This is why the literature on the subject makes a mockery of any ontology of identity.
The flaw of this arbitrary choice is that it will not be able to objectively justify its selection within an ethical system. Accordingly, the judge will never be able to justify judgment in regards to X.
The second point is also self-evident: a simple relationship between two objects does not imply that they are the same thing. No relationship, however strong it may be, can make two different things into one identical thing. It would be like saying that a blank canvas and a painting are identical because they have continuity in time. Or a piece of clay and its statue. And then if we tore this same canvas, or this statue, we could sell it at the same price because they are identical. Nobody would accept that.
Two individuals whose constitution differs, whose mental states diverge, will never be the same being, unless we point out an unchanged substance in that person, which is stable and unchanging. By elimination, it can only be the soul. A reality that Allah had already informed us of in previous revelations, and which the modernist have rejected only out of rebellion against their Lord.
The atheist thus remains with no answer. Forced to the grotesque conclusion that he exists only in the present, elusive moment, which when we try to perceive it, it is already past. A short existence for a small individual. He loses the opportunity to create any coherent system of ethics or any society based on reason. In the process he loses himself. In the face of this appalling realization, one cannot help but remember the Words of Allah:
“And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient.” [Quran 59:19]