Where Is Ultimate Justice on Atheism? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Nowhere, as far as I can tell.  Consider this scenario.  A young man grows up and forms radical political beliefs.  Upon reaching his 30’s, he seizes political power in his country.  He remains in power throughout his entire life.  During his reign, he routinely lies, cheats, steals, murders, and rapes.  Since he is in total command of law enforcement and the military in his country, nothing can be done to punish him for his crimes.  At the age of 93, he dies a peaceful death in his palace.

In what sense, on atheism, has justice been given to our dictator?  After all, he led a morally corrupt life and was never punished or held accountable for anything he ever did wrong.

Let’s look at another example.  This time a young woman feels a calling to feed the poor in a distant country.  At the age of 25, she travels to this impoverished land and begins to selflessly aid the people living there.  Because of her ethnicity, the government begins to persecute her.  She is jailed, beaten, raped, and then murdered by corrupt government authorities and dies at the age of 35.

In what sense, on atheism, has justice been given to the young woman?  After all, she led a morally virtuous life, selflessly helping others, and for her efforts was persecuted, tortured, and murdered.

Since, on atheism, there is no afterlife, then there is no chance for justice to be given anyone after they die.  Death ends any chance for justice to be properly administered.  There isn’t anyone who isn’t angry at how the dictator died peacefully at a ripe old age while never paying for any of his numerous crimes.  There isn’t anyone who isn’t also angry that the young woman died violently, never being rewarded properly for her selfless acts.

On atheism, all we can say is, “Oh well.  That’s life.”  But it’s even worse than that, because I cannot see how the atheist can rationally tell anyone to be selfless and help the poor and not become a ruthless dictator.  It seems that the dictator led a life filled with pleasure, that he flourished, that he accomplished many of his personal goals, and that he suffered very little.  The young woman led a life filled with suffering, was not able to accomplish all of her goals, and lacked many of the pleasures that life can offer.

If there is nothing beyond this life, then how can the atheist tell anyone not to be a dictator, if the opportunity arises?

  • Truth and reality is not about picking which team has the snazziest uniforms and sticking with them regardless of their win/loss record.

    First one would need demonstrate there is “ultimate justice” (not that we desire “ultimate justice”) for this question to have relevancy on worldview viability.

    Bill Pratt: …I cannot see how the atheist can rationally tell anyone to be selfless and help the poor and not become a ruthless dictator.
    .
    Really? You don’t have a concept of alternative views other than you own? You can’t think of any other reason (other than “ultimate justice”) to convince another to selflessly help the poor, or avoid becoming a ruthless dictator (if given the opportunity)?

    Hint: Most ruthless dictators have problems of their own, maintaining ruthless dictatorships. One still has to get along with a world society. Further, helping the poor improves society as a whole, and even from a purely pragmatic standpoint can improve one’s own well-being.

  • SteveJ

    I’m not an atheist, but I think these kinds of appeals are fallacious. The bottom line of your argument is: “People want ultimate justice and, because atheism doesn’t offer any, atheism must not be true.” But an appeal to the negative consequences of a belief doesn’t disprove that belief. It doesn’t matter which belief is preferable — only which is true.

    It’s like saying, “Native American religions that believe in animal immortality are more likely to be true that Christianity because the latter doesn’t grant your fond wish of seeing your pet in the afterlife, which is something we all want.” Would you accept such an argument?

  • Bill Pratt

    Steve,
    Where in the blog post did I say that atheism isn’t true because there is no ultimate justice?

  • Todd Pratt

    Bill,

    If I read this right, the indignation of the post is that there is no ultimate justice without the fear of judgement, I would presume coming from god. So, without the fear of god to judge our actions post-death, what is to keep us from acting bad while we are alive?

    Unfortunately, while we are alive, dictators may live their lives without penalty, benevolent women will be murdered, rapists may never be caught, etc… We may not like the concept, but that is reality. There is no natural justice in the world.

    So, if there is no natural justice, who will police morality? It is the duty of humanity as a whole to hold accountable those persons that would detract from the well-being of society. It is the duty of every human to remove the dictator and reward the woman. If this was the focus of humanity, there would be less injustice.

    Believing that god must exist to punish the wicked might make you feel that justice will be served, but is intellectually dishonest. The idea that god controls justice through fear of punishment after death provides a convenient excuse for the religious to simply avoid their duty to humanity saying, “bad people will be judged by god when they die”, as opposed to taking the more inconvenient path of taking action against injustice now.

  • Todd Pratt

    … I should have caveatted that last paragraph saying that in principle, belief in god could lead to the apathy of not taking action. In fact, I know that many Christians take action against injustice where others do not. It was not meant to be a dig against Christianity, but rather to illustrate a path of reasoning that if god is the ultimate punisher, why then should one take action now when god will sort it out later.

  • Bill Pratt

    Todd,
    Where does the duty to hold people accountable come from, on atheism? How is it that you have arrived at a transcendent duty which you claim all people must perform?

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    You said, “One still has to get along with a world society.” This seems obviously false. There are many dictators in history who did not have to get along with world society, as long as they kept their crimes contained mostly within their borders.

  • Bill Pratt,

    I apologize for the uncomplimentary comparison, but it is recognizable and apt—this is basic used car salesmanship. A simple strategy:

    (1) Discover what the customer thinks is important.
    (2) Convince them to buy the car you want by claiming the car is full of (1).
    (3) Convince them to not buy a car you do not want by claiming said car has no (1).

    This blog entry leapfrogs into decrying atheism for failing to have “ultimate justice” without first demonstrating “ultimate justice” exists! Atheism likewise may not have shoes and ships and sealing wax; cabbages and kings. Atheism may not have boiling hot seas and winged pigs—but this has little meaning if such things either do not exist or do not apply to “atheism.”

    I understand you blog as a Christian talking to other Christians. Yet isn’t this equally like new car ownership? As we drive off the lot, we hope we received the best value for our money. No one wants to know they could have had more for less money paid in another car.

    So we want to hear compliments about how wonderful the purchase was.

    Likewise Christians want to have their ears tickled with how great their “purchase”—Christianity—is because it gives them “ultimate justice.” No one wants to tackle the harder question whether it actually exists!

    I’m sorry atheism cannot give sound-bite answers to difficult questions. As nice as a heaven may be, atheism cannot provide it. And, as much as we desire “ultimate justice”—we do not find it in atheism.

    But “wanting something” and “something is true” are two vastly different propositions! If there is no heaven, no easy sound-bite answers and no “ultimate justice” then such questions do not impact atheism’s viability.

    The only reason I responded, was my utter disappointment in the inability to even dip one’s toes into an alternative moral system to understand what could be utilized within that system to convince others. I may better answer your question in my response on Part II

  • Wally

    So let’s flip this around.
    At age 93, the wicked man truly repents, dies peacefully and spends eternity in heaven.
    Where is the ultimate justice there?
    How about, 2 days before the virtuous woman died, she curses god for allowing years of imprisoned rape. She burns forever in hell.
    Is that Ultimate Justice to you?

  • Sure, it’d be nice to imagine that we all get what we
    deserve. Is there any evidence of this?

    Hey … I know! Let’s imagine that there’s an afterlife where
    the good are rewarded and the bad punished! Yeah—there’s the solution. We’ll
    just imagine this into existence.

    As for what path in life we should take, don’t you have a
    conscience to guide you in this? If you were to beat someone up for no reason,
    wouldn’t your conscience punish you?
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2011/12/understanding-morality-its-really-not-that-hard/

  • “On atheism, all we can say is, “Oh well. That’s life.””

    No, we can also fight for social justice in this life, to do our best to prevent the tragedies such as the one you cite.

    Far worse, if there IS no ultimate justice, to shrug and say “everything will be sorted out after we die”.