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February 27, 2008

Can Atheism Explain Objective Moral Values?

Stand to Reason blogger Brett Kunkle makes a good point about atheism and moral values. Namely, atheists can have good moral values. But knowing moral values, and offering a basis for presupposing moral values, are two different things.

For example, Christopher Hitchens loves to offer a challenge to theists. I heard him challenge Mark Roberts in a radio debate hosted by Hugh Hewitt, sometimes called The Great God Debate.

You have to name a moral action taken or a moral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer. I have yet to find anyone who can answer me that.

~ Christopher Hitchens

While I have seen this challenge adequately answered, the challenge itself misses a basic point. This challenge proves something the Christian theist already agrees with (Romans 2:14,15). Atheists know what good means and atheists can do good things. They can't not know what good is. The knowledge of right and wrong is written on the heart.

As Kunkle points out, and Christian apologist Paul Copan elaborates on in his article on moral realism, the problem is not presupposing good exists. The challenge is offering a basis for presupposing good exists.

To ground an objective moral order, the atheist must show how naturalism furnishes an ontological framework for the intrinsic dignity of human beings, universal human rights, and moral responsibility. The atheist has shown no such ontological foundation (based on naturalism) to account for intrinsic human dignity, human rights, etc. Therefore, the atheist's attempt to ground an objective morality fails.

~ Paul Copan

“Ontological framework” is another way to address the essence of a thing. It is a more fundamental question. What is the naturalistic basis for the existence of good?

Hitchens offers no adequate basis for his knowledge of good. He doesn’t even attempt it. Ever the skilled debater, he shifts the argument to knowledge of good that we all have and takes the focus off the dicey question of the basis for good for which his worldview has no answer.

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Regis Nicoll

Jeff--As greater minds have pointed out, the challenge for theists is the "problem of evil" but the challenge of atheists is the existence of good. Significantly, while the Christian WV offers an ontological explanation for its "problem" that logically coheres, corresponds to reality and is livable; the atheist can only recite some self-refuting tale of how our selfish genes "learned" the need for cooperation (faux altruism).


Didn't Nietzsche himself state that Atheism can provide no basis for morality?


I don't pretend to be the next great apologist or anything, but why isn't anyone pointing out that the absence of evil would be an even greater argument against Christianity?

The Bible expends some 66 books describing the utter wickedness and depravity of man; Jesus's prophetic metaphor of the church would be tares among the wheat (i.e. ecclesiastical misconduct was prophesied before there was an ecclesia), and the book of Revelation, at least according to on traditional view, prophesied human history would be a continuing state of war and misery.

The presence of evil is the only possible state harmonious with scripture. The "absence of evil" would falsify the entire Bible.

Steve (SBK)

Steve (not me),

Why is the Bible important? Why is it important not to falsify the Bible? Your comments make it sound like the purpose of the Bible is to describe evil, and somehow implies to me that we should be trying to convince atheists that the presence of evil in the world is important because it's in the Bible; you cannot argue 'from the Bible' to someone who rejects the possibility of its foundation in God, nor who uses the existence of evil as an argument against God (and the Bible). It would all just be passed off as self-referential mumbo-jumbo because the Bible isn't seen to have any authority.
Of course though, in a sense, you are right... for if evil does not exist, there is nothing wrong, and there is no need for a remedy, and Christ is nonsense. But the Bible is God's revelation of himself to us (covering many, but of course not all, aspects of himself and us). He is describing his character, his love for us... not evil: we all know that exists, we need to know God.

Samuel Skinner

So you can only be good because there is a divine standard? You are aware with the fact that just because you want something to be true, doesn't make it so?

In addition isn't morality impossible with theism? If people live forever, murder isn't really murder. If good created us and knows all our actions we have no responsibility. If we are born sinful, then good is just brownie points. The fact is you can't construct a coherent system of morality using theism.


Because I try (unlike some) to keep my comments brief, that does leave greater possibility for misunderstanding. Why is the Bible important? Because it is the only objective source of information on which Christianity is based. (Inner light, etc, is fine, but inescapably subjective. General revelation is also subjective). It is not an authority to unbelievers, but it is the primary target.

Besides that, the Biblical worldview acts as a model from which one can and should make certain predictions. Based on the Biblical model, because of man's depravity we would predict continued wickedness and misery until Christ returns. As a model it is falsifiable, thus testable. The atheists have their own secular evolutionary model, but it doesn't predict anything useful. No matter which direction the wind blows, there is an evolutionary explanation.

I obviously was not saying the only purpose of the Bible is to describe evil, but quite a lot is dedicated to a comprehensive indictment of the human race. The saving work of Christ is meaningless unless it is first established from what we are to be saved.

My point, I suppose, is that when Dawkins et al invoke the history of human cruelty and misery as an argument against God, they're trying to have their cake and eat it too. If human history were instead a steady march to a utopia of peace, love, and technological conquest over suffering (in other words like Star Trek TNG) that would be much more compatible with a secular evolutionary reality. It would show the Bible to be wrong about man and wrong about the future, and therefore Christianity a bunch of bunk.

In short, the way they use history amounts to "heads I win, tails you lose." Problem is that no one is calling them on it.

Steve (SBK)

Thanks for the clarification Steve. Good thoughts.


Mr. Skinner,
Others here may have different suggestions, but I recommend you begin by reading "Mere Christianity" by C.S.Lewis or "I'm Glad You Asked" by Ken Boa, or something similar.

Your questions are legitimate ones, but have all been answered before, would take too much space and time to answer here, and would require someone to do a poor job of recapitulating what more qualified people have already done much better.

Best regards.

Samuel Skinner

No, my point was that it is impossible to be a consist theist and moral. There has to be repeat rationalizations and double think. By contrast atheism doesn't have that.

Basically I'm flipping the question on its head and asking how you can be moral with god! It isn't just smart alecky- it turns out that ethics with god are the same- except that when you add specific gods to the mix they become impossible!

I'm not joking. I could say that there is an objective morality the same way theists concieve of it- if you have complete knowledge of the situation and understanding of your own reasoning you can "fill in" for a law giver. Judges do this all the time. Not perfectly, but better than in the past (for example they no longer hang people for stealing or mercifully deport then to the colonies).



As far as wish fulfillment, that was the substance of Freud's lame argument against God. The refutation is that everyone's beliefs are self-serving, everyone can be accused of wish fulfillment regardless of his beliefs, so the argument becomes self-canceling.

Start at the beginning. You talk about goodness and morality and ethics but make no effort to define them. In bypassing that most crucial point, you try to make an end run around the challenge proposed by theists.

All your questions have been asked, and answered many times before. The short answer: What you have proposed as a secular ethic, the Bible describes as "every man doing what was right in his own eyes." Instead of human progress, it leads to anarchy.

Please define and defend morality, goodness, and ethics from an atheistic, evolutionary perspective. Then you would be rising to the challenge.

Steve (SBK)

I don't doubt that there are difficulties with "ethical dilemmas" or that some (i.e. all) people are inconsistently moral.
I'd also like to hear some of the "repeat rationalizations and double think" instead of accusations of.
But here's the rub, as the article said (did you read it?): Atheism has no ground for objective morality, human dignity, etc.
The inconsistency for atheists is that they try to live moral lives or have judges of actions, as though there is actually a binding law that ought to be followed... which is of course complete nonsense from that worldview. They cannot live morally, because there is no moral base, it's an illusion. They can not treat others with dignity (why would they?) because there is no basis for that dignity (as though trillions of atoms combined suddenly take on some kind of dignity). The atheist just ends up rationalizing away their beliefs and actions by ignoring the implication of the meanings of most words, or positing existence of objective standards with no ability to back it up.
Again, there may be difficulties in resolving certain moral dilemmas for a theist (because of incomplete knowledge)... but there can never be moral dilemmas for an atheist: morality is an illusion (unless you can show me how it is not, but the point of the article above is that it has not been shown from an atheistic understanding of the world).


To take a specific example: when a child dies shortly after being born, Judeo-Christianity can validly say that it is a tragedy because death and decay and loss is not what God intended - this is clearly documented in The Book.

An atheist can call it tragic because people react emotionally to the event. But the atheist cannot say if such a reaction is valid, or merely a holdover from less sophisticated times. Why is a child dying such a bad thing? Who ultimately cares if our species survives, anyway? And how, statistically speaking, does one child matter that much?

And then there's the Darwinist refrain of "survival of the fittest", which must remain unmentioned to family and friends of the deceased.

Atheists can only point out the variance between the moral standard of theists and the actual behavior of theists because the standard is presumed to be universal. If, instead, the standard is merely a product of evolution, then theists becoming hypocrites is actually evolution in action.

Samuel Skinner

1)No, wish fullfilment wasn't his arguement against god- just his explanation for why theism existed. Wish fullfilment does explain why people hold beliefs that have no basis in reality.

Never use the bible as a factual sorce in debating an atheist.

Never use evolution as a source of ethics. It is as dumb as using gravity.

2) Easy. God exists is one belief, and then people act as if he doesn't exist (god helps those who help themselves). God is love and the Old Testament. Purpose in life and what the purpose implies... All these have rationalizations, but it is like God and evil- they all are insufficient. I thought you'd be familiar with them by now.

Atheism doesn't have any ground for morality. Neither does music. Why? Because atheism is about the existance of god- not about morality! They are different subjects (science and philosophy I believe).

I'll give atheistic morality a shot. For the record I don't speak for all atheists (some are bastards, others are living saints- you get the idea). Good things are those that bring happiness, life, joy- things that preserve life or make it worth living. Bad things are the opposite. Evil is when a person acts in a bad way for their own benefit. Rules are followed because society wouldn't function without them. Being good is doing giving up actions and things that would have otherwise benefited you to help others (good people have less freedom of action than evil people). Morality is the study of actions to try to figure out what method works the best. For the most part people just wing it.

But you're asking for the overall justification aren't you? Why should we be good? Well, I never use evolution and no thinking atheist would either (it can be used to show where morality comes from). It is a strawman to say atheists use evolution as a basis for morality- the fact of the matter is that people try as much as possible to nullify indivual evolution- which is a good thing because evolution depends on death or different rates of reproduction (usually death though).

The dirty little secret is there are only about six reasons to be good: for the group, desire to be a good person, empathy, reputation, kids and fear of punishment. This holds true no matter if you are a theist or an atheist. Saying "God gives the rules" is simply 2 and 6- the only thing unique is you are claiming the rules are special. The rules theists have given though have nothing to do with the ones recorded in the holy texts- they got them from another source (well, most of them- some probably are from faith). Rejection of slavery, polygamy, genocide and other things that make us good people are all secular values. The bible may be for these things in one place, but against them in another! So it comes down to "interpretation" and the moral values of the person doing the reading in the first place.

As for the child being born, here is where cognitive dissodence kicks in- the kid goes straiht to heaven without having to suffer the hardships of this world! You should congradulate the parents! Of course you don't- you use an atheistic morality (you're actually stealing from secularists)- life is precious, not because it is written in stone, but because people value it. It is a tradgedy because a persons life was snuffed out before they even got a chance at living. In short it is impossible to critice it from theism. "God said death and decay are bad"- hah! If he set up the universe obvious he liked them enought to include them- but since he isn't evil...

Here is the rub- I can't give you a list of absolute and justified moral values- if only because the question of "what do we do when they conflict" comes up.

If this is to long, just go to daylight atheism- you have questions, he has answers. Or at least shorter answers.

Steve (SBK)

I don't have the time right now to point out all the inconsistencies in your thinking (I'm sure others will).
I will say that you cannot possibly back up this statement: "Evil is when a person acts in a bad way for their own benefit."
What happens if the 'bad' (a meaningless term in an atheist universe) person enjoys life more by 'doing something for their own benefit' or they feel they've done something to make life more 'worth living'? There is no "ought" they have to follow, simply because you (or everyone for that matter) thinks so.

When someone says that atheism and morality are different subjects and then starts to define atheistic morality and accuse theists of stealing atheistic morality... I assume they are confused.

Rolley Haggard


It has been my experience that the majority of those who characterize themselves as atheists do so not primarily because they are genuinely and dispassionately convinced that there is no God, but rather because they are deeply outraged at the kind of world God has put us in and is ostensibly overseeing. Their conclusion is that God is in truth a sadistic tyrant and that religion is a disingenuous construct intended to humor this god so that hopefully he will spare them when he destroys all the “unbelievers”. The result of it all is that this god gets his imperious ego stroked, and the “believers” become a bunch of fawning, self-righteous, look-down-the-nose-at-everyone-else hypocrites.

My response to such atheists is twofold. One, if God really is that way, then I’m with you, brother; where do I sign up to be a life-long, card-carrying atheist. On the other hand, don’t jump to conclusions; the stakes are too high. It may be that God actually is good, but that this other character, the Devil, has waged such a successful warfare that he has managed (as the bible actually does say) to “blind the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

There are a lot of people out there who claim to be Christians who are indeed fawning, self-righteous, look-down-the-nose-at-everyone-else hypocrites. But there are also a lot of us who though far from perfect, are nonetheless genuine, and can lay out, step by step, the incredibly compelling evidence that Jesus Christ is for real, and that He showed us what God is really like – a Creator who loved (and still loves) us literally more than His own life.

Blessings on you, my friend.


Well put, Rolley. There are resources out there that more than adequately address Samuel's challenges if he wants to pursue them.

Returning to the original subject, a couple thoughts come to mind.

1. To what does an atheist appeal when two atheists come up with totally contradictory ethical positions? Yes, an atheist could be uncompromisingly pro-life, but coercive eugenics for the improvement of the species has merit (and has been advocated for decades. Margaret Sanger's legacy survives). For any Babylon 5 fans, the Vorlons and Shadows had radically different agendas, but each had a point. Even though the Shadows were mostly portrayed as the bad guys, their strategy for improving the universe through promotion of conflict did have a certain Darwinian logic to it.

2. Using various parameters of social good such as emotional stability, reducing crime, reducing suicide, and many, many others, Christian standards of morality have repeatedly been demonstrated to represent the best strategy among human behaviors (examples: divorce is proven to be bad for kids, and not so great for adults; monogamy is optimal for both physical and mental health; homosexual behavior is deleterious to one's mental and physical health, etc). Martyrdom, of course, would constitute a major exception to this strategy.

So what is interesting is that if one were to, say, devise a sexual ethic based purely on scientific data with the singular objective of promoting general health, one would end up with an ethic that perfectly reflects the position of the Church for two millenia.

Gina Dalfonzo

Chuck's commentary today is relevant to the discussion, I believe:


Jason Taylor

Saying the connection of Atheism to morality is like the connection of music to morality is coy. Besides the fact that music does have connection of morality, atheism is a proposition of the foundation of everything; roughly that no such foundation exists. Therefore it includes morality.

"for the group, desire to be a good person, empathy, reputation, kids and fear of punishment." are reinforcments to morality not morality(actually kids is redundant-that is "for the group). It has long been understood that part of morality is that ones concept of such things is rightly understood and internalized.

The idea that morality is determined by the group is meaningless. If it is determined by the group it is honor and while honor has connections to morality it is not the same. Morality by definition includes a claim of objectivity. And in any case much of the Atheists ground shifts because they also maintain what is effectively a tribal myth of persecution(like everyone else today). And persecution by definition cannot be wrong if morality is group-specific.

I suppose one can say that morality can be explained by atheism if atheism includes Natural Law. However, arguably it has then become pantheism.
What most people mean by Atheism now, though, is in fact Positivism. And Positivism not only provides no explanation for morality, it provides no explanation for Positivism which obviously exists independant of the senses.

J. Clinton

This comment thread provides an excellent "for instance" of what I posted about.

Discussions about atheism and morality end up shifting the focus to epistemology or ethics and away from ontology. Stating definitions for good and bad miss the point entirely. Doing so simply proves Romans 2:14,15.

The proposition we ought to be discussing is, "naturalism provides zero basis for presupposing good exists." True or false, and why.

"Atheism doesn't have any ground for morality. Neither does music. Why? Because atheism is about the existance of god- not about morality! They are different subjects (science and philosophy I believe)."

As Jason correctly points out, music is not a view of reality. Atheism is. Big difference.

Again, the question is, why presuppose good exists? Don't define good. Explain why we should assume the existence of good if naturalism is true.


I must be missing something, but why does the atheist even need an ontologic basis for good (especially if must remain undefined)?

Samuel Skinner

Steve I mispoke. I meant naturalism (it is implicately atheistic, but a "worldview").

What do we do with people who enjoy evil and question are right to judge them? Prison, death or exile- they can spend the rest of their life understanding their folly. Those who refuse to respect others rights can not claim rights for themselves.

Rolley- I have no idea what kind of people you are dealing with, but if that is their view than they aren't atheists. Atheists lack belief in god- these people sound like believers who are annoyed by the inconsistancies.

Steve- That is completely irrelevant. Saying it willimprove the species through selection is twisted- if only because it involves killing large numbers of people, won't get the result you want and can be accomplished better with gene therapy. But the arguement you are making also applies to wheter people can agree to how much the ends justify the means. People will disagree because their perceptions are different (different experiences) as is the information they have. It is worth noting that the entire theory of Eugenics is flawed (if the poor have more children than they are the fittest, not the rich) and that the point in Babalyon 5 was that both groups were wrong. Or to put it another way- there is only one best way to do things.

As for what an atheist appeals to- the same things believers do, but without using scripture.

I always want to say this- have you fried your mind? Music is connected to morality?!?

Atheism is the lack of belief in god. Unless you claim everything exists only in relation to god it won't under mine your belief. However atheism deals with facts so it falls under science (except the more complicated arguements which head into philosophy and logic).

I was refering to reasons people are moral. Kids are different because they are your kids- the group is more abstract, but capable of commanding greater fanaticism.

I have no idea what you mean by "the tribal myth of persecution". The fact is atheists are persucuted for their lack of belief, just as Christians are persecuted for their beliefs (see China or North Korea).

Umm... positivism has no relation to science or morality. It is a theory by Comente on how knowledge advances.

As for morality- for the most part morality in society has advanced because people have insisted on it being less hypocritical. Morality is independant from the group, but you get it from the group... it is like science- it is independant of the scientists, but you get theories and concepts from them. Basically it is the built up experience of learning to live with other people (note definition may change if I am wrong).

Clinton. Atheism isn't a worldview. It is an absence of belief. If you can only behave morally by behaving things that aren't true... you are an nut!
Naturalism doesn't provide it- it is the basis we build off of. Just like external reality is the basis we build off of for science.

Here, let me put it simpler- it is impossible for a theist to be moral and consistant- after all this is what it is all about? You are aiming at atheism, but the fact is it is impossible for the theist, not the atheist. A person can work on naturalism and value life, but a theist cannot- after all their is an afterlife so this one is worthless- the same goes for all other facets of morality- an atheist can act good and consistantly because they live in this world and desire to make it better, but a theist can only do the same thing by double think! (by theist I mean followers of specific faiths- deists have no problem since they are practically atheist (or explicitly- depends on how they put "prime mover"))

Rolley Haggard


You may not have time to reply to everyone’s posts, and if so that’s fine. But I wanted to respond to a couple of items for the sake of (hopefully) clarity.

First, our interaction regarding what atheists really believe deep down. My point was that most of those who call themselves atheists say one thing – i.e., that they lack belief in God – but really and truly (and I’ve heard them admit it), they have not come to that conclusion on the basis of evidence, but rather, they have decided that if there is a God, He’s a monster, and therefore they deliberately choose not to “believe” in Him; i.e., they choose not to give Him so much as the time of day, let alone worship. So their “atheism” is a deliberate choice rather than a studied conclusion, and their reason for being an atheist is not because the evidence seems overwhelmingly to demonstrate it, but rather because extant religions fail to describe a God who is worth worshiping. So they are atheists by choice, not conviction. Their real credo, if they are honest, is not so much “I honestly don’t believe there is a God”, but “none of the gods I’ve heard of are worth believing in, so I choose not to believe in any of them.”

Second, I’m intrigued by your remark that “A person can work on naturalism and value life, but a theist cannot - after all there is an afterlife so this one is worthless - the same goes for all other facets of morality - atheists can act good and consistently because they live in this world and desire to make it better, but a theist can only do the same thing by double think!” I have to paraphrase your earlier quote above and say, “Samuel, I have no idea what kind of people you are dealing with, but if that is their view then they aren't Christians.” My confession – and that of every credible Christian who has lived since the time of Christ – is that all life, whether here or hereafter, is so infinitely precious that God chose to taste death for all of us so that we could have life that never ends. Are you telling me that all the “Christians” you’ve met consider this life here “worthless?” I would love to introduce you to any number of my friends and see how long you keep that opinion.

Jason Taylor

Skinner I did not mean that Atheists were NOT really picked on. I meant that they, like everyone else make being picked on a means of self-identity. This is obvious from surfing the blogs.
But my point was that if morals were group-specific, then therefore it cannot be wrong to persecute as that is merely upholding the group's standards at the time.

Jason Taylor


This is what Dictionary.com says

1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.
3. confidence; faith; trust: a child's belief in his parents.
4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: the Christian belief.

Atheism certainly is an opinion, Skinner.
Therefore it is a belief. Will you quit making yourself humpty dumpty and saying words mean what you mean them to mean.

As for Positivism, that is the belief that the senses are the only valid source of knowledge. And a good many modern Atheists say essentially that. If that is true then there is no such thing as abstraction, no such thing as morality and no such thing as Atheism.

Samuel Skinner

First off- if people believe there is a god and refuse to worship him they aren't atheists. Atheists are people who do not believe in god. If they believe in god they aren't atheists- they are angry (insert religion name here).

I was refering to consistancy. It is also worth noting your reasoning is flawed- people still don't have immortal life- they just get an afterlife. However since the afterlife existed before Jesus came to Earth he didn't grant people that gift- just entrance to heaven. But that misses the point I made- taking something that is infinite isn't immoral- after all it isn't like it will run out. I'm not saying you are immoral I am saying you are inconsistant- you don't base your ethics on your religious belief (although that is how you justify them), but on secular principles. That is one of the problem with religions- fundamentalists think the way I just outlined.

Obviously you aren't aware of the fact that few atheists have atheist as their source of idenity. The picked on (aka murdered, discriminated... picked on is such a neutral word) is an attempt to get people to realize that many people are hostie to nonbelief.

Than I have an infinite number of beliefs- after all I don't believe in an infinite number of gods. Neither do you for that matter. The fact is the term atheism is a lack of belief (god)- the only reason you can even come close to calling it a belief is that atheists have to explicitly state it in our theistic cuture.

Last time I checked beliefs were facts- the belief may be right or wrong, but it is a fact that a person holds them. Someone correct this if it is unclear.

"Senses are the only valid source of knowledge." I believe it would be better to say they are the only valid source of knowledge about the external world. Abstractions are constructs built to explain things in the external world that are assembled in our brains.


This is easy. Morals stem from society. Society is made up of all sorts of organizations (government, churches, ACLU, unions, companies) that influence a society's moral views.

I included religion in the above because it is the same as any other organization. Religion is no more connected to a special source of moral judgment than any other organization, it just thinks so because of its belief in the unbelievable.

Rolley Haggard

GJA, you did get one thing right. It IS unbelievable. The bible even says as much:

Long ago the prophet Habakkuk said, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- you would not believe if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:4)

And right after His resurrection, Jesus “showed the disciples His hands and His feet. And … they could not believe for joy.” (Luke 24:40-41)

I agree, it’s unbelievable, it’s too good to be true. Why do you think Christians are so joyful? It’s not because we’ve managed to convince ourselves to believe a lie. It’s because the evidence that it’s true is overwhelming.


"This is easy."

Sure, fella. It's very easy to make snap judgments when you have no knowledge of history, human nature, psychology or science. At least the loudmouths like Dawkins and Hitchens make some feeble attempt to learn history, enough to cherry pick the selective evidence that fits their predetermined conclusion. Let's have some real fun. Put your metaphorical money where your mouth is. How about getting 1000 atheists to volunteer to go off to some tropical island and see what kind of utopia they can create. I see "Lord of the Flies" part II. Prove me wrong.

The problem with you atheists is not your skepticism, but your lack of it. Chew on that one awhile.

The problem with my fellow Christians is that we get too wrapped up with atheists, who are so miniscule in number, when the more pressing problem of our society, indeed all humanity, is not its unbelief but its willingness to believe anything. And I am forced to concede that many Christians are just as guilty. According to a CNN poll 10 years ago, 80% of Americans believe the US government is actively suppressing evidence of prior alien visitation. Hello, Houston. We have a problem.


We already ran an experiment that is more telling. We sent children to the Catholic church.


Always useful to change the subject when you don't have a case, but I'm cool with that. Send your kids to public schools instead, "where the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests" according to research by Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University.


The Catholic church let immorality run unchecked among the priesthood, and deserves to be criticized.

Regis Nicoll

Here's the thing. When the Church does bad stuff, like the Catholic clergy sex scandals, it does so in complete disregard for the moral foundations of its worldview: the teachings of Jesus. In contrast, when atheists introduced the gulag, gas ovens, and "re-education" centers to the civilized world, they were merely taking their worldview to its logical conclusions.


An earlier post compared the Catholic "sex scandals" (euphemism for crime spree) to the genocide of Hitler and Stalin. I think this is going too far; the priests were immoral, but not in the league of mass murder. I denounce and reject this characterization.

But again, societal influences are what form morals. I think all people (believers and nonbelievers) can be moral or immoral depending on their society and how they align with it.

Theists take attempt to take the high ground by saying their moral views are the word of God.The result is: Moral theists are that way because of God. Moral atheists (and others who may just have a different view) are unlikely to exist, but will go to hell regardless. Immoral atheists are that way because they are atheists. And immoral theists are that way because??? the devil made me do it???


godjeeringatheist wrote: "the priests were immoral"
and in the next paragraph wrote: "But again, societal influences are what form morals."

So I'm a bit confused. Are you saying that under the right societal influences, what the priests did would not be immoral anymore?

Regis Nicoll

If, as you suggest, the source of morality derives from nothing higher than society, which morals should prevail? In some societies, people care widows; in others, they throw them on their husband's funeral pyre. However personally distasteful one may find the latter, without a transcendent benchmark, he is impotent do condemn it; after all, it is the practice that a particular society deems not only moral, but good.


You make it sound so simple, morals being formed by "societal influences." Please tell me where you're looking, because I don't see a consensus anywhere.

Murder is bad, except when it's "justified" by whomever, including lots of atheists. Slavery is bad, except historically it's been more the rule than the exception, is still practiced in the Islamic world, applied to most citizens of former communist states, and can fairly be compared to the caste system in India (which is certainly not theist). Stealing is bad, except when done by the state to fund social programs or weapons (whichever you're against). There is no moral consensus.

Everywhere I look, I see continuing conflict and disagreement over morality: Abortion. Environment. Taxation. Business practices. Divorce. Sex outside of marriage. To just blame disagreement over these issues on theists would be to demonstrate woeful ignorance of world culture and human psychology. Take all the theists out of the world, and NAMBLA would still be right here with the rest of you left behinders.

Despite the trite aphorism so often parroted, all legislation is morality. And in this country, there happens to be a notable lack of agreement. Please do tell us, where is this consensus? Is St. Obama going to raise his staff and bring us all together in harmony? Oh, never mind - he's not an atheist.

On the other hand.....Christians do believe that the law of God is written in men's hearts in a nonbinding sort of way. We affirm the fact there is some universal sense of right and wrong, which would enable even atheists to have morals, whether they acknowledge the source or not.


Let me be clear I don't think atheist are more moral, but I don't think theists are either.

Thanks to all for making my point so emphatically.

Don't fall into the trap that thinking your morality is THEE morality. Everyone I know thinks slavery is bad, but there were millions (theists and atheists} that owned slaves in the 1800's thinking it was perfectly moral. The Islamic world is theist (unless there are two Gods) according to the above slavery is moral there; certainly mistreatment of women (by my view, not theirs) is. There could be a society where child molestation, Warren Jeffs society for example.

There is disagreement on what is moral, and stark differences even among the most religious persons.

All this seems to emphasis there is no ultimate abitrator


Not much to object to in that. Have enjoyed the opportunity to dialog with you. I see it more as Christian morality vs all else, instead of theist vs. atheist; personally I'd probably choose to take my chances with an American atheist over a Wahhabi Muslim.

What you refer to a trap is only a trap if we are wrong. If God exists it is logical to believe there is transcendent right and wrong. If He has revealed Himself either in word (Bible), conscience, or nature, then we may have a shot at knowing "ultimate" morality. It is also reasonable to believe He wants us to know the difference between right and wrong and would provide some means to that end. Beyond that point, though, traps do indeed abound. The correct interpretation of Scripture is a challenging problem, resulting in, as you well know, much disagreement.

Rolley Haggard

…or that the Ultimate Arbitrator knew what He was talking about when, commenting on us, He said, “although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice [wickedness] are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

Jason Taylor

does the existence of disagreement prove that in fact that there is no right position.
Besides disagreements are usually about application and priority not principle. The justification for slavery given is usually that it is for some reason not really cruelty, not that cruelty is permissible.

Jason Taylor

You have to name a moral action taken or a moral statement uttered by a person of faith that could not be taken or uttered by a non-believer. I have yet to find anyone who can answer me that.

~ Christopher Hitchens

"Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image."

Regis Nicoll

GJA--Indeed, many Christians owned slaves and even justified the practice with select scriptural passages removed from their proper context. But the truth is a powerful thing. William Wilberforce, convicted by the clear teachings of scripture as well as the words and actions of Jesus, pierced the conscience of a whole society about the evils of slavery. Martin Luther King appealed to the same Standard in his fight for civil rights.

So like I said before; Christians can go wrong, and badly so. But at least they have a corrective to set them straight. All an atheist can do is appeal to whatever social ethic happens to be in vogue at the time, or coerce...I mean persuade others to his way of thinking.


**OUR** morals??!?!? You're two-for-two, GJA, because I'm confused again. Every Christian I know would much prefer a different set of morals - one where my particular sins aren't sins. And one in which there are no conflicts with friends and colleagues (like, say, homosexuality). So we know full well there are multiple sets of morals.

And the presence of even one example of a universal moral absolute (such as, say, rape or child abuse) would prove the existence of an arbitrator. Are you claiming that even rape and child abuse are only immoral due to society's momentary disapproval? And I'm not talking "possible", but actual society. And Warren Jeffs is, um,... in jail.


I particularly dislike the term 'Objective Morality'. Morality is by itself innately subjective. Wrong from the start of the title.

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