Apologetics

Can An Atheist Be Moral?

This is an article written by fellow Christian Blogger Haden Clark, on his blog Help Me Believe: Strengthen the Believer, Answer the Critic. I found the article well written and he articulates a point very well from the Objective Morality Argument. With his permission it is re-posted here, if you enjoy this article you should visit his website for more of his writings by clicking the image below.

 

help me believe

I read an article the other day accusing theists of claiming that God is the basis of morality and therefore an atheist cannot be moral. Just so we are 100% clear with each other: I’ve never heard a theist make this argument. The author of the article is making the classical mistake of conflating moral epistemology (knowledge of moral facts) with moral ontology (existence of moral facts).

Christopher Hitchens did this all the time. I always loved listening to Hitch debate, but he made this categorical error in almost every debate he was in. At some point in the debate he would put forth a question to the audience like only he could, “Name me one moral action that a theist can take that an atheist cannot.” Obviously, Hitch would say it much more eloquently. But he completely misses the point. The moral argument for God’s existence isn’t that atheists don’t know how to be moral, but that on atheism as a worldview there is no objective grounding for morality. The moral argument is often put forth like this:

  1. If God does not exist there are no objective moral facts.
  2. There are objective moral facts.
  3. God exists.

How does one arrive at the conclusion that theists are saying atheists can’t be moral? Of course they can! Christian theists believe that all people – including atheists – are made in the image of God and through the natural law that is present in all of us have knowledge of the eternal law which includes objective morality. All people know right from wrong, whether they believe in God, or not. I’ve never heard a Christian theist say otherwise.

The issue the atheist faces isn’t that they don’t know morality, but they can’t ground it objectively on their worldview. On the atheist worldview there can be no objective morality because morality can’t be grounded external to the human mind which was produced by natural selection of random mutations. It may be your preference not to murder, but you can’t say that it is objectively wrong. It may be beneficial for the survival of our species to act morally, but why should anyone value the survival of our species? What if someone doesn’t, can you say objectively that they are wrong?

The problem isn’t that the atheist doesn’t know morality, of course they do. My atheist friends put me to shame. The problem is that the existence of objective moral facts isn’t coherent with an atheistic worldview, yet we all observe these moral facts on a daily basis. There must be something external to the human mind, something transcendent in order for there to be objective moral facts. No such thing exists on the atheistic worldview.

Whether theist, or atheist, none of us can be moral enough. We know intuitively that there is a moral law and that we break it from time-to-time. We rightfully feel guilty when we do something immoral. Our guilt leaves us looking for salvation. Thankfully, God provided a way for salvation at the cross of Christ where he paid the price for all of our immorality and sinfulness.

Atheists can be moral. Theists can be immoral. The existence of objective moral facts only makes sense on a theistic worldview. Jesus paid the price for all of our immorality.

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50 replies »

  1. Why does morality have to be proven a law of nature? It obviously isn’t.

    Why cant people just accept morality as a concept we base our societal laws on (which we collectively vote on for the greater good so it’s as fair as possible)?

    We all know that morality is a concept we have evolved as societies; what does morality have to do with the theory of creation?

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    • IF Morality was a democratic product of a society based on a collective vote as you state, then any society would be considered moral if they have enough people supporting the behavior.

      If the vast majority of Germany supported the Nazis, that in no way makes them a moral society.

      Morality cannot change with popular opinion, which is what we argue.

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      • But since morality is a concept, it is slightly arbitrary anyways based on the time period and location.

        Theists often try to use the Nazi argument to suggest that “if suffering and ‘evil’ exist, someone must have created them”; We already know good and bad things exist, it is natural for beings with brains and central nervous systems to seek pleasure and avoid pain/suffering; I’m still unconvinced it was all created intentionally (especially by someone with good/selfless intentions).

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      • That’s the thing! Morality CANNOT be based on time period and location or it would subjective. And in that framework how are we supposed to know WE have the moral high ground here in America in 2018?

        Let’s imagine there is no God. Everything is natural and natural processes. The Universe popped into existence all on its own, un-caused and here we are.

        In that worldview how can you determine what is right or wrong, good or bad? You are just a random collection of molecules trying to evolve itself, and so am I…. so in that respect MY RIGHT is always going to be right. Your right is just your opinion.

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      • Atheism is not the position that the universe popped into existence from nothing.

        Anyways, we were not capable of conceptualizing such a thing as morality when we were unevolved, but for the past several millions of years, along with creating and evolving language and music and arts and countless concepts that define the societies in which we live, morality has made it’s way from our collective consciousness and agreement to our laws and standards.

        Its just not any more complicated than that and it really doesn’t have much to do with existentialism further than that.

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      • Great points. So is it your position, that today in 2018 we are MORE MORAL than any other time in human history? If so, which part of the world today are you referring to specifically? Just this past week in India three girls were raped and then set on fire when their families complained to police.

        Are they part of our most evolved moral society? If not, why are only portions of our human race “evolving” morally?

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      • If by “we” you mean western societies then I’d say, as a whole, yes. Civilizations evolve as time passes.
        India happens to be a very sexually repressed place where women’s and girl’s bodies are sexualized and shamed to the point of a sexually dysfunctional society, so that story is not shocking at all.

        Rape and violent crime existing is not evidence for a creator or against a creator; it is evidence that, if there IS a creator, they are a lousy one.

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      • So because man can do evil things, God is a lousy creator???? I don’t follow. When I look at the universe as a whole, I see a magnificent creation…. even down to the smallest cell in the human body… MIRACULOUS design….

        No douchebag in India is going to reduce that level of wonder and amazement we see throughout the universe.

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      • YES humans can do horrible evil things, but we are also capable of incredible acts of love, discovery, innovation, kindness.

        God created a race of creatures capable of AMAZING things! But as with all things, some people choose to do evil while most choose to do good.

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      • So again, why should god not take responsibility for a creation that great detail and care was put into that causes needless suffering and allowing it to drag on for millennia?

        Why does inventing roses justify inventing rape?

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      • Rape and every other evil act is a product of our “Sin” or rebellion against God. In order for God to create beings that would come into a relationship with him freely, he had to give us Free Will.

        If we were robots incapable of doing an evil act, that would not be love.

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      • So why did god invent sin if “he” hates it so much?

        And why should we agree with god’s opinions about what “sins” are?

        I personally think unmarried, consensual, adult sex is ethical; why should I go to lengths to try and convince myself otherwise?

        The noble, courageous thing to do is stand up for what you truly believe, not what others say you should believe.

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      • God didn’t invent sin, he invented free will. You should agree with His opinion ONLY if He is REAL.

        Using your outline of morality, you would say an Adult man and his Adult daughter can have consensual sex… and that is ethical?

        Sorry about the Nazi thing, but Hitler stood up for what he believed and see where that got us.

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      • I would say the issue of insest between adults is not an ethical or criminal issue, unless they are risking breeding in which case one of them should be sterilized (ethically speaking).

        Hitler also drank water and took showers.

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      • Interesting, at least you are consistent.

        Most people would agree it’s ethically and morally wrong, which is why most states have laws against it.

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      • Well aware that most people blindly agree that adult insest is immoral, what sheeple think generally doesn’t impact my personal opinions.

        I think if a child results from insest, criminal charges should be made based on negligence/endangerment of the child that was preventable. But other than that, what consenting adults do with their bodies is none of my business.

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      • I would not say that America is THE most moral country, I’m not even sure how one would measure that;

        Either way, what does that have to do with whether morality is evidence of theism or not?

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      • Your position is that morality has evolved.

        If that is true, then there cannot be a time in the past, when society was more moral than today. Evolution does not work backwards.

        If we can observe a time in our distant past, when society was more moral, then we can prove that morality does NOT evolve at all.

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      • When a civilization has died out, their stage of evolution is irrelevant to us.
        We can only base our current evolution on those who existed before us and bred us into existence; we are all from different lands and therefore experience different ideas of morality.

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      • I don’t want to keep you here all night Amanda, I would just like to say one final thing. It is my hope that you do not let the religious on this earth drive you away from the truth that God exists.

        I was an atheist for 35 years and Jesus revealed himself to me 11 years ago. I know the truth now. The truth is this. God created you to have a relationship with you, He loves you more than anything else. You live in a world where it is normal and cool to mock Him, where they teach that we evolved from animals..

        But in your heart I hope you know, you are far more than an evolved primate. Your DNA is uniquely yours…. there has never been an Amanda like you in the past and never will be again in the future. Jesus (a real man and God) came to earth, so we could have that relationship with God that He so desires.

        I thank you for your time here. And I will continue to try to answer your questions.

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      • Well the thing is there are many religions. All different, similar, and interesting, but all theory.
        I’ve personally studied religion and theism and creationism and am well aware with all of the arguments used to justify practicing religion, because I was religious myself for most of my life.

        In the end its all just “because my religion’s book says so” and that will never be enough to convince a true skeptic.

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      • I was a true skeptic for 35 years. When Jesus revealed himself to me supernaturally, that sent me on a pathway of study and discovery about the validity of Holy scripture.

        Certainly I could easily disprove the Bible and be on my way.

        But that’s not what happened. The more I studied the history of scripture, how we received it, the Archaeology that supports it, etc etc… The more that revelation was supported.

        This is where most atheists claim I was never a true atheist to begin with…. But as Mulder would say “The TRUTH is out there” and His name is Jesus Christ.

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      • You mean like this?

        This is LUCY, the most famous Missing Link, which turns out to be, just another ape. But when scientists use their wonderful imaginations, they create these works of art to place in museums to TEACH the “truth” of evolution.

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      • Actually, when scientists realize a theory is wrong, they accept it and continue researching, observing, studying, and making new theories based on the info they gather (instead of clinging to stone age, self-centered, hopeful religious theories).

        This is the difference between science and religion.
        And its the reason scientists are honored with awards and given funds for research and have stable incomes and careers while priests guilt their congregations out of their paychecks and take vows of poverty because not enough people buy their bull.

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      • If you know 2+2 = 4 do you need to keep asking more questions? Do you need to keep trying to dig deeper? Why can’t you accept 2+2 is 4 and move on to other things?

        As it relates to God, we believe He has Revealed the truth to us of His existence. Key word being “truth”. Not theory. If you know a truth, if you continue to ask questions of it, it was not really truth at all.

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      • Knowing is vastly different than believing.

        Let’s not forget that it isn’t called THEism for nothing. If I can admit that evolution is a theory, then you should at the very least acknowledge that creationism is a theory.

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      • Why would I acknowledge something I know to be untrue? There is no theory of creation, God created all that we see. This was revealed to me by God and is supported all through the universe around me.

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      • But then it’s unfair and inconsistent of you to accuse me of believing a theory by believing evolution. They are both theories, whether you acknowledge that fact or not.

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      • Its a theory that I believe, just as the christian brand of creationism is the theory you believe.
        Its only fair to accept that there are theories that are more believable to some of us and other theories that are more believable to other people.

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      • Because you seem to think I think morality evolved as it’s own separate entity and I dont think that.

        To say the theory of creation is less of a theory than the theory of evolution is scientifically unfactual, and “I disagree with science” or “I only believe science that fits into my religious theories” are not arguments against evolution or for creation.

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      • Creation is not a theory, because it is not a scientific field of endeavor… it is a theological system of belief.

        Creationism is a system of belief. Evolution is a theory of science.

        It is not possible that morality evolved. Because evolution does not evolve things in reverse.

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      • It is a philosophical theory, now we’re into semantics.
        They are both sources of theories of existentialism, how’s that?

        Evolution of a civilization ends upon their death though; Many civilizations have existed longer than the US has, and when they die off so does the bit of evolutionary adapting and changing they did.

        Humans have reached a point that natural laws do not always apply to us (obese people dont die off, they multiply; that’s the opposite of natural selection/survival of the fittest).

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      • Let me ask you this…

        Does Love Exist? Yes or No?
        If yes, is that a belief or do you know ?
        Would you say you have “faith” that love exists? Or is it a known fact of life that love exists?

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      • It does exist as a concept for a collection of emotions and feelings; I know because concepts exist in a world where humanity exists to verbalize/manifest it

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      • It may depend on what device you’re using but if you tap on someone’s name or icon the follow should be in the upper right corner

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  2. By the way Amanda, thank you for taking the time to pose your question… To delve deeper, Christians believe God placed morality within the hearts of us all, so even as a young child we contain a moral compass without the influence of society. Unfortunately society has a way of overriding that compass in many people.

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  3. Society is made up of people though, so what’s the difference between society and the people?

    Why should god get to take credit for the positive things but we have to take the blame for the negative? And why are we ok with this?

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    • Good QUESTION!!!! So let me ask you, is there one thing in this world that is negative, that man cannot be blamed for? And if so, why would you then place that blame on God?

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      • There are far more than one negative things we can’t be blamed for (assuming by “negative” we agree we’re talking about things that inflict pain or suffering or that are against our well being/greater good);
        natural disasters, miscarriages, diseases, tragic accidents, the list goes on.

        I would not personally place the blame on a god because I’m not convinced there is a creator and therefore do not hold a position of theism; however, a Christian should hold their god responsible for the negative because it is hypocritical to say someone invented and created everything except for all the bad, negative, uncomfortable, sad, violent, painful, disgusting, disturbing things. It’s illogical.

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