Thursday, November 27, 2008

Can atheists be moral?

A lot of atheists are offended when Christians bring out the moral argument for God because they misconstrue the premise that "If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values" to mean, "If you don't believe in God, then you can't be moral." And then they'll point out that atheist are often more moral than Christians. And then the Christian will say, "Oh no, you've misunderstood me! I agree that atheists can be moral. In fact, I know atheists who are more moral than some Christians I know. That wasn't my point at all! I'm just saying that nobody can be moral if there are no objective moral standards at all, and there can be no objective moral standards if there's no God to ground them in. It has nothing to do with whether you believe in God or not."

Recently somebody took a poll asking people to list their religion (or lack thereof) and their position on abortion. Almost straight down the line, the Christians were prolife and the atheists were prochoice. It made me think that, by golly, maybe Christians are more moral than atheists after all! :-)


At 12/01/2008 7:27 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

What poll?

At 12/01/2008 8:06 PM , Blogger Sam said...

It was just a short poll on Yahoo Answers. Maybe 30 people answered it. Thanks for the link.

At 12/05/2008 6:43 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

Yes atheists can be moral, and this is true even if they are right about the non existence of god.

I recognise the pattern of how the argument goes awry that you present here but even when atheists understand perfectly what the theist is saying about objective moral values, to be honest, I don't blame them for getting a bit frustrated with the lack of depth to the arguments often offered for why god is necessary.

I interpret your quip on abortion as humorous.

At 12/06/2008 1:56 AM , Blogger Sam said...

I'm glad you saw the humour in that. :-)

You should write a blog about how objective morality can be grounded in the absence of any god.

At 12/06/2008 5:55 AM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

I might write a blog post on this topic soon, thanks for the suggestion.

Personally, I think the part of the problem with these discussions between theists and atheists on morality is that the lack of shared frame of reference makes talking about this particular topic very difficult.

I think the rot sets in with the objective/subjective distinction, which might not be as helpful as it appears.

At 12/11/2008 2:16 PM , Blogger Paul said...

I'm late to this discussion, but I think you're on to something with your last point. Atheists and Christians do tend to take opposing views on many issues. This means that somebody is taking the wrong side on these moral concerns (assuming, of course, there is such a thing as right and wrong). Now, since we are often accused of holding oppressive and bigoted views on things like abortion, premarital sex, and homosexuality (i.e., we are wrong and bad), then it is only fair to return the charge if our positions happen to be the right ones. If Christianity and the morality which it entails happens to be true, and if Christians hold to that standard more closely than atheists, then it is necessarily true that Christians are more moral than atheists.

I think the only question, then, is whether or not Christianity is actually true.
(I suppose one might try to argue that atheists behave more consistently with the Christian ethic than Christians themselves, but even if that could somehow be proven it would still be a large strike against them that they do so without affirming the author of that morality.)


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