Morality and Atheism

Photo on 10-31-14 at 9.15 AM

After watching some old YouTube videos about atheism, the question of morality comes up a lot. Where do atheists get morality from? It’s a common question that Christians ask atheists. For some, this is coming from the assumption that morality can only come from God. Others are just curious, so let’s not put every Christian in the same box. And let’s not forget that other religious people might have the same question, since most people who are religious probably would say they get their morality from a holy texts.

Obviously, morality does not only come from paper. Morality is a natural part of the human condition. It also is influenced by people and belief systems. We are predisposed to be moral from an evolutionary perspective. Morality helped built societies and allowed humans to live together. Most children understand morality through empathy, being able to relate to other kids. Yet, morality is also taught. It should be generally understood that morality does not require a “god” or some spiritual being or phenomena. One can argue that his deity bestowed morality upon man without the need of a holy book, but since I don’t accept any spiritual being, I don’t see that as a valuable argument.

I’m pretty sure I have discussed morality in the past, so this post really is just about the assumption that you need God to be moral. Making that assertion to an atheist is kind of useless. Actually, making any religious argument to someone who doesn’t accept your belief is kind a of waste of time, if your aim is to convince him or her that you are right. There is nothing wrong with talking about you beliefs and questioning someone else’s, as long as it’s respectful. However, trying to “convert” someone to your way of thinking is unlikely to be successful.

Trying to convince an atheist that morality comes from God is like trying to convince us that 1 + 1 = 4. We simply do not believe it. I think of atheism and God like the number 0 is to 1. Atheism is not a religion, it’s the lack of it. Zero is technically not a number!

I cannot convince a religious person or a person of faith that there is no God. It would be a waste of time. Instead I can simply state what I know and what I believe. That is all anyone can really do. I would add that criticism is acceptable. People are allowed to find fault with religion. You can also criticizes atheism. What isn’t needed is the heated arguments that aims to tear down or insult people.

At the end of the day, it’s important to be respectful of one’s beliefs. It’s natural to assume that your own perspective is the correct one. However, assuming that most people agree with your perspective is folly. Remember, we all have different experiences and expectations. Stating your belief is fine, just don’t insult me by saying I’m wrong about my own personal beliefs. I try to be respectful of others and I hope you would do the same!

The bottom line: morality comes from within. It doesn’t require a set of religious or spiritual beliefs. It’s influenced by our experiences and the people around us, but it’s our ability to feel empathy and to relate to others that defines morality. We can see another person’s experience and feel what they feel. That’s mighty powerful.

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4 thoughts on “Morality and Atheism

  1. I think you argue against yourself, here, though. You say that morality is not necessarily dependent on being taught by a creator, yet the Christian belief is that morality is inherent in all of us because we were created that way – which is basically what you’re agreeing with, here, when you say that morality comes from within. You merely switch the role from a purposed creator to the chance of evolution, which I have always thought offers a less logical explanation on this point.

    If morality is just a natural evolutionary step, do you feel that this properly explains your viewpoint that morality is completely relative? I think this is what the argument really boils down to – it’s not that you don’t have a belief of where morality comes from, it’s that said belief offers no true foundation of what morality is for reference. From a naturalistic viewpoint, it is very possible that your personal view of morality could be the complete opposite of another atheist’s personal view of morality, so how can one define any act as immoral if it “feels right” to the perpetrator? It can quickly deteriorate, in places, because if our existence is entirely naturalistic, with no supernatural purpose for the Universe’s existence, morality has no foundation in arguments that life is sacred in any way… which would be the base line of reasoning for why murder is wrong, for example. So, you may have had to witness some angry ding-dongs arguing Christian points, and I’m sorry for that (especially if they’re related to you!), but I think the base commentary on this flaw of atheism is solid.

  2. Morality is more likely evolved from experience and our ancestors. Our DNA is passed down and we are affected by this. There is a big difference from God giving people morality universally and man evolving morality over time. With evolution, morality differs depending on the culture one comes from. Morality cannot be universal, because of the differences between culture. Most people think that murder is wrong, but there are exceptions. Some cultures may not even accept murder as immoral. I think you misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we are all born with the same morals, we are born with the tools to develop our morality.

    I would say yes to your question about relative morality. Evolution occurs differently in species and it also does so among cultures. That explains why morality is different depending on where you grow up. There is some uniformity among wester culture, but it greatly differs from easter culture. You are right to say that another atheist can have a different moral perspective. That supports my point that we define our own morality. If God defines our morality, then we would all have the same morals.

    I do think that, in a sense, we do what we feel is right. It’s also based on education as well as other factors. You are also making some assumptions, such as, there is a God and there is a universal moral purpose. All of that is based on feelings and what you believe, but not on facts. I ask you, why must there be a supernatural purpose to life? I don’t understand why there must be a spiritual being that created everything and why morality can only exist in that construct.

    I’d also add that empathy is more than likely a foundation of morality. We know what it is like to be in pain and we can see pain in others. Our ability to relate to one another is a good place to find a basis for morality.

    1. But you are talking about evolution of cultural development, not the physical concept of macro-evolution that I was referencing. You say that morality can’t be universal because of culture, but you are assigning morality, then, only as an afterthought defined by a culture, instead of something inherently within us. Experience, of course, can’t be physically passed down through DNA, so you have to propose that at some point an evolving being developed the ability to choose to do something “moral” and that is the foundation of our current moral reasoning.

      Yes, you can choose to define your own morality, and I know that you believe in relative morality, so I was merely trying to rephrase this logical flaw of a naturalist viewpoint that attempts to say that anything is wrong. By its own argument, you aren’t able to say that anything is wrong, because we are all individual people who are in charge of defining our own moral law. Now, if I murder twenty people, that might not jive with YOUR moral definition of “acceptable,” but there is no foundation of rationale in a naturalistic point of view that says that I am not perfectly fine in doing so. This is why folks say that there’s no basis for morality… because there isn’t. You may choose to live in a society of others who feel the same as you do, but ultimately there is no right or wrong in any situation. You can choose to follow a certain rule, but you have no rhyme or reason for doing so other than tradition or self-preservation… that’s where the argument comes in about atheism not having a solid rationale for morality.

      Of course, if you truly believe that all morality is completely subjective, then the argument you mention in the post isn’t directed at you. I was simply hoping to offer a more extensive definition and explanation of the idea… and one without any vitriol 🙂 We’ve had many discussions on this before, so if you feel the need to make a final point, I’m happy to leave it at that, since all I wanted to do here was further develop the point you presented in the blog.

      Have a fun Halloween, everybody!

  3. I understand your point of view. I would just add atheism is simply the lack of belief in God. That is the only think that other atheists really have in common. It does not provide a basis of morality. Also, as far as morality is within us, I mean that we develope it within us, not that we are born with a set of moral views.

    Otherwise, I think you have clarified things well. Its always nice to be able to talk about these subjects without getting angry. 😊 also, haha, why did I post this on Halloween!

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