The Rude Question

If you are an atheist, where do you get your morals?

I’ve suffered this question more times than I care to remember. As recently as last Friday, a woman, who happened to be Muslim, insinuated that I had no moral constancy because I lacked what she called fit rah, a god-given sense of right and wrong, tempered by what she termed external revelation.

There are several inconquerable problems with the argument, but first, let’s re-state the claim. There are two versions – one I will call strong theistic morality, and the other will be weak theistic morality.

The weak argument concedes the point that morality is inherent in the human species. This morality had to have come from somewhere, so its mere existence is proof that God has given morality to humans. In addition to ignoring the existence of psychopaths, this argument is simply backwards logic. Even if you grant that there is a God that can infuse humans with a sense of morality, this does not show that humans get their morality from God, anymore than the fact that I am full proves I recently ate a sandwich (as opposed to a bowl of soup). Affirming the consequent tells you nothing. Unless such people can produce another Earth where there was absolutely no divine intervention to serve as a control, simply observing that humans are moral proves nothing.

The strong argument is more entertaining. This is generally the argument behind demands by theists that the atheist explain where she gets her morals, or that atheists cannot have morality. It consists of the assertion that without a old book to explain it, we have no way of deriving any moral system, and must apparently stand by why others murder, rape, etc. The conclusion is that – if you can believe it – it would somehow be immoral to stop other people from committing these acts in the absence of an objective morality!

Those who assert that they get their morals from their religion fail to consider that they had to have the ability to recognize that the Koran is moral (if it is indeed moral) first. Otherwise, they chose at random, and have no justification for saying their moral system is any better than any other revealed wisdom. If they can discriminate between right and wrong without the Koran, they clearly aren’t getting their morals from the Koran.

But we can tell that these folks aren’t getting their moral system from the bible or the koran because they would have had to actually read it. And if they had read it, they’d know that their own religion teaches that morality came from the god damn tree of knowledge of good and evil, which, I remind them, Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat. They were tricked into obtaining a sense of morality by Satan – not given it by God. The only thing God ever gave anyone is a list of contradictory, incoherent rules. One would almost suspect that if there is a God, this is his way of taking away mankind’s ability to know right from wrong.

Steven Weinberg called religion an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.


About Yakamoz

What do other people have to say? "I think Yakamoz is a case study in bad behavior. She has tried to bully, threaten, and otherwise coerce people to concede her position. Even if it's for a good reason, her behavior has been egregious. People, especially men, have been sympathetic with her position. In return, she has not expressed any gratitude for men listening and supporting her, and taken a hostile tone to any man--and only men--that disagree with her in the slightest way. They've been trying to show they care, she's been trying to show she doesn't. And you know what? It has poisoned the discussion. I'm sure men are scared to speak, less they feel the wrath of hurricane Yakamoz, and I doubt any women feel the same because of her behavior."
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2 Responses to The Rude Question

  1. R says:

    Great distinction! But I don’t really understand why, under the “strong argument”, it would actually be *immoral* to attempt to prevent someone from murdering or stealing. How does that follow? Did you find a person/site that attempted to make this argument?

    • Yakamoz says:

      I don’t understand either, so I agree it doesn’t follow! Here is an example of this argument, from CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry):

      In an atheistic worldview, lying, cheating, and stealing are neither right or wrong…What if there were a global economic meltdown and social turmoil ensued so that robbing people at gunpoint to get food became common place. Robbery would then be a social norm. Would such a norm be wrong? If it is not wrong, then you affirm situational ethics and can’t complain when the situation suits somebody else’s fancy and you get robbed at gunpoint. Of course, this would lead to anarchy.

      We can’t complain because – why, exactly? It would somehow be hypocritical, which would in turn be morally wrong! If only hypocrisy were a social norm, too.

      Notice the elision between the atheist’s worldview, which is unique to a particular atheist, and the so-called atheistic worldview which does not include a divinely-mandated set of rules. Because the atheistic worldview does not provide for theistic morality, the atheist is not allowed to get that morality from anywhere else – check mate, atheists! – and so we’re stuck letting people rob us at gunpoint because we have no moral code inherent to atheism to let us know that stealing is wrong.

      Why do we have to give in to someone robbing us, rather than banding together with other people who’d rather not be mugged, and imposing our entirely arbitrary theft-is-not-ok creed on muggers? Because the theists say, It’s never ok to interfere with someone else without unless we believe (or say we believe) that we’re carrying out God’s will.

      Atheists can, admittedly, never really know if God approves. We haven’t got a book.

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