Lesson 7: Atheism and Morality

Lesson 7: Atheism and Morality

One of the major weaknesses of atheism is its inability to adequately explain morality or provide a solid basis for it. Atheists reject Christian morality but have no satisfying alternative with which to replace it. Their attempts at explaining the origins of morality fall flat. Atheists really can have nothing to say regarding morality, yet they claim a higher form of morality than religion provides.

In this lesson we’ll examine what atheism says about morality and discover how weak the atheistic moral claims are.

  1. Atheism has an evolutionary explanation for the rise of human morality.

    1. Humans, as social animals, have always lived in tribes or communal groups, and in this context, various rules for behavior evolved. Evolution has equipped humans with nervous systems biased in favor of social, rather than antisocial, behaviors. Man learned that cooperation is more beneficial than pure selfishness; cooperation with others naturally improves your life. Social customs (morals) naturally evolved.1 These customs benefited both the group and the individual. In time, religion developed and adopted many of these common rules. But they are no more than mere human inventions.

    2. Atheistic morality should be consistent with what is found in nature—survival of the fittest. This is the type of morality Nietzsche advocated: strive to fulfill one’s own desires, affirm your animal passions, and impose your strong will over those who are weak. Any goal is acceptable as long as one pursues it with energy, resolution, and power. Christian virtues like compassion, pity, and generosity are unbearably repulsive from this viewpoint. The strong survive while the weak are eradicated. According to Richard Dawkins, the universe is characterized by “blind, pitiless indifference.” Atheist morality should follow suit. In a meaningless, amoral universe, good and evil have no meaning.

  2. Atheistic morality is rooted in the self and in society, not in God.

    1. Humans are perfectly capable of determining what is good or bad, helpful or hurtful, without consulting a supposed deity. The morality of a situation is determined by considering the rewards and disadvantages of an act. Self-interest drives the process. Whatever increases one’s chances of experiencing pleasure is “good”; whatever decreases such chances is “bad.” Morality is simply a strategy one employs for his own long-term benefit. One must reconnect to his inner voice and so recover his essential goodness. One’s inner feelings set the standard of “ought.”

    2. It is enslaving and demeaning for humans to submit to some kind of deity for moral instruction. Mankind can develop standards of morality without consulting any so-called God. Each individual must forge his own moral standards in conjunction with the rest of society.

    3. Beyond individual morality, humans living in community determine their own cultural standards of morality. Society makes rules and laws that regulate human behavior and these standards reflect a commonly held morality. As times change, morality will change. We should not expect a set standard across cultures or times.

    4. Atheists are often decent, friendly people. They typically do not completely repudiate morality. Atheists see morality, not as a set of divinely-given commands, but as a set of man-made of suggestions forged through personal or group experience. The atheist objection is not to morality in general, but to absolute, universal, objective, God-given morality. Morality, they say, is relative, not absolute. We might call it “secular” morality or self-determining morality.

    5. Atheists typically point to the fact that religious people have not lived up to even a low level of morality. Those who claim to follow God are guilty of all manner of ethical violations: enslavement, rape, murder, oppression, discrimination, etc. This shows what happens when people think that God is the source of their morality. With God’s endorsement, they feel free to do whatever heinous thing they want (e.g., abuses associated with the Crusades, Muslim terrorism, etc.).

    6. Atheists seem particularly interested in denying Christian morality when it comes to human intimacy. They desire to throw off all restraints and gratify their every lust, and they don’t want any moral scruples standing in their way. If man is but an animal, there can be no moral restraints on human relationships. Man must be free to follow his instincts, wherever that may lead. Many people gravitate toward atheism because they endorse its views of sex, promiscuity, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, homosexuality, divorce, and the like. The sanctity of human life is an illusion for the atheist.

  3. Christian responses:

    1. Like anyone else, atheists know that God exists (Rom 1:19-20), have “the law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15), and have a conscience, which means that they have a basic capacity to discern right from wrong, good from evil. Atheists “suppress” this knowledge (Rom 1:18), but they are still accountable for it. One’s conscience may be “defiled” (Titus 1:15) or “seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim 4:2), and thus inoperative or insensitive. Those who repeatedly violate their conscience can silence its gentle voice. The only way for an atheist to have a clear conscience is to deny God’s existence.

    2. The atheistic assumption that the inner self or society are proper bases for morality is flawed. The inner depths of human nature is deeply sinful and cannot determine the “ought-ness” of any action. The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9). Even “good” acts may be motivated by selfishness (cf. Isa 64:6). Society is equally unable to provide valid guidelines for morality. Some societies, like the ancient Assyrians, the Romans, or more recently, the Nazi regime in Germany, were barbaric and brutal. Thus, neither the self nor society provide suitable bases for determining morality.

    3. Self-interest will prevent some atheists from participating in certain behaviors. Crime usually does not pay, so it makes practical sense to behave in ways that keep oneself out of trouble. Thus, morality reduces to self-preservation. The only reason to be moral is that it keeps one out of trouble and makes life easier.

    4. Atheistic morality is liable to change at any time to incorporate changes in taste or mood. There can be no sense of absolute or transcendent morality. The basis of morality is the shifting sands of personal or group opinion. Morality is always variable and evolving, never stationary or set. Nothing in an atheistic worldview allows one to judge the “good” or “evil” of any particular act.

    5. The real reason atheists hate Christian morality is that it inhibits their behavior and labels it as “sinful.” The reason many atheists are drawn to deny the existence of any God is to avoid having to answer in the next life for their lack of moral restraint in this one. They want to avoid accountability for their actions. The idea that there is no God releases them from traditional moral restraints and grants them freedom to engage in any behavior without guilt. In this way, atheism is the true “opium of the people” in that it tricks unbelievers into thinking that their behavior has no lasting consequences; it blinds them to the reality of the situation and allows them to live a morally corrupt, but guilt-free, life.

    6. Christian morality, like most traditional forms of morality, is based on a written code—the Bible. The best example of this code is found in the Ten Commandments, the most famous list of do’s and don’ts in history. This code is objective—the truth of it does not depend on how anyone feels about it or even if anyone obeys it. God’s moral code is true in and of itself.

    7. The very moral values that atheists typically support—freedom, human dignity, equality of the sexes, etc.—are actually the legacy of Christianity, not of atheism or of other religions. Non-Christian nations and religions do not value or even tolerate such ideas. Political ideology that atheists enjoy, like representative democracy, is rooted in Christianity. Without Christianity, these values would be rare or non-existent. Those who reject Christianity should not claim these values as their own.

Nietzsche: When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole. It stands or falls with faith in God.

    1. Those who, in the name of Christ, have acted immorally contradicted the message and method of the gospel. All humans have fallen short of the moral law. People are sinful. We must look beyond the behavior of flawed human beings. The real evaluation of the truth of a faith depends upon looking at Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). Followers of Christ often come short of the pattern He set. By contrast, those who do evil under the guise of atheism are in perfect harmony with that philosophy. There can be no moral restrictions for an atheist. Even the most wicked, corrupt, despicable person does not contradict the principles of atheism.

    2. Evolution does not provide a satisfactory process for how morality arose in humans. If man is an animal, why does he alone have a sense of right and wrong? How can evolution explain the kind of morality that has no genetic benefit? Why do virtually all human cultures recognize moral standards? Atheists commonly assert that the universe has no purpose, no evil and no good in it. How then can one judge that anything is evil or good? Atheists have no logical basis for morality and offer no means of determining moral choices, other than self-interest. There can be no morality for those who say we live in an amoral universe. Neither atheism nor Darwinism has any explanation for purely disinterested altruism, such as when a stranger risks his life for a fellow stranger.

    3. Atheists really should be determinists. If the universe functions purely according to natural laws, then everything is governed by those laws, and whatever happens must happen. Each person is merely a collection of physical materials running a program, like a living computer. If that is true, then words like ought have no meaning. Materialism provides no means of deciding between one choice and another and no way of determining the morality of any situation. Our whole vocabulary of praise and blame, admiration and contempt, approval or disapproval can have no meaning if the atheists are right.

    4. While atheists may claim that they are just as moral as religious people, an evaluation of the lives of prominent atheists shows that atheism often leads to immorality. Atheists have just as many “bad apples” among them as religious people do. Atheist writers like Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre motivated others to engage in heinous acts of barbarity. Since they deny traditional morality, they often engage in behaviors normally considered to be immoral. Christianity, on the other hand, normally leads to higher levels of morality for those who adopt it. In fact, high levels of immorality contradict a Christian profession. High levels of immorality are common for atheists because they have no absolute moral standards.

    5. Atheism is not really an intellectual revolt against the claims of religion; it’s a moral revolt against the standards of Christian morality. Atheists simply do not want to feel guilty for their wicked behavior.

“If God is not, everything is permitted.” Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

D’Souza: Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to fit their desires. … This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheists seek to get rid of the moral judgment by getting rid of the judge.

1 Frank R. Zindler, “Ethics Without Gods” The Probing Mind, Feb 1985. http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/ ethics.html


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  2. Lilith Schienberg says:

    Are you trying to discredit Atheism? For real? We don't "hide" from God… we don't see any God! God is not real because he does not blatantly show himself in a lab-testable fashion. DO NOT presume to tell me what I believe and what I do not. I do not know if your god is real or not. I have no "law" written in me inherently aside from what I and I alone put there based on which ethics I choose to be good. What you fail to understand is that Atheists are not evil monsters. You can't scare us away with the name of Jesus like your fairy tale demons. If God is real then he had better show himself in an observable, blatant, physical, harmless, and testable fashion… if he can't do this he is not omnipotent and more than likely doe snot exist.

    And WITHOUT Bible quotes (because they mean nothing to an atheist), qualify your argument by using science, math, and pure logic… And I'll just give you the laughable benefit of the doubt that your "devil" made and buried the bones of Australopithecus, Homo Erectus, and other evolutionary ancestors of man for us to find so we'de deny God.

    • Why should we attempt to prove the supernatural by science, math and logic? That is not logical. Yes, we discredit atheism. Why are we not allowed to? You discredit what we believe.

      God is not provable by human means. That is absurd and truly is not necessary. No one needs to prove the existence of One who is already known.

      If you truly want to discuss this, then let's do so without the heightened emotional response.


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