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One of the primary attacks that Christians throw at atheists is that we have no source for absolute or objective morality. This is done for several reasons which are both dishonest and disingenuous in nature. I will go into the various reasons throughout this article. You’ll find that atheists actually have the upper hand in regards to morals than their theist objectors do.
The primary reason that Christians bring this up is that it’s true. Atheists really do have no grounds for absolute or objective morality. Yet you will find that Christians also have no grounds for absolute or objective morality either. What both groups have are a set of subjective moral traits that one side pretends to disguise behind false veil of absoluteness. (I will refer to absolute or objective morality as simply objective morality for the remainder of this article.)
For objective morality to exist then these morals have to exist outside of the observer, meaning they exist outside of our own humanity. Since atheists do not believe in god, and the vast majority do not believe in anything supernatural, then the idea of a moral author existing outside of ourselves is asinine. Atheists are obviously fully capable of being moral and so Christians will state that this is because the objective morality reigns supreme, even in the hearts of atheists. But lets take a look at some of the Christians side of the argument before moving forward.
Many Christians will argue that morals come from one source alone, god, and without god there is absolutely no reason for moral behavior to exist. Even so, many of the Christians who will state this today espouse a morality that it even higher than the morality their supposed god granted them. What do I mean by this?
- How many Christians do you know that have sold their daughters into slavery?
- How many Christians do you know that own slaves?
- How many Christians do you know that have burned a witch?
- Stoned a homosexual?
- Forced a rape victim to marry their rapist?
- Committed Genocide?
- Bashed the head of an unbelievers child against a rock?
If you have been able to answer any of these questions with 1 or more, I would suggest finding yourself another neighborhood to hang out in. The facts are clear, believers today no longer follow any of these archaic practices and yet their god was absolutely fine with them only a couple thousand years ago. By what authority are they able to find this better set of moral guidelines to live by outside of their own deities prescriptions?
Some Christians will state that everything I mentioned are from the old testament and thus are not to be followed today. They will state that the new testament reigns supreme and that it is a testament of love and compassion, but is this true? At first glance you might assume that they are correct. The new testament seems void of god’s murderous and vile tendencies, yet when you look a little deeper you find many of these things still ring true.
- Slavery is still condoned
- Women are still property
- The unbeliever is still to be slaughtered, albeit at a much later date.
- Even after being slaughtered, the unbeliever is condemned to Christs invention of Hell for all eternity
Even more chilling is the following scripture:
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Matthew 5:18
Which seems to work perfectly well with this scripture from the old testament:
“And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore; and ye shall not fear other gods.” – 2 Kings 17:37
So we have Christ saying that all of those evil laws are to be followed until the end of time and then we have a scripture from the old testament stating that the law and commandments are to be followed forever. Granted “Forever” is a bit longer than until heaven and earth pass away, but who’s really counting a few hundred billion years or so…
So why go into all of this on the theist side of things? I do it simply to point out that the vast majority of Christians today are far more moral than their god ever wanted them to be. They have risen above his statutes and laws and formed a faith that is far better than the one that even Christ laid out. Still harmful in many ways but far better than the moral teachings of their own scriptures.
So then to get back to the question at hand, What is the source of atheist morals?
The answer to this is chiefly evolution. Looking at the animal kingdom, lower forms of life; insects, fish, and reptiles have fairly low standards when it comes to morals. The lower the life form it seems that the less of what we would call morals can be seen. Yet even there we can see small forms. Insects, Fish, and reptiles will often times defend their nests prior to their offspring hatching. Putting their own lives at risk so that the next generation can survive. Once the offspring are hatched, sure, you might snack on one or two but the majority survive because of how well you defended them.
Then we reach birds, which care for their young not only as eggs but also as they grow in the nest. This takes much more energy than it does for the lower form, so mother and father bird often work together to help raise and feed the young. It’s crucial to have a good provider in this type of scenario and so many bird species mate for life or at least several breeding seasons, trusting that the other will do everything it can to protect and raise their offspring.
We then make out way to mammals and find that not only do we give birth, raise our young, but in many cases take care of these children for much longer still, until they are fully capable of existing in the world on their own. Family units spring up due to the huge amount of energy that must be spent in raising and gathering food for the young. Note: Just how close the family unit of prairie dogs are.
When we make it to the primates, we find that many of the things we call human are already found in our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Not only do primates care and raise their young as a group, but they also follow a strong social structure filled with social norms and guidelines for all of the members. They defend one another against attack and are even found to grieve dying members and help take care of the sick and injured.
We then find ourselves, the highest of the primate order and the only one that seems to associate their morality with a higher being. We are moral because society needs us to be moral for it to exist in any livable manner whatsoever. If everyone was killing each other than social bonds could not be found, life would be highly expensive in energy usage, and you would find the quality of our lives to be much worse. Note how our morality has increased as our lives have become easier with technology, I have no doubt that as we progress further we will find the morality of today to be archaic and cruel compared to what we see as moral 100 or 200 years in the future.
So what is the source of atheist morals? Our morals our found in our deep need to be social creatures living in a thriving society. We evolved these traits because they were the best features to ensure the survival of our offspring and the future of our species. Our morality isn’t objective because there is no outside force that has dictated these morals, however we might be able to make a case for semi-objective morality since our morals do seem to be written into our genes.
“The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don’t want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don’t want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you. You know what I mean?” – Penn Jillette
The best answer you can give when a theist asks something along these lines is to turn it around on them. Ask them if they truly would be a serial killer or a rapist if they found out tomorrow that god truly didn’t exist? Would they cut their neighbors throats for a bigger pool or a nicer car? Heck, ask them if they would be willing today to stone a homosexual or burn a witch?
If they answer yes to any of those questions, you are dealing with a psychopath and should probably leave as quickly as possible. If they answer no, then they too know that their morals are not granted by some all-powerful deity but are in fact the same as our morals and built upon the exact same foundation.
While you’re here, have you checked out my journey away from faith? It can be found here.