I’m tired. Tired of seeing articles trending weekly where preachers claim that atheists have no morals because they don’t believe in god. I’ve written about this several times but was thinking it would be good to tackle it yet again, and hopefully produce something I can link to next time someone mindlessly repeats this argument.
In case you don’t know, the argument from morality is the argument that all morals come from god, and this supposedly proves that god exists. Of course to make the argument, you must first assume that god exists and then go from there, but that’s not the worst part. Theists who make this argument normally switch it around and claim that atheists don’t have morals.
So… let’s examine it logically, but instead of doing what religious apologists who make this argument do, which is to assume implicitly that their god exists, make some points that don’t add up, and then conclude what they assumed up-front, let’s do this in a syllogism that’s a little more honest, and actually state the assumptions as premises, state the inference that those premises lead to, and then sincerely ask if the world behaves as this syllogism tells us it does…
- Premise one: Assume god exists.
- Premise two: Assume god is the source of absolute objective morality.
- Premise three: Assume that somehow we are all bound (magically?) by this objective morality.
- Premise four: Assume that god also created free will, and that because of this free will, we may choose not to be moral.
- Conclusion: If all the above is true, we can infer that this objective morality binding all of us should be observable, across time and geography.
That’s a heck of a lot of assumptions (all of which are wrong) but that’s what the religious apologists assume. They’re just dishonest about them and rather argue pseudo logic that conveniently concludes what they assumed, but let’s ignore that. Does the world work like the conclusion says it should? Does it? Really?
The thing is, people of the same religion don’t all have exactly the same moral values. In fact, we have compassion for others, and that’s about all there is that’s close to absolute. Unless you’re a psychopath, you probably have some common values because you care about other people. The rest is learned… from our parents, our peers, our laws, and other factors in the societies where we live.
But those values change over time. We don’t burn witches or stone brides who are found not to be virgins. Not anymore. Except some people in less modern, and more religious cultures… still do those things. Interesting, isn’t it? Behaviour that most of would regard as primitive and less moral than ourselves, is linked to religion. But certainly there is no observable evidence of any kind of objective morality binding us.
More significantly though, even if we assume that objective morality exists, why would disbelief (in the god who you assumed created this morality) lead to a person without morals? It doesn’t follow logically at all.
As an atheist, I don’t believe in god, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good. It does mean that I’ve put a lot of thought into the religion I was brought up with, and that I rejected it. It also means that unlike some Christians who read their prejudices into their religion as an excuse for having them, for example for women, people of colour and people with different sexual orientations, I can’t do that. Having grown up a white man in apartheid South Africa, having heard racism “justified” by twisted religious rhetoric (and hearing in again recently from the likes of Donald Trump and his ilk), I had much time to think about those things and reject all kinds of prejudice, including misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Without religion to hide behind, I am a far better person.
The truth is, when someone claims that atheists don’t have morals, they out themselves as arrogant and narrow-minded people with hatred for their fellow human beings, but who are really saying, “I’m better than you because you don’t believe exactly what I believe”. They out themselves as people who aren’t terribly bright and who have poor moral values.