The Point: Are Atheists Less Moral?

It’s an age-old question… For the Colson Center, I’m John Stonestreet with The Point.

According to a new survey, most people view atheists as immoral—even other atheists view atheists this way… The research, published in Nature and Human Behavior, shows that religious belief is widely seen as a safeguard against immorality, while “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous.”

So, even those who reject God suspect it’s hard to be good without Him. But are atheists really worse people? Since so many who identify as religious live as practical atheists, that’s a tough question. Statistically, professing atheists don’t commit more crimes, and professing Christians sometimes act terribly.

This survey indicates, though, that folks understand intuitively that atheism lacks both a motivation to be moral, and an explanation of what morality is. If we’re just cosmic accidents it’s hard to explain justice, mercy, honesty, and altruism. The real question is not “can we be good without God?” but, “what is good, without God?”


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  • jason taylor

    The problem is not that atheism lacks a motivation to be moral. No one needs a motivation. The problem is that atheism lacks a motivation to be atheistic. An opinion about the nonexistence of God does not at first glance promulgate one’s genes.

    • Zarm

      In short, rather than being an organized belief system, it’s a wide-ranging catch-all for lack of a differing belief; thus it is undefined except in contradiction to something else, and carries no inherent singular or cohesive moral underpinnings of its own?

      • jason taylor

        No the problem is not that. The problem is that it has no explanation for why people in fact make metaphysical or philosophical speculations of any kind . Including defining themselves as carrying no inherent singular or cohesive moral underpinnings of their own. The problem is that human reason and aesthetic sense is in fact irreducibly complex and while it’s final results have usefulness for survival there is no conceivable way one can explain it appearing in a lower form by merely natural means. And all attempts to do so are effectively mythology which is simply another appeal to another persons aesthetic sense.

        The problem is not merely that they have or have not a belief but that they have enough an idea of what a belief is to deny having one. Cows do not as far as I know care so there are no bovine atheists.

        • Zarm

          Ah! I see. I had never actually considered that; it’s an excellent point.

          But then, that is the tragedy of unquestioned assumptions and taking ‘what is’ for granted. If you take every evidence of God that He left in His creation, and assume it to be a natural consequence of existence, you can stand surrounded by proof and legitimately believe that there is no proof at all.

          • jason taylor

            For instance if I was motivated solely by desire to promulgate my genes, every time I make something beauteous or think something profound I would know, “I am trying to impress a girl” or at least,”I am pretending to impress a girl” and be aroused by such. But not only do I try to make things beauteous(such as poetry reading) or think things profound(like philosophical reading) without such motives I know in fact that any help I get in that area by such means is chancy(I have friends who are interested in such things who are female but so far the first is unrelated to the second).

            Furthermore I can say, “This woman is beautiful” and “This woman is arousing” and keep the concepts separate-even when they are the same woman.

            Moreover the closest thing to anyone actually wanting to promulgate their genes is clearly ideological not biological. The desire to have a child one can see is biological. “I will make you a Father of Many Nations” or “Kine dies, Kin dies, you yourself will die, one thing I know that never dies, the story of dead men’s deads” is not. The later motive is felt like any other philosophical or aesthetic motive, not like a biological one.

            Any attempts to deny this by saying someone has “subconscious motives” or what not is merely constructing a house of cards. It is one person saying whatever feelings he can assign to another that conform to his theory about the person are more likely to tell what he is like then that same persons own feelings about what he is.

          • jason taylor

            Isn’t it interesting, too, that romance stories seem to have sort of a mystical element in them? One that would not be as popular if it did not ring at least half-true to the reader. It seems that the part of our lives we would think most associated with the continuation of the genes is also transbiological.