Arguments for Atheism - Living without religion, with a clear conscience


The Argument | The Refutation

The Argument Back to Top

Some theists claim that religion is necessary for morality and that, without God, there would be no divine authority to decide between good and evil. Atheists are therefore operating in a moral wilderness, and have no compelling reason to be good.

This is essentially a negative restatement of the Moral Argument for the existence of God.

The Refutation Back to Top

In reality, morality is a human phenomenon, the product of our evolution as a social species, and “good” and “evil” have nothing to do with any god. The concepts of “good” and “evil” and “virtue” and “vice”, then, do not suddenly lose all meaning if God does not exist, in the same way as the concepts of “true” and “false” remain unchanged.

Atheists prefer to base their morality on the potential of human beings to mature morally, to assume ethical principles and respect them, not out of fear of some god, but rather because they recognize the value of these principles for their own quality of life and that of others around them.
Religion is 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.
- Steven Weinberg (1999)

In fact, by not blindly following religious dogma and scripture, atheists are forced to make responsible moral choices, having reasoned through the available choices and the consequences of what we do. In practice, even religious people cannot avoid making personal choices about which moral principles should be accepted, even when ostensibly guided by their religion, whether it be Abraham deciding whether to accept God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac, or a suicide bomber deciding whether to accept a terrorist mission “for the faith”, or the government of a whole country deciding whether or not to enforce the hardline Muslim punishment of death for apostacy and blasphemy.

Religious scriptures such as the Bible do contain a certain amount of commonsense moral education. But they are also bursting with celebrations of cruelty, slavery and violence, both human and divine,and are not the best guides to how to act morally or ethically.

Furthermore, because atheists do not believe in a god who will magically forgive their sins, nor in the existence of some cosmic Kantian judicial balance whereby justice is to be administered in the “next life”, they are forced to face up to the responsibility to do all that they can in the here and now to ensure that justice is done.

There is more discussion of these problems in the sections on the Moral Argument and the Argument from Justice.

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