God is an atheist

I want to address a remark that a commenter left here a few days ago. This commenter, who was, unfortunately, banned from this site until he can participate civilly, offered an interesting topic for discussion. He said, “Without God defining moral boundaries, there is no meaning to “honest” “integrity” “fair” words, only what meaning you give, and that is without value.” In other words, humans are not capable of defining right and wrong; we need god to do that for us.

This idea suggests that, if you believe right and wrong are defined by “god’s fiat” (as Bertrand Russell said), then for god there is no right or wrong. He has arbitrarily—and subjectively—defined the moral code for Homo sapiens. If god has no point of reference, no moral compass, no savior, no god of his own, then he himself, according to this logic, cannot be deemed good. Having no belief in god, he is also, like many of us, an atheist.

This idea that god defines words for us also ignores the fact that early man was not capable of identifying or understanding words such as “honest,” “integrity” and “fairness.” These moral precepts have grown and evolved as man has, as we’ve developed language, critical thinking and social skills. At what point would god have passed these principles on to man? While living in caves? The Dark Ages? The Renaissance? Modern times? Isn’t it more likely, as an evolutionary study of humans and their society reveals, that humans have evolved not only physically and intellectually but also morally? I think so. Our history shows us that we continue to define and refine our moral boundaries, and as a result, we are now living in one of the safest, least hostile periods in the history of the world, with, I might add, more rights and freedoms for the individual than ever. And if our morality is evolving, then this suggests that there was no original designer with a master plan. Etymology further supports that our ideas and words continue to evolve; like humans, languages have their own histories.

The disconcerting thing is, if god, the spirit from myth who we cannot hear, see, feel or smell, has decided for us and communicated to us what honesty and fairness are, then it is also possible for the supposedly omnipotent being to change the meaning of these words at any time. After all, if he makes the rules, he can also bend, break and redefine them. I’m not sure how he would communicate this to us, but then, I’m not sure how he would have communicated this to humans to begin with. Remember, too, that before man believed in one god (thanks to the Jews), he believed in many.

Because of our anthropocentrism, many believe humans are the only creatures capable of morality. Yet as researchers like Frans de Waal have found, we are not the only species that show moral behaviors. If morality is not unique to man, then what does this suggest about god? Does he communicate moral instructions, in each species’ language, to those animals capable of living in groups? Has he written specific software for each creature? Or is it more likely that those animals that live in groups have developed their own codes to help them survive and thrive on a hostile planet?

This is how many nonbelievers see morality. Our moral compass has been created by our ancestors and continues to be refined by new generations. And this is a good thing, for it helps us (or I should say, most of us) live together peacefully and cooperatively.

I suppose that it is possible that there was a first cause; perhaps a god spit earth out into the universe with the intent of seeding the planet with life, and then left us here to carry on. But it seems impossible that this god defined morality for us, given our history and following the lines of logic that lead not to a deity, but to humanity.

For those who want to tie morality to a supreme being, that’s your choice, of course. I just want you to know that many of us believe good does not need god. A supreme being was not necessary to develop our moral code. We can live, support and protect you, without a dictate from a mythological man. This is what we are teaching our children: we are moral animals, and we have a duty to continue evolving as individuals and as a society.

As always, I welcome a discussion from those who believe and those who do not, and if polycarp50 is able to comment rationally and respectfully, he is welcome to join us.

Have a happy Sunday and a relaxing, safe Labor Day.

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93 responses to “God is an atheist

  1. It’s all man-made, with our without God.

    • Poly Carp wrote:

      Justice Joseph Story, who was appointed to the US Supreme Court by President Madison, said in an 1829 speech at Harvard: “There never has been a period of history, in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundation.” Story wrote several respected treatises or Commentaries on Constitutional Law, in which are found the following: “Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the [First] Amendment…the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. Any attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.”
      “The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical patronage of the national government”.

      Want to argue with Justice Story about the centrality of place Christianity is for America?

  2. It is nothing short of amazing what kind of intellectual somersault believers are willing to make to justify their God. Apparently the character is both eternal and the paragon of good. However the things he did to te Canaanites or Amalechians via Israelites cannot be deemed even slightly moral by a modern person.

    The answer I was given by a local believer was that killing the Canaanite babies was actually moral because God saw it fit and we humans just cannot comprehend the value.

    I would even go as far as to claim that the believer’s morality is actually no morality at all. It is obedience and guessing and if a believer should live a moral life it is because of the societal norms and DESPITE the religion.

  3. The biggest issue I have with organized religion is the history of bloodshed in the name of religion. How immoral is that? Mankind has for thousands of years spilled blood to defend, justify and spread religious belief. For examples just Google this (the Crusades comes to mind). Man has also tortured in the name of religion to “eliminate or expose evil”. How many have been burned at the stake, beaten, or mutilated in the name of God? I just can’t get on-board with a clear conscience to join any religious belief that has participated in such behavior in the past. In my opinion the current conflicts in the middle east, and the spread of terrorism is due to religious differences and intolerance. My moral compass dictates I steer clear of any relationship with anyone who aligns with those who defend or participate in such actions. Only man can decide what true morality should guide him in life, not some worship driven by power, and blind faith.

    • @Sandra Agreed. So much violence has been–and continues to be done–in the name of religion.

      • The history of human warfare goes back to the beginning of recorded history (and, no doubt, well before that). A recent comprehensive compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to involve a religious conflict.3 So, what atheists have considered to be “most” really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare.

        U.S.A. – the most religious countrySince the United States of America is and has been one of the most religious countries over the last 200+ years, if the atheists are correct, the U.S.A. should have been involved in the largest number of religious wars of any other nation. In fact, the United States has been involved in 17 wars, only one of which (the current “War on Terror”) has any religious entanglement. The number of Americans who have died as the result of religious wars is 14.2/year, which is less than the number of people who die yearly from dog bites.4

        Conclusion The atheist claim that religion is the cause of most wars is shown to be false. The history of human warfare shows that less than 7% of all wars have religious causes. If atheists are correct, the most religious industrial nation, the United States of America, should be involved in more religious wars than any other country. However, only the “War on Terror,” among all 17 American wars, involves a religious component.

        • Violence and bloodshed occur in many contexts other than war. It can be anything from outright military conflict to sectarian violence that’s been kept on a low simmer for decades. It could also be domestic violence or honor killings, or subjugation of women to prevent them from getting an education.

          Your conclusions about the US don’t really make a lot of sense either since it’s a secular nation with secular rule of law … even if the citizenry is predominately Christian. The disentanglement of religion with government (such as it is here) basically prevents things like holy wars from happening.

  4. *All* ethics are human derived, even those claiming a ‘divine’ source.

  5. In other words, humans are not capable of defining right and wrong; we need god to do that for us.

    This is a very common theist claim. It is frustrating, because it is obviously false, yet theists tend to hold to a rigid view on it.

    I’m perhaps a bit off there. I am beginning to wonder whether it is more a conservative position than a theist position. Liberal theists can see the problem. Conservative atheists seem, at times, to have the same rigidity of view about meanings. As atheists, they do not hold that meaning comes from God, but they seem to take meanings as rigidly fixed, perhaps innate.

  6. Just a heads up- I think you left out the word not in this sentence towards the end of your discussion: “A supreme being was necessary to develop our moral code.”

  7. Ok… first of all and just for fun, the statement that “God is an atheist” is really a non sequitur. It’s simply a circular statement that leads us nowhere in the discussion of the necessity of existence of god. It’s (and I mean this in a very nice and somewhat humorous fashion) almost a playground kind of “neener-neener’. Sure, “god” doesn’t believe in any other gods but himself. Does that make him a monotheist? Maybe. If it is does, then he’s not an atheist. If he believed that he’s the only way, the only answer and the only one worthy of worship and being called GOD does that make him a narcissistic ego maniac? Gee lemme think… YEP!

    OK.. enough fun there, now on to more serious matters.

    Anyone who thinks that God is the moral standard to which we all need to listen up and learn, has never read the Bible. I’ll start off with one of my favorite quotes about the quickest path to atheism.
    “The Bible… by a bunch of guys in the desert. If you’re considering becoming at atheist, read the Bible from cover to cover. No study guides, no spins, just read it. Sometime between when God tells Abraham to kill his son and when Jesus tells everyone to put him before their families, you’ll be an atheist.”

    Let’s start with how God orders the killing of innocent people even after the Ten Commandments said “Thou shall not kill”. For example, God kills 70,000 innocent people because David ordered a census of the people (1 Chronicles 21). God also orders the destruction of 60 cities so that the Israelites can live there. He orders the killing of all the men, women, and children of each city, and the looting of all of value (Deuteronomy 3). He orders another attack and the killing of “all the living creatures of the city: men and women, young, and old, as well as oxen sheep, and asses” (Joshua 6). In Judges 21, He orders the murder of all the people of Jabesh-gilead, except for the virgin girls who were taken to be forcibly raped and married. When they wanted more virgins, God told them to hide alongside the road and when they saw a girl they liked, kidnap her and forcibly rape her and make her your wife! Just about every other page in the Old Testament has God killing somebody! In 2 Kings 10:18-27, God orders the murder of all the worshipers of a different god in their very own church! In total God kills 371,186 people directly and orders another 1,862,265 people murdered.

    The God of the Bible also allows slavery, including selling your own daughter as a sex slave (Exodus 21:1-11), child abuse (Judges 11:29-40 and Isaiah 13:16), and bashing babies against rocks (Hosea 13:16 & Psalms 137:9).

    This type of criminal behavior should shock any moral person. Murder, rape, pillage, plunder, slavery, and child abuse can not be justified by saying that some god says it’s OK. If more people would actually sit down and read the Bible there would be a lot more atheists like myself.

    FInally, morality seems to be inversely proportional to the religious propensity of a society. I’m currently reading “Society Without God” written by sociologist Phil Zuckerman who spent a year in Scandinavia seeking to understand how Denmark and Sweden became probably the least religious countries in the world, and possibly in the history of the world. While many people, especially Christian conservatives, argue that godless societies devolve into lawlessness and immorality, Denmark and Sweden enjoy strong economies, low crime rates, high standards of living and social equality. Do you think that we really need the god of the old testament to preach morals and good behavior to us. Take a look at this book and you’ll see that we seem to do very well without ‘him’. Per the book, the less we have to do with ‘him’, the better off we are.

    God’s not an atheist. He’s just unreal!

    • @Dennis Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Of course you know that, since I don’t believe, I wasn’t serious about god being an atheist.

      That fear of “lawlessness and immorality” from the Christian conservatives (and the person who commented here the other day, Polycarp) is real and prevents us from progressing. They see us as the “enemy,” as evil. I think Finland could be included with Denmark and Sweden (right saab93f?) Along with “strong economies, low crime rates, high standards of living and social equality,” they have one of the best educational systems in the world.

      I think what you mentioned here is why many of us started down the path of losing our religion and our faith: “Anyone who thinks that God is the moral standard to which we all need to listen up and learn, has never read the Bible.”

  8. “… good does not need god.” But survival needs good. The survival of early humans was (and continues to be) dependent on the willingness to be “good,” to cooperate for the benefit and well-being of the group. Good is an evolutionary necessity.

  9. I’ve heard this question more often than I care to admit: “… so if not from God, where did our morality come from? And don’t tell me it evolved; that’s utter nonsense.

    Nothing shuts the door on rational discourse like looking the answer in the face and calling it nonsense … especially when it’s in favor of a god who, as you said, creates morality on the fly. And a bad one at that. Genocide? Sure! Sexual slavery? As long as she’s a virgin and you got her from an opposing tribe. Rape? Well, you’ll have to marry her afterward, but them’s the breaks.

    Meanwhile, their morality involves little more than the fear of punishment by this same god they’re convinced is constantly watching over their shoulder. And they say we’re misguided.

    Or is it more likely that those animals that live in groups have developed their own codes to help them survive and thrive on a hostile planet?

    This is it in a nutshell. Humanity is a social species. Our ability to survive hinges upon the use of our intelligence, tools, and social structures that confer greater survivability than what we would have if we all acted on our own. The ones who did act this way likely died out.

    Unfortunately, there’s no way anyone is going to be able to convince Polycarp of this. You’ll just hear something about blah blah, rejecting god, blah, evil harpy, blah blah only a theory, etc.

    • I’ve read this, too, and it makes the most sense: “Our ability to survive hinges upon the use of our intelligence, tools, and social structures that confer greater survivability than what we would have if we all acted on our own. The ones who did act this way likely died out.”

      I’m always hopeful that we can reduce the fever of those who believe that their god should be everyone’s god. But you’re probably right…

  10. Like your summary Dennis. I have to believe that Christians really aren’t thinking and don’t know the history behind the bible stories. They don’t focus on the bad stuff in Sunday school.

    I need help understanding how Jesus’ trial/ sentence to death on the the cross got twisted into god sacrificing his son for our sins. Any words of wisdom there? I hated being told I was a sinner. I am not. I am a human being just like every other human being born into this world. I have a range of emotions, good and bad, that I am capable of expressing in different situations but I am not a sinner.

    • Hey b-town girl,

      Your concern/question is a good one! I’m afraid the answer is somewhat of a complicated one. While I’m certainly nothing every remotely approaching an expert, I have done quite a bit of reading and can point you to a couple of thoughts and a book or two to get you started in your understanding.

      Remember that the New Testament was written AFTER the texts of the Old Testament. Constructing a ‘story’ that ‘fulfilled’ the “prophecy” and myths of the Old Testament wasn’t all that difficult. Also, by most scholarly accounts, the New Testament was written and continually altered many, many, even hundreds of years after the alleged lifetime of Jesus (if he existed at all). The opportunity for changing, mismanaging, gerrymandering and cooking up a story that was conducive to the whims and politics of the church and/or other “powers that be” was both rich and plentiful.

      (remember there were no printing presses in those days so everything had to be painstakingly copied by hand which left many opportunities for forgery, plagiarism and just plain lying about ‘the facts’. Compare this with the fact that it’s sometimes difficult for us to get the straight story in the news about events that happened within the last 24 hours and that’s with world wide communication satellites, video cameras and nearly instantaneous digital communications platforms such as email and YouTube, etc….)

      I’d suggest you read, MISQUOTING JESUS and DID JESUS EXIST both by Bart D. Ehrman who is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus.

      There’s also several websites where you can look for information. http://jesusneverexisted.com/, http://infidels.org/search.html (search “did jesus exist” and “jesus resurrection”.

      There is little true supportive evidence of Jesus’ resurrection let alone his very existence. The books and websites do a much better job than I ever could of expounding on this.

      I wish you well in your quest….

      • Thanks for these references. It is a lot of work to sift through all of this information. Maybe I just should believe…..so much easier..NOT.

    • b-town girl Yes, if we really think about the whole “Jesus died for our sins” story, it makes no sense. Seriously.

    • b-town girl – great question, here is another viewpoint for your consideration.

      First of all, I would be careful to conclude that the bible so full of errors that it’s intended messages cannot be understood. Although I do not agree with every conclusion that Bart Ehrman draws from his work, the textual scholarship on which his work is based is sound and is largely reflected in most modern translations of the bible. The writings contained in the bible were very widely read and copied in their day such that we have a tremendous number of historical reference points to the original documents. As with any ancient work, the bible texts have suffered their share “damage” over the centuries; however, modern textual criticism coupled with an abundance of historical manuscripts permits us to arrive very nearly at the text that was used in the earliest years of the organized church. As readers, we may not like what we read or want to believe it but that is a different matter.

      You can find a full recorded version of a lecture Bart Ehrman gave at Stanford on Oct 29, 2011 on YouTube – I found this lecture and Q&A well worth listening to. Here’s the link:

      Your question about Jesus being the sacrifice for sin strikes at the center the Christian faith. The biblical author James defines sin as knowing the good that we ought to do and not doing it. By that definition, I sin on a regular basis. As you are likely aware from your prior experiences, the scriptures teach that the cumulative effects of sin separates us from God. Why the New Testament authors wrote what they did about the purpose of Christ’s ministry to restore our relationship to God is beyond me except that they felt it was true based on what they had seen, heard and experienced.

  11. Thanks for these interesting thoughts Deborah.
    The discussion about “God” being an atheist, or not, is somewhat strange, as to argue any position assumes the recognition of the existence of a deity called “God”.

    The “atheist” position is straightforward in that the actual existence of a God is rejected, and consequently the belief that people (of whatever faith) hold in such a God, again taking for granted the existence-premise, is also rejected as false.

    It is another line of argument to pursue if one party claims that the only acceptable kind of morality is that which issues from a “God”, though as is common knowledge there are so many different conceptions, dogmas and contents as to who (if indeed) and what God might be, and what such a moral code looks like, that it is equally impossible to even begin to follow a line of thinking that lumps morality of necessity under the broad term “God”.

    Nonetheless, the myriad of assumptions of these religious positions are, for a human point of view, quite fascinating. The one is, as you pointed out, that by ourselves we are simply incapable of using our common sense to assist us to behave properly in any given context. Another is that it is impossible to even consider rationally the morality or immorality of our actions unless we agree to submit blindly to the better knowledge of some (yes!!!) external source of absolute wisdom.

    One argument I heard a few years ago (at a symposium we organized called “Do we need God?” and where the majority of Christians in the audience became aggressive and verbally abusive against those who argued the non-theist position) went as follows: “In so far as (Christian) believers claim that only one God exists, and by the same token reject categorically any claim that another God can exist, and whereas the definition of an atheist is the rejection of the belief in the existence of a God, it follows that Christians are themselves atheists, bar for one version of God, namely their own.” (apologies this is very much by way of summary). He went on to say: I’m an atheist but I’m not much different from the believers, as I just go one step further and reject ALL gods, not all minus one. The irony is that the students became so unruly, that the colleague who advocated the Christian position (he was a law-lecturer) had to explain to the question that they needed to understand what is meant by human reason.

    Another point I’d like to make, is that the great philosopher Immanuel Kant, himself a Christian, clarified that even as a believer, he had no choice as a philosopher and a critical thinker, to adopt the agnostic’s position. Morality is dictated by reason, and reflects the inner structure of human consciousness. It is much more complex than this though.

    • @tobias: That kind of thinking is IMHO achingly lacking with the believers. They just cannot grasp that what they feel towards other deities is what we feel to theirs. In many cases that revelation is met with hostility thus showing how shallow the belief actually is.

      I am a strong believer (pun intended) of being good just for goodness’ sake. I also believe that the golden rule has been kdnapped by xians without any merit and that that rule is pretty much all we need to led a human(e) life.

    • 2tobias Thanks for the comment. Many modern religions still believe in the devil, so technically, wouldn’t these religions believe in at least two gods, seeing that man can “fall into the hands of the devil” and be used like a puppet?

      Yes, morality and its development is definitely complex.

      • Deborah thanks again for your site and for stimulating this interesting discussion.

        One of the ways in which the question of the origins of morality can be traced, according to a range of contemporary philosophers, is to investigate the development of the language used to portray our basic experiences of tragedy, drama, suffering, guilt, and the like.

        One such thinker is Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher (who died a few years ago) and who was actually a Christian. Although I differ strongly from many of the conclusions he draws, his approach is worthwhile taking notice of. One of his many (and may I add rather “heavy”) books is called The Symbolism of Evil. He shows how our modern concepts of morality, good and evil, have developed from mythological and religious language and rites, to the point that we have rationalized these so that in our day, the notion of “sin” has become twisted and in many ways perversed. Reading that, however, strongly impresses upon any enlightened mind that these symbols and myths (such as the Adamic myth as he calls it) are only man-made.

        The key to everything is to understand how human reason works and how it has developed over the ages. Even the believers’ argument for the divine origin of morals, for instance, is still a human attempt to come up with a rational (objective and shared) explanation about why things are as they are, and not different. Take reason away and not much is left, and the “god” then may well be “fairies” speaking to little children.

        My conclusion re. the claim that morality is “God-made” is simply this: the claim in itself is man-made, as are all of the authoritative texts of the “word of God”, hence it loses its claim to universality before it begins. All those factors named by a-theists with reference to what the “good” Book itself pronounces (centuries of hatred, violence, immorality, deceit, cruelty, suppression, devils, guilt, fear, eternal pain, etc etc) are still operating as fear-inducing mechanisms used by those who care to profit from the consequences of the psychological maltreatment of otherwise realively good souls.

        • @2tobias Great comment and insights. Thanks.

          Sin became “twisted” when religious and political leaders realized how easily they could manipulate and control the people, even if they didn’t quite realize they were doing that.

        • @2tobias Great comment and insights. Thank you.

          Seems that sin became “twisted” when religious and political leaders realized how easily they could manipulate and control the people, even if they didn’t quite realize they were doing that.

  12. “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
    ― Stephen Colbert

    • AWESOME! and I am not a big Stephen Colbert fan!!

    • I love that Colbert quote, too, LT. Thanks for posting it!

    • I think this is an essential point in that believers will berate the naivete of the non/un-believers and the so-called ‘moderate’ believers will still be in the camp of the fundamentalist or cultist believers on the god/no god question.

      However, few mainstream will direct the same invective towards those with belief that differs substantially in the core dogma, though there were times when you could openly decree the RCC as the “Whore of Babylon” whereas now the sects that push it must do it a little more under-the-radar but they’re still connected with the mother sect at some point in the “revealed knowledge”evolution.

      So they basically retain for themselves only the right to dismiss the tenets and dogma of others in the exact way that Stephen Roberts did when declaring that all are atheist towards *someone’s* God(s).

      They have zero argument in declairing that one version of interpretting dogma is any more rationally sound than an atheist/agnostic calling BS on the whole damn fabrication.

  13. I think religion likely played a role in the development of morality, but to say that a god created morality begs the question of how we are to access said God’s definition of “moral boundaries”. In arguments like this I enjoy posing a thought experiment to the Xian: if it were proven beyond a doubt tomorrow that there is no God, would you immediately go murder and steal?

    Morality just makes so much more sense on a human to human level. Introducing a god into the equation raises more questions that it answers.

    • @MichaelB Interesting. I wonder how much, if any, affect religion did have on the development of morality at some point in man’s history. It was originally used to explain, to control. Believers are motivated by the fear of punishment/hell and the carrot of heaven. Can this shape one’s morality?

      • @Deb, Michael Shermer makes a good case in The Science of Good and Evil that it had a very large effect, in the sense that it “served as an institution of social order and behavior control.” Religious leaders and organizations helped codify moral norms and reinforce positive moral sentiments (while punishing negative ones). The behavioral response of the followers helped shape moral sentiments.

        It’s much more complex than that, of course, but I think there’s ample evidence of religion’s role. The book is worth a read if you have time.

        • @MichaelB I think I read that book about 10 years ago, although I might be thinking of another book. I do see how religion can support and codify norms because it is a reflection of our values, though I think morality developed in spite of/independently of religion. As you said, it’s much more complex. Religion has even hindered our moral development. In the most strict sense, believers are in a parent/child relationship with god, so they never progress from a child-like state. (God is watching, god is going to punish, god will send you to hell, god is smiling down on you, etc.) The responsibility of morality remains outside/external and is not internally driven.

          • @Deb, I’m not saying religion was (or is) necessary for morality to exist. As you aptly pointed out, this is evidenced by the fact that we see signs of moral behavior among animals. But it’s hard to discount the fact that religion played an important role in forming much of the system of specific moral values and beliefs we hold today and why it is still so deeply ingrained in the fabric of our culture. I’m also not saying religion is still needed for us as a human race to actually be moral. In fact, it can and does, as you said, often hinder our moral development in many ways. (I’m a living example of that in that I have actually become more concerned about the topic of morality and my place among other humans since I deconverted.)

            Here’s the problem as I see it: (again, quoting Shermer), “Humans are pattern-seeking story-telling animals, and we are quite adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not.” I think as atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc. we overlook this fact of human nature far too often and just expect religious folks to all of a sudden be rational and quit believing in a god or gods, as if it’s a matter of flipping a switch.

            My best friend is a perfect example of this. He is perhaps the most intelligent person I know yet is still a Xian. Why is that? Well, I can only speculate, but at the very least I know it provides him with a sense of comfort, purpose and community, much as it once did for me. He sees no reason to abandon it. But at the same time, I know it negatively affects his ability to reason about topics like morality because he once told me he couldn’t understand what reason someone would have to be moral if God didn’t exist.

            Always an interesting topic. Enjoying the discussion!

            • MichaelB, Yes. I see your point that religion reinforces morality. And I have to say that I have a hard time understanding how that switch “gets flipped off” (but this is exactly how I think of it, too) in people who are really smart. It must just come down to fear –or as you said, comfort.

              • Deb, John Loftus refers to the flipping of the switch as a Gestalt Shift. I still remember sensing a tangible mental shift the moment I realized I no longer believed in God. It’s hard to describe unless you have experienced it. So long as the belief serves a function, the shift is unlikely. As humans, we rarely change our system of beliefs.

                • @MichaelB That’s a good analogy–a Gestalt Shift. It’s interesting because, when I went back to look at the old woman-young woman, I could not see the young woman again until I covered up parts of the image. Even though I knew it was there, I physically had to flip the switch with my hand.

    • ” would you immediately go murder and steal?” Yes. Why not? And so would most. Observe the wolves and notice that some are weak and gentle, but most predatory; so too humans.

      • Polycarp, I go through my junk mail periodically and found your messages. I’m posting the ones that deal with the topic at hand. If you can stay on topic (and be civil and courteous and relevant) you are welcome to join the discussion.

        If you want more credibility, you should come out of hiding and post your name and/or picture.

      • What, then, does your morality mean when you so easily throw it away upon discovering you’re no longer being watched by a deity who controls where you go in the afterlife? Atheists don’t have that fear … yet they generally tend to do the right thing anyway.

      • @Anonymous (Polycarp), if your belief in a god is the only thing keeping you from murdering, please don’t stop believing. Seriously. “Why not” is easy enough to answer if you just do a little reading. You don’t even have to go any further than some of the great comments on this post. Oh, and good job speaking for most of humanity while simultaneously giving kudos to non-believers everywhere who manage to get through most days murder-free.

  14. I typically hesitate to post a comment because everyone else’s are so thoughtful, intelligent, and well-stated. As a hurried mom of 2 young boys, I peruse the comments and wish I had the time to thoroughly give them all the attention they deserve! But I am touched by every post that pops up in my inbox, and this one was no different… I see someone else already quoted this but… “many of us believe good does not need god” is so amazingly right on. I believe that we (my family) are good people. We strive every day to be good people. But that goodness is often discounted once folks find out that we don’t attend church, don’t worship a deity, don’t *GASP* believe. It is beyond frustrating to live in a community (ahem, a world) that will judge me, judge my husband, judge my children based on our non-attendance and non-belief. Your post hit home, and I just wanted you to know. Thanks.

    • Jody, Thank you for taking the time to comment. Every person’s voice matters.

      You are raising the next generation of nonbelievers and that’s important to all of us. It is frustrating when people judge us based on our nonbelief, even though our actions show that we are no different from our neighbors. I’ve faced that prejudice before (and still do).

  15. Ditto to all the comments above!

  16. Great work on your blog. I wanted to interject a eastern perspective. Some scientist recently suggested that atheism is a ism and a religion. You cant keep making rational arguments to refute deeply held irrational beliefs. Its a problem of the two languages that dont translate well into each other.

    I want to implore people looking for some “faith”, for the sake of it , to look at non-Abrahamic systems and find a different perspective. Its not as much about whether God exists or doesnt in some systems.. Its about trying to find ones place, in big scheme of things and then we come to entirely different conclusions.

    The number or the symbol zero came into being out of this contemplation , it was purely a persons perspective about creation observing that everything “seems” to spring from a zero and goes back to it. Math just followed from that.

    In hinduism, atheism was a valid tradition until 12th century until it was systematically eradicated along with the texts.. Its now coming back, thanks to people like me :). I am an atheist Hindu . :Buddha himself was an atheist from what I can tell , but refused to give that out as a commandment as the only way to think of existence…he wanted people to figure it out for themselves through contemplation.

    I donot insist that every other rational person be an atheist or agnostic or such term.. I however inisist that we construct a new logical temporal language which is water tight in its meaning from now till eternity. Religions just muddle the language in a way that arguments continue for centuries :)

  17. The other commenters have covered the ground well and I can’t add anything other than: am I the only one that finds it a bit telling that the one person who feels he/she can lecture atheists on morality is, apparently, blocked from commenting due to a significant lack of courtesy and respect to fellow human beings?

    • @Holly agreed!

      The person was banned and continues to be banned because he only wants to name-call and personally attack those who do not believe as he does. This is not grade school. Should he offer a respectfully-written opinion on the topic at hand, then his comments would be posted.

  18. WOW.. I’m not your usual ‘frequent flyer’ in the comment department, but this just happens to be one of the areas of recent focus in my personal reading and research.

    From what I’m gleaning from the ‘experts’, it seems that morality is likely an evolutionary advantage rather than a trait resultant from the rigors of religion.

    As I’ve mentioned previously in my comments here on this blog post, the Bible (and I’m guessing other religious books that I have NOT studied) is anything but a moral example. It’s more likely that morality and overall good behavior came to us as an evolutionary advantage which natural selection brought about.

    Consider that as man developed first in small groups and then later into larger ‘tribes’ at the same time we were developing larger brain capacity. In in addition to physical advantages that were culled out for further propagation via natural selection, the same occurred for behavioral qualities. These newly developed societies would have an advantage over other rival tribes if they learned to behave with some kind of moral standard and fostered an atmosphere of cooperation and/or division of labor. (interestingly one of the common behavioral traits we share with most mammals in addition to sleep, parental care, and sex drive is favoring relatives over non relatives. Biologists believe that because we share these traits with those from whom we ascended, that they were evolutionarily derived and therefore are somehow built into our DNA.) Favoring relatives over non relatives would promote a spirit of cooperation certainly among a family unit and would likely also extend somewhat to the tribe.

    It’s obvious how many of these traits would give advantage over tribes who did not develop or take active advantage of this good behavior and mutual cooperation. The females would care for the young while males hunted. They would work in harmony to bring down prey and return it to the tribe. There might have even been division of labor and cooperation for completing many of the required tasks of survival. Some may have gathered edible plant life while others hunted for meat. Some cooked while others cared for the young. Nature would then positively select for these tribes over those who did not exhibit such cooperation. The progressive tribe would produce more surviving offspring and the others would not.

    The authors I’ve read express it much better than I do here. Specifically Jerry Coyne in WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE.

    I hope this is helpful as you ponder these great questions!

    • Dennis, “From what I’m gleaning from the ‘experts’, it seems that morality is likely an evolutionary advantage rather than a trait resultant from the rigors of religion.”

      This is a great summary, and thanks for the book suggestion. This is exactly what I’ve read, too. The humans who were able to behave cooperatively were included in the tribe and were, in return, given food, shelter and security. It would be interesting to see what we have now done with those who are not cooperative. Certainly some are jailed. Others, I suppose, run loose and become a menace….Because food is so inexpensive and so easy to find, cooperation isn’t nearly as important as it was.

  19. @TradeTexasBig Thank you for your comment. I have always been intrigued by eastern religions, probably because we don’t learn too much about them in school and they seem mysterious. I have a hindu friend who says that there are a wide range of belief system within hinduism, including those who believe in many gods.

    Most of us have heard that statement that atheism is a religion, but I do not agree. But I do think it’s true that, “You cant keep making rational arguments to refute deeply held irrational beliefs.” Belief is not rational; therefore, it cannot be argued.

  20. Late to the discussion (as usual). Lots of comments here; haven’t had a chance to read through them, but wanted to share some things A.C. Grayling has to say about god and morality in The God Argument:

    “The argument that there can be no morality unless policed by a deity is refuted by the existence of good atheists. Arguably, non-theists count among themselves the most careful moral thinkers, because in the absence of an externally imposed morality the recognize the duty to examine their views, choices and actions, and how they should behave towards others.”


    “… is an act wrong because a god says it is, or is it forbidden by god because it is wrong? If the latter, then there is a reason independently of the will of a god that makes the act wrong. But then there is morality without god and the moral argument for the existence of god fails. If the former, then anything god commands (murder and rape, for example) would be morally good, just because he commands it; and then, as Leibniz puts it, ‘In saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but merely by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realising it, all the love of God and all his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary?’”

    Makes sense, eh?

  21. Late to the party again!

    I just want to add: Hammurabi.

    Who says you need a god to devise a code of civil conduct? Unlike theists, atheists tend to come to understanding of good/bad, right/wrong, and so forth through an extended deliberative process. If someone asks me why I think this is right and that is wrong will get a full blown answer, and one predicated on logic and reason. Anytime I hear someone say they use the bible for their rules, I ask if I can buy one of their daughters. That’s in the bible and is ascribed as rule. The look of horror on the faces of theists when I ask about the purchase is priceless. I often envision a quasi-Mastercard® commercial:
    (Voice Over)
    King James Bible: $24.95.
    Wars over Religions: Countless Trillions of Dollars
    Price for a Daughter: Let’s haggle.
    The rules for living in the bible, for everything else there is Mastercard.

  22. You know, I never really understand why people think morals cannot exist without belief in God. I think that’s the key point… *belief*. If I believe in God (which I do) then I still believe that God created you in His image, which would be a *good* image, and I still believe morals are instilled in all humans by God whether or not said humans believe in Him or not. Your unbelief doesn’t change what you ARE or how you were CREATED (according to my beliefs; I of course realize these are not yours). My point is, I don’t understand why some people feel threatened by the thought that non-believers have morals. Well of course they do; if you believe God exists and created them just the way He did you.

    I truly believe all people are inherently good (or at least, they start out that way, and maybe life events change some people for the worse). Maybe that is why I feel this way. I think maybe people have difficulty believing one can have morals without God when they belong to the camp “we are dirty / horrible / sinful / worthless without being cloaked in Jesus”. No, I don’t believe that. We all start out good. In *my* opinion, we still need and seek God. But even without believing in Him, good can (and obviously does) exist.

    As I said previously, I admire the way you responded to that commenter Debbie, you showed an immense amount of class and restraint.

    Just as obnoxious as his personal attack on you and your children (really low) however, was his blatant disdain for women. I am really curious about what exactly his line of belief is, as he never really specified….

    • @Molly. Ok. Let me try this for a third time. I lost my other two comments. Very frustrating.

      I understand what you’re saying, and I wonder how many people look at the world like that. God created humans (in his own image), and regardless of who/what they believe about god(s), he hard-wired everyone the same–to be (initially) good. I like that outlook on life, and I see humans that way, too, only that we’ve evolved to be innately good to work together.

      If poly carp would like to speak and address the issues that is fine. But he continues to attack me, which, of course, is not productive and not what I encourage here. There is another force driving him–whether it’s misogyny, jealousy, fear, etc.–I’m not exactly sure.

    • Molly, I like you and wish more Christians thought like you.

  23. In the spirit of the subject of divinely decreed morality, I recommend these two films –

    The Mission –



    Goya’s Ghost


  24. FYI –

    Creationist: Christians must challenge the ‘culture shift’ to rational, ‘humanist’ thought


  25. FYI Syria and current events –

    No matter what, it’s at least comforting to know you can always blame the homosexuals.


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    • @LT That’s more than a face palm. Geez. At least the mom reported the guy…

    • See, LT, this is why, even while we were Christians, I NEVER sent my kids to a Christian/Church camp (day time or away) and why my boys never went to vacation Bible school! SICK, SICK, SICK! And because my husband’s work schedule will not allow him to attend Boy Scout/Cub Scout meetings with our oldest, we have decided to not be apart of that either because of it’s history with pedophiles. Here in west Tennessee, I see an awful lot of moms and dads not watching their children at playgrounds and dropping off their kids at all day church functions. They think because they’re white and live in a small town, everything is just sweet and innocent. They take offense that I’m not like that. They can, because that kind of passive parenting leaves kids wide open to abusers, kidnappers, murderers and pedophiles. I don’t give a shit how White, American or Christian a person or group might be, my children are irreplaceable and it’s my job to love on them and keep them safe.

  26. Hey Debbie,

    I don’t know where you mentioned it, I’ve looked at this post off and on for a couple of days now, but I agree with your opinion about the devil being a god. It actually makes a lot of sense!

    I was talking with Nature Lover’s speech therapist today. I don’t know how, but she and I began talking about fantasy versus reality. Intellectual began talking about some sort of video game that Mr. Amazing plays about hell and what not and told her that it doesn’t give him nightmares. I then told her that we are very clear with our kids the distinction between fantasy and reality. Should either one of them have a nightmare we remind them that it wasn’t real. We still encourage them to come see us or call out for us should they have one and we’ll just reassure them that they’re safe and the bad dream is that, just a bad dream.

    I told the speech therapist that when I was growing up, nightmares were of the devil. He was evil and was scaring us. My parents’ really played up the role of the devil and still do. The devil tempts us with sex outside of marriage. The devil gives ammo to bullies, other kids who hurt my sisters and me. The devil is why everybody hated us. The devil is why we had bad grades. You know what I think the devil was? My parent’s fall guy! My folks didn’t want to confront their own crummy parenting styles, it was much easier for their sick conscience to blame the devil. Much of Christianity encourages this. It’s the devil who doesn’t want you to tithe, go to church or teach your kids about the Lord. It’s the devil who won’t mess with you if you turn your back on Jesus because you are no longer a threat to hell. It’s the devil that causes abortions, not your lack of spending good, quality time with your children and answering all of their questions about sex and their bodies. You see how it’s so easy to cast blame on the Devil?

    It’s true, he is a God! You know what I find so funny now? I can watch one of those paranormal “reality” shows, and go right to sleep right afterwards. There’s not “Oh, the devil, is going to get me!” Nor is there any repenting or quoting scripture going on as there used to be because I was trying to renew my mind in Jesus after watching something so evil. I still occasionally have nightmares, but nothing to the extreme that I had when I was a Christian. There’s been a slight increase lately, but I know that it’s only because of this huge transition that I am currently in. So many of my fears have gone away since leaving my faith as well. Wow, looks like I served two masters as a Christian, God and the Devil.

  27. Interesting comment, Charity. (I fixed the typo you mentioned.)

    The devil really was used as a tool around your house. Do you think your parents really knew any better or were they just repeating what they were told? They sound like victims, too. Scary either way.

    • Debbie,

      It’s honestly a combination of unaccountable parenting, church training (including sermons and the Bible) and fear. After all, Scripture states the “the devil is like a lion looking for the weak” and how we are to “cast down every imagination that exalts itself over God”, in other words, if it’s not God it’s evil.

      When I look back at this kind of behavior it seems so superstitious to me. However, my parents and often the Churches we attended, were/are strongly against Harry Potter, horoscopes, and carrying around lucky charms.

      Don’t even get me started on just how evil ghosts, witches, ouija boards and Halloween are! Boooooo! Rooooooar! In my little family we’ve never celebrate Halloween because it’s a safety issue. For example in our current neighborhood there’s a registered sex offender a few doors behind us, the neighbors on one half of our street hate us and all the houses are spread out throughout our neighborhood. It just doesn’t seem very prudent, as Church Lady would say.

  28. Morals are the basis of all life forms, sometimes we might not understand or notice them but with out morals no species would exist. two morals must be present to survive one help each other the other create not life of your own blood. Then a species and survive and evolve.

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