How Can Atheists Have Morals? (part one)

accusationWhen someone asks me “How can atheists have morals?” they are typically doing one of two things: 1) They may be genuinely trying to understand how I can make moral decisions without believing in a transcendent, supernatural Lawgiver because they’ve never given it much thought, or 2) they are not genuinely trying to understand me but rather are picking a fight, challenging me and accusing me of holding a worldview which is inferior to theirs. I would like to address each motive separately (starting with the fight-pickers) because my answer depends on what my inquisitor is trying to do. Incidentally, it’s too bad I usually don’t know which I’m dealing with when people ask me this. Often I think it’s a combination of both. I’m beginning to suspect that the life of faith inclines people to such an unease about their own doubts that it compels them to continually prove to themselves that their view of the world is superior. I could be wrong, though ;)

The fight-pickers are not genuinely trying to understand why my morals remain intact without belief in supernatural beings, an afterlife, or Heaven and Hell. They are asking a question that’s not really a question. They are making an assertion that people cannot have morals without believing in a deity of some kind (preferably their own). The facts don’t support this prejudice, but I’ll get to that in a second. First I must point out how insulting this non-question really is to a person like me. When you do this, you are accusing me of being an immoral person. Perhaps you have never stopped to consider that this is what you are doing. Privilege blindness can be a nasty thing, and it’s far too easy to think less of people who don’t deserve it simply because they see things differently from you. If you have observed my behavior and have seen worse behavior from me than you see from people with your own belief system, then please point that out to me. If not, then perhaps you should rethink your assumptions about what makes people “moral.”

Can we also dispense with debates about dictators, please? See, the problem with citing unique individuals (like despots) is that, unlike groups, individuals can be psychotic, which makes them a very poor choice of reference for discussions about human nature. Psychotics can be found in every belief system (in fact, many psychotics are very religious…some of them may have been responsible for founding new religions of their own). It takes a certain kind of person to run a dictatorship, and this person poses a problem for both theists and non-theists alike. Mass killers have come from both camps. For every Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao Zedong (all non-theists), you’ve also got Cromwell, Sindikubwabo of Rwanda, and Hitler (all theists). Debates about these go nowhere, trust me. It’s better to stick to large groups when discussing normal human nature. Normal people don’t go around killing folks and abnormal people don’t make good representative samples for generalizing about morality. So let’s not waste any more time on that, please?

Statistically speaking, what is the outcome of non-belief on large populations? Internationally speaking, those countries with the lowest crime rates (like the Scandavian countries and Japan) are among the least religious in the world. On the other hand, the country with by far the highest crime rate (the U.S.) is among the most religious, particularly among developed countries. The same pattern holds true for states within the U.S. as well. Those states with the lowest crime rates (e.g. in New England and the Pacific Northwest) rank among the least religious, while the highest crime rates afflict the Deep South (aka “The Bible Belt”). If disbelieving in a divine Lawgiver led to immorality/amorality, these results should be reversed, and our prison populations would show a higher proportion of atheists than can be found in the general population. In reality, however, surveys of prisoners have shown that less than half of one percent of prisoners identify with atheism. So either atheists are in fact less inclined to criminal behavior or else they are significantly better at getting away with it ;)

Another favorite charge of the fight-pickers is that without a transcendent Lawgiver, your morals become subjective and therefore hopelessly mired in moral relativism. I see two major problems with this. First of all, the morals of a theist are nowhere near as objective as they’d like to think. The truth is that everyone’s morals are subjective—some just don’t realize it as well as others. While it may comfort you to think that your distinctions between right and wrong are transcendent and rooted in something immovable, even yours have moved quite a bit over time and where the lines are drawn now is likely very different from where they used to be many years ago. Appealing to a deity doesn’t really solve this “problem” because you have to first get people to agree which deity to consult in the first place (you do know there are others besides yours, right?), and those competing deities do not agree with one another, nor do their respective holy books. In fact, if you wanted, you could even limit the conversation to people of your religion alone, all using the same scriptures, and yet they will still arrive at wildly different judgments about basic things like sexual orientations, the place of women in society, and the concept of a “just war.” If sharing a common deity and a common scriptural canon provided a solid basis for decision making, there would not be 41,000 denominations of that one religion unable to even worship in the same room with one another.

As for moral relativism, I can think of few squishier concepts than Divine Command Theory, which states that “good” is defined as “whatever God says is good.” The first problem with that concept is that if you believe people can make mistakes, you must also acknowledge that they can miscalculate or misperceive what this deity is telling them to do. You certainly can’t run an entire country on “God spoke to me and told me we should all do this.” I hope that anyone can see the danger inherent in that arrangement. The second problem is that under this theory absolutely anything can be called good or moral, no matter how repugnant it may be. Should you sacrifice your middle-schooler on an altar? Depends. If God tells you to, then it’s good, amirite? The Bible teaches that God was pleased with Abraham, not because Abraham didn’t finally kill his own son, but because he was going to. That’s what earned Yahweh’s praise. Should you run swords through women and children living on land that you want for yourself? Absolutely, if God tells you to. That makes it right. In fact, if God tells you to kill some people and you don’t, your resistance to his command is now “evil” and the killing is now “good.” I’m not making this up—these two instances both came from the Bible and they are defended daily by Christians. I’ve already explained how people’s treatment of the story of the conquest of Canaan settles this “objective morality” question once and for all. I find it the height of hypocrisy that anyone can defend the murder of the Canaanites and then call me a moral relativist. I have never been able to find an atheist willing to defend genocide (again, I don’t interview psychopaths from either camp) but I wouldn’t have to look very long to find several dozen of my own Christian friends ready to justify it as long as “God said to do it.” You can’t get any more relativistic than that.

And yet people still accuse atheists of moral relativism, immorality, and amorality, but why? Clearly this judgment doesn’t arise from empirical observation, so why do they keep saying this? I can think of three reasons. First, I think it originates from the same basic xenophobia which says that anyone who is different from you—not “one of us”—must be inferior. This is a natural human trait and while looking out for your own kind has its benefits, it can also help our larger human society to think bigger than that. Learn to expand your horizons a bit and identify with people not entirely like you. It’s a growing experience and I highly recommend it.

Second, I think this prejudice toward atheists (for that’s what it is) gets reinforced every time a Bible teacher asserts that goodness can only come from the active presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer. I know that while growing up I was taught that humans are morally weak and fallen, prone to wickedness apart from the saving presence of God. “You must have Jesus in your heart” they always say. Congratulations, you have just declared yourselves better than all other people on the planet. “Oh no!” they tell me, “It’s not us, it’s God who does the work!” On paper this sounds like it fixes the humility problem, but you’ve still just written off billions of people because they don’t have the right religion. According to this theology, the Muslim and the Hindu are just as incapable of goodness or morality as the atheist. Perhaps it makes you feel better that you only believe this because a book tells you that you’re supposed to, but I say that is only a good excuse when you’re too young to think for yourself. By now you should have passed the point where you uncritically accept what you were taught as a small child. If you had been born in Saudi Arabia, you would be defending Islam and the Koran instead of the Bible right now.

Third, I think the fight-pickers keep asking this non-question because they’ve learned to do this from Christian apologists trying to protect their faith from a worldview which they feel threatens them more than any other out there. I’ll write more about this another day but there is something fundamentally scary to a Christian about atheism. They feel uniquely threatened by it more so than anything else because it implicitly questions the very core of their religion: faith itself. Other religions don’t do that. They share a common belief in belief itself. What makes atheism different is that it rejects the notion of faith, which undermines everything the believer holds dear. In fact, they feel so threatened by the mere existence of atheism that the skeptic need not ever say a negative word about the Christian religion—simply knowing the atheist is out there is intrinsically offensive and threatening. If you don’t believe me, I’ll refer you to the outrage expressed over a billboard in Texas which asserts little more than that atheists exist. Calls and letters pour in over even non-confrontational advertisements like these, often getting them taken down because even that is too much for many to hear. Talk about touchy! How fragile must faith be that even the existence of an atheist is perceived as a dire threat?

One last consideration and then I’ll go on in my next post to answer the question “Where Do Atheists Get Their Morals?” for the benefit of that first group of inquisitors who sincerely want to know. When a fight-picker asks me this question, I’ve learned to first ask him: If I demonstrated that atheists live moral lives too, would that really mean anything to you? Since you clearly believe atheist immorality would be evidence against our worldview, would you concede that goodness among atheists is evidence against yours? His answer will either be “Yes” (in which case good luck with that conversation because now his entire belief system depends on demonstrating that you’re a moral monster), or else he will say “No” (which leads me to ask “Then why are we even having this conversation?”). More often than not, this question is a red herring, a distraction devised to divert attention away from whatever people don’t really want to talk about, like the messiness of the Bible or the subjectivity of religious belief in general. Honestly, I’d rather not waste much time having this discussion if that’s all this turns out to be.

But some genuinely want help thinking through this question, so for those folks I’ll post part two soon, attempting to explain why atheists are just as moral as everyone else.

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37 Responses to How Can Atheists Have Morals? (part one)

  1. David Austin says:

    Hi,
    It always make me wonder about theists when they ask that absurd question “How can Atheists have morals?”. They are, in fact, insulting themselves because what they appear to be saying is “If I was not a theist, and not getting my morals from ‘god’, I would be going around killing, raping, stealing, cheating and telling lies”.

    Now it would seem to me, that, if this is the case, they are implying that their core personality is immoral, and it is only their religion which is keeping them on “the straight and narrow”.

    The question to ask them in response to this annoying question is “If you woke up tomorrow and realised you had lost your faith in ‘god’, would you go around killing, raping etc.?”. I think they would have to answer “No, of course not !!!”, so you can say, ” So in this case, why can’t Atheists be moral without a ‘god’ ?”. “Check-mate”

    Just my idle thoughts on this ridiculous nonsense.

    Regards
    David Austin
    Perth, Western Australia.

  2. mikespeir says:

    This is one of those subjects that you really have to complicate to get to the theist position.

  3. Chris says:

    “The question to ask them in response to this annoying question is “If you woke up tomorrow and realised you had lost your faith in ‘god’, would you go around killing, raping etc.?”

    I’ve actually received more than a few disturbing “I probably would” answers to that question.

    ” I’m beginning to suspect that the life of faith inclines people to such an unease about their own doubts that it compels them to continually prove to themselves that their view of the world is superior.”

    I think you’re dead on here. Along with the whole “spread the good news” commandment.

    As to the large percentage of religious criminals, I really believe that the religion gives the person a sense of moral superiority that lies outside of established secular morality.
    They truly believe that even though I’m a thief, rapist, violent drunk, etc.. and am in prison/jail for it, It’s Ok and I’m still morally superior to you because I believe in (X) deity, I’m forgiven and will still end up in a better place than you.

  4. Danny says:

    Hi,
    I think many Christain never search for the truth they just take for granted what mom and dad told them and never search for themselves. Never finding what God is or has for them.  I’m better than you attitude, never growing up and never asking the question why. 
         So what do atheists use for a  moral and ethical  compass. What make something right and what makes it wrong? 

  5. Chris says:

    “So what do atheists use for a moral and ethical compass. What make something right and what makes it wrong?”

    Secular ethics have always been part personal /familial constructs and part cultural acceptance. Some vary from culture to culture and some remain constant, such as killing, stealing, rape etc. It has a lot to do with the capacity for empathy and how well a societies basic needs are being met.
    when chaos ensues in disaster situation and a person is in fear of not being able to meet their basic needs, ethics and social constructs are usually the first thing to go.

  6. David Austin says:

    Hi All,

    :-
    ““The question to ask them in response to this annoying question is “If you woke up tomorrow and realised you had lost your faith in ‘god’, would you go around killing, raping etc.?”

    I’ve actually received more than a few disturbing “I probably would” answers to that question.”

    I have actually heard Ray Comfort & Kirk Cameron say exactly that on a “Youtube” video. It just makes you wonder what the underlying “moral compass” of some of these so-called Christians is if they can say such things.

    As was stated above we get our morals from a variety of sources – from our family, our evolutionary origins where co-operation with our social group ensured our survival, and our natural empathy with our fellow creatures. It is no wonder that the “golden rule” has been part of many cultures for thousands of years, and then “hi-jacked” by Christians.

    Just my Au$0.02 worth
    Cheers
    David Austin

  7. David Austin says:

    Hi All,
    I think there is an even more scary dimension to this “morality” question.

    I can remember watching a few of “The Atheist-Experience” shows on Youtube (organised by the Atheist Community of Austin), and the hosts have asked some Christians “If god told you to kill your child, would you do it?”. They normally respond with “god would never ask me to do such a thing”. The hosts would press them further and say “If you definitely knew it was a command from god, would you do it?”. Amazingly, many of them said “Yes, they would do it”.

    So basically, they would throw away any morals they had, and just follow the dictates of their religion with “blind obedience” as they are saying that their god would never command a bad action. You just wonder how many people have been murdered because some religious people “heard” god ordering them to kill some-one; It’s a scary thought!!

    Cheers
    David Austin
    Westen Australia

    • Yorkybee says:

      Yes, it is a crazy thought, but it is not true at all. You have to understand that the time difference of when God ordered people to kill was a long long time ago when wars were happening all the time, everywhere. God will never ask someone NOW to kill yous son, or to sacrifice your animals or your pet dog. Times have changed and if God was to ask you to sacrifice something, it would be something you really rely on or something you are giving more importance than Him, for example, video games, pornography, lying, cheating, stuff like that. In the old times there was no internet or technology so the sacrifices were completely different and God had to test their faith through ways according to that time period.

      • Did you really just compare giving up video games to child sacrifice? That’s horrifying.

        Yorkybee, your response presupposes two things:

        1) God indeed did tell them to kill for him. They correctly perceived him telling them to commit genocide, infanticide, and even kill their own children at times. They didn’t misperceive his instructions. He really did tell them to kill. And…

        2) What God asks people to do now has changed simply because “times have changed.” It sounds as if what-God-wants is dependent upon the standards of the people who are supposed to be living up to them. That seems pretty circular. And subjective.

        Is genocide wrong, or isn’t it? Your answer suggests that it’s okay under the right circumstances and that, for some reason you haven’t explained, it’s not right now. I suppose presumably it could go back to being okay again in the future, am I right?

        Please tell me that upon reconsideration you don’t feel that giving up internet access is comparable to killing children.

      • The_Physeter says:

        Yorkeybee, your answer makes no sense. God asked Abraham to do something he HATED, not because it was the right thing to do, but just to make sure Abraham would put obedience ahead of common sense. It’s not that Abraham had bad morals, and God had to change him. It was all a test. The lesson I got from that was that as a young Christian, God might ask me to do something outrageous or terrible just to test me. This was very painful to me, as I’ve explained in that blog post, because it meant I lived in fear that God would demand something terribly difficult for me. Instead of living with excitement, knowing God had good things planned for me (like Christians teach), I knew from the Bible that God might have bad things in store for me too, and I couldn’t complain.

        Plus, I think Christians know good and well that some things are wrong, even if an authority figure tells you do do them. Look at this example from the Christian movie Corageous to see what I mean.

      • Thinker1121 says:

        Yorkybee, I think I understand where you’re coming from, but correct me if I’m wrong. It seems like you’re implying that loyalty to God is paramount for you (or Christians in general), so you would be willing to go to extremes (i.e., giving up things that are highly important to you) to preserve that loyalty and that relationship. That logic makes perfect sense to me. I think anyone who values someone highly (a parent, spouse, or child) would go to similar extremes if necessary – sacrificing other things they hold dear and potentially kill in order to save that person of ultimate value to them. While I don’t believe in or value God in this way, if others do, then I totally understand this perspective.

  8. Danny says:

    Moral values are just an aid to survival of the species ? Are their any absolute moral values. 

    • mikespeir says:

      The exigencies of our existence impose certain needs that have to be satisfied in order for us to survive and thrive. Those needs are the only “absolutes” I see in the equation. Morality is a response to those needs.

  9. Chris says:

    “Moral values are just an aid to survival of the species ? Are their any absolute moral values.”

    Are you asking sincerely or are you simply trying to set up an AH-HA! GOTCHA! moment.

    • David W says:

      I am confused by ‘Danny’, I suspect that he is either VERY young, is english second language, or is just idly posting here without any real strategy or forethought.
      His most recent comment is nearly unintelligible:
      Danny: “Agree it’s not proof, but if put this Way “deep down in our heart, We know something are wrong like” killing, raping etc.?” both make valid points”

  10. David Austin says:

    Hi All,

    Quote “Are there any absolute moral values?” Endquote

    I think most people would agree that although it would be nice to think there were absolute (objective) moral values, there is really no evidence that such a concept exists.

    Christians (like William Lane Craig) try to argue that “absolute moral values” exist, and are of course exemplified by Christian values, but presents no evidence for this assertion. He just says “deep down in our heart, we know they exist” which is no proof.

    Absolute moral values would have to be applicable across all cultures, times & peoples and I doubt there would be any agreement as to the form they would take. I think it is manifestly obvious that Christian values are not absolute or objective, as almost every christian denomination will disagree on whether, say homosexuality is a “sin” or not, views on abortion, birth control etc etc. It is also clear that many christians had no problems with slavery, and said the Bible supported it, whilst others fought valiantly to get slavery abolished.

    There is much argument about whether OT laws are applicable or whether Jesus abolished them and replaced them with new commandments. Some claim this, but still “cherry-pick” from the OT for the “Ten Commandments” and rules about Homosexuality. However, they don’t consider eating shell-fish an abomination, or working on the Sabbath as punishable by death.

    For the Christian, the beauty of the Bible is that you can chose those morals that most match your own particular bias and reject the rest, and can still feel good about following “the christian path”. It allows rich people to say they follow Jesus, and yet ignore his command to “give your money to the poor and follow me if you want to get to heaven”. I am sorry to say, most christians are hypocrites and don’t follow the adage of “What would Jesus do?”.

    Sorry for the long rant.
    Cheers
    David Austin
    Western Australia

  11. You forget one thing though. With God we can do whatever we want and not take responsibility for our actions and blame it on Satan or evil spirits. However us atheists have to take all the responsibility for our actions our selves. So for the theist life is a lot easier.

  12. Danny says:

    Hi,
    “Morality is a response to the need to survive.”  Is that morality? On the atheist view, it doesn’t  seem that you have any absolute moral duties or objectives.  Both morals and ethics are relative.
    “Christians (like William Lane Craig) try to argue that “absolute moral values” exist, and are of course exemplified by Christian values, but presents no evidence for this assertion. He just says “deep down in our heart, we know they exist” which is no proof.”
    Agree it’s not proof, but if put this Way “deep down in our heart, We know something are wrong like” killing, raping etc.?”  both make valid points

    • Hi Danny

      But you have to remember that the need to survive leaves us with tangible evidence of morality.For example if someone thinks if I kill someone then the same can happen to me. This would mean death and no more living,so the person would choose not to kill,as they know what the result it.

      So you dont need a god to tell you what is good or bad.

    • David Austin says:

      Hi Danny,
      Most would agree that killing is not a good thing, but I think you would concede that if your or one of your family’s life was threatened, you would do anything to protect a life even if it meant killing the assailant. Similarly other “sins” like lying are never “black and white”. Would you lie to protect some-one’s life; I think you would.

      This is why I don’t think anyone can claim that they have the answer to the question “Is there an “absolute” or “objective” morality?”. It is OK for theologians to debate this, but we live in the “real” world where we are faced with situations which don’t always have a “right” or “wrong” answer. Normally, we follow the path that leads to the least harm or suffering, but one can never be 100% certain our actions are correct.

      For instance, we know that rape is traumatising for the victim, and we can empathise with that position, and see that rape should be considered as immoral by most standards. However, other situations are not always “cut & dried”, and must use our own “morality” to decide.

      How would you feel if a dear family member of yours was raped, and fell pregnant, and the medical team stated that if she went through with the pregnancy, she would almost certainly die? Some religions would claim that abortion is a “mortal sin”, but also causing the death of the girl by inaction could also be consider as a “sin”. I think this is an example where rationality is a better determiner of the best action than religious dogma or appealing to some “absolute” morality.

      Just food for thought.
      Regards
      David Austin
      Perth, Western Australia

    • mikespeir says:

      Danny,

      First of all, it’s easier to see you’re responding to me if you’ll hit Reply under my comment.

      But, yes, like I said, I don’t see that there’s any such thing as “absolute morality.” There are two basic reasons humans have survived as long as we have. One is our increased ability to reason. But just as important is that we’ve acquired proclivities that cause us to clump together for our mutual good. Chief among those are reciprocity and, more importantly, empathy. (And we’re not the only creatures who have, BTW.) As to the latter, we have to ability to actually participate in the sufferings of others. Because of that, we generally tend to avoid inflicting suffering on others. This effects a system of responses that we call “morality.”

      It can be made more complicated, of course, and often is, sometimes needlessly. Sure, there are cases-in-point that can become a bit convoluted, because in attempting good (alleviating suffering) in one direction we sometimes unintentionally (or, at least, unavoidably) cause evil (promoting suffering) in another. But as a basic explanation for what we call “morality,” I think the above fits the evidence about as well as can be expected. I understand the comfort one derives from the belief that there is Prescriber of absolutes; an infallible Guarantor of good. But aside from the impulse to believe what feels good, I just don’t see the need for a transcendent explanation.

  13. Lee says:

    Danny,
    There are some very good works by Dennet, Dawkins, Harris et.al. covering foundations for morality rooted in biological/natural mechanisms. Once I finished the Selfish Gene and started to understand how DNA’s unwavering demand to replicate in the most efficient and effective way possible it was quite easy to start relying on that process as a basis for any organism’s altruistic/communistic actions that assist with that organism’s successful passing of genetic information. Those actions are ever shifting and vary from culture to culture, but most of academia and the scientific community are consistent in their understanding of how mechanisms of biological evolution have contributed to traits/actions that forgo the “selfish” needs of the individual organism instead displaying altruistic behavior benefiting that organisms chances at DNA transference. There are some animal morality studies by Frans De Waal that document moral behavior (i.e. individual sacrifice for inclusion in group); see The Bonobo and the Athiest. Within our human cultures, this is often called morality, but really, its simply DNA doing its thing…the “selfish” gene making the organism behave “morally” to improve it’s chances of survival. Read some books…its a lot to work through, but ultimately biological evolution explains so much so elegantly that you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not studying its implications, especially with respect to morality.

  14. Danny says:

    Sam Harris  The moral Landscape page 97-99  “about three million Americans are psychopathic, that is to say, they don’t care about the mental states of others. On the contrary, they enjoy inflicting pain on other people” Then he goes on to say: “that people like rapists, liars, and thieves could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape; rather it would just be a continuum of well-being, whose peaks are occupied by good and evil people alike 
       We all seek are on happiness first!! Then family and for some maybe friends.
      I see very few people caring about  the species first, or at all. I see no motivation to do anything but what makes me happy,  Good and Evil  doesnt seem to matter, I can’t see how it can even exist within this world view

    • David Austin says:

      Hi Danny,

      I’m not sure what point you are trying to make in your latest post, but I feel I should firstly correct a possible misunderstanding that you may be unaware of.

      Atheism is not a “worldview”, it is purely the response to one simple question, namely “does god or gods exist?”. If you are of the opinion that god or gods exist, you are a “theist”. If you do not feel the evidence supports that opinion then you are an “atheist”. Nothing more or less is implied in this designation.

      So, having said this, it will be apparent, that atheists (like theists) hold a wide spectrum of opinions on all subjects, including morality, politics, art, music, and there is not “one size fits all”. So you may find atheists supporting “marriage equality” and some against for various reasons. Similarly many theists support marriage equality and many do not (mostly for religious reasons).

      The point I am trying to make is that each person has come to their views on morality from many sources, including culture, education, family, peer pressure, geographical location etc.

      Talking very generally, (and I mean VERY generally), atheists will tend to look at morality from a viewpoint of “which approach to morality will improve general well-being, and reduce suffering, but contingent on not trampling on the rights of other people in society”. So just doing anything you feel like because you find it pleasurable, but in the process affect others adversely, is probably not a good thing to be doing. You would not like to be beaten up or killed, so I think you will concede that you shouldn’t be doing that to other people (unless you are a psychopath).

      If some theists just do “the right thing” just because they fear Hell or hope for reward in Heaven, it seems to me that this is a self-serving attitude, and doesn’t speak well of their underlying “moral compass”. I’m not saying all theists only do good things for that reason, and I’m sure the majority would do “the right thing” irrespective of their rellgious beliefs, but I think you understand the point I am making. Morality is not dictated by religion, and non-believers can have a “moral compass” too.

      Cheers
      David Austin
      Perth Western Australia

    • mikespeir says:

      We do all seek happiness. Our basal instinct is to survive. Because it’s ultimately about survival, it’s all about security, which can be defined as the wherewithal to survive. That elusive thing we all seek but never can find to our satisfaction? That’s securiity, or to feel secure. (Not God, BTW, contrary to what they told you in Sunday School. Pascal was right about happiness, but wrong about what the “infinite abyss” is. If the hole is God-shaped, it’s only because we shape our gods to match, in an effort to fill it.) We’re all possessed of an innate insecurity; and innate sense of threat. It comes of our evolutionary heritage, because we evolved under threat. We spend our lives trying to escape it. Happiness, then, can be defined as the relative release from this sense of threat. So, yes, we spend our lives looking for happiness; or, in other words, we spend our lives trying to run away from this dread.

      We do that by two main routes. One, we attempt to anaesthetize ourselves against the fear. This is all chemical. Artificial chemicals like drugs and alcohol are popular. But we also do things that stimulate the production of chemicals our brains naturally make to quieten or mask this dread. (Sex, music, talking ourselves into believing we’re got a big brother in the sky who will watch out for us, etc.)

      The other route is a deliberate attempt to actually make ourselves more secure. In other words, we’re always seeking power. (You might notice that in fact this falls under the first: another way to stimulate the production of those chemicals.) This ramifies in a number of directions, but the one I want to emphasize here is that we integrate ourselves into a protective society. (I wrote of this briefly previously.) We’re more powerful, and consequently less vulnerable, in numbers. That the psychopath feels this need less keenly is hardly an argument against my thesis–from the start I assume it’s all psychological, not spiritual. There’s something wrong with his brain.

      • mikespeir says:

        Feel free to swap “make” and “actually” in the first sentence of that last paragraph. ;-)

      • bonnie says:

        Thank you for concisely explaining what I have believed for years and not had the words for.

      • Danny says:

        Hope this makes sense I’m jump to the logical conclusion.
        This is a big  problem I see with atheism. You cant justify moral right or wrong, good or bad.  Murder is not good or bad . You can’t make any good arguments for something being good or bad, you can only make assertions.  

        • David Austin says:

          Hi Danny,

          I don’t think you understand the situation with regard to morals. All humans (and higher primates) exhibit social behaviour. This is a evolutionary trait that has ensured that the species has survived by acting in the best interests of a group. As a group, hunting and gathering is more efficient, and a group provides better protection from preadators.

          It is for these reasons that humans have adopted a “golden rule” (which was formulated well before Jesus) which simply says that you should treat others as you would like to be treated. This rule helps to keep the group as a cohesive entity.

          I don’t think you can claim that your morals come from a 2000 year old book. I expect, like most christians, you are a “cafeteria christian”, and pick and choose what moral guidelines you adopt from the bible and reject those you are not comfortable with. In othere words, you are also making assertions about your “moral compass”.

          I expect you like the “Thou shall not Murder”, but your god doesn’t seem to mind the mass genocide of whole middle-eastern tribes. I don’t think you accept slavery as moral, but it is clearly acceptable in the Bible. Do you think it is right to stone your children to death if they rebel against you, or stoning your wife if she is not a virgin on your wedding night. I doubt you think eating shellfish is an abomination, or wearing clothes made of two different materials.

          Ok, you say most of that is in the Old Testament, but you still cling to the 10 Commandments, and other stuff. Even Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), and “I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:35); So much for family values!!
          He was also not beyond violence, and didn’t have any problem assaulting the money-changers in the Temple.

          If you just take off your “Jesus glasses”, you will see that atheists come to their morals in exactly the way you do. We just don’t pretend we get them from an 2,000 year old book.

          Hope this clarifies the situation.
          Regards
          David Austin

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  16. Danny says:

    My point is that atheist have no foundation for what is right or wrong. When pushed many of you will say ” good  “is defined as  anything that cause the species to thrive. 
    But most recant that when pressed  because they cant hold on to their beliefs. 
    If I don’t” adopt” This golden rule I’m not wrong . “Their is no right or wrong were just animals”  Can you guess who said that?  If one group of prime apes kills another to survive then it’s not wrong. That follows logically. Come on at least be honest about it

    I do believe that the creator has written the moral code on are hearts. He has decided what is right and wrong.  Without that you can’t tell me what pis right or wrong. 
    Because its what ever I decide.  

    I don’t think you have read the bible. If you had you won’t have Come away with the ideal that God had committed genocide or Jesus teaches us to stone people or ect…

    Are you open to the idea that a God could be outside of are universe and he created it?
    The only other option  is it all just happened !  Out of nothing something began.

    • David Austin says:

      Danny,
      I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but I feel many of the people who commented here have adequately answered your question.

      All you have done is make an unsubstantiated assertion that
      “I do believe that the creator has written the moral code on our hearts.”

      You may believe this, but I must ask you “How do you know this, and what proof do you have?”

      In addition, how you can read the Bible with any degree of comprehension, and come away with the idea that :-
      “I don’t think you have read the bible. If you had you won’t have Come away with the ideal that God had committed genocide or Jesus teaches us to stone people or ect…”.
      All I can say is that you must be reading a different Bible from many other people.

      If you read the NT Jesus actually admonished the Pharisees for NOT stoning disobedient children. – ie Jesus said “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ – Matthew 15:4

      I think further comment from me is pointless, and I can only hope that one day you will open you mind up to “critical thinking”, and realise that all the people that have commented here are talking perfect sense.

      I wish you “good luck”.
      Regards
      David Austin

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