Debate on whether atheists can be good without God

A great debate on whether atheists can make any sense of morality without God grounding objective moral standards. This one should be very good for atheists to listen to.

The MP3 file is here.

This is part two of last week’s discussion about the atheist who converted. Listen to that part first if you want.

I feel a bit bad about this because it is clear that one factor that works to convert people to Christianity is that Christians can exhibit self-sacrificial love to others and atheists are basically at the mercy of their own selfishness. They just cannot behave morally when it goes against their self-interest, and that is SAD. Anyway, I felt badly because I began to worry about whether I have been as loving as possible while explaining Christianity to others.

Here is my entire series of posts explaining why self-sacrificial morality is not rational, if atheism is true.

On a related topic, I think Christians can also distinguish themselves from atheists and other religions in the way that men and women relate romantically. In Christianity, there is the tradition of chivalry, courtship and romantic love. The Christian Bible requires that husbands love their wives to the point of dying for them. This is lacking Islamic cultures, and not required in Hindu cultures.

But this lack of romantic love is also a problem in the feminist West, where women eschew chastity, marriage and children. Instead, women here have empowered the state to act as a replacement for husbands/fathers. The more that the state does for women, the less a really good man can distinguish himself and make himself useful. Men don’t like to share responsibilities with the state.

My most popular posts on that issue are here:

Something to think about.


16 thoughts on “Debate on whether atheists can be good without God”

  1. “I think Christians can also distinguish themselves from atheists and other religions in the way that men and women relate romantically. In Christianity, there is the tradition of chivalry, courtship and romantic love. This is lacking in Hindu and Muslim cultures.”

    Well, you know I am a conservative Christian woman. But still, I feel your assertions would sound more validated if you say that in more specific terms like “The Christian scripture expects the husband to be loving and kind to the wife” whereas the other religious scriptures don’t really insist on that. It’s not tradition. It’s a requirement as per Bible. Trust me, I have seen chivalrous Hindu men. As for romance and courtship, it varies with each person is what I think. Like what you consider romantic might not be some other person’s perception of romance.


  2. Hold on there partner’

    You write:
    “I feel a bit bad about this because it is clear that one factor that works to convert people to Christianity is that Christians can exhibit self-sacrificial love to others and atheists are basically at the mercy of their own selfishness. They just cannot behave morally when it goes against their self-interest…”

    I have absolutely no problem being moral and loving and helping my fellow man, and as a husband I would lay down my life without hesitation for my wife. I am not in any way selfish and live my life on the precept that I treat others as I would want to be treated…the Golden Rule as it were.

    You will find in other religions that the same thing is prevalent…men do not need the Christian God to make them moral…this has been proven time and time again.

    So, Wintery Knight I totally dispute your claim and your Christian smugness that you know it all…but in a friendly way :-)


    1. Hey, please read my post on the minimal requirements of morality and explain how each of the requirements is grounded rationally, on your worldview of atheism.

      My assessment is here, and I argue that all FIVE of the minimal requirements for rational morality are not grounded by atheism.

      What morality is on atheism is personal preferences or arbitrary cultural customs that vary by time and place. If morality is personal preferences, then there no right and wrong. If morality is culturally relative by time and place, then these are just accidents and there is no reason why you should limit your own happiness for cultural conventions that are here one minute and gone the next, or that are different in the next town or country.

      So, I want to see a reply to this comment from you, with a point-by-point answer about how you ground each of the five requirements for rational morality. Or you can dispute any or all of the five. And the context of your reply should be in explaining how your worldview grounds self-sacrificial behavior rationally. Why does it make sense for you to lay down your life for your fellow man without hesitation, on atheism?

      Just FYI, what you described in your first comment was your personal preferences. So that is just individual relativism, you make up what is right for you. That is not “morality”, it’s a complete dismissive of moral values, moral obligations, etc. “I’m doing what I like” may sound good to you, but to me that’s just self-interest.


      1. I think regular readers of your blog will understand that you are rational minded, focussed on philosophy, and arguing from formal forms…

        But if someone happens upon your blog and reads something like that, they’ll be right to object, in part because how the quote that Thewordofme grabbed.

        Atheists do act well, love with depth, and act altruisticall. It’s not that they can’t, it’s just that it’s irrational when they do. :)


        1. I totally agree with everything you just said. I am sorry if I implied that atheists cannot act morally, assuming they inconsistently graft our moral values onto their atheistic worldview. (They have no objective standard on their worldview). What I am trying to say now as ever is that it is irrational for them to act morally based on their worldview.

          My concern is that their good works now are conditional on their environment. They do what they do NOW because they live in a Judeo-Christian society. In another time and place, they would find that they are happier doing evil. Christian theism allows self-sacrificial acts of love towards God and your neighbor even when it goes against your own self-interest and the society you live in.

          That is why the devout Christian William Wilberforce fought slavery for 20+ years when it was extremely difficult on his health and happiness to do so. He believed that men were created to know God and that being a slave interfered with that vertical relationship.


          1. Right on!

            Which is why we carry on. I am not really willing to sit idly by while we experiment with de-Christianizing our society to see what happens.

            I have it on good word, the results aren’t pretty. :)


        2. Hi James,

          Explain how I am irrational when I love my wife or help other people, etc.

          To my mind what you are imputing to me is irrational.


          1. Materialism views love as just chemical reaction (hormone), nothing more. Or is that not what you believe as an atheist? If so, what do you think love is?

            If love is just chemical reaction (e.g.: hormone), it would be just an illusion. It feels real, but you know it’s just a chemical reaction, nothing more.

            So to die because you feel this thing called ‘love’ that you know just an illusion caused by mere chemical reaction seems irrational.

            I for one would not knowingly die for a sensation I feel from a chemical reaction. It’s illogical and irrational.

            After all, there are many women in the world, and you have a good chance to find another wife and make offspring that would ensure your gene survive, which you can’t do if you die.

            This is exactly what many and growing number of people do nowadays. Find another partner(s), often even when their wives are still alive.


  3. I have already layed down my life for a fellow Human I did not know and I live by a moral code that is just as good and sophisticated as any Christian.
    A point by point answer to what you ask is useless in the argument over a morality that any man can have Christian or not. You are more caught up in linguistic ploys than truth.

    Whether a person needs a God to give them morality is a moot point if there is no God…which there surely isn’t…too much proof against.


    1. Right, so you do what you personally find appealing, but on your view there is nothing really wrong with Stalin (another atheist) doing what he finds personally appealing. It’s all just personal preference on your view. There are no objective moral values and no objective moral duties. You are boasting to me about following your own standard in the same way that Stalin could boast about following his own standard. You can’t even compare “your moral code” to Christianity. You are comparing your personal preferences to a set of objective values. Those are two different things. What it really amounts to is you saying “I like my personal preferences. I like how acting in my own self-interest makes me feel.” Bully for you.

      That may win you some respect from people who don’t think the issues through, but it gets you no respect from me. You do what you do because you like the way it makes you feel. And when it stops making you feel good, you’ll do something else. There is no moral credit in that. It’s the same morality as any other atheist – do what you like. That’s what is rational on atheism. If you were in a different time and place, you’d find that you liked slavery or genocide because that would get you the happy feelings that motivate you.

      Your next comment MUST answer the 5 criteria I specified. Either explain why atheism grounds prescriptive morality, or deny the each criterion.

      By the way there no good arguments for atheism. Not one. Here is a list of a dozen good arguments for Christian theism. Notice how a half-dozen of them are based on the progress of science.


  4. You make a lot of assumptions about a very large group (over a billion) of people you don’t know.

    Then there is another large group (several billion) of people that worship a different God or Gods…are they also deficient in their morality quotient?


  5. I agree, I’ve been discussing this precise issue. I think in purely materialistic terms altruism is irrational.

    Although an Atheist/materialist can be rationally a good person, even a very good person, he can be so rationally as long as he has some sort of an advantage in the end.

    A good argument by atheists is that, theists also are not purely altruistic people, they are also selfish because by being good they are actually searching for their “salvation”.

    From this cames the question of: “Is there a such thing as pure altruism?” I think there is, though rare, it exists. There can be self sacrifice without wanting reward, consciently or not. These actions are often (at the extreme) ‘out of this world’ and are considered saintly.

    Theists have one strong arguement by their side, that is: there is no case of an extreme sacrifice (I’m really talking extreme here) commited by an atheist.

    Can there be an atheist Gandhi?? I think not!


      1. Hey man! no problem! it’s normal for people to disagree in some issues and agree in others! Honest diseagreement means people think for themselfs! :)

        I too passionatly stand by for what I believe… until proven otherwise :D

        Congrats for this excelent blog


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