Can atheists ground objective moral values and duties, just like theists?

Consider this article from Thinking Matters in New Zealand.


There is an objection to the moral argument for God’s existence, specifically the premise which states the best explanation for the foundation for objective moral values and duties is God. It is the idea that moral values and duties can be plausibly anchored in some transcendent, non-theistic ground. That moral values and duties exist objectively, but as brute facts, not needing an explanation for their existence. They are sort of eternal unchanging ideas that are necessary features of the universe. This position we shall call Atheistic Moral Platonism, and there are three ways we could respond.

Click here for the three ways to respond.

I actually used to hold to Deistic Platonism before I became a Christian, and that’s all documented in my testimony. To learn more about this topic, here is my series on how morality cannot be rationally grounded by atheism, and the series includes links to lectures and debates for further study. The relationship between a cosmic designer and objective moral values and duties is the easiest topic in the world to discuss with non-Christians. It takes only a little preparation, compared to more difficult issues like scientific evidence and the historicity of the resurrection.

7 thoughts on “Can atheists ground objective moral values and duties, just like theists?”

  1. Hey Wintery,
    I’ve been doing battle on this issue via our local newspaper here in Bermuda. You can find the letters on my blog. My latest response was just printed today and I’m going to post in now also.


  2. Not only can morals not be objectively grounded in an uncreated, purposeless universe, the very concept of morals is an absurdity. Does a rock crashing into a lifeless planet commit a moral evil? A rock smashing into a pumpkin? A rock smashing in a baby’s head? What possible difference can it make if, rather than a rock, a living, sentient being, undesigned and without purpose or moral function, smashes a baby’s head? Both the rock and the sentient being are equally unintended and undesigned. The rock and the sentient being are equally just molecules organized by mindless, impersonal, directionless processes that have neither goals or purposes or morals associated with them.

    But what about a human’s indwelling moral sense? Shouldn’t we accept the legitimacy of indwelling moral sense?

    In an uncreated universe, the persistent indwelling moral sense can be nothing more than a gaseous burp of amoral, mindless evolution. The indwelling moral sense that suggests to the mind and heart and conscience that smashing in a baby’s head is “wrong”, or “bad” is no more authentic or meaningful or objectively valid than a burp.

    The only escape from this absurdity is to believe that humans are in fact created in the image of a moral God. So, human beings should at least hope that we are created by God, earnestly wish it to be true, and should seek evidence that supports this belief. Atheists, however, revel in their conclusion that there is no God and we are therefore not created in his image. They prefer grounding their existence in the absurdity of the human condition. And they are even so bold to assert that it is the theists who are irrational.


  3. Your characterization of materialism is not the worldview of all materialist philosophers. A materialist doesn’t have to say that atoms are the only real things and nothing matters because nothing matters in an atom. This is a fallacy of composition. The fact that we have minds is an obvious counterexample. There are materialist philosophers who believe in intrinsic values because morality can be an irreducible domain of reality, just like psychology is an irreducible domain.

    This might not be the same thing as traditional Humean materialism, but the point is that philosophers are not idiots and they are often sensitive to our experiences and common sense.

    Common sense: Give someone an aspirin because they have a headache. God doesn’t have to command it. We know why headaches matter because we have had them. They feel bad.


  4. “The fact that we have minds is an obvious counterexample.”

    Not really. If there is no God, our minds, whether viewed as material or immaterial, are undesigned and unintended. They, and the person who possesses them, have no more value or worth or purpose, ultimately, than the dead stardust from which they accidently emerged. They are nothing more than incidental accidents of a cosmos which is, at its core, dead, lifeless, unconscious, unfeeling, unthinking, insentient and utterly indifferent. Not even indifferent — you have to be alive and conscious to be indifferent. Without God to animate reality and give it sense, purpose, meaning, etc., ultimate reality is utterly bleak, for anyone who cares to give it more than passing thought.

    The problem is, most materialists and atheists start with the present, and work backwards to “no God necessary”. The correct place to start is with the premise of no God (no purpose, no meaning, no design, no direction, no consciousness, no life) and work forward. What you end up with is an utter absurdity — conscious, living moral agents called human beings.


    1. On an atheistic worldview, humans would also be matter. Not only is there no moral standard to say that murder is objectively wrong on atheism, but there no personal responsibility either – your genes made you do it. And in any case, as you noted, it’s just scattering atoms. As long as you can escape detection and punishment from the arbitrary rules of the society you find yourself in in this time and place, there is no reason not to do anything that makes you happy, on atheism.


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