Can atheists condemn slavery as immoral? Do atheists believe that slavery is wrong?

Note: For a Christian response to the complaint that the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, see this article and this article for slavery in the Old Testament, and this article for slavery in the New Testament. These are all by Christian philosopher Paul Copan. You can watch a lecture with Paul Copan on the slavery challenge here, and buy a book where he answers the challenge in more detail. There is also a good debate on whether the Bible condones slavery here, featuring David Instone-Brewer and Robert Price. My post is not a formal logical essay on this issue, it is more that I am outraged that atheists, who cannot even rationally ground objective morality, insist on criticizing the morality of the Bible. I think that atheists who are serious about finding the truth about these issues should check out those links, if they are interested in getting to the truth of these matters.

In other posts, I’ve argued that without an objective moral standard of what is right and wrong, any judgments about right and wrong are just individual opinions. So, when an atheist says slavery is wrong, what he really means is that he thinks slavery is wrong for him, in the same way that he thinks that,say, that chocolate ice cream is right for him. He isn’t saying what is wrong objectively, because on atheism there are no objective moral rules or duties. He is speaking for himself: “I wouldn’t own a slave, just like I wouldn’t eat broccoli – because it’s yucky!”. But he has no rational argument against other people owning slaves in other times and places, because their justification for owning slaves is the same as his justification for not owning slaves : personal preference.

So do atheists oppose slavery? Do they believe in an objective human right to liberty? Well, there are no objective human rights of any kind on atheism. Human beings are just accidents in an accidental universe, and collections of atoms do not mysteriously accrue “rights”. There is no natural right to liberty on atheism. Now consider abortion, which is arguably very similar to slavery. Most atheists do favor abortion in this time and place. Like slavery, abortion declares an entire class of weaker people as non-persons in order to justify preserving their own happiness and prosperity by means of violence. That’s exactly what slavery does, except abortion is worse than slavery, because you actually kill the person you are declaring as a non-person instead of just imprisoning them.

So how many atheists have this pro-abortion view that it is OK to declare unborn children  as non-persons so they can kill them?

Well, according to Gallup, the “non-religious” are the group most likely to support abortion. In fact, 68% favor legalized abortion, compared to only 19% who oppose it.

Take a look at the Gallup poll data from 2012:

Atheists are OK with the strong killing the weak
Most atheists are OK with the strong killing the weak

The Gallup numbers might actually be low, because “No religion” might include people who are spiritual, but not religious. But what about atheists alone?

As a group, atheists tend to be among the most radical supporters of legalized abortion. The Secular Census of 2012 found that 97% of atheists vote for abortion. There are almost no pro-life atheists. Why is it that atheists look at unborn children and think it’s OK to kill them? Well, let’s see what atheists scholars think about morality, and we’ll find out why they think abortion is OK.

Atheist scholars think morality is nonsense

Atheist William Provine says atheists have no free will, no moral accountability and no moral significance:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.


Atheists Michael Ruse says atheists have no objective moral standards:

The position of the modern evolutionist is that humans have an awareness of morality because such an awareness of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate when someone says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless, such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.(Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262-269).

Atheist Richard Dawkins says atheists have no objective moral standards:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995))

Let’s take a closer look at Richard Dawkins.

Richard Dawkins and morality

Here’s how far Dawkins takes his view that there is no evil and no good:

Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism
Richard Dawkins explains morality on atheism

But wait! He goes even further than mere abortion:

So, looking at Dawkins, what kind of ethic can you get from Darwinism and atheism? Survival of the fittest. The strong kill the weak.

Richard Dawkins even advocates for adultery.

Now atheists may feign morality in order to get along with other people in a society that is still anchored in Judeo-Christian values, but they tend to vote for liberal social policies, and they oppose political action by those who still hold to objective morality. So what they are working toward, generally, is less and less influence in politics by those who favor objective human rights, objective moral values and objective moral duties. 

So do atheists oppose slavery, or don’t they?

I actually don’t think that atheists think slavery is morally wrong, although they might personally not want to own slaves in this time and place because slavery is illegal – thanks to Judeo-Christian values. But in other areas, like abortion, we can see that atheists are willing to use violence against the weak to augment their happiness and prosperity. Unborn babies are weak, like slaves. Atheists are willing to kill the weak unborn babies who stop them from pursuing pleasure and prosperity. I don’t see how they would have any objections to enslaving other people if they had the strength to do so. In fact, unjust imprisonment and forced labor are happening in atheistic North Korea right now.

But do you know who does oppose slavery enough to do something about it?

Dinesh D’Souza explains:

Slavery was mostly eradicated from Western civilization–then called Christendom–between the fourth and the tenth century. The Greco-Roman institution of slavery gave way to serfdom. Now serfdom has its problems but at least the serf is not a “human tool” and cannot be bought and sold like property. So slavery was ended twice in Western civilization, first in the medieval era and then again in the modern era.

In the American South, Christianity proved to be the solace of the oppressed. As historian Eugene Genovese documents in Roll, Jordan, Roll, when black slaves sought to find dignity during the dark night of slavery, they didn’t turn to Marcus Aurelius or David Hume; they turned to the Bible. When they sought hope and inspiration for liberation, they found it not in Voltaire or D’Holbach but in the Book of Exodus.

The anti-slavery movements led by Wilberforce in England and abolitionists in America were dominated by Christians. These believers reasoned that since we are all created equal in the eyes of God, no one has the right to rule another without consent. This is the moral basis not only of anti-slavery but also of democracy.

And, in fact, you can see Christians pushing the culture hard against abortion today, just as we did with slavery. Defending the weak is what we do. Meanwhile, most atheists think that an unborn child has as much of a right to legal protection as a cockroach.

15 thoughts on “Can atheists condemn slavery as immoral? Do atheists believe that slavery is wrong?”

  1. If you support slavery for others, you also support possible slavery for yourself.

    Yes, I am an atheist. But I will call an ambulance for an injured person, and I will support leaving people who are not harming others alone.

    It doesn’t take much in the way of smarts to realize that you could just as easily be the injured person, or the person being oppressed.

    Non-Christian cultures have had no difficulty figuring out that murderers or robbers should be punished to deter murder or robbery. Intelligent self-interest is not a Christian monopoly.


    1. But that’s not the issue, really. The issue is whether or not you can say with intellectual honesty that it is objectively immoral, and on what would you base that belief.


      1. The trouble is that for atheists, right and wrong are descriptive – not presecriptive. They can express their preferences and describe what others do, but there is no objective standard outside of human preferences that define how we ought to be. OUGHT.


  2. Atheists make up less than 0.5% of the American prison population so what does that say about their lack of an objective morality?


    1. It says that not everyone who calls himself a theist actually lives as a theist. Barack Obama claims to be a theist and he is for infanticide.A better measure is the one I gave – 97% of atheists believe killing defenseless children in the womb is moral. That’s what an atheist is – kill the weak, as long as I can have my premarital recreational sex. It’s sick, really.


      1. Do you call using a condom infanticide?
        Does a woman using a contraceptive pill commit infanticide?
        When does a group of fertilised cells become sentient?


        1. No I call killing a born child infanticide. I also call killing a 6-9 month old unborn baby infanticide, but that is the law of the land in this country. That’s what I am talking about, and why I posted the video of Dawkins in his words supporting infanticide. This is atheist morality. “Kill the baby, I want my fun” <– Richard Dawkins.


        2. A condom prevents conception from taking place. No conception means no child which means no infanticide. Pretty simple, really.

          A woman using a contraceptive pill? Is there more than one kind? The “Pill” of which most people are most familiar does indeed cause the mother’s body to flush out an embryo. Conception took place, a child was “created”, which means infanticide. Pretty simple, really.

          A person at the earliest stage of development, within the first few hours or day of existence, is not a “group” of fertilized cells. It is the result of a single cell having been fertilized and then beginning to multiply into what is commonly known as “a fully developed adult”. “Sentience” has nothing to do with personhood, despite the desperate need of some for it to be so. Pretty simple, really.


    2. What is the source of your statistics? This article shows 19% of those incarcerated as Atheist. Another thing to think about is what would be considered immoral under Atheism? To my understanding Atheism only adopts the morality of the individual person or the culture without having its own moral requirements. One Atheist can be a humanist and be against both slavery and abortion (yes I have known some Atheists that are pro-life). Another can be in favor of one or both. In contrast most religions have rules of morality. One of the only positive statements I have been given for someone being an Atheist is that it gives them freedom from religious morality. Islamic morality can be oppressive while Christian morality is based on maintaining a respectful and beneficial relationship with God and others. Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40


        1. I read the article you provided but couldn’t find any connection to the letter outside of Atheist sites. If the letter is authentic it still has a few problems:
          1. There isn’t any context as to where, when and how any survey was done.
          2. This only represents the inmates that chose to respond and how they chose to respond.
          3. We don’t know if any of the inmates changed religions or became religious after they were incarcerated.
          4. We don’t know to what degree the inmates actually understood their religious choices.

          Because of these problems the letter really doesn’t do much to contrast someone who actually follows Atheist morality with someone who actually follows biblical morality. It may just indicate a lack of understanding of biblical morality among the prisoners (and possibly in America) or the level of hypocrisy prior to incarceration. Often when people are asked for a religious affiliation they default to something they had been exposed to in their past even if they never practiced that religion.

          That being said everyone has some concept of morality. Often that morality is constantly changing for the better or worse. Biblical Christianity has moral boundaries and direction. We can compare what the bible says with what we say and do to see if we are on the right path. If someone strays off the path they no longer represent Christian morality. What defines morality for an Atheist and how do you know if you are on the right moral path?


  3. WK,

    I’ve not perused this post completely, but I noticed your allowance for those who are “spiritual” without being religious. I don’t buy the distinction. Without a religion, one cannot be “spiritual”. That’s just something they say to make them feel as if they are on the same moral level as religious people. It’s still no different that a subjective personal preference for deciding right and wrong. Just sayin’.


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