A common comment that will be thrown at you when debating or discussing with a theist will be that "if you don't get your morality from god, where do you get your morality" or "are atheists then immoral" or something else of that flavor. There are many way to address these comments such as discussing where morals come from and the definition of morals, which can be tricky, or that morality is intrinsic in each being and you don't need god to have them or that morals preceded religion and there are plenty of examples that can go along with that last point. These can all be very effective but I heard something the other day that I felt made a lot of sense.

When asked "were you a moral person", the person, who was an atheist said, "you're right I'm not moral because morals is a set of behavioral guidelines derived from authority whether real or imagined and I don't use morality in my day to day life to make decisions, however I'm a very ethical person, and I think that social ethics as they evolved out of social dynamics, are a better course to pursue then morality, because if you're being a moral person, and you are doing what the authority has instructed you to do,  that authority may not in itself be moral. So for me social ethics are the way to go."

Now I understand that by ethics are defined as moral behaviors. But the distinction is blurry to me. So I would like to hear your opinion on a) the differences between the two if there are any in your view and b) your preferred method to answer this question. How do you answer someone who comes at you with the "morality" argument?

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My first response to a statement like "god gives me my morals" is to ask why they only listen to the morals that are in line with society's accepted behaviors. I.e. why are we eating shellfish and not killing people who work on the sabbath, etc. (yes, I know, old testament examples, but there are plenty more). Of course, an ad hominem attack does not justify my standpoint in the least, but it at least establishes that there isn't a dichotomy (i.e. moral with god, immoral without god). 

I am convinced that morals come from our inert desire to survive. It's a developed process where people tend to live with and support people who better the whole community. On a small scale, years ago someone decided he didn't want to get murdered, and found someone else who agreed with him, and the two formed a pact not to murder each other. Anyone who didn't agree with that pact would not be allowed in the group. I think it's relatively easy to construct *most* of our basic 'moral' behaviors (call them ethical behaviors) from that. 

I don't think there's some external source of morality besides society, because looking at history many immoral things were once normal and moral (slavery, disempowerment of women, etc). Only as our society improved have those things changed, and those who don't follow along with these newer, better ideas are outcast until the racism and sexism dies off. 

Forrest I think you're right. It's a combination of the desire/need to survive plus the evolution of societies and the understanding on the best ways to do this. Before it was survival by any means which equated to very simplistic moral ideas similar to those of the bible. The further society evolves, the more the ideas that are ethical will reflect humanistic principles.

Normal response is to agree that I don't have morals. Tends to kill the conversation dead and I can get on with doing better things.

I just say I like the Golden Rule which is do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and no, that is not a scripture form the Bible. Many people think it is, which is ironic from an atheist standpoint.

If people want to get anymore technical than that I grow bored. Don't get me wrong. I feel it is an extremely valid and important issue that needs to be discussed in a big way. I just find it easier to cope with when someone comes at me with that argument to keep it simple as possible. I have a simple mind.

I think the golden rule was from Confucius?

The Golden Rule appears in one form or another in almost every advanced culture and in every major religion:


Actually Robert, the "Golden Rule" is best known to us from the New Testament of the Bible - Matthew 7:12, which stated, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Three hundred years before Yeshua (Jesus) was alleged to have lived, Confucious said, "Do not impose on others that which you yourself do not desire."

But Connie (I'm not making this up!) also said, "And remember, no matter where you go, there you are," so what did he know? The guy could have made a fortune writing for fortune cookies.

pax vobiscum,

you'll note a big difference between the Jesus and Confucius versions though.  Jesus imposes on you a positive obligation to do things for other people, while Confucius only requires that you don't harm them.

Wow, you went back a year and a half to find that! Must be a slow day in Colorado. BTW, were you anywhere near that Manitou Springs flash flood? I saw cars tossed around like bathtub boats. My son was on his way down Pike's Peak at the time, and just missed it.

What you say is true, but further truth is that the "Rule," in one form or another, dates back for several thousand years before Yeshua. As I get nearer to writing about that era, I will track them down, list them, and quote them exactly, so we can all compare the differences.

The Christians don't abide by either version, so the point is moot.

It is in the Bible actually. One thing I will give Jesus credit for is that he made a beautiful change to the Golden Rule. Confucius said "don't do to others what you wouldn't wish for yourself" but Jesus said "DO unto others as you would have them do to you". He changes the restriction from action to positive action. Whether he actually said that I guess we'll never know.

Well, if you want the best form go for the Platinum Rule, which states "Do unto others as they would have done unto them". That first requires you to find out how they would like to be treated instead of speculating or applying your wishes to them


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