Hi All,

We had a discussion many moons ago about atheists and morality and a lot has happened since then. I reached some new conclusions (which I'll withhold for now so I don't poison the water) and at least one other poster here has some new ideas about it.

So, I was wondering what the prevailing opinion is out there on this topic. Do you believe that atheists can be "moral"? Is it impossible for an atheist to be truly moral? Is "morality" something to which adherents have a valid claim? The infamous Dawkins and Harris had a discussion at Oxford about this about a year or so ago that was very good and I would also be interested in what anyone thinks of what was discussed there.

Thanks and all are welcome.

- kk

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All - small correction. When I said "Is morality something to which adherents have a valid claim?" I meant "Is morality something to which only adherents have a valid claim?". - kk

I don't see where Morality has anything to do with a god.

Morality exists.. God doesn't.    Morality has changed over time..  over cultures...over societies..over belief systems.   I like Dawkin's term.. 'the ever changing moral zeitgeist'..     Morality evolves as we do...it reflects the conditions we find ourselves in (or rather our interpretation of those conditions) and our 'answer' to those (interpreted) conditions.


Hey Wesley,

How would you define "morality" vis-a-vis "ethics"?

- kk

A set of rules that changes over time.... about what is considered 'Ok, Good, Neutral, Bad, Horrible, etc...   Morality would be how we interpreted these 'rules' and how closely we kept to them.    That said, I think morality evolves as we do..and that you can push or expand the boundaries of the morality if your argument is sound.



Okay, but where do atheists get such rules from? How would an atheist decide what is moral and what isn't?

- kk

Hey Gallup's Mirror,

I prefer the word 'ethics' instead of 'morals'. 'Morals' are particular sets of (usually religious) beliefs and teachings. 'Ethics' are principles of reason and philosophy.

Yea, that makes sense.

- kk

I think that is just a matter of semantics myself. Ethics and morals are really the same in my book. I have heard the same sex marriage issue refered to as unethical by religious people. I think it is just a matter of personal preference which term you want to use. And I think the religious like to use these terms in reference to their beliefs in an effort to scare the poorly educated, generally stupid or naive people in the world into believing as they do. Remember the church in general has had hundreds of years to perfect their manipulstion skills. It's only the modern age, where even the poor can get a decent education, that has brought about the ability of the general population to truly understand the world around them and really see the church for what it is at heart... A fear mongering tool for controlling the poor and uneducated. By making the poor believe that they should accept their suffering and they will be rewarded in heaven the church was able to take money the people could not afford to loose and become one of the richest powers in the world even to this day... and in general the people bent over and took it with a smile and a thank you sir because of the fairy tales they were brainwashed with...

I know many people confuse the terms "morality" and "ethics," but two words with the same meaning eliminates a useful distinction.


Agreed and I think the most useful distinction lies along the lines of absolute objectivity (morals?) vs. practicably useful objectivity (ethics?). I'm not saying that is how we should define these terms, but maybe these should be key characteristics of them.

- kk

Hey Nikos,

I think I just read a few lines of searing Truth.

And I think the religious like to use these terms in reference to their beliefs in an effort to scare the poorly educated, generally stupid or naive people in the world into believing as they do.

This has been my key observation, inasmuch as "stupid" means duped and manipulated. I don't think "morality" can be properly understood until one understands this history. This dominates the discussion, imo. The question for atheists is, in spite of this history, is there any utility in this notion of "morality" for people free of this delusion? I believe there is but how we think of it is entirely different.

- kk

Morality (as distinguished from ethics) exists due to the scriptures of the religion, not because any deity exists.

This depends entirely on what you want to define morality as. Many theists Would define morality as doing what god wants of you, in which case then we probably can't be moral ... unless of course a god exists and  wants us to all be atheists(This is one thing i have always found hard to understand about the theist position .They often claim that we cannot understand god and that he is highly mysterious . Then they  claim they know exactly what god wants of us ,but if their first two points are correct then we cannot logically  make any coherent claims about what god wants from us) Though if we define  morality as a set of rules on how we should interact with one another then of course atheists can be moral. I would even say that we can easily have an objective morality without god by saying that if we where perfectly rational beings behind a veil of ignorance(you dont know whether you will be a prince or pauper so rationally you will be objective about these rules )what rules governing social interaction should we come up with


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