Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why don't atheists commit murder, if there's no accountability in the afterlife?

Commentor Ben raised an interesting point about atheism and moral law:
My dad once asked me a thoughtful question about why atheists don't murder if there are no consequences in the afterlife. But it wasn't like he wasn't already aware of all the psychological problems that go along with murder. Soldiers come back from war with PTSD, people report not being able to get the images of their victims out of their heads for extremely long periods of time. Becoming a "stable sociopath" has its own set of unpleasant psychological ramifications. Obviously there is the threat of police and the legal system,etc. There are plenty of reasons to think not killing people is a good idea. And the afterlife doesn't have anything to do with it.

The fact is, of course, that ordinary atheists are decent ethical people, just as ordinary Christians, Jews and Muslims are decent people. I think that the evidence is overwhelming that state atheism is invariably violent, and there may be evidence that Christians are statistically "nicer" people (giving to charity, etc). But on a personal day-to-day basis, atheists are just as nice as anyone.

The atheist/materialist explanation for this homogenous niceness is that we are evolved to be moral. The Christian explanation is that the Moral Law is written in our hearts by God. And I don't believe that fear of eternal retribution is what keeps most people from doing horrible things. Most of us wouldn't kill even if we were sure we would never be punished.

My issue with atheism and  the moral law is a different issue. This is it:

If atheism/mateialism is true, than the moral law is not objectively true. It's subjectively true. It's something we made ourselves, not something pressing in on us from without.

I disagree with the atheist view of the moral law.  I believe that murder is objectively immoral, independent of opinion. I believe that it's objectively wrong, even if everyone in the world believed otherwise.

So are atheists really willing to accept the logical conclusion of their belief: there is no objective moral law, that murder is not wrong in itself, but is merely wrong because we say so, and we could, at some point, say differently?

Are there atheists who do believe in objective Moral Law? If so, whence the objectivity?

My suspicion is that this is something that atheists don't want to think about with much rigor.

What do atheists believe?


  1. One of my oldest and dearest childhood friends spent years as an Atheist and recently expanded his philosophy to Agnosticism.
    For many years we have discussed this and similar subjects.
    In fact, it is one of the ideas that turned him around.
    His take on morality was always rather objective, and that clashed with his core beliefs at the time.
    Because we were so close he was honest with me about it (as I am with him) and he expressed his dilemma in the follow way:
    "My Atheism has always been based on the 'problem of evil', not the 'rather shaky' scientific arguments. But for evil to objective and real so must good. Why do I FEEL good and evil, and why does the evil often seem the easy or expeditious route to my own personal happiness. Why does it seem to 'tempt' me in so many ways? I can only assume their is some external force that gives us this impression. If I say the 'Universe' is doing this, I have to ask WHY. Besides would that not just make the word 'Universe' the same as your 'God'?"
    This line of thinking/discussion got him blasted by his atheist colleagues (he works in a environmental/scientific field)so much that he began to wonder about his own convictions.
    My good pal was forced into early retirement by an illness (severe diabetes)and soon found that his colleagues had not only lost interest in him, but that he was being lampooned for his ideas on this very subject.
    His position now is one of uncertainty and he quite enjoys quoting Pascal Blaise:
    Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.
    Many would say it is simply the compassion of his theist and deist friends and coworkers that turned him off purist Atheism - but knowing him as I do, it was most certainly the question of 'feeling' morality and the lack of moral objectivity provided by Humanist / Atheist thinkers and friends. He simply sees it as a 'bad bet' and now prefers to leave the question open.
    It is my hope he has begun to walk the path to faith, and that the question you have put forward may do the same for others.


  2. "So are atheists really willing to accept the logical conclusion of their belief: there is no objective moral law, that murder is not wrong in itself, but is merely wrong because we say so, and we could, at some point, say differently?"


  3. 1-Murder by an individual is reprehensible.
    2-Murder by a government is acceptable.
    3-Murder by a society is recommendable.

    1=Jack the ripper.
    2=Hitler's final solution.
    3=The law permitting abortions.

  4. As an atheist, I don't have any problem in stating the evolution has caused humans not to kill members of their group, usually a tribe comprising no more than about 150 individuals, for genetic reasons, based on variations in frequencies of unknown but potentially knowable variants of genes. Humans without this genetic aversion to intragroup murder would cause the destruction of the group. Everyone outside the group being regarded as 'fair game'. With civilization, the idea of the size of the group has progressively increased, hopefully to include the entire human population for most individuals. I can well imagine that if civilization broke down, perhaps due to a global environmental disaster such as a global nuclear war, the size of the group inside which murder was discouraged would rapidly drop back to 150 or less, and it wouldn't matter whether they were theists or atheists, once it becomes a matter of survival.

    1. evolution never happened evotard. atheist= humanist.

  5. bachfiend says:
    ... for genetic reasons, based on variations in frequencies of unknown but potentially knowable variants of genes.
    Perhaps I am missing something here, but were the genes planning on civilization? Are they somehow prescient? Do they seek long term goals OTHER than survival and procreation? If so, where and how do these tiny proteins get the IDEA.
    Further: Why do we not see this pattern replicated on animal behaviours? Where are the nations of wolves, principalities of hedgehogs, and Empires of Chimpanzees? More importantly were are the fruits of the animal civilizations?
    Also, from whence comes the tribe in the first place?
    Nice apologia, but history begs to differ.
    Moral codes and legal codes form civilization groups and cultures, not protein sequences.
    What you have described is a need for military alliance with similar ideologies that form larger groups. You posit that perhaps someday this will result in world peace and that the 'unknown' genes (much like an unseen deity) will perhaps someday be 'knowable'.
    Fair enough. But, until that prophesied moment you will just have to have faith in your promissory materialism.
    For my own part, I will remain objective on morality and place my faith in GOODNESS and God; and I will let proteins be proteins.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. It makes no sense to say murder is objectively wrong, since a murder is an unlawful killing, making it inherently subjective (subject to the law of the land).

    If you want to claim killing is objectively wrong that would mean the god of the bible, for instance, has committed many wrong acts, like wiping out the entire population of the earth save 8 people.

  8. The OP claims:

    "If atheism/mateialism is true, than the moral law is not objectively true. It's subjectively true"

    A prescriptive law is not "true" or "false". It is a command, not a statement.

    And why should the command of a single person be objectively valid, even if this person happens to be divine ?

  9. Pepe,
    Excellent comparison. I will have to borrow that on occasion! Cheers.


    It makes no sense to say murder is objectively wrong, since a murder is an unlawful killing, making it inherently subjective (subject to the law of the land).

    Really? Dr Strangelove would be proud.
    That is all that defines 'murder' to you? The question of where and how those laws came to be aside...I guess manslaughter, euthanasia and abortion must be 'murder' then too - depending on WHERE you are, right? maybe 'Murder' is only 'murder' if you get caught or the government says it 'wrong'.
    Murder is just a word, not an act of evil?
    So if we just make killing legal, as abortion has been made in many regions, you can do murder? No shame in the game.
    No shame at all, it seems.
    You have just confirmed every negative assumption one could make of Atheists/Materialists in your statement.
    I am almost positive you CANNOT see that, but perhaps others will.
    As for your comments on the Bible: You may want to brush up on which religious texts you quote and for what - of you don't want to come of as a semi-educated and cowardly bigot.
    I am sure that is NOT what you intended with rather 1-D attempt at theology.
    Comments like this remind me of what a professor at the RMC said once: "Atheism? Oh yes. I have heard of that. That is a kind of metaphysical OCD. It is best treated with a therapy called LIFE."
    Also see the good doctor's posts on 'Epidemic of 'Prayer Virginity' sweeps nation'.

  10. CrusadeREX, words have meaning. The meaning of "murder" is unlawful killing. If the author meant something else he shouldn't have used the word "murder". What other meaning does the word have that is relevant here? We're not talking about crows, after all.

    "So if we just make killing legal, as abortion has been made in many regions, you can do murder? No shame in the game"

    If it is legal it is not murder by definition. Again, words have meaning.

    "As for your comments on the Bible: You may want to brush up on which religious texts you quote and for what - of you don't want to come of as a semi-educated and cowardly bigot"

    I detect a complete lack of arguments refuting my claims. I wonder why...

  11. To answer the rather simplistic and, dare I say it, ignorant post title; atheists do not commit murder because we are moral. If we were not moral then, perhaps, a vindictive Torquemada in the sky would be necessary to keep us in check.

    Morals no more proceed from a supernatural source than babies, raindrops or surgeons.

  12. And here's the standard easy response to your query on atheists: If the only reason Christians don't kill is fear of going to hell, then isn't that simply trying to avoid punishment, not a genuine moral strength? The atheist would then make a snide comment finding it interesting how the Christian commentator seems mystified that someone -wouldn't- start killing people if they knew they wouldn't be punished by god, and how that sounds suspiciously like a psychopath.

    Typically the atheist will then point out the centuries of Christian-sponsored violence, murder, and torture against both non-Christians and other Christian sects. Continuing his questioning, he'll wonder if Christianity is such a compelling moral guide, why is Christian European history just as filled with violence as any other non-Christian region?

    The atheist concludes that if atheists don't fear punishment in the afterlife, and yet continue to act morally, as they tend to do, that actually makes them a far more righteous person, who does good because it's good, rather than the constantly lurking threat of Godly wrath.

  13. a soul which through materialism we have no idea if exists * so we just say it doesn't *.

    Nah the form in which a human being is doesn't matter... I think that was the point many people try to make when defending slaves, poor people, children, deficient people...

    hey ... what about animals... any live matters! that is the point that a lot of religions make not only Christianism.

    by the way ... no... no marality is firm. Never heard of millions of people we humans killed ??? where is this firm based on evolution morality ??? * by the way ... evolution can't evolve laws ... only potential to have ideas ... so deep down this whole just-so evolutionary physchology story doesn't make any sense! *

  14. You could just as easily ask "if Christians believe they will have all sins forgiven by Jesus Christ, why wouldn't they violate any moral code they wanted to?" (It's not what you do, it's what you believe.)

    The Jewish belief system - which sensibly stresses deeds over creed - would seem to be much better as a deterrent to crime.

    Protestant beliefs have no accountability or justice; Anne Frank damned as a non-believer in Christ's divinity, Christian Nazis who gassed her forgiven and rewarded.

    1. Does that Jewish deed system also not underpin a lot of the justice system within Christianity as well, sir or madam?

  15. "state Atheism" being invariably violent is no more than any other "forced" belief system. Christianity only became less violent when religious tolerance was developed. What may be different is that religions have many internalized beliefs which are designed to enforce conformity (don't do that or you will go to hell), a "forced" atheism has none of that.

    I would contend that the well-known violent "atheist" states are actually Cults in their make-up, they invariably have a cult of personality, and a rigid doctrine that all people must adhere to. This makes them distinct from philosphical atheism or humanism. In fact, those states also tended to reject the free conduct of science that didn't fit the official doctrine, further paralleling religious conservatism.

  16. The reason behind the lack of murdering atheists is plain and simple: We know it is wrong. We know that it would be very stupid to just kill someone for any reason at all. It is not a game of survival anymore and we are all civilized people.

    1. Ummm, can we stop including a communist totalitarian evil form of government which just happened to have an anti-religion bias in the same category as all athiests? I assume you are a person of faith; Christian? How many Christian governments and churches tortured, maimed, and killed heretics, "witches", gays, etc? Millions as well. They just happened to be "Christian". Does that represent all Christians? Not really. As an atheist, I sure can recognize that and make a fair assumption that not all Christians are in favor of murdering abortion doctors (even if they think abortion to be murder), so its not fair to paint all murders committed by atheist govts as representative of atheism as a philosophy. I guess some of you have never heard of prolife atheists?

    2. No. Also, as for those that claimed to be "Christians" that did the deed, I can assure you that they are equally as much servants of Lucifer as the people that did all of the evil things under atheist/humanist governments according to the Holy Scriptures, so your comment is a failure, sir or madam.

  17. I am a pacifist and an atheist, and I think any form of killing another human is terribly wrong. It is absolutely disgusting to think someone would take a life in cold blood or at all. Violence is never the solid answer in solving some sort of disagreement. It's ridiculous that people kill others because of someones beliefs or opinions. Though I am so opposed to killing and murder, I believe abortion should be legal. I don't like to single out one group of people based on race, religion, sexuality, or gender and analyze their beliefs or opinions. Every person has their own beliefs.

    1. Pacifism brings out the most bloodshed out of any belief structure in the world, ironically, for no action to stop murders is just as bad as causing the murders outright, thus warfare and violence ARE necessary means to stop violence. This is why pacifists are either the first to die in zombie films, that is IF they even DO appear in them in the first place, or they simply do not exist in those films.

  18. I’m an atheist. Your dad’s question isn’t a thoughtful one, it’s a stupid one, and the answer to it should be obvious. If this is the only life we have, why would we destroy it by committing an atrocity such as murder? Even if we were guaranteed not to be caught and punished by law, our psychological being would be irreparably harmed unless we were sociopathic.

    On the contrary, it is religious fundamentalists who can find a way to justify their heinous acts with some type of moral righteousness, and the “get out of jail free card” offered to them by the prospect of an afterlife gives them the freedom to throw away their temporal existence.

    Furthermore, your implication that objective moral law can be derived from religion is ridiculous. There is nothing more subjective than the way religious leaders and their followers interpret their foundational texts. If anything, the religious fundamentalists of all faiths that make this world such an awful place are the most objective people within their respective faiths. Why? Because when you base your moral code on a literal (read: objective) interpretation of the bible or koran, you have no choice but to believe that people who do not follow this strict code are immoral and therefore deserving of punishment.

    1. Your comments also lack thought and they also promote stupidity, so what was the point that you were trying to say here OTHER than the one that is on top of your head?

  19. In 1933, prior to the annexation of Austria into Germany, the population of Germany was approximately 67% Protestant and 33% Catholic.[1] A census in May 1939, six years into the Nazi era[2] and incorporating the annexation of mostly Catholic Austria into Germany, indicates that 54% considered themselves Protestant (including non-denominational Christians), 40% Catholic, 3.5% self-identified as "gottgläubig" (lit. "believers in god", often described as predominately creationist and deistic[3]), and 1.5% as non-religious.

  20. I'm an Atheist and a moral relativist. I don't think murder is right because I don't believe it is right to kill another human. I don't need anyone to tell me so. I think your dad's question is incredibly intelligent in a purely hypothetical sense. He may know the answer already, but it's a great prompt for the leagues of people in the world who think Atheists just go around without any morals at all. If Atheists have no morals, what IS stopping us from murdering people? When you think about it, the only possible answer is morals, which discredits the argument that Atheists do not have morals.

    Thank you for writing this in such a concise manner. It's an important topic for anyone with an interest in morals or religion.