Can Atheists Have a Basis for Morality?

Can Atheists have a basis for morality.. I have heard two separate answers to this question. I’ll start with the first.

The first says that as an atheist you have no reason to be good or bad. If we are just molecules acting according to our genes and environment then there is no reason to act a certain way. I find this assumption ridiculous for many different reasons. Morality has changed throughout the ages and it is largely due to the age that you were born in that you have the moral values that you do. People are inclined to follow the morals of their time because society would not function if people behaved in ways that we call immoral. People that steal, murder, and cheat the system are not accepted in society so they must adapt.

So, whether you believe murder or stealing is right or wrong your behavior will have to adapt unless you simply don’t mind the consequences. The response here is usually “yes I realize that there are consequences for such actions, but we as humans have an innate idea as to why these things are right or wrong despite punishments being implemented or not.” My argument when presented with such an obvious fact is where psychosocial evolution comes into the equation. Over the past hundred thousand years the people that did not conform to the social construct were shunned from their groups, clans, societies, and were effectively “weeded out” and did not live to reproduce. The people that conformed to the advised norms thrived to have a family and pass down there genes. Over the years we have societies that are comprised of law abiding citizens that have developed the ability to know what is “right” or “wrong”.

The second assertion is that atheism leaves no basis for objective morality. There has to be something that says that something is right or wrong other than just genes and the conformity to societies rules..right? I’m not sure why people come to this conclusion. Why do people choose to see the feeling of discomfort that arises as a result of immoral actions as proof that a divine creator instilled certain principles within us? To me, pyschosocial evolution suffices to explain these feelings. However, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris Argues that we can have a objective basis for morality by looking towards science and determining what increases well-being for all people to the greatest degree. I won’t try to explain his argument in greater detail; partly because I would most likely fall short of being able to, as well as the fact that I still do not believe this gives us an objective form of morality. I will leave it up to you to look up his video lectures on YouTube or elsewhere.




  3 comments for “Can Atheists Have a Basis for Morality?

  1. July 14, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    As an atheist, I have no problems with the lack of truly objective morality, but I have to agree that it doesn’t exist. Of course you can (and should) choose a good basis, a goal (for example to maximize the well-being of all humans), but this basis isn’t absolutely objective. It’s subjective. That’s totally ok, but I wouldn’t call it objective.

    Of course, nobody was really able to explain me what absolute morality IS and how to recognize it. And I think it leads to logical problems… So I conclude it doesn’t exist and we have to use the best subjective one we can find.

    • July 14, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      I would like to recommend searching Sam Harris’ video on morality. It’s very interesting hearing his thoughts on morality and human well-being being connected. I’m not completely convinced as of yet though!

      Thanks for the comment!

      • July 15, 2014 at 4:49 am

        At the moment, I have a quite big pile of books on morality theory, so that I may have a better position someday… Will have a look at the video, thanks.

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