good person atheist billboard

Can atheists be good without God?

The journalist and atheism populariser Christopher Hitchens once stated that atheists are as good as Christians, going so far as to challenge believers to name one good deed they can do that an atheist can’t. Indeed, the atheists I know say similar things, and some atheist organisations in America even put up billboards to make sure everyone knows it. 

And they’re not wrong; it is perfectly possible to be good without God. It is demonstrably true that there are many virtuous and loving and kind atheists in the world. No thoughtful theist would say otherwise.

But that’s not the argument. There’s a much deeper issue at play here – the grounding issue. And this is where Hitchens and the billboards fail in their understanding of a rather basic theist argument.

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Nobody is saying you can’t be. How much did this thing cost?

The theist is primarily concerned with the ontology of morality – that is, the nature and existence of morality – not whether theists are nicer than atheists (because they’re not). In other words, theists want to know how atheists can ground morality given that the universe has no particular thing guiding the designation of what behaviour is good and what is bad.

On atheism, humans are nothing more than the accidental byproduct of time plus chance plus matter, skin-sacks of recently-evolved atoms fizzing around a tiny speck of cosmic debris called Earth. Some humans fizz violently, some fizz peacefully – all of them destined to be cooked alive at some point by global warming/climate change or something. So, within this framework, it’s hard to think how anything can be objectively good. Why is human flourishing more of a good than mosquito flourishing? With atheism, it can’t be.

Atheism, then, when taken to its logical conclusion, has a crisis of value. In other words, human beings are just animals – no more or less valuable than any other living thing – and animals have no moral obligations. We don’t arrest cats when the mutilated corpse of a mouse turns up on our doorstep. Cats kill mice, they don’t murder them. There is no moral dimension to animal behaviour.

In response, an atheist might say that certain actions such as murdering babies for fun and incest may not be biologically and socially advantageous, and so over the course of human evolution have become ‘not good’. Fair enough. But that tells us nothing about the actual wrongness of these acts, it only tells us that cultural opinions change over time – and could change again (if incest apologists like this guy have their way).

So when atheists use the word ‘good’ to describe themselves, they beg the question: what do you mean by ‘good’? If the term ‘good’ is a manmade social convention to aid survival, then the categories that make up good are also manmade. But here’s the thing: different people have different ideas about what is good and what is bad. In some cultures they love each other, in other cultures, they eat each other. Which do you prefer?

So, yes, an atheist can mimic all the behaviours of what their particular time and culture calls ‘good’ – and they can do it rather well. But if atheism is true and there’s no God to ground morals to begin with, then – just like like the rest of the animal kingdom – human beings have no objective moral duties. Judging an action based on ‘good’ or ‘evil’ would be like expressing a preference for what type of Danish pastry is the more superior (maple and pecan plait, obviously).

Therefore, on atheism, the word ‘good’ has no meaning. Or, as the captain of Team Atheism Richard Dawkins eloquently put it: “There is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

2 thoughts on “Can atheists be good without God?

  1. Sheldon Smithers-Hyde

    You ridiculous, semi-literate, bog-trotting, moron!
    You think that one can only be ‘good’ because of an imaginary ‘man in the sky’? You absolute tit!
    You believe in a so-called ‘God’, because your deficient ‘mammy and daddy’ told you to. NO OTHER REASON! They also told you about Santa, and the fucking fairies.
    I’m not even going to waste my time with the ‘Big Bang Theory’, the fact that ‘Creationism’ MUST have ‘created’ parasitical wasps, the AIDS virus, and cancer. In addition, your imaginary ‘God’ ‘created’ the world, (not the universe surely?) around the time of The Agricultural Revolution.
    Then there’s the Magdalene Laundries, paedophile priests, and of course, Nazi empathy.
    “GOOD”?????
    What separates human beings from animals, is intellect, NOT GOD FFS! And DON’T ‘DEBATE’ WITH THE LATE, GREAT HITCHENS VIA THIS MEDIUM, YOU SPINELESS TWAT! What I find laughable, is that you’re ‘grounding’ your morality in fairy tails, NOT facts! That’s after you’ve unnecessarily, and somewhat pompously ‘explained’ ‘ontology’.
    Of course ‘man’ is a byproduct! Our ‘Sun’ WILL eventually swallow the Earth, no doubt whatsoever! Did God ‘design’ that too?
    Dawkins is correct. It’s as obvious as ‘night and day’! Unfortunately it’s not as romantic as wrapping it up in fairy tails, which is basically your argument.
    I’ve had enough of this nonsense!
    IF YOU ARE GOOD BECAUSE OF A FAIRY TAIL ‘GOD’, THEN YOU’RE NOT GOOD OF YOUR OWN VOLITION, HENCE YOU’RE NOT GOOD AT ALL!
    If it’s a ‘man in the sky’ that stops you murdering and raping etc, then you’re a fucking psychopath!
    It wasn’t badly written, (although it’s VERY easy to tell that this was rewritten many times, and in the planning stage for weeks -lmfao!), but the substance is non-existent!

    Reply
    1. The Bigot Post author

      An angry and emotional atheist responds! Note: I think he means ‘fairy TALE’. Even a semi-literate bog-trotting moron knows a ‘tail’ is something a cat has.

      Reply

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