Why Should Atheists Be Moral?
Carrier refutes Moreland’s claim that theism offers more and better reasons to live a moral life than atheism or secular humanism.
Doing the Right Thing (1998) (Off Site) by Austin Cline
Why are so many people disconnected from morality today, and how do we reverse that? Can one be moral without a god or religion? Can you raise a child to be moral and mature without religion?
Dostoevsky Didn’t Say It: Exploring a Widely Propogated Misattribution (2000) by David E. Cortesi
One of the best-known quotes from the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky is “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” But David E. Cortesi argues that although this “sound-bite sentence” has been widely propogated in religious debate, Dostoevsky never in fact wrote it.
According to David E. Cortesi, Fyodor Dostoevsky never used the phrase “If God does not exist, everything is permitted” in his classic novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880). However, the phrase appears word for word in Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 4 of the novel. Various translations into English do differ in minor details, and it is not surprising that the original wording has been lost in double translations, as when Jean-Paul Sartre’s translation from Russian to French is in turn translated from French to English. But contra Cortesi, the phrase is not just a paraphrase of what Dostoevsky’s character Ivan Karamazov says, though the common omission of mention of a future life at least deserves an ellipsis. A more important question is whether either Dostoevsky himself or the Ivan Karamazov character unequivocally endorsed the sentiment that the phrase captures, and here there is abundant evidence from the text that they did not.
Is There Anything Good About Atheism? (1997) (Off Site) by Adrian Barnett
Although atheism does not entail a moral code or purpose, atheism is quite compatible with philosophies like humanism which do have a system of ethics and purpose.
In “Religion and the Queerness of Morality,” philosopher George Mavrodes contends that morality provides good grounds for adopting religious belief because in a world where religion fails, morality is odd or absurd. Since morality is not in fact odd or absurd in the actual world, Mavrodes argues, we do not live in a world where religion fails. In this paper Ryan Stringer examines the claim that in a world where religion fails, morality is odd or absurd, and finds it to be unsubstantiated. Moreover, Mavrodes provides no grounds for thinking that morality is not in fact odd or absurd in the actual world, and it is plausible to think that it actually is.
Response to the argument that atheism entails that one has no reason to behave morally.
Is atheism compatible with objective moral facts? In this paper Richard Schoenig defends a justifiable objective moral code based on seven principles comprising two general prescriptions. Schoenig goes on to argue that this basic ethical rationalism—and by extension, objective morality—does not depend on the existence of any supernatural being and is justified by the fact that all moral agents would have a greater chance of achieving more of their plans of life if they lived in a society that followed ethical rationalism rather than one that followed any other moral code. Consequently, the moral argument for theism from ethical objectivity is shown to be unsound, for it depends on the false premise that the only way to account for ethical objectivity is to posit the existence of a supernatural being who grounds it.
In this hard-hitting article, Grünbaum critically evaluates the persistent claim that theism can help solve moral crises while secularism only exacerbates them. More specifically, Grünbaum considers two theistic claims: (1) theism is normatively indispensible for the acceptability of moral imperatives; and (2) theistic belief is motivationally necessary, as a matter of psychological fact, to assure such adherence to moral standards as there is in society at large.
In this review of Michael Martin’s Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, John L. Perkins outlines Martin’s responses to the theistic charge that atheists lack the motivation to be moral (in virtue of denying that rewards and punishments for earthly behavior exist after death), and the charge that atheists’ lives are devoid of meaning. Martin first formulates and defends a version of secular ethics based on ideal observer theory, then turns to a critical analysis of religious ethics based on divine command theory. Martin further argues that, contrary to popular belief, it is theists–not atheists–whose lives lack real meaning. Christians in particular, Martin argues, ground meaning in a doctrine of atonement which actually undermines accountability for one’s own actions. After noting a significant weakness of the book, Perkins suggests that the Golden Rule underlies an effective motivational constraint on undesirable social behavior.
Parsons refutes seven common misconceptions about atheism, including two that are relevant to the relationship between morality and atheism. The first misconception is the claim that atheism implies that life is absurd or meaningless.” The other is the notion that atheists, since they lack a conception of heaven or hell, have no motivation to be good.”
A summary of the 2001 debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on ethics without God.
Why Be a Good Person? (2001) (Off Site) by Alan Dershowitz
Since believers submit their choices to cost-benefit analysis, the superlawyer argues that the truly moral person is the atheist who behaves well.
The reasons for being moral depend on what it means “to be moral.” On some possible definitions, the question, “Why be moral?,” is meaningless. But in the case of the other definitions, it is possible to understand the question and even to answer it. Moreover, on the definitions which make the question meaningful, the atheist can answer the question just as well as the theist. Indeed, with respect to specific moral questions (e.g., “Why should people not rape?”), the atheist can provide a better answer than theists who accept the Bible as God’s Word.
Parsons argues that the question, ‘Why be moral?,’ is no more of a problem for the nontheist than for the theist.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.