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Without God, How Do We Determine What's Right and Wrong?

Nonbelievers have several options when it comes to choosing a normative ethical theory. These options include ethical egoism, Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, social contract theory, and ideal observer theory, to name just some of the numerous choices available. Since an entire website could be devoted to ethics, this section of the index is limited to links to all of the relevant essays available on the Secular Web.


Objective Ethics Without Religion (2013) by Richard Schoenig

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.

Ethical Egoism, Hedonism:

Review of Tara Smith, Viable Values (2004) by Stephen Parrish

In Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality, Tara Smith gives a rigorous statement and defense of one version of ethical egoism, Ayn Rand's Objectivist ethics (capital 'O'). In this review Stephen Parrish, a Christian philosopher, argues that although Smith's book has virtues, it also has major deficiencies. These deficiencies include virtually ignoring important alternative ethical theories like utilitarianism and Kantianism, disregarding extended critiques of Objectivist ethics by contemporary philosophers, and most of all, failing to refute the implication that actions like lying, stealing, and murdering would be considered morally acceptable (indeed, even obligatory) on Objectivist ethics if they furthered one's own interests.


Kantian Ethics or Deontological Theories:

That Colossal Wreck (1997)

Ravi Zacharias's A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism is an unsuccessful attempt to refute or discredit atheism. One area Krueger addresses is Zacharias's mischaracterization of Kantian ethics.

Addressing Those Colossal Misunderstandings: A Response to Doug Krueger (1999) by Paul Copan

Paul Copan responds to Doug Krueger's critique of Ravi Zacharias' book A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism. Copan argues that Krueger's own arguments regarding the book's purported philosophical and theological shortcomings lack convincingness.

Copin' with Copan (1999) by Doug Krueger

Doug Krueger reviewed A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias. Paul Copan, of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, wrote a defense of the book, and this is Krueger's response. The extended discussions of the relevant subjects serve not only to reinforce the original review, but will also serve as valuable analyses in their own right. Subjects include the relation of Hitler to atheism, biblical reliability, ethics and atheism, and others.


Utilitarianism or Consequentialism:

Deontological Objections to Consequentialism (1994) by Mark I. Vuletic

Paper defending those who adopt consequentialist ethics from the charge that they do so to absolve themselves of all personal responsibility.


Ideal Observer Theory:

Can Secular Philosophy Give Us Objective Morality? (2003) by Taner Edis

This is a review of Michael Martin's Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2002). "Michael Martin is an eminent atheist philosopher, and he gives us a hard-hitting critique of those theistic arguments which claim that all is futile in the realms of morality and meaning if there is no God. However, although Martin does well in exposing some common mistakes of theistic moral arguments, he is less convincing when he argues for objective morality in a godless world."

Review of Martin's Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (2003) by Jeffery Jay Lowder

In Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, Michael Martin clarifies the relationship between atheism and morality and between atheism and meaning. Although Martin's book is a welcome addition to the literature on these topics, it also has some shortcomings. These shortcomings include an unsatisfactory discussion of atheism and the motivation for being moral, the justification for being moral, an incomplete discussion of moral arguments for God's existence, disregarding critiques of moral objectivism by contemporary philosophers, and a counterintuitive defense of ideal observer theory.

On Two Reviews of Atheism, Morality and Meaning (2003) by Michael Martin

Michael Martin responds to reviews by Taner Edis and Jeffery Jay Lowder of his book Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, answering Lowder's specific criticisms which, according to Martin, are based at least in part on "serious misunderstandings."

Reply to Martin on Atheism and Morality (2003) by Jeffery Jay Lowder

Lowder responds to Martin's recent reply to his review of Martin's book, Atheism, Morality, and Meaning, answering Martin's objections.

Review of Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (2005) by John Perkins

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.



Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.

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