Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Atheist Morality

I hope everyone enjoyed the Memorial Day Weekend as much as I did. Now that I’m back, I’d like to continue in my series comparing my made up religion against Christianity. Before I get started, I would like to reiterate my policy on posting. There are only two ways to get a post deleted: either make absolutely no sense whatsoever or make a threat of violence. So far, only one post has ever been deleted. I don’t agree with MJD, The Listener, or Bible Student that often, but I’m glad that they are here otherwise there would be no worthwhile discussion.

I have seen many theists state that we need a higher authority in order to have morality. I’d like to share a personal story. About three years ago on the day before Thanksgiving, I was running late to a meeting. I pulled into the parking lot a few minutes before 10AM. I looked forever and finally saw a spot. It was tight, but I thought I could fit in it. It turns out that I couldn’t and I scraped up a beautiful new Lexus in the process.

The lot was unmonitored, no one was coming into work, and no one was leaving for lunch. Absolutely no one saw me do it. I backed out, found another spot, and then looked at the damage I caused. I had hit a parked car! There was no one to blame but myself. What was an atheist to do?

I grabbed a piece of scratch paper and hastily scribbled out a brief apology, my name, and my phone number. I invited the owner of the Lexus to contact me and left a promise to take care of the damage that I caused. I placed the note under the windshield wiper and left for my meeting.

I’m not nominating myself for a morality medal here. I’d like to think that anyone – atheist, Jew, Christian, or Muslim would have done the exact same thing. The point of this story is that I don’t believe in heaven or hell and there was absolutely no reason for me to do it from a reward/punishment perspective. I have heard over and over again that there can be no morality without God. I am an atheist, a heathen, a heretic, and an infidel. There is no Holy Ghost which guides my actions, yet I still know right from wrong. In this case, leaving the note was morally right.

Lest anyone think I was following Jesus’ teachings of “do unto others as you would have done unto you” (which, by the way, existed before Jesus and does not depend on “Judeo-Christian” values) I dare you to slap me in the face. I assure you, I would not “turn the other cheek” but respond with a swift kick to the gonads followed by a quotation from Clausewitz, “Violence tends to escalate.”

Back to the story… I was expecting a mild rebuking from the owner of the vehicle as well as to pay a few hundred dollars in restitution. Later that afternoon, I received a call from the owner – thanking me! The owner stated that her faith in humanity was restored by my note. Funny that she would thank me considering this country is 90% Christian. That is not to say that a Christian would not have done the same thing. I’d like to think that they would. What surprised me was that the owner believed that most people wouldn’t have left the note.

I didn’t feel that I had a choice since I answer to myself. I am able to tell right from wrong and I would have to live with the knowledge that I had caused harm to someone else. A Christian, however, would have another option available to them. It would be possible for a Christian to hit the car and not leave a note. They could then go ahead and feel bad about it, pray to their imaginary friend named Jesus, and receive forgiveness. This option would be a heck of lot cheaper. Again, I’m not saying that all Christians would chose this option, but it was an option that Wagerism doesn’t offer. Not believing in heaven and hell actually thinks help my sense of morality. Morality is about doing the right thing when no one is watching.


Bible student said...

@ AW

Thank God you have a conscience.

brenden said...

One could argue that Christians (who believe that a god is the source of morality) are the least intrinsically moral of all of us, because the only thing stopping them from doing bad things is the threat of divine retribution.

MasterJediDan said...

@ Brenden

Interesting point, but if that's the case, what's stopping someone who isn't a Christian? And besides, *most* Christians don't do wrong out of a desire to follow Jesus.

Atheistwager said...

@Bible Student
... but where does the conscience come from?

Bible student said...

@ AW

It is the inborn, inward realization or sense of right and wrong that excuses or accuses each of us. It also can be trained by the thoughts and acts, convictions and rules that are implanted in a person’s mind by study and experience. Based on these things, it makes a comparison with the course of action being taken or contemplated. Then it sounds a warning when the rules and the course conflict, unless the conscience is “seared,” made unfeeling by continued violations of its warnings. Conscience can be a moral safety device, in that it imparts pleasure and inflicts pain for one’s own good and bad conduct.

At Psalm 139:14 God was praised, “I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, As my soul is very well aware.

Miracle said...

great post AW

I hit a parked car once (it was my best friend's and he saw me do it). I actually had the off the lot 02 Acura and he had a 95 blazer. It was embarrassing to say the least.
I know plenty of people (christian and non) whom would've just left the scene without a note. It takes alot of courage and will to do what you did.
Actually, very little of Jesus' teachings were new. Love your neighbor.. love your God is actually in Leviticus. Most of his teachings were from an emerging sect within Judaism.

I also noticed that my name wasn't added to the list of troubled Christians. Do you guys not believe me :)

Wil said...

It is nice to know people still have courtesy to openly own up to their mistakes instead of just hiding it, or saying it in confession (or other ritual of forgiveness).

MasterJediDan said...

@ Miracle

I think it's because you accept the New Testament, while you say that the Old Testament is error-prone and mostly untrue. From what I've learned, you either accept the whole Bible as the word of God or you don't, I don't really think it's possible to accept half of it as the word of God and the other half as myths and fallacies.

Miracle said...

I accept the entire Bible thank you. There are errors in the New Testament just as much in the Old Testament. Do you know what JEDP is? How about the two or three Isaiah's? Whats the purpose of ancient Hebrew prophecy (think again if you say it is to predict Jesus)? Was the Pentateuch written by Moses, even though Deuteronomy contains info about his death. What about Joshua? Many scholars say that it should be included with the previous five and make it a hexateuch. Priestly tradition ring a bell? Did you realize that Abraham is more than likely folklore and a large mesh of different people. Why did Isaac never speak to Abraham again after he put him up on the altar? Look at Jesus' lineage. Mary was not of Davidic descent. It was Joseph, but Joseph is not his biological father. hmm..
These are all Old Covenant or Old Testament topics that are discussed. Psalms and the prophets are always mentioning God's spirit surrounding them, but the Holy Spirit is largely considered to have been given on Pentecost. Well we have it wrong. The earliest Psalms and even Ecclesiastes record death as Sheol. Everyone goes to the grave. No heaven. No Hell. Just the grave. The minor prophets are trying to get the people of Israel to realize it is the repentance that is important not the sacrifice of sheep. God will forgive without dead sheep. It was Jesus who took away the need for sacrificing sheep, when it was a growing idea amongst some teachers before Jesus. Jesus' two favorite books were Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but when's the last time you're pastor preached on them.
MJD, my point is not to make you look foolish. I understand that you are trying to learn and you are way past many kids your age. I do accept the entire Bible, but I also admit there are trouble spots in it for whatever reason. You dont even interpret the bible completely literally. In a comment you mentioned that the imagery in Revelation is supposed to be taken figuratively and metaphorically. How did you determine this? John no where says that it is complete symbolism.
There is a whole field of study called Biblical Criticism that I think you would be incredibly interested in. The idea of the study is to understand the cultural and textual contexts that a verse/book/epistle was written in. Pick up a commentary [Walter Brueggemann and N.T. Wright are my favorite] and do some background study. It will completely amaze you.

zilch said...

"Thank God you have a conscience."

No thanks- I'll thank a couple million years of genetic evolution in social groups, a couple thousand years of cultural evolution, and a couple hundred million years spent developing a brain that can appreciate the advantages of behaving nicely. Oh, and thanks to Mom and Dad too.

brendan- I've actually had Christians ask me why I don't rob banks, since I don't believe in divine retribution. I think they were a bit jealous...

In any case, it's obvious that one doesn't need to believe in God to behave morally. Look at Japan and Sweden, which have high rates of atheism and very low rates of crime.

Bible student said...

@ Miracle

When you let me know what they taught you about God's Kingdom, I knew they had you spun around.

Let’s look at Jesus lineage recorded by Matthew and Luke. Compare Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23,24. Jesus grandfather has two different names. Follow their records back and realize that these are two different lineages, Mary’s and Joseph’s. Yes Mary was of Davidic decent through his son Nathan. Joseph through Solomon.

God’s spirit is introduced in Genesis 1:2. It’s how He gets things done, including inspiring all the Bible writers.

I’m glad they gave you the lowdown on Sheol. Unfortunately, they probably told you it wasn’t true. Both of God’s servants, Jacob (Israel) and Job were sure they would end up there, and were not afraid to say so. (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13)

I have as much fondness for Bible critics as I do movie critics. At best, they cloud the truth.

You probably spent much time and money on your degree, but what you have in exchange is suspect. I hope we can compare ideas on this myriad of subjects. In the meantime, please don’t mislead the young man.

@ zilch

I also like that I can have a hand in training my conscience.

Warren said...


Once again your arrogance astounds me. It still baffles me that you think your interpretation of the bible is the only one that is legitimate. Scholars have been studying the thing since time out of mind and you have the audacity to think that you've figured it all out.

Bible student said...

@ Warren

Hardly arrogance, I’ve just told him, “I hope we can compare ideas on this myriad of subjects.” I don’t ever want to stop learning!

I’m happy to have learned from the teachers I’ve had. It has made me strong in my faith, but not closed minded. I said I enjoy sharing with Muslims, Atheists, children and fellow Bible students. There is no reason I can’t learn from you if you let me know what you think. If you just complain, who gains?

Warren said...


You can't really say that, you constantly say "The bible is this..." or "The bible is that..." each time you state what you are saying plainly as though it is fact when in reality it's just your interpretation of the bible.

If you want to know what I think I'll tell you. My point of view is that the bible is a collection of parables collected from other sources and molded to fit the dogma. None of it can be take as literal truth and what morals and life lessons it does contain can be obtained easily from a myriad of other sources that don't require blind faith in any sort of deity. While the bible may have at one point in time been intended to answer all the big questions in life it's very nature, that being a disjointed collection of tales that don't always seem to fit together, have led men throughout history to pick and choose portions from which to preach and in so doing they gained great control over the general populace. It seems to me that if the bible were really the word of god, either divined through prophets or directly spoken too them it wouldn't be quite so easy to twist it to the will of men. Or put another way it would have been compelling and powerful, inspirational and up lifting, you know a real page turner' not just some history mixed with fantasy mixed with basic morality and a dash of divine vengeance (lest we forget who is in charge here) thrown in for good measure. That's not all of my feelings on religion but that's how I interpret the bible, and I realize that it's just that my interpretation colored by my life and my experiences, in the grand scheme of things it may not be any more right that your interpretation, and you may (and probably do) disagree with it wholly, but that doesn't really matter because it's just one of billions of interpretations and none really carries any more weight than another.

MasterJediDan said...

@ Warren

So which parts of the Bible don't fit together?

Warren said...


I don't have examples, I don't cite scripture because I don't know any of it by heart. On the whole none of it makes sense to me, the whole entire thing strikes me as nonsensical and largely irrelevant in today's world. In the end it's a book and a poorly written one at that.

I tried to find god once, when my grandmother died it seemed so strange to me that she was just gone that there was nothing left of her, so I looked and I looked and I read books about a myriad of religions and I went to church. I'll tell you I tried my hardest to believe, to find something there to hold on to something to make it all make sense, but nothing did so I went back to where I started. Not believing/trusting in myself is the only thing that makes sense to me.

Now I can honestly say that I don't know with 100% certainty that there is no god, though I really really doubt it, but I can tell you that I believe with out a doubt that none of the religions have it right.

Miracle said...


The lineage of both Matthew and Luke end with Joseph and not Mary. Either the Bible has a misprint error or the lineage is of the same man. Pick the road? Also, it is Solomon that continues the lineage and not Nathan. Therefore, even if it was Mary's, it doesn't change anything. Mary was of Levitical descent, a priest. Her cousin Elizabeth is proof of this. Levite men "John the Baptist" can only marry Levite women. This makes Jesus born through a Levite, a priest; not a warrior.

The point of Biblical Criticism is trying to understand the context of when and whom had written the parts of the Bible. WIthout it, we make theological fluff from prooftexting verses. You ever ask the question, Why did Paul write this? or Who is Paul writing this too? This is biblical criticism.
We need to stop arguing on here, because it is not the right place.
If you'd like to discuss it more please feel free to email me: miracles83[at]aol[dot]com.

Wouldn't that make you agnostic then? I don't think one could say that the bible is poorly written. It contains reflections, prayers, faith and conversation of people trying to understand Who created us, why we're here, and what is our purpose. Whether or not one believes the Bible as true, it still is one of the most amazing collections of works around.

Warren said...


No if asked I would say that I believe there is no god but I'm not one to go around saying I'm right about everything so I'll admit a possibility exists. In other words if I was forced to categorize I would go with Atheist.

I've read many books that I thought were better than the bible, to me it's nearly unreadable.

Bible student said...

@ Warren

I have found the Bible to be compelling and powerful, inspirational and up-lifting, a real page turner. Despite your general bad impression of the book, I hope you leave room for discussion.

I have already shared some of my history in these pages. When I was a child, one question that I was sure pop could answer was, ‘what happens to people when they die?’

Even though we were both raised Roman Catholic, attending regularly, paying attention, the best he came up with was, “Nobody has come back to tell us.”

I’ve found that the experience that makes folks question their existence, is the death of a loved one. I’ve read it here, at least a couple of times. The question then is, where to find a satisfying answer. I’ve heard many interpretations, theories, guesses and lies. It was disturbing, until someone pointed out and explained that subject to me.

Have you, to this day, gotten a satisfactory answer to your search?

Atheistwager said...

You worship a different God than Bible Student and the other more fundamentalists :) I think you practice Christianity Lite.

Bible student said...

@ Miracle

Legally, Jesus line is through Solomon and Joseph. Fleshly, through Nathan and Mary (Romans 1:3).

M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia says(1881, Vol. III, page 774, column 1): “The evangelist Luke has critically distinguished the REAL from the LEGAL genealogy by a parenthetical remark: ‘Jesus being (as was reputed) the son of Joseph (but in reality) the son of Heli,’ or his grandson by his mother’s side.”—Luke 3:23.

“In constructing their genealogical tables, it is well known that the Jews reckoned wholly by males, rejecting, where the blood of the grandfather passed to the grandson through a daughter, the name of the daughter herself, and counting that daughter’s husband for the son of the maternal grandfather (Numb. xxvi, 33; xxvii, 4-7).”

Who is a Levite?

"Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age ..." (Luke 1:36)

All this passage proves is that Elizabeth had Judean blood in her, since Levites were allowed to marry women from any of the twelve tribes. (Leviticus 21:13-14)

Don’t let that “Christianity Lite” comment stand. Be an illuminator! (John 8:12) Seriously, we have just been told that no one could understand the Bible. You waved that shingle last night. SURF’S UP! Let’s see if it will float.

Zachary said...

I think I can address Warren's comment about the Bible not really making sense & Miracle's comment about the Bible having errors. Perhaps there is one word to explain this: translation. I don't think that the english version of the Bible quite expresses the original text's true meaning, I also don't think that the english translation expresses the Bible as vividly and powerfully as the original text. Now, granted, few of us are willing to learn Greek, Hebrew, and Latin just so we can see what the Bible originally said, but if we did...if we did...perhaps it would be clearer.

Bible student said...

@ Zachary

Pray for understanding! (and a good Bible teacher)

You sound like my Muslim friend. So I ask him, Do you deem God so impotent as to disseminate His word throughout the earth, (you probably won’t be the first on your block to have one) with an intelligible message?

He admits that the English version of the Koran has this problem, and I agree.

Miracle said...

You are so close.. Its in Jesus' adoption by Joseph that Matthew and Luke are referring to the Davidic line. Send me an email.

I've had two years of Koine greek. I've translated Mark, 1 John, 1 Corinthians and did a word study on agape - The word the Bible uses for love. The solution is not in the translation, it is in understanding why Matthew and Luke wrote it. If you are willing to learn Greek, it will be one of the most difficult but rewarding things in your Christian experience.

zilch said...

@ mjd- there are two kinds of things that don't fit together in the Bible: internal contradictions (there's a long list of them here), and factual errors, such as the wrong order of creation in Genesis, rabbits chewing their cud, etc.

Then there are the things that seem simply immoral or at least pissy to most people, such as Jehovah ordering the slaughter of innocent babies, and Jesus frying a fig tree because figs were out of season.

@ miracle: you say

"Whether or not one believes the Bible as true, it still is one of the most amazing collections of works around."

Indeed. I agree with AW- you seem to practice a lighter, more nuanced form of Christianity than some. The next step: Christianity without God.

@ bible student- you say

"Do you deem God so impotent as to disseminate His word throughout the earth, (you probably won’t be the first on your block to have one) with an intelligible message?" [I presume you mean "unintelligible".]

If God had wanted to be intelligible, He wouldn't have disseminated a Word with so many contradictions, errors of fact, and confusions.

Bible student said...

@ zilch

First, thank you for "unintelligible".

I’ve expressed my distain of minutia discussions, in view of the amount of vital information the Bible contains.

You pointed MasterJD at the “slanderous website” of Bible contradictions. I went looking around (to see if there was anything new) and found this page:

(Sorry, I still don’t hyperlink.)

4300 words, just on this page, discussing the fact that ruminants and rabbits both ingest, semi-digested food.

God made it clear in just a few words. Unclean animals, don’t eat them.

What He also does is help train our conscience. By letting the listener know his reasoning, one may make a judgment on an unfamiliar animal or situation.

Even if one gets the science wrong, God judges the heart. Even the effort to have reverence for his preferences, is not forgotten by the Sovereign Lord of the Universe. (Hebrews 6:10)

If you are open to reason, you might not be diswayed by the detractors. If you know that God says, you could lose your life for something that he despises, don’t you avoid that at all costs?

Conscience is a terrible thing to waste!

Miracle said...


Nah... you have it backwards. Its not Christianity without God, it is God without Christianity.

Unless something drastic happens, my faith in God isn't changing.

zilch said...

@ bible student: what you say only makes sense if you already believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I don't, so no quotes from the Bible are likely to sway me. If I were given a good reason to believe the Bible is true, I would reconsider. I haven't found one yet- indeed, being open to reason is the reason many people become atheists. Note: the Bible itself claiming that it's true is not a terribly convincing or original argument for its truth.

You might be interested in how a scientist describes the Creation according to Genesis, using an interlinear Hebrew text. The first part is The Cosmos. I'm looking forward to the Creation of Life.

Warren said...


Yes I have found a satisfactory answer, when people die they are dead, that's it there is nothing else. As for leaving room for discussion, well I'm always willing to discuss religion but there are road block for me which I can't ever see coming down in regards to it.


I'm sure the bible does lose something in translation, practically everything does, but I still don't think the book itself is divine or divinely inspired. Near as I can tell it contains no vital information nor any meaningful lesson I hadn't learned prior to encountering it, in fact it contains some things which I consider downright immoral.

zilch said...

@ miracle- you're not giving up your faith? Darn- here I was in line for a gold star for the most deconversions this month, and you mess up my average. Satan will be very disappointed in me...

Miracle said...


sorry, don't tell your boss but these conversations are making my faith stronger.

also, we (christians) need to stop using the Bible as textbooks on science and history. True, it have some of both, but that is not its purpose. Its point is to describe the relationship between God and people over the years. Textbooks do not have poetry and figurative language. This is the largest problem when people try to use the Bible to make a scientific or historical claim. Genesis 1 is poetry. Read it as poetry. The point is to say that God created the world, not give a scientific explanation how he did it.

MasterJediDan said...

@ Zilch

Word order is trivial. I've had four years of Latin, and foreign languages certainly don't have the same word order as we do. So if something appears to be "in a different order", it probably happened when it was translated. I'm looking into the other links you gave me.

zilch said...

@ mjd- You can me nothing new tell about word order. But what I'm talking about here is the order of verses in Genesis. They are numbered by the days, so the order they're in must have been meant that way.

Atheistwager said...

If everyone had the knowledge and common sense of Miracle, I would not be blogging. Here is a person who has clearly studied and observed the world around him and chooses to believe in what makes sense to him.

I have had offline conversations with Miracle as well as read through his blog. I think we are far more alike than most would realize. I am positive we could have a healthy exchange about issues like sex education, stem cell research, etc. and come to a rational conclusion. Keep on keeping on and representing sane Christianity!

Wil said...

Hear hear!

zilch said...

I'll third that motion. The world could use more sane Christians- and sane Jews, Muslims, and atheists too.

zilch said...

Oh, and here's the next part of John Wilkins' explication of Genesis: Stuff that Grows.

Miracle said...


Hey, I tried emailing you back after we did the first experiment. Did you ever get it? I'm ready to do it again if you want. I like the Sex Education one. It is a little bit of a hot topic right now.

pax said...

Morality is a little bit more difficult. I ' ve read only a few articles so far, but I think the main question about morality is trapped in the background of the discussions.
Where does "right" and "wrong" come from ?
Are they absolute ?

You answer the first question often "by reason " . But the basics of a reason have to be absolute. Without absolute basics you can't proof that something is wether good or bad. But you can't get this basics by nature, you have to choose them and believe in their correctness.
So morality is not about religion , believing or not believing , you always have to believe and the question is, where do your (or the atheists) basics come from.

I now want to ask a question. Because this is questioning your basics, from your point of view it will be too simple to answer so you will call me a dumbhead.
Nerthertheless try to take it not simple.

"Why do you think, that a reality exists which you can understand ?"

Infact this are two questions (reality ? and rationalism ? )

I am living in a rather atheist country , so for me is the strong focus of the anglo-atheists on battling religion a little bit strange. ;-)

bravo9 said...

I'm an atheist, here's my general belief:

Origins of Morality

Claes Mogren said...

Wrote a post about the neuroscience studies of empathy and altruism, and how that affects our view on morality. Linked to this blog post and stole a quote. Thanks for a highly interesting blog!

pax said...

The argumentation from evolution or neuroscience has e few problems.

1. If you can discribe the "How?" (that is the only thing science is doing) you don't can say something about the "Why?".
So when you say morality works naturally. The question isn't answered why should anything work ?

2. Even in the middle ages , there were monks with less knowledge about science but who said that everybody can rocognize morality in nature. The reason for this ability of mankind is that the nature is built by the same god who had built the humans.
So that humans have morality by nature is a very old christian position. The christians who did'nt believe that were thrown out of europe and went to some colonies. I've heard that their new country is named USA or so. ;-)
In this sense i have to ask , what are doing the atheist different or better, with only eleminating god and keep the rest.

3. At last, the derivation of morality (Ideology) from scientific processes failed many times in history. The maybe worst example was the social darwinism.
You are getting very close to some of their positions by doing scintific morality.