Atheists "Just as Ethical as Churchgoers"?

“Atheists are just as ethical and have as strong a moral compass as churchgoers, new research shows.”

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Aaron Blumer's picture


I think the Harvard researcher is getting warmer when he says this...

For some, there is no morality without religion, while others see religion as merely one way of expressing one's moral intuitions

Close, but not quite there.

Jim's picture

I have a handful of close relatives who are atheists (or agnostics)

  • One recently died after suffering for 5 months with cancer. Observation: the atheist dies differently than the committed Christian. There is no hope. There is fear and doubt. Even the funeral is different!
  • Another devalues human life and has crossed the border from "pro-choice" to more of a "pro-abortion" position that expresses itself in statements like "the world is overpopulated" ... "fetuses with birth defects should be aborted" ... "[children born into poverty ] won't have much of a life [and should be aborted ]" etc.
  • Another is more of a [URL= ]Richard Dawkins[/URL ] style aggressive atheist who views religion in general and Christianity specifically as dangerous.

Family reunions are fun Sad

Aaron Blumer's picture


I continue to be of the opinion that everybody is religious. Everybody has a set of answers, however tentative and secular, to the ultimate questions of how we came to be here, why we are here, the fundamentals of human nature, and how right and wrong are determined. That set of answers reflects your "religion."
But I don't think history supports the idea that atheism is just as ethical as other religions/worldviews. It's a bit too new to say, but so far the track record is not good. In any case, saying it's just as ethical as other religions is the same as saying its just as ethical as genuine Christianity (which no one practices perfectly!)

Jim's picture

Romans 2:11-16, "for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)"

So can atheists be moral? Yes!

Charlie's picture

I always find it interesting to compare a headline to the actual content of an article. I don't think the writer of the headline really understands the data expressed in his article. Saying that two groups of people are equally ethical is not the same as saying they have equally strong moral compasses. The first refers to how successful someone is in living up to a standard; the second to how certain someone is of the correctness of his standard. Neither of those statements is equivalent to actual statements in the article, such as "People who have no religion know right from wrong just as well as regular worshippers." How does the researcher know this unless all agree on what is right and wrong? "The team behind the research found that most religions were similar and had a moral code which helped to organise society." First, in order to determine how similar religions are, and I am assuming the researchers meant morally similar, the researcher has to know already all the categories of morality so that he can organize his data. Second, it strikes me that although different religions all act as organizing forces in society, they produce very different societies. Contrast the Athenian Golden Age with 12th century Rome or 16th century Geneva or 21st century San Francisco and Tehran.

Further, there is a huge potential for selection bias in testing people's "moral intuitions." What separates an intuition from a reasoned position? The fact that religious and non-religious people are being tested virtually rules out questions which will automatically generate disagreement, such as, "Ought I submit to God's will in all things?" Again, cataloging people's moral intuitions requires selecting which questions to ask, which can be done effectively only by someone who already knows what all the moral intuitions are. I am beginning to agree more and more with Alasdair MacIntyre that modernism has, through emotivism, made moral language incoherent.

My Blog:

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture


Charlie, your critical thinking drive is really revved up today! This time I heartily agree, though.