the failure of atheist ethics

The point is simple:

According to atheism (or materialism) there is nothing that can be more important for an individual than his own life. It is irrational to seek the others’ happiness at the expense of one’s own happiness, a fortiori at the expense of one’s existence. So you can work for the others’ good, but just as long as it does not hinder your welfare or threaten your existence.

The basic assumption behind that is that life is worth living, that life is of some value. I think it is easily granted by all atheists who do not commit suicide right now.

But with such a philosophy, it becomes impossible to hold and teach lofty values which are the pride of mankind. I am speaking of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, whether it be family, country, or all mankind (as in the story of Jesus). Any selfless commitment which threatens one’s existence is a folly, according to atheist ethics.

And deprived of these lofty values, human life becomes somewhat more despicable.

 Not according to many prominent atheists back in the day. There have been many atheists who claimed that man's ultimate obligation was to the State or the Community. 
 You will meet atheists who claim that selflessness is a folly, those who will claim it is great, and those who will claim that it techically doesn't exist.

You are right, but suppose materialism is consistent with itself. Would it still hold that the State is more important that one’s own life? It seems to me that the question which arises naturally is: why does State or Community matter at all for me if my own universe is to collapse at death? What’s the point in putting an end to all future goods for some entity which will no longer mean anything for me after my death?

Yes, it is a folly, if there is no reward for doing something, why do it? Religionists are kind and selfless because either they feel they will be rewarded (usually after death) or because they simply feel it makes them a “good person”.

The atheist realises that if he doesn’t belive in god, he doesnt belive in the reward at the end of the tunnel. he also realises that there is no point in being a “good person” unless he feels good about it, which is usually caused by a culture influnced so much by religionists.

If being selfless makes you feel good, go ahead, do what makes you happiest.

And BTW, many athiests simply want to be happiest, that does not always mean they fear death.

It is hard to deny to man selflessness when it is observed even in lower animals.

The selfish gene has not gone uncriticized.

Nope. Not without some objective standard of duties or ethics to refer to. One would have to argue that a life worth living is a life devoted to the State, or that one 'owes' the State something just by existing. Of course, one also needs to explain why it is important to pay back one's debts in that case.

Are you for real?.
This must be a joke.

You speak of egoism.

I’m an atheist and would gladly die for any of my loved ones. I consider that an insult.

If your a Christian and you believe you will go to heaven, then why waste time here?

Do you even think before you type?

Just take a cookie and take a nap…


Cool, and example of something most curious.  As an atheist, do you believe that it is right for you do die for your loved ones? Do you believe that you have a moral obligation to do so?

I don’t see how it could be a moral obligation. I would rather the ones I love live on and I die just because I would rather them live on than me.

One life is no more valuable than the next so the right for me to die and them live I guess…no. But it I don’t speak of the right but the choice to die and them live.


 So then, Samkhya's point isn't too far off.  Atheism doesn't have a way to promote the 'lofty values' he mentions such as self-sacrifice.  Rather, you would give up your life for your family because you feel like it, but if another person chooses not to, that's fine too.

Secular Humanitaritanism has no focus on religion and it has a code of ethics.

We define morality so it is stupid to say that a religion teaches morality/ethics so it is wrong to say that atheism can’t teach these “lofty values” but a religion can. Atheism can make up the same rules that religion does. Your telling me that I can’t make up my mind on what is right and wrong?


   You can make up your mind that the moon is made of green cheese if you put enough effort into it. That's never been in question.  The question is, on an assumption of materialism, is a person warranted or obligated to value other people's lives over their own?

It can, and most atheists do, as borramakot will begrudgingly admit. Now, it sounds like in the above that you believe that neither religion or atheism has a ground to stand on when it comes to ethics, they are both just making stuff up. If you mean to claim that atheistic ethics are irrational and subjective, then that’s been the question all along, and in fact you agree with the original post. You may also want to state that religious ethics are irrational and subjective as well, but that’s another matter- and I’ll keep my own counsel on it, barring an actual argument from you.

Yes that is the point. The name of this topic is “the failure of atheist ethics”. My arguement is not that it is a failure of atheism but rather that ethics is not learned through a moral code that religion nor is it needed from atheism. You learn ethics as you experience life and what ever you religious preference if you have one has little impact on your ethics. So it is not atheism that has no ground but all ethics according to Sâmkhya.

Sad… You can tell me I’m wrong but you will not give me your contrasting view. And if I have no arguement then why do you keep replying?


The point is simple:

Good Grief !! :astonished:

If Atheism = materialism that means that A belief in god = non-materialism … well that couldn’t be further from the truth could it now. Hands up all those who wouldn’t mind taking a wander round the vaults below the Vatican :wink:

One individuals happiness is just as important as the next persons. Psychologists proved many moons ago that self sacrifice didn’t benefit the giver or the taker. Working for the others good is one thing, being used as crutch in their life is another. If others aren’t allowed to become responsible for their own happiness then they are being harmed to the point of becoming emotional cripples.

The obvious question here is…what benefit to mankind did the self sacrifice of the fictional JC have ?

Next obvious question is…self sacrifice for my country…you have got to be kidding :laughing: The only time that would happen is if my country were being attacked. Funnily enough, I know the difference between money producing oil wells and weapons of mass destruction.

This one I’m particularly fond of:

When I stop laughing I’ll answer this one … Okay, I’ve finished now…the pride of mankind, goodness me :cry: The bloodshed, hatred, racism, sexism, lies, cheating, rape…how many more of these lofty ideals can others think of ? You want me to follow the path of a theist…you have got to be joking - I lower my standards for no one !

If what you mean by lofty is “unhealthy and anti-human” I would agree fully.

Pride of mankind? If by that you mean “an oddity to be chortled at” then I am on the same page.

But let’s go back a step. Atheism isn’t a philosophy. There is no ‘atheistic philosophy’
Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in god or gods, just as theism is a belief in god or gods.

Are you saying that all people that believe in any form of god or gods hold the same philosophy as every other person that believes in any form of god or gods?
If not, why would you assume the reverse to be true?

Talk about misdirection! The assumption that either aetheist or religious valuation of material or spiritual issues must of necessity produce differences in ethical considerations is to miss the point by several miles.

Ethics and/or moral values are independant of such labels as “aetheist” or “religious”. At best, one could discuss the origins of an ethical position, but that’s all.

As to the ‘loftiness’ of values, the so-called ‘selfishness’ of materialism isn’t selfish at all. To receive the benefit of all that life offers, I must attend to those basic things that preserve life, and I expect you to do the same. I cannot be supportive of you until I have supported myself and the same is true of you. This isn’t selfishness. It is common sense.

The benefits of life lie in the caring, loving, support of one another. This isn’t some climb-on-the-cross self-sacrifice, but the most “selfish” of motivations. We are, excuse the metaphor, in this soup together. Did not Jesus of Nazareth say, “love one another, even as yourself”? He did not say sacrifice yourself for others.

To suggest that this understanding is encouraged by religion and
discouraged by aetheism is a complete misreading of the nature of ethics.


I’ve spent a good time far away from ILP but after seeing this post, of course, I think I have something useful to say.

Samkhya, as far as I am concerned, the “ethics” that rules the world we live in is a religious one. Atheists are few, their number is insignificant compared to the number of religious people. If there isn’t “ethics” in our world, don’t you think you shoul blame religious hipocrisy first? When capitalism (this insane, unfair, disgusting economic system) arose, Christian religion gave it his total approval. Capitalist “wealth” was not due to the exploitation of the downtrodden, but due to “God’s love towards “His” sons”. So Christian hypocritical preachers justified all the insanity and injustice of capitalism. I can remember you a lot of sad, cruel things, that were not caused by “atheist ethics” but by religious hypocrisy:

a) Slavery (plainly justified by Catholic Church).
b) Innocent people killed at a stake ( idem).
c )People living their entire life apart from society and from dignity , the “pariahs”(one of the most precious conventions of Hindu religion).
d) An unnecessary and unfair persecution towards the Jews, which ended in the Holocaust (Who are to blame? The atheists? But Christian preachers have always insisted in “Jew guiltiness” on Jesus death. They were responsible for ALL persecution and injustice toward the Jewish people throughout the centuries).
e ) Crusades, “Jihads”, with thousands of innocent people killed in “the name of god”.

And many, many other bad, terribel things.

Based upon your words, my friend, we should be living in a very good world. Cause atheists are only 8 or 9% of humankind. All others are religious (Muslins, Christians, Jews, Buddhists). And so? You are clever enought to realize that we live in an anti-ethic world, but not to see that this world was constructed by religious “values”? Can’t you see that religion FAILS in doing what it is supposed to do? I am an atheist, and, curiosly, I think I am much more HUMAN than any religious person I know. I understand hunger and misery and poorness as tragedies that hurt me and bother me, but a Christian understand those things as “God’s will”. I understand that I have no right to kill or steal another people, cause what I do to them I also do to me (If I hurt you sooner or later I"ll be hurt too), but a fanatical thinks he can do ANYTHING in “God’s name” (no matter how cruel), simply because it is written in a “holy” book or things like that.

You’re sure. Ours is a non-ethical world. But the blame is not ours. Religious hypocrisy and alienation is to blame too.

Jesus didn't teach anything about sacrificing yourself for others? Aren't mystics supposed to read between the lines a little bit?  It seems to me that I remember sacrifice being a [i]minor[/i] theme in His's mentioned in there somewhere I'm sure...   :slight_smile: 
 Anyways, the discussion is very valuable, and the distinction between religion and irreligious values systems is an important one.  For one thing, people who believe in God give an entirely different grounding (rational or otherwise) for their ethics than folks that don't, and the rational foundations of ethical systems is the point of this thread. Second, religious and irreligious ethical systems tend to make different demands for different reasons. 
Well, let's see. The initial post of the thread was to say that atheistic ethics are irrational.  WE AGREE ABOUT THIS. You want to go on to say that religious morals aren't rational either. That's completely besides the point- as it happens we disagree. But 'religious ethics are irrational' is a brand new claim you are making, and introducing to the thread. Until you manage to put together an argument for your claim, what can I do but say "Nuh-uh"?

why? why should an athiest not prise other people’s lives above theirs? just because they do not believe in a higher being why should it follow that ‘there is nothing more important for an individual than his own life’?

for me, i would lay down my life for a certain few people who i care very deeply about. I am an athiest.

I give money to charity, i try my hardest to help my friends and be loyal to them, however much trouble it may cause me (and believe me, it has).

i have never understood the argument that athiests are not capable of ‘morality’. the fact is that morality is a social construct which helps humans to mesh together and for society to run more smoothly. why should athiests be any different from believers in this matter?

because it’s not about reason. it’s about a psychology that has arisen in humans to look after your fellows… it’s instinct.

look at it this way: if we did not have this ‘moral’ quality, we wouldn’t bother in life. we wouldn’t make any attempt to survive and we would have died out. many animals have these caring instincts. and although i coudln’t say for sure that they don’t believe in God, i think this is the generally accepted assumption.

our existence is reliant on this characteristic to stick together and be compassionate. survival of the fittest.

the way i see it is that religious morality arose out of a deep-seated need for humans to co-exist and to find mechanisms to better facilitate this. therefore it is seen as the will of god (this is just what i think and is in no way meant to offend the theists amongst you), and held up as something to be passed on to others.

and i don’t see it as a commitment to state or community as such, more as to people or things or causes that you care passionately about. sometimes your state or community fulfil this, sometimes it may be your family, friends or partner.

um… i appear to be rambling…