I get that same question by theists all the time.

The question is: Since your Atheist, you can commit whatever crime you want right?

This article is very good in explaining Atheism and Ethics.

by Frank R. Zindler

The Probing Mind, February 1985

One of the first questions Atheists are asked by true believers and doubters alike is, “If you don’t believe in God, there’s nothing to prevent you from committing crimes, is there? Without the fear of hell-fire and eternal damnation, you can do anything you like, can’t you?”

It is hard to believe that even intelligent and educated people could hold such an opinion, but they do! It seems never to have occurred to them that the Greeks and Romans, whose gods and goddesses were something less than paragons of virtue, nevertheless led lives not obviously worse than those of the Baptists of Alabama! Moreover, pagans such as Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius - although their systems are not suitable for us today - managed to produce ethical treatises of great sophistication, a sophistication rarely if ever equaled by Christian moralists.

The answer to the questions posed above is, of course, "Absolutely not!" The behavior of Atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included. Moreover, despite protestations to the contrary, we may assert as a general rule that when religionists practice ethical behavior, it isn't really due to their fear of hell-fire and damnation, nor is it due to their hopes of heaven. Ethical behavior - regardless of who the practitioner may be - results always from the same causes and is regulated by the same forces, and has nothing to do with the presence or absence of religious belief. The nature of these causes and forces is the subject of this essay. 

Psychobiological FoundationsAs human beings, we are social animals. Our sociality is the result of evolution, not choice. Natural selection has equipped us with nervous systems which are peculiarly sensitive to the emotional status of our fellows. Among our kind, emotions are contagious, and it is only the rare psychopathic mutants among us who can be happy in the midst of a sad society. It is in our nature to be happy in the midst of happiness, sad in the midst of sadness. It is in our nature, fortunately, to seek happiness for our fellows at the same time as we seek it for ourselves. Our happiness is greater when it is shared.

Read the rest here.

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Hi Steph . . . That was a /*great*/ reference!  Thanks! I /*really*/ enjoyed reading the article. And I'm really comfortable with the sociobiological/evoutionary psychological approach to morals. There is a great book by Jon Haidt called "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion." It's one of the best books I've ever read . . . for many reasons . . . it puts a lot of stuff in perspective and it also provides a lot of ammunition for one to use in addressing the "How can you be moral if you're an atheist" jab . . . :)

Thank you George. I hate it when I get that question. Or I hate it when they assume we are the worst people ever to live.

I hate it when I get that question. Or I hate it when they assume we are the worst people ever to live.

Yea, verily. When I'm feeling generous, I respond along the lines of Zindler and Haidt. When I'm not feeling so generous, I do a Hitchens on them or go over, country by country, the instances of pedophilia on the part of Roman Catholic priests covered up by the church . . . I try very hard to keep from getting angry but sometimes, when it comes to people like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, etc., I just let it out . . .  :)

I find it hard to believe that the very first words of a reply are not "Oh, has the sheriff (or police chief) resigned and surrendered the jailhouse keys?"

Is no one awake?

The implication of that question for the believers who ask it is that they are only moral out of hope of going to Heaven or fear of going to Hell and have no independent desire at all to do what is good.

Dr. Clark, as I'm sure you well know but overlooked here, there is a the implication of that question and there is an implication of that question.

I point that out because I was recently reminded of a question I had decades ago forgotten.

I did not suddenly, in a moment, quit Catholicism in 1957. During my twelve years in Catholic schools teachers had spoken of issues I again heard of in college philosophy courses, and of "heresies" such as the Manichaean dualism. There were no support groups such as there are now and I had to read and think my own way through those questions. It was good mental exercise.

I knew nothing of any research showing that into the third decade of life the human brain is still developing, and so asked myself if Catholicism intends its strict, even harsh, sexual morality to function only through the teen years, when kids are most susceptible to what Catholicism called "sexual temptations".

More time passed before I learned of a distinction between "the explanation" and "an explanation." The former reminds me of Catholicism's authoritarian ways; the latter reminds me of the more democratic ways of other religions and even non-religion.

Many questions are less important than "Why are people moral?" and I would ignore the distinction between "the implication" and "an implication". I don't ignore the distinction here.

I agree Dr. Clark. Thank you.

I think the best answer comes from Penn Jilette when asked a similar question about rape and murder. To paraphrase his answer, I rape all I want to, but choose not not and I murder all I want to, but choose not to. I choose to be a decent person. What does it say about the questioner that they need to be "supervised" 24/7 and have the threat of divine retribution or the bribe of eternal paradise to prevent them from committing all sorts of crimes?

Who, other than Penn Jillette, knows what he was doing during his teens and early twenties?

He probably wasn't choosing to murder.

Here is the quote I did a discussion on it earlier.

Here is the Penn Jillette Graphic with the quote that Ronin mentioned.

Thanks for the reply Karim. I agree. And thanks for the links. Much appreciated.


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