Can Atheists Be Moral?

The increasing publicity of atheism over the past decade has created a springboard for Christian apologetics, bringing the discussion of competing worldviews out of the den of academia, and into the home of anyone who is remotely interested in the conversation. Specifically within the North American context, the counterbalance brought on by anti-religious worldviews has been beneficial, as it forces those who are religious to no longer take their presuppositions for granted. This is not to say that taking presuppositions for granted is a bad thing (we all do it), but the benefit to being a member within a society that is gradually shifting away from publically favoring one worldview over another, means that if you’re going to hold to a belief, you probably need to know why. As an adult, blindly embracing the faith of your family or society isn’t something that is looked on with favor—and perhaps this is a good thing in many respects.

The rise of Christian apologetics in laity has specifically elevated ethical issues, since, perhaps, ethical issues seem to be more practical, in the sense that, the issues are generally less abstract and more personal. That being said, I have increasingly seen people either claiming, or saying that someone else is claiming, that atheists cannot be moral. From what I can tell, some tend to think that the argument goes something like this:

  • Objective moral values only exist if God exists.
  • Atheists claim that God does not exist.
  • Since atheists claim that God does not exist, they cannot be moral, because objective moral values only exist if God exists.

Taking this a step further, some may think that because atheism cannot establish objective moral values, that atheists themselves must be incapable of doing good[1] actions. I believe these claims are rooted in misinformation or confusion.

Whether or not an action is objectively good has nothing to do with what a person believes. If you believe that whether or not a person can do good is dependent on their worldview, then you, yourself, have slipped into the trap of subjectivity. After all, moral values are not grounded by what a person believes, but they are grounded in the character of God. If what is good is rooted in the character of God, then whoever does this good, is truly doing good, regardless of what they personally believe. That is the point of objectivity–the truth value of the claim is not established on how you feel or what you think to be the case. Therefore, an atheist who loves his neighbor is truly doing good, if love is grounded in the character and will of God (which it is). If you believe that atheists cannot truly love their neighbors, then the burden of proof is on you.

The question is not whether atheists can do good, the question is whether or not atheists can establish what good is. Remember also that we are not talking about whether or not an atheist can do good in terms of righteousness, since after all, according to Christianity, you and I cannot do good in terms of righteousness either, even as Christians. Our righteousness is established through Christ. So remember to not confuse the questions. The question is not whether atheists can do good; the question is whether or not objective moral values exist.

[1] Loosely defined, let ‘good’ in this case simply mean acting in accordance with God’s will for humanity, in terms of treating each other in such a way that aligns with God’s intent on some level.

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Why Will God Not Show Me A Sign?

I have often wondered through the wilderness of doubt. As a teenager, I constantly battled with the hiddenness of God–to the point to where I considered myself an agnostic. Even as an adult Christian, I have gone through periods of questioning whether or not God cares at all about my circumstances. In the past, I have thought—and even said—things like, “God, if you hear me, please do X right now.” Typically X looked like something miraculous; usually something small and innocent—but just enough to comfort me and to let me know that God is there. After all, isn’t God our father? Do fathers not want their children to know that they are there for them? There more I’ve reflected on this issue of the hiddenness of God, the more I’ve noticed a few things.

  • What God wants me to do is to trust him—he does not necessarily want me to be comfortable. This is very hard to swallow, because I love comfort. But in serious difficulties, as hard as it is for me to sit back and trust him, this is what he wants from me. I know this in my head better than I know this in my heart; and in my opinion, this is a large part of what makes the Christian life difficult. Nevertheless, how I feel about it is ultimately beside the point. Learning to trust God is of paramount importance.
  • God has revealed the reasons for trusting him in his word. The Bible is not running on a short supply of people who have struggled to trust God. One serious benefit of having the Bible is that you have a collection of books filled with true stories of people who have trusted God, as well as those who have not. You also get the results. So the point is that the Bible is partially meant to give you reasons to trust God. It does not provide a phantom picture of God and say, “Well, trust him because he’s God and you don’t seem to have any other options.” Quite the contrary. It says, “Trust God, because: look at his character. Look at what he has done, and doing, and going to do.”
  • A sign is not enough to ensure my indefinite trust in God. Most likely sooner than later the doubts will reappear. The lack of trust will resurface, and another sign will be needed to secure my belief. I don’t need another sign—what I really need is a reminder. And God has supplied reminders all throughout his word.

Let me encourage you and I both, that in moments of despair, when we are wondering where God is, what we need is not another sign, but a reminder. The reminders are in God’s word—reminders that claim that “he himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you…’” (Heb. 13:5)

(Questions? Thoughts? Comments? Feel free to share in the comment section or contact me at