The common misconception that atheists have no moral compass

    By David Aeolus Smith | 10 June 2017

    A common misconception about atheists is that they have no moral compass. These people think that the only reason that they are moral is because they believe in an objective moral agent. I think the question asked by Socrates in Euthyphro, elucidates the non-sequitur here. “Is that which is good commanded by God because it’s good, or is it good because God commands it?”

    If you accept the former, that good is commanded by God because it is good, then you must accept that God is not the greatest, as he must call upon a standard of good greater than himself. This is the answer most feel acceptable, however, the philosophical implications makes for a very uncomfortable bout of cognitive dissonance.

    If you accept the latter, that things are only good because God commands them, then you must accept that God’s commands are arbitrary, grounded on his whims, and thus could be commands that we ourselves find morally abhorrent. The implications of this line of thinking also present a few problems and do not align with theist’s claim that God cannot commit or command immoral acts.

    Holy texts, the Bible in this context, record many of God’s immoral commands. He commands rape and murder several times in the Old Testament. For example, in Numbers 31:1-54 God commands Moses and his army to, “Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” The army comes back with 32,000 virgins after doing God’s will.

    Any sane, rational person will read that story and agree that an immoral and despicable command has been given. You know that going to the neighboring town and slaughtering everyone, but taking the virgins for yourself is wrong in any context. This means that you are operating a standard of morality that exists separate from this God and his holy text. If your morality came from this objective moral agent, you would be forced to admit that this is good, since God thought that it was good enough to command it. This demonstrates that an objective moral agent, or at least in this case—your objective moral agent, is not needed to possess a moral compass.

    This example addresses the first question of the Euthyphro dilemma by proving that good must exist outside of God, as we have determined his actions to be immoral because he has commanded something evil. It also addresses the second question of the Euthyphro dilemma by proving that not all things that God commands are good, which means that morality comes from an outside source since we have determined the aforementioned actions to be immoral.

    The argument that atheists have no moral compass because they do not believe in a god is a rather silly argument. We all have a moral compass that comes from what we are taught, what we experience, and what is most beneficial to survival as a social species.

    Reprinted with permission from the author.

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