Menu Close

Bruce, If There is No God, Who Determines What is Moral?

objective morality

Recently, I received the follow comment:

Just curious on your thoughts about humans having, wanting and giving of love. Curious on where you believe it comes from.

Also, in your opinion, if there is no God or creator, who makes the morality rules?

Some believe that mankind is ultimately the moral law maker and or compass, in your opinion can anyone change that moral level as they see fit?

If the moral conduct is changed by the masses to whatever works for you, would that be counterproductive to society? Or do you feel mankind is evolving into learning and understanding what is helpful or not helpful to the whole? I hope all this makes sense. If not I will try to clarify.

I appreciate your time to respond.

Generally, I don’t engage is discussions about morality. Been there, done that, so to speak. I have been attacked by Christians and atheists alike over my views on morality. I have been accused of all sorts of “sins.” So, I am not inclined to write about morality, but today I have decided to do so, knowing that new readers have not read my views on this subject.

I am an atheist, so there is no God, no creator, no divine lawgiver. The laws and commands found in the Bible are of human origin. No Christian apologist has provided any evidence to suggest otherwise. Saying, THE BIBLE SAYS, is not evidence; it is an assumption rooted in presuppositionalism. That said, the Bible can be a helpful voice in discussions about morality, showing us how ancient societies viewed morality.

All morality is inherently subjective. There’s no such thing as absolute morality. Even in the Bible, we see morality, including God’s, changing over time. The idea that the Ten Commandments (which version?) or the Bible (which translation?) are an objective moral standard for all people for all time is absurd. History reveals ever-changing moral beliefs and standards. I came of age in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. IFB churches and pastors believe in absolute morals, yet most IFB churches have moral standards today different from those they had in the 1960s and 1970s. This is especially so for Evangelicals. Yet, these moralizers, with great gusto, proclaim that they are keepers, defenders, and proclaimers of God’s moral standard.

Humans are social creatures, and as such, we need rules by which to govern ourselves. If morality is subjective, who decides what rules to use to govern our societies? We do. There’s no higher standard than “we the people.” If happiness and well-being are our goals — and they are (or should be) — then our morals should reflect those goals. Whether these morals can then be considered objective is a matter of debate, a debate, by the way, that I have no interest in. I know that humans generally agree that murder, rape, child sexual abuse, kidnapping, etc., are morally wrong. We don’t need a deity (or a church/preacher/religious text) to tell us these things are wrong. Why we know these things are wrong is an interesting discussion, one that has provoked much debate. Personally, I am convinced that our moral beliefs are shaped by biology, environment, culture, parental training, education, economic status, religion, and other factors. As you can see, it is far easier to appeal to God or the Bible — no thinking required. However, as stated above, I am an atheist (and a humanist and a socialist). God and the Bible have no place in my thinking.

Since morality is inherently subjective, our morals can and do change over time. And this is what troubles Fundamentalists. They live in a bubble where change is banned (even though a careful analysis shows transformational change taking place in Evangelical churches). Fundamentalists pine for the 1950s, a time when gays were deep in the closet, women were barefoot and pregnant, and Blacks knew their place. The foundation of the culture war is a yearning for what is perceived (falsely) as better times.

Progress demands we continue to examine our moral beliefs and adjust them accordingly. As long as Fundamentalists continue to clamor for, and achieve, a return to “old-fashioned” moral beliefs, progress is impeded. The current spate of anti-transgender, anti-abortion, and pro-creationism laws seems laughable to skeptics and rationalists, but state after state are passing these laws, moving us closer to the “good-old-days.” We must never, ever forget that theocracy (a system of morality) is their goal.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    This is an exceedingly authoritarian question. Objective morality is an authoritarian concept to the core; there must be One Right Way of doing anything and everything. (Which always magically coincides with what is best for the authoritarian rulers, by the way.) How do we rulers get people to do things the One Right Way? We get our scribes to write it down as God’s Way! Then we can justify killing or jailing them for going against the will of God! And hey, with enough power and a complicated enough holy book, we can take down anyone we want on that pretext.

    It is only when the political situation becomes complicated, and the rulers no longer have absolute power, that people can argue about the One Right Way without ALL being killed or jailed. The Reformation couldn’t have happened in the Dark Ages, the Church held too much power. Bruce comments on how the morals preached in Evangelical churches have evolved since the middle of the last century, and of course that evolution was in response to church members being able to pressure for the changes, because the leaders of those churches no longer have absolute power.

    Anyhow, that’s my poorly-educated take on it.

  2. Avatar
    GeoffT

    The interesting thing is that survey after survey shows that, not only is religious morality not better than secular, morality improves in proportion with reducing levels of religious belief. This is in the same surveys that show that secular countries, such as those of Scandinavia, have higher levels of happiness and contentment than religious ones, and I have to say that this is consistent with observation. Strongly religious countries seem to be a seething froth of strife and turmoil, which you don’t see in Scandinavia.

    I think I first heard Jerry Coyne say that mankind since time immemorial has been evolving rules of morality, then along came religion and took the credit.

  3. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    The Bible shows that all morality is subjective. Take the commandment “Thou shalt not murder.” What this is really saying is that “thou shalt not murder other Hebrews.” It was perfectly fine in God’s book that the Hebrews murder other peoples, even women and children and also take them as slaves. If this isn’t subjective morality, what is? All of the 613 “commandments” in the Bible are for the believers in Yahweh alone. Even Christians who believe the OT was voided in favor of the new covenant of the NT still believe some of those commandments apply to them. Which they choose to obey is entirely subjective.

  4. Avatar
    BJW

    I don’t even care about these believers’ concept of morality. It turns out, to get power over others they are perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to their leaders immorality, even child abuse. And of course there is the one example to rival all examples: Donald J Trump.

  5. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    Bruce, I’ll take issue with your statement that ” I know that humans generally agree that murder, rape, child sexual abuse, kidnapping, etc., are morally wrong.” They do now, mostly; but there have been times and places throughout history where all those acts have been acceptable, and some of them praiseworthy. Aztecs sacrificed war captives–indeed, they captured prisoners especially to sacrifice them to feed and placate their gods. The Inca sacrificed children in times of scarcity and stress. Rape, murder, and child abuse were acceptable among the ancient Greeks and Romans, if their victims were slaves. Slaves were property; their owners could do with them as they wished. Sexual relationships between adult men and boys were common in ancient Greece, and seen as a more-or-less ordinary part of mentoring. Bride kidnapping was outlawed in Kyrgyzstan in 2013. It still happens in Ethiopia and Central Asia, despite prohibitions. So, yes: it’s pretty obvious that what is moral is inherently subjective, and changes over time. There has never been one universal standard for what is or is not moral behavior.

Want to Respond to Bruce? Fire Away!

Bruce Gerencser