Can Atheists Be Moral? That’s the Wrong Question
by Clayton Kraby
Occasionally you will hear people question whether an atheist can be a moral person. But is this the right question to be asking?
Can an Atheist be Moral? Of Course, but that is the Wrong Question
As Christians we know that the moral law comes from a Creator God, and some think that those who reject Him are therefore unable to to have good morals. In an effort to address the worldview of atheism, some will suggest that an atheist is incapable of being a moral person. But is this true? Is this even the question we should be asking?
As we begin to examine this issue, note that we’re referring to a person’s ability to be moral in a practical, everyday sense. Theologically, we understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). No person who has not been redeemed by the blood of Christ can be considered moral in a spiritual sense. This is as true of the atheist as it is of the person who sits in church every week in an attempt to earn their salvation apart from God’s grace. For our purposes, “moral” is being defined as being able to distinguish right from wrong and make choices that we would recognize as “good.”
To say that an atheist cannot be moral is a misguided and rather uncharitable argument. No doubt you have met atheists that are perfectly pleasant people and upstanding members of the community. They are able to be moral while simultaneously rejecting the One who gave us the ability to distinguish the difference between good and evil.
It’s not logical to conclude that a person who denies the existence of God cannot conduct themselves in a manner that we would consider moral. So while this argument shouldn’t find a home in your apologetics toolbox, there is a more meaningful question to be asked.
The Real Question: Where Does Morality Come From?
A moral atheist is no more an impossibility than an immoral “religious” person or a Christ-follower who struggles with sin. However, in the atheist’s worldview there is no satisfactory answer as to why we have morality in the first place. Those who deny God can adhere to good moral principles, but when God is removed from the equation we are left without a source of understanding what good moral principles are.
Those who deny the existence of God are left having to explain the existence of an objective moral “law” in the world. While various attempts are made, each of them fall flat. Consider the following…
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