Six Things Atheism Can Teach Us All About Ethics

by Tom Gilson

What can atheism teach us about ethics? A lot.

The question probably surprises some atheists. My answer may surprise some Christians.

First, atheists often tell us there is no such belief system as “atheism;” it’s just the lack of belief in God. Whether that’s true or not I do not need to argue right now. For this post I’m talking about a very common and specifically identifiable form of atheism: the belief that life and the universe came to be through natural processes alone, and that there is no God. There’s enough there to call it a definite belief system for purposes of this post.

But atheists might also be surprised I would raise any question that might raise specters of charges you’ve heard that “Atheism is amoral,” or “Atheists are bad people.” I’m aware of those sensitivities. After you read this I think you might decide there’s no substance to those specters this time. If not, then I’m open to learning still more from you, and I hope we can have a good conversation about it in the comments.

Some Christians, on the other hand, think that moral truth is to be found strictly in the Bible, so they would be surprised to hear me say we can learn “a lot” from atheism. But the Bible never claims that it’s the only source of ethical knowledge. Where does Proverbs 5:6 tells us to go, to learn the value of industry? To the ants! If we can learn wisdom from ants, then we don’t have to learn it all from the Bible.

But I still think God’s word is the real authority, and the existence of God is still necessary in order for there to be any truly objective morality, any real truth, independent of human opinion, to ethical statements like “This was right!” and “That was wrong.”

I think the one best place to go to learn moral knowledge is a Bible-believing Christian family or church. The Bible is the only final authority. It just isn’t the only place to go to gain moral knowledge.

So with that, here are six things atheism can teach us all about ethics…

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