Morality Does Not Require God

The bible is held out as a source of morality. Christians often point to Jesus sayings (e.g. “love your neighbor as thyself”) as though he was the first to introduce morality into the human experience. He was not.

 List of ancient legal codes

There were many ancient codes for living, all of which preceded Jesus’s pronouncements:

See for detail.

Assyrian laws / Code of the Assura (c. 1075 BC)

Babylonian laws (see Code of Hammurabi)

Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1790 BC)

Code of the Nesilim (c. 1650-1500 BC)

Code of Urukagina (2,380-2,360 BC)

Code of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (ca. 2050 BC)

Codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (ca. 1870 BC).[1].

Cuneiform law (2,350-1,400 BC)

The Gentoo Code

Gortyn code (5th century BC)

The Draconian constitution (7th Century BC)

Hebraic law / Hebrew Bible / Old Testament (see Mosaic Law) (later see Halakha)

Hittite laws (ca. 1650-1100 BC).

Laws of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BC) [2].

Mosaic Law / Hebraic law – Ten Commandments.

Traditional Chinese law

Cuneiform Law:

Cuneiform law refers to any of the legal codes written in cuneiform script, that were developed and used throughout the ancient Middle East among the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Elamites, Hurrians, Kassites, and Hittites. The Code of Hammurabi is the most well-known of the cuneiform laws, but there were a number of precursor laws.


Although they were written in several different cities and kingdoms, these early laws have a number of formulas in common. Most contain both an epilogue and a prologue, which usually explain the purpose of composing the laws, invoke divine authority, and command the reader to abide by them. They are always imposed or ‘enacted’ in the name of a ruler, be it a prince or king, and show no sign of being the result of legislative bodies.

Code of Hammurabi Example Law:

(Click HERE to see all the laws)


  • If anyone steals the minor son of another, he shall be put to death.
  • If anyone commits a robbery and is caught, he shall be put to death.


Confucius (September 28, 551 BCE – 479 BCE) Says…

No other person in the entire history of the world has exerted a greater influence on a larger number of people over a longer period of time than has Confucius.

Unlike  the Jealous Christian God who demands loyalty and blind acceptance, Confucius wanted his disciples to think deeply for themselves and relentlessly study the outside world, mostly through the old scriptures and by relating the moral problems of the present to past political events.In times of division, chaos, and endless wars between feudal states, he wanted to restore the Mandate of Heaven that could unify the “world” all under Heaven) and bestow peace and prosperity on the people.

(So interesting – he wanted ALL the world to live peacefully; unlike the god of the Old Testament).

The principles found in the Six Commandments* can be found in Confucius’s sayings.

  • Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.
  • To be able under all circumstances to practice five things constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness and kindness.
  • What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.
  • To see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage or of principle.

How Atheists Explain Morality

One of the last ditch fall back positions of theists is “How do you explain moral law”. How did we get a conscience?

Theists believe that the mere existence of altruism offers compelling evidence of a personal God.

 Our response:

How badly must human beings behave to put this sense of moral law in doubt?

Wife Battering

Lower order animals exhibit Moral law:

What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.)

What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.)

What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.)

America, God Shed His Grace on Thee

America is the most religious country of those studied in the developed world. America alA so has the biggest problems in terms of things like homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion.


A moments thought reveals, however, that if we were to accept this “God is the source of Moral Law” argument, almost everything about us would be bathed in the warm glow of religious mystery. Forget morality-how did nature select for the ability to write sonnets, solder circuit boards or swing a golf club? Clearly, such abilities could never be the product of evolution.

Might they have been placed in us by God? Smoking cigarettes isn?t a healthy habit and is unlikely to offer an adaptive advantage-and there were no cigarettes in the Paleolithic-but this habit is very widespread and compelling. Is God, by any chance, a tobacco farmer?

GET IT! Christianity did not invent morality.

The Futility of The 10 Commandments

* I say six commandments because four of the commandments deal with honoring god.

Only six deal with how to live a life. The last commandment condones slavery and treats women as property.

 Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked social norms before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal? Humans must have worried about the functioning of their communities well before the current religions arose, which is only a few thousand years ago. Religion is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality.


We don’chimps kiss and makeupt hear anymore that only humans make tools, imitate, think ahead, have culture, are self-aware, or adopt anothers point of view.


Maintaining a peaceful society is one of the tendencies underlying human morality that we share with other primates, such as chimpanzees. After a fight between two adult males, one offers an open hand to his adversary. When the other accepts the invitation, both kiss and embrace.


An essay on Morality, God and Atheism by

Louise M. Antony
Dept of Philosophy
University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Is it moral because it is decreed moral by God or does God decree it because it is moral?

Things don’t become morally valuable because God prefers them; God prefers them because they are morally valuable. Many theists, like many atheists, believe that moral value is inherent in morally valuable things.  It is only if morality is independent of God that we can make moral sense out of religious worship. It is only if morality is independent of God that any person can have a moral basis for adhering to God’s commands.

Let me explain why. First let’s take a cold hard look at the consequences of pinning morality to the existence of God. Consider the following moral judgments — judgments that seem to me to be obviously true:

• It is wrong to drive people from their homes or to kill them because you want their land.

• It is wrong to enslave people.

• It is wrong to torture prisoners of war.

• Anyone who witnesses genocide, or enslavement, or torture, is morally required
to try to stop it.

To say that morality depends on the existence of God is to say that none of these specific moral judgments is true unless God exists. That seems to me to be a remarkable claim. If God turned out not to exist — then slavery would be O.K.? There’d be nothing wrong with torture? The pain of another human being would mean nothing?

Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. It is to say that the historical connections we value, the traits of character and personality that we love — all count for nothing in themselves.

The problem I’m pointing to is an ancient one, discussed by Plato. In his dialogue “Euthyphro,” the eponymous character tries to explain his conception of piety to Socrates: “the pious acts,” Euthyphro says, are those which are loved by the gods.” But Socrates finds this definition ambiguous, and asks Euthyphro: “are the pious acts pious because they are loved by the gods, or are the pious acts loved by the gods because they are pious?”

Translated into contemporary terms, the question Socrates is asking is this: are morally good actions morally good simply by virtue of God’s favoring them? Or does God favor them because they are — independently of His favoring them — morally good?

A “Divine Independence Theory” (D.I.T.) — contend, on the contrary, that the goodness of an action is a feature that is independent of, and antecedent to God’s willing it. God could have commanded either this action or its opposite, but in fact, He commands only the good one.

The two theories differ, however, on what accounts for this congruence. D.C.T. says that it is God’s command that explains why the good acts are “good” — it becomes true merely by definition that God commands “good” actions. “Goodness,” on this view, becomes an empty honorific, with no independent content. To say that God chooses the good is like saying that the Prime Meridian is at zero degrees longitude, or that in baseball, three strikes makes an out. D.I.T., on the other hand, says that it is a substantive property of the acts — their goodness — that explains why God commanded them. Indeed, it says that God’s goodness consists in His choosing all and only the good. D.I.T. presumes that we have an independent grasp of moral goodness, and that it is because of that that we can properly appreciate the goodness of God.

D.C.T. insists both that there is such a thing as moral goodness, and that it is defined by what God commands. This makes for really appalling consequences, from an intuitive, moral point of view. D.C.T. entails that anything at all could be “good” or “right” or “wrong.” If God were to command you to eat your children, then it would be “right” to eat your children. The consequences are also appalling from a religious point of view. If all “moral” means is “commanded by God,” then we cannot have what we would otherwise have thought of as moral reasons for obeying Him. We might have prudential reasons for doing so, self-interested reasons for doing so. God is extremely powerful, and so can make us suffer if we disobey Him, but there could be no way in which God was deserving of praise or tribute.

If “good” is to have normative force, it must be something that we can understand independently of what is commanded by a powerful omnipresent being.

So what about atheism? What I think all this means is that the capacity to be moved by the moral dimension of things has nothing to do with one’s theological beliefs. The most reliable allies in any moral struggle will be those who respond to the ethically significant aspects of life, whether or not they conceive these things in religious terms. You do not lose morality by giving up God; neither do you necessarily find it by finding Him.

About the Essayist:

Louise M. Antony teaches philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She writes on a variety of philosophical topics, including knowledge gender, the mind and, most recently, the philosophy of religion. She is the editor of the 2007 book “Philosophers Without Gods,” a collection of essays by atheist philosophers.

2 comments on “Morality Does Not Require God

  1. silverpen123 says:

    “There is no morality without God/bible”, as Christians like to argue, is saying they can’t think morally if the bible wasn’t there to tell them what to think or do, then accusing atheists of this idea without any standing to know this. With this kind of thinking, they really should be careful about procreating.

  2. Teresa says:

    What has the world come to with a ‘god’ – not too good I think – I’m not college or university educated and may not explain myself properly but I certainly agree with this essay – if tomorrow there was proof there was no god, I think we’d be better off, look what we’ve done to our world in the name of god, what can we do without that god, has to be better than this. The OT teaches that god is jealous, he kills people and puts plagues on them, allows murder, rape, beatings, hate, and wants us to fear him. I think if left to our own devices and destroy the bible we would be better off. We’d take care of each because all we’d have is each other.

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