The contradiction of atheism


One of my best friends grew up in the Mormon Church. I asked Steve recently what he thought of Mitt Romney’s statement that. “we need to have a person of faith lead this country.” Steve, unlike Romney, isn’t an orthodox Mormon, but he’s a very thoughtful person, who knows more about religion that just about anyone I know.

Furthermore, Steve takes his own religious beliefs with the utmost seriousness. So his views on this matter were of great interest to me.

Steve’s view is that religious believers of every stripe all have something in common with each other that’s relevant to issues such as who ought to be president. But he’s careful not to overstate the matter: he emphasizes that many Christian churches don’t consider Mormons to be Christians, and that such disagreements aren’t trivial. (A good rule of thumb is that differences of opinion of the sort that have led large numbers of people to kill each other are probably pretty significant).

Still, Steve believes — correctly in my view — that in general the differences between religious believers are less important than the differences between believers and non-believers, and that this distinction is and ought to be relevant to political life.

That belief helps explain why, for example, Americans say they are far less likely to vote for an atheist for president than for members of various groups (women, Jews, ethnic minorities) who have been excluded historically from presidential consideration.

Now among liberals, the knee-jerk reaction to such poll data is to condemn the intolerance it represents. Yet I think there are good reasons for refusing to vote for an atheist for president — subject to the caveat that I also believe genuine atheism, like genuinely orthodox religious belief, is actually quite rare.

Of course there are lots of people who claim to be atheists, just as there are lots of people who claim to be orthodox religious believers. But how many people, at least among the social classes that produce presidential candidates, believe in the orthodox doctrines of Christianity with the same degree of confidence that they believe in, say, the existence of Antarctica?

Naturally it’s considered quite rude to press people on such matters, but in my experience most supposedly orthodox religious belief, on closer examination, melts away into a vague sense of an ultimate moral order, supervised by an even more vaguely conceptualized divinity. Among a lot of liberal Christians, this is asserted openly, to the point where they seem to adhere to a form of Christianity that excludes all specifically Christian beliefs.

Conversely, when one presses a purported atheist, one almost always finds that the person believes in various propositions that simply don’t make sense without a belief in some source of an ultimate moral order, i.e., what most people would call “God.” For instance, almost everyone who claims to be an atheist still makes lots of “ought” statements, as in “we ought to preserve biological diversity,” or what have you.

The latter view is that of the famed biologist Edward O. Wilson, in his new book “The Creation.” Written in the form of a letter to a pastor of the Southern Baptist faith in which Wilson was brought up, Wilson argues that atheists like him and religious believers ought to agree that preserving biological diversity, and therefore in the long run humanity, is a profound moral imperative.

Wilson is a brilliant man, but this kind of thing has always seemed to me nonsensical on its face. After all, the human race has existed for an eye-blink of cosmological time and will certainly cease to exist in another eye-blink or two.

The only response a genuine atheist would have to that fact is, so what? Which helps explain why there are almost no genuine atheists.

(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)


  1. Jhoffa_

    I don’t have to prove the Bible or Christianity to you. That’s not my argument. It never was. I have neither the time nor the inclination to cast pearls to swine. So, believe as you wish.

    My argument is simply, that the atheist cannot have morality.

    Your study, and most of your assumptions are, and you said it yourself, based on “widely accepted” values. IOW, the words of men. Decision by a committee.

    That’s hardly a standard.

  2. Mike

    Maybe if we could stop arguing over completely irrelevant things like the existence – or nonexistence – of a magical sky host we could get to killing each other more efficiently. Just think how we could redirect all that effort and energy!

    Jhoffa, you are beyond help.

  3. Quite obviously Mr. Campos has no frigging clue as to what he is talking about. I suppose, like most people that don’t really understand atheism and don’t think they actually know any, he’s overthought the subject to the point of being in left field and wondering where everybody went.

    Either that, or he’s stupid. You choose.

  4. Jason Blair

    You should try looking up “humanism” sometime. It would be very enlightening for you.

  5. Kent Shaw


    Atheism, my ass!


    AGNOSTIC — means “without knowledge”.


    No one can prove an existence or non-existence of some supernatural creator.


    After we stop killing each other there may be time to consider the existence or non-existence of some supernatural “god”.




  6. Barry R.

    What an assinine, ridiculous, uneducated argument. If you don’t want to destroy everything around you, you can’t be a “true atheist”….if you appreciate the beauty of nature and don’t want to destroy it, you automatically believe in jeezus. Honestly – there really isn’t any point try to educate or argue with someone so lacking in basic logic and common-sense.

    How do idiots like Paul Campos get authorization to write a column?! This idiot needs to write copy for Faux News or something – SHEESH!

  7. Paul Campos is another nitwit who doesn’t know the difference between morals and ethics. I would rather vote for a thinking ethical politician, that understands shades of gray, than a believing moral politician, that only sees black and white.

  8. Minuteman

    At some egregious example of human nuttiness, I have often said that there has to be something better coming down the evolutionary road to take our place. I’m not sure my church-going friends appreciate the sentiment, but the way things are going, it had better be coming along pretty soon.

    And as for the idea that mankind needs a Higher Being in order to be morally upright, all wnyone needs is the Golden Rule. That comes from the Bible, you say? Well, who wrote the Bible??

  9. Michela Colosimo

    I agree with all the comments above. I would take an Atheist over a religious nut any day. It is because of religion that we have all the problems we have today and have had in the past. An Atheist is never going to blow himself up for his god. I loathe people who say that their god is first in their lives. I think that once you free yourself of the yoke of religion, then you are free to put mankind first instead of some nonexistent entity. When you realize that this is the only life you have, you are much more likely to treasure it.

  10. Jhoffa_

    It’s an excellent article.

    Fact is, if true morality exists, Atheists don’t have and cannot have it.

    Without a supreme being to indelibly define “Morality” for us, we’re left with the words of men.

    If we’re left with the words of men, then we have a mere textbook definition of what’s “Moral” and what is not. This can (and will) be changed to suit the ever shifting tides of popular culture, thus becoming meaningless..

    Again, good article. Bravo!

  11. I am an American Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest and as such, a member of a non-belief based and non-theistic religious tradition.

    My children were not allowed to be Boy-scouts, in some jurisdictions we are ineligible to hold public office. All this because we subscribe to an experiential tradition that perceives “belief” as a simpleminded psychological process that involves placing faith in the unknown.

  12. Mike

    Well described Donald.

    People have two inate flaws: religious susceptibility and the religious impulse. I think that the shedding of these flaws or their becoming simply a sense of wonder, untainted by delusions of grandeur, will be part of our next evolutionary step, along with the development of a thumb that doubles as a bottle opener ’cause San Miguel beer doesn’t use twist-off tops and it’s hot on the beach.

    As for you atheists our there, it’s time to shed your “faith” and move on. Time to realize that the whole raft of supposed deep questions are not, and are only suitable for discussion during bouts of drunken revelry, to be forgotten by morning so they may be resumed, uncolored and without baggage another time. In short, the entire philosophical subject of religion is irrelevant ….. piffle.

  13. Joe Lawrence

    A candidate for public office SHOULD NOT be judged as to suitability for the office based on his or her belief in God, and the most recent example of WHY NOT is George W. Bush, ardent Christian and former cheerleader.

    It seems to me, a nominal christian, that those who make a living attacking atheists always give themselves away by their demands that their taregets ‘have no other explanation.’ For those who notice that this faux argument shows great and immediate similarity to the BushQuest folks demanding a “plan” from the Democratic party, please give yourselves stars on the forehead.

  14. olamuz

    I used to believe I was an atheist. Then I began to meditate and became convinced that there was some sort of supreme being out there. This solidified my belief that my basic values, kindness, compassion, and tolerance, are values that can change the world. Does it really matter where these values come from? Religious fervor brings disasters that help no one. Trying to live a good life helps everyone. Reasonable exchange of ideas brings growth. Tolerance is the road to change.

  15. yoohoo

    Mr. Campos makes the same mistaken assumption that many “people of faith” make: that one a sense of morality must come from some kind of “higher being”.

    Morality may develop from many different sources: community, family, enlightened self-interest, etc., that have nothing to do with a “God”.

    I agree, what piffle.

  16. This letter is wrong on so many levels, but I’ll just address the top three.

    1) People do not need gods to tell them what “ought to be”. Indeed, since there are no gods, that is what everyone does. It’s human judgement — it’s magnificient, but not miraculous.

    2) The friction affecting this world is not between believers and nonbelievers. It’s not about blacks and whites, and it’s not about Christians and Moslems. Today’s frictions are caused between a-holes and non-a-holes. Every race and creed has its a-holes and its non-a-holes, and the non-a-holes in ALL sectors of society get along with each other just fine. A-holes tend to ignore this point.

    3) It’s not rude to press people on their beliefs — sometimes it’s the right thing to do. If people’s beliefs can’t stand a little challenge, they need to be made aware of this, and you are helping them by showing them the weakness of their position (e.g., “what’s the difference between your god and his god?”), no matter what that position is. This is how you help people and society progress.

    Just watch out for the A-holes.

    David Silverman

    National Spokesperson

    American Atheists

  17. ron.kay

    …..if the current administration is an example of people of faith holding important political positions in this nation……then by their reasoning

    Jesus Loves Osama.

  18. Darl Sabraw

    Attacking the author of this argument is pointless, as he obviously believes it from a religious stand point. Meaning that it is faith without logic. One must first deconstruct his argument and point out it’s flaws to people with the capability of thought independant of religious doctrine. His primary argument as stated is that “the human race has existed for an eye-blink of cosmological time and will certainly cease to exist in another eye-blink or two.

    The only response a genuine atheist would have to that fact is, so what? Which helps explain why there are almost no genuine atheists.”

    I submit that, given this argument, Athiests have a higher moral imparitive to maintain the environment, bio-diversity and the perpetuation of the species than those whose religion allows them to commit the rape and torture of the land, animals and humanbeings who are not quite human (simply because of their opposing religion, ethinicity, gender….) and in the end still claim the moral highground

    because some martyr has died for their sins or it was just gods will.

  19. Bat

    Bravo to all of the commenters!

    As for the human race ceasing to be after another eye-blink of time, he’s right…Man will have evolved into a better model/version, better equipped to exist in whatever the evolved world will require for his existance.

  20. Bat

    Bravo to all of the commenters!

    As for the human race ceasing to be after another eye-blink of time, he’s right…Man will have evolved in a better model/version, better equipped to exist in whatever the evolved world will require for his existance.

  21. AustinRanter

    Believers, if you will, look in every microscopic nook and cranny in search for what they postulate to be an atheistic ideology flaw or fallacy. Then they exercise extreme vigor to utilize their presumptions to construct a monumental omnipotent argument that originates in an ideology that was formed in a complete void of logic and reason. This form of thinking is called “Circular Logic” or a fallacy in the way one would apply logic and reason to formulate a viable argument.


    An Example of Circular Logic:


    “The Bible says God exists, and the Bible must be right since it is the revealed word of God, so God exists.”


    Obviously enough, no one who doubts the conclusion has any reason to challenge the second premise, which presupposes it.


    Think About It…