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. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  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. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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??

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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”.




  18. Jason Blair

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. Carl Nemo

    America doesn’t need anymore “faith-based” politicians. We need politicians that simply know the difference between right and wrong relative to doing what’s right for the American people; i.e., their constituents. They have but one mandate;i.e., to uphold and to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic, nothing more, nothing less. The founding fathers knew that separation of church and state was the correct and safe way to go if a nation wants to remain free. Unfortunately, partisan hacks are pandering to a religious base to get elected or to maintain their incumbency. Muslim nations are an example of theocraticly controlled political paradigms. Is that where were headed only with Jesus at the helm?! This political phenomenon is demonstrably toxic for this once great Republic. I say fie on “religious” types that want to use it as club to beat the rest of us into some kind of Jesus-slapped, grinning submission…! I’ll provide a link that might help the sorely deluded. Most likely not though, because it’s “fun” to believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

  23. ray

    This article is nonsense. Why does having a sense of what is right and what one should or should not do, has to be handed down by edict of a supreme being. It supports the dumbass concept that atheists are basically moral free because they don’t have to answer to someone other than themselves, and the rest of society. Authoritarian personalities just can’t seem to grasp this concept.

  24. Markus

    I think I’m sort of missing your argument.

    Is the atheists’ problem that they make “ought” statements, or that they don’t care, or that they lack divine certainty, or something else?? I suppose Wilson’s statement would be nonsensical to you, and that you paint ‘real atheists’ as simply shrugging their shoulders at the dilemma, but this hardly excuses me from calling your viewpoint still bigoted intolerance. Because not only are you making assumptions about atheists but you dismiss a very real book by a very real atheist that directly contradicts your assumption of them.

  25. Jason Shapiro

    Atheists have ethics, morals, and make judgments just like everyone else. What they don’t have is a view of the physical universe based on superstition, fairy tales, and untestable assumptions. If, to use Campos’ example, I do not believe in Antarctica because I have never seen it, there are innumerable ways to prove its existence – including a long and cold boat trip. It seems to me that if those persons with a profound belief in the supernatural (nothing of which I have ever seen) wish to be taken seriously, they must present some evidence that goes beyond such statements that “I really, REALLY have faith that gods, ghosts, and goblins are real.”

  26. Moe

    Absolutely absurd. The author’s idea that one cannot have ethics without religion is evidence of an extremely narrow mind, probably closed off by Christianity before he learned how to think. My morals are freely chosen, based on compassion for fellow creatures and a sense of personal responsibility for my actions. Personally, I feel that’s more valid than following a set of rules based on greed and selfishness, which is what acting on threats of punishment or prominses of reward from some supreme being really comes down to.

  27. Rufus

    What a silly article. Has the author met a single atheist who would say “so what” to the end of the human race?

  28. Bill Jonke

    As usual, this is a case of a faith-based individual shoving his faith down my throat.

    The article, yet again, attempts to send the concept of separation of church and state down the toilet.

    I agree – “piffle!”

  29. Darren

    This article, and some of the responses to it, has been very surprising to me. Blatantly incorrect is about the nicest thing I can say. It’s sad to see others attempt to justify their prejudices with their doctrine. In this case, they have been told, or surmised that if one is an atheist, one has no morals and no need of morals. This is completely incorrect, quite illogical and in many ways frightening.

    Atheists tend to be very logical people. So, as an atheist, I’ll present the logic and philosophy that I follow in hopes this will educate those individuals who claim we are incapable of such a philosophy.

    Many atheists, working from the premise that there is no god, come to similar conclusions about their life, its purpose, consequences of their actions and their morality. To start, I’ll make a bold statement that is very different then what is taught in religious circles and I’ll back it up.

    The statement: Atheists have more reason to be moral then religious persons because they don’t believe there is a god.

    Wow…I’m sure that’s quite a bit different then most theists are taught right?

    Here’s why: Atheists aren’t any more confused then the bible (or any other religious texts) when it comes to morality, and in many cases, they are less confused. A common observation: there are things that hurt people and things that don’t – things that hurt people are bad. Pretty simple criteria that can not be confused by texts that can be interpreted any self serving way we want. Consider this; we get one shot and one only at this life. No god will forgive our transgressions. We are PERSONALLY and INDIVIDUALLY responsible to all the people we know or come into contact with, for our actions. If we do wrong, we see the people we hurt, and feel for them. We believe they will not have an afterlife and therefore can feel for them with an even deeper sympathy then someone who thinks otherwise because we know we are damaging their one chance at life and happiness. That is a HUGE responsibility. We are also wrecking our only life when we screw up. Think about it. That’s a MUCH deeper and more meaningful reason to be good then the selfish hope for a good plot for your eternal soul in heaven.

    Atheists have other reasons to be good because of that basic “disbelief”. We know that no god is going to save the planet, no amount of prayer is going to put food on the plates of starving people, or clothes on their backs – only we humans have the capacity to save ourselves and our planet. The more positive actions and energy I put into the world the more meaning my life has. Ultimately the only legacy I have are my creations, achievements and my children. These are the things that are most important to me as an atheist. It is directly in my best interests as an atheist to ensure everyone around me is happy and safe– no god will help me, the people I love or the human race – but I can.

  30. Scrngr

    I had to quote this, from JHoffa:

    If we’re left with the words of men, then we have a mere textbook definition of what’s “Moral” and what is not.

    Well, considering the Bible is a textbook written by men, I think that’s a pretty good description of your position…


  31. Jhoffa_

    “Well, considering the Bible is a textbook written by men, I think that’s a pretty good description of your position…”

    I said the words of men, there’s a difference.

    As I stated, you either have morality defined indelibly, or you have man’s wishy-washy textbook definition which means nothing. It exists as a word we can re-define at will.

    It’s meaningless.

    If true morality exists, Atheists don’t have it. Likewise, there’s the other side of the coin.. In the absence of an indelible definition from a higher authority, what makes anything immoral?

    Why shouldn’t the big take from the small? Rape, murder and pillage all you wish, it’s your natural right as a successful organism. It’s how the animals of the field behave.. We call it natural selection and survival of the fittest.

    Now a Christian would say that God forbids such behavior. That we were created greater than these animals of the field and to whom more is given, more is expected. In fact, we were made stewards over them and have a moral imperative to fulfill our role as his greatest creations on earth.

    Atheists, OTOH, have “feelings” and a committee to hash out their “morality” du-jour. It’s illogical and contrary. No thinking man could support such a position.

  32. IanC


    It is widely accepted in Western society that trafficking in human slaves is immoral and unethical. Please point to the passage in the Bible that states that it is wrong to have slaves, or to condone slavery.

    Please also point to the place in the bible where it says that raping an unmarried woman is wrong.

    Please also point to the place in the Bible where it says the exact number of animals that were on Noah’s Ark. (Genesis 1 says 7 pairs of the “clean” and 2 pair of all others. Genesis 2 says 2 pair of all animals.)

    Please also point to the passage of the bible that says the earth revolves around the sun, rather than imply that it is the other way around.

    Please also point to the passage in the bible that explains that it states insects have 4 legs.

    Once you have done *ALL* of that, please explain the following study regarding the association of “morally viable” societies and “religious” societies as comparative values.

    Strong moral behavior is INHIBITED by strong religious faith.

  33. Please don’t put God into the equation as to whether atheists have the ability to discern right or wrong in conducting one’s life in society Buddha never believed in a higher power or supreme being and neither do I but that does not condemn me to hell or render me unable to tell what is right or wrong. After all, Jefferson, Madison and John Adams were atheists and last time I read about these men, they did pretty well in helping to write the Constitution and recognize the essentail fact that Religion and Government must always be separate if we are to have a tolerant society able to accept all faiths and creeds without a problem.

  34. quill

    “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.”

    And I suppose the author thinks the only way of determining what one “ought” to do is by believing a god wants you to do it? Typical religious thinking. No, we really are atheists, thanks.

  35. quill

    Jhoffa, in arguing that “atheists cannot have true morality” because we don’t have a superior being to hand it down to us, all you’re essentially saying is that true morality derives from obedience to an authority figure. I’m sorry, but in my opinion that’s not any kind of morality at all – it’s just the failing of a four-year-old child who does not know how to think for himself. Morality does not come from obedience, nor does it come from authority figures. I think one would have to be fairly ignorant of history to understand the consequences of that kind of thinking.

  36. Cincdeuce

    “The only response a genuine atheist would have to that fact is, so what?”

    So what? Cockroaches and rabbits are much more likely to live in peace without homo sapiens screwing up the planet in the first place. Man’s transitory existance on this planet is just an anomoly, anyway – a biological accident.


  37. Prometheus


    Atheists don’t have morals and wouldn’t care about the passing of humankind? It is amazing how these idiotic assumptions never die among the believers. But, of course, people who are capable of believing in magical beings up in the sky can believe anything, I suppose.

    But, then again, how can an educated person be so clueless in 2007? Campos needs to get out more and meet a few nonbeleivers.