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Patrick Madrid & Kenneth Hensley | author
Jun 11, 2017
Filed under Engaging the Faith

Knowing the arbitrary ethics of atheism

Most Atheists are moral people, men and women concerned with right and wrong, justice and fairness, who wish to treat others as they would wish to be treated. Few of them fall to their knees and repent in sackcloth and ashes the moment you point out that their belief in right and wrong has no foundation in the naturalist worldview. Rather, they come up with other ways of explaining to themselves how atheism can be true and morality not be an utterly subjective free-for-all.

Patrick Madrid

Atheists commonly say things like: “We don’t need God in order to have ethics. In a naturalist worldview right and wrong are based on….” And then they proceed to describe some alternative source and standard for ethics. These function, essentially, as objections to the argument we have been making and so we need to have a look at them.

1. Alternative standard #1: Happiness

Some atheists will argue, “There doesn’t have to be an objective moral law rooted in and reflecting the character of a God. We can figure out for ourselves how to make wise, good and ethical decisions. One way would be to ask ourselves, especially when facing difficult moral decisions, the simple question: What will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people? What choice will result in the greatest total amount of happiness?”…

2. Alternative standard #2: Do No Harm

This alternative is particularly popular in a day when freedom from the moral law is the primary goal. It goes something like this: “In ethics, pretty much anything you choose to do is fine, so long as you’re not hurting someone else.” …

Kenneth Hensley

3. Alternative standard #3: Majority Rule

According to this proposed ethical standard for a naturalist world, whatever the majority of people say is right, is right—for that culture, in that time…

4. Alternative standard #4: The Experts

Some God-deniers (and a great many more who are influenced by their books) assure us that, “The average personis just not qualified to decide these matters in a universe in which moral laws are essentially ours to create. We must let the experts in science and medicine, law and education, work out our ethical standards for us.”…

5. Alternative standard #5: Reason

Some people will tell you, “We don’t need to believe in God in order to have morality. We can determine what is right and wrong by using our minds to think these issues through. Reason can be our guide in morality as it is in everything else.”


PATRICK MADRID hosts the popular “Patrick Madrid Show” weekdays, produced and distributed by Immaculate Heart Radio, is a prolific writer and editor, with over 24 books and numerous articles on Scripture, Church history, patristics, apologetics, and evangelization. He is professor of theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

KENNETH HENSLEY is a respected Catholic apologist and teacher who appears on EWTN and at conferences nationwide.

This excerpt is reprinted from Chapter Five (entitled “The Arbitrary Ethics of Atheism”) of their book, The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism ©Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley (Published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Used by permission.


Catechism 101

Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God. Yet, “to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God. . . . ” “For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2126


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