The Instigator
Pro (for)
1 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

Do atheists have a moral duty to criticise religion?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/9/2015 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 709 times Debate No: 68056
Debate Rounds (4)
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PRO will be arguing that atheists have a moral obligation to criticise religion. This debate assumes that atheists's have a morality (social contract/ utilitarianism or other). Religion is a tough issue for liberals, should they critique it as its a group sustaining right wing (possibly intolerant values) or should they tolerate it as religion is an important part of many people's lives that we have no right to criticise? I think everyone should be tolerated accept the intolerant.


Thanks to my opponent for putting up this challenge.

I will be arguing that Atheists have no moral obligation to criticise religion.

Enjoy and happy debating - 'cause if its not's just no fun.
Debate Round No. 1


My introduction assumed atheists" have a morality. Whether this is the case it is not the time to debate this. Lets assume they have a morality that is linked to benefiting mankind as a whole- most atheists unknowingly or knowingly ascribe to some form of utilitarianism or social contract or even deontology. All these ethics hold on some way or another we should try to minimise pain and maximize the pleasure of the masses.

Now religion, regardless of the good things it has done has been responsible for many atrocities (examples including the crusades, 9/11 and just recently the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris). All these were committed by men, not for any reason except believing they were doing what their religion commanded. Either because their scripture can be interpreted as commanding that or can be used by others to brainwash people into believing that. Either way, religion is a dangerous tool.

You may argue that science should be criticised if religion is going to be as its responsible for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. However, this is different from the cases of religion as the bombing was motivated not by science, science did not justify it, it was justified by politics.

You might argue religion does a lot of good in the world but there are 2 issues with this argument.
1.Are atheists not as good as religious people and less likely to carry out this good?
2.Religious people may only act morally as they want reward in the afterlife. If I talk to many theists they claim there is no morality without god. Are they truly moral people.


Thank you JB for your opening arguments.

At the onset, I will not be arguing the point of existence of atheist morality. As an individual atheist's philosophical leaning is a negation, it has absolutely no bearing to any facet of their lives or their values.

In much the same way that Atheists cannot be held responsible for the acts that they commit "in the name" of their non-belief, they also cannot credit this non-belief for any positive attributes they may possess.

With this in mind, Atheists are no more or no less morally obligated to do anything on the account of their non-belief. They are not a unique social group who has been given the authority to be the gatekeepers against another group simply because they have fundamentally differing philosophical views.

I am also at pains to group a segment of the community together based their agreed common position on absolutely nothing. Given that background, atheist moral duty to criticise religion is about on par with the Women Against Fantasy Sport's authority to criticise the way in which their better halves spend their leisure time (1). (Yes they only have 126 likes, so I encourage you to join).

Religion primarily concerns itself with:

The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods: (2)

In much the same way that I do not have a moral obligation to burst into my neighbour's bedroom and begin chastising their choice in partner, so too an atheist has no moral obligation to challenge the way an individual visualizes their place in the world and their relationship to a God or gods. They may believe a theist's seemingly illogical thoughts are detrimental to their health and physical wellbeing - but many people in turning to religion and its ceremonies have found it very beneficial. (3) Any interference by an atheist to convince them otherwise may be detriment to their physical health.

Fervent Christians often believe it is their moral obligation to save the souls of their non-believing brothers and sisters, and they do so at the great annoyance of those they talk to. As a generalization, an Atheist wants those that have religion to keep it to themselves and not be God botherers, so it seems strange that they would also consider it their moral obligation to return the favour.

Religion is a deeply personal subject and melds and intertwines with social cultures. In doing so it is difficult to identify when a social norm has its base in religion, or happens to be peculiar to that geographic region and its culture. If we look at the practice of female circumcision, which is concentrated mainly in Saharan Africa, it is very often related to religion but is in fact not an Islamic requirement.

This practice is quite brutal and one would fully expect most people to find it quite offensive and an example of the ills of religion. But is it a criticism against a religion and the personal beliefs of a deity, or the social norms of that society - it is a very fine blurry line, but it is an important distinction if such acts constitute and justify a "religious" criticism. I believe they do not.

Finally I want to draw your attention to an imaginary concept that has been the cause of the most wars and conflict in human existence that I would expect every atheist would have a moral duty to criticize. I am referring to borders.

These make believe lines on a map or arbitrarily marked out on land have been fought over time and time again by generations of nations or more locally by neighbours. People kill for them, fight for them, argue and commence legal proceeding about them. They cover the globe in lots of different colours and there is absolutely no escaping them.

Borders are imaginary concepts - but so real to so many people that they will change their normal behaviour. In themselves they are not inherently evil - but they are a magnificent lever.

Just like the "politics" that bombed Hiroshima savvy leaders can use a variety of levers such as nationalism, language, racial differences or religion to stir division amongst a population and commit atrocities. I would expect all citizens to criticize such acts and call out whenever each and every one of these levers are being pulled to justify questionable actions. As was demonstrated above with female circumcision and the close relationship between religion, culture and nationality, often you can have a number of these levers all being pulled at once and all an atheist might see is the "religious" one as this is the one that reinforces and justifies their lack of belief in it.

Atheists do not have a moral obligation to criticise religion itself, but instead on the actions or social customs of those that impinge upon the rights of others.

Debate Round No. 2


You claim that atheists "are not a unique social group who has been given the authority to be the gatekeepers against another group". However, this does not refute the fact that if atheists have a morality and should follow it (as we have agreed at the onset of the argument), then surely if others violate those principles then they should be criticised in an attempt to minimise suffering caused by them in the future. One of the groups that cause this suffering is religion and therefore surely atheists are obliged to criticise it.

You give the analogy of criticising your neighbour"s choice of partner. This analogy when examined is not sufficient. The neighbour"s choice in partner is a relative insignificance to world affairs and it also does not effect you. Maybe if the partner came round, raped your housemate and abused them for no verifiable reason (this happened in the crusades) then the example would be comparable. Then I think every reasonable person would criticise them and has a moral duty to do so. You claim religion primarily concerns itself with: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Correct, but what it what it leads to is far more dangerous? Should the housemate"s rapist partner be free from criticism just because he claims to have a book that claims its right for him to do what he does?

You mention the psychological benefits of religion as a reason it should not be criticised. However, atheists are not necessarily less happy as a result. In fact some studies show theists are more likely to be depressed than atheists [1] Do you think this small benefit (if we agree it is a benefit) is worth all the violence that religion can also justify? I think that those slaughtered by crusaders felt "more of a detriment to their physical health" than the person whose religion got criticised.

You mention Christians often believe it is their moral obligation to save the souls of non-believers. However, there is a significant difference between the 2.
Atheists have undeniable evidence of the negatives of religion whereas all theists have is an ancient book. The theists can also be convinced that events like 9/11 happen. Atheists have a reasonable basis to their criticism.

The example of female circumcision you bring up is an interesting one. However, I suspect the practice is often "related" to religion because it is often used to justify it. Without religion existing I doubt the culture would get away with committing such as act in today"s society, especially not on a wide scale. Furthermore, the example does nothing to convince me that I should not criticise religion when it is used to justify the crusades.

You refer to borders. Perhaps they should be criticised but this is not the debate for discussing that. Do you think the crusades were thought over land? Perhaps Pope Urban II had land in mind but I doubt it. The crusaders almost certainly did not. Urban"s call for crusade was clearly using religion as he knew it would motivate people to do unthinkable evils in hope of reward in the afterlife (he did offer this)[2] Those there at his call to crusade chanted "God wills it"- I don"t think there can be stronger evidence than that to suggest that religion was at least involved to a degree. Without religion Urban would not have been successful in calling for a "HOLY" War.

You mention religion is one of many levers. You seem to suggest other levers (politics, nationalism etc) should be criticised. Why not religion I wonder? Surely to remove one lever is a step in the right direction. The evils you apply to borders seem applicable to religion. And to be consistent if we criticise borders we should too criticise religion.




gingerbread-man forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


My opponent has forfeited so I extend my arguments. I should probably set time limits longer than 24hours. Sorry man.


Firstly, many apologies for the forfeited round - the 24 hour turnaround time caught me unguarded between changing time zones, work and that pesky 8 hours sleep we need each day.

Religion concerns itself primarily with an individual's attempt to try and obtain some meaning and sense to their life on this wee small rock we call home, and usually includes the faith in a God. Just like what someone does in their bedroom - the primary purpose of religion is a personal one. If someone believes in a deity, no-one has the moral obligation to criticize them for it - just as I am not morally obligated to get involved in someone's bedroom antics.

When I look at today's date I notice that it is nearly one thousand years since the crusades. You have mentioned them a number of times but have not demonstrated why an Atheist would be morally obligated to criticise an action performed so long ago.

Pope Urban the Second's Crusade was fought in order to restore Christian access to Jerusalem (those pesky borders are rearing their heads again) and many were fought for purely political reasons. (2) Putting a host of wars that were fought for a multiple number of reasons over a five hundred year period into the "religious" bucket is a little simplistic.

Even when you take religion out of the equation these cultures would have still fought over land, trade routes, personal and political power etc. Humans are a greedy, selfish breed and we do not need a God to help us in this regard. As can be seen from the motivation of many of the participants, they certainly had rewards that transcended the spiritual. (2)

Removing God from the equation has also proved not to help the human propensity to engage in heinous acts. Although nothing was done in the name of atheism in Russia, China, and Cambodia over the last 100 years - the removal of religion did not help the general population. So one must ask is religion itself inherently bad, or the fact that we are dealing with scores of people who are. As such any criticism should be directed at them and their actions rather than their own twisted interpretation of an ancient text.

Criticism of an entire religion over the acts of a few only serves to tar millions, or billions of faultless individuals with the same brush and divides entire communities and pits one group against another.

In regards to female circumcision, if it was decreed under Islamic law - which it isn't, we would see the practice stretch endemically from Morocco to Malaysia, but it does not. It is confined mostly to geographic locations and descendants of Saharan Africans. You could blame religion and criticize it - but you would be more successful in pointing out that it has no religious founding and is simply a barbaric social norm of that region.

Humans are tribal creatures - we cling to those that are similar to us, share the same beliefs, have the same colour skin, the same culture and language. Even in the absence of religion we somehow create even smaller sub-cultures that put ourselves in conflict with other humans over the most banal of differences. My thoughts wander to Soccer Hooligans singing their club songs as they "justifiably" vandalised property and assault their opponents.

I don't believe we should criticise the concept of borders as they serve a purpose. What was pointed out was the undeniable fact that when you dig a little bit deeper these imaginary lines have been the cause of most wars in history - even Pope Urban's crusade was designed to get Jerusalem back from the Saracens. (1) So if we are to criticise religion one would expect to hear similar calls echoed for the removal of borders, but they remain silent.

If you witness one person violating the rights of another, of course you should speak out against the action whether you are Atheist, Christian, Muslim or any flavour in-between. This is especially true when someone of your own faith commits such acts that go against your beliefs as they besmirch and bring dishonour to their fellow devotees. But to suggest an Atheist has a carte blanche moral obligation to criticize religion gives an exceptionally wide justified brush for them to paint with given:

1.Religion and faith in a deity is a personal endeavour that has no impacts on others
2.Religion is not the root cause of as many disagreements as people would have you believe
3.As my opponent has shown, atheists have a blind spot and bias when it comes to discerning the root cause of conflicts and social norms. If they are able to link wrongful deeds to religion it allows them to justify their own beliefs and prejudices.

Thanks for a great debate JB.

Considering the argument turnaround time was only 24 hours, I would ask that I be kindly forgiven for my forfeit.

Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by gingerbread-man 2 years ago
Hi JB,

Sorry, didn't realise the time to reply was only a day - have just been travelling internationally and time has gotten away.

Will put in my conclusion today and we will see how we go.


Posted by JBphilo 2 years ago
Hi Lexi. Do you think there is no belief that we can criticise? If you do not then why would you suggest religion be excluded from this criticism? If their religious beliefs are well founded on reason then they wont have a problem justifying them and should welcome critique.
Posted by lexi_the_best 2 years ago
very interesting argument but what if atheist don't want to criticize other peoples religion some atheist just want religious people to understand that atheist believe in something they think is more practical and they don't need other peoples beliefs forced onto them
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by warren42 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: Conduct Pro due to Con's forfeit, sorry Con, I've done the same thing, and it sucks, but I feel you should be docked one point. Arguments Con. They were simply more compelling in my opinion. Sources would go Pro, as I feel Pro's were better, but since they aren't really a necessity in this debate I won't allocate them to either side.