Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler

The following is a conversation taken from 

It was in part a response to Rob’s excellent video entitled; 

Atheists should not criticize Hitler

Rob says:

“My video above was a reply to another video that had about 1,000,000 hits, thus has gathered many hits on the back of that one… Stats: almost 2000 views to date and almost 250 comments :-)”

That was as of 20 November, 2008. You can expect the conversation to continue. As the conversation was conducted on YouTube it may seem a little non-linear, but I have corrected the order of a few comments so reflects more accurately the dialogue we did have.

Rob is “apologeticsNZ”

Atheist objector “UppruniTegundanna”

I enter the conversation as “ThinkingMatters”




apologeticsnz (16 hours ago)

It seems most people on this comment thread do not think at all! That aside, please tell me HOW you KNOW what right and wrong are?

UppruniTegundanna (1 week ago) Show Hide

Surely you recognise how self-serving your analysis of human morality is: i.e. you have constructed the argument specifically to bolster the moral rectitude of your faith, and undermine that of atheists. The thing is, there is no atheist morality – instead there is human morality. The problem I see in your argument is a denial of one of our more noble attributes: that is the capacity to engage in moral reasoning.

I would describe my morality as a combination of utilitarian principles (i.e. the promotion of happiness, health and prosperity of humans), a faithful adherence to a social contract (the Golden Rule) and an understanding of cause an effect. I don’t have one book, rather I have the entirety of human literature, philosophy, music and art to inspire me to be a good human being.

apologeticsnz (16 hours ago) 

You are question begging. How do you KNOW what a “good” book is? Mein Kampf is a book. Is it good? How do you know? How do you KNOW the golden rule is a good thing?

UppruniTegundanna (14 hours ago) Show Hide

My criterion is as follows: if a principle is a positive force for social cohesion, then I consider it good. How presumptuous of me! Please, don’t allow yourself to fall into abject nihilism in your attempt to label non-believers as incapable of positive morality. The promotion of health, happiness and prosperity is a good thing, whatever your beliefs. This may involve following teachings from a holy book, or devising new principles to deal with new situations.

As for Mein Kampf, I haven’t read the book, and I doubt I ever will – it just isn’t on my reading list! But even if I did read it, I imagine it would tell me more about what can happen to a disordered mind than anything about positive morality. It shouldn’t upset your faith to accept that non-believers can see the good and bad in things by applying their rational minds – after all, don’t you think that the “moral law is written in the hearts of all men” (paraphrase from Romans 2:14-15)?

apologeticsnz (13 hours ago) 

Hey, finally an intelligent answer!

Yes indeed, the moral law is on ALL our hearts. But in that case, why is there any evil in the world?

Biblically, the heart and mind are ‘fallen’. That is, they are perpetually driving toward sin. It is like a lust within us, thus the Apostle Paul writes of knowing what is right but desiring to do what is wrong!!! He referred to this as a war in his members e.g. a conflict between his fallen heart & mind, & the “new man”, born again “in Christ”.

Make sense?

UppruniTegundanna (13 hours ago) Show Hide

Firstly I want to say that I am enjoying this dialogue with you, despite our differences in belief system, it is important to pick one another’s brains, so to speak. While I wouldn’t use the word “fallen”, I agree with you that humans have a capacity for destructive behaviour. Why does this happen? My explanation is that humans have positive and negative impulses in almost equal measure, especially when it comes to coexisting in a society that is at odds with our “natural” existence.

By “natural” I am referring the fact that we originally existed in bands of 200 or so people, and our loyalty was primarily directed towards that kin group. As societies have grown and become more complex, we have had to adjust our interactions to become more inclusive of others in order to establish social cohesion – it is a difficult balance to maintain, but it is not impossible as long as people can differentiate between behaviour that promotes social cohesion versus behaviour that upsets it.

UppruniTegundanna (1 week ago) Show Hide

Knowing that we have gone from creatures who got by with no more than sticks, stones and fire to the current state of affairs, in which we have colonised every corner of the globe, made preliminary reconnaissance of all the major orbs in our solar system, broken matter down to its infintessimally small component parts and built machines that would, to our brave ancestors, seem like pure magic, is enough to make me wish and act in a way that is for the best for our noble species.

apologeticsnz (13 hours ago)

Noble species? According to darwinism, we are just a complex arrangement of atoms and molecules. We’re born, we die. And that is it. No ultimate meaning. Just a long heat death in an ever expanding universe.

UppruniTegundanna (12 hours ago) Show Hide

You are insisting that I cannot place a value judgement on anything because I accept evolution. This is wrong. We are an arrangement of atoms; this is true whether or not a god exists – but what an arrangement! Are you inspired by the achievements of man? Can I be too? Of course I can! I want the best for humanity but, sadly for you, I do not believe that this will be achieved merely by following the decrees of a holy text. If we want to coexist peacefully, we need to think for ourselves…

… and make judgements on the best way to behave based on the practical outcome of the behaviour. Do lying, stealing, murdering and raping help us coexist peacefully? No. By the way, doesn’t it seem odd that “Thou shalt not rape” is not part of the decalogue? I consider rape worse than coveting my neighbour’s goods! In fact, desiring what others have seems to be a great accelerant for invention and hard work!

ThinkingMatters (12 hours ago) Show Hide

I think you’re confused on one of the finer points of the argument. The point is not that atheists cannot discern or know what is right and wrong. The point is that an atheist cannot be consistent with their view if they want to affirm the existence of objective morals. The ethic you have created for yourself is like a web suspended on nothing. In the end you cannot affirm why and if your own view is good or wrong. You end up with subjectivism which is insufficient if you want to condemn Hitler.

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

Point taken, although I would say that the difference between us is that you are looking for a moral framework that, once established, can be adhered to at all times, in all situations, whereas I think that morality should be goal-oriented, i.e. that we should behave in a way that facilitates a desired outcome – in my case, and the case of most people I would assume, greater and more peaceful coexistence between humans.

ThinkingMatters (11 hours ago) Show Hide

The problem you have just confirmed is that you cannot condemn Hitler for his atrocious actions. He too created an ethic that was goal-oriented, namely extermination of the Jews. He too presumably was acting to better the lot of humanity and future coexistence with people. His views on what constituted human was different, and how to achieve his ends were different than ours would be, but how do you affirm that he was really wrong?

Without a transcendent ground to morality ethics becomes discourse without meaning.

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

Well, when you consider the enormous contribution to science, art and culture that the Jews have made in the 20th century, I think you can in fact say that Hitler was objectively wrong in thinking that his actions were for the greater good (which he DID think) – incidentally, I might not be here if he had succeeded, as my grandmother was a Ukrainian Jew. The fact that different people can have different goals, does not mean that all those goals are equal…

… It is up to people of good conscience, who do not allow their worldviews to be tainted by hatred and prejudice, to stand up to people who do promote vicious regimes, whether they are religious or not. It is not just the people who commit evils acts who are dangerous, but also the people who do nothing that are dangerous. I think you and I can stand together and agree on that point.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I certainly can agree with you there. But it seems you are content to live inconsistently with your view. How is it you can say such and such is evil? It seems you do, when it comes down to it, agree that objective morals do exist.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

That is just knocking the question back one step. Why is the Jewish contribution to science, art and culture worthwhile on atheism?

UppruniTegundanna (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I don’t quite understand the question? Are you asking why I, as an atheist, would care about the Jewish contribution to culture? It is I, as a human, who cares about that. I am moved by literature and art, filled with admiration for people who have contributed to science, thus improving the quality of our lives, and disgusted by those who want to destroy both, not as an atheist, but as a human.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

Thus there is a disconnect. Your human desires, moral and aesthetic intuitions do not conform with your philosophical atheism. For on atheism, these things are not anything worthwhile. Why should science that improves human life be regarded as a worthy endeavour? After all a human on atheism is only a sack of chemicals. Why should art that improves the quality of life be of any significance in an atheistic universe?…

… On atheism we live in a universe indifferent to our survival and comfort. Again its the web suspended on nothing.

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

The mistake you are making is thinking that atheism informs my worldview to the same extent that Christianity informs the worldview of a Christian. It is simply an answer to the question of the existence of a god. All value judgements have to be derived from a different source, which I have rather glibly described as “human”. What I mean is that things have a value based on their positive impact on humanity. You seem determined to accuse me of nihilism, and that simply isn’t the case!

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

You comment here is interesting. You make “positive impact on humanity” the standard for morals. Thus you provide a transcendent ground to base your ethics but fail to show how it is not ad hoc. You fail to define “positive” without arguing in a circle and fail to answer “why” on atheism we can declare with real meaning something as right or wrong. You also admit you do not integrate your atheism with your moral intuitions – that last is a good thing indeed! …

You say: “I treat morality as something that can be discussed and evaluated, can be subject to improvement and modification …, and first and foremost, as something that is of utmost importance for human wellbeing. How is that inconsistent?”

It is inconsistent because you have not integrated your atheism with your moral intuitions. On atheism morality is not objective, yet you consistently refer above and beyond yourself, on this blog and in life with objective moral statements

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

This has been a great discussion and I am about to turn in. It’s late here in NZ. With your permission I’d like to copy and paste this to a blog at talk.thinkingmatters 

I think it will be of great interest to people. 

Sorry I’m turning in. :-(

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I have no trouble admitting that I do not integrate my atheism into my moral intuitions – I don’t see any need to. To go back to the old argument that atheists make about other metaphysical beliefs, I don’t incorporate my disagreement with astrology into my moral intuitions either! Anyway, don’t want to ramble too much while you are trying to turn in. Speak again another time perhaps!

Sorry, I didn’t see that you had asked permission to copy and paste the discussion. Of course you may! I hope it comes out sounding coherent, as we were jumping all over the place answering one another’s questions, so it may have lost it’s linear narrative a bit.



The following is a conversation with the same person conducted simultaneously with the one above on the same topics. 




apologeticsnz (13 hours ago) 

“The promotion of health, happiness and prosperity is a good thing, whatever your beliefs.”


UppruniTegundanna (13 hours ago) Show Hide

You could potentially ask “why” to any explanation I give ad infinitum, but rather than show that I have no grounds for my moral principles, it shows that you are willing to embrace nihilism as a tactic for undermining my assertions. I prefer food that tastes nice to food that tastes bad – similarly, I prefer a happy life for myself and others to an unhappy one. It is possible to behave in a way that promotes that. I am having trouble understanding how you can’t accept that as a valid worldview.

ThinkingMatters (11 hours ago) Show Hide

You’re actually mostly correct – we could ask “why?” ad infinitum. Morals on atheism are comparable to the preference of taste. They are subjective and ultimately arbitrary. Where the trouble lies is in understanding your worldview as valid is it does not conform to our moral intuitions – is extermination of the Jews just personal preference or is it really objectively wrong. How about surgical experimentation on live Jewish babies? Is that morally equivalent to the taste of vanilla over chocolate?

And if you think that those things are wrong and want to be consistent with your view, and if you want your answer to have real meaning, you have to find an answer to the question “why?” that isn’t arbitrary or ad hoc, and isn’t unjustified specieism.

UppruniTegundanna (11 hours ago) Show Hide

Well, I could ask “why” to the answer “because of God’s word”, since that raises the slightly different question commonly referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma – is something good because God says so, or is God affirming something that is true anyway? I do in fact think that a certain amount of subjectivity exists in people’s conception of morality, but rather than absolve us of responsibility for our actions and those of others, as you seem to think…

… I think that this intensifies the responsibility that we all have to consider our actions and moral beliefs carefully, strip them of fallacious thinking and prejudice, to ensure the best possible outcome. This is difficult, and made all the more difficult since we, as humans, have negative impulses that we have to overcome.

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I could ask “why” to the answer “because of God’s word”

The ethics developed on the theism finds a transcendent ground in God. The Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma, that is to say those are not the only options. The third option that splits the arguments horns is that God is the standard. Rather than the good being good because God said so – thus arbitrary, or the good being above God – thus God is not the ultimate, the good flows from his nature – the good is good because God is good.

I don’t think we are absolved from our actions because we perceive morals subjectively. I think if someone were to randomly punch me on the nose without provocation that would be wrong, not just subjectively but objectively as well. I do think we have to think carefully about our moral beliefs and strip them of fallacious thinking. Which is why I come back to you, how can you say that the dude that conks you on the nose without provocation is wrong?

After all, you are yet to answer “why” on atheism you can declare with real meaning that something is right or wrong, without giving an answer that isn’t arbitrary, ad hoc, and succumbing to unjustified specieism.

UppruniTegundanna (10 hours ago) Show Hide

I think it is going to be hard, maybe impossible, for me to provide you with an answer to the moral question that you find satisfactory if I do not incorporate God into it, just as I am dissatisfied with answers to scientific questions that do incorporate God. We may lose the notion that morality is (in some cases literally) carved in stone, but we gain the opportunity to discuss, evaluate and modify, if necessary, our moral beliefs as we encounter new situations, which I take as a good thing.

ThinkingMatters (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I think it will be impossible. You either have to be content living inconsistently with your view and know your ethics is ad hoc, or accept that morals are objective.

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I have always liked the quote by Aristotle: “it is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it”. In the spirit of that quote, let’s imagine that I am correct in my disbelief: am I acting inconsistently? I treat morality as something that can be discussed and evaluated, can be subject to improvement and modification to deal with new situations, and first and foremost, as something that is of utmost importance for human wellbeing. How is that inconsistent?

If I accept the third option [to the Euthyphro dilemma], can I say that it is in fact a false trilemma, and that there is an additional option that we are being deceived into our beliefs about what is good or not by an evil force? As for being conked on the nose, many people would automatically react by retaliating and a fight would ensue – we benefit from maintaining an orderly society and creating disorder does us a disservice. Hopefully you aren’t going to ask me why an orderly society is better than a disorderly one!

ThinkingMatters (10 hours ago) Show Hide

That’s exactly what I was going to ask :-) You see how you end up with subjective morality if you fail to give a transcendent ground for your moral intuitions? When an injustice, like a bloody nose, or more seriously a genocide like Hitler’s, is done to you everything within you screams this was wrong, it was Wrong, it was WRONG. Then you’re confronted with the reality that morals are objective.

As for the third option [in the Euthyphro dilemma] – you could say that it is a false trilemma because there are more than three options – but all I need to do is split the horns of the dilemma. I don’t even need to argue that the third option is true, it just needs to be an option. But I do think that the third option is plausibly true – we have for instance biblical grounds for declaring it true, and we have good philosophical grounds as well, as God is defined as the ultimate being and morality is a perfection.

UppruniTegundanna (9 hours ago) Show Hide

I have a touch of the flu at the moment, which feels quite nasty at times (bloody British weather!) Do you think I have no rational basis for wanting to feel better than I do now? Because your line of questioning suggests that I couldn’t differentiate between being struck down by a nasty disease and feeling fit as a fiddle. Same goes with societal order: order improves people’s quality of life, disorder decreases it.

ThinkingMatters (8 hours ago) Show Hide

On the contrary, I do think you can differentiate between what is a social good and what is a social evil, just like you can differentiate between a biological evil [the flu] and a biological good [being healthy]. The thing your not grasping is this: we know the flu is bad because we know what it’s like when the body is running right – we have a rational basis. When it comes to morals though, we know what’s bad because we know what’s right – but you’ve no rational basis for that.

:-) Thanks for the conversation.

58 replies
« Older Comments
  1. James
    James says:

    Bnonn said:

    “As for when you say that “it’s good” that the atheist finds Hitler’s actions wrong, what do you mean by this? If you have, by your own admission, excluded objective moral values from the discussion, then the word “good” here must mean something different to what you intended it to mean.”


    No, I mean it’s good that they don’t think like a Stalinist for instance. Who had no problem killing Christians. It’s good for me and you that they have some moral sense. Even though they can not objectively ground it.

  2. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    James, absolutely. As we’ve repeatedly said, we don’t deny that atheists have a moral sense—and we’re glad they do. And of course, we aren’t saying that we want atheists to act consistently with their worldview by giving up morality. We’re just pointing out the inconsistency.

  3. Ken
    Ken says:

    Have a look at my article and the linked comments on my blog – all is explained! But perhaps you could explain “simply explain WHERE and HOW you believe you derive your morality.” It’s not enough to say “god did it” – we know it never is enough.

    No one here has described where they get their morality- like how they know Hitler was wrong – in any way that excludes the Dalia Lama for instance.

    Where do you get your morals from? Where can I find out what your morals are? Is it the bible? Show me where you find the fact that Hitler was wrong?

    Until you do I will continue to assume you do it the same way the Dalia Lama, Richard Dawkins, Lloyd Geering and I do.

    Until you do I am forced to conclude that your headline “Atheists Should Not Criticise Hitler” is just arrogant nonsense.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:


    And on your point that atheists (or anybody else for that matter) should not criticise Hitler, what’s invalid about doing this from the basis of subjective morals anyway?

    To answer the first half of the quote;

    “Atheists should not criticise Hitler” is the title of the post on Thinking Matters. Its not the argument. The argument is clarified later on when I stated (near the beginning) that “I think you’re confused on one of the finer points of the argument. The point is not that atheists cannot discern or know what is right and wrong. The point is that an atheist cannot be consistent with their view if they want to affirm the existence of objective morals. ”

    To answer the second half of the quote;

    If the subjectivist wants to cry foul over something, they are free to. It just carries no meaning. On subjectivism moral statements are equivalent to personal preferences like taste. So I think that as an ethical theory it is worthless. If “What Hitler did was wrong,” is equivalent in value to “Wearing clashing colour is wrong,” then it really does fail. Objective morals are what is needed.

    Where the argument I have been putting forward takes hold is that in a world without God, there just is not any valid explanation to how morals gain their objectivity. Ken says they arise naturally, but I think that’s a category mistake and confuses objectivity with subjectivity. Objectivity means without involving feelings or personal opinions, which if the qualitative right and wrong somehow derive from the nature of sentience or because we’re intelligent they are not objective after all but subjective opinions. Adding people quantitatively is still subjectivism and therefore insufficient, after all all Nazi Germany was objectively wrong and if he’d won over the whole world, he’d still be wrong. What is needed to explain our common moral intuitions is a qualitative standard, and that can only be found in the metaphysical realm as worth, value, rightness and wrongness are not physical (chemical, electrical, neurological, biological, sociological, cultural, or localised in any way) properties.

    Saying our moral values derived from evolutionary social pressures is the genetic fallacy as their origin and our gradual subjective apprehension of them no more undermines their objectivity than our fallible apprehension of the physical realm undermines the objectivity of that realm.

    Moreover objective moral values are properties that belong to persons. Ken’s ‘moral logic’ is an underdeveloped theorem, which I requested more information on but he hasn’t supplied. Thus far, I don’t see any way the principle, say ‘rightness’ exists as the equation 1+1=2 exists, in the mind-independent universe. By definition arithmetic “is.” But ‘rightness’ not only “is” but carries with it an “ought.” Thus without a mind existing qualitatively above all people, objectivity in values cannot exist.

  5. Rob
    Rob says:

    Hi Ken.

    You wrote above: “It’s not enough to say “god did it” – we know it never is enough.”

    If it is NOT good enough to say “God did it”, then it is not good enough if ANYONE says it Ken.

    But this is precisely the argument. If God is NOT the source of morality, then that source must come from matter for what else is there, right Ken?

    But since when did anyone feel they MUST obey complex arrangements of matter (e.g. other humans)? I certainly don’t, unless it is to my personal benefit.

    And this nicely brings us back to Hitler who did precisely that — he did what he thought benefited him. Other complex arrangements of atoms (like you and perhaps me) may not have agreed with him, but so what? What really is one bag of chemicals appealing to another bag of chemicals in the big scheme of things?

  6. Rob
    Rob says:

    Ken also wrote above: It’s not enough to say “god did it”

    Perhaps you could think of it like this Ken.

    However far-fetched this is to you, just try to imagine that the Biblical God really does exist. Further, just imagine that He is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Just imagine that this God is the ultimate reality, the source of all truth and the source of our existence — the perfect holy being, as per the Bible.

    Given these premises, where is the inconsistency in believing that morality flows from the very nature of this being? Remember, He is the fullness of perfection, eternal and 100% sovereign.

    Given this framework, why would it not be enough to say “God did it”? Even in principle?

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I’m guessing Ken’s angle was to try and elicit a “We know because the bible says…” or a “God said it so it must be true…’ statement. Then he could go to say we are question begging and get on his hobby-horse and criticise all the “atrocities” found in the bible.

    This is why I’m thinking about writing an article or two on scripture interpretation, and how the so-called atrocities in the Bible, such as war and slavery, do not constitute an unjust and immoral God.

    What Ken doesn’t understand is that the moral argument stands wholly apart from Biblical or any special revelation. It is based solely on our intuitions about the moral law and the impossibility of establishing on naturalism an adequate foundation for the objective right and wrong we all perceive.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] atheist commenters here, and Stuart and myself. This discussion started with Samuel Skinner in ‘Atheists Should Not Criticize Hitler’, which prompted my reply post, ‘Whence Cometh Value?’, and most recently discussion has […]

« Older Comments

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *