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Morality Without God? (Philosophy in Action) [Hardcover]

by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 2, 2009 0195337638 978-0195337631
Some argue that atheism must be false, since without God, no values are possible, and thus "everything is permitted." Walter Sinnott-Armstrong argues that God is not only not essential to morality, but that our moral behavior should be utterly independent of religion. He attacks several core ideas: that atheists are inherently immoral people; that any society will sink into chaos if it is becomes too secular; that without religion, we have no reason to be moral; that absolute moral standards require the existence of God; and that without religion, we simply couldn't know what is wrong and what is right.

Sinnott-Armstrong brings to bear convincing examples and data, as well as a lucid, elegant, and easy to understand writing style. This book should fit well with the debates raging over issues like evolution and intelligent design, atheism, and religion and public life as an example of a pithy, tightly-constructed argument on an issue of great social importance.


"In his call for sincere dialogue with theists, Sinnott-Armstrong provides a welcome relief from the apoplectic excesses of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, while also addressing objections to homosexuality and evolution frequently raised by evangelical Christians." --Publishers Weekly

"[I]t is accessible and lively, my hope is that it will be widely read, especially by theists."--Peter Lamal, The Humanist

"... the clarity of this text successfully defuses many erroneous claims about religion and morality, both popular and academic; this volume certainly deserves a wide audience in this increasingly secular and skeptical world." -Choice

"Morality Without God? is an engaging, pithy book arguing against the necessity of God and religion for a robust morality. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has distinguished himself as a leading philosopher in his work on metaethics and moral psychology, as well as books on moral and epistemological skepticism, and in Morality Without God? he commendably succeeds in writing a philosophically respectable introduction to the problems facing religious morality suitable for virtually any audience." --Philosophia Christi


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With a conversational and commonsensical tone, Sinnott-Armstrong defends nonbelief from accusations of immorality, both at the individual and the societal level by considering surveys and statistics on homicide, discrimination and charity, among other categories. He establishes a moral framework rooted in avoiding harm—opposed to a theistic morality whereby questions of right and wrong are decided by God's divine command, a moral account he derides for its inability to provide an independent moral standard. In his call for sincere dialogue with theists, Sinnott-Armstrong provides a welcome relief from the apoplectic excesses of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, while also addressing objections to homosexuality and evolution frequently raised by evangelical Christians. Nonetheless, the oft-stated modesty of his aim to show merely that atheists and agnostics can be moral, coupled with a loose and ill-defined notion of harm, leaves the reader with an account of morality that coheres with the universal disapprobation of such horrors as murder and rape, but provides little demonstration of its applicability to the grayer areas of moral conundrums. (July 10
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"In his call for sincere dialogue with theists, Sinnott-Armstrong provides a welcome relief from the apoplectic excesses of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, while also addressing objections to homosexuality and evolution frequently raised by evangelical Christians."--Publishers Weekly"[I]t is accessible and lively, my hope is that it will be widely read, especially by theists."--Peter Lamal, The Humanist"The clarity of this text successfully defuses many erroneous claims about religion and morality, both popular and academic; this volume certainly deserves a wide audience in this increasingly secular and skeptical world." --Choice

Product Details

  • Series: Philosophy in Action
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (July 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195337638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195337631
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest and loving call for dialogue July 9, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First, let me say that I am a practicing Catholic, very committed to my faith. However, this book is very well written, fair, balanced, and honest. Never does Professor Sinnott-Armstrong use ad hominum attacks, make wild assertions, or neglect to show care and concern for theists. I felt nothing but love for his fellow theists while reading this book. This does not, however, mean that Professor Sinnott-Armstrong compromises his position.Of course, there are still arguments that the author makes which I disagree with, but I think Professor Sinnott-Armstrong is a much needed addition (or voice, I suppose) to the growing body of intelligent, kind, and rational atheists (including John Lofton and David Ramsey Steele among others) not driven by malice, unlike the new atheists (yes, I have an axe to grind with the new atheism).

The goal of this book is basically to show that atheists can be and are moral. In fact, the last sentence of the preface states "[My main goal] is only to show that atheists need not be arbitrary, unreasonable, ignorant, inconsistent, irresponsible, disreputable, uncaring, or, especially, immoral." I completely agree with Professor Sinnott-Armstrong's thesis as he states it here. In fact, at the end of the first chapter, Professor Sinnott-Armstrong lists 5 main claims that he discusses in detail throughout the book. I agree with his beliefs about the truths of all 5 claims except the third one. I think the most accurate way to state my main disagreement with Professor Sinnott-Armstrong is to say that I believe that objective morality has no firm foundation without God. He does tries to show that the atheist does indeed have a firm foundation for morality apart from God in one of the chapters, which I will discuss a little bit below.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too soft on Religion March 6, 2012
Format:Paperback
Reading this is is very similar in tone to "50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God" by Guy P. Harrison in that the author is overly nice to the religious in an effort to demonstrate that atheists/agnostics are just as moral (more moral in some areas, less moral in others) than theists. This book is also similar in tone to "Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe" by Greg Epstein in that both these books suggest that the New Atheists are too harsh. So, consequently, after insulting them, he tries to befriend the Christian and meet in the middle.

One of the main problems I see with this book is I hardly meet any Christians who think that atheists cannot be moral. He seems to be erecting a straw man and then knocking it down. Sure, *some* fundamental Christians may argue this or you may always find this in theology books but in my experience the argument I often hear is not that atheists cannot be moral but if we are to answer the Christians on their ground, the question they ask is "why be moral" since they claim we have no objective basis for our morality.

True, this book finally reaches some answer in chapter 4, which was good, but it takes us down paths that are highly unnecessary and distracting. For example, chapter three goes over some studies that have been conducted between believers and non-believers and after each study the author concludes that this doesn't really prove anything. Then why show us? Why take us down this path? If the whole chapter is inconclusive then don't waste our time with speculation, which in many instances seem to suggest that Christians are in fact more likely to give or be more charitable, while the non-believer is more likely to be less bigoted and judgmental.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
It has been assumed in most societies since the dawn of history that humans cannot be moral without God and religion. Sinnott-Armstrong, who is a Professor of Philosophy and Legal Studies at Dartmouth College, presents in this extended essay the modern view to the contrary.

More specifically he argues that a belief in God is not necessary for people to be good or for humans to realize that some acts are morally wrong. We do not need the fear of eternal damnation to behave in morally acceptable ways. This is then a treatise in moral philosophy in which Sinnott-Armstrong takes the side of atheists and agnostics against theists who think that being atheist or agnostic means per force that you are immoral.

He begins with the provocative question in Chapter One "Would You Marry an Atheist?" The answer is most people wouldn't. Furthermore, the prejudice against atheists and other non-believers is so great that an avowed atheist has no chance of being elected to high office in the United States. He notes that people in general fear atheists and discriminate against them simply because they are atheists, and that fear stems from the mistaken idea that atheists can't be moral. In the chapters that follow Sinnott-Armstrong argues with some force that religious people and theists in general may be more morally compromised than atheists. He cites studies that suggest as much.

Personally my experience with fundamentalist Christians and others who take the Bible literally is that their mental states are so compromised by the conflicting morality of the Bible that they practice a similar duplicity in their daily lives. If you've ever argued with a creationist you know what I mean. But Christians are not alone in their prejudices against non-believers.
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