What’s Stopping You? Nothing, and That’s the Point.

For years upon years upon years, religious apologists have been asking the same question of the non-religious and non-believers – what’s stopping you from committing crimes? What holds you back from raping, murdering, stealing and generally causing chaos? What stops you?


After all, we don’t – and to a degree can’t – live by any moral guidance determined for us and dictated from up on high.

Now, this opens up a huge can of worms when you take it to its conclusion; namely, that such questions imply that if the existence of an all-powerful creator-deity was suddenly disproved, or that said-theist stopped believing in it overnight, that they’d immediately embark upon a murderous rampage leaving nothing but dust in their wake. It assumes that under humanity’s playful exterior beats the heart of a ruthless, sadistic maniac. A fair assessment of humanity given our track record, sure, but not one that exclusively correlates with atheism. It also raises issues of trust – would you trust someone who explicitly said that the only thing stopping them from knifing you in the face right this second was their fear of a god?

Tu quoque aside, a far more interesting response to the accusation of being an atheistic amoral psychopath is brutal honesty – nothing is stopping me. Literally nothing stops us, as non-believers, from stealing, murdering, raping and pillaging, vandalising, burgling, buggering, and blasting our way across the planet for the whole duration of our short, sad and miserable time on it. But the simple fact is… we just don’t do that. By-and-large, we’re peaceful people. By-and-large, people are good. A person will stop to help another if they’re able, they’ll obey the law – something that only really exists to prevent the minority from exploiting the kindly majority.

So the accusation levelled by apologists really doesn’t make any sense so long as the atheist they’re talking to isn’t, in fact, committing any crime or sin. Nothing is stopping me from doing all that stuff. Nothing at all. I have simply murdered and raped everyone I have wanted to, and I have vandalised and stolen and destroyed everything I have wanted to. I won’t claim cherubic innocence on every count, but those cases really do round-off to zero. I have done everything I have wanted to, and it just so happens I haven’t wanted to do any of those criminal or immoral acts.

Anyway, that’s all introduction material. It’s all been said before, by multiple people, and probably in longer and shorter forms. You know this, surely.

My question is this – has anyone ever heard of a response to it? The likes of Ken Ham seem to base their entire anti-atheist worldview on it (see the accompanying image above). Their claimed monopoly on the laws of morality and goodness – or, at least, acts that we consider positive, constructive, non-harmful, and wellness- and happiness-maximising – relies on this absurd notion that we are a bunch of wild and rabid lunatics underneath. They need us to be sinful in the absence of God. But we’re not. They need us to be wild savages without the guidance of the Bible. But we’re not. The position is fundamentally flawed and falls at this very first, very mild hurdle.

So what next?

What therefore proves you must need God to be good even in the face of this?

What shows that we cannot possibly make moral decisions for ourselves even in the face of evidence that we make moral decisions for ourselves?

The ball has been on the theistic side of the net for a while now. I can’t even recall the first time I heard someone say “I’ve murdered exactly the number of people I wanted to: none”. Has anyone out there in Internet Land heard of a response to that?

This is a genuine question for those out there – have the Hams, Comforts or even the C. S. Lewises of the world ever taken the next step? And if not, why not? And how would you even begin, hypothetically speaking, to throw the ball back?


10 thoughts on “What’s Stopping You? Nothing, and That’s the Point.

  1. But, but, but… I haven’t vandalised or stolen everything I ever wanted to (though I will give myself credit for being more inclined to simply break than to take, where my wishes live); also, I haven’t punched everyone who I thought deserved it in the face. And, I am atheist.

    Sometimes, it’s the (circular) reasoning of not wanting to be the kind of person who does that kind of thing that’s stopped me; maybe a feeling of guilt or shame -or- pride-and-virtue inculcated in my childhood. Sometimes, it’s been compassion for individuals or the group.

    But at other times, I simply haven’t wanted all the personal results that doing entirely as I wished would have gotten me. The wish is still there, and no use pretending it’s not. It’s easy to say that one has done as much of really horrible crime as one wants, “and that is zero”. But what about those ‘smaller’ impulses?

  2. Reblogged this on We couldn't make this up… and commented:
    Much like my comments on the Duggars below, here’s another excellent post, taking apart Ken Ham, who just can’t seem to understand why people who don’t believe in his god aren’t shagging animals, along with raping everybody in sight and eating babies.

  3. I just curious where this innate morality you describe comes from? I am Christian and I don’t believe that I have it. I believe that the distinction between right and wrong transcends mankind in his raw form, and that right and wrong must be taught to man. Naturalistic evolution teaches survival of the fittest. Care or concern for others, especially when it involves putting their interests ahead or yours, is counter to nature. So, if we evolved from primordial goo via mutational change and natural selection, where did love work itself in?

    • You’ve brought up the common theistic idea that if evolution is true, then it must apply to every aspect of our individual existence. But, of course, survival of the fittest is shorthand for “The organism most optimal for the environment will be most likely to pass its genes on.” In today’s civilized society, evolution of humans has almost nothing to do with survival. It has to do with social adeptness. There have been some with the interest of killing off undesirable portions of humanity, skewing evolution to their ends, but then, it’s not natural selection anymore, is it.

      Since you don’t believe you have any innate morality, I assume you mean to say that you are a psychopath being held back by the power of God, and in fact, all of us are psychopaths. Where then is the wanton murder, rape, and pillaging from the Jains of India?

      • To me, lack of an innate morality means being amoral, not having a sense of right or wrong. Being a psychopath generally refers to someone with a mental disorder, if I’m not mistaken, and that certainly was not my point.

        When I said that “I don’t believe I have it” [innate morality] I wasn’t being very clear. It would have been more correct for me to say that I believe that all infants start out without a sense of right or wrong and that we begin to learn what we believe to be right and wrong through the social interaction we have with other humans. In my opinion, if evolution were true, neither love nor hate would exist since neither has anything to do with survival.

        I believe love and hate have to have been taught to mankind originally at some point, hence my question “where did love work itself in” with respect to naturalistic evolution.

        • Psychopathy is a disorder of which the symptoms are amorality. Reduced fear, reduced inhibition, and increased cruelty.

        • It is not necessary to determine where, precisely, love worked itself into our priorities. Since evolution in humans is largely governed by social factors rather than pure survival, you can simply postulate that love has social value, and therefore the capacity to love is a selected trait. However, since morality is relative to the culture, it is correct to say that we learn social cues as we grow.

          You do believe that sin is innate, right? How is it possible to be born both sinful and without any idea of what is right or wrong?

          • Some may believe that sin is innate. I do not. I believe that we are born without a moral compass and that our natural tendency is toward selfishness, which leads to sin. I believe that sin is a conscious choice we make once our minds are sufficiently mature to understand the difference. I also believe that selfishness is the foundation of all sin.

            As a Christian, I believe that sin is anything that is counter to the nature of God and that is what defines right and wrong.

            My original query was not to debate sin and so I apologize for getting off track. My original query (‘where did love work itself in’ [into the evolution of mankind]) refers to my interest in understanding where love (or hate for that matter) originates from an evolutionists perspective.

        • Animals are not capable of love? You sure underestimated those specie intellect in surviving. Really silly to think that way. Either you can’t back up what you had stated, or you merely don’t understand evolution. Look it up, our ancestors were really smart and amazing 🙂

          “In my opinion, if evolution were true, neither love nor hate would exist since neither has anything to do with survival.”

          Both love and hate have got something to do with evolution. Love is perfectly explained by “Individualism” which is in our nature, in every specie – love within a group, families, communities, and just like you said “care for yourself” than the interest of others. Species who were so protected to their group to survive. Whereas hate can be explained by — when you try to steal the food from the other animals, let’s say your dog food or monkey’ food, in their plate – they’ll think you are the bad guy. In other words, they will “hate” you. And if it was different animal, the type that would kill for food, then those who’d try to steal their food were unlikely to survive. Mind you, those animals haven’t heard the concept of deity. Yet, subjectively, you can’t say they don’t have morals, and they are not civilized. To put it another way, specie simply evolved (take note, EVOLVED) learning what works and what doesn’t for the last hundreds of million years (give or take) until now. We’ve learned that whatever we do, there are consequences of each action.


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