Exploring the Implications of Moral Anti-Realism

“If there is no God, then all things are permitted” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

There is dispute over whether Dostoevsky either says these words or agrees with the sentiment [1], but this quote, which is often repeated among apologetic circles, reflects a common enough attitude about the relation between god and morality. Apologists frequently assert that without the existence of god, there can be no foundation for moral truths. There are, of course, numerous problems with how a deity exactly solves solves or even meaningfully impacts the issue of morality (see here), as well as the meta-ethical meaning of what moral truths would even constitute (for my own paper on the subject, see here), but that isn’t what I wish to address here. Rather, I wish to set aside the issue of the apologists begging the question and to explore what the implications would be, if this assertion were true.

Like most claims about the relation between god and morality, the quote above is both ambiguous and loaded with emotional baggage. The first thing that comes to mind is either rampant anarchy, caused by the realization that there is no moral authority in the world, or personal despair at losing all meaning or purpose in life. But this is all communicated through confusion and anxiety, not reason.

The actual quote itself, at least as the apologists normally intend it to mean as a supposed consequence of atheism [2], communicates very little rational implication at all, until the ambiguity is resolved about the exact meaning of the word “permitted.” What does it really mean to say “all things are permitted” without god? There are only three possible ways that I can interpret this claim:

  1. Without god, people will be able to do and think whatever they want to, including all the things that we normally describe as “evil.” But how does god change this? According to classical theism, god has given us free will so that we can control our own actions. So isn’t everything already “permitted” in this sense, even with god? I can see no meaningful distinction that god brings to the table under this interpretation.
  2. Without god, those who do evil will get away with their actions and there will be no final justice. It may be true that an omnipotent deity could more effectively exact a system of rewards and punishments, but that hardly entails that there are no consequences to our actions otherwise. Those who engage in anti-social behavior frequently face retaliation from others as a result. If I commit murder, I may in turn be killed by the victim’s loved ones. Likewise, even without an ultimate moral authority, people can still create laws. If a group of people get together and set up a system to punish certain behaviors, that requires no moral realism, only social mobilization. So there would certainly still be consequences to our actions without god. In that sense, the absence of god in no way entails that we are “permitted” to get away with anything we please.
  3. Without god, moral imperatives are just an illusion, and, when we say that something is “right” or “wrong,” it is merely an expression of preference or opinion, but not actual fact.

This third option is the one that I wish to explore here, not because I think that adding a deity to the equation in any way affects moral realism, but because I think that apologists either don’t understand or simply misrepresent what the actual implications of moral anti-realism would be. While I am not an anti-realist myself (I think that moral propositions can be said to be ‘true’ under a subjectivist model), I do not think that moral anti-realism would entail any of the typical stigmas and exaggerations that are attached to it by anti-atheist fear mongering.

Does Moral Anti-Realism Entail Moral Nihilism?

If moral anti-realism is the case, does it entail that there are no moral values in the world? Certainly not. People will still hold to things they believe are right and wrong, and have idealizations of how they think the world ‘ought’ to be. The difference would be that these values would not refer to external, factual truths, but instead to preferences and desires.

Another way of looking at it is that when we say things like “murder is wrong,” what we really mean is “I don’t like murder.” The claim is not factual, but preferential. But does this really change things very much? If my opposition to murder is not caused by the observation of an external fact, but is simply based on my desires of how I would like things to be, does that mean that I ought to abandon it? Hardly. In fact, saying that I “ought to” could itself imply a moral imperative, which anti-realism would hold is not factually true. Rather, under an anti-realist interpretation, what I would mean in saying that I “ought to” do something is that the action being encouraged would achieve a certain outcome or state that I would find more desirable than another. The force behind the “ought” statement is that it is incohative, rather than some detached factual observation.

Moral anti-realism certainly does not entail that we will have no desires. Humans, even within a naturalist metaphysics, will always be passionate creatures. Nature itself may be dispassionate, but we are beings who have instincts, needs, and long-term goals. Humans are teleological, even if our metaphysics is non-teleological. As long as that is the case, we will always have a code of ethics by which we judge certain behaviors to be more desirable than others. Those ethics would simply be our preferences rather than external facts.

Does Moral Anti-Realism Entail Anarchy?

But if morality is just about our individual preferences, doesn’t that entail that we could do anything we want? Wouldn’t that lead to chaos and mayhem? Certainly not. Anarchy, by its very nature, is not a stable state. Even when states of anarchy do emerge, they are inevitably resolved by some new implementation of order and a status quo that enforces social restrictions on behavior. Hence why there has never been a true ‘State of Nature,’ and instead humans have always operated within some level of a social contract, whether it be within a small tribe or a modern democracy.

Nor does the implementation of a social contract entail that we will abandon our own individual preferences or conform to a homogenous system of values. Rather, society involves negotiating and resolving individual goals that both align and conflict amongst each other. We will always need trade, cohabitation, and order to survive. Likewise, we will always have conflicts of interest that require arbitration. Both forces compel humans to cooperate with each other, regardless of whether moral realism is true or not. So the threat of anarchy under the assertion that there can be no moral truth without god is a very silly reason to abandon atheism.

Does Moral Anti-Realism Entail Statism?

Ironically, a converse claim I have heard from some apologists is that atheism instead entails totalitarian statism, often accompanied by references to Stalin or Mao. But the communist (red) scare tactic is absurd. Communism failed because it was a bad economic theory that attempted to leap frog economic development through forced collectivization, not because of any atheistic moral anti-realism. In fact, communism was highly moralistic, motivated by the desire to achieve egalitarian ethical goals by means of extreme measures that instead resulted in economic disaster.

More to the actual point that I think is being made, the claim that anti-realism leads to totalitarianism is ordinarily based on the premise that, without god, the state becomes the highest moral authority. But this too is false. To start with, the ‘state’ is not an entity; it is a collection of people who make decisions. Ultimately, people will decide the state’s values rather than the state deciding people’s values. There is the risk that a few people in power may impose their will upon others, at the expense of the majority, but tyranny is a risk in any government, whether moral realism or moral anti-realism is the case. And, if the people are dissatisfied, they can and have led revolutions and reforms that are able to produce more benevolent regimes, in which more people are satisfied. The only difference under moral anti-realism is that human preferences and desires would be the motivational force behind reform and change, rather than a factually “true” manner in which the state should operate.

Does Moral Anti-Realism Entail Selfish Hedonism?

So there is no reason to fear either chaos or oppression due to moral anti-realism, at least no more than would be the case under moral realism. But doesn’t anti-realism entail that there is no meaning to life? Does it not mean that we should all then be selfish and just seek the maximization of pleasure?

To begin with, saying that we ‘should’ just be hedonists if there is no morality itself implies a system of goals and values. Moral propositions would not be externally true under moral anti-realism, so there would be no factual reason that we ‘should’ seek hedonism. Instead, the question would be whether we actually want to seek hedonism. But such a shallow goal will not bring long-term satisfaction. A monk might find much greater joy living an ascetic lifestyle under a system of values that does not seek material and physical pleasure. He gives up short-term physical stimulation for long-term emotional and psychological satisfaction.

Would you stop loving your families and friends, simply because there is no factual, external moral truth saying that you ‘ought’ to? Certainly not, since love is an experience that brings us joy and fulfillment. A more serious problem is whether there would no longer be an incentive to be kind or charitable to those whom we don’t love, if moral anti-realism is the case. But, like everything else, we would have to ask ourselves whether we really do not want to help others. That is unlikely, as empathy is another aspect of human experience. Helping others often feels good. We give to charity and volunteer because we feel like it makes the world a ‘better’ place, and a better world is one that we would find more desirable to live in than a world without the action we encourage ourselves and others to engage in, such as a charity.

A separate issue would be whether there is an objective, factual meaning to life, if moral anti-realism is true. If that meaning must depend on external moral facts, then perhaps not. But this is a counter-intuitive basis for finding one’s goals in life anyways. Our goals are not normally based on cold, detached, and impartial truths. Rather, we base our goals in life on the type of life we would prefer to live against the alternatives. If you can find one ideal lifestyle and cannot find any other to be more desirable, then achieving that path will be your meaning in life.

So far I have dealt with the concerns of people who are normally kind and compassionate, but what about sociopaths and criminals? Wouldn’t moral anti-realism give them free reign to live out their every sadistic desire? My response is: how would moral realism compel them to behave any differently? Either they have no concern for the things we normally designate as good or bad, or, if they really would be influenced by an appeal to morality, then they already have an affinity for the types of behavior that we categorize as moral. Furthermore, most crime is the result of poor decision making that results from not rationally reflecting on the consequences of one’s behavior. Criminals are, in fact, the most likely population to be the victims of crime. By demonstrating the consequences to the criminal’s behavior, one might be able to reform him by showing that he does not really want to live that life. But, what if no reform is possible? If the criminal keeps engaging in behavior that the rest of the community cannot tolerate, lock him up. That is what we would do under moral realism anyways.

How Do We Deal with Moral Disagreement?

If moral anti-realism is the case, how can we ever resolve disagreements between each other? To use an extreme and emotional example, of the sort that apologist Cliffe Knechtle is fond of: “How can I tell the Nazis that their way of life is any better than my own?! It’s all just relative, isn’t it?!

But these types of emotional scare tactics are not rational when actually analyzed. For starters, the Nazi may already hold to what he believes is an objective system of morality. If you in turn argue that yours is the correct system of moral realism, he may simply disagree and say that you are wrong. Moral disagreement would still persist. In fact, an adherence to the belief that one’s moral system is factually true may even increase the Nazi’s tenacity and adherence to his code.

Rather, under moral anti-realism, one would have to ask the Nazi whether he really wants to engage in the behavior that he is. This is not likely. The Nazi behavior in WWII ultimately led to self-destruction. Their code of ethics was one based on extreme aggression, violent imposition, and divisive and alienating behavior. Such a system was bound for ruin and most former Nazis, after seeing the results of WWII, particularly upon Germany itself, regretted their decisions.

But what if there is no way that you can possibly compel the Nazi to see it your way? What if he will insist upon all the actions you think are evil and intolerable? Go to war. Fight him. Isn’t that what we had to do anyways, even if moral realism were the case? Ultimately, moral disagreement is a problem faced by every moral philosophy, due to the simple fact that people do not always agree, and it does not present any special problem for the anti-realist.

Are Atheists “Inconsistent” in Leading Morally Motivated Lives?

Another popular slogan is for apologists to claim that atheists are “inconsistent” in behaving morally and merely “borrowing from the Christian worldview.” But this is nothing more than an arrogant taunt founded in no real philosophical objection at all. For starters, the apologist often just straw mans the atheist’s position, many of whom do believe in moral realism. Furthermore, there is very little in the Judeo-Christian scriptures that coincides with modern notions of morality. Nothing about democracy, ending slavery, equal gender rights, or personal liberty is found in the Bible. Rather, Christianity often just borrows from secular morality, imputing current moral values anachronistically upon an older culture and system that originally knew nothing of them. A Christian can still object that the concept of morality makes no sense unless under a Christian worldview, but this is merely to beg the question. Ultimately, atheists borrow virtually nothing from Christianity, as its actual values are horribly outdated and irrelevant to modern concerns.

But what is really meant by the taunt that atheists are “inconsistent”? Inconsistent with what? As has already been shown, even if moral anti-realism were true under atheism, it does not entail that we will be dispassionate beings who have no goals or desires. There will always be moral values as long as there are humans, regardless of the lack of any metaphysical teleology, since we ourselves are teleological.

It is furthermore not even clear what the apologist thinks is consistent with atheism. Selfish hedonism? As has already been shown, that is not necessarily entailed by moral anti-realism. Hopeless despair? Not at all. So long as one finds life to be preferable to death, he or she will always have a motivation to keep on living. The truth is that we all keep on living, not because we have some cosmic force commanding us to survive, but because we find value and utility in life itself. We simply desire to live, so we will always have a reason to keep on living.

When apologists make this taunt, I cannot help but suspect that it is actually a defense mechanism to conceal their own anxiety about atheism. Many are so dependent on religion for their reputation and careers that the thought of atheism being true fills them with despair. Accordingly, they assume that despair must be entailed by atheism, but that is simply due to their own narrow and shallow system of values, which they have unnecessarily fixated on a deity. Ultimately, the apologist may need religion as a crutch, but that has no implications whatsoever with what is actually consistent with a real atheist’s beliefs and philosophy.

What Is the Real Difference?

The real difference between moral realism and moral anti-realism is ultimately conceptual, not consequential. If moral anti-realism were true, it would be something we discovered about how the world already is and operates. It would not entail that we should or will behave any differently. We would just discover that the ways in which we have conventionally understood morality are mistaken. Rather than being based on external, factual truths, we would discover instead that what we have traditionally construed to be moral truth is actually our set of preferences for how we ideally want the world to be. And, if we should discover that is the case, we can still want the world to be that way and keep working towards it. Nothing really changes except our understanding of what is and has already been the forces in play. If moral anti-realism is the case, then we have still effected moral change, built democracies, instituted human rights, and achieved many of the other things we consider “good,” and we can continue to go on doing it.

That said, I myself am not a moral anti-realist, not because I find the position to be disturbing or distasteful, but because I think that it is ultimately overly simplistic. I do think that there are factual truths about human psychology that determine our goals and desires. Because of that, we will always have certain needs that we seek to fulfill, and, likewise, there will also be certain behaviors that observably help or hinder us from achieving these goals. Thus, when we make moral propositions, saying that we “should” do something, these propositions do refer to factual normative truths, which are both empirically discoverable and would exist apart from opinion. That, however, is another issue, which I address in my other writings [3].

I do think, however, that moral anti-realism is a perfectly respectable philosophical position, and it is the one I align with most closely after ethical subjectivism. Furthermore, it entails none of the fear mongering or straw man claims that apologists normally apply to it. Their goal in discussing morality is not to actually resolve any philosophical issue rather than to create emotional pressure for converting to their religion. For those who seriously consider the philosophical issues, however, it should be clear that moral anti-realism would not entail negative consequences or even changes in our behavior. It is a matter of how we conceive of and describe the principles and forces behind morality. Those forces have been and will remain the same regardless of what we believe about them.

-Matthew Ferguson

[1] For an article claiming that he did not, see here. For a rebuttal claiming that he did but also analyzing the original context, see here.

[2] I am not exploring how Satyr or other philosophers have interpreted it, but rather how the quote is commonly used by those claiming that morality cannot exist without god.

[3] I have written three previous articles about my own ethical philosophy, which I recommend be read in the following order: First, there is the issue of meta-ethics and the meaning of moral language. There is also the question of the is/ought dilemma and the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive ethics. I address these concerns here. Then there is the structure behind a system of ethics. I describe a teleological system here. Finally, once the meaning of moral language has been established and a system has been described, there is the basis for normative ethics, which I spell out here.

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12 Responses to Exploring the Implications of Moral Anti-Realism

  1. Lukas Xavier says:

    “Without god, those who do evil will get away with their actions and there will be no final justice. ”

    I’ll add in another problem. Even if god exists and exacts his “final justice”, that judgment is invisible. As such, it has no deterrent effect and his “justice” (or more correctly, punishment) is completely useless.

    A punishment that neither repairs the victims or deters the criminal isn’t much good, is it? What purpose is served by leaving a criminal free to act and harm people, and only punishing him when it no longer has any effect on his future actions?

    It seems to me that this method would only increase the amount of suffering and never diminish it. What good is that? This method is actively evil: It increases the suffering of the criminal with no reduction in the suffering of the victims. How can that be a moral good?

    Unless god’s justice is seen and felt in real time (which it demonstrably isn’t), it does no good, but only increases the overall suffering in the world. Surely, that can only be an evil thing.

    • That’s a good point. Normally when we punish criminals part of the purpose of the punishment is to serve as deterrence. E.g. knowing that grand theft auto will result in a prison sentence deters people from stealing cars.

      However, god does not intervene in retaliation to such behavior, so he does not serve as a real time deterrent that stops people from doing such crimes. As such, god still allows for people to repeatedly be the victims of such crimes without lifting a finger to deter the criminals.

      One might argue that, in the end, god will still dole out final justice, but how can we be sure what justice he has in store? What if the Islamic god is true and all of the Christians have it coming? So the further ambiguity that a deity has in regards to what type of justice will exactly be administered makes god even less helpful for motivating moral behavior.

      That said, I do think that, in theory, it would be possible for a deity to directly intervene in order to deter certain behaviors and to also set up a knowable system of rewards and punishments. We just obviously have no such deity anywhere around here.

  2. Ron says:

    Good post.

    It’s also worth noting that the second option (without god, those who do evil will get away with their actions and there will be no final justice) fails as an argument for the Christian apologist even if there were a god, because the doctrine of salvation posits that a hardened killer who confesses his sins and becomes a born-again Christian (like Jeffrey Dahmer did) will gain entry to heaven whilst their non-believing victims get sent to hell — not exactly the type of vindication one usually associates with final justice.

    • Yeah, as commented on above, there are a number of problems for basing a system of justice on the xian deity.

      Fortunately, the only justice we can expect in life is the system we set up on Earth. In that case, we obviously wouldn’t let Dahmer go free for something as frivolous and shallow as a religious conversion. Unfortunately, the xian deity only cares about the most frivolous of distinctions, such as whether one belongs to a specific religion that he gives no good evidence for, when doling out eternal torture as his “justice.”

  3. “While I am not an anti-realist myself (I think that moral propositions can be said to be ‘true’ under a subjectivist model)…”

    Umm, subjectivism is a form of antirealism, in the same way that ducks are a form of birds.

    I realize you are using “moral antirealism” in this post to refer exclusively to nihilism or some kind of brute noncognitivism, and this terminological tic doesn’t seem to affect any of your substantive arguments. But you’ll save yourself a lot of confused readers and headache-inducing, distracting semantic disputes if you clarify that you actually are an antirealist.

    • It’s sometimes categorized under anti-realism, but there is no general consensus about the categorization. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out:

      “Many philosophers question whether the “subjectivism clause” is a useful component of moral anti-realism at all. Many advocate views according to which moral properties are significantly mind-dependent but which they are loath to characterize as versions of moral anti-realism.”

      I’d include myself according among the views described in the second sentence. Likewise:

      “To deny both noncognitivism and the moral error theory suffices to make one a minimal moral realist. Traditionally, however, moral realism has required the denial of a further thesis: the mind-dependence of morality. There is no generally accepted label for theories that deny both noncognitivism and the moral error theory but maintain that moral facts are mind-dependent.”

      But yes, this post is intended more to address noncognitivism and error theory, which is being contrasted with both subjectivism and conventional models of moral realism.

  4. Why does it worry theists whether morality is “grounded” or not? Can we prove anything is grounded, or that any view espoused by humans is “objective” and lay secure in some metaphysical realm that lay above all possible subjectivity?

    Even in a cosmos “with God” it appears that “everything is permitted.” So the only point I can see of claiming that one’s morality is “grounded” while others’ views are not, is to claim that you have a hotline to the ultimate metaphysical realm of objectivity while others do not–as if you can prove such a thing. It also demonstrates that the proponent of such an argument is scared of the idea that anything can happen, which it does. So they want everyone to agree on how to act, and the only way they think they can get everybody to act a certain way is to get everyone to believe the same things they do, about God, Jesus, etc.

    Contra such a view, I think we have enough knowledge to recognize the palpable benefits of getting along with each other. The benefits of doing so do NOT require metaphysics to back them up. I think the best lessons to teach children are how to use their shared inner feelings of physical and psychological pain and pleasure, i.e., we should teach kids to think in terms of how they would feel if others were to doing the same things to them that they do to others. Training children in that manner, rather than having them memorize a list of commandments from God, means they will have developed an innate inner ability that comes in handy in every situation, rather than trying to memorize an increasingly long list of commandments and sub-commandments for each individual situation.

    Also we should teach kids in schools some of the wealth of practical moral wisdom from around the world and from all periods on earth. That would bring people of the world together, instead of teaching kids things like the First Commandment, i.e., that if you have a “strange God” you should be stoned to death. I mean, would you rather live in a country with the First Amendment, “freedom of belief,” or, the First Commandment? “Though shalt have no other gods before me,” under penalty of death?

    I would like some “absolute moral law” theists to list their “absolute” laws for society, a one-time list of absolute laws and punishments that all theists agree are divinely inspired and above all other merely “humanly debated” laws and punishments.

    If they listed such laws, they would soon realize that the laws they propose that overlap the most with laws already found around the world involve human-human interactions, since humans hate having their lives or belongings taken from them at some other human’s mere whim. While the laws that involve human-God interactions, and what humans must do to please God, including all sorts of religious rituals, are scattered all over the map.


    We have collectively agreed on certain moral ideas now that we have come to live in large, fixed societies rather than just roaming bands of kin. Aggression and selfishness help the individual or one’s kinship group survive but typically do not promote the flourishing of much larger communities.

    I think that the history of “ethics” involves a recognition of ever widening horizons and peoples, which leads to a greater recognition of what basic needs and desires unite us all.

    • Hey Ed,

      Good to hear from you. I’m a big fan!

      Yeah, I don’t get the emphasis on needing some metaphysical grounding for morality. As you noted, moral standards on a purely practical level facilitate social, economic, and personal goals that we have in common. If we should somehow come to the philosophical realization that they have no metaphysical grounding, we would still follow them anyways.

      I sometimes posit an alternative way of looking at it: what if we should realize that metaphysically there are categorical imperatives to do things that we would normally find immoral? What if we should discover that metaphysically we “ought” to murder, starve, and be miserable? Would we obey such imperatives because they are “metaphysically grounded”? I wouldn’t. There would be no benefit or incentive to do so.

      The main point being is that I don’t think we shape our moral beliefs from anything metaphysical, rather than out of the practical need to have a guide for human behavior.

  5. Jonathan Rutherford says:

    Good post. I am an ‘anti-realist’ as you describe it here, though i have also called my position ‘subjectivism.’ I don’t think your defence of moral truth is convincing. It sounds similar to Richard Carrier’s which is also very unconvincing (I am about to deliver a talk on it for my local atheist society, in Melbourne Australia). For an excellent explanation and defence of ‘anti-realism (aka subjectivism), see the following short and long article by philosopher Ted Trainer.



  6. Pingback: On Some Questions for Atheists | The Caveat Lector

  7. avanti says:

    “But the communist (red) scare tactic is absurd. Communism failed because it was a bad economic theory that attempted to leap frog economic development through forced collectivization, not because of any atheistic moral anti-realism. In fact, communism was highly moralistic, motivated by the desire to achieve egalitarian ethical goals by means of extreme measures that instead resulted in economic disaster.”

    1] There has been no such communism ever on this planet. Cliche as it sounds, its true. Addressing it in as if we’ve witnessed its realization is a straw man fallacy.
    2] The theory behind communism is actually not bad considering there was almost nothing written on it how it would function economically. Again a misconception. Lenin forced his own ideas and “leap frogged” only cause he didn’t know what to do. He admitted that he couldn’t find anything in Marxists writings that gave him any sort of direction towards how to exactly build communism. And for your sake, ill point out that Marx didn’t do this because he failed or cause his theory is incomplete, but rather because it didn’t interest him. He once said to those who asked about the future that they go see a mystic because he posses no crystal ball.
    3] Responding to individuals who think that immoralism leads to economic statism by attacking communism’s so called philosophical problems is a retreat. There is no need to prove by example. There is no necessary reason that it would and that alone is reason enough.

    • Hey Avanti,

      As you can imagine, this blog was not primarily about Marxist theory, rather than a response to common slogans one hears when arguing with religionists about meta-ethics and normative-ethics. As it happens, I actually studied Marxist theory (along with Hegel) in a graduate seminar on Historicism that I took last Spring. I also was an economics undergrad before I went to grad school and studied Marxism during that time as well.

      1] What I meant by “communism” when I said “communism failed because it was a bad economic theory that attempted to leap frog economic development” was primarily the types of regimes of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. I can agree that Marx probably did not envision their economic/political policies. However, religionists often point out that Stalin and Mao were atheists and attempt to attach the death tolls of their abusive regimes with atheism. However, as I pointed out here, the atrocities of Stalin and Mao had very little to do with atheism and far more to do with the upheaval of forced collectivization and the suppression of political freedom. Neither of these problems was uniquely caused by atheism and any reasonable person would recognize that it was an economic/political consequence (the one exception may be Mao’s Cultural Revolution, but the death toll for this was considerably lower than that of his Great Leap Forward and other political violence). That is why I was distancing “atheism” from “communism” in that statement.
      2] Yes, I realize that Marx’s theories were more complicated, especially because Marx had more of a historical view about the eventual outcome of class struggle. Marx was predicting the rise of the proletariat, but, as you point out, Marx did not claim to know how such a prediction would pan out in terms of economic structure and policies.
      3] That statement was not about attacking “communism’s so called philosophical problems.” While I am not a Marxist, that was not my aim. Rather, I was distancing atheism and moral anti-realism away from the Stalinism and Maoism that is often associated with the word “communism” and previous/existing political regimes that are identified as “communist” (e.g. the Soviet Union and China). There is absolutely no reason that atheism or moral anti-realism would cause such regimes. Likewise, there are nations like Sweden, where the majority of the population is atheist, and yet human development and democracy thrives there. Clearly atheism is perfectly compatible with democracies that have human rights. The attempts by apologists to connect atheism specifically with the regimes of Stalin and Mao, therefore, is nothing more than anti-atheist fear mongering and targeting emotional appeal.

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