After Christian Group Asks If You Can Be Good Without God; Atheists and Strangers Offer Clever Responses

The Veritas Forum is a national group that brings speakers to various colleges in order to discuss the “relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.”

Recently, they began advertising an event at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and their posters ask if people can be “Good without a God?”

That prompted the Cal Poly Alliance of Happy Atheists to respond to the Veritas ads with one of their own:

Not bad at all :) But I have to pay my respects to the anonymous people (and apparently “bO, the safety panda”) for responding in a slightly different way:

Stealthy! I like it.

(Thanks to Bryan for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Jeffrey Shallit

    Mary Poplin (advertised for the “God” side in the poster above) spoke at the University of Waterloo last year.  She was *terrible*.  For my admittedly biased account, see

    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2011/02/pascal-lecture-another-year-another.html
    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2011/02/mary-poplin-round-2.html
    http://recursed.blogspot.com/2011/02/more-mary-poplin-nuttiness.html

  • http://www.martinprest.com/ Martin Prest

    I particularly like the first picture, putting the ‘Good’ into God as it were. 

    We each have a conscience and none of them are faith-powered.

    http://www.martinprest.com/2012/01/10/answers-from-atheism-q-why-should-you-be-moral-if-there-is-no-god/

  • anataboga

    “Good without a God?” is a ridiculous question since the idea of what one person’s god requires as “good” may be seen as not good in the eyes of what another person’s god requires!

    I see more confused theists so trapped in their own bubble that they can’t look objectively at how ridiculous a question it is.  “Good without (the Christian) God?” or “Good without (the Hindu) Gods?”, those questions make sense but making it “a” God is ridiculous.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mujica.alex Alejandro Mujica

      I think it’s a simple matter for them to ponder since to them there’s only one god, the supposed creator of truth and morals (since they believe he created everything, anyway). 

  • http://cafeofthecosmicdance.blogspot.com/ Paul Sunstone

    Well, I wouldn’t want to be too good — either with or without god.

  • http://cafeofthecosmicdance.blogspot.com/ Paul Sunstone

    Good without God?  I’ll think about that when I get some free time.  At the moment, I’m too busy slaying the Midianite men and raping the Midianite women in order to fulfill the commandment of my Lord.

  • Charles Black

    Wait this is for real right? This story is reminiscent 0f the church who put up a billboard which you’d expect from an atheist or sceptic group “Don’t believe everything you hear” is what I remember.

  • Kevin Hueter

    I like how they didn’t deface the poster to get the point across. Now if we could only teach the god fearing people to be good like that. ;-)

  • Gunstargreen

    I like how it pretends its asking  a question but is just going to be a lecture promoting more misunderstanding about atheists.

  • Taeubchen

    Why are so many people bad with God?!?!?

  • Taeubchen

    Why are so many people bad with God?!?!?

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    Notice the fine print at the bottom of the poster:

    The Veritas Forum seeks to engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.

    This tells me two things. First, if you don’t believe in a god, there is something wrong with you. Second, the fine print implies that if you don’t believe in the right god, there is something wrong with you. Hence, atheists and agnostics are defective, morally corrupt beings and we can only overcome this “deficiency” if we believe in the correct god. Since they don’t believe in the god of Christianity, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, pagans, and everybody else are also defective and morally corrupt.

    This is what dominant groups love to do. They expound upon the inherent superiority of their kind and dismiss others as defective people who are unworthy of the same social status as members of the dominant group.

    It would be great to round up people from various forms of non-belief and non-Christian faiths, fill the audience, and then ask the panel of speakers exactly what they think of people who don’t embrace Christianity’s god.  I think it’s important to be clear in challenging the privilege, prejudice, and arrogance that is inherent in the notion that everyone is defective except for Christians.

  • ORAXX

    You don’t have to read an awful lot of history to realize people haven’t been especially good with god either.  The bloody, gory history of Europe is largely, the history of Christendom.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    The Veritas Forum is a national group that brings speakers to various colleges in order to discuss the “relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.”

    This is actually rather amusing when you consider the billions and billions of people who have lived and died without ever hearing about Jesus Christ. He wasn’t particularly relevant to them, was he?

  • http://twitter.com/Crommunist Crommunist

    Pro tip: there are a wide variety of less nakedly racist, sexist, ableist and generally assholish Nobel Prize winners who you can quote than James Watson. Kind of undermines the whole “we are good without God” thesis when you press someone who’s not really a very good person as the (literal) poster boy for your position.

    • AHASLO

      This particular poster was intended to be part of a series including many far less controversial individuals. If you have any people in mind, please, respond with their names and we’ll run a campaign with them as well.

      Watson is deserving of a great deal of criticism, but he has also advanced the scope of human knowledge while also being involved in many social activist causes. Scientists and Nobel Prize winners without involvement in social activism are more common, and we wanted to try to associate social activism, not science, with atheism for this campaign. Watson’s anti-nuclear weapons and anti-war stance were attractive for that reason. That was why we chose him for one, of many, posters.

      • Pseudonym

        With respect, this sounds a bit like the common objection that religious fundamentalists give so much to charity. Actually, it sounds a lot like that.

        Since you asked for a suggestion, how about Ted Turner? Not a Nobel Prize winner, but still a nice person.

    • Dan

      Yeah, what a terrible choice. Watson would be a fantastic choice for a “Can you be a good scientist without God?” reply, but he is terrible for a response to “Can you be good without God?” Why in the world would anyone choose someone who is well known for blatantly sexist and racist comments as a moral example? This poster will be laughable to anyone familiar with Watson, or anyone who knows about Wikipedia. Cal Poly Alliance of Happy Atheists, way to make the Christians point for them!

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    A
    2007 news article from the science journal Nature

    on James D. Watson’s suspension as chancellor of the Watson School of
    Biological Sciences at old Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long
    Island:

    James Watson, the geneticist
    credited with the co-discovery of the structure of DNA, has abandoned
    a book tour in Britain after suggesting that he thinks black people
    may be less intelligent than whites.

    In an interview with the London-based Sunday Times, published on
    14 October, the 79-year-old said he was “inherently gloomy about
    the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are
    based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours —
    whereas all the testing says not really”.

    After the comments were picked up by other media on 17 October,
    Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York, announced
    that it was suspending Watson from ‘administrative duties’ as
    chancellor of the Watson School of Biological Sciences there.

    Watson said he regretted his comments, but criticism from senior
    US colleagues was unsparing. “He has failed us in the worst
    possible way,” said Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of
    American Scientists. “It is a sad and revolting way to end a
    remarkable career.”

    From an editorial
    by the same publication:

    Watson certainly
    has a track record in making distasteful remarks. He has on many
    previous occasions voiced unpalatable views tinged with racism and
    sexism, ranging from a desire to see a world full of genetically
    engineered pretty girls to his belief that sex drive is related to
    skin colour. He has been largely indulged over the years, mostly in
    light of his towering achievement of 54 years ago in helping to
    deduce the structure of DNA, his ensuing Nobel prize, and his role in
    founding the Human Genome Project.

    ouIs it
    me, or does this guy sound quite terrible? Genius and pacifist
    activism, as awesome though they might be, do not excuse having such
    reprehensible views of humanity. He made an enormous contribution to
    the field of genetics, but nevertheless, his bigoted views of
    humanity disqualify him as someone who deserves to be lauded as a
    leader and a voice for scientific inquiry, atheism, and skepticism.
    To put this guy forth as proof that folks are good without god? Not a
    good choice. You’ve given religious folks ammunition for ripping us
    apart.Given the recent series of blow ups over sexism in the
    atheist/skeptic community, I think folks should give such slip-ups a
    little more thought. Would y’all really like to
    see more people of color and women in these communities?Really?

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      I forgot to include the link for the editorial:
      http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v449/n7165/full/449948a.html

    • http://www.ahaslo.org/ AHASLO

      Timberwraith, I offered some thoughts on this above as to specifically why we chose Watson for one of our posters and as you mention those specific reasons, I think we can all agree that there Watson isn’t *all* bad. 

      Now, with that said, you’re absolutely right. It is a mistake to focus on someone with his background. I can tell you right now that our group, and our officers are committed to fighting racism, sexism and prejudice in all forms. Please take a look at our about page, where we tried to make this as explicit as possible. 

      http://ahaslo.org/about/

      I can say, specifically that the recent controversies surrounding diversity in the secular community have been very influential in how AHA! approaches these topics, and that while Watson was a mistake for the reasons you suggest, that someone could interpret his being featured on our poster as an endorsement of his prejudice is something we are taking very seriously and working to fix. 

      Let me also say that what I am saying is not merely words, but that our group is pursuing active involvement with the GLBT alliance, Gender Equity Center, Sexual Assault recovery and Prevention, and various other groups who fight discrimination on campus. 

      If you have any specific suggestions for how we can do better, please let us know. 
       

      • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

        Thank you for your quick, thoughtful reply. It’s a welcome change from the denial and excuse-making that I’ve seen take place in atheist/skeptical spaces during the past year or so.

        • AHASLO

          And thank you timberwraith for your thoughts on the matter. I know many in our group felt similarly to you about the recent denialism in the secular community, and we all felt it was important to “own up to our mistake”.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        Aside from the objections to Watson already raised, there is another reason you should reconsider this particular poster with this particular quotation:

        Oh no, absolutely not…
        The biggest advantage to believing in God is you don’t have to understand anything, no physics, no biology.

        I wanted to understand.”

        The first line in that quote seems at first glance to be answering “No” to the question at the top of your poster, “Good without god?” 

        My initial reaction was “What???” Only after I noticed “is” in the line “James Watson is” did I realize that his first words are answering some unknown yes-or-no question. Why are you including that first part before the elipsis? It is apparently a fragment of some completely unrelated conversation. 

        The rest of the quotation that you selected does not seem related to the question at the top either. What does not understanding physics, biology, or whatever he meant by “anything” have to do with being good with or without a god?

        The only answer to the question of his being good is the last thing that is visually noticed, the caption under Watson’s photo mentioning his anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons and environmentalist activism. 

        A very confusing poster.

        • Ahaslo

          Thank you Richard for your comments. That is another issue entirely, and we’ll be sure to take note of that in future poster designs.

      • Anonymous

        I teach at Cal Poly, where AHASLO is, know some of them well (Hi all!), but even going beyond that bias, anyone can see that they owned right up to the mistake, just like we all hope we would, too, in a similar situation.

        And the best thing is, it really doesn’t cost them anything to admit their mistake.  I know they truly believe in the best type of diversity, would stand firmly against the worst things Watson has said, so it doesn’t cost them anything to reaffirm those stances.

        AHASLO may need editorial help with their posters, but their intellectual posture, not to mention their hearts, is in the right place.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          I concur.

    • Anh

      My bf and I were discussing that this morning.

      Enough ire is directed at atheists already. Do we really need to make a bigot one of our poster children?

      • AHASLO

        No, Anh, we(AHASLO) don’t. It was a combination of many factors that led to that poster being posted, and it was a mistake. We’re working to fix it, in addition to our previously planned activism with various diversity groups on campus.

  • GoodWithoutGod

    Everyone is already good without god, some just do not believe it yet.

  • Anonymous

    eeeeeeeee wctube

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.vroom Robert Vroom

    I do not think that the question being asked is “Can we be good without believing in God?” (although they may be trying to get some buzz going with the wording). As a Christian I would say “Of course a person can be good without believing in God, God gave a conscience to Christians, Atheists, Jews, etc.” The correct question is, “Can objective good exist if there is no God.”

    If there is no God, morality is strictly a development of evolution. It is nothing but the rules that have best allowed groups of animals to survive and thrive. If this is all there is to morality, it is only wrong to murder children because societies that allow child killers to run around free are less likely to survive. Why was Hitler wrong? Because we said he was wrong and beat him. If he had won and killed everyone who disagreed with him, he would have proved that he was right (given a strictly evolutionary framework). In such a framework, the only thing that determines right and wrong is survival.

    If there is a moral law that transcends society, there must be a moral law giver that transcends society and made this law.


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