In some debate between atheists and theists, the theist will often say something along the lines of; "If you don't believe in god, why is murder wrong?" But can't the opposite be argued better? If God does exist why is murder wrong? After all if you murder an innocent no God worth worshiping would send that person to hell just because they didn't believe at the time (or for a more extreme example infanticide; they didn't have the knowledge or capability to believe in God) so then if you murder a child with the intention that this person will go to heaven due to your actions is that moral or immoral? After all, some theists often say that "why be worried about temporary tragedies on this world when infinite pleasure await in the next?" Isn't that instant justification for murder? The child will live out it's entire existence in absolute ecstasy.

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    Not if the particular god in question made a specific and universal rule that "thou shalt not kill", for example. Also it's weird to capitalize "atheists" like that, especially if you're not going to also capitalize "theists".
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 21, 2017 at 18:11
  • "After all if you murder an innocent no God worth worshiping would send that person to Hell just because they didn't believe at the time" the phrase "no God worth worshipping" is very subjective. Why would a God like that not be worth worshipping? Any answer to that question presupposes some sort of moral background. If God is divine then its will is moral law, correct? Or is there a moral law that exists that even God is subject to and can deviate from? What does "worth worshipping" mean, by what standards? Are there universal standards to determine what kind of God is "worth worshipping"?
    – Not_Here
    Mar 21, 2017 at 19:06
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    Murder is wrong irrespective of the existence of God or gods, and exactly because there is no heaven nor hell: life is one and only one and we have no right to cancel it. Mar 22, 2017 at 14:33
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    @PédeLeão - see Kant's Moral Philosophy : "the supreme principle of morality is a standard of rationality that he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative”. And see Kantian ethics and Enlightenment. Mar 23, 2017 at 10:33
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    @PédeLeão But doesn't this take us back to Kant? We find ourselves equipped with the faculty of reason and a moral standard. Our reason is prone to speculate about the transcendent source of the latter, but by its very nature this speculation is unprovable. Therefore, we are forced to remain agnostic and "limit reason to make room for the faith". But despite the limitations of our knowledge everything is not permitted (or rather moral) for values do not come from knowledge, not even knowledge of God.
    – Conifold
    Mar 30, 2017 at 21:15

6 Answers 6


Some fanatics would respond to your question with: "Exactly, murder isn't wrong."

Consider cult leaders who ask their followers to commit mass suicide, or reports from Syria of parents sending their children on suicide missions.

However most people who consider themselves religious still consider murder to be a bad thing.

A secular response to this is that religious people subconsciously don't really believe in God, even if superficially they think they do. Freud, in "The Future of an Illusion" argues that religious belief is a neurosis, that belief in the supernatural and in an afterlife is just mankind's neurotic reaction to the fear of nature and death. People fool themselves into believing, but only because deep down inside they don't.

A related idea is discussed in Plato's "Phaedo": Socrates explains why death is not to be feared. Cebes then points out that if this is the case, then there is nothing wrong with suicide. Socrates agrees that there is an apparent inconsistency, but then argues that it is up to God to decide when we die, not ourselves, hence suicide is wrong. Presumably, the same reasoning applies to murder as well.

One might also argue from a strictly utilitarian view point: Killing a child might be good for the child itself, since it will go straight to heaven, but that is offset by the pain and sadness caused to its family, so the net result of murder is still a negative one, and is therefor bad.


I think your question needs more careful statement.

1 "If you don't believe in god, why is murder wrong?" This should either : "If you don't believe in God, why do you believe murder is wrong ?" (keeping the whole question epistemological) or "If there is no God, why is murder wrong ?" (keeping the whole question metaphysical). "If you don't believe in god, why is murder wrong?" runs epistemology and metaphysics together in a way I don't understand.

2 Your counter question, "If God does exist why is murder wrong?" is metaphysical throughout; there is no reference to belief. Right, but you add an assumption about god which is logically unconnected with the question. Theism is only the view that god, or a god of some kind, exists. It does not follow, logically (or theologically), that god has created a heaven for the good or innocent and a hell for the bad or evil. But the idea of murdering an innocent person or child and thus expediting their entry into heaven, so that murder does them a good turn, makes just that assumption. You provide no justification for it.

You've put some thought into the question and it's ingenious in its way but you make an assumption which you do not justify. On whether it can be justified, I make no comment.

  • Great answer (+1) - correcting a ubiquitous philosophical mistake. It is always good advice not to conflate metaphysics and epistemology.
    – Ben
    Jun 8, 2018 at 0:37
  • @Ben. Thanks - we do what we can ! Best - Geoff
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 8, 2018 at 8:00

I don't agree with the rest of answers.

Basically, there is a non sequitur fallacy here: the quality of murder is not defined by the existence of God.

All systems of laws (formal, like ethics or justice, and informal, like morals) qualify our actions according to the benefit or prejudice every action produces in order for the group (society) to survive. Murder is good or bad due to it increases the risk of destruction of the group. All systems of law (which includes religious "laws") forbid murder due to such reason.

The existence of God has no part on such judgement.

If you have participated on a debate where the value of murder was assessed according to a group-subjective (subjective to believers) system of rules (religion), you have entered into the fallacy. Murder is not defined by religious principles/laws/gossip/whatever.

If there is no God, religious rules would make no logic, but that doesn't mean we have lost all law systems improving the survival probability. That doesn't mean that we have lost the way of knowing if they are good or bad.

Out of the subject, religious usually prioritize other laws systems rather than theirs. If their book says that they should cut their own arm if it had made them entering into sin, shouldn't they do so? Nope. In such case, morals/formal law is prioritized. No point debating incoherences.


According to religions like islam and Christianity which belive in the one and only god, if you kill someone, you will go to hell after you die. So if you kill a person who you are sure he/she is completely innocent, while sending him/her to heaven you're sending yourself to hell. But if the person you've killed wasn't innocent, then you're sending him to hell without giving him a chance to do good things to go to heaven. Hope this helped

  • I don't think that this is an accurate depiction of Christianity's view. For example: Moses, King David, and the apostle Paul each committed murder, but Christianity does not teach that they were ultimately condemned to hell.
    – elmer007
    Mar 22, 2017 at 13:53
  • You're right but not all Of what I said was referenced to christianity and most of it is based on islam which I found very interesting while studying it a bit. In islam it is better to kill in some particular conditions (Not what ISIS does, that's not islam) I suggest you study Islam a bit because it says it has come to resume the way jesus was going with christianity.
    – John
    Mar 23, 2017 at 19:00

It depends on what you mean when you say morality. What decides morality? Is it society? Can you decide for yourself? Is it a greater authority that decides what is right or wrong? Is there no such thing as morality anyway, and thereby a social construct? Is it simply biochemical response to situations that are harmful to survival? Or is morality inherent to creation?

If it is decided by society, you cannot rightfully criticize other cultures because you have no justification for your belief that your culture is better no matter what the other culture does. Revolutionaries in that viewpoint are always immoral because they are fighting against social systems that are always moral no matter what the society is saying.

If you can decide yourself what is right and we each have our own moral truth, you cannot rightfully criticize another person because you are both equally right in your own mind aka Nietzsche's master morality. This type makes it immoral to punish someone by law because although it might have been wrong if the judge did something, it might have been morally correct for the defendant.

If it is a greater authority like God, or a king/emperor that decides what is right and wrong, then it is wrong to criticize or deny their authority on moral matters aka Nietzsche's slave morality. This is one reason a lot of religious people say all atheists are immoral.

If there no such thing as real morality then it is completely illogical to care to criticize anything morally at all and we are all just waiting for death anyway so just do whatever you want. Kill, steal, have sex with the wives/husbands of other people. Everything is fair game in this viewpoint. If you don't want to something you don't have to but under this perspective you don't care if other people do these things.

Biological instinct through evolution does explain why people care about morality if you believe this viewpoint. The fact that we are here would explain our species survival. But it does not explain why survival even matters. Is survival of a species good and why is one species better than another? It comes down to a biological illusion that morality matters at all, a biological construct as opposed to a social construct. In this viewpoint morality doesn't really exist but because everyone else believes it exists due to evolution they will punish you for doing what they think is immoral even though you are not really doing anything wrong.

Finally there's morality as inherent in creation/nature. In this viewpoint it is inherently wrong to cause harm against another's free will. You must believe in free will or in other words the soul. (There is no such thing as free will if we are only a biological machine that both reacts to stimuli and remembers stimuli to react to in a predictable fashion as a series of chemicals that predictably react to the environment.) The soul is necessary for true free will and not just the illusion of free will created by evolutionary biology and social cues that help survival. The concept of the soul is the thing that gives living things inherent value. (The image of God) under this viewpoint, the nature that true choices exist and have value as opposed to chemical reaction to stimulus, means that it is wrong to choose to take another's choices away, especially through suffering because each person has value in this viewpoint. If I don't want to have sex with you, it is wrong to make me. If I don't want you to hit me, it is wrong to hit me. Even if I am unconscious, if the soul exists, you need to hear my soul's choice before you do something to me and therefore must wait until I wake up.

  • I attempted an edit to make this clearer (at least to me). You may roll this back or edit it further. It would be helpful to have references for each of the points you make above for the reader to get more information by checking those references. That would also strengthen your answer. Jun 4, 2018 at 1:19

The main argument I see with this is that the way it would affect a theist is that in the bible it says that murder is wrong so killing would send them to hell so they would care but in a life with no afterlife there wouldn't be any eternal punishment to loom over you as an atheist but a theist would worry more do to the fact that they will be eternally punished. Also, this other topic you talk about how if someone dies without being able to understand or knowing god they would go to hell over that but when you die if you've never heard the name Jesus or you can't understand god you will go to a place called purgatory and there you will learn of god and you will choose to believe in god, also god is the ultimate form of judgment so what ever decision he makes would be 100% just with no room for any kinda faltering or any sort of incorrectness. This is also going off of what the bible says.

  • As Robert Pirsig said, anyone who thinks non-theists would have different ideas of how to get along has some pretty strange thoughts, and some explaining to do.
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 2 at 0:29
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    I not saying that an atheist would have any different ideas of how to get along, In this I was showing a much more exaggerated form like someone who is pushed to wanting to murder someone the fear of hell or the thought that all people have worth because they have a soul is going to be more convincing than the thought that all people are the same in the fact that they don't matter on a nonphysical sense sorry for not elaborating in this in my answer.
    – Cheese
    Feb 2 at 13:36

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