I do not intend to argue that God does not exist and humans should use logical thinking to determine ethical behavior. I would argue that it does not matter if God exists because humans should separate their ethical views from their religious ideologies regardless. What are your thoughts on the matter or what questions might you pose regarding the issue?

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    Doesn't make a lot of sense of me because if your religion tells you what your ethical views should be then how can you ignore them and be a part of the religion?
    – Cell
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 14:56
  • If God exists what humans should do would depend on his wishes, wouldn't it? So the question can not be answered "regardless". To some extent many believers accept secularism and religious tolerance, that is accept secular rules of behavior, so presumably they believe this accords with their God's wishes. But religious secularism never goes as far as separating all ethics from religion, it usually only extends to politics and law.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 2, 2018 at 21:14
  • While Philosophy observes and analyzes religions and religious doctrines, it fails to adequately define "religion", as far as I can tell. I would appreciate it if someone could supply a standard definition of "religion" -- as it applies to Philosophers. plato.stanford.edu/search/… I believe that religion actually = our ethical views and moral behavior. They are one and the same. Therefore it would be impossible to separate them. There is also the distinction between personal religions (systems of belief) and formal, established systems of religion
    – Bread
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 15:05
  • Is this like the Christian who is extra good on Sunday, and then a real scoundrel for the rest of the week? Since B. Russell was an atheist and he liked Spinoza's ethics (perhaps its axiomatic form). Then look at Spinoza's ethics. You might want to study that. There is at least one book, college library?, regarding Russell Spinoza ethics, but the title escapes me. Not written by Russell, but about this subject and Russell.
    – Gordon
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 15:43
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    – MichaelK
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 15:20

8 Answers 8


Presumably this is a reference to secularism which seperated the state and church. However this was in the context of various contending denominations of Christianity and in a culture that was predominantly Christian.

Secularism has taken various forms; for example in France, laicite means a more rigorously defined seperation between church and state whereas the constitutional settlement in Britain means that the Lords Spiritual sit in permanently in the House of Lords. And in America - which is much more religious than Europe - I have read a couple of speeches of Kennedy which he explicitly references the Bible.

Logically, of course it makes no sense to seperate religion and ethics since religion is always tied up with ethics -In Islam this is explicitly stated - and I would judge the same is true of all the major religions because generally religion is about a way of life and a way of life implies ethics; hence to mean anything then it must uphold its ethics; however it's ethics must take into account circumstances and context and the context of contending religious denominations and in a plurally religious society - such as Britain, France or Germany - contending religions; further into this situation we ought to recognise that many people are in reality athiests and this further complicates the situation; hence secular ethics means those ethics that are broadly upheld by all these contending religions and philosophies ie do not commit murder.

Thus what we think of a seperation of powers is in fact only in name; in substance it is that ethics common to all.

  • "in substance it is that ethics common to all." Except that non-religious people don't have a law to punish those who (are trying to) insult God or other entities.
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 15:10

I am not well versed in other religions, but for Christianity separating morality from God is an impossibility, because objective morality is based on God.

To remove God would be to remove morality.

The most well known explanation is outlined by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity.

  1. There is a universal Moral Law.

  2. If there is a universal Moral Law, there is a Moral Law-giver.

  3. If there is a Moral Law-giver, it must be something beyond the universe.

  4. Therefore, there is something beyond the universe.

  • "... If god exists, there must have been a god-creator. Therefore there must be something beyond god." You see the problem? Or flip it around: If there can be god without a god-creator, logically there can be nature without a nature-creator, or a moral law without a moral law giver. The rough argument here is "it exists so it must have been created", which is far from clear and stated as fact without justification. It's not likely that we can extrapolate from the world around us to conclude what is, or isn't the case for the totality of existence.
    – Stilez
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 22:06
  • @Stilez "If [G]od exists, there must have been a [G]od-creator." I don't believe that is a true statement. I capitalized because I don't think you were talking about idols or false gods, which of course are all imaginary. Please note that I'm not agreeing with all of C.S. Lewis's analysis. I disagree with point 3. I don't believe God is "beyond" the universe. Imho God is the universe. If God is the eternal, infinite universe -- it always existed. You don't need to create something which already exists.
    – Bread
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 14:52
  • Those are all statements of personal belief (items one holds as axiomatically true). The problem being that saying "I hold X as true" may be enough for the speaker - it isnt necessarily compelling or consistent for an arbitrary listener. My comment is logical, rather than axiomatic - if "X exists" calls for an "X-creator", then logically the existence of an X-creator would call for an X-creator-creator. Similarly if an X-creator can exist (or eternally exists) without an "X-creator-creator", then there is no clear reason why X can't exist (or eternally exists) without a creator, as well.
    – Stilez
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 17:27
  • @Stilez ...if "X exists" calls for an "X-creator", then logically the existence of an X-creator would call for an X-creator-creator. That could only be true if X = X-creator. But they are not equal, so there is no comparison.
    – Bread
    Commented Sep 9, 2018 at 20:51
  • Is there a law God is following then? If yes, there is its lawgiver.
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 13:27

"I would argue that it does not matter if God exists because humans should separate their ethical views from their religious ideologies regardless"

In considering this proposition, and any questions it raises, I focus on the second part, and in particular, that interesting word "should".

Ask yourself these as basics:

  • Why (in your view) humans "should" separate their ethical and religious views?
  • What would such a separation mean or imply, anyhow?
  • Can one ever truly "separate" such aspects of oneself, or is the best one can achieve, a sort of fake or superficial sense of separating them? After all, they are derived in one interconnected organic brain, so it's hard to see if separating them can happen other than as a kind of cognitive self-deceit.
  • How does one distinguish an "ethical view" from a "religious ideology" anyway (in the Bertrand Russell sense - in obvious cases it is obvious, but what about less obvious cases where we cannot easily do so?). Are these necessarily mutually distinct? Always...??


The question has the form of a proposition: "X [god] doesn't matter because in my view, Y [belief about what people should do] is true". So before anything else, there are some logical issues you might want to also consider:

  • The extent to which the belief you hold is a true statement. Is it really applicable to all people, in all circumstances, universally? Is it possible for harmful and destructive - but honestly-held - ethics, to be better for not being severed from an inhibiting religious belief? What if a person does not have an ethical structure guiding them but only a religious one, is that possible? Is the "should" in your belief rock-solid, or conditional? (I.e.,are there times and cases where "should" would be dubious, or can one construct such examples?)
  • The extent to which there may be other reasons X matters, even if not the one you are thinking of.

There are multiple areas in which we can look at whether and how such a separation could work.

Firstly, there's metaethics. As long as we reject theories that put God directly in the position of moral reasons we could bracket the question of whether theism is true or not. So, for example, Divine command theories could posit that the truth of moral statement depends on God's commands/motivations. If such a theory were true then any justification of moral principles would have to rely on theology. Whereas if we take any sort of Moral Realism then the truth of moral statements depends on natural or abstract moral facts. Whether those moral facts then have something to do with a God or not does not matter. (Of course, if Moral Anti-Realism were the case then theism also does not matter for morality because all moral statements would then be false.)

Secondly, we can look at a normative ethical level. A theist might for example argue that whatever normative ethical views are found in their religion are the correct ethical views. If they use justification that doesn't rely on, say, theological arguments then it doesn't matter whether God exists or not when it comes to discussion about those ethical views. But they could also justify their ethical views through their belief in God (while still not using a Divine command theory or similar). How would that look? A theist could argue that they are more certain of some things about the religious beliefs than secular ethical justifications. If those religious beliefs then necessarily are connected to ethical views then, from their perspective, the ethical views follow. Hypothetical example: a christian could argue that because they know that the bible is true, any ethical statement found in there would be true, even if it contradicts moral intuitions or other moral theories. This can only be separated from the question of whether God exists by making epistemological arguments against the priority of this sort of justification.

We can find this sort of thing - thirdly - much more in political philosophy. The question how ethical views can be used in political arguments extends to how theistic views can be used in political arguments. The key idea that is that, at some point, a public mode of justification is needed whenever there's discussion about political actions. More on that here (including mention of contrary views) and also here (shorter).

edit: Another reference: here's a short piece from Brink in which he argues for a separation of moral discussion and religion.


It may not be possible to separate ethics from religion except through some arbitrary rationalization implemented by some equally arbitrary political process. Whoever gets enough political power with an ideology inclined to separate them might be in a position to do so, provided they want to spend the resources on it, until some other group with more political power comes along.

The reason for this is because both belief, grounding the cultural phenomenon of religion, and morals, grounding the cultural expressions of politics and ethics, may be innate to our species in the sense that they are neither completely determined by an individual's rationalizing nor cultural training in some way of the individual.

For a survey of the research supporting this innateness for belief, see Barrett's Born Believers. For a review of research supporting the innateness of multiple moral foundations, see Haidt's The Righteous Mind.

If these positions, which have some empirical research to back them up, are closer to reality then there may be no way to effectively separate religion from ethics since they are both ways to describe us as human beings. We are not split at the species level into ethical human beings and religious human beings, but that is the level at which this split would have to take place.

Since there are multiple moral foundations and various beliefs, that is, there isn't only one of them, all one should do is provide social structures that allow for tolerance recognizing that deviations from this tolerance would cost social resources to enforce.


Barrett, J. L. (2012). Born believers: The science of children's religious belief. Simon and Schuster.

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage.


Religion does not imply morality.

It's a common viewpoint that morality comes from religion, and this is false as it denies the ability for a reasoned human being to understand and apply a moral viewpoint if they are not religious. It is also true, that morality - for those who are religious - has a deep connection to religious beliefs.

Morality, ethics, and all the stuff blurring the lines between the two, all of it is socially constructed. It is also all very subjective. Morality and ethics come from a cultural and social source, and as such this means that those things we consider to be moral or ethical will differ from place to place, from culture to culture, religion to religion to non-religion, and even from individual to individual. It's a minefield of opinion and differences in terms of definition and application, and therefore it is entirely subjective.

Individual morality comes from those core values that are learned over a lifetime, and is thus the result of social interactions, social conditioning, and even personal choice and belief.

Therefore, when discussing morality, it becomes impossible to separate anything that contributes to either an individual or a group's moral/ethical viewpoint, simply because of the social nature of the topic being discussed. Even if two individuals align on culture, race, location, education, and religion, each viewpoint is subjectively going to differ as both individuals have entirely seperate subjective life experiences.

Now, the real questions...

Why is there a need - or what is the motivation - to isolate morality or ethics from a single contributing element (such as religion)? Why aren't we removing culture, or some other element from the discussion? If you remove the things that provide a source for individual/group/culture's morality or ethics, doesn't this devalue the discussion being had?

And the most important question I think for anyone interested in the philosophical... Are you pursuing truth, answers, or understanding? which is to say, what are you hoping to achieve by asking this question? ;-)


It was interesting to hear Shadi Hamid speak as a Muslim, about how Islam has a specific problem with secularism, because Mohammed was not just a political figure in his life, but a head of state for a developing empire:Waking Up #55, 'Islamism vs Secularism' https://youtu.be/wd8BhusSF7c

He outlines how resistence to secularism has in some ways helped Islam in the modern age, for instance developing Islamic finance, rather than just abandoning a large number of clear injunctions around finance like Christians do.

But, given the nature of Sunni-Shia and other sect and jurisprudence school divisions, he argues convincingly it is essential for Muslim states to accept some degree of secularism and limits on religious power, in order to avoid a constant sequance of revenge by whichever group gets the upper hand next.

Secular liberal enlightnment values are not the only game in town. Their own justification for themselves, is the flourishing of healthy societies. Theocracies don't generally hold up that well. But if China remains flourishing and stable, that will pose a bigger challenge to the supposed primacy of those Western values.

Even with an absolute theological roadblock, some measure of secularism is essential on practical terms though.


Breaking the connection between religion and ethics

I think the question needs to be approached from two angles - from religion to morality and from morality to religion.

From religion to morality

Since religion covers the whole of life, at least in all cases I know of, and morality is a part of life, it is not possible logically for a religious believer to 'park' their religious beliefs when they make moral decisions. For the religious believer morality is not separable, not compartmentalisable, in the way the question assumes.

There are, however, two pitfalls.

Contestability of religious sources

From the same religious sources and with equal impartiality and logical competence it is possible to draw divergent, indeed flatly contradictory, moral conclusions. We only have to consider the differences of moral viewpoint that arise within Christianity, even within particular branches of Christianity, over the morality of gambling, the morality of gaylife, the permissibility of abortion or the conditions imposed on it, the defendability of abortion - and so on and on. There is much on which nearly all religions agree but no religion speaks totally unambiguously on moral matters.

Religious ethics and empirical fact

Two religious persons may accept that there can be just wars (or opt for pacifism) and agree on the conditions for a just war - the basic criteria for legitimacy. Yet they may, again with equal impartiality and logical competence, disagree over whether as a matter of fact those conditions apply to a particular conflict. For example, are the scale, duration and intensity of the military action the minimum necessary to meet a sufficiently serious threat to State or human security? Think of the factual disputes over the intentions and military capabilities of the Iraqi regime - the seriousness of the threat posed to Western security - in the Second Gulf War ! These intentions and capabilities made all the difference to whether the invasion of Iraq was just. Religious agreement over the possibility of a just war did not prevent factual disagreement over whether the conditions for a just war had actually been met.

From ethics to religion

Suppose a moral agent to have no religious beliefs at all. They still cannot avoid facing ethical questions about religion and how, ethically, to deal with religion.

It is practically impossible not to assess particular religions ethically and hence to have a religious ideology in the sense of an ideology about religion. We may tolerate what we morally disapprove of in a religion but that only concedes the fact of moral disapproval. We may tolerate in the interests of civil peace a religion that in our view does not sufficiently recognise the rights and autonomy of women, for example : but the moral disapproval remains. In some cases, when for instance it is a customary regional tradition in certain religions to practise female genital mutilation, we may not feel ourselves able even to tolerate this custom within our own moral community.

Another point is that if we exclude God from the picture, on what basis do we do so ? A moral agent may as said above have no religious beliefs at all but this could be on the basis of agnosticsm, suspense of belief, or of antagonism to religion on the grounds that it is an irrational body of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours.

Now, someone who takes the second view can hardly approve morally of the use of scarce social resources for the support of religious institutions such as church schools. So again an engagement between ethics and religion is scarcely to be avoided.

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