Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

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Henry (from San Jose)

Regarding this week’s show, when I created the Employee Manual for my company, the template I used included a clause that prohibited selling to or proselytizing other employees, and I definitely decided to keep it. So if anyone had ever suggested saying grace before any work-related lunch or dinner, I would have quoted that clause as a way of shutting it down.

Henry (from San Jose)

I also hope you can talk Mike into admitting he’s a Humanist because it might make him more eager to engage with critics of humanism who call in. There have been a couple of theist callers who have confused atheism with humanism and instead of defending the moral superiority of humanism, Mike has instead retreated into the “atheism is merely non-belief” trope.

Mike Gillis

I’m still not certain I’m a Humanist, though my ethics are humanistic. However, atheism IS just non-belief. I can’t specifically remember any callers who criticized humanism, but I’m happy to talk about a reason and evidence-based moral system being superior to a dogma and superstition-based one. I can recall some callers or emailers who thought that atheism was inherently immoral or led to bad behavior, where I would have to say that atheism doesn’t really have tenets or moral rules — good or bad. No more than basic theism does. It only relates to one question. Most atheists tend to… Read more »

Mike Gillis

Either way, thanks for listening! 🙂


Henry, I don’t think anyone should really be trying to convince Mike to call himself anything. Part of the awesomeness of atheism is the freedom from subscribing to others ideals in whole or in part.


My problem with Humanism is their insistance on doing good for its own sake. I personally don’t have a problem with doing good, because doing good makes me happy. But saying that you must believe that goodness has inherent and objective value is a different animal. You guys talked about being “more altruistically aware” when you know this is the only life we have. But that awareness doesn’t necessarily follow from knowing that this is our only life. You also talked about maximizing our enjoyment and pleasure in this life. That, I think, does follow from knowing this is our… Read more »


As I continued to listen to the podcast, you spoke a little more to my last comment. It was said that one of the tenants of Humanism is that “the universe doesn’t have an opinion” and that “We create our own answer to what is the meaning of life?” But I see this as in conflict with the idea of doing good for its own sake. If doing good has objective value, then you’re saying that the universe does have an opinion. If the universe truly doesn’t have an opinion, then Hitler is just as good as Oxfam or Amnesty… Read more »

Mike Gillis

Will, to be clear, we’re not talking about an objective standard for good. No one said anything about an objective good. We’re talking about the standard of the minimization of harm, our standard. And like any moral standard, it’s subjective. It has effects that are fairly objectively measurable — infant mortality, quality of life…etc. The universe doesn’t have any opinion, and like human rights, any standard of morality comes from one source: people. We, as humans, define and shape our morality and we enforce it. I would say that someone would have a very hard time arguing that a morality… Read more »


Well put that way … I think I am guilty of looking for humanism to be making an objective morality claim and misreading/hearing what was really meant. I’m reading through “On Humanism” by Richard Norman and I’m going to have to reread his chapter on morality because I may have taken away the wrong idea. This was the first “Ask An Atheist” podcast I’ve listened to, but I’ve subscribed and will keep listening!

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