Repost: Can We Be Good Without God?


This was originally posted here: http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2011/07/can-we-be-good-without-god.html

July 12, 2011

Can We Be Good without God?

Yes, of course.  But can you explain what morality is and where it comes from without God? That’s the key problem for an atheist worldview.  Craig Hazen explains in this Biola Magazine article.  Here’s the conclusion:

The primary technique the new atheists have adopted for dealing with the issue of the origin or grounding of the moral law is obfuscation. The new atheists are very fond of saying, “We don’t need God to be good.” Indeed, they often say that atheists, agnostics and skeptics often lead more wholesome lives than lifelong professing Christians. Now, theists should not be fooled by this. Our response should be, “Of course you don’t need God to be good — we’ve never claimed that you do.” You see, it is not knowledge (epistemology) of the moral law that is a problem — after all, the Bible teaches that this law is written on every human heart. Rather, the daunting problem for the new atheist is the nature and source (ontology) of the moral law. Here are some questions you can ask Richard Dawkins the next time you sit next to him on a bus:

• If everything ultimately must be explained by the laws of physics and chemistry, help me understand what a moral value is (does it have mass, occupy space, hold a charge, have wavelength)?

• How did matter, energy, time and chance result in a set of objective moral values? Did the big bang really spew forth “love your enemy?” If so, you have to help me understand that.

• What makes your moral standard more than a subjective opinion or personal preference? What makes it truly binding or obligatory? Why can’t I just ignore it? Won’t our end be the same (death and the grave) either way?

The old atheists did not want to have to face questions like these, so they simply denied the reality of objective moral values. The new atheists have thrown the door open. Let’s not make it easy for them. Let’s ask the hard questions in a winsome and engaging way.

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About Neil

I am a Christian public speaker, Middle School science teacher, husband, evangelist, apologist and a big nerd.

Posted on 07/12/2011, in Atheism, Ethics/Morality. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. “But can you explain what morality is and where it comes from without God?”

    Yes. It comes from people, based on harm and benefit, in order to help us form societies and cultures that benefit as many people as possible.

    That was easy.

    “What makes your moral standard more than a subjective opinion or personal preference? What makes it truly binding or obligatory? Why can’t I just ignore it?”

    It depends what you value.

    If we don’t value the same things, we’re going to have incredibly different moralities. But if we both value the same things (like life, health, happiness, freedom, etc.) then we can demonstrate how our morals are more likely to uphold and protect those values.

    If you’re a sociopath, of course, that’s why we have hospitals and prisons.

  2. “It comes from people, based on harm and benefit, in order to help us form societies and cultures that benefit as many people as possible.”

    The idea of “harm” presupposes a knowledge of evil or wrong. Where does that knowledge of evil or wrong come from? Same thing with “benefit”. Benefit in this context presupposes a knowledge of what is “good, right or just”. Where does this knowledge of good and evil come from?

    • “The idea of “harm” presupposes a knowledge of evil or wrong”

      No. It presumes a knowledge of harm and benefit, which is given to us by science and medicine.

  3. “How is it then that people understood harm and benefit before the scientific method and medicine?”

    Observation and empathy, which we evolved to avoid killing our own children.

    • What evidence do you have that shows this concept evolved, instead of being innate in human beings from day one?

      • Comparative biology and the study of evolution? The fact that our fellow mammals also demonstrate empathy, which is one of the causes for mammals being social animals.

      • Empathy and morality are not the same thing. Empathy is the ability to understand what another being is experiencing. Morality is a prescribed system of conduct. Can you show me with concrete, documented examples a time when HUMAN morality did not exist, and then came into existence?

  4. “Empathy and morality are not the same thing”

    They’re not. But it’s clear that one comes from another. Had we evolved as lizard-like predators, I imagine our morality would be vastly different.

    “Can you show me with concrete, documented examples a time when HUMAN morality did not exist”

    Our recorded history shows humans always trying to form some kind of morality. But a study of that history easily shows that morality constantly changing and evolving, mostly because our idea of the in-group, literally who we have empathy with, changed.

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