It is not uncommon to hear Atheists and other non-religious people emphasize the point that a person does not need to believe in God in order to be moral. And they are right, insofar as all what is being discussed is just subjective or relative morality – where matters of right and wrong are mere products of personal opinion or preference. People do construct some fine ethical systems without God. But let us face it: real, objective (i.e. independent) moral values exist. We are all actually obligated to do good and avoid evil. It is not an issue of taste or preference.
I have come across Atheists who argue that the existence of objective moral values is explained by ‘Our need for survival’. In other words they do not accept that the existence of an independent being like God is the proper reason why we are obligated to do good and avoid wrong. But as we will see later in this article, the very atheistic assumption that this universe has no design or purpose leaves their argument wanting because there is no logical connection. The Theistic view, and for that matter the Christian view that objective moral values exist only because God, the moral law Giver, exists, is logical and compatible with reality.
Wrong For You But Not For Me
A moral relativist believes that there are no independent moral values that everyone must follow but that each person makes up his own morality. Thus if something is morally wrong for you it should not necessarily be wrong for him too. The moral relativist says, “It is wrong to impose one’s moral values on others and so I won’t impose my moral values on anyone.” What he fails to realize is that the statement itself is an imposition of his moral values on others; he is in effect saying that since it is absolutely wrong to impose one’s moral values on others, he has made the moral decision not to impose his moral values on others. Is it not funny how even the relativist needs an absolute or objective point of reference in order to seem to be right in living by his subjective moral values?
Reality has a way of mocking people who deny its existence. A person who holds to moral relativism (i.e. the ‘wrong for you but not for me’ belief) cannot legitimately criticize another person’s point of view and still remain consistent. It is simply inescapable to make objective moral judgments without assuming an unchanging point of reference outside of yourself. There must be a standard that is applicable to all of us, regardless of our feelings and opinions, else a person’s moral judgement carries no weight at all beyond himself.
When the moral relativist tells me that I am wrong about something I have done, he is only stating facts about his values or his desire and nothing more. This amounts to the admission that I have no real obligation to do the right thing. Yet real moral obligation is a fact in this world; we are all really and truly objectively obligated to do good and avoid evil. When pressed, the moral relativist might concede that there are some moral values which are universally known but he might be unwilling to attribute this to God’s existence.
The Christian worldview asserts that the existence of God is the reason why objective moral values exist (because they flow from God’s own unchanging virtuous nature) and a person cannot even talk of objective moral right and wrong or make objective moral judgments on anything, without implicitly assuming God. A classic demonstration of the validity of this claim is seen in the way sceptics sometimes challenge Christianity.
Christians take their morals from the Bible which asserts that God is good, loving and also All-powerful. But a common objection from sceptics against the belief in the existence of God comes in the form of this question: If God exists then why is there so much evil in this world? As challenging as this question is, the questioner does not even realize that by his use of the word ‘evil’ he has already admitted and premised the question upon the existence of God. For one does not call a thing ‘evil’ if he has not already assumed that there is such a thing as ‘good’, since if there is no good then there is no evil. Further, to claim that good and evil exist implies you are assuming the existence of a moral law based upon which good and evil can be differentiated.
Further still, if you assume a moral law, you must necessarily posit a moral law Giver because if there is no moral law Giver then there is no moral law. And if no moral law exists then there is no basis to say something is good. If there is no such thing as good, then what really is meant by the word, evil? The word, evil, is meaningful only when contrasted with good, for real, objective evil is the lack of goodness. (But neither Chance+Matter+Time nor Evolution knows anything about good and evil.) The moral law Giver is whom Christians call God yet this is the very entity the sceptic wants to disprove. It is like the philosophy student who asks his professor, “So sir how do I know that I exist?” to which the professor, with his eyes fixed on the student, responds saying, “And whom shall I say is asking?” It makes a mockery of logic to assume the existence of a thing while questioning its existence at the same time.
So, the issue of evil is actually meaningless without the assumption of God’s existence. We cannot meaningfully complain of evil if God does not exist. Even in a morally relativistic world people cannot help but feel the horror of human wickedness like corruption, genocide or rape. The reason they feel this way is because they notice a lack of goodness. But why do they want to see goodness? It is because, subconsciously, they know this universe came into being for a good purpose rather than accidentally but that something has gone terribly wrong in the course of time. They may resist this conclusion with all forms of fanciful arguments but they are not able to escape the real struggles they face in their hearts and minds.
It is common to hear people say that human beings are born naturally good but it is society that corrupts them. The English journalist, Steve Turner, in his brilliant satirical poem on the modern mindset titled, ‘Creed,’ said this in the 9th stanza:
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behaviour that lets him down
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions
Conditions are the fault of society.
Question: Who makes up society? Answer: Man. But if it is true that man is essentially good, then where is the evil and badness in him coming from? In its 1926 report, the Minnesota Crime Commission, USA, made a startling statement after years of studying the relationship of environment to crime:
“Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centred. He wants what he wants when he wants it: his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmate’s toys, his uncle’s watch, or whatever. Deny him these and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He’s dirty; he has no morals, no knowledge, no developed skills. This means that all children, not just certain children but all children are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in their self-centred world of infancy, given free reign to their impulsive actions to satisfy each want, every child would grow up a criminal – a thief, a killer, or a rapist.”
Reality clearly opposes the idea that we are essentially good.
God and objective moral values
The need for survival, which is a reason some Atheists give as the basis for the existence of objective moral values is simply unsustainable. The very premise on which Atheism is built cannot support this. Renowned Evolutionary Biologist and avowed Atheist, Dr. Richard Dawkins, in his book ‘River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life,’ makes the following conclusion:
“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference. … . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
There we have it – the hopelessness in the logical outworking of unmitigated Atheistic belief! Of course if there is no purpose to life in this universe, how can there be evil and good? We can only expect a “pitiless indifference.” In this framework, a rapist must be seen as only dancing to the music of his DNA and we have no real basis (or need) for condemning his actions as immoral. The rape victim is just unlucky to have been hurt in this purposeless universe of electrons, selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication. There is no rhyme or reason and the issue of justice is a nonstarter.
It is not difficult to see at this point that Atheism as a worldview is incompatible with reality. With its sympathizers triumphantly and repeatedly labelling faith in God as illogical and irrational, it is rather a surprise to see that reason and rationality are, after all, not doing too well in Atheism either! If human desires and actions are all coming from purposeless and pitiless matter, then there is no moral standard against which to judge human desires and actions. Incredibly, many Atheists still vehemently complain of the evils of genocide, the Christian Crusades and Spanish Inquisitions. In an Atheistic worldview, no one has any real obligation to protect other people’s lives, or to refrain from stealing or from sleeping with someone’s wife, or to feed the hungry, or to treat people as if they have intrinsic worth beyond what a legal instrument might confer. Morality then is a mere nicety of “let’s all try and get along”.
But, why should anyone want to get along? In a system like this, all that is needed for its collapse is a group of people who do not want to get along, perhaps because they have realised that the fewer human beings there are, the merrier things can get for them. If Atheism is true, then who are we to condemn such people? After all, they are dancing to the music of their DNA just like the rest of us. They are trying to survive, one might add. But it even sounds weird for people in a purposeless universe to have a purpose – survival.
Any moral system that does not assume the person of God, either implicitly or explicitly, as its basis stands in mid air and will ultimately lead to chaos and the breakdown of society; it is just not workable. From the Christian perspective, the interesting thing about Dr. Dawkins words is that if he is right about we just dancing to the music of our DNA, it makes the truth of Jesus words ring evermore louder: “… you must all be born again” (John 3:7 GNB). Long before Dr. Dawkins, the Christian Scriptures had taught that all men, not just some, but all men are depraved – we have all lost our way, like sheep. There is a spiritual disconnection between us and God, and our depravity is only a symptom rather than the root cause. Our hearts are corrupt. And out of our depraved hearts come all the issues of life – the wickedness and barbaric behaviours, the greed, indecency, lies, and sexual immorality.
Contrary to what some non-Christian may think, Jesus Christ did not come to make bad people good but rather came to make dead people live. All men in their natural state are spiritually dead to God. God became human, in the person of Jesus Christ, in order to re-establish the spiritual relationship between us and God. True, objective moral uprightness is a by-product of the life of a person who has been spiritually reconciled to God.
The mystery in Ghana is how so many people claim God exists yet live as if he does not. There is little to no real reverence for God in the way we do business through bribery, our general lackadaisical attitude towards work, our often hostile and indecent public discourses, our reluctant attitude towards honesty and our superficial holiness. This is where the Atheist or the non-religious person, mistakenly, jumps in triumph to say, “There you have it, belief in God breeds all sorts of evils!” What he overlooks is the fact that the reason for the evils he is seeing among the professing Christians is precisely because they are not practicing the teachings of Jesus Christ. So what is really needed in the lives of many professing Christians is not less of the God factor but more of the God factor. Morality for the sake of morality ultimately cannot be sustained but morality for the sake of God has accountability to it, is enduring and compatible with reality. This is a sharp and real difference!
Robert G. Coleman is the author of the book, ‘Why Don’t I Feel My Faith’