God and Morality
Good without God?
Can there be morality if there is no God? If God does not exist, then we do not have a foundation for objective moral values and duties. Let’s clarify the question by making two very important distinctions. Clarification #1: What is the question we’re asking? Notice what our question is not asking. It is not asking, “Must we believe in God to have moral values?” It is not asking, “Must we believe in God to live a moral life?” These are questions about whether or not we can know what’s good or do good things without God. And it’s pretty obvious that answer to that question is, yes we can. The Bible tells us that everyone recognizes the moral law written on their hearts in Romans 2:14-15, but that’s not the question we’re asking. The question is, Where does morality come from, and can there be objective morality without God? What is the best explanation for the existence of moral duties and obligations? This is called “the grounding question.” What’s the foundation for morality? Let me illustrate... Suppose you see a friend reading and you ask, “What are you reading?” Your friend replies, “I’m reading a newspaper article about current tax legislation in Congress.” You follow up with another question: “Sounds interesting. Who wrote the article?” Now, imagine your friend looks at you, puzzled, and says, “I don't need to know who wrote the article in order to read it. Look, I’m reading the article right now.” Think about it, is your friend correct? Can they read an article without knowing who the writer is? Absolutely. But imagine your friend continues: “You know what, I don’t even believe in writers. They don’t exist. But that’s never stopped me from reading.” Again, can your friend read articles without a belief in writers? Absolutely. But that is not the question you are asking. You want to know where the article comes from. In other words, who wrote it? You understand that articles are just the kind of thing that need their existence explained. In the same way, we are not concerned with whether or not the atheist can know moral values, just like you weren’t concerned with whether your friend could read the article. Our question is, What’s the best explanation for how morality came to be? Just like in the illustration, you asked how the article came to be. If we have discovered a feature of reality, like newspaper articles or objective moral values, where do they come from? What best explains their existence? Clarification #2: We must distinguish between objective morality and subjective morality. When I claim there are objective moral values and obligations, I don’t mean I like them or prefer them. They aren’t just “my truths” or my beliefs. I mean that morality is real and objectively true. It’s true for all of us at all times and places. Objective truths are true whether anyone believes them or not. Here’s another way of putting it. On December 14, 2012, at approximately 9:30 A.M., Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and gunned down 20 children between the ages of six and seven, as well as six adult staff members. Adam Lanza’s actions were objectively wrong. And when I say they were objectively wrong, I don't mean that I simply don’t like them. I do not mean that his actions were wrong because we’ve all agreed hurting people is wrong. I mean Adam Lanza’s actions were objectively wrong, whether anyone thought so or not.
How Morality Proves God Exists
The Argument With these two clarifications, we are now ready to look at the argument that God is the best explanation for morality. Point 1: If God exists, then we have a reasonable foundation for objective moral values and duties. When we begin to reflect on morality, we discover various features. These features of morality are best explained by a personal God who is the origin of morality. Lets look at these features. God’s existence provides a sound foundation for moral values. Morality has an “oughtness” to it. It imposes obligations on us. How can such a thing be? Laws don’t just pop out of nowhere; they are not random; and they don’t evolve as part of nature. If moral laws are cosmic or evolutionary accidents, why are we obliged to obey them? Moral laws with true obligation must come from a proper authority. The only reasonable answer is if there are moral laws, there must be a moral law-giver. The will, character, and authority of the law-giver accounts for the moral force (incumbency) the law has. It tells us something more: We are accountable to that law-giver. And we are accountable to someone, a person. God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore, the highest good. God’s moral nature provides the objective standard by which good and evil are measured. If God exists, objective moral values exist, independent of what any individual or culture affirms. God’s existence provides a sound foundation for moral obligations. It seems clear that the obligation to obey a moral rules cannot exist independent of a person who has the appropriate authority and issues such rules. Imagine you have just finished a delicious meal at the local Chinese restaurant and your server has brought you a plate of fortune cookies. You open a cookie, pull out the little piece of paper tucked inside, and read your fortune that says, “Get up and leave now.” Notice, that’s a command. But do you feel any obligation to obey it? Of course not. Now, imagine instead, that you are sitting at the same Chinese restaurant and a customer at the next table looks over at you and says, “Get up and leave now.” Do you feel obligated to obey her command? Well, that depends. Your first response will probably be a question, “And who are you exactly?” If she replies, “I’m just a customer like you, but I want you leave now,” you are under no obligation to obey her. However, if she says, “I’m an undercover FBI agent and we’re about to take down the owner of this restaurant,” you will feel an obligation to obey her command and leave the restaurant immediately. What has changed? In the third example, there is now an appropriate authority, a person with the moral authority, who stands behind the command. A law implies a Law-Giver. In the same way, God, the appropriate moral authority, issues moral rules that constitute our moral duties. God’s existence provides a sound foundation for moral accountability. Theism not only provides the appropriate personal authority that stands behind our moral obligations, it also provides the appropriate personal authority who holds us accountable for fulfilling those obligations. God holds all persons accountable for their moral actions. If there’s no one to hold us accountable for our moral choices, then there’s no moral accountability. There has to be someone we’re accountable to.
Foundation for Dignity and Rights
God’s existence provides a sound foundation for human dignity and equal human rights. What makes human beings good and valuable? Theism offers a plausible context for human value. God, a supremely valuable Being has created human beings in His image. It is this common human nature, imprinted with God’s image, which all humans share equally, that provides us with a basis for human dignity. You and I are intrinsically valuable in virtue of the fact we are created by God and made in His image. If we’re just more highly evolved than other creatures, there’s nothing intrinsically valuable about us. Only God can explain why human beings have inherent value. God’s existence provides a sound foundation for human freedom. Agents cannot make free moral choices, unless they are able to act by exercising their own free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then moral responsibility makes no sense. So freedom is a necessary condition for meaningful moral action. Theism explains this: We are created by God, in His image, with the power to exercise free will.
What Atheism Can’t Explain
Point 2: If God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties. When we look at the features of morality, this time on an atheistic worldview, we discover the inadequacy of naturalism to provide an adequate ground for morality. Let’s look at the five features again. Atheism cannot adequately explain moral values. If God does not exist, it is difficult to see what basis there is for the existence of objective moral values. Moral values do not fit in a world of only natural, physical things. On a naturalistic view, moral values could only be the result of biological evolution, purely for the purpose of survival. But that wouldn’t make them good or moral. They’d simply be accidents of evolution that could have turned out some other way if chance had sent it that direction. Atheists recognize the unnatural fit. J.L. Mackie, one of the most prominent atheist philosophers of the 20th century, said this: “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful god to create them.” Atheism cannot adequately explain moral obligations. If humans are simply more developed animals, there couldn’t be moral duties we’re obligated to obey. Male great white sharks are under no obligation to refrain from forcibly mating with female great whites. Male lions are under no obligation to refrain from killing all the young lion cubs in a pride they have just taken over. Notice, we do not use moral terms to describe such behavior. We do not call the shark’s behavior “rape” and we do not call the lion’s behavior “infanticide.” It’s just what animals do because they have no moral obligations. Natural science is a descriptive enterprise, only telling us what is the case in nature, not what ought to be. It only tells us what is the case without saying if it’s good or evil. On a naturalistic view, there is nothing to issue moral commands and there is no one to serve as the appropriate authority standing behind our moral obligations. In the absence of God, the concept of moral obligations is incoherent. Atheism cannot adequately explain moral accountability. If God does not exist, there is no basis for moral accountability. On naturalism, who or what imposes moral obligations on us? And who or what would hold us to those obligations? In a purely material universe, there is no moral accountability. In an atheistic universe, there no reason no to disregard your moral obligations because no one is holding you accountable. If something promotes survival and you can get away with it, there’s no reason not to do it because you have no moral obligations. Only the obligation of survival. Atheism cannot adequately explain human value. On a naturalistic evolutionary scenario, human beings are nothing special. Evolution is a blind process of chance, and that includes us. The same process that coughed up bacteria, also coughed up humans. There is nothing intrinsically valuable about being human. Indeed, on this view, to think human beings are special is to be guilty of “speciesism,” the view that one’s own species is somehow superior to other species. Humans are no more valuable than bacteria. There is no reason to think that an impersonal, valueless process could produce valuable persons with rights that should be protected. Atheism cannot adequately explain human freedom. If we are the products of evolutionary forces, we have no moral freedom or responsibility. If we’re products of evolutionary chance, then we have no free will. We’re just c-fibers firing in our brains giving us the illusion of freedom, but strictly determining everything we think and do. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel states that there is “no room for agency in a world of neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements”; naturalism strongly suggests that we are “helpless” and “not responsible” for our actions. If there is no free will, then no one is morally responsible for anything. Determinism puts an end to objective moral duties because, we have no control over what we do. We are nothing more than puppets in a cause-and-effect universe.
Can there be morality without God? Here’s a simple formulation of the argument: Premise 1: If objective moral values exist, then God exists. Premise 2: Objective moral values exist. Conclusion: Therefore, God exists. God is the only rational explanation for objective moral values. If you deny God exists or you deny objective moral values exists, then we have no explanation for moral duties and obligations, human value and rights, or freedom and accountability. God is the best and only explanation for all these things we know exist.