Thursday, July 25, 2019

Morality Apart from God

I’ve noticed a recurring thread in atheistic thought that deserves some attention. Oftentimes, you will hear them express a fear of religious people, and particularly of Christians. It is not a fear that we will do them any harm. What they’re afraid of is the basis of our morality. They find it frightening when we say that it is impossible to be moral without the commandments of God. Christians, they believe, only try to live rightly because we are afraid. If biblical morality is a restraint on what we want to do, and what we would do without it, then that expresses a great darkness within us.

Another way to put this is that atheists believe it is possible to be moral without God. They do not need the fear of Him in order to be encouraged to do the right things. They do not have the desire to do the wrong things. Therefore, the argument goes, they are actually morally superior to Christians who only do the right things for the wrong reasons.

The Need for Boundaries

There are a few problems with this position. The first one is simple ignorance of human nature. The truth is that there is something wrong with us, all of us, and we do in fact require instruction in order to resist our self-destructive desires. By setting those restrictions aside, they blind themselves to their importance. Many atheists are proud of their moral living while at the same time celebrating fornication, homosexuality, gender confusion, abortion, drunkenness, drug use, bigotry against religious people, and governmental tyranny, among other things.

None of these things is actually moral. They come with natural consequences, not “merely” spiritual ones (though the spiritual ones will actually be far greater). They should be recognizable as wrong, but people put those thoughts aside to continue to engage in what they enjoy. They define them as being within their own version of morality, rather than within an objective one, and then claim that they are moral people. That is not righteousness. That is moving the goalposts in order to achieve self-righteousness.

It is so engrained that hardly any atheist will admit of it. They will simply continue to argue for the rightness of their wrong positions (and obviously, this is not limited to avowed atheists). But for the sake of the debate, let’s assume they would table those issues and others like it. They might instead point to the areas where they do behave morally. They do not murder their neighbors. They do not steal from work and lie to loved ones. They give to charities and support social justice causes. Why do they do these good things if morality is impossible apart from God?

This is where the real error comes in, and unfortunately, Christians have contributed to it through a lack of clarity. That is why I want to try to be clear here. Our position is not that it is impossible to behave morally without believing in God. It is that it is impossible for there to be good and evil without a God to establish the difference. Moral laws only make sense in reference to a moral lawgiver.

The Source of Boundaries

Murder is widely agreed to be the greatest form of evil a person can commit, so let’s use it as our example. On what basis can an atheist say that murder is wrong? They would probably scoff at the question, but let’s have the intellectual honesty to dive into it. It is wrong to harm another person, they might say. Ok, but again, why?

The response here will normally go in one of two ways. Either humans should not harm each other because they have equal dignity, or because we need one another and it is an evolutionary advantage to preserve the lives of others rather than taking them. Each of these answers takes us further down the rabbit hole. How can we have equal dignity? What is dignity? It is a statement of worth. And what gives us worth? Do we give it to ourselves? Then we can take it away. Does society give it? Then, again, society could decide to take it away. Would murder then be right? Was slavery right when societies said it was? Does the universe give us dignity? How could it, if it is an unthinking, unfeeling realm of pure physical existence?

As for the other answer, evolutionary advantage would be whatever is advantageous in any given moment. It is not a basis for an unchanging morality. Individuals can take advantage of situations in ways that cut against the common current, and with enough time, even the common current could change to permit of things that were previously forbidden. That is basically what people are arguing for when it comes to sexual ethics, but they would likely be appalled to hear that could happen with murder or slavery. Again we must ask, why? What offers moral stability?

Look at it yet another way. Atheism relies on essentially two, almost paradoxical assumptions in order to explain the universe as we find it. The first is that it is chaotically generated. There is no mind behind it to establish its proper functioning. Nature’s laws are purely accidental. The other is that nature’s laws, once accidentally established, are immutable. Our reality is mechanistic. Because we are purely physical, everything we think and do is predetermined by the physical reactions within and around us.

If that is true, how is it possible to be moral? Morality assumes a choice. You can do the right thing or the wrong thing, and it is up to you. If everything is determined, you are not free. You cannot be moral, and you cannot be held accountable for being immoral. There are no such categories. They are just some kind of illusion.

Some atheists actually believe in this illusion. It is better defined as a delusion. Belief itself is another choice, which puts the lie to the theory immediately. Morality exists. Choice exists. Responsibility exists. But atheism requires these things be ignored in an attempt to maintain philosophical consistency. When really put to the test, however, it fails.

The argument of Christians and other theists is that a basis for morality is needed in order for it to have coherency, not just force. And as a purely immaterial and intellectual concept, it needs an immaterial and intellectual source. You can behave morally without faith in God, but you cannot have morals without the existence of God. The universe on its own cannot provide an explanation for why we can recognize the difference between right and wrong. This vital distinction should not be ignored.

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