Morality Without God

“A Thought-Provoking Book” series (post #3)

I have long believed that one of the best arguments against atheism goes like this: “If there is no God, there is no real motivation for men and women to live morally.” Putting it another way, if God doesn’t exist and my life can get easier or better by lying on my income taxes, stealing from my unsuspecting neighbor, or even killing my enemy, why wouldn’t I do it? I mean, with no God, it’s not like I’m going to be divinely punished or burn in hell. All I have to do is make sure that I don’t get caught and end up in jail.

We’ve now reached a time, though, when proponents of “the new atheism” are no longer intimidated by this classic defense for God’s existence. They correctly point out that in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution the idea of “the survival of the fittest” is misleading because Darwin’s definition of “the fittest” isn’t all about physical strength. In his way of thinking, the organisms and creatures who have the greatest capacity to survive and reproduce, not necessarily to dominate and kill off other organisms or creatures, are “the fittest.”

What this clarification of Darwin’s definition does is open the door for the new atheists to promote morality and human goodness as the building blocks for advancing a more successful version of the human race. For example, they contend that individuals shouldn’t murder, not because murder is a sin against some pie-in-the-sky god, but because the act takes away a potentially valuable asset to the betterment of the community. Similarly, they contend that individuals shouldn’t commit adultery, not because the act breaks one of the famous ten commandments, but because it weakens a marriage (whether that marriage be heterosexual or homosexual) and, thus, hurts the overall health of the community.

Okay, so what does all this have to do with our series on the book, Why I Left, Why I Stayed? It’s the fact that when Bart Campolo left Christianity he became a humanist chaplain, and a humanist chaplain is all about trying to make this world a better place. And what core truth does Bart “preach” in his efforts to reach this goal? The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

In his chapter “Godless Goodness: The Foundations of a Secular Morality,” he sings the praises of this Rule and explains that the rule itself predates Christianity by centuries. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for having done his homework when he says that the ancient Egyptians used the rule, as did Confucius in China, Thales in Greece, and Siddhartha in India. But then he says something that is at the very least high debatable. Concerning the Rule, he writes:

…versions of it appear in virtually all of the rest of the world’s great religions. Ironically, none of these faith traditions supposes that any kind of supernatural revelation is required for human beings to know how to treat one another. When it comes to morality, it seems, virtually everyone knows all we really need is everyday human empathy.

I offer this quote merely as a way of conveying what Bart believes about the Golden Rule, not because I agree with his opinion. For one thing, he says that none of the world’s great religions suppose that any kind of supernatural revelation is required for human beings to know how to treat one another. But in view of the fact that each of these religions does purport to be “supernatural revelation,” doesn’t that make his statement self-contradictory?

For another thing, I’m not about to sign off on the supposed truth that virtually everyone knows that all the human race really needs is everyday human empathy. Just because some people might be able to understand what I’m going through, that doesn’t mean they will give a rip about it or will feel motivated to help me in it. To the contrary, some of them might even enjoy watching me squirm.

Here’s another quote from Bart by which he seeks to make his case that mankind can be moral without God. He writes:

…I’m pretty sure there is no objective justification for human morality. Rather than being handed down in the Ten Commandments, the Five Pillars of Islam, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, or any other divine revelation, I think our deep sense of right and wrong has naturally grown up betwixt and between us as we’ve interacted over time in order to survive. Moreover, because that process is ongoing, I believe that besides being essentially subjective, human morality is also a moving target. The only constant, as far as I can tell, is that in the end we all define moral goodness according to whatever makes our own group flourish.

If I’m right, then it makes sense that so many norms, mores, and values are similar across cultures, because there are some laws of nature that apply equally around the world. Antisocial behaviors like lying, murder, and incest don’t work for anyone under any circumstances over the long run, so they are universally proscribed.

Obviously, Bart Campolo and his fellow new atheists are steering atheism down a fresh path. Whereas atheists of days gone by loved to rail against all religion, Campolo and his fellow humanist chaplains actually compliment religion for the important role it has long played in making society moral. As they see it, it wasn’t God who introduced mankind to morality; it was mankind who invented God as a cosmic Judge to help us live the way we instinctively felt we should live. Therefore, religions were beneficial for a while, but now that we’ve evolved to a higher state, we should be dropping the imaginary Judge.

This presupposition causes me to ask myself the question, “If I knew for a certainty that God doesn’t exist, would I choose to live more morally or more immorally?” My answer is, I would live more immorally. I would be a self-centered loner. I wouldn’t care about the greater good. I would get revenge when I was wronged. I would lie, cheat, and do whatever else it took to get my way.

By the way, before you gasp in horror at my honest admission, you’d best look in the mirror and assess yourself. Perhaps some of you might have oceans of innate goodness just oozing out of your pores, but many of you will find that you are in the same condition as me. And you know what? That makes you a card-carrying member of the human race.

Do I think that someone has to believe in God in order to exhibit goodness? No. The fact is that atheists pay their bills, treat others well, and live lives of decency. Many of them even work in the Red Cross, FEMA,  and all kinds of other helpful organizations.

Likewise, I know that eliminating the idea of God altogether wouldn’t cause us all to go out raping and pillaging. Let’s not pretend, though, that the world is filled with warm, fuzzy feelings just dying to be expressed via acts of loving service. Let’s not pretend either that it’s only a matter of time — eons of time, that’s always the fundamental requirement for evolution — before mankind reaches an idyllic state wherein we have weeded out greed, selfishness, and aggression as nothing more than unproductive genes.

Perhaps the most glaring problem with the theory of evolution is that things don’t get progressively better over time. To the contrary, science’s Second Law of Thermodynamics teaches that natural processes tend to move toward disorder rather than order. In the Pollyannish world of Bart Campolo and other new atheists, however, mankind is figuring it out as we go and we’ll eventually reach a state of general goodness without God. Coming from people who supposedly deal in only facts and reality, that strikes me as being amazingly illogical, nonsensical, and downright naive, especially considering mankind’s history.

Of course, the Bible that Bart Campolo and the other new atheists reject aligns perfectly with what we see in the real world. That Bible tells us that the human race fell into sin and is now fatally marred and prone to immoral behavior on an individual scale, a national scale, and a global scale. Furthermore, that same Bible tells us that apart from God interjecting Himself into human history, our race would continue to limp along like a moral cripple who can’t help but drift toward bad behavior.

So, if Bart and his fellow atheists want to deny the existence of God, that’s their right, but they needn’t try to convince me that mankind can somehow evolve to a Utopian state of morality. Sure, if everyone lived by the Golden Rule 100% of the time we might actually reach that state. Unfortunately, though, we don’t all live by the Golden Rule 100% of the time. Even more than that, our inborn human nature ensures that we can’t.

To believe otherwise is to buy into the false, unattainable dream of Gene Roddenbury’s world of Star Trek. That’s a world in which the people of Earth have done away with their belief in any kind of god, have come together to solve all their problems, and have moved out into space to explore the far reaches of the stars. But what entertainment genre does Star Trek fall into? That would be the genre of science fiction. And that’s exactly where it should fall because if you want to talk about myths and fairy tales, that one just might be the biggest one of all.

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2 Responses to Morality Without God

  1. Malcolm Woody says:

    Solid, very solid series… The humanist points to evolution as the source of biological diversity and now they have added morality, but how do they answer the question: Where did our morality evolve from? In my limited view, I see morally taking the same trek underscored by the second law of thermodynamics. It is evolving, but it is digressing more and more into disorder, and ultimately it lands, for the humanist anyway, into the rather disturbing camp of moral relativism. From whatever starting point (God, to us as Christians) the origin of morality occurred, it has fallen significantly from the original model. Think about this fact for just a moment, more people were killed at the hands of other humans in the 20th century than all the other centuries of the AD calendar combined. Now, where is the moral evolution in that?

    • russellmckinney says:

      Good point. I didn’t know that stat about killings. All I can say is that anyone who thinks that deep down on the inside people want to obey the Golden Rule hasn’t been Christmas shopping lately.

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