Good Without God?

One of the major contentions of modern atheism/agnosticism is that it is possible to be good without needing to believe in God.  There are plenty of people, atheists will say, who belive in God who are not good.  And of course I agree.  Simply believing in God does not suddenly change a person into a good person.  But is the opposite true?  Is it possible to be good without believing in God?

If we are simply talking about a person’s actions, then the answer is “yes”.  There certainly are atheists who do good things.  There are all kinds of people all over the range of “religiosity” that donate time and money to good, worthy causes.  Of course agnostics and atheists do good things.

But it is with the next question that everyone tends to get nervous:  Does it make sense for atheists to do good things?

I would have to answer “no”. 

So, am I saying that we need some Big Guy in the sky cracking a whip over us in order to get us to do what is good?  Nope.  That’s not what I am saying.  I don’t think people need to see God as a Task-Master beating us into submission before they will do good.  I have already acknowledged that atheists do good things.  They presumably aren’t doing good things because they are afraid of the Angry Task-Master, or else they aren’t really atheists.

The reason it doesn’t make sense for atheists to do good things is because it is impossible to define what is good without talking about God.  Without some type of god, it is impossible to talk about good and bad.  There is no way to define “good” or “bad” without appealing to something outside of oneself to for a definition.

A common argument against what I am saying is put forth by Richard Dawkins, and many others.  In his The God Delusion, Dawkins proposes the idea that morality is determined by “the selfish gene”.  Basically the idea is that what is beneficial for survival is moral.  What extends our life is good and those things that benefit the evolutionary process are good, and the opposites are bad.

But why should this be the case?  For the Christian, we believe life is good because the Creator created us and loves us and is Life Himself.  But for someone who doesn’t believe in God, why should life be any “better” than death?  Why is life any more moral than death?  The problem with atheism is, if I was holding a gun to an atheist’s head (which I would never do), there is no logical argument that atheist could give me to not shoot him.

Without a standard of morality, “good” and “bad” lose their meaning.  Without a standard of morality, why is democracy any better than tyranny?  Love better than hate?  Freedom better than slavery?  Without a standard of morality, we are left with only moral relativism, which is to say, no morality at all.

And yet I said at the beginning that I believe that atheists do good things.  Why is that?  It’s not because it makes sense in their worldview.  It is because deep down, even atheists believe there is right and wrong, there is good and bad.  Deep down, even atheists can’t get away from the need for morality.  And this need for morality must ultimately point to a standard of good and bad outside of themselves.  Perhaps a moral atheist is closer to believing in God than he or she might think.

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (Answering the Critics #2)

Our discussion of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion will focus on Chapter 4, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, because this contains the central argument of the whole book. Dawkins sums up his argument in 6 points leading to a conclusion. These are provided below, not in exact quotes, but translated into language that one can understand without having read the first half of Dawkins’ book.

  1. One of the greatest challenges to human intellect is to explain the improbable, complex appearance of design which we observe around us.
  2. It seems only natural for humans to attribute the apparent design to a Designer.
  3. We must not attribute this apparent design to a Designer because it would lead to a “who designed the Designer” problem. If we conclude that a Designer designed the universe because we observe the universe to be complex, then surely the Designer is more complex than what He/She designed. If complexity shows that something was designed by a Designer, and the Designer of the universe is complex, then who designed the Designer of the universe? (This fallacy is called the fallacy of infinite regression).
  4. Darwinian evolution, that is, evolution through small degrees, has explained the illusion of design.
  5. We do not yet have a theory which explains the appearance of design in physics, as Darwinian evolution does for biology.
  6. Even though it is true that we do not yet have a theory to explain design in physics, the weak theories we do have are still better than the theory of an Intelligent Designer.

Conclusion: There almost certainly is no god.

There are a number of problems with Dawkins’ 6 statements. A number of them are questionable at best. For the moment, though, let us assume Dawkins’ statements are accurate. Even if all of them are true, there is a sort of bait-and-switch going on here. Throughout Dawkins’ argument, he is talking about Intelligent Design. In the conclusion, though, a switch happens. Dawkins no longer talks about Intelligent Design–he makes the jump to say that there is no God. It does not make sense to make a whole argument about Intelligent Design, and then end with a conclusion that is about the existence of God. In short, Dawkins’ conclusion does not follow from the premise. One cannot make an argument about Intelligent Design, and then follow it to a conclusion about the existence of God. Continue reading