Can you be good without God? Of the various questions raised in the theist/atheist debate, this question has, I believe, occasioned more witless commentary than any other.
–Michael Egnor, Evolution News & Views 2017-09-05
I couldn’t agree more. And you’ll find no better example of that witless commentary than Egnor’s article itself.
The answer to the question we started with hinges on what you mean by “without God.” Let’s take a look.
- If God does not exist, you cannot be good. You cannot be evil. You can’t conform or fail to conform to any transcendental standard, because if there is no God, there are no transcendental standards. There is no Moral Law if there is no Moral Lawgiver. If there is no God, there are merely opinions and consequences of acting on opinions. We may label certain opinions “good,” but that’s just our opinion. What we really mean by calling something “good” is that we like it. Which is fine, as long as we understand that “good without God” is just a metaphor for “something I (or we) like.” If there is no God, all of our “moral” decisions are just opinions — perhaps opinions we like, or opinions we don’t like — but neither good nor bad.
Beg the question much?
This is a load of crap from beginning to end. Dr. Egnor starts with the assumption that good and evil are defined, can only be defined, with respect to God. Why can’t we define good and evil with respect to human welfare? That’s not explained. “…if there is no God, there are no transcendental standards”? Bullshit. Slavery (for example) is evil. It was evil when (some) people thought it was good, and it will still be evil (if, hopefully not, it still exists) 10,000 years from now. Ditto rape. Ditto murder. They’re evil because they are contrary to human welfare. If you need God to tell you these things are evil, I truly pity you.
Dr. Egnor derides secular views of good and evil as ‘just opinions’, but his definition boils down to ‘God’s opinions’. Faced with a choice between the opinions of man (who exists) and those of God (who almost certainly doesn’t), I’ll take the moral philosophers over the fictional character.
2. If God does exist, but you don’t believe in Him, then of course you can be “good without God”, in the sense that you can be good without believing in God.
No shit, Sherlock.
It is central to the moral theology of all the great faiths that non-believers may act in accordance with Moral Law without belief in God and even without knowing Moral Law in any formal sense. The Moral Law is written in our hearts, theists universally agree, and we feel the weight of morality whether we believe in God or not.
Well, that’s awfully damn generous of you: God gives us an understanding of good and evil whether we believe in Him or not. Do you notice the bullet-proof immunization against evidence? Knowledge of good and evil can only come from God. Okay, but there’s this guy over here says he don’t believe in God, and he acts pretty good. Well, you see, God put the knowledge of good and evil in him!
Now of course an additional question can be asked: Do theists actually behave better than atheists? I think this is the question that ticked off the atheists in the essay.
Yes, that’s actually the part that ticked off atheists. The essay in question is one more piece of evidence that atheists are among the most reviled minorities. Is there some reason we shouldn’t be ticked off about the perception that we are more likely to be serial killers? That’s actually what the poll said:
…researchers led by Will M. Gervais, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, discovered that most individuals intuitively conclude that a serial killer is more likely to be an atheist (approximately 60 percent) than religious (approximately 30 percent).
What delicate snowflakes we are, to get ticked off about being called serial killers!
Back to Dr. Egnor:
Atheists, however, are on quicksand when they argue about “goodness” and “evil,” given that their metaphysics, if taken seriously, utterly rules out the existence of either. Also, it would seem to me that atheists could be a bit more contrite in light of the fact that whenever they have assumed state power — from the Reign of Terror to the gang currently launching missiles from North Korea — atheism has brought hell to earth.
This is anti-atheist bigotry, pure and simple. Imagine substituting any other group for atheists in that last sentence:
Also, it would seem to me that
atheistsEuropeans could be a bit more contrite in light of the fact that whenever they have assumed state power — from the Reign of TerrorAdolf Hitler to the gang currently launching missiles from North KoreaBenito Mussolini— atheismEuropean leadership has brought hell to earth.
Also, it would seem to me that
atheistsChristians could be a bit more contrite in light of the fact that whenever they have assumed state power — from the Reign of TerrorFerdinand and Isabella to the gang currently launching missiles from North KoreaIvan the Terrible— atheismChristianity has brought hell to earth.
Also, it would seem to me that
atheistswomen could be a bit more contrite in light of the fact that whenever they have assumed state power — from the Reign of TerrorWu Zetian to the gang currently launching missiles from North KoreaBloody Mary— atheismfemale leadership has brought hell to earth.
All of those statements are daft, cherry picking the examples that best support the pre-determined conclusion while ignoring the many counter-examples.
I know the saying “there’s no such thing as a stupid question,” but if there ever was a stupid question, “Can you be good without God” is it. Think about the unspoken assumptions required to even ask it. Imagine I asked if it was possible for members of some other demographic to be good. Not if they were more or less good on average, but whether it was even possible for them to be good. You’d probably call me a bigot, and you’d be right.
Where do people get the idea that atheists are immoral? From ‘witless commentary’ like Dr. Egnor’s.