What is the connection between belief in God and morality?
Atheists and Christians often debate such questions. In this case, the politician’s answer is true: it really does depend upon what you mean by ‘God’ and ‘without’.
In fact, atheists not only can, but must be (at least to some extent) good without believing in God—even if they hate God with every inch of their being. If they are really made in the image of God as the Bible teaches (Genesis:1:27), then that fact must have some results. They, like all of us, are fallen (as explained in Genesis 3), but even so must still have an in-built sense of the reality and the importance of right and wrong. The very fact that atheists routinely argue that this or that is moral or immoral, and that such matters are important, bespeaks that fact. Unless that were so then the Bible would start to look suspect. When society comes across someone who really does seem to have mostly wiped out the ideas of right and wrong from their mind, we label them as insane and lock them in padded cells. We don’t just say, ‘If that’s what you like, then we’ll respect your choice.’
If atheists were generally able to throw off all the shackles of morality and live their lives consistently with atheism, we’d be worried. If they could consistently live out such ideas as, ‘We’re just here to pass on our selfish genes’, ‘Survival of the fittest’ or ‘Life is ultimately all without meaning or purpose’, it would put a serious question mark over the record given to us in Genesis. It would be evidence that maybe they weren’t creatures made by God after all, and that atheism might actually be true.
Believing that man is nothing more than a cosmic fluke, they realise that this means that ultimately morality is just something that was put together in the human mind, a product of evolution which has no more real authority over our behaviour than any other activity of the human mind.
The fact, though, that most atheists find themselves unable to live out such ideas is reassuring; instead, they find it necessary to live as if morality were real, hunting around for far-fetched arguments to justify this.
There are of course some atheists who have been more consistent, at least in their theoretical thinking. Believing that man is nothing more than a cosmic fluke, they realise that this means that ultimately morality is just something that was put together in the human mind, a product of evolution which has no more real authority over our behaviour than any other activity of the human mind. It’s got no more compulsion (‘you ought to do this’) than anything else thrown up by our brain cells—such as, for example, immorality! One person thinks that we should not hurt our neighbour; the cannibal, though, thinks that it’s OK to eat him. And both of those ideas are nothing more than the result of chemicals fizzing around in our heads. Neither has any real authority—they are ultimately just personal preferences.
Frederich Nietzsche, the famous atheist who said, ‘God is dead’, saw that this was where the logic led. He wrote that ‘our moral judgments and evaluations are only images and fantasies based on a physiological process unknown to us.’ The last century saw what happened when evolutionary philosophy was put into practice: Nazi genocide and euthanasia, millions butchered by Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Even today, ‘ethicists’ like Peter Singer support infanticide, and evolutionary envirofanatics propose population extermination. Two evolutionists wrote a book claiming that rape was a device for men to perpetuate their genes—one of the authors tied himself in knots trying to explain why rape was still wrong under his own philosophy. Fortunately, most atheists don’t carry their atheism to its logical conclusion like these horrific examples.
In any case, any atheist philosophising nicely about such systems of amorality would, in real life, be quickly brought back to his senses by a punch on the nose. He would quickly get back his old feelings about the reality of right and wrong, and start talking like a theist again, telling his assailant that what was done to him was ‘wrong’—no arguments! Don’t try telling him that his attacker’s brain is wired differently, the result of genes mutating in a different direction so that for him punching the atheist was right—he won’t accept it!
The fact is, though, that when atheists are concerned about good, or are being good, none of that is ‘being good without God’. It’s the opposite—being good with God, because God really exists and they are made in His image. To actually talk about being ‘good without God’, we would need to take a journey into a different universe: the mental universe of atheism. Because the image of God is impressed upon our nature as created beings, we’ve all assumed some ideas about right and wrong. But what kind of idea of morality is logically consistent with atheism, the idea of a universe in which we’re just highly-evolved pond goo?