By Jeff Ware, Student Life Pastor
This is a question that is often raised by people with a non-Christian worldview. To answer this question, there are many things to consider and many different viewpoints to which we must look. My initial response would be that according to the Bible, there is no one, regardless of religion, race, creed, etc., that inherently is "good" (Romans 3:9-23). The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even if we do something "good," the measure of our goodness or righteousness before Almighty God is still not up to His standards (Isaiah 64:6). Of course, this is clearly from a Christian worldview and states that every person is hardwired with a desire towards sin rather than righteousness. Yet the question remains, does this mean that no morality can exist apart from God? Are atheists incapable of being moral? The simple answer is no, and it reminds us that even the Christian or religious person can also be immoral at times.* In fact, any Christian who insists they have no sin problem is a liar according to the Bible (1 John 1:8-9). I think an argument can be made that humans (whether religious or not) can, in fact, do "good" things, but without God and His purposes in mind, even those things are only extensions of self-righteousness. So, I think the better question to ask is what defines morality and why is it important? I think that everyone at their core understands that some things are morally right while others are wrong, but where does this come from? My argument is that only the Christian worldview can satisfy an answer to this question. No reasonable person, regardless of religious or nonreligious persuasion, can rightfully say that all morality is subjective. In other words, there are things that all can agree are absolutely right or absolutely wrong. For instance, no rational human being would say that the Holocaust was ok or good. But from where did this idea of right and wrong stem? The Christian worldview answers this question in what is known as the Moral Argument for God.
Premise 1: If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists. *
What this is saying is that all moral absolutes depend on an absolute moral law giver. The God of the Bible is the only one that meets these criteria. Now, you may have heard someone argue before that all truth is relative. The problem with this view, of course, is that if I wrong you, you still get angry or sad or hurt, but why? Because morality cannot be merely relative. In Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic, The Brothers Karamazov, there is a piece of conversation that states, "You mean everything is permitted? Everything is permitted, is that right, is it?"* This line of thinking would lead to destruction and outrage. If all things are relative and anything is permitted, then nothing would be truly evil or good. Still, again, we know that there are inherently good and evil things, so the argument of relativism is defeated.
To put it another way:
Biblical Christianity not only articulates the common ethical standards that transcend culture, it also explains the origins of mankind's moral awareness. It "helps make sense of how [our] moral faculties could have come about in the first place," notes Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland. "How is it that humans can have intuitional insight into the nature of morality? God has created us to know moral values."*
The reason we have a concept of a moral law within each of us is because the God of the Bible created us with this moral law hardwired within each person. Without the Law Giver, the law itself would be rendered useless and empty (Romans 2:15). So, can man be good without God? I think not.
* "Can Atheists Be Moral? That's the Wrong Question," ReasonableTheology.org, June 05, 2015, , accessed August 9, 2022, https://reasonabletheology.org/can-atheists-be-moral-thats-the-wrong-question/.
*"Moral Argument," AllAboutPhilosophy.org, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/moral-argument.htm.
*FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (S.l.: SC ACTIVE BUSINESS DEVELO, 2017), 263.
*Nathan Busenitz, Reasons We Believe: 50 Lines of Evidence that Confirm the Christian Faith.