On one of my YouTube videos, a viewer by the name of “Bernard Da Costa” asked me the following question: “Chris, would you rape and (or) murder someone if you didn’t believe in God?” My obvious response was, “No, Bernard, of course not!”
This comment was made on a video I did titled “Morality Without God”. Notice the video is not titled “Morality Without Believing in God”; this is why the question is confused. I am not arguing, nor have I ever argued, that people who do not believe in God cannot be good people. I know many atheists who are good people; I have friends who are professing atheists, although I disagree with them on a number of things, obviously. Atheists can be good people; sometimes even more so than Christians, so I am not arguing that you cannot be good without believing in God. I am arguing that good does not exist apart from God, which is something very different.
If you think that such a thing as good exists, how do you affirm this good; how is the good grounded, and how does it objectively apply to everyone? Richard Dawkins has said that good and bad really don’t exist; “there is no right, wrong, or evil, nothing but pitiless indifference.” This is precisely what you would expect if there is no God. For if there is no ultimate and necessary good, namely God, why think that good exists in the first place? Moreover, if it did exist apart from God, how would we come to discover it, and why would it be obligatory for us to be good?
Why think that, if we are advanced primates, killing or raping someone is objectively wrong? Don’t get me wrong, of course I think these acts are wrong. As a matter of fact, I know they are wrong, but the question is how can they be wrong for us if we are only advanced primates? Activities that look like rape and murder happen all the time in the animal kingdom. If God does not exist, that’s all we are; there’s nothing intrinsically special about human beings. Some atheists have come to understand this and, therefore, have denied that objective moral values and duties exist, but if you say that God does not exist, and still think that objective moral values and duties do exist, what objective standard are you appealing to?
One could argue in favor of some sort of moral Platonism, supposing that good exists in some objective form, but that would also assume that bad does too. If good moral values exist, such as love, justice, and fairness, then bad moral values such as hate, injustice, and greed do too. If all of these values exist objectively, how do we know which values apply and when to apply them? Moral Platonism seems completely arbitrary and ad hoc. It seems a lot less convoluted to simply believe that an infinitely good God exists, and His commands are thus good and obligatory for us all.
Some might claim that this presents the so-called Euthyphro Dilemma, but this is obviously a false dilemma because it assumes only two alternatives; it’s a false dichotomy. I did a video proposing a solution to the so-called dilemma if you are interested in watching that one as well. The dilemma is avoided by simply proposing a third alternative.
Anyway, I hope I cleared this up a bit. Please don’t assume that I’m claiming that atheists can’t be good people because that misses the point entirely; the argument is a lot deeper than that. I would imagine that some people believe in God for the simple fact that they believe that good exists necessarily from personal experience, which is obviously a good place to start.
Reasonable Faith, written by William Lane Craig, is a great resource regarding this topic of God and morality.