Whether in person or on the internet, I’ve often heard an atheist assert that nobody needs God (or belief in Him) to do good. As PZ Myers puts it, we “do good because we’re happy to help our communities and see our fellow human beings thrive.” He asserts this while at the same time also asserting (as Carlton Wynne summarizes):
there is no transcendent purpose to guide life’s decisions, no plan according to which all is moving, no divine foundation for interpersonal relations, and therefore no rules to norm our behavior.
A few comments: if there are no rules and no purpose and no foundation for ethics (as Atheists claim either explicitly or implicitly by their reasoning), first off, how can we call anything “good”? What is “good” if there is no absolute standard? An atheist might respond, “well, the vast majority of us know that things like helping our neighbor is good, so of course there is meaning when we call that ‘good’”. But, what if all of a sudden the majority of us change our mind? Would “good” change too?
Personally, I do not understand how else to explain what “good” and “bad” are in the atheistic worldview other than saying that they must be whatever the majority in a community, culture, or country think. In other words, “might makes right.” Atheists may deny this, but what other explanation can they give that is not relative? So, PZ Meyers can say:
Oh, sure, you still feel guilty if you harm people — and that is right and appropriate.
But, I would say to him, “on what basis can you call that ‘right’ and ‘appropriate’”?
For instance, in the atheist worldview, what is wrong with the following conclusion by atheist and murderer Jeffrey Dahmer:
If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing …
How can this be considered ultimately “bad” by PZ Meyers?
What’s really going on when an atheist asserts that certain things are “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “appropriate,” has been summed up well by Carlton Wynne:
Myers, despite his insistence that he is an undesigned biological happenstance somehow morally accountable to other biological happenstances, is actually made in the image of God. As such, he is confronted by the personal presence and covenantal demands of this God with every tweet, every chortle, every breath he takes, every volley he lobs at Christians. But instead of repenting of his arrogant refusal to submit to the sovereign authority and care of his Creator, Myers, like our first father, Adam, runs from God and attempts to hide himself in the forest that owes its very existence to divine generosity. In other words, he purports to co-opt for atheists what only God can and does give–the possibility of respect for human dignity, the pleasure of productivity, a longing for life in the face of death–and stitches these gifts together to adorn his supposed autonomy when at most he only masks his shame (cf. Gen 3:10). Myers portrays these as the fruits of his default position instead of acknowledging that he has ripped these fig leaves from the life-giving soil of their God-given purpose. With a certain biological self-consciousness, Paul foretells the real result of this kind of thinking: “[T]he end of those things is death” (Rom 6:20-21). When set against their Maker, those covering leaves shrivel up and expose the nakedness of a rebellious creature of the dust. [emphasis added by me]
I hope you didn’t skip over that quote. I know it’s long, but it’s rather profound! The point is that atheists can only make their assertions by borrowing from the Christian worldview, or as Wynne put it, by ripping “these fig leaves from the life-giving soil of their God-given purpose.” The only reason people have a general sense of “good” that Myers appeals to is because God made everyone in His image with a conscience. If our world was somehow uncreated and evolved as Myers would claim, then we wouldn’t even be here having this discussion! The very air that Myers breathes out in anger towards a God who supposedly does not exist, is the very same air that God in His mercy gave Myers to breathe. Oh, that we who believe would praise God for our lives and our every breath as a gift from Him!