Conversations with an Atheist

"Can a person be good without believing in God?" asked my atheist friend. He said that human beings need not believe in a deity or belong to any religious group in order to be good or act morally. He continued to say that the idea of the doing good preceded belief in a god, for religion evolved from the imagination of ancient man. In fact, he believed that the concept of god is alien to the algorithm of human goodness and morality. Humans already have a sense of moral right or wrong, for moral rectitude is innate within the human spirit.

I agreed with his last sentence, but disagreed with the origin. It is true that human beings have an innate sense of moral goodness. But where did that come from? Did it develop from monkeys or other genetics within the evolutionary chain of human kind? Or did a Greater Power place it within the human spirit? Probing deeper, I asked him to define good. I wanted to know his definition of good and if every human being had the same definition. What my friend failed to realize is that an atheist's morals are not absolute. Not every atheist would agree with what “good” is. Islamist extremists, for instance, believe that good is killing infidels, i.e. everyone who does not accept or conform to Islam. A secular humanist in all likelihood has no problem eliminating a child from the womb. They believe it is good for the woman to choose what is best for her. The sanctity of life people believe that killing the unborn is murder.

In other words, there are no absolutes when it comes to morals and ethics among an atheistic community. They do not have a set of moral laws upon which they agree. Therefore, social contracts or compacts are desirable to govern with a semblance of peace and order. Legislation is needed in order to prevent chaos within the community. Even a codified set of laws, however, are not absolute, for the legal system of what is right and wrong may change when the majority in society believes something different. Then new laws are made to reflect contemporary attitudes. For instance, in one century abortion is wrong; in another, it is right.

If there is a God, killing the unborn in a Christian society is wrong. If there is no God, then man decides the issue? If killing serves the best interest of society, then it is determined good. This is none other than situational or temporary ethics. It is tentative morality that promotes, “whatever works best at the moment is morally correct.” If humans have the innate ability to determine what is ethically right, then why is the world in such a mess? Defining good by individual atheistic standards is dangerous in that the majority determines what is good at the moment. If a totalitarian political system is established (as we see with Islamic Jihadists), then a mandate to kill dissenters, the mentally and physically handicap, or Christians and Jews become morally feasible. Atheists who may disagree with such a government will nonetheless tacitly join forces to preserve their self-interest because that is what their inner morality tells them to do. Atheistic morality therefore becomes a standard of convenience, of self-preservation and cannot be deemed an absolute.

Although people, including Christians, are inconsistent in applying their value system to life, a world and life view is based on ethics and morals. If morals are relative, then behavior corresponds. Doing that which is right in one’s own eye is quite dangerous, for it is the way of death (Prov. 14:12), not only for the individual, but also for society. Something bigger than the individual has to exist in order to bring order to chaos and judgment to evil. Atheistic thought cannot provide the answer, for there are no absolutes upon which to build consistency and order. Only God who is absolute can provide absolutes—a reality unacceptable to atheists but the hope of all Christians.