I have had the pleasure of engaging dialog on things of faith and science with atheist friends and family on more than one occasion. Either the conversation has centered around the evidence for a Creator, or it has centered on the foundation of morality. I am, in this post, more interested about atheism and inferred foundations of ethics and morality.
A while back, there was an advertising campaign in London, if I recall correctly, that questioned the need to believe in God to be ‘good.’
The question that should follow is this: why be good for goodness’ sake? For the sake of argument, let us assume a materialistic world-view: suppose there is no God. All that exists is matter that has collected itself into different forms by natural processes without any intervention outside of nature. This matter either created itself ex nihilo, from nothing, or has existed for eternity. Those options are all that is reasonably available to the materialist without regard to the cosmological flavor to the day.
Following that matter is all there is, then life must be a product of natural forces and processes, some inferred to be random, and is imbued with no special significance other than that found in the unimaginable enormity of the odds stacked against life rising from said undirected natural processes. We are here, to reiterate, due only to natural selection driven by random mutation and environmental pressures.
The bottom line is this: all there is…is matter. Following inexorably is death. All life ends in death and the annihilation of self, of consciousness, for the self-aware. All that remains is the decayed flesh and the memories of self carried by those who briefly remain after one departs, dies. Those memories, too, will be eventually be erased by time as will every edifice, every proud monument, constructed by the defiant, hairless ape. To assert otherwise is shear irrational romanticism, perhaps itself a survival mechanism born in light of consciousness, of self-awareness aware of death, before a vast, uncaring universe.
So then, we courageously exhort one another, given what ultimately lies before us, to be good for goodness sake. Again, why? How can anything be called evil, or good, in light of mere insensate matter being the ultimate arbiter? Do we call the actions, the effects, of tornadoes, chipmunks, and supernova good or evil? No, we do not. In a materialistic context, we can only say we prefer one action over another. We can only say some things are better for the functioning of society than others. Common good of society becomes the arbiter of good and evil. Again, why? Why should I care about the common good of society? Pragmatism, utilitarianism fail here. Who decides what is the common good? Society, a majority? What about societies with differing standards? Why should I, as an individual, even care about the common good? Is survival of the species the most important moral imperative? The earth, the universe, does not care on whit if humanity lives another moment or a thousand millennia. To state otherwise is, again, unabashed, irrational romanticism. Ultimately, there are no consequences for behavior if one can get away with it. Death is the common leveler and materialism is the ultimate reducing agent of morality.
The bottom line is this: humanity has no intrinsic value if we are only products of blind natural forces and process; there is no firm foundation for morality. Atheism, in its reductionism and when honestly examined, places a value on humanity that is tenuous and at very best utilitarian. The question that follow is this, who, or what, imbues us with this utilitarian value? Progressive, secular, egalitarian, compassionate societies in the west engage abortion on demand, infanticide, and euthanasia. Do you remember the circumstances that bought about the death of Terri Schiavo?
I can’t let others off the hook. Just any theism won’t do. Pantheism -belief in a impersonal ‘all is god, god is all’ – , foundational to much of New Age spiritualism, and deism – belief in an uninvolved, impersonal ‘watchmaker god’-, what many embrace, acknowledged or not, in actual function, are really in little better, if any, condition to provide intrinsic value to humanity. Too, what of that errant offspring of orthodox Christianity, the progressive Universalist, those who assert that eventually all go to heaven? Essentially, this is just a weak-kneed flip-side to atheism. In some respects, I would love for Univeralism to be true, but if so, there would be no accountability for moral actions if there is no punishment, no retribution for evil, no justice. Here is an undemanding god of love, but without the absolute holiness of the triune God. Is Stalin in heaven with the god of Univeralism?
Also, I absolutely do not infer that atheists are better or worse than theists in their ethics and behaviors. All I am saying is that their moral foundation is, consciously or not, second-hand, pirated, derived from that which they have rejected. Also, I do not infer that belief in God equals high morality in practice. People obviously act in opposition to what they profess to believe all the time. That many have done evil in the name of religion does not invalidate the assertion that a personal, transcendental God is foundational for morality.
It is only the fact that mankind, even in our fallen state, is created in the image of the personal, holy Triune God of the Old and New Testament that we find any intrinsic value and worth.
I want to end on the following, on the day before Christmas, with these words from an earlier post:
As profound and foundational are the doctrines of the trinity and the physical resurrection of the Messiah, and absolutely in no means do I intend to diminish their import, it is the incarnation of our Savior that leaves me most breathtakingly at a loss for words. That Christ, fully almighty God, immutable and fully in transcendence over creation, Who spoke into existence, ex nihilo, the natural order, should step out of eternity and condescend to take on flesh, a sinless human nature, and, out of love, subject Himself to a fallen creation, leaves me wanting for words. Christ, God almighty, His incarnation realized by His conception and virgin birth to Mary, was obedient to Father God to the point of death on the cross to provide propitiation for sin and, after defeating death, will for eternity forward, walk with us as we behold His cross-scarred body. Here we find incomprehensible truths that followers of the Messiah will feast on for eons.
How unbelievable is this grace to the ears of those who think that God grades us on a curve. How odd to the ears is this grace to those we engage some sort of concept of karma. How unbelievable is the transcendent God is to those who engage a the fuzzy self-deification of new-age, neo-pagan pantheism. How daunting and unbelievable is the true, utterly independent and omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the Bible to those who engage those strains of liberal protestantism who travel with the impotent, dependent god of panentheism. How simply unbelievable it is to so many that we simply cannot approach and commune with the absolute holy God of creation on our own devices, on our own righteousness, but only through the cross of Christ.
Here is hope for a broken, sin ravaged world: Repent, acknowledge and turn away from your sin, your rebellion and disobedience to God, and believe, trust, in Christ, fully sinless man and fully God, who physically rose from the grave defeating death, for the forgiveness of sin so that God counts to you the righteousness of Christ when He looks upon you that you may spend eternity with Him. That is the Good News.
Wishing all a Merry Christmas!