Why Do I Have To Believe In God to be Good?!
I am sometimes asked, “Why do I need to believe in God to be a good person?!” And my simple answer is: you don’t. But the question itself misses the point: One does not need to believe in God to be what society considers a “good person,” but there does have to be a God for there to be such a thing as “good.”
A moral law requires a source, and this source must be external to nature…because the natural/material world is itself valueless. One cannot locate good or bad under a microscope or isolate some good or bad in a test tube. Therefore science, which exists to examine the natural/material world, must necessarily be mute with regards to morality.
John C. Lennox notes in Gunning for God:
Albert Einstein, in a discussion on science and religion in Berlin in 1930, said that our sense of beauty and our religious instinct are: “tributary forms in helping the reasoning faculty towards its highest achievements. You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.” According to Einstein, therefore, science cannot form a base for morality: “Every attempt to reduce ethics to scientific formula must fail.” Richard Feynman, also a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, shared Einstein’s view: “Even the greatest forces and abilities don’t seem to carry any clear instructions on how to use them. As an example, the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it. The sciences do not directly teach good or bad.” Elsewhere he states: “Ethical values lie outside the scientific realm.”
Lennox continues by citing Jacques Monod in Chance and Necessity:
One of the great problems of philosophy is the relationship between the realm of knowledge and realm of values. Knowledge is what “is” and values are what “ought” to be. I would say that all traditional philosophies up to and including communism have tried to derive the “ought” from the “is”. This is impossible. If it is true that there is no purpose in the universe, that man is a pure accident, you cannot derive any ought from is.
And this is exactly what atheism claims humankind is…a purely purposeless accident that resulted from mindless natural processes. One must ask, How can moral values (good and bad) result from mindless natural processes?
Maybe they evolved, atheists have objected. Christian apologist William Lane Craig (whom atheists have constructed entire websites in trying to rebut) responds to this objection in On Guard:
…The objection is self-defeating. Given the truth of naturalism [the philosophical system upon which atheism rests], all our beliefs, not just our moral beliefs, are the result of evolution and social conditioning. Thus, the evolutionary account leads to skepticism about knowledge in general. But this is self-defeating because then we should be skeptical of the evolutionary account itself, since it, too, is the product of evolution and social conditioning! The objection therefore undermines itself.
Evolution selects for survival value, not for truth. So the next time someone says to you, “Human moral beliefs did not come from God, but evolved to provide survival value,” you can simply respond, “Your beliefs about the evolution of morals must have also evolved to provide survival value, and not truth. Therefore, your belief that morals evolved contains no objective truth.”
Philosopher Mikael Stenmark makes the same point in his book Scientism: Science, Ethics and Religion:
The argument [by certain atheist biologists] is that ethical norms or beliefs cannot be objective because they are merely the product of evolution. They are rather an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends and nothing else. But from the biological perspective science also is nothing else than a product of evolution. Thus, science cannot be objective, but is an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends and nothing else. But then there is no reason for us to believe that the objectivity of morality is an illusion because these biologists’ claim is merely the product of evolution. In fact, if their theory is true (that our behavior is firmly under the control of genes and that we function better if we believe in the objectivity of morality), then it would be very unlikely that these biologists would be able to discover that the objectivity of morality is an illusion. So if these scientific expansionists are right, they are probably wrong.
And, as infomercial pitchmen are fond of saying: But wait, there’s more! Using the naturalist account of the evolution of human beliefs as a guide, the naturalist belief system itself must have evolved to provide survival value…not objective truth. So here we have naturalistic reasons for believing that the naturalist belief system contains no truth!! Atheistic explanations for human morality and beliefs are every bit as meaningless as atheists suggest the universe is.
All accounts of human morality that do not involve a source for this morality that is transcendent to nature are doomed to fail because the natural and material world, again, is itself valueless. There is no such thing as a good or bad rock, or a good or bad animal.
Craig elaborates on this point:
…Actions such as incest and rape may not be biologically and socially advantageous and so in the course of human development have become taboo. But that does absolutely nothing to show that rape or incest is really wrong. Such behavior goes on all the time in the animal kingdom. The rapist who goes against the herd morality is doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably, like the man who belches loudly at the dinner table. If there is no moral lawgiver, then there is no objective moral law that we must obey.
On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. …When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her but it does not rape her—for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory.
And what source, transcendent to nature, am I suggesting is the origin of human morals? You guessed it…the “conscious and intelligent mind” that “is the matrix of all matter,” in the words of the founder of quantum physics, Max Planck (as presented in God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism). Just as coded information is a necessarily mental (rather than material) entity (as I discuss in Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God), morality, too, is a fundamentally mental entity, and therefore must have originated with a mind that is transcendent to nature (read: God).
Regarding the idea that morality is culturally relative, please read my essay titled Aren’t All Truths, All Morals Relative?