Ethics Without God -- or -- God Without Ethics

by Jerry Billings

It is standard operating procedure for a Christian apologist to point out that all ethics and morals come from God. It is, so they claim, therefore impossible for the Atheist to be a moral person. Many Atheists counter this argument by pointing out that as a matter of fact they are ethical persons and that they know the difference between right and wrong.

"In fact," says the Atheist, "it is the Christian who admits that the difference between right and wrong is unclear; all the Christian knows is what is sin according to God and what is not sin."

The Atheist continues: "What a pity that the only reason you, a Christian, do not steal is because your god threatened you with horrible punishment if you do. I'm sorry you don't know that stealing is wrong. It causes innocent people to suffer and the inflicting of needless pain is the worst of all crimes."

But now there's a new reason to say it is impossible for morality to be based on this religious belief. I's so simple that some will wonder why something so obvious is not brought more often.

Let us imagine a particular person. And just for fun let's call her Madalyn. Now Madalyn has never had religion. By this Christian definition Madalyn is without morals of any kind. Along comes a missionary and tells Madalyn all about Yahveh and Jesus. He tells bible stories that illustrate what wonderful, upright examples they set for sinful mankind. He tells about the ten commandments and how all morals come from the deity.

Here is the quandary:

How is Madalyn, whom we agree has no morals, able to judge if this deity is a moral god? We might observe that one should not worship a god unless that god is worthy of worship. Surely, one would not love a god unless that god was worthy of love.

In other words, Madalyn must first make an independent judgment -- based upon Madalyn's own godless moral values, that God is worthy of love and worship. Until that independent value judgment is made, Madalyn's conversion to Christianity or any other religion is -- to use a very old expression -- putting the cart before the horse.

The next time you hear that tired old claim that you can't be moral without God, just ask, "Let's assume what you say is true. Since I have no knowledge of morality, how is it possible for me to understand what you are saying?"

Another approach you might prefer is to observe, "Since you just now pointed out to me that I can have no morals without God, what standards do you suggest I use to make up my own mind that your god is a good god and aught to be my god, too?"


Last updated by Morgan Matthew Jul 30, 2008.


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