Writings on Christianity

Good WITHOUT God Discussion

Good WITHOUT God Discussion

I recently facilitated a discussion at our Meetup Discussion group ministry here in Naperville on the topic ‘Good without God.’ It was our third time going through this, which I think shows how much misunderstanding there is on the topic and the importance of the discussion.

Here are my notes:

This week’s discussion is “Good without God” (part 3). We are discussing the implications of a naturalistic conception of reality (believing that in all of reality there is no such thing as God or the supernatural) with regard to morality and ethics. If God does not exist, and there is therefore no legitimate authoritative moral standard above human opinion accurately or truthfully informing us as to what actually is good or evil, what makes any action or idea morally right or morally evil? (NOTE: We are NOT discussing if atheists can be “good” or moral in the eyes of society [of course they can!]. We are discussing how someone logically and rationally forms a morality if atheism were true of reality).

As we get together, First, I’ll offer a recap of some of the terms and concepts relevant to the discussion. Then we’ll consider the nature of moral obligation together, including the two most common solutions to the morality apart from God discussion: science and society. In this we’ll ask, what is moral goodness? What makes anything morally good? Finally, time-permitting, we may, consider a moral dilemma together while trying to be consistent to naturalistic worldview (conception of reality).

First let me recap a few terms and ideas for you:
1. NATURALISM: In all of reality, all that exists is the physical or natural realm. There is no supernatural at all, and there certainly is no God who is supremely good who might legitimately and accurately inform us as to what is good or evil. We as humans are the accident products of time and random evolutionary chance in an impersonal universe.
2. MORAL RELATIVISM (Moral Subjectivism): All human morals are solely based upon human understandings or human preferences, whether they be the preferences of the individual or the group. There is NO such thing as OBJECTIVE moral standards (standards that are objective from a human perspective and by which all humans are obligated to keep) nor is there any type of moral laws that transcend human opinion, which might inform humans as to what is truly good or truly evil.
3. MORAL REALISM (Objective Morality): There are true and legitimate moral obligations which exist outside of human opinion and which truly inform humans of what is objectively good or evil (objective from a human standpoint in that they are not created by humans and all humans are obligated to keep them). Regardless of human opinion, some things are actually good or evil; in this understanding of reality, an action could still be evil even if every human on earth thought otherwise.
4. MORAL NIHILISM: Because there is no such thing as a moral law or any absolute moral standard that transcends human opinions, ultimately, there is no such thing as good or evil, only preferences which we might call good or evil. In the final analysis, morals are illusions.
5. IS/OUGHT Distinction: British scientist David Hume succinctly put the naturalistic moral dilemma with his IS/OUGHT distinction (FACT/VALUE distinction). He said that all that empirical scientific investigation can tell us IS what happened, but it cannot inform us on how we OUGHT to view an act. An IS can NEVER tell us what we OUGHT to do. Example: You can run an experiment on how to build a gas chamber which might kill lots of people at the same time (IS/FACT), but no experiment can tell you that we should not put a certain kind of people in them (OUGHT/VALUE).


1. In a naturalistic (atheistic) conception of reality, what is moral goodness? What makes anything morally good? (Nietzsche argues for might makes right, Ayn Rand for a morality of selfishness, Marquis de Sade for whatever brings pleasure—even at the expense of others—makes right. Are they all correct? If not, by why standards could we judge them to be false besides preference?)
2. Can SCIENCE tell us what is morally right or wrong? (IS/OUGHT distinction)
3. Could merely human individuals or SOCIETY tell us?
4. Must we concede that in in the end, if there is no God, that all morals are merely relativistic and in the end there is no such thing as good or evil, all we have are arbitrary human concepts? Was Dostoevsky right when he said, ‘Without God, everything is permissible?’
5. DILEMNA: In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, a 23 year-old son of the New York governor Nelson Rockefeller went for a swim to one of the most remote islands in the world found in New Guinea.  He had two empty gasoline cans tied to his belt, which allowed him to carry on for his nearly 10 hour swim. The island was populated by the Asmat Tribe, a tribe that had virtually no contact with the outside world. Upon wading ashore members of the tribe drove a spear through this hide, while he tried to swim away for his life. The tribe captured him and cut his throat and disemboweled him. While gathering around in a religious like frenzy the tribe then proceeded to eat his body. Now this practice of cannibalism was common in the tribe at that time, as they would frequently behind members of another clan and then eat their bodies. It was an agreed upon practice and custom, something sociologist believed was practiced until the 1990s.
How does a person from a naturalistic understanding of reality respond to the morality of this practice? What do we do with cannibalism? What do we do with cannibalism for pleasure or religious motivation? 

LAST WORD: I’m personally persuaded that the most logical position with naturalism is moral nihilism, a view that says in the end there is such thing as good or evil, just arbitrary human preferences. But I know this is not how reality actually is. In reality, some things are absolutely wrong or right, regardless of human opinion—even if those humans are in power or have the loudest voices.  There is a real standard of morality that stands above human opinions, and we feel it in our consciences. The Bible teaches that this comes from the one true God who exists and made us in His image to know Him and love Him. The Bible says this: God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). It also tells us that we have gone astray from him with our love of the darkness. Something is desperately wrong with the world today and no secular humanistic movement can fix it. We need God Himself to come and rescue us, and in Christ that is what He has done (John 1:5).

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

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