THINK ABOUT THIS: Can You Be Good Without God? Is That Even A Logical Question?

Can somebody who doesn’t believe in God still do good things, that is, act morally? The answer to that question is “yes, of course.” But when the issue is the existence of God, asking if an atheist can be moral leads the discussion down a rabbit hole.

Screenshot from drcraigvideos on youtube.

The question should be this: How can there be objectively true and universally applicable moral laws if there is no God? If there are such objective moral laws, then there must be a God. We know there are such laws the instant we realize it is always and everywhere wrong to, for example, torture children.

Why is this important, especially if you work on Capitol Hill and are thus part of the process by which America debates and establishes its laws? The answer to that question is in the following video from philosopher William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith:


BY THE WAY, MONA LISA DIDN’T JUST APPEAR OUT OF THIN AIR


 

Author: Mark Tapscott

Follower of Christ, devoted husband of Claudia, doting father and grandfather, conservative lover of liberty, journalist and First Amendment fanatic, former Hill and Reagan aide, vintage Formula Ford racer, Okie by birth/Texan by blood/proud of both, resident of Maryland. Go here: https://hillfaith.blog/about-hillfaith-2/

2 thoughts on “THINK ABOUT THIS: Can You Be Good Without God? Is That Even A Logical Question?”

  1. WLC is the best. His “Sunday school” series at Reasonable Faith is amazing.

    But, everyone who’s not a sociopath knows this. Even some sociopaths do too eg David Woods. The Light came into the world but we prefer the darkness.

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  2. So, the question is: “Can there even be such a thing as good/evil if God doesn’t exist?”

    And the answer to THAT is, NO, because there can’t be such a thing as the universe, or any intelligible reality of any kind, if no “First Principle” of existence is present from which other existing things can proceed. I don’t mean “First Cause” in the sense of something existing earlier in time; I mean a necessarily-existing explanation of everything existing here and now that makes the existence of contingently-existing things possible, and upholds their existence continuously. If you don’t have that First Principle, you logically can’t have anything else, because everything else is dependent upon it, not initially but in an ongoing way.

    Now a rigorous logical examination of the attributes of such a First Principle shows it to to be outside time, unchanging, to have no deficiencies of teleological fulfillment (that is, it is perfection), and that it has intent such that whatever proceeds from it, proceeds from it because the First Principle intended that it do so. But that makes it the eternal, perfect, personal creator of all that exists. “And this,” as Aquinas says, “everyone calls God.”

    So, no, there’s no good/evil without God since there’s nothing there to BE good or evil without God.

    “But that,” some might say, “wasn’t the point of the question!” True; but it had to be said because it shows that the question itself isn’t necessarily coherent. Answering it — unless you fill in certain gaps — is a lot like responding to “zeeble zarble zouble zouss.”

    Let’s start by saying, “Okay. Without something pretty close to God (as understood by the natural theology of classical theism), nothing else can exist or continue in existence; but assume for a moment that the First Principle of Existence can somehow call determine things into existence without intending to, and therefore is not personal, but is some kind of blind mechanistic brute fact consisting of a handful of inclinations-to-produce-contingent-things-for-no-reason. As irrational as that concept is, just swallow it for the sake of argument, and swap THAT in for God. Okay. With THAT as your First Principle, can there even be such a thing as good/evil, if every detail in the universe OTHER than its foundational principle remains the same?”

    And the answer to THAT question is, “Yes…sort of.”

    What we mean by “evil,” generalized, is a kind of “Deficiency/Corruption that Impedes the Telos of X,” where X is something of a determinate type and identity. It might be the whole universe; it might be a particular garden slug; it might be a nation-state; it might be something eternal like the rational soul of a human person. (Or an extraterrestrial or non-corporeal person, for that matter.)

    Whatever X is, its Telos is that towards which it is inclined to flourish towards if it fulfills its nature. And an “evil” affecting X is whatever deficiency or corruption impedes that flourishing. If X is a squirrel, then it ought (given the type of thing it is) to be good at escaping dogs and dashing up trees and eating nuts. If something damages the squirrel’s brain such that it loses its instinct for doing those things and has, instead, powerful instincts for eating fiberglass insulation and taking naps in busy roadways, those warped un-squirrel-like instincts are “evils” vis-a-vis that squirrel. They impede its flourishing, and rational observers will note, “That’s a pretty piss-poor example of a squirrel,” for much the same reasons that they’d say of a broken clock, “that’s a pretty piss-poor example of a clock.”

    Clearly, “evils” of this type could still exist in a world with a blind, mechanistic, non-personal First Principle causing all other things. So that’s why we answer, “Yes…sort of.”

    But could we recognize them as such? That’s trickier. If evil is a deprivation of telos, and telos derives from the type of thing X is, then it is our rational ability to recognize the type of thing that X is which allows us to differentiate between X’s flourishing and X’s corruption. This ability of the human (or Vulcan, or Klingon, or angelic) mind to abstract what philosophers call “universals” from the individuals that instantiate them is critical to discerning good and evil.

    Can THAT ability exist, without God?

    It seems not. The intelligibility of the universe, overall, is a prerequisite for any particular portion of it being intelligible. (Note: That’s not a fallacy of composition; but explaining why takes us too far afield.) But for X to be intelligible JUST IS for us to be able to abstract X’s type or nature away from X, and to reason about it abstractly as an instance of its type. So the universe needs to be intelligible, and that means whatever causes it or sustains it in existence needs to be intelligible in some fashion, at least in principle.

    But a brute fact, by definition, is a thing that neither sufficiently explains itself, nor is sufficiently explained by anything outside itself. And the whole premise of the question “Can there even be such a thing as good/evil if God doesn’t exist?” was that, in lieu of God, we opted to replace Him with an inexplicable brute fact.

    That renders the principle from which all the universe proceeds unintelligible, and with it, everything that derives from it. So, the universe is unintelligible. So, we cannot derive from any part of the universe any reliable knowledge of the difference between its flourishing and its corruption, or even of the kind of thing that it is. BUT, as already explained, knowing the difference between good and evil requires that you be able to know its type and its telos.

    So, in the end: NO.

    There’s no “good” or “evil” without an intentional first principle of intelligibility which pervades all that proceeds from it, which we discover through the process of reasoning. “And this,” Aquinas reminds us, “everyone calls God.”

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