If There Is No God, What Does "Moral" Mean?
Christianity Today. It was a report on the results of the Pew Research Center's survey of people around the world. The question they asked was: "Is belief in God necessary to be moral?"Continue reading . . .
There was something both interesting and baffling that I noticed in the issue of Christianity Today. It was a report on the results of the Pew Research Center's survey of people around the world. The question they asked was: "Is belief in God necessary to be moral?" Of the forty nations polled, China ranked lowest. Only 14% said Yes to the inquiry. Indonesia ranked highest as 99% of the people polled said Yes. The United States came in at 53%. Only 20% of those in Britain said Yes and 15% of those in France.
Now, why did I find this both interesting and baffling? Simply put, I'm struggling to define the word "moral" if God doesn't exist. What does it mean? Typically people will define moral as good, right, just, pure, or with some such term. Whatever is "moral" is what we "ought" to do. Conversely, we "ought not" to do what is immoral.
But to say an act or idea or thought is "good" and "ought" to be done, one must have a standard by which such an assessment might be made. That something is good and should be done implies that its opposite is bad and must be avoided. Right implies wrong. Justice implies injustice, and pure implies impure.
So on what basis are such judgments made? By what criteria, other than those that you happen to prefer at the moment, does anyone conclude that any particular act or idea is good? If God doesn't exist, there is no eternal and ultimate standard or rule, namely God's will, by which any act or idea might be measured. In the absence of eternal, unchanging right and eternal, unchanging justice, anything goes (and ultimately, everything will).
A person might attempt to argue: "I don't believe in God but I know that enslaving people because of their ethnicity or exploiting their weakness for personal gain is wrong." Really? Says who? You? What prevents others from concluding that it is permissible, perhaps even prudent? The fact is, many have (Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot are but a handful among the countless others in history). In the absence of God, morality is reduced to personal preference or the collective choice of those currently in power. If God doesn't exist, morality is simply majority opinion. If there is no eternal Being who is himself the embodiment, definition, and revelation of good and just and pure then so-called "morality" is little more than what those in control can legislate. And as soon as they are displaced, those who then rise to power can redefine morality on their own terms.
Furthermore, think of what it means if there is no God. It means, among other things, that human beings are nothing more than the current, fleeting configuration in an evolutionary process that is guided by nothing other than chance and time. There is no design or purpose or goal that accounts for who they are or what they think. The thoughts and beliefs that our minds produce are meaningless explosions of electrical impulses and chemical reactions. Therefore, no one person's beliefs about what he/she likes or prefers has any ethical priority over those of another. After all, "ethics" is now itself nothing more than what one person either likes or dislikes.
To pass judgment on the thoughts and resultant behavior of one individual (or group of individuals) is little more than one random chemical process prevailing over another. If there is no God, there is no transcendent or eternal moral standard by which such may be evaluated. Whatever may "seem" right or wrong, whatever may "feel" or appear to be the correct, fair, and just thing to do, is but a temporary and transient choice that is grounded in no supreme law or rule of the universe.
After all, there is no God. Remember? And if there is no God, there is no such thing as morality (public opinion polls notwithstanding).
About Sam Storms
I am an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist who loves his wife of 42 years, his two daughters, his four grandchildren, books, baseball, movies, and all things Oklahoma University.
In 2008 Sam became Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam was recently elected to be Vice-President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Read more...