Can There Be Right And Wrong Without God? Again, No…


Over at PJ Media, Walter Hudson quoted me in a piece called, “Whose Morality Is It Anyway? Can there be right and wrong without God?

Writing for his Right Wing News, Hawkins claims “Without God, All Morality Is Subjective:”

Put another way, if I steal $20 out of your wallet to spend on concert tickets, I’m a hypocrite. That’s because I know, you know, and Christians almost everywhere are going to agree that stealing that $20 out of your wallet is an immoral act.

Now, is an atheist/agnostic violating her moral code if she steals $20 out of someone’s wallet? Maybe, maybe not. It’s entirely possible that she could reason that there’s nothing wrong with stealing $20 from someone if she doesn’t get caught. But, what if you’re an atheist/agnostic who disagrees with that reasoning? Well honestly, if there’s no God, humans are just sophisticated animals and it’s ultimately no more right or wrong for you to steal that $20 than it is for a chimp to grab another chimp’s banana while he’s flinging poo.

Walter then went on from there to disagree and claimed that Ayn Rand had elaborated on such a system.

It turns out that morality can be discerned through reason. As much was discovered in the twentieth century by Ayn Rand, whose philosophical system of objectivism claims a morality which is “absolute, objective, and secular.” Entire books have been written explaining her reasoning, and they must be read in order to fully understand it. For the sake of this discussion, here is objective morality in a nutshell.

It begins by considering the Socratic questions offered by Christian apologist Michael Horner. He asks rhetorically:

How do you get ethics from only different arrangements of space, time, matter and energy?

A purely materialistic universe would be morally indifferent. Humans, like everything else in the universe, would be just accidental arrangements of atoms, and therefore, we could not justifiably declare that humans are objectively valuable. And why think the morality of the human species, above all other species, is objectively binding rather than just our opinion?

Value stands out as the central concept here. Rand asked “of value to whom, and for what.” Her point was to define value as that which living things act to obtain and keep. All manner of values permeate our lives, from the mundane to the profound. Life sits atop a pedestal, valued above all. Only living things, those capable of self-generated self-sustaining action, can pursue value. Furthermore, that particular breed of creature which conceives of and pursues value though a process of thought — human beings — needs a code of behavior to determine which actions are life-affirming (good) and which are destructive (bad).

Given that life is the basis of value, and action informed by rational thought is the only means for humans to obtain and keep their values, it follows that liberty is the condition in which men must live. Such objective liberty is not licentiousness, but merely the ability to act upon one’s judgment in pursuit of happiness without coercion from others, a condition made possible only by mutual respect of boundaries.

That is how you get ethics from “only different arrangements of space, time, matter, and energy.” The material universe proves anything but “morally indifferent.” If morality is the code by which we arrive at choices, the material universe harshly rebukes those who choose to act against its nature.

…Acknowledging conversion as the work of God, Christians nonetheless want to avoid placing stumbling blocks in front of skeptical seekers. The commonly offered proof from morality can stumble, because it does not present the whole truth. Acknowledging that absolute standards of right and wrong can be discerned through reason in no way detracts from the glory of God. On the contrary, we should expect creation to testify to the will of its creator.

Why is murder wrong? It deprives an individual of his right to life. How do we know such a right exists? It is derived from the concept of value, the recognition of life as the ultimate value, and the observation that individuals are an objective moral end onto themselves rather than a means to the ends of others. Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard, fleshes out the argument.

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with Walter. Reason being, despite what he’s saying, the system he’s discussing is completely arbitrary.

You may say “Life is valued above all” — and that seems to be generally true, but only to the individual whose life it happens to be. YOUR life may be valued above all to YOU, but my life probably isn’t valued all that highly and the life of some guy you’ve never heard of across the planet is valued even less. You may even value the life of someone you deeply dislike at pretty close to zero.

Even setting that aside, it’s quite a leap to go from “Life is valued above all” to,

Given that life is the basis of value, and action informed by rational thought is the only means for humans to obtain and keep their values, it follows that liberty is the condition in which men must live. Such objective liberty is not licentiousness, but merely the ability to act upon one’s judgment in pursuit of happiness without coercion from others, a condition made possible only by mutual respect of boundaries.

Animals certainly don’t mutually respect each other’s boundaries when they’re eating each other. So, if there’s no God and we’re just other animals, why is it morally wrong for you to prey on me or vice-versa? It’s not.

Of course, we may come up with arbitrary standards that say it’s wrong. If there’s no God, that’s all the Golden Rule is — an arbitrary standard that we can choose to accept or not. The same goes for Objectivism or for that matter, just “being nice.”

You find this out if you drill down far enough.

Why is it wrong for me to kill you so I can take your car? God tells me it is — argument settled.

If you ask someone who doesn’t believe in God the same question, there are an almost unlimited number of answers he can come up with because he has picked up values, often Christian values, from the culture at large without ever puzzling out exactly why he believes what he believes.

If there’s no God, why is it wrong for me to kill you?

Because it’s not nice! Who says you have to be nice?

You wouldn’t want anyone doing that to you! A lion wouldn’t want to be eaten by a sheep, but he still eats the sheep.

You should do unto others as you want them to do unto you! Says who? Why is that better for me than taking as much as I can from as many people as I can?

What it all comes down to is that there can never be a definitive answer about right and wrong without God because without God, there is no one qualified to give a definitive answer. With no God, a hundred different people may have a hundred different opinions about right and wrong with none of them being unquestionably better than all of the others.

Getting beyond Walter’s piece, this is what a lot of people don’t understand about undermining Christianity: You’re not just attacking a religion; you’re attacking the system of morals that undergirds our entire society. The more success people have at it, the more we’ll deteriorate morally across the board.

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