Do Atheists Have a Foundation for Morality?

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I recently had an exchange on Facebook with an atheist who responded to the question of morality in an evolutionary worldview. He stated,

Morality is NOT a product of religion or faith. I can prove it. Can you name me something moral and kind that a believer such as yourself can do and a non-believer like me can’t do? Think about it. It can be saving a life, donating blood or help an old lady cross the street. There isn’t anything good and kind that a Christian can do but an Atheist can’t do.
There is no question that atheists can do moral things and believe in right or wrong, but that is not the issue. The real issue is: do they have a foundation or basis for moral decision-making apart from God? This atheist seems to think so. He wrote,
Morality can and does exist without a biblical God because I have morality (and every human being, regardless of their beliefs) and I don’t believe in God or the bible but I know right from wrong. If someone thinks that donating blood or helping an old lady cross the street is evil, then logically they do not have the same morality that you or I or any normal human does.
Again, this atheist misses the point. The problem for atheists is that they do not have an ultimate standard for determining right and wrong. In an atheistic worldview how could it be determined that it is wrong for someone to think it is evil to donate blood or help an old lady across the street? This atheist infers that a person is not “normal” if they think those things are evil, but then what defines “normal” and why should “normal” be the ultimate goal?

Dr. Jason Lisle and I wrote an article on this topic entitled “Morality and the Irrationality of an Evolutionary Worldview.” I thought I would share several excerpts from the article to further clarify the problem of morality for atheists.

Apart from biblical creation, morality has no justification. Christian philosopher Dr. Greg Bahnsen (1948–95) states, “What does the unbeliever [person who rejects the biblical God] mean by ‘good,’ or by what standard does the unbeliever determine what counts as ‘good’ (so that ‘evil’ is accordingly defined or identified)? What are the presuppositions in terms of which the unbeliever makes any moral judgments whatsoever?” Although unbelievers may classify actions as good or evil, they do not have an ultimate foundation for defining what is good and evil.

In fact, many evolutionists are quite clear that evolution does not provide a basis for morality. William Provine, evolutionist and biology professor at Cornell University, states in referring to the implications of Darwinism, “No ultimate foundations for ethics exist, no ultimate meaning in life exists, and free will is merely a human myth.” Thus, if evolution is true, then there can be no universal moral code that all people should adhere to.

If human beings are merely the inevitable result of the laws of physics and chemistry acting over time, then how can people have any genuine choice in what they do? If the decisions people make are simply the deterministic outworking of electrochemical reactions in a brain—which is itself allegedly the mindless outworking of billions of random chance copying errors in our DNA—then how would it make sense to hold people responsible for their “decisions”?

After all, we do not attempt to punish the planet Venus for spinning backwards. And we do not get angry at baking soda for reacting with vinegar. This is just what necessarily happens in the universe given the laws of nature. So why would an evolutionist be angry at anything one human being does to another (such as creationists supposedly “lying” to children), if we are all nothing more than complex chemical reactions? If we are simply evolved animals, why should we hold to a code of conduct in this “dog-eat-dog” world? After all, what one animal does to another is morally irrelevant.

When evolutionists attempt to be moral, they are “borrowing” from the Christian worldview.

The Christian worldview accounts not only for morality but also for why evolutionists behave the way they do. Even those who have no basis for morality within their own professed worldview nonetheless hold to a moral code; this is because in their heart of hearts they really do know the God of creation, despite their profession to the contrary. Scripture tells us that everyone knows the biblical God, but that they suppress the truth about God (Romans 1:18-21).

I encourage you to read the article in its entirety. I have found the argument from morality to be extremely successful and easy to use when challenging atheists and helping them see the inconsistencies and arbitrariness of their worldview. One conversation I had with an atheist when arguing this point ended with him saying something like, “I don’t have good answers to your questions.” Exactly! I pray that God was able to use our conversation to help him seek the truth found in God’s Word.

Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!

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