Can Atheists Justify Being Good Without God ?

by Norman L. Geisler

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 There is a new atheist’s ad out with a picture of  Santa Claus and the words: “Why  believe in a god?Just be good for goodness sake.”  This is clever, but is it possible?  Let’s analyze it more carefully. 

First, if there is no Moral Law Giver (God), then how can there be a moral law that prescribes: “Be good.”  Every prescription has a prescriber, and this is a moral prescription.

Second, what does “good” mean?  How is good to be defined.? If it can mean anything for anyone, then it means nothing for anyone.  It is total relativism. Being “good” for some (like Nazis) can mean killing Jews.  But for Jews it is evil.  Hence, on this view there is no objective difference between good and evil.

Third,  what does “goodness” itself mean in the atheist slogan.  Being good “for goodness sake” implies that something is just plain good in itself.  That is, it is an ultimate goodness.  But this by definition is what Christians mean by God.  Everything else has goodness, but only God (the Ultimate) is goodness.  In this case, the atheist is using “goodness” as a surrogate or substitute for God.  

This maneuver is not uncommon for atheists. Before the Big Bang evidence, atheists were fond of doing this with the word  “universe.”  It was supposed to be eternal and, hence, needed no Cause since only what begins needs a Beginner.  Carl Sagan employed the term “Cosmos” as a God-substitute.  He said, “the COSMOS is everything that ever was, is, or will be.”  It sounds a little like what Psalm 90 declares: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”  Bertrand Russell attempted the same tactic in his famous BBC debate with Father Copleston.  When asked what caused the universe, he replied that nothing did.  It was just “there.”  But how does an eternal, uncaused universe from which everything else came to be differ from an Uncaused Cause (God)?

However, in the light of the Big Bang evidence that the universe had a beginning, these answers lack scientific support.  As agnostic Jastrow put it, "The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation."  And  "This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but theologians.  They have always accepted the word of the Bible: `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth'" (God and the Astronomers, 115).

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