Can Atheism Account for Morality?

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Image by Grae Dickason. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Last edited on 18/Jan/2021

Atheism on Morality

The answer to this question is no, atheism cannot account for morality. Because atheism is the belief that God (or any deity) does not exist, there is no objective moral standard which atheists can hold to. The closest thing an atheist can come to is a set of subjective standards, that is, standards which are held to be “good” only according to a certain group’s or individual’s opinion. In other words, what one atheist believes to be morally indecent, could actually be considered decent to another atheist, because it all depends on their thoughts and feelings alone.

In addition, an atheist’s moral values or beliefs might change over time, depending on their life experiences. This means that in atheism, nothing is inherently good or evil, because everything in this universe, according to them, purely originated from physical matter and chemical reactions—things which cannot account for morality in any way. According to atheists, we have simply been conditioned to call certain things “good” or “evil” due to things like evolution, the culture we were brought up in, religious traditions, and because making that distinction helps communities survive.

Christianity on Morality

Christianity, however, provides us with objective moral standards—standards which are universally true for all people and all times, because God himself is the standard. Unlike in atheism, in Christianity we can know for sure what good and evil are by looking at God’s nature, which is revealed in his Word, the Bible. God himself is the essence of goodness (1 John 1:5; 4:8, 16), so whatever is in accordance with God’s nature is good, and whatever deviates from his nature is evil (1 John 3:7-8). For example, God forbids murder, stealing, coveting, and worshipping other so-called gods in his Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1, 13, 15, 17), which means that these actions violate God’s inherently good nature and will, and are therefore evil.

Because God himself is the absolute moral standard, there is no dispute or uncertainty in this matter. Thus, in matters that God’s Word clearly deals with, one Christian’s moral values will not differ from another’s. In addition, because God is unchanging (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6), a Christian’s moral values will never change over time or depend on the society in which they live, because they will always be based upon God’s forever unchanging Word (Isaiah 40:8), not on anything else.

Without God, Nothing Is Truly “Good” or “Evil”

So, why is this important? It is important because if there is no objective standard that governs between right and wrong, then it is impossible to distinguish between good and evil, since there is nothing objective or absolute by which that distinction can even be made. In other words, for atheists, the line between good and evil is non-existent, which means that “good” is ultimately whatever they like, and “evil” whatever they do not like.

From an atheistic perspective it is impossible to call ruthless dictators such as Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong evil, because atheists can only point to a subjective standard for that. (What they like and do not like.) Stalin and Zedong could have just as easily pointed to another subjective standard, claiming that everything they did was for the “good” of their countries’ futures, so all their actions were “justified”. As we can see, two conflicting subjective opinions are meaningless, because they prove nothing. From a Christian perspective, however, Christians can know for certain that Stalin and Zedong were evil men, because God has declared murder to be a sin, and they both murdered millions of people.

Without God, It Is Okay to Arbitrarily Change Moral Standards

Furthermore, if there is no objective standard that governs between right and wrong, then it is perfectly permissible for an atheist to conveniently switch moral standards or values at any time, depending on the situation. After all, if atheists want to prolong their lives for as long as possible, because in their opinion they only live once, what guiding principle is there to stop them from stealing from a shop, or robbing their neighbour’s house during a crisis? Because Christians have God as their absolute moral standard, on the other hand, they cannot conveniently switch between different standards in different circumstances, because God always stays the same.

Without God, There Is No Final Justice

The other problem, is that in atheism, there is no moral accountability. The closest thing atheists have to that is the law of whichever country they live in, but even that is not perfect, and cannot punish all criminals or lawbreakers—not to mention the fact that there are some laws in most countries which are not fair or just. Because there is no moral accountability in atheism, it is perfectly permissible for atheists to adopt the mentality: “it is not a crime unless you are caught”. In an atheistic worldview, many people have gotten away with doing evil deeds, and died unpunished.

For Christians, however, the: “it is not a crime unless you are caught” mentality is completely impermissible, because they know that God sees and hears whatever we do in secret; in our thoughts, words, and deeds (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Psalm 94:3-11, 23). They also know that no one goes unpunished, because God holds all people accountable for how they lived after they die, and punishes all evildoers accordingly (John 5:28-29; Revelation 22:12).

Conclusion

In the words of the famous Russian Christian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” This is truly correct according to an atheistic worldview. Therefore, it should be obvious by now that the atheistic worldview is highly problematic, in that it fails completely to account for morality—at least for objective, absolute morality, which is the only kind of morality that matters. (Everything else is just mere opinions.)

In light of this, Redemption of Humanity would like to invite all atheists to at least consider the possibility of God’s existence—the Almighty being who is the standard for all morality. Read what the Bible has to say about good and evil. Consider what the Bible has to say about Jesus Christ, who is God in flesh, and how he dealt with sin and evil through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. At least being open to God’s existence is much more honest than the atheistic worldview which completely denies it.

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