That was the headline of a recent article that appeared in the USA Today’s religious column. It was written by Jerry Coyne, a professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. It was fairly representative of what we’ve been hearing from New Atheism.
Let me begin by (gladly) stating the obvious: there are untold numbers of people who do not just good, but wonderful things and are not believers in God or religious in the least. I know of no one who is grateful for their goodness. The subject matter of this post is not that—it is exploring the intellectual foundation for such a lifestyle.
Coyne asserts that the true source of morality is evolution and secular reasoning. (You have to give the man credit for not running away from the implications of his position). He argues that the “rudiments” of morality are present among other primates as a result of being part of their genetic code. From there, he posits that “the conditions under which humans evolved,” were conducive to natural selection building morality. In other words, it was to the benefit and survival of the individual to learn how to get along and live in community. This took place by recognizing and honoring certain rules (i.e., a moral code). Once established at this level, the moral code has been refined by secular reasoning.
According to this framework, there is no such thing as absolute moral truth that comes from a source outside of man. Instead, there is an evolved sense right and wrong that is within some of us. Since it is evolved, what is moral today is supposed to be superior to what what was moral yesterday. Yet it’s impossible to understand how abortion-as-birth-control, euthanasia, and other things could qualify as anything other than a regression in morality.
Which brings us to the real sticking point in the whole “we will find the right answer within ourselves” type of thinking—what part of mankind are we talking about? It’s quite obvious that as a whole, humanity is not on the same page in regard to many important moral issues. How do we decide what is the more “evolved” point of view? The worst case scenario is we end up with a might-makes-right way of determining morality. The best case would be a democratically determined morality— kind of like the five children who didn’t know if the hamster in their preschool was a male or female so they took a vote and by a three to two margin determined it was a “him.” You’re not surprised when I tell you that this type of approach doesn’t produce a deep conviction or a great passion in anyone for what is “right.”
No thinking person would deny that there are moral people who don’t believe in or acknowledge God. Nor would they question man’s capacity for living as a moral being. What I am saying is that the source of our morality is the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Take a few minutes to read the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7. Better yet, read the whole gospel and see how He lived what He taught. Witness the moral glory that has inspired millions people down through the centuries to turn from selfish, destructive ways of living to embrace the goodness, grace, and truth personified by Him.
Good without God? God’s goodness is like the sun. People can ignore it, pretend it’s not there, or live in defiance of it, but without it they have no life. In the same way, all goodness emanates from God (Matthew 19:17; James 1:17), and is ultimately traceable to Him.
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1)