Can one be Moral and not Believe in God?
This paper will look at the issue of God and Morals and if one can be moral and not believe in God. I will show an argument for each side of this coin along with giving which side I agree with. As much as possible, I will address this issue from a philosophical point of view. I would like to note that in doing research for this paper I found that most believe that one does not have to believe in God to have moral and that there are no moral principles shared by all people who do believe in God.
Let me first define the meaning of what Morals are. Morals are concepts of what is “good” and what is “bad” or “right” and “wrong”. Morals are how one should behave given this; they get formed and become a tradition in a certain society. The moral rules may be very different in different countries or even in the same country where different cultures live together such as in the United States. Morals are a subjective phenomenon, since most of their rules do not follow from the objective necessity and advisability. Morals are about what turns of speech are decent and what are not, what one should be ashamed of, what is “appropriate” to do and what is not and so forth (Unknown, 2007).
First let me state that in the majority this paper the God I will be using is the Christian God, for He is the only God I know, therefore is the only view I can give, although different cultures may in fact believe in a different God and therefore have a different opinion of God and what is moral. According to Dick Tripp an Anglican Clergyman with experience in parish
ministry in the Diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, and has an MA in Theology from Cambridge University. It is the God who created the universe and has made himself known through chosen people through history. Morality begins with the character of God. Therefore is no other foundation for it. God has created us as moral beings; if we are to live in a meaningful relationship with him then it is necessary that we exhibit the same moral character that he does.
If there were not a God to set moral beliefs the world would be filled with people who commit immoral acts. People cannot be moral without God. Morality is the notion rules of right and wrong, the way we behave, and principles. Therefore, who but God could set the rules? Who else could establish these principles? The Christian Bible teaches everything was set in order by God. That the Lord God is who decides which ones are moral and which is not. What people do is dependent on their separate values, but everyone’s values are different, therefore is seems there are no standard by which we must all live The argument from Moral claims that there are human values such as goodness, truth, and justice, and these values not only experienced individually, they truly exist, these moral are common to all. Therefore they cannot be human creations but must be creations of God.
There are people that do not have any faith or belief in any god. Many people do not acknowledge any Devine being that intervenes in human lives and these people do not have and organized religion and who disagree with these beliefs. They would argue that one can be moral and yet not believe in God. One who is moral but does not believe in God might argue that there is only a creative principle at work in the Universe. They may feel a wish implementation tendency in the mind, is
what makes one act with moral tendencies. What is moral is something that is just known to man. Some believe that morality exist only because we are a social animal and that this is what humans need it to survive as a society. Moral behavior is in our nature, it is just part of us. Basically we need have some level of morals to cooperate with one another and be compassionate in order to thrive as a society. Without morals we would not cooperate as a society and become extinct. There are many religions throughout the world with different moral values but the Golden Rule is fundamental to most as it is to those who are not religious (Geefay, 2013). Many people today believe that God is unnecessary. They say they don’t need God to live right, and they can set their own rules for life.
Virtues speak of some objective realities, but personal values speak only about subjective decisions of our will. Personal values have replaced values of virtue as the foundation for ethical thought. The very idea of basing our morality upon our values means that we have bought into the idea of a system of relativistic ethics (Cotton, 1997). Morriston, 2009 states the following about a person not needing to believe in God for one to have morals “A divine command must hold that the moral obligations of all persons are fixed by the commands of God. On some version of the theory, divine commands are successful speech acts. It is a problem for this account that some people don’t believe that there is a God who might issue any commands. It is implausible to think of such persons as “hearing” divine commands, but this does not prevent them from having genuine moral obligations. A non-believer who does something terrible cannot escape culpability simply by pointing out that he does not believe in God”. Morriston asked “How, then, can a divine command especially one
that takes the idea of a “command” quite seriously, account for the moral obligations of non-believers?”
One of the world’s leading primatologists Frans de Waal believes his decades of research with apes answers a question that has plagued humans since the beginning of time. Are we moral because we believe in God, or do we believe in God because we are moral? de Waal argues that the answer is clearly the latter. De Waal is a biology professor at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s top experts on primatology, especially the sometimes violent chimpanzees and their fun-loving sexually obsessed cousins, the bonobos, sometimes called the forgotten apes because they have become so rare. Through years of research all over the world, de Waal has reached these basic conclusions: “Primates clearly show empathy with others who are suffering. They have a sense of fairness, they take care of those in need, and they will share what they have with others who are less fortunate” (Dye, 2013).
Although it doesn’t mean they are moral, especially chimps, which can be very violent however they have the “basic building blocks” for morality. Many activities he has witnessed show that apes feel guilt and shame, which also suggest a sense of morality. Therefore why should anyone feel guilty if they don’t know the difference between right and wrong? Those and other human like characteristics, that have been clearly documented by other researchers as well, at least show they have some grasp of morality. de Waal argues, Our sense of morality, he continues, comes from within, not from above (Dye, 2013). Philosophical reproach does not make this issue any better but, instead only complicate the matter. One must reflect on considerable different philosophical approaches to the nature
and substance of morality, as well as various competing accounts of the proper ordering of right-making conditions and primary human good. There are different accounts, the force and content of morality. Such as Kant’s view, that one should never to lie no matter what the consequences. However, in Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) view, all moral concerns, including the morality of lying, depend on whether the action will generally maximize pleasure over pain. At stake is the problem of determining the proper moral obligations, and of establishing the canonical ranking of cardinal human goods and right making conditions. Matters about which there is foundational disagreement. In reality, one is confronted with a substantially different moralities and different accounts of moral obligations. For if one means by a morality a generally coherent set of settled judgments about what it is to act rightly, what good one should pursue, and what it means to be virtuous or have good character, then we do not share such a morality (Kurtz, 1996). Kurtz ask the question “Can one lead a meaningful life, be a loving parent and a responsible citizen without being religious?”
Many disciples of the Christian Coalition admonish us that anyone who does not believe in the Bible is immoral. Kurtz also states “Yet tens of millions of Americans are unchurched and millions are secular humanists, agnostics, even atheists, and they behave responsibly. Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in the promise of eternal salvation for those who obey God’s commandments”. Humanists prefer to focus on this life here and now, and they strive to develop the arts of intelligence to solve human problems. They wish to rely on education, reason, science, and democratic methods of persuasion to improve the human condition. Every civilized community, whether religious or secular, recognizes virtually all of what I call the “common moral decencies”: We ought to tell the truth, keep promises, be honest, kind, dependable, and compassionate; we ought to be just and tolerant and, whenever possible, negotiate our differences peacefully (Kurtz, 1996).
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would tell us that something is good because we love it. According to Nietzsche, man himself is the universal and absolute reference point for all of life. “God is dead,” he declared, believing this release from the demands of any metaphysical reality was an opportunity to develop his own system of ethics based on self-cultivation. Today the world is continuing to build an ethical system based on tolerance and enlightenment apart from God ( The Daily Reflector 2010).
This would led to how I think about this question and I would have to say that I do indeed know people who not believe in God or perhaps they are not sure if there is truly a Devine Being, however they do have morals and they believe in doing what is right. That being said, I would agree with Frans de Waal when he stated “Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause”. Therefore people who do not believe there is a God and yet still have moral beliefs have learned those beliefs either because of the society they live in or because they were taught this things by someone who believe that our morals did indeed come from God. It is God who gives us the foundation for one’s moral acts. God created humans and therefore gave them a conscience,
therefore it is by this conscience that we determine “right form “wrong”. It is this conscience given to all by God that makes even nonbelievers have moral values. It is my belief that God has a hand in all decisions we make, if we make a wrong decision it is because we did not listen to what God was telling us. We are not perfect being, therefore we will make mistakes.
This paper has looked at the issue of God and Morals and if one can be moral and not believe in God. I have shown arguments for each side, although I believe in doing research for this paper that I found that most believe that one does not have to believe in God to have moral principles than there is a believe that one needs God to have morals. I have also shown which side I agree with. I have also addressed this issue from a philosophical point of view.
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