Do we need God to be good? The late atheist Christopher Hitchens would often throw out a challenge to his debate partners. “Name one moral act that you can do as a Christian that I can’t do as an atheist”. Hitchens was making an oft repeated challenge to Christianity. “I don’t need God to be good”.
The Moral Argument
The moral argument is regularly put forward by theists as an argument for God’s existence. What the argument says is that there must be an objective standard of good and evil. Without an objective standard, we have no scale to judge right and wrong on. C.S Lewis famously put it this way:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
You see, the moral argument is making a claim about the origins of morality, not the ability to be moral.
A Missed Step
And this is where Hitchens and so many other atheists make a miss-step. They aren’t refuting the right claim. And Hitchens in particular should have known better. He had been in enough debates to understand the premise being made, and continued to straw man the argument.
But what about the claim itself? Do we need God to be good? The answer is that no, we don’t need God to do good deeds. Atheists can of course do good acts. But as we pointed out above, this is not the argument.
But without God, there is no moral standard to judge what a good act actually is. If our morality is grounded in things like evolution, then good and bad change with what benefits our survival. So there is no objective standard of good.
So what is the best answer to the challenge “Do we need God to be good”? The answer is we don’t need to believe in God to do good things, but we do need God to determine what a good thing actually is.
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