This post is part two in my Head to Head debate with John Mark Reynolds on whether one can be moral without God. My position is that one can be moral without believing in God. John is arguing the opposite.
When we were first assigned the question, “Is a deity necessary for morality” I thought about asking the powers-that-be to revise it because my first reaction was, “Well, of course, God is necessary for morality! God is necessary for everything!” But I didn’t get the sense that’s really what they were asking (and that wasn’t the position I was supposed to be debating), so I went with the spirit of the question and wrote to whether belief in God was necessary for morality. I see that I probably should have asked for that revised question, after all.
John’s opening argument responds to the literal question we were asked. And, in that sense, of course he’s right. We can’t breathe, much less be moral without God at all. We agree on that.
Likewise, in his opening paragraph, he agrees that we could be moral without belief in God. So, there again, we agree.
When John and I first were kicking this topic around, the bloggers on the Atheist Channel were all excited to think that two theists were going to mix it up. I told them not to get too excited because I didn’t think it was going to be the bloody discussion they were hoping for but even I wasn’t expecting this level of harmony.
So, sorry to disappoint. It appears that this might end up being more dud than debate.
The bottom line? While God is absolutely necessary for morality to exist because nothing exists without God, that’s really an ontological question, not a moral one. If, on the other hand, the question is, “Can one be moral without a belief in God” then it is my contention that it is possible for people to be good without God. They can do so, not because people are all that good but because God, in his mercy, recognizes that, in our sinful world, not everyone will be able to find him right away and God still wants us to be able to get along with each other even if we aren’t ready to get along with him. I would argue that the more authentically godly we are, the more authentically and completely moral we will be as well, but people who do not believe in God are, certainly, capable of being moral.
Stay tuned for the conclusion.