Can an atheist be moral without any influence from any “higher power?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Atheists assert they are able to be decent, moral, ethical people without the instruction or help of some “god.” They contend they have no need for a religious text to teach them how to live. In the exact words of one such individual: “I do not need a holy book or church to tell me that I need to do right. I can be a good person with good morals and ethics without needing the Bible. I do good for the sake of being good.” Is this a valid objection to believing in God? Atheists claim they can be good on their own. In that case, why should we be Christians? Is the Bible really necessary? Why believe in God at all? We will gladly answer these inquiries!

Here are three fundamental problems with the above statements:

  1. What objective evidence do atheists have that they are actually doing right and good anyway? They cannot say that they do “right” because they “feel” that particular course of action is right, or that they “think” that it is right. Feelings change; they are misleading. We can be mistaken in our thoughts. What authority do atheists have to go around and label what is wrong and what is right? Their opinions, feelings, and thoughts are just as valid as everyone else’s. If someone disagrees with atheists concerning whether something is good or bad, how will the conflict ever be resolved? Who will make the final determination to settle it? What is “right” or “moral” to atheists may, in fact, be “wrong” and “immoral” to numerous others (and vice versa). In fact, one atheist may disagree with another atheist about the same matter! Again, where is the objective standard to settle it all?
  2. Deep down inside, we all know we are not What will atheists do about all those times when they did not have good morals and ethics? Have they always done right when they knew they should have? No! Have they done wrong when they knew they should have done right? Yes! Like the religionists they despise, they answer with the qualifier, “Yeah, but I will do better next time.” Alas, there is no guarantee they will do better the next time, since they have already failed. They have a history of doing wrong! What will they do with their past failures… not to mention their future ones?
  3. Who are atheists ultimately attempting to glorify when they do “right” and “good?” Are they seeking attention or accolades? Is there any selfishness at all on their part? No one is entirely selfless, always thinking of the benefit of others, so even atheists are not always “good” in their thoughts and behaviors. Christian or non-Christian, none of us can ever boast that we have been wholly altruistic every moment of our lives. To say otherwise is empty arrogance—religious and non-religious alike!

Honestly, our dear atheist friends, you do not have a clue about spiritual matters, ethics, and morals. Really, you do not. It is better for you to be quiet, sit down, and listen to some counsel for once. For sake of argument, we will momentarily adopt your view. If there is any remote possibility that there happens to be a god though, he or she may be listening to you and watching what you are doing. We will say it advisedly: you would do well to choose your words wisely. Better yet, again, you should stop using your mouth and hands, and start using your ears and eyes. We say this in love, not malice.

Atheists, believe or not, are actually religionists themselves. The fact of the matter is that we are all worshipping something or someone. If we are not worshipping the God of the Bible, then we are, at minimum, worshipping ourselves. We are acting independently of Him: we are our own authority, believing whatever we want, saying whatever we want, doing whatever we want. Atheists can advertise all they want about being “irreligious” and “nonreligious” but they worship a god as well. That god is self. We will stop here, move on to a related topic, and return to it later.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the “conscience” is “a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, viewed as acting as a guide to one’s behaviour.” To wit, it is a system of standards and norms that we use to evaluate ourselves as we function in the world around us. (Our English word “conscience” is derived through Old French from Latin, with “con–” meaning “with” and “scire” meaning “know.” The conscience is basically a set of internal information or data, equipping us with a “compass” or “GPS” of sorts.) If something goes against our conscience, we will hesitate to think it or do it. “That is wrong, and I will not get involved with it.” Conversely, if it agrees with our conscience, we are more willing to think it or do it. “That is right, and I need to associate with it.” Moreover, it is possible to ignore our conscience; in this case, we dwell on a thought that we believe is wrong, or we do something that we know is wrong. Our conscience will thus bother us—at least to some degree—unless we have a “seared” or anesthetized conscience (1 Timothy 4:2).

The Holy Bible says that we were created with a conscience, something to “accuse” us when we do wrong and something to “excuse” us when we do right. We turn to Romans chapter 2 and read: “[14] For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: [15] Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; ) [16] In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”

In short, the Gentiles (non-Jews) did not have the written or codified Word of God as the Jews had during the Old Testament economy (see Romans 3:1-2). However, those Gentiles will be also held accountable to a holy, righteous God one day because they had some sense of right and wrong in their spiritual body. As the Word of God will condemn the lost Jews when they give account to the Lord at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), so the conscience of the unsaved Gentiles will testify against them when they are also judged for their sins. For example, they knew it was wrong to steal and kill because that knowledge is innate among all peoples. Any society cannot function and survive if there is disorder and death.

The Gentiles did not have it written down on scrolls or animal skins (as Israel did), but, even in their idolatrous state, they had a God-given conscience and thus had some insight into what actions were acceptable and what conduct was unacceptable. Romans chapter 2 is saying no sinner—Jew or Gentile—will escape the wrath of a just God. None will have an excuse, and none will be able to say, “Do not throw me into the Lake of Fire, God! I did not have a chance to know and believe the truth!”

However, there is a danger in having a conscience. The conscience is fallible, subject to sin, prone to error. Consequently, the Scriptures speak of a “weak/defiled conscience” (1 Corinthians 8:7). Here is a system of standards and norms lacking so much good information that not only is it feeble, it can be perverted or influenced by bad information. Then, there is the “good conscience” (Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5,19; Hebrews 3:18; 1 Peter 3:16,21), a system of standards and norms abounding with the right information and not easily susceptible to being perverted by wrong knowledge.

Evolutionary scientists tell us that our universe is not the result of a Creator God deliberately causing everything to appear. According to them, the universe came about not because of something supernatural but because of the interaction of natural laws (which they themselves cannot explain with perfect knowledge). This naturalistic explanation reduces everything to the following: “Unless we can see, touch, taste, smell, or hear it, it is not real. We do not need any religion or ‘god’ to describe the origin of our universe. No religion or ‘god’ can be proven anyway. We can study the laws of physics and see how they formed the universe. If you want to call those laws ‘god,’ then that is the ‘god’ we will believe in. However, to say that there is a personal and intelligent God as described in the Christian Bible, that we will not accept!”

The above argument is quite clever. Unbelievers have used it ad nauseum to beat Christians into silence. On the surface, it sounds convincing. It falls apart upon closer inspection, however. The fact is, we cannot reduce everything in this universe to strictly naturalistic terms. After all, what can physics possibly tell us about the origins of reason/logic, love, hate, joy, sadness, anger, fear, morals, and ethics? These are feelings, emotions, and ideas—intangible and invisible faculties and yet nonetheless realities. Without any personal God whatsoever, how do we explain their existence or our possession of them?

Unless we are desperate enough to say the laws of physics are rational beings, capable of communicating knowledge and wisdom to us, we must look elsewhere to establish the origins of thought and emotion. Here is where the Bible believer’s position is more plausible than the atheist’s. The atheist is hard-pressed to define immaterial things with material laws!!!! His staunch dependence on naturalism—what he boasted as his impregnable bastion—is now his trap and ultimate downfall!!!!

Without the presence of a god—and this author, being a Bible believer, will restrict that to the Judeo-Christian God, the God of Holy Scripture—we will never truly know if what we believed and did were good or evil. All the “good” impact we had in this world will be meaningless. In fact, unless there is the God of the Bible to make a final evaluation, none of us will ever know one way or another. Some people criticize our efforts, and disagree with us. Others support our ideals. Without one standard to rate everything (all beliefs and all actions), the only thing on which we can fall back is “relative righteousness”—and there is nothing comforting or lasting here. We must look past subjective standards, something beyond ourselves and beings like us.

About 3,000 years ago, an ancient king of Israel, Solomon, penned: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). The Bible Book of Ecclesiastes is his assessment of the world around him (us). Puzzles, contradictions, ironies, and uncertainties bothered him relentlessly. He saw evil unaddressed and unpunished. Greed, violence, and dishonesty abounded. He witnessed wise men dying like common fools. He observed the foolish destroying the accomplishments of the wise. (Friend, does this world sound even remotely like ours, 30 centuries later? Indeed!!)

Solomon’s final statement to close Ecclesiastes is chapter 12, verse 14: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” After making a careful investigation of the world, he still had a plethora of nagging questions. He did not fully understand everything like he wanted. Nevertheless, Solomon was absolutely sure of two things: (1) there most certainly is a God, and (2) one day He will evaluate everything in order to set right all that is wrong.

However, my friend, if you happen to be an atheist, you do not have Solomon’s hope. If you are correct and there is no god of any type, then what we are doing here is ultimately futile, pointless, wasted time and energy. Nothing will ever amount to anything. Nothing will ever be ultimately settled. It will not matter whether we do right or wrong anyway—so then why “do good for the sake of being good?!” There is no objective standard for you. All you have is your subjective hunches, opinions, and feelings. Christians, at least, have the Holy Bible as an objective standard, and the hope that whatever does not match the Bible will be corrected in due time. Evil will be dealt with at the appropriate time!! (How strange it is that precious souls use “logic” to dismiss the notion of any personal “god,” when the very logic they are using necessitates a logical God imparting such a faculty to them!)

My dear friend, if you are an atheist, you would do well to listen here. Maybe we have gotten your attention, but our message to you is not finished. You are a sinner, and your sin will be dealt with in one of two ways. If you so desire, the Bible says the one true God (the God of Christianity) will let you go to Hell so you can spend all of eternity paying your sin debt. It is a terrible reality, but I (as a Bible teacher) must warn you in love. You will suffer endlessly in those flames because God’s wrath against your sin will never be satisfied. Now, here is something equally important. The Bible also says you do not have to go to Hell. The God of Scripture loves you and has done everything to keep you from going to Hell. He took upon Himself our human flesh, and, as the Lord Jesus Christ, He died in our place. Where we failed, God the Son triumphed. He satisfied His Heavenly Father’s righteous demands.

I will be gentle but I will be frank, my friend. Your atheism will give you just as much a right standing before Almighty God as self-righteous religious works will for the religionists. None! The God of the Bible will accept neither your works apart from religion, nor the works of the religionists. Both classes are attempting to sidestep the righteousness found in Jesus Christ exclusively. He alone can live the “good” life, the moral life, the ethical life, the selfless life, the righteous life, the perfect (!) life. There are no substitutes whatsoever—in religion or atheism!!!!

Behold, the Gospel of the Grace of God! Believe it and be saved unto eternal life. You can join God’s family by faith and His grace will transform you from the inside out. Make note of these Scriptures, believe them, and never forget them!

  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:….”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
  • Romans 4:1-5: “[1] What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? [2] For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. [3] For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. [4] Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. [5] But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

Absolutely do not delay another second, friend. Place your faith in Jesus Christ alone as your personal Saviour now. He died to pay for everything that is wrong with you. He rose again to give you new life. Swallow your pride. You cannot offer Him anything but your sins. Once you trust Him exclusively, your faith resting in these simple Bible truths, you will be granted eternal life. God will then live His life in and through you as you walk by faith in His words to you. This is the only way whereby good will be accomplished in this lost and dying world. Start reading in Romans and go on through to Philemon; here is the Christian life described in great detail.

“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Also see:
» How should we answer the argument, “If only I saw a miracle…?”
» Why did Jesus curse the “poor” fig tree?
» Why is the Bible Book of “Ecclesiastes” thus named?