Some people say we do not need to believe in God; we just need to be good ethical people. Honestly, to a believer, this seems like such a waste. Why would anyone turn their back on the great rewards God has promised for good deeds and just do them for nothing? It’s like choosing to go through years of medical studies without wanting the diploma or career at the end.
However, being good, ethical and moral is not a purely selfless decision. If we think about it, everyone is motivated by something or another:
- Some people are motivated by punishment.
They drive ethically to avoid a traffic ticket. They are honest (don’t steal) because they don’t want to end up in jail. This is the lowest form of motivation because it is dependent on the environment.
In the absence of the “punishment-avoidance” motive, i.e., in a different situation without high traffic penalties, they may drive like maniacs. If there were no rules for queuing they might push and shove as much as the next person.
- Some are motivated by reward, monetary or otherwise (such as recognition).
For example, they give to charity so that their community will recognize them as charitable and kind citizens. This is a higher form of motivation, but it is still tied to the environment.
In the absence of an audience, the charity might not be as forthcoming.
- Some are motivated by self-gratification.
They are good because they expect nothing less of themselves. They hold themselves up to a high standard. This is a superior form of motivation because it is not tied to the environment, but instead, is inherent in the individual.
However, this motivation is dependent on our fickle selves and our subjective moral compasses at any particular time. What gratifies us today may not satisfy us tomorrow, and what we consider good behavior may be regarded as harmful by others.
- The purest form of motivation is to be moral and ethical because you want to get closer to God, Who is the source of all morality, goodness, and virtue.
This is a constant potent motivation that does not depend upon the environment or mood.
It is not subjective because its standards are sourced from our Creator who knows His creatures best and looks out for everyone’s interests. Here, ethics are displayed in every circumstance and regardless of hardship, because the believer believes God is watching over him at all times.
We have mounting scientific evidence that spirituality is directly proportional to morality. A 2011 study by Konrath, O’Brien, and Hsing found that “empathic concern” and “perspective-taking” was declining among US college students, as a result of the emphasis on material sciences at the expense of humanities. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20688954/)
In 2014, Dr. Anthony Jack was leading the Brain, Mind, and Consciousness lab at Case Western Reserve University in the US. He was also the research director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence. (http://www.tedxcle.com/tony-jack/) Dr. Jack and his team conducted nine separate experiments involving thousands of participants from diverse religious faiths (mainly people from monotheistic religions).
They measured belief in God, analytical ability and caring tendencies. Their research showed that the “nicest and kindest” people believe in God. The believers were kinder, more tolerant and better listeners than the non-believers in each group. In addition, the research showed a direct relationship between belief and empathy for other people and for society at large.
Contrary to what some atheists claim, religious people are not driven by loneliness and despair. Instead, religious people identify more with all of humanity. This empathy is even found among the most dogmatic religious believers. On the other hand, the more dogmatic the non-believers, the more psychological and social problems they faced. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BihT0XrPVP8)
Other research shows that people distrust atheists because they do not adhere to a divine moral compass. (Cline, Austin, Are Atheists Trusted Less Than Rapists? Learn Religions, Apr. 17, 2019: learnreligions.com/atheists-trusted-less-than-rapists-248477)
Ethics in the Absence of Faith
Even if we ignore the research and assume that we do not need God’s direction to be absolutely objective, ethical, empathetic, and fully conscious of the rights of others, there are fundamental problems with ethics in the absence of faith in God:
- Objective Source
For the theist, absolute objective morality comes from God; while for an atheist, morality is fluid and subjective. Subjective morality cannot explain why rational people in every culture across the ages agree that killing a child, theft, rape, etc. are wrong; while charity, kindness, and altruism, etc. are good.
- Inherent Racial Superiority
Evolution is presented in many cases as an alternative to creationism. Inherently —through its survival-of-the-fittest philosophy and its disregard for divine rulings on human equality and morality— evolution may be perceived as a racist ideology.
Darwin paved the way for racism and genocide when he said:
“At some period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of Man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Charles Darwin, Anthropological Review 1867, page 236. Also: Darwin, Forgotten Books 2007, page 136. (https://tinyurl.com/ub7t6xb)
Sir Francis Galton, the Father of Eugenics, was Darwin’s first cousin and was indebted to his theories. Major Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin’s son, trumpeted the spread of eugenics. Major Darwin foresaw the day when “eugenics would become not only a grail, a substitute for religion, as Galton had hoped, but a ‘paramount duty’ whose tenets would presumably become enforceable.” The Major repeated his father’s admonition that, though the crudest workings of natural selection must be mitigated by “the spirit of civilization,” society must encourage breeding among the best stock and prevent it among the worst without further delay. (https://creation.com/darwin-and-eugenics, para. 13)
The writer of an 1888 book —to justify the killing of the native population in the Australian State of Victoria— wrote:
“It is a question of temperament; to the sentimental it is undoubtedly an iniquity; to the practical it represents a distinct step in human progress, involving the sacrifice of a few thousands of an inferior race. … But the fact is that Mankind, as a race, cannot choose to act solely as moral beings. They are governed by animal laws which urge them blindly forward upon tracks they scarce can choose for themselves.” (https://tinyurl.com/v8ledfo, para. 8)
Theories of biological determinism (https://www.encyclopedia.com/science-and-technology/biology-and-genetics/biology-general/biological-determinism) worried even leading evolutionists, such as Gould and Lewontin.
Stephen Gould (1941-2002) was an American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist and historian of science. He was also one of the most influential and widely read authors of popular science of his generation. Gould spent most of his career teaching at Harvard University and working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Richard Lewontin (1929-2021) was an American evolutionary biologist, mathematician, geneticist, and social commentator.
Gould and Lewontin noted that individuals with similar theories had used them to justify the violations of civil rights, based on claims that some people in some populations had innate criminality or poor intellect, whereas people in other populations did not. An example of applying such theories was the eugenics movement at the beginning of the twentieth century when many people were sterilized against their will to prevent those who were seen as weak or feeble-minded from reproducing.
Another example is the “human zoos,” also called “ethnological expositions.”
These were 19th– and 20th-century public exhibitions of humans, displayed in a “natural” or “primitive” state to emphasize the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_zoo)
Some Darwinists, including Charles Darwin himself and Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Le_Bon), considered women as an inferior species. (https://www.icr.org/article/darwins-teaching-womens-inferiority)
In 1879, Gustave Le Bon told his readers that women’s brains were closer in evolution to gorilla’s minds than the minds of men, as seen by their size difference:
. . . a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. . . . Women . . . represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and . . . are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. (https://faculty.washington.edu/lynnhank/wbgould.pdf, para. 10)
Many historians believe that the roots of Nazi ideology were found in Darwinism and other works disseminating scientific racism and eugenics. (https://www.csustan.edu/sites/default/files/History/Faculty/Weikart/Progress-through-Racial-Extermination.pdf)
In his 2016 book, Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich, Richard Weikart explains how the laws of nature became Hitler’s only moral guide; how he became convinced that he should annihilate supposedly “inferior” human beings and promote the welfare and reproduction of the allegedly superior Aryans, in accordance with racist forms of Darwinism prevalent at the time.
The 1974 book by Sherman Nance Stone, Aborigines in White Australia: A Documentary History of the Attitudes Affecting Official Policy and the Australian Aborigine, 1697–1973, consists almost entirely of excerpts from parliamentary transcripts, court records, letters to editors, anthropological reports, etc. These documents show a distinct change for the worse after the publication of Charles Darwin’s book in 1859, with a marked increase in callousness, ill-treatment and brutality towards Aboriginal people evident in official attitudes. Readers took it that the European was the “fittest to survive” and the Aboriginal was doomed to die out according to natural law, like the dinosaur.
In a speech to his Fifteenth Party Congress in 1927, Stalin declared:
“Our party is a living organism. As in every organism, a metabolism takes place; old, obsolete stuff dies off; new growing things flourish and develop.”
Historians believe he took this “dying off” quite ruthlessly and literally from Social Darwinism. (https://evolutionnews.org/2012/12/darwinism_and_s2, para. 7)
Social Darwinism is a name given to various theories of society that originated in the United Kingdom, North America, and Western Europe in the 1870s, claiming to apply biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics. Social Darwinists argue that the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease.
Ethics with Faith in God
Compare the above to the human equality demanded by religion. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said:
“O people, verily your Lord is One and your father [i.e., Adam] is one. Verily there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or a non-Arab over an Arab, or a red man over a black man, or a black man over a red man, except in terms of piety.” (Al-Albani in Al-Ṣaḥîḥ 6/199)
- Appreciation and Fairness
Part of being ethical involves the appreciation for gifts, for kindness, for knowledge imparted, etc. Don’t we owe our Creator appreciation for our existence, our minds, this world, and everything He gave us?
Is it fair to thank everyone but God? We thank the doctor for repairing our broken hand, so how is it fair not to thank the One who gave us a hand in the first place?
Part of being ethical is being a conscientious, productive worker. If, at your company, you decide to have a great relationship with everyone except the boss and to work in ignorance of his plans, totally oblivious of the mission statement of the company, how productive a worker can you be? Similarly, if we ignore God in our life and forget our mission statement as His creatures, we are ignoring our basic purpose-driven values.
…To be continued in Part 6