By Aaron Earls
Most Americans increasingly believe that good morality is not tied to a belief in God.
That might not be such a bad thing, say some experts, as long as we understand what “good” means.
A recent Pew Research study found 56 percent of Americans say belief in God is not necessary for someone to be moral and have good values, while 42 percent disagreed.
In 2011, Americans were much more evenly divided over the issue: 49 percent thought belief in God was not necessary for morality and 48 percent said it was necessary.
The jump in the last few years includes a growing number of white evangelical Christians who believe those outside their faith can behave morally—up 6 points to 32 percent.
Seeing your atheist neighbor help out a friend in need is not a contradiction to what Scripture teaches, says Andy McLean, editor of The Gospel Project for students.
“I think it could be easily argued that the Bible affirms unbelievers can behave in a moral manner,” he said.
McLean acknowledges Christians “see people every day with little to no religious beliefs being good parents, serving their communities, and displaying integrity in their workplace.”
In fact, William Lane Craig, a philosophy professor and leading Christian apologist, wrote it would seem “arrogant and ignorant to claim that those who do not share a belief in God do not often live good moral lives.”
Both McLean and Craig maintain the deeper and more important question is from where do those good morals originate? Can objective morality itself exist apart from God?
“Christians would say objective morals exist and are relevant for all times and places because they are ultimately grounded in the character and goodness of God,” said McLean.
Those who reject the existence of God have no place to ground objective moral values and duties, he maintains.
They know they should behave in a certain way, he said, but without God there is nothing to justify why humans should believe specific actions—like honesty, bravery, or love—are better or more moral than other actions.
And one can be morally good and still not be “good enough,” when it comes to being right with God, said Jesse Campbell, brand manager of Explore the Bible.
“This is a reiteration of the same lie Satan told in Eden,” he said.
“People are drawn to the idea of being like God because being equal to God would mean being free to sin without accountability.”
Seeing the rise in people disconnecting morality from belief in God shouldn’t cause alarm necessarily, said McLean, but it should spur Christians to engage with those around them in more of an apologetic manner.
For Campbell, these numbers “should prompt Bible teachers to focus more heavily on the Scriptures.”
An increased awareness of the perspective of others and a deeper understanding of the Bible can help Christians seeking to have a conversation about God and morality.
For Craig, morality cannot exist apart from the existence of God, but because He does exist anyone can behave morally.
The morally upright atheist is, in fact, evidence for the existence of God.
“We cannot truly be good without God,” Craig writes, “but if we can in some measure be good, then it follows that God exists.”
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.