If you walk around Washington, D.C., on a regular basis, you’re likely to see some rather peculiar posters. But you won’t see any more peculiar than the ads put out by the American Humanist Association. “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake,” say the signs, in Christmas-colored red and green.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Just be good for goodness’ sake. You don’t need some Big Man in the Sky telling you what to do. You can be a wonderful person simply by doing the right thing.
There’s only one problem: without God, there can be no moral choice. Without God, there is no capacity for free will.
That’s because a Godless world is a soulless world. Virtually all faiths hold that God endows human beings with the unique ability to choose their actions — the ability to transcend biology and environment in order to do good. Transcending biology and our environment requires a higher power — a spark of the supernatural. As philosopher Rene Descartes, put it, “Although … I possess a body with which I am very intimately conjoined … [my soul] is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body and can exist without it.”
Gilbert Pyle, the atheistic philosopher, derogatorily labeled the idea of soul/body dualism, “the ghost in the machine.” Nonetheless, our entire legal and moral system is based on the ghost in the machine — the presupposition that we can choose to do otherwise. We can only condemn or praise individuals if they are responsible for their actions. We don’t jail squirrels for garden theft or dogs for assaulting cats — they aren’t responsible for their actions. But we routinely lock up kleptomaniacs and violent felons.
It’s not only our criminal justice system that presupposes a Creator. It’s our entire notion of freedom and equality. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, supposed atheist, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Human equality must spring from a Creator, because the presence of a soul is all that makes man human and equal. Biology suggests inherent inequality — who would call Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stephen Hawking equal in any way? Biology suggests the sort of Hegelian social Darwinism embraced by totalitarian dictators, not the principles of equality articulated by the Founding Fathers.
Without a soul, freedom too is impossible — we are all slaves to our biology. According to atheists, human beings are intensely complex machines. Our actions are determined by our genetics and our environment. According to atheists, if we could somehow determine all the constituent material parts of the universe, we would be able to predict all human action, down to the exact moment at which Vice President-elect Joe Biden will pick his nose. Freedom is generically defined as “the power to determine action without restraint” (Random House). But if action without restraint is impossible, how can we fight for freedom?
If there is no God, there is no freedom to choose. If there is no freedom to choose, there is no good or evil. There is merely action and inaction. There is no way to “be good for goodness’ sake” — that would require an act of voluntary will far beyond human capacity.
Atheists simply gloss over this point. The American Humanist Association states on its website, whybelieveinagod.org, “We can have ethics and values based on our built-in drives toward a moral life.” Without a soul, this is wishful thinking of the highest order. Since when does biology dictate a moral drive? If it did, wouldn’t man always get more rather than less moral — wouldn’t history be a long upward climb? What about the murderers, rapists, child molesters and genocidal dictators? Are they all ignoring that “built-in drive toward a moral life”?
Atheism may work for individuals. There are moral atheists and there are immoral religious people. But as a system of thought, atheism cannot be the basis for any functional state. If we wish to protect freedom and equality, we must understand the value of recognizing God. We must recognize the flame of divinity — free will — He implanted within each of us.