Can you be good without believing in God?

Over the course of a person’s lifetime, it is common and completely normal to possess heavily theological curiosities.

In fact, the human race is well known for its desire to understand itself in relation to its living and non-living counterparts.

Dating back to the dawn of civilization, the human race has possessed a natural curiosity which has led to humanity’s desire to know its place in the cosmos, as well as the origins of life and the universe as a whole.

As a species, the human race has pondered a myriad of largely philosophical questions ranging from the existence of God to intelligent design.

One of the most well known and commonly debated questions appears to be whether one can be good without God?

This question is fascinating although it has an assumptive connotation. The question assumes that morality and the existence of a God are dependent on one another.

In other words, God is the source of morality and following this stream of thought, it suggests that without morality there is no God and without God there is no morality.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig holds onto a similar view in which he states that “there can be no objective moral truths without God, and since there are objective moral truths, God must exist.”

In an effort to clarify the ambiguity and circular reasoning surrounding this question, it must be said that morality is its own concept and God or a higher power is equally its own concept.

In the case of whether one can be good without God, does this mean a personal relationship with God or the existential nature of God?

If the former is the case, it is clear that this question relates to two groups of individuals, a theist and an atheist. Individuals who subscribe to a religion and believe in a higher power, otherwise known as God, are theists. On the contrary, individuals who do not believe in a higher power or God are atheists.

With that being said, if morality is its own concept, the theist receives moral instruction from God, and many practitioners believe in maxims and principles such as “loving your neighbor as yourself”, giving back to one’s community, and not harming the life of another individual.

The atheist’s morality however is not derived from a relationship with God which may lead one to ask where a non-believer’s morality stems from. According to Frank Zindler, board member and former President of the American Atheist, “The behavior of Atheists is subject to the same rules of sociology, psychology, and neurophysiology that govern the behavior of all members of our species, religionists included.”

In other words, the ethics and/or moral standards of an atheist are derived from known principles understood within society, and studied within the previously aforementioned interdisciplinary fields.

Therefore, a theist and an atheist are both capable of possessing morals or being “good.” As it pertains to the second interpretation of whether one can be good without God which has to do the existential nature of God, the same is also true.

If God exists or does not exist, it is clear that an atheist and a theist are both capable of possessing morals.

However, the subjectively perceived “good works” one does would be highly dependent on if God receives that action as a good deed. In other words, if God exists, a perfect moral code would be solely dependent on if God approves of this code.

This is only true if this God is “good” and benevolent.

If God happens to be a malevolent God, his views on morality would be flawed and morality would once again be subjective.

In short, yes, one can be good without God in virtually every situation depending on a wide range of philosophical factors.