Morality Apart From God: Is It Possible?
Ray Cotton is the former finance director and treasurer of Probe Ministries. He received a B.S. in business
administration/management science from the University of Northern Colorado, a certificate in Christian studies
from the Center for Advanced Biblical Studies, and an M.A. in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Texas at
Dallas. He now serves in a ministry to international students.
Recently, I became aware of a professor at one of the local colleges whose goal is to convince his students that
you can have a system of ethics without a belief in God. Now I agree with him that holding his position is
theoretically possible, but I said to him that such an ethical system is one built on sand. It would not stand the
test of time nor the waves of adversity.
The U.S.S.R. tried to build an empire on godless atheism, and it failed miserably. Today in Russia we still see
the results of the ethics of atheism. You would think that the Russians, having suffered so much under a
totalitarian regime, would strive to do the right thing in appreciation for their new freedoms. Many have, but
Russia today is torn apart by crime, greed, lawlessness, and immorality. Why? Was it merely too much
freedom too soon, or are they still reaping the rewards of the ethics of atheism?
Many people today believe that God is, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, an intolerant task master. They say
they don't need God to live right, and they can set their own rules for life. We live in a world obsessed with
personal values. What people do depends on their personal values, but since everyone's values are different,
there seems to be no standard by which we must all live. The very idea of basing our morality upon our values
means that we have bought into the idea of a system of relativistic ethics. Personal values have replaced
values of virtue as the foundation for ethical thought. Virtues speak of some objective realities, but personal
values speak only about subjective decisions of our will.
Basing ethical decisions on personal values is problematic. For example, is something good because we love it,
or do we love it because it is good? German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would tell us that something is
good because we love it. According to Nietzsche, man himself is the universal and absolute reference point for
all of life. "God is dead," he declared, believing this release from the demands of any metaphysical reality was
an opportunity to develop his own system of ethics based on self cultivation.
Today the world is continuing to build an ethical system based on tolerance and enlightenment apart from
God. Men have tried many ways to teach this new godless form of morality. A decade ago we constantly heard
the term, "values clarification." It was a national effort to allow even children to set their own standards of
behavior. It was a disaster as it justified almost any kind of behavior. Educators may not loosely throw around
the term, "values clarification," as they once did, but many still try to teach a system of ethics based on man's
own values. These are values which are rooted in the idea of desirable goods, i.e., that which we decide is
important to us.
The use of the term "values" can have objective content, but