There Can be no Ethics Without God or Why You Might Already be a Theist

by pjamesbeardsley

A frequent statement from atheists and secular agnostics is that they don’t need God to be good.  That they can be “good for goodness’ sake.”  I partially agree: you don’t need to believe that there is a God in order to exhibit behavior, even exclusively exhibit behavior, that is consistent with that which is truly good.  You don’t need to believe that God commands such a thing (and/or will reward you for it, and/or will not punish you if you don’t) in order to aid the poor, orphaned, and widowed, or do anything else that is good.   Indeed, I’ve witnessed many atheists do exactly that.  That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

What I will prove, however, is that such actions are not, in and of themselves, reasonable.  Or at the very least, justified.  Indeed, this is the stated position of such atheist philosophers as Nietzsche and Rorty.  I won’t be telling the consistent, well thought out atheist anything they don’t already know.

For the sake of argument, I’ll leave open the academic possibility that something can be good apart from being justified or deemed as good, but if it is, something cannot be good if it is inconsistent with what has been deemed as good.  I won’t assume that there is no “goodness” property apart from being deemed as such, and I won’t assume that all things that are good can be proven as being good.  Rather, just that “goodness” can be a real, logically consistent property of things.  Things cannot be both good AND not good.

1. Definition 1. g: good
2. Definition 2: J: justified or deemed by proper authority as good
3. Definition 3: C: consistent with that which has been justified or deemed by proper authority as good
4. Axiom 1: If something is justified or deemed by proper authority as good, then it is good. J –> g
5. Axiom 2: If something is both good and logically consistent with that which has been justified or deemed by proper authority as good, then it is good: C /\ g –> g
6. MT 4: If something is not good, then it is not justified or deemed by proper authority as good. ~g –> ~J
7. MT 5, DeMorgan’s law: If something is not good, then it is not both good and logically consistent with that which has been justified or deemed by proper authority as good.  ~g –> ~g \/ ~C
8. Conjunction Introduction, 6, 7: If something is not good, then it is both not justified or deemed by proper authority as good AND not good OR not logically consistent with that which has been justified or deemed by proper authority as good. ~g –> ~J /\ (~g \/ ~C)
9. DeMorgan’s law, 8: If something is not good then it is not justified or deemed by proper authority as good OR both good and logically consistent with that which has been justified or deemed by proper authority as good. ~g –> ~[J \/ (g /\ C)]
10. Law of the excluded middle: All things are either justified or deemed by proper authority as good OR  good and consistent with that which has been deemed as good OR not.  [J \/ (C \/ g] \/ ~ [J \/ (c \/ g)]
11.  Material Implication, 8:   Therefore, All things are either good or not justified or deemed by proper authority as good OR both good and logically consistent with that which has been justified or deemed by proper authority as good. ~ [J \/ (g /\ C)] \/ g

12. This, in and of itself, does not completely prove that if something is good, then it is either justified or deemed as good by a proper authority or is good and is consistent with that which is good.  So we’ll prove by showing that the opposite is necessarily not true: if something, anything, is not good AND  justified or deemed as good by a proper authority or both good and consistent with that which is good.  Proposition 1:  ~g /\ [J \/ (g /\ C)] 
13. MP 9,12, reductio ad impossibilem: Something is not good, therefore it is not justified or deemed as good by a proper authority or is both good and consistent with that which is justified or deemed as good.  Something cannot be both [J \/ (g /\ C)] and ~[J \/ (g /\ C)].  Therefore, by 11, all things that are good are justified or deemed as good by a proper authority or both good and consistent with that wich has been deemed as good by a proper authority. g –> J \/ (g /\ C)

You either have to reject the axioms or logic to deny the conclusion. 

The question comes in with what exactly a proper authority is.  If it is a person or persons, be it yourself, someone else, or some construct of humanity (a corporation, a government), where did they get such authority?  It is impossible that everyone or every human construct has this authority, as not everything that one person justifies or deems as good is done so by everyone else, or at a minimum, they are not consistent with one another.  If it is only a particular person, then again, where did they get it?  Why are they different from everyone else?  If it is their access to violence and punishment, that still doesn’t explain (1) why they’re right or (2) why compliance for fear of such a thing is good.  Even if it were, why is your survival desirable?

If one tries to ascribe such an attribute to nature, a dead god, or to the “betterment of mankind” or some other abstraction, the same question arises: why?  Nature and mankind are capable of things that seem terrible.  What makes its / their survival, laws, or best interest desirable, let alone good?  What makes “betterment” “better?”

If one tries to ascribe such an attribute to an imperfect god, we can make no assertion that what it deems good is justifiable as good, or that such a being is correct.  It’s imperfect.

It is only by a living, perfect God with the inherent ability to justify and deem such things that true goodness exists.  If you believe in true goodness, you’re being inconsistent to say you don’t believe in a living, perfect God.

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