A campaign to collect money for the earthquake victims in Haiti has been launched by Non-Believers Giving Aid, a charity started by Richard Dawkins. The author of the announcement closes with the following statement:
I couldn’t care less whether someone donates to a religious organization helping out there or not. You should donate to whatever group you are comfortable donating to. But I think it’s a good idea to do so through a non-religious organization because you can help out at the same time you’re disproving the myth that religion is required for morality or charity. That’s where I chose to donate. I hope you will too.
Michael Shermer makes the following statement:
In other words, we all have the capacity to be generous and giving, as long as we belong to social groups who encourage the better angels of our natures. That is social capital that generates economic capital, and nonbelievers are just as generous as believers. Call it bowling for atheists!
First, help for the victims in Haiti is to be commended, whether the people giving the aid are religious or not. Victims of this tragedy will welcome the help regardless.
However, the arguments given above make a fundamental error. They are essentially “we can be good (or moral) without believing in God” arguments, like the recent “be good for goodness sake” atheist ad campaign (post here). Such arguments make an error which is common among atheists and which misses the entire point regarding the religious basis of morality. The question is not whether people can do good deeds without believing in God. The question is, “what is the basis of morality?” or “on what basis is an action judged to be good or evil?” Richard Dawkins argues in The God Delusion that morality is grounded in evolution by appealing to his selfish gene theory. However, this is a purely pragmatic criteria which states that altruism increases the chance for certain genes to survive. Explaining pragmatically why someone does something does not explain why he should or should not do it.
An action can be declared to be morally good for everyone only if it that judgment is grounded in a standard which transcends individual people and individual societies. This standard would also need to be grounded in a personal reality because moral obligation involves choice which requires personality and consciousness. A purely naturalistic worldview cannot provide such a basis. On the other hand, if morality is based in a transcendent and personal reality (such as God) then there is an objective foundation for morality. Being the creation of such a being would also explain mankind’s universal moral consciousness (although people differ on some of the details).
Of course people can do good deeds without believing in God, but they cannot account for their standard of goodness. Without a personal and transcendent foundation, morality ultimately boils down to personal or popular opinion and pragmatics. In such a world an action could be helpful or not helpful, desirable or undesirable, but it could not be declared to be good or evil. If morality is a reflection of the eternal nature of God, however, then there is a firm basis on which to distinguish between good and evil. The fact that people recognize a distinction between good and evil regardless of their religious beliefs is a reflection of God’s general revelation and the image of God in each person.