I read somewhere recently that professors are more apt to believe in objective moral values than students and that philosophy professors are more apt to believe in objective moral values than professors in general.
The only conclusion one can draw from that is that people who have spent a significant amount of time contemplating morality seem to “get” that it can’t exist without God.
To clear up any potential confusion or misunderstanding, I am not suggesting that belief in God is required or that people who lack belief in God can’t behave morally.
Traditionally, atheists have acknowledged that God is a necessary condition of objective moral values (i.e. the sort of moral truths that are discovered rather than invented by humans and which are “valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not”. For example:
• Jean-Paul Sartre: “when we speak of ‘abandonment’ – a favourite word of Heidegger – we only mean to say that God does not exist, and that it is necessary to draw the consequences of his absence right to the end. The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain type of secular moralism which seeks to suppress God at the least possible expense. Towards 1880, when the French professors endeavoured to formulate a secular morality, they said … nothing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall rediscover the same norms of honesty, progress and humanity, and we shall have disposed of God as an out-of-date hypothesis which will die away quietly of itself.
The existentialist, on the contrary, finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappears with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that ‘the good’ exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.”
Dostoevsky once wrote: “Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.”
• Paul Kurtz: “The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns their ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, they are purely ephemeral.”
• Julian Baggini: “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. no God] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves … [and] that means that moral claims are not true or false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error.”
• Richard Dawkins: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose [i.e. no God], no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” Dawkins concedes: “It is pretty hard to defend absolutist morals on grounds other than religious ones.”