Yes, an atheist can be moral, ethical, and live in a manner acceptable to all who live around him. However, their track record in history as a whole is not very good. All one has to do is read the history of the past century, when atheistic communism controled almost half of the world. It was the bloodiest century of all history. Sure there were good people in the mix, but the big picture caanot be blurred; atheism was cruel and grossly immoral.
Can atheists be moral and ethical? Certainly! The reason being is that all humans still retain within their conscience an image of God, a sense of right and wrong.
Romans 12 verses 14 to 15 put it this way.“Indeed when Gentiles, (Unbelievers) who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law,they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
Even after Adam and Eve fell into sin they did not completely lose the image of God in whose likeness they were made. The image of God was shattered, marred, severely impaired, but not completely marred. In spite of his fall from innocence man still understands right from wrong. At least for a while, man cannot escape from his ever gnawing conscience that somethings are just down-right-evil, morally wrong. Many atheists react to this intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong and live exemplary lives accordingly.
I like the way one of my favorite authors C. S. Lewis put it; “When we see a person in danger our first instinct is to rush to help (altruism). But a second voice intervenes and says, “No, don’t endanger yourself,” which is in keeping with self-preservation. But then a third voice comes into play and says, “No, you ought to help.” Where does that third voice come from, asks Lewis? This is what is referred to as the “ought-ness” of life.” There is an ethical cry within the human breast. Morality is what people-do, but ethics describe what people ought-to-do. And yes, people know what they ought to-do, but that doesn’t mean that they always do what they ought-to-do.
The difference between the atheist and the Christian in this sense is that the atheist acts ethically for totally different reasons. He may go and do the right thing simply because he does not want to go to jail, because he does not want to upset the social apple cart, because he wants to look-good in the sight of his friends. But he has no ultimate reason for acting ethically because there is no ultimate moral authority that over-arches his life. Without this ultimate authority, each atheist defines morality on his own terms, although his morality is influenced by the remnants of morality from the shattered image of God within his soul. It’s like the time of the Judges in the Bible when ‘everyman did that which was right in his own eyes,” (Judges 21:25).
The Christian, on the other hand, acts morally out of the knowledge of the moral law given by God in His Word and a love for the Law-giver Himself. In addition, that knowledge is continually increased and personalized by the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, whose task it is to guide the Christian “into all truth” (John 16:13). The Christian marches to the tune of a better drummer, he hears a clearer voice, he follows a more convincing commander and chief than his own fallen conscience.
The atheist walks more in tune with his own instincts, his own self-righteousness and does not knowthe clear voice of the Holy Spirit. God’s truth is “foolishness” to him. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
The atheist sees morality from a very different world-view than a Christian. If the society in which he lives sees it morally acceptable to kill unborn babies, he has no qualms about it, he sees no reason to oppose the practice. Within the framework of his blurred understanding his “moral law” even tells him that the killing of an unborn child is the compassionate thing to do if it is proving to be an inconvenience to the mother. The Christian, however, sees abortion as wrong because his morality is built upon what the moral Law-giver has declared, which is that all human life to be sacred because it is created in the image of God. The divine Law-giver has proclaimed, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) and, for the Christian, that settles it forever.
Yes, and atheist can be moral, ethical, and behave in a proper manner, but the danger is this; he has no ultimate reason to do so. Again and again throughout history we see bloody roads where their thinking has taken us.
That’s Something to Think About.