Tag Archives: Jerry Walls

#6 Post of 2013 – Can We Know Moral Values Without Knowing God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Clearly the answer must be “yes.”  In fact, the apostle Paul teaches this very truth in the book of Romans. There are some moral truths that can be known without a person ever acknowledging God’s existence. In fact, the world would be a complete disaster if everyone had to agree on the existence and attributes of God before anyone could know moral truths.

But it seems that atheists often think that Christians are making this claim. They think that Christians are saying a person cannot be moral or know right from wrong without believing in God. No Christian thinker of any stature has ever said this, though.

When Christians present moral arguments for God’s existence, or when they argue that moral values cannot exist unless God exists, they are making a very different point. David Baggett and Jerry Walls explain what is going on in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality:

[I]t might seem inconsistent to argue that moral truth is dependent on God if we can know it without even thinking of God. This alleged inconsistency can be dispelled if we recognize, as numerous classical thinkers have pointed out, that the order of being is different from the order of knowing. That is, the order in which we come to know things might be different from the order in which things exist, or have come to exist.

The order of being has to do with metaphysics and the order of knowing has to do with epistemology. Christian arguments about God and morality are almost always about metaphysics (the order of being) and not about epistemology (the order of knowing). Baggett and Walls add:

Certain moral truths might be as evident to us as anything can be, but may still leave unanswered the question of where morality came from. Likewise, the foundations of morality might be at a greater distance from us in terms of immediate knowledge than morality itself. This is a fundamental distinction, but one that is often missed, resulting in needless confusion.

Baggett and Walls point out that many atheists just seem to completely miss this distinction:

Recent books defending atheism have perpetuated this confusion, unfortunately, but not surprisingly. For instance, Richard Dawkins seems to ignore this distinction when he asks, “if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?”

Nobody disagrees that we can gather a bunch of people from different worldviews together in a room and agree on a basic set of moral values.  This simply is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the question of where these moral values come from. Answering this question is what atheists need to work on.

Why Is Morality Ultimately Relational?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Can a person be moral without knowing God? Yes, but this kind of moral life is stunted and incomplete. It is only through relationship with God that the moral life flowers. Once again, I must quote from David Baggett and Jerry Walls’ brilliant work, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality.

If God is the source and root of morality—in any fashion close to the way that we have depicted it here—then the tug of morality within us is less like a cold deliverance of reason, and more like a warm and personal invitation to come and partake, to drink from a brook whose water quenches our thirst in the most deeply satisfying way we can imagine.

The voice of morality is the call of God to return to our only true and ultimate source of happiness. It’s not an overactive superego or a societally imposed joy-killing curfew, but an intimation of the eternal, a personal overture to run with rather than against the grain of the universe. It’s a confirmation of our suspicions that love and relationship have not just happened to bubble up to the top of the evolutionary chain, reflecting nothing, but rather that they penetrate to the very foundation of all that is real.

Reason and relationship, rationality and relationality, go hand in hand, and they weren’t merely the culmination of the elaborate process that enabled us to reflect about it all and inquire into the meaning of life; no, they were what began it all and imbued the process with meaning right from the start.

How does our relationship with God make us more virtuous?

Virtue itself is relational. Experience reveals that we grow to become like those with whom we fraternize. Relationship with God is what makes us more like him; intimacy with Christ makes us fully human. By hiding his words in our heart we become better able to resist sin; by yielding to his will we walk uprightly; by allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to animate us, we find deliverance from the bondage to sin.

Virtue, to our thinking, is not just a set of dispositional qualities; it’s a function of ongoing relationship. Intimacy with God is what engenders holiness of heart. Trust in his faithfulness and goodness manifests itself in a holy life. Morality, ultimately, for the Christian, is all about relationship, first and foremost with God, and then secondarily with others. All the law and the prophets, Jesus assured us, hang on these two commandments: To love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Yes, we can be virtuous without knowing God, but it is of a secondary quality. The path to true virtue is through relationship with Jesus Christ.

Are Knowing Facts about God Enough?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Since I write an apologetics blog where we frequently discuss theology, doctrine, philosophy, science, and reasoning, it may seem like my view is that all a person needs is the facts about God, and that is all. Let me straighten this misconception out: I believe facts are not enough.

God, as a personal being, as THE personal being, is not satisfied with someone who knows a bunch of facts about him. That’s nice, but more is needed. If your spouse knew several important facts about you, but didn’t love you, would you be satisfied with that relationship?

David Baggett and Jerry Walls describe Paul Moser’s insightful views on this subject:

God both reveals and hides himself, and Moser argues, consistent with Christian theology, that the reason for this is that God’s purposes aren’t just to generate propositional knowledge of his existence, but a more deeply personal sort of knowledge. God is a loving Father who, in his filial love, speaks to us all but in different ways and at different times, in an effort to invite us into a loving personal relationship with himself.

Moser argues that a relational God of love is not content merely to provide discursive evidence of his existence in order to elicit cognitive assent or function as the conclusion of an argument; rather, God desires to be known for nothing less than this robust end: fellowship and morally perfect love between him and human beings.

So what are the implications for a person who believes that mere facts or evidence should suffice in their search for God?

Moser . . . suggests that evidence for God cannot be mere spectator evidence, but something both more authoritative and volitional than that. God, on Moser’s view, hides from those who do not desire a relationship or life-changing knowledge of him. God conceals himself from those who do not recognize the existential implications of belief in God, whereas he does reveal himself to those who recognize and desire to live with the implications of knowing God.

Baggett and Walls add:

A theistic conception of reality fundamentally alters everything. For if God is the ultimate reality, our quest for wisdom is a quest for him, a personal being, not just principles or platitudes. And if the context in which we find ourselves involves God drawing us into loving relationship with him, then a logic of relations more than a logic of propositions reigns.

As C. S. Lewis put it, “If human life is in fact ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our real needs and of the way in which they can be satisfied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us far from beneficent and far from wise, and that it will be our highest prudence to give Him our confidence in spite of this.”

Your search for God must not only include facts about him, but a relationship. At the very least, while you’re collecting facts about God, you must be genuinely open to having a relationship with him. God will reveal himself to you if that is your approach. If not, he may stay hidden.

Is It Always Rational to Act Morally?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If you are a dictator, and you have complete control over your nation, and you have good reason to believe you will remain in control, why should you not take whatever you want from whomever you want in order to bring yourself pleasure? Why would it be rational for you to be moral?

In certain cases of truth telling or repaying a debt or keeping a promise, and in those rarer cases where the performance of a duty risks death or injury, why do the moral thing? In an atheistic world, there may be instances where doing the moral thing does not advance my goals and desires for my life. In other words, doing the moral thing may not be the rational thing for me to do.

David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in their book Good God: The The Theistic Foundations of Morality, offer this choice to the atheist:

Either affirm that morality and rationality sometimes dictate different things and then either infer that we should do the moral, irrational thing anyway, or do the rational thing and ignore the dictates of morality.

How does this differ from the theist?

Notice how sharp is the contrast here between the theist who believes in ultima facie prescriptively binding moral obligations and the skeptic who rejects the existence of such duties or their rational authority. The theist affirms that there are such duties, which are in our ultimate self-interest because loving God and doing right are always in our ultimate self-interest. So it’s always rational to do such duties and acknowledge their authoritative force. The skeptic denies this, saying instead that morality seems to lack rational authority or perhaps authority altogether, for sometimes it’s just too costly.

Baggett and Walls continue:

Now, both thinkers could be said to be thinking in a way that’s rational in at least one sense. Each is thinking through the implications of their worldview in a way that is not obviously unreasonable or irrational.

What this shows, then, is that the meta-ethical question about morality and rationality is inextricably tied to ultimate questions of ontology and metaphysics. The right ultimate view of reality is plausibly the one that will be most likely to produce the right analysis of the relationship between morality and rationality. Both the atheist and the theist are predicating their approach on a fundamental axiom: that the world makes sense.

Why does it matter if the world makes sense and what does that have to do with morality?

It wouldn’t make sense if the world required us to do what isn’t in our ultimate self-interest. We think this was Kant’s insight when he suggested that the moral enterprise needs, in a deep and radical way, the postulate of a God who can, and will, make happiness correspond to virtue. Morality fails to make sense when that correspondence fails.

Does atheism guarantee that morality will correspond with ultimate happiness?

It’s the atheistic world in particular, however, that introduces the failure of this correspondence. Reality itself must be committed to morality in some deep way for morality to make sense. Morality really must be a very deep feature and fixture of reality in order for its demands to retain their authoritative force. In an atheistic world there just doesn’t seem likely to be the sort of ontological foundation to morality that renders it always rational to both believe in and do what’s morally binding. The picture is very different for a theistic world of a certain sort.

On Christian theism, is always rational to act morally. On atheism, it is sometimes rational to act morally, but in certain cases atheism can give a person no guarantee that their moral actions will ultimately lead to their happiness. Surely atheism, then, weakens the dictates of the moral law.

Does the Existence of Gratuitous Evil Prove That a Good God Does Not Exist?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Although most philosophers of religion have conceded that the logical problem of evil (i.e., an all-powerful, all-good God cannot logically exist if evil exists) has been effectively answered by theists, there is still a battle over the evidential problem of evil. The problem for theists, as stated in the evidential argument, is that an all-powerful, all-good God could do a lot more to reduce the gratuitous evil in the world, and since he does not, it is more rational to believe that he does not exist.

David Baggett and Jerry Walls write that for the anti-theist to make the case that “there are far more sufferings than are morally justified, he needs an argument that a good God would not create the actual world.” Can the case be made that it would have been better for God not to create the world than to create the actual world we live in? Baggett and Walls think that it is doubtful.

His case would require more than showing that there are many instances of excessive sufferings, which seems true, but that there are more and worse of those than there are countervailing or parallel goods overall. And the case of whether there are depends on the evidence for Anselmian theology. To the extent that independent reasons exist for such theology, we have more grounds for doubting [the anti-theist’s] insistence that we’re rationally constrained to give up theistic belief.

Anselmian theology holds that God is the greatest conceivable being – all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect in every way. The anti-theist must show that this particular conception of God fails to explain how the world could contain the evil it does. Baggett and Walls argue that it

is plausible to think that there would be a great number of occasions during which God would not intervene to stop people from exercising their wills in terrible ways if he went to the trouble of creating a world featuring such freedom. By parity of reasoning, the case is similar with a world of stable natural laws, assuming that God saw its creation as valuable enough to effect in the first place.

Assuming that God sees value in creating a world of meaningful freedom and stable order, it is doubtful that he would intervene often to thwart people’s evil expressions of freedom or disrupt the natural order unless the overall balance between goods and evils in the world began to tip in the direction toward evils.

But how can there be any counterbalancing goods in the face of evils such as child torture? Aren’t there simply some evils which are so gratuitous that there can be no possible ultimate justification for God allowing them? For Baggett and Walls, gratuitous suffering does not entail ultimately unjustifiable suffering.

Consequently, we accept that a good God wouldn’t allow suffering for which there aren’t morally sufficient reasons, but we reject the notion that . . . problematic gratuitous sufferings are simply to be equated with ultimately unjustifiable sufferings. The distinction between gratuitous suffering and ultimately unjustified suffering may rest on how much value we place on certain intrinsic goods.

The anti-theist must

genuinely leave open enough room for the intrinsic good of God’s allowing the actual world to “play out.” If [the anti-theist] can’t accommodate this actual world, his concession to the potential value of free will amounts to very little. He insists that, even if God went to the trouble of creating a world with free will and stable natural laws, he would not allow a world like this one, even though creating a world with traits like physical laws and meaningful free will introduces the possibility of great suffering. This is, needless to say, a highly ambitious claim, and one we find unpersuasive.

Although in principle reason does rule out some things for a good God—unconditional reprobation, a command to torture children for fun, and certain qualitative and quantitative evils—the claim that this world belongs in that category is far from obvious, to put it mildly.

God has created a world with free will and stable natural laws, and therefore great suffering may occur and does occur. The anti-theist, to persuade us that God would not create the world we live in, must somehow show that God has insufficient moral reasons for allowing the evil we see around us. It seems impossible to ever demonstrate this, given the Anselmian God, and so the evidential argument from evil fails.

How Does Jesus Help Us Understand the Binding of Isaac?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The story, in Genesis 22, of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac has always been perplexing to readers. However, this story takes on special significance to Christians, for it foreshadows the sacrifice of God’s Son for mankind.

David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Moralitybring this significance to light. Before doing so, they chide readers of this text who fail to take into account the theological context of the story:

Kierkegaard is famous for taking the passage as paradigmatic of the “teleological suspension of the ethical,” according to which obedience to God trumps morality itself. He no doubt has pushed many readers to personalize the narrative of the binding of Isaac and ask themselves what they would personally do if they thought God commanded something like this.

But of course the story thus construed has been shorn of nearly all its unique theological and historical significance. The quest to derive universal principles from a story like this is at cross-purposes with the particularistic, gradualist, and narrative-driven character of many portions of scripture, particularly in the Old Testament.

How should one approach the interpretation of Genesis 22?

One who wishes to read [it] with a genuine openness to [its] wisdom and revelatory nature would be well advised not to so recklessly and spuriously traverse the hermeneutical gap. Genesis clearly states that God was testing Abraham, so that the reader knows in advance that it is not really the will of God for Abraham to do this. Abraham, of course, does not know it, and so the point of the test is to see the extent of Abraham’s obedience.

For the reader, the dramatic tension is not the content of the command, but whether Abraham will fully trust God, and what God will do to stop it. Including Abraham’s story in the history of revelation was a much more powerful way to show that God does not, in fact, want child sacrifice than just to say so.

So how does Jesus figure into the Christian understanding of Genesis 22?

Christian readers, however, have always seen in this story a profound fore-shadowing of another scenario in which the Father actually allowed his Son to be sacrificed. Rather than being spared by a ram caught in the thickets, the Son was himself the lamb of God who died to take away the sin of the world. And he went to his death not as a helpless child, but as a perfect man who willingly offered his full obedience to his Father in a fallen world bent on killing him.

While the story of Jesus is even more surprising than the story of Isaac, perhaps in another sense it is not. Is the face of Jesus surprising when omnibenevolence takes human form? It is worth emphasizing here that the book of Hebrews, which reflects at length on the sacrifice of Christ, describes him as one “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The sacrifice of Christ was not a sacrifice into oblivion, but a sacrifice with the prospect of resurrection and exaltation as its final outcome. In view of this, perhaps it is not surprising that the author of Hebrews explains that Abraham obeyed God when called to sacrifice Isaac because he reasoned that God can raise the dead, and must have been planning to do so if he were to fulfill his promises through Isaac, as he had promised. God’s ultimate ability to rectify things as shown in the resurrection provides ways to square even difficult commands with his perfect love and goodness that are simply out of reach if death is the last word.

Why Does God Have Authority Over Us?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

I have been asked, on occasion, why it is that human beings should obey the commands of God. After all, just because God created us does not mean that he has ultimate authority over us. We would never argue that a mother who gives life to her child has ultimate authority over that child. The mother’s authority only goes so far.

So how is God any different?

Davis Baggett and Jerry Walls give an insightful answer to this question in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Here is their approach to this question:

Let us consider the reasons we normally ascribe authority to someone. Sometimes it is a simple matter of power. A person who has the legal power to enforce his will, for instance, has a certain kind of authority. Another source of authority is knowledge and information. We recognize as authorities those persons who have sufficient mastery of a field or discipline that they can command respect for what they know and understand. A third source of authority is moral integrity and character, the sort of authority that appeals to our conscience and demands respect in a deeper sense than the authority that comes from mere power, or even knowledge. Indeed, a person who has mere power or legal authority but who lacks moral integrity lacks the authority to command our respect, even if he has the power to enforce his will on us.

As we mentioned earlier, just because God created us (has power over us), does not necessarily mean that he has the knowledge, wisdom, or moral character to exercise authority over us. After all, human parents lack the knowledge, wisdom, and moral character that would enable them to exercise complete authority over their children for their children’s entire lives.

Does God lack those same attributes? Not if we’re talking about the Christian God.

God has supreme power, knowledge, and goodness, and all of these underwrite his moral authority. He created us and this world and stamped us with his image, and has the power to hold us fully accountable for our actions. Since he has perfect knowledge of us, he understands perfectly what is good for us and our flourishing. Moreover, since he is perfectly good he desires our well-being and does everything short of overriding our freedom to promote it.

In view of his nature as a perfect being, there are no good grounds for doubting his authority. There can be no blindsidedness, no bias, no imperfect understanding, no possibility of misuse of power, or having obtained it wrongly. If all rational withholdings are blocked, we ought to accept God as an authority. And part of what is involved in that is accepting his commands, unless we have good reason to do otherwise; but again, with a perfect being, there can’t possibly be good reasons to do otherwise. In short, we think the issue of authority is a matter of power, knowledge, and character, all of which add up to moral authority.

The Christian God, therefore, possesses all of the qualities we would want to underwrite his complete and total authority over all human beings. God is not like our earthly parents. He is the most perfect Being and the source of all that is good, true, and beautiful. There is no reason to ever doubt his legitimate authority over us.

In What Sense Is God the Good?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Classical Christian theism affirms that God is the Good. David Baggett and Jerry Walls explain that

in some important sense we wish to argue that God just is the ultimate Good. This view . . . has a venerable history within Christianity. Thomists, Anselmians, theistic Platonists, and theistic activists, including such contemporary analytic philosophers as Alvin Plantinga and Robert Adams, all concur that on a Christian understanding of reality, God and the ultimate Good are ontologically inseparable.

Notice that last sentence. Ontologically inseparable means that God and the Good are the same thing. If we look at Thomas Aquinas’s view, in particular, we see that the

terms “being” and “goodness” are the same in reference, differing only in sense. A thing is perfect of its kind to the extent to which it is fully realized or developed; the extent to which the potentialities definitive of its kind—its specifying potentialities—have been actualized. In acting, a thing aims at being.

Being and goodness . . . co-refer, picking out the same referent under two different names and descriptions, . . . Since Aquinas took God to be essentially and uniquely “being itself,” it is God alone who is essentially goodness itself. This allows us to make ready sense of the relationship between God and the standard by which he prescribes or judges.

Many atheists still throw the Euthyphro Dilemma at Christians, as if it is a telling blow against the existence of the Christian God. This dilemma, in essence, argues that either moral laws exist ontologically independent of God, or moral laws are arbitrarily commanded by God. Both of those options are problematic for Christians, but as has been stated numerous times by Christian thinkers, there is another option – the moral law is built into God’s nature. In other words, God is the Good.

Baggett and Walls expand this point:

For the goodness for the sake of which and in accordance with which God wills whatever he wills regarding human morality is identical with his nature. Yet since it is God’s very nature and no arbitrary decision of his that thus constitutes the standard of morality, only things consonant with God’s nature could be morally good. . . .

We are inclined to think that the ultimate ontological inseparableness of God and the Good is something of an axiomatic Anselmian intuition; a vision apprehended, not just the deliverance of a discursive argument. That so many solid theists through the centuries have gravitated toward such a view bolsters this impression.

If God is the ultimate Good, such that necessary moral truths are reflective of an aspect of God, then indeed Plantinga is right that to apprehend such truths is to catch a glimpse of God himself. Moreover, if such dependence or even identity obtains or is even possible, then the Euthyphro Dilemma is effectively defused and the moral argument for God’s existence accordingly gains strength.

How Do the Bible and Philosophy Interact?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Some Christians have a negative view of philosophy, mostly, I think, because they don’t understand what it is and they see it being wielded against their most cherished beliefs. However, philosophy, properly understood, is not an enemy of biblical authority, but a great support.

Philosophy has been called by one Christian philosopher “the skill of thinking really hard.” The ancients thought of philosophy as the love of wisdom. Surely, if you are a Christian, you are not opposed to thinking really hard or the love of wisdom, but just how does philosophy practically interact with the Bible? To the person who says, “I don’t need philosophy; all I need is the Bible,” what can be said in response?

David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, provide some helpful ways to answer this kind of question.

[T]rust in the reliability of scripture in the first place assumes trust in the experiences of those biblical writers whose written words God genuinely inspired. Without the requisite trust in those experiences, we are left without rational conviction in the authority of the Bible. Or take the choice of the Bible as authoritative rather than, say, the Koran; this selection, to be rational, requires that we have good reasons for believing the Bible to be God’s real revelation. Appeal to those considerations involves trust in reason, which involves trust in our ability to think philosophically.

So we need good reasons to trust that the biblical writers really experienced what they recorded. We also need reasons to believe that when the biblical writers contradict writers from other religious traditions, that the biblical writers can be trusted. These are not issues that can be resolved by appeal to the Bible. We need to think philosophically, or put simply, reason our way to these conclusions using logic, evidence, and argumentation.

Baggett and Walls continue:

The Bible is to be taken as authoritative in the realm of theological truth. But before we can rationally believe such a thing, as human beings privy to general revelation and endowed with the ability to think we must weigh arguments and draw conclusions, that is, do philosophy. Proper trust in the Bible altogether involves the process of thinking rationally. It’s a fundamental mistake to think otherwise.

No less of a luminary than John Wesley weighed in on this subject:

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said that renouncing reason is renouncing religion, that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion. In fact he happened to believe that a thorough acquaintance with philosophy and logic is an indispensable part of a minister’s preparation.

So how are we to answer someone who says that we don’t need philosophy to understand theological truths taught in the Bible?

The sentiment wrongly assumes that we are even able to understand the Bible, let alone discern that it is the ultimate revelation from God, without the capacity to think. Philosophy is, to put it most succinctly, clear thought. Perhaps it sounds pious to say that all we need is the Bible, and Protestants do in fact believe there’s a sense in which it’s true that Christians are to be people of one book, but it’s at worst a sentiment predicated on a laughably shallow, simplistic, naïve epistemology and hermeneutic. It’s just not that simple. We can’t open the Bible and begin to understand it without engaging our reason, and using our critical faculties in this fashion as an interpretive tool is not to exalt the deliverances of reason above the deliverances of scripture.

Don’t think of philosophy as some of kind of esoteric science that threatens to subordinate Scripture. Philosophy simply calls us to think hard, to reason, to use our minds to arrive at truth. Jesus himself commanded us to love God with all of our minds, did he not? So, ironically, those who say we should not philosophize are actually disobeying the Lord.

Why Is God So Often Tied to Morality?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Theists are constantly claiming that without a personal, perfect, unchanging God, objective moral values and duties make no sense. I have written on this topic, myself, on numerous occasions. But is it only theists who recognize that God and morality go together? No. There are several prominent atheists thinkers who agree.

In their book Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, David Baggett and Jerry Walls cite some of these atheist thinkers. First, they quote the philosopher J. L. Mackie, who said, “Moral properties constitute so odd a cluster of properties and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the course of events without an all-powerful god to create them.”

Baggett and Walls comment about Mackie:

His idea was that moral facts, as traditionally conceived, particularly those pertaining to obligation, exhibit features so strange that their appearance in a naturalistic world seems nothing less than miraculous. And unfortunately, miracles do not sit well in a naturalistic world! For this reason, as an atheist, Mackie himself found the notion of their existence altogether dubious.

Baggett and Walls then mention the late German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s

confident proclamation that the “death of God” should have for one of its practical outcomes a Copernican revolution in ethics. According to this view, selfishness and pride, perhaps even ruthlessness rightly understood, should now eclipse traditionally exalted moral virtues like humility, altruism, and compassion. Upholding traditional morality after the death of God wasn’t Nietzsche’s concern. It was rather his agenda to effect his transvaluation of values, in an effort to infuse goodness again with strength and heroism.

Finally, Baggett and Walls quote one of the most famous atheists of the 20th century, Jean Paul Sartre. Here is Sartre in an extended passage:

Towards 1880, when the French professors endeavored to formulate a secular morality, they said something like this: God is a useless hypothesis, so we will do without it. However, if we are to have morality, a society and a law-abiding world, it is essential that certain values should be taken seriously; they must have an a priori existence ascribed to them. It must be considered obligatory a priori to be honest, not to lie, not to beat one’s wife, to bring up children and so forth; so we are going to do a little work on the subject, which will enable us to show that these values exist all the same, inscribed in an intelligent heaven although, of course, there is no God. In other words . . . nothing will be changed if God does not exist; we shall discover 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.

To summarize how these three atheist thinkers connect God to morality, Baggett and Walls write:

For these thinkers, atheism didn’t mean business as usual when it came to ethics. It meant fundamental rethinking of what ethics is all about, because they recognized the long history of a perceived connection between God and morality. They thus stand in contrast to those who think that eliminating God from the moral equation changes little or that including God adds nothing of consequence.