Most have heard of the advertising campaign "Good Without God" associated with the Coalition of Reason and the new book by William Morrow to be released on Oct. 27 by William Morrow; but let's consider the Question: "Are a Million New Yorkers Good Without God" and "Are You?"
1. Claims of "Goodness Without God" must depend on some definition and standard of goodness. The question is: What is that definition and upon what standard is it based?
If goodness is defined and the standard is dependent simply upon social norms and expectations, then perhaps some people can be "Good Without God". Several factors could contribute to this goodness including (a) the fact that if man determines the standard, then man can simply lower the requirements and marginalize goodness(b) goodness could be achieved through relative comparison, (c) or goodness could be attained based on subjective evaluation or limited scope of evaluation.
However, if goodness is not relative or subjective but in keeping with moral absolutes which transcend individuals, societies and generations, and involve scrutiny which extends beyond the surface and superficial and includes distinctions in regard to such things as motive, objective evaluation, and moral uprightness and consistency in all things and at all times in all circumstances, etc., then I suppose the assertion that "one Million New Yorkers are good without God" might be more of a stretch if not delusion.
For more reading and evaluation, read the requirements of the Second Table of the Ten Commandments in the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q's 122-149) and then ask yourself again whether one million New Yorkers - or whether you yourself - are good without God.
2. Claims of "Goodness without God" deny the inherent nature. Are we to suppose that man has more than one nature or that man (through evolution, mind control, etc.) can overcome his nature himself? If man is found to do things such as lie, cheat, steal, etc., then where does such things originate from if not a sinful nature? If man possessess a sinful nature, then isn't it a little overinflated or misguided to believe that man can be good without God?
3. Claims of "Goodness without God" also deny man's ability. Proof is found in the multitude of testimonies of those who attempt to perfectly keep the law of God and yet admit they cannot do so (even the requirements found in the second table of the law which the majority of unbelievers would agree upon). I find that claims of "Goodness without God" often would include giving people a "pass" on many things under the rubric that "we are not perfect and everyone makes mistakes" (something which in itself refutes the premise) and yet the ones who make such claims may not be as lenient if and when they find themselves to be the objects of not just the lack of goodness but intended and outright lawlessness and evil perpetrated by others.
4. Finally, claims of "Goodness without God" deny the very foundations and obligations that result in the meaning and requirement of goodness. For example, if man is the determiner of goodness, then cannot man violate the principle set forth by humanity? Even if one claims the majority determines morality, who is to say the majority is right or that the majority's authority is right? What happens when the majority flipflops on what it deems right? What then? And if one argues that morality is innate within human beings, then where did that morality come from? Are we to believe that morality originated by chance, or by matter, etc.?
I thank the New York Atheists for raising this issue, for their doing so not only shows their lack of thought into such things and lack of foundations in such matters, but provides a great opportunity for communicating the truth of the gospel, that even the testimony of all men (including atheists) points to the fact that goodness and righteousness is a legitimate requirement upon our lives that we all acknowledge. The ultimate question though is how does man attain it? Is it by lowering the standard, making it relative, denying the absolute nature of the law, covering up our failures, limiting evaluation to just surface issues, etc., or do we look outside of ourselves to God's offer of both pardon and provision which comes through Christ's atoning sacrifice and the renewal and empowerment that comes through the Holy Spirit? Experience shows that those who look to their own goodness and righteousness will never be satisfied (especially under the light, for the closer one gets to the light, the greater the dirtiness is discovered to be); however, those who rest in the Lord's goodness and gift and are filled with the living waters of his Spirit which both fill and overflow are raised to both newness of life and not only live according to the truth but participate in the graces and goodness of God himself.