In a much-quoted sentence from Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, one of the characters says, ‘If God does not exist, then everything is permitted’, and that is many people’s fear – that if there is no God to underpin moral values, if values are simply human creations, then they lose their seriousness and ‘it doesn’t really matter what you do’. The assumption that morality collapses without a basis in religious belief is remarkably resilient and widespread. There are two intertwined claims here. There is the factual belief that if people do not see moral rules as emanating from the commands of a deity, they will as a matter of fact cease to have any concern for right or wrong. The second, deeper, claim is that if people respond in that way their response is rational, because if moral values are not backed by divine commands there is no good reason to try to live a morally good life. The second is the deeper claim because it asserts something about the very nature of moral values: that they are essentially the requirements imposed on us by our divine maker, and that if we try to maintain values detached from that context they become groundless and we are engaged in an incoherent enterprise. The weaker claim is that, though in theory values can be divorced from any idea of divine commands, in practice most people will not be consistently and reliably motivated to act morally unless they think of

moral requirements (whether correctly or mistakenly) as backed by a divine authority.