Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How Can an Atheist Be A Good, Moral Person?

I hear this question all the time. It is absolutely ridiculous, and probably my favorite argument to refute. The typical conversation goes like this:

Me: I am an atheist, I don't believe in God.
Xtian: Well you have to. How else can you have morals? All the morals we have come from God.

I would like to first address the quite obvious (to anyone with even a cursory understanding of human history) reply that there existed human morality long before that lost dessert tribe's leader decided to take hallucinogenic fungus and see burning bushes, and think Yaweh was talking to him about the rules men should fallow. There is archeological evidence of these sort of laws existing quite a while before Moses. The Native Americans had a number of moral codes before the Europeans ever arrived, and many pagan groups created intricate moral laws long before Christianity spread to them. Even in the Middle East and North African areas where Judaism/Christianity developed, there existed strong legal codes that protected the individual and properties. I would offer the opinion that morality took a nosedive when the Jewish faith took over. Just read the Old Testament. In any case, there are plenty of places online where you can read more about this subject.

I must take a brief aside here to point out that it is the theory of many evolutionary biologists (such as the well-known Richard Dawkins) have explained morality in a Darwinian sense. This counters the Christian that asks, "Well, how do you explain altruism?" It is explained easily. Long ago, when mankind was living in small tribal groups, it was mutually beneficial to help others. Those you helped would live near you for probably your whole life, and so at some point would return the favor, thereby increasing both your chances to live to reproduce. As a result, those that helped each other were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Through this, the groups would slowly evolve this instinct to help one another. Now, although we live in a "larger" world, we may not run into those we help ever again. However, this instinct remains. It is similar to us still possessing a sexual urge to mate, even when we know the use of contraceptives will make it near impossible to reproduce.

Coming back to my main point, I would like to say that I rebut these people by telling them that I do not believe in a God, and yet I am a moral, good, caring person who teaches at a school, is married, and raising a son. I hold a job, am raising a family, and don't cause harm to come to those around me. In fact, you could say that I spend eight hours a day trying to make the world a better place through teaching young adults. It should be quite obvious that I am a good citizen, even without God. How does a Christian explain this? I ask them then, "Do you assume people would rape, steal, and murder if not for God? I wouldn't, and I don't. Would YOU rape, steal, and murder without God?" I think the answer is not obviously "no." Many Christians ask this question of non-believers because they know within themselves that they are bad people without morals. They know they must be told what to do and how to behave, otherwise they cannot operate in a sane, civilized way. Go to any church meeting and ask people their backgrounds, and you will find that many are former drug addicts, thieves, murderers, etc. These people are paraded out whenever the church wants to show the power of God. All it does for me is prove that without God, SOME people cannot act in a proper way.

I would say, "I can act morally without God, because I am sane. You, however, obviously can't fathom someone acting morally without God because you understand that YOU are unable to do so. Please, do not push off the fact that you can't live in society without some Sky-God telling you what to do from day to day."

The first three Christians I know that come to mind all fall in this category. Well, two do, and one I'm not sure about. Christian A was a drug user, and robbed to support his habit. He was in and out of jail before finding Christ, and has been an upstanding born-again ever since. Christian A, without God, is a robber and prisoner. Christian B was basically an alcoholic that was married to an abusive husband, and most likely would return to that without Christianity, which changed her. Christian C is an upstanding, moral person, and has been all his life. If he lost his Christianity, there are no prior behaviors to go on. However, we can say that he has never faced temptation on his own without his invisible God to lean on. I would venture he might fall to immorality quite easily.

Examine the following data, described by Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation:

"While political party affiliation in hte United States is not a perfect indicator of religiosity, it is no secret that the 'red (Republican) states' are primarily red due to the overwhelming political influence of conservative Christians. If there were a strong correlation between Christian conservatism and social health, we might expect to see some sign of it in red-state America. We don't. Of the twenty-five cities with the lowest rate of violent crim, 62 percent are in 'blue' (Democrat) states, and 38 percent are in 'red' (Republican) states. Of the twenty-five most dangerous cities, 76 percent are in red states, and 24 percent are in blue states. In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the U.S. are in the pious state of Texas. The twelve states with the highest states of burglary are red. Twenty-four of the twenty-nine states with the highest rates of theft are red. Of the twenty-two states with the highest rates of murder, seventeen are red."

Furthermore,  a 2005 study of seventeen economically developed nations by the Journal of Religion and Society came to the following conclusion:

"...higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies."

Christians know they cannot behave without God, and that is why, even when confronted with overwhelming evidence, they refuse it. They know they would go back to (or begin) causing problems for society.

To close, here's a nice quote from a quite famous Deist:

"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion." ~ Abraham Lincoln

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