When I tell people I’m an atheist, one of the questions I frequently get asked is “What makes you want to be a good/moral person then? If not religion, if not God?”
My instinctual response is, “Because I want to be.” Call it consequentialism, call it evolution, call it secular humanism but ultimately I genuinely want to be a good person. I understand that my choices have consequences. I recognize that humans have evolved selfish altruistic behaviors that help them survive. I see how societies have conscientiously collaborated on solutions to progress civilization.
And, at the end of the day, I want to help myself, help others, and leave the world a better place. For me as an atheist this is my one life to live. Consequently, I want to live it to its fullest and become the best person I can.
Now that that’s all said, let’s take a step back and delve deeper into the philosophical side of this question.
What Is Morality?
According to definition.com morality is: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.”
How Do We Know Right from Wrong?
What this question about right and wrong, religion and God, is actually getting at is whether morality is objective or subjective. Objective morality maintains that certain moral claims are either true or false. Subjective morality states that moral claims are neither true nor false and therefore changeable.
Objective morality cannot exist because the universe is morally neutral (ie it doesn’t care). There has yet to be any scientific evidence for the existence of God, so there can be no “law-giver” of objective morality.
In contrast, it can be demonstrated through scientific study and historical analysis that subjective morality exists. Human morality has changed as humans have continued to evolve and as our societies have evolved.
Here’s a great quote by science writer and skeptic Michael Shermer:
“As a species of social primates, we have evolved a deep sense of right and wrong to accentuate and reward reciprocity and cooperation and to attenuate and punish excessive selfishness and free riding. On the constitution of human nature are built the constitutions of human societies.”
Why Not Religion?
- Morality does not come religion.
- People who are non-religious are just as moral as religious people.
- Religious people have committed immoral actions in the name of religion.
- Evidence shows that humans evolved a moral faculty that generates intuitions about right and wrong.
- Religions vary in what they claim to be moral.
- This means that religion cannot provide objective morality.
- Religions often use fear of punishment as a tool to compel people to be moral.
- Statistics show that religious and non-religious people act morally and immorally about equally. So this fear tactic seems to not be at the heart of what compels people to be moral.
Why Not God?
- Morality does not come from God.
- Morality comes from evolution and then the rest is man-made.
- The different Gods of religions vary in what they dictate to be moral.
- God, because there are many different ones, cannot provide objective morality.
- There is yet to be scientific evidence to prove the existence of God.
- If there’s no God, then there’s no giver of objective morality.
There are many blogs, articles, and books on this topic. I highly recommend that if you are interested in understanding it more fully, then read some of them 😊.
I think that the next step for humans is to continue to work together to create a better moral framework based on scientific findings (i.e. secular humanism). From this we can aim to have a world where all humans live a life of dignity. Moreover, a world where we can respect the other numerous species on this planet as well. So forget religion, forget God, and let’s make some progress!