Sure, you can be a good, moral atheist. But why?
From an athiest’s blog that I read talking about a TV show pairing an atheist with a Christian family:
On the pleasant surprise side, I felt that the show clearly exposed that one can be a good person and have a moral, happy life as an atheist. Belief in the supernatural is not necessary for morality, effective parenting, kindness, or any other positive qualities. The show effectively conveyed this truth.
I have no doubt that atheists or agnostics could be moral, sound people. The question I have is why? Is there some intrinsic good in living a moral life with no sense of the value of man above other animals or no recognition of a purpose or divine intent behind it all? Is there some long-term genetic survival value in forgiveness? alturism? charity? marital fidelity?
When Nietzsche wrote his famous “God is dead,” he meant that since God (or a cosmic being) is no longer a viable belief option for people, there are no absolute laws or standards by which we should subject ourselves. Nietzsche critiques the people of his day for not recognizing the significance of these events; a critique that still holds true today.
My desire and goal to live a moral life comes not only from my belief in God, but also from an inner sense of morality and justice that I attribute to God. I would be a hedonist and live for myself if I didn’t believe in God, but the fact that I recognize a greater sense of value feeds my belief in God.
So I don’t understand moral atheists. I would think atheists would not care for anything but themselves. If they felt that wasn’t right, I would think they’d ask themselves why.
Again, it’s not that non-theists can’t be good, moral people (sometimes, sadly, putting people of faith to shame). It’s that such actions don’t derive from their beliefs.
As Kurt Vonnegut noted: I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Since I originally wrote this, I read an article from an [honest] atheist renouncing his belief in morality. The implications of this are chilling, as he notes, but he’s willing to accept them as the natural outgrowth of his “born-again amoralism”.
So was I, until I experienced my shocking epiphany that the religious fundamentalists are correct: without God, there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.
A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality. Yet, as with the non-existence of God, we human beings can still discover plenty of completely-naturally-explainable internal resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed, to put it on the books as prohibited and punishable by our society.
Well that’s good news. Aversion to child molestation (and the like) will keep our society pleasant enough (for the majority at least) for a while to come