If you haven’t read the first post, you can find it here. Otherwise, I’ll assume we’re all on the same page. Here’s question 2:
2. You behave ethically. I suggest that is because you were brought up christian. Most atheists choose to behave reasonably ethically, but why? Are some things really right and wrong, if so, how come in a physicalist universe? If it is just their personal choice, how can they criticise anyone who chooses differently? For example, I just read a newspaper article about rape as a weapon of war in Mali. You and I would both find that abhorrent, yet it makes sense on evolutionary terms – impregnate the women of your opponent and maximise your own genes. So how does all that fit together?
It’s true that I was raised in Christianity, so it’s impossible for me to say that I would be just as moral if I’d been raised any other way. And when my wife and I first started discussing the possibility that Christianity was false, we worried about where our morals would come from without it. But pretty soon, we realized that there were really good reasons for living morally, regardless of God’s existence. On top of that, we knew plenty of Christians who hadn’t always lived morally either, so it’s not like remaining Christian was any kind of guarantee.
As an atheist, I tend to think that this life is all we have. While there might be something after it, I have no real reason to believe there is. And I think this might help me value life more than many religious people. When all those children were killed in Newtown, I didn’t believe that Heaven had gained a bunch of new souls — I was very upset that those young lives had been cut so short. It’s a point of view that doesn’t have as much comfort as what most religious people have. Their real life was here, not in some supernatural realm, so the tragedy is arguably more real. That helps me value all life, not just my own. We are social creatures — we naturally tend to look out for others’ well-being, not just our own. And I am personally happier when I do good things for others rather than take advantage of them.
So those are some of the reasons why I choose to live morally. As to whether or not there is a true universal morality, I don’t know. I think there are some things that come pretty close to it though. Rape, torture, murder, etc — those things are good candidates for being absolutely wrong. But I don’t think we need a deity to tell us that. Most people agree that human well-being is better than human suffering, so I think that’s a pretty good standard. We don’t need a transcendent being to tell us that, any more than most of us would need a transcendent being to tell us that cake tastes better than spinach. Throughout human history (and well before Christianity), people have been coming together to define morality as what works best for them as a society. As time has gone on, we’ve gotten better at it by protecting minority rights, etc. I don’t see why we need anything more than that.
I’ll cover the 3rd question in the next post.