As discussed previously, atheism is hard. So hard that we will never (so I claim) be able to convince the majority of the population of its merits. Most of us prefer a comfortable illusion to the hard and ugly truth.
Here I want to talk about another tough topic, which has been getting attention on the forum: morality. And once again I will argue that the atheist's ultimate conclusions on morality does not sit well with our intuitions about the universe.
Morality is about determining what is right or wrong. Thing is, in a universe of matter and energy (and *only* matter and energy), who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? Simple answer: no one! A configuration of matter doing one thing cannot be more right or wrong than a configuration of matter doing something else.
As atheists that take science seriously, we must deny that there is such a thing as right or wrong. If we don't, then we are committing the same error we accuse the theist of, where illusion trumps reality, every day of the week (and twice on Sundays). There is no scientific evidence for right and wrong.
Wow, is it now OK to murder my neighbour? No! No act is OK or not OK. It is simply a category error to ask whether doing something is OK. There is no such thing as OK.
What we perceive as morality is simply nature's solution to an interaction problem (*). Evolutionary psychologists believe that mother nature provided us with a set of rules that guide us on how to behave in a society in order to get along, survive and reproduce. These rules have developed over thousands, perhaps millions of years, via a well-acquainted friend: Darwinian natural selection.
How does mother nature ensure that we follow these rules? Primarily, through our emotions. When we break a rule, we feel bad. When we comply with a rule, we feel good, even superior sometimes (don't tell me you haven't!). We also have the intellect to understand consequences – we can reason (sometimes wrongly) about the result of an action, and act accordingly.
Atheists and theists alike have the same set of built-in behaviours. Yes, atheists feel the same guilt and remorse when we do something “wrong”, and the same pleasure when we do something “right”. We are not immoral, and we are not moral relativists, and couldn't be even if we wanted to.
But this moral nihilism is simply too much for most of us. After all, these behavioural rules are an integral part of our existence. Do a quick survey – how many television shows do you watch, or books do you read, that don't progress around some “moral” thread? We live our lives, define our relationships, psychological health and self worth according to them. We can't shake the feeling that they are somehow more important than mere naturalistic strategies.
The faithful will not give up the morality illusion, and they can see through our vain attempts to harmonize it with atheism. The best we can do is to show that we are simply not that different from them – and that their faith-based morality is simply not as virtuous as they seem to think.
* Why can't we simply redefine morality to be the same thing as these so-called evolutionary rules? Morality is about right and wrong – survival strategies are about survival. It has nothing to do with right or wrong.
** Most of these ideas are stolen pretty much as-is from Alex Rosenberg's “An atheist's guide to reality”, a book I heartily recommend to those that yearn for disillusionment.
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