Being An Atheist Doesn’t Mean You Are Immoral

A comment on a recent Newsvine thread stated:

A Columbine shooter’s diary, released along with loads of other documents by the Denver Post, shows that he was an atheist who believed all the evolutionary teaching he’d been fed in school. He wondered why he should suppress his natural instincts and be nice. Surely natural instincts like eating, breeding, and fighting are good since they were instrumental in evolving us to our present state. He viewed most people as being worthless, and would have selectively killed most U.S. citizens if he could. If we are created by God, and He loved us enough to send His Son to die for our sins, then we are all very special indeed.

If there is no God and we are purely the result of random chance, then we are no more significant than bacteria on a mote of dust.

The Columbine shooters held the latter view and took it to a logical conclusion for their circumstances.

I hear this line all the time, and find it very interesting. To be fair, I describe myself as fanatically agnostic, rather than atheistic, but in fully embracing the fact that I do not know, and in fact cannot know whether or not there is a god, I must face squarely the possibility that there is not. When you couple this with the fact that in all my nearly 31 years on this earth, I have never yet seen any indisputable evidence of a god, I find that I often proceed on the assumption that there is not. And yet, somehow, I don’t find myself tempted to go out and hurt others. How could this be?

The argument:

If there is no God, there is no basis for a moral system.

Makes the assumption that there could be no reason for a moral system other than God. Certainly, the first step that many make when they begin to logically evaluate the religion with which they have been indoctrinated is to question the “rules” of that system. This is perfectly reasonable. Once the fear of hell (or other punishments) has been dismissed, however, the next step is to consciously evaluate what actions you may take of your own free will which will benefit you as an individual, and which are damaging.

One path from this place leads to the conclusion that no life is particularly valuable, and that therefore your actions have no consequence. This is flawed reasoning, however, as we must consider the fact that we do not exist in a vacuum. Our actions do have practical consequences, and many of those practical consequences may return to us.

If, for example, I proceed along the premise that I may take any action I wish, and as a result of that action I decide to kill a random person on the street, I am setting up a course of consequences which are most likely damaging to me in the long run. In this society, of course, I face imprisonment and even death for my action. But let us make the assumption that we have a different society; that, in fact, everyone decides to take up precisely the same moral position I have chosen. What does this mean for me? It greatly increases the likelihood that I will at some point be gunned down senselessly in the street. This also is not to my benefit.

Thinking through this scenario, then, we must consider what behavioural standard will benefit us most if it were to be adopted by all. Surprisingly, we come right around the the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” principle which has been the basis of most major religions. Guess what? Belief in God is not necessary for a moral system. Logic will serve us just as well.

It could be argued, therefore, that the reason for individuals such as those who committed the school massacres referenced in the article and the comment I listed above, is not in fact a lack of religious fervor. Rather, the problem (or at least one part of it) is faulty logic.