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Many people think that without some absolute authority, like an all-powerful deity, that there would be no morals. To me, this seems absurd. Morals are very naturally accounted for as a product of our social evolution.

Atheists are very often asked such questions: “If you don’t believe in God, why don’t you go out and rape and murder and do whatever you want!?”

Let’s do away with the supernatural middleman with a simple thought experiment, shall we?

Ask Yourself

Inspired by philosopher Steven Pinker, I pose to you this question:

Since God determines moral values, if God commanded that rape was moral, would you do it?

I imagine that there are two possible answers to this question:

  1. “No I would not”
  2. “God would never say rape was acceptable”

[This assumes that you would never consider rape OK, which seems like a obvious requirement for a moral person.]

If you said “No I would not,” why not? I suppose that you internally believe that rape is never acceptable. Then why not remove the middleman? You are relying on your own moral sense, in no way dependent on a deity. Furthermore, if you disagree with God as to what is moral or not, it is clear that you do not look to the supernatural for moral guidance.

If you said “God would never say rape was acceptable,” why not? Surely because God would reason that rape is never acceptable. But if God appeals to reason, so can you. Why not cut out the immensely implausible creator and look straight to reason? If even God’s command is superseded by your moral reasoning, it is clear that a deity’s role in morality is unnecessary or at least redundant.

Rethinking things

If you answered similarly to either 1 or 2 above, you rely on your own moral sense, and not an absolute set of divine morals. Does that mean that those without faith can have moral values? Of course. Does that mean that every human has some degree of a moral sense, no god required, that determines what we think of as moral or not? Absolutely.

…Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become well-developed, or anything like as well developed, as in man. —Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man