Have you considered perhaps that an atheists basis for morality comes from themselves? Does an intelligent being need to have rules of behaviour written into the fabric of the universe to know what is appropriate and what is not? I’m an atheist, or at least an agnostic. I certainly don’t believe in right and wrong in the sense you’re talking about. But that in no way means that morality can be chucked out the window. It is a social construction first and foremost, religion simply formalised and enforced a structure for it.
There is a certain dichotomy evident in the above paragraph and I think it can be seen in the word ‘appropriate’. How can one not believe in absolute morality but also believe that certain things are appropriate while others are not? Kevin hints at the idea of a social contract, that morality is no more than the codified laws of a particular society.
Kevin, as is evident from his blog, is a socialist. I cannot speak for Kevin but I too am a socialist, or at least a democratic socialist, and my reasons for having such a political stance is that I believe a system of democratic socialism is simply fairer than it’s more capitalist counterparts. I believe it is, quite simply, more right. I can make this assertion because I believe that there is such thing as right.
What basis does Kevin have to justify his political stance? Kevin, as a socialist, is agitating for a change in the codified laws of our nation (and, indeed, all nations). The moral code that our nation has chosen, ratified by the people, is certainly not that of socialism but what basis does Kevin have to say that a socialist system would be better? To refer to some of the canonical examples for this issue, if one ditches an absolute moral basis what right has anyone to say that the social construction of morality chosen by the Nazi party is inherently wrong? Or, how can one say that slavery was wrong? Slavery was judged to be morally correct by the society of the time which embraced it. Of course, it was often perversions of Christian ideas that led to this in the west but I, as a Christian, am justified in saying that slavery was wrong, but how can an atheist defend such an ideal?
The argument often given to me is that those things that are moral are merely those things that lead to greatest happiness. But, as a moral basis this is useless. How can one judge what leads to greatest happiness? Is the happiness of the individual to be favoured over the happiness of society as a whole? What if something that makes one person happy makes another unhappy? What if society splits down the middle, 50% are made happy by a certain thing, the other 50% are not. So, pursuit of happiness is ruled out as a valid contender as a basis for morality.
So, to an atheist (or an agnostic who denies absolute morality) morality is merely a social construct but one construct cannot be compared to another and there is absolutely no reason why an individual should adhere to the construct, unless is suits him. Society decides on what is ‘appropriate’ but the word ‘appropriate’ cannot be used in a moral sense. Killing Jews is not wrong although it might not be profitable, or expedient, etc. Capitalism is not wrong and socialism or communism cannot be said the be morally better. It cannot be said that it is wrong to let your poor starve, or to kill innocents in wars, or to kick a hobo in the teeth while you’re on your way to lunch. If you object to any of these things you should think about your reasons for objecting to them. Is it merely because we, as a society, have decided that drop kicking hobos is inappropriate behaviour? What if tomorrow we decided to make hobo-bashing the national sport? Would it then be acceptable, even right? Or, failing this, is there such a thing as absolute right and wrong independent of what we decide to be right and wrong? If so, where does this come from?