If you are an atheist — or at least find yourself sympathetic to those that claim to be — then you are most likely familiar with the term New Atheist. If you are not, it refers to a new type of skeptic who has emerged in the past several years, who not only believes there is no God but who is also particularly hostile to those who do.
Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying, ““I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils.” Likewise, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris describes religious faith as an “uncompromising misuse of the power of our minds” which “forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity,” and that being a man of perfect faith is “a terrible thing to be.”
What is particularly interesting about the new atheist is his unmistakable sense of moral outrage over faith. Faith is not something that is simply not preferable; no, it is wrong, even evil. But wrong based on what? In a world where there is no more than the observable universe, what meaning does right and wrong possibly have? To be sure, an atheist, if he is consistent, cannot possibly be any good, not because he is not able, but because good does not exist.
Think of it: If the atheism that Harris and Dawkins hold to is true, absolutely true, then it matters little how your neighbor chooses to live, or what they choose to believe.
But are we saying that atheists are not capable of being moral? Of course not. To be clear (and somewhat repetitive), the atheist is just as capable of being kind and generous and courageous (and whatever virtue you wish to add) as the person who believes in God. What we are saying rather is that in a world where God does not exist, there is no good. In such a world, we can conform to any code of behavior we wish to define, whether it be based on our upbringing or evolutionary past. But ultimately, it is meaningless.
As an illustration, imagine a different world, where evolution on its unguided and indifferent evolutionary course bestowed us with very long necks, and also deposited within us the odd belief that holding our heads as high as possible was the right thing to do. And imagine that that was the extent of our understanding of what is “right.”
And just as in our world, there were many of us who believed holding one’s head high was right because there was an invisible entity who held his head higher than all of us, and it is what He wanted.
But others, more educated and enlightened, came to realize that there was no such entity. But when challenged, they insisted they were just as capable of holding their heads high as the rest of us, even better at it than some of their Entity-believing peers. Or, that holding one’s head to the side was actually the right thing to do — and they condemned those who did not.
Now I ask you: Would such claims of the long-necked enlightened have any meaning?
And yet, in our world, this is exactly what we see. The new atheist protests he does not need to believe in God to be good (hold his neck high). He also condemns faith as wrong and evil because it is the opposite of scientific rationalism (“holding one’s head to the side”). The one thing we do not observe the new atheist doing is the very thing that seems most logically consistent: Responding that whether he is capable of being good or not is irrelevant, since ultimately the moral pose we choose to assume is pointless.
Think of it: If the atheism that Harris and Dawkins hold to is true, absolutely true, then it matters little how your neighbor chooses to live, or what they choose to believe. Even the worst atrocity — induced by religious extremists or an atheistic regime — is merely an unwanted exchange of matter and energy.
So what do you think? If there is no God, is there such a thing as moral standards? If so, how did they come about, and by want scientific means do we know they exist? If not, why should we choose to live in any manner that is virtuous or what one might call moral? Lastly, what is your moral code for living, and why? I welcome your comments.