Morality consists of right and wrong in one's personal conduct. Various forms of atheism and libertarianism can mislead someone into ignoring the importance of morality in guiding him to a productive life.
Morality versus law
Jurisprudence is traditionally (but not completely) divided between those who advocate Natural Law and those who advocate Legal Positivism. Both agree that morality is distinct from the law, but it is only advocates of Natural Law who believe that law should be based on morality, whereas Legal Positivists believe that there is no inherent connection. Natural Law supporters point to examples such as slavery, which was once legal in many places, but is now illegal, because people had the law changed because they considered slavery immoral. A legal positivist would not argue against there often being a causal connection between morality and law, as clearly according to this example and many others there is, but would say that there is no inherent connection: and thus say that law is not based on morality.
One commonly used example to illustrate the difference between the two camps is to imagine a scenario where a law against vehicles being used in a town center after 21:00 were to be instituted, in an effort to reduce pollution. Then, imagine that someone is caught in the town centen after 21:00 riding a bike. An advocate of natural law would suggest the person not be punished, because bikes do not cause pollution, and it was reduction of pollution that was considered the moral issue in making the law. A legal positivist would instead look to whether or not a bike is a vehicle as defined by the statute, and base punishment on that.
Natural Law theorists would argue against those who say that the law should not be used to enforce morality. Instead they believe that morality is actually the basis for much of the law. Laws against theft, for example, are based on the idea that taking someone else's property is morally wrong.
Morality based on theistic religion
See also: Religion and morality
According to some theists, only by basing morals on God's standards can morality have any sort of absolute basis. Janine M. Ramsey:
Evil and good do objectively exist because they emanate from the fact that there is an unchanging, omniscient (all-knowing), and holy God. These are not subjective opinions invented and written down by man. Rather, ‘good’ expresses the innate characteristics of God Himself that He has built into every human being, and every human being is responsible to live up to those standards. And the absence of good defines evil.
One standard objection to this view is the Euthyphro dilemma, posed by Socrates in the dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks whether a thing is made pious (or just, right) because the Gods love (approve of, command) it, or if the Gods love certain things because they are just and right. If the former, then it seems that God's commands would not be objectively valid, but arbitrary whims. If the latter, then morality has an independent existence from God's commands; God is good because God always does the right thing, but they are not made the right thing simply because God commanded them. Morality would then need to have some further, independent ground which might be discoverable independent of religion.
Morality based on evolution
Some biologists argue that morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution. They see social behaviors displayed by some primates as the precursors of human morality. They cite examples such as rhesus monkeys which, when given a chance to get food by pulling a chain that delivers a shock to another monkey, have been known to starve themselves for a considerable time.
Dr. Frans de Waal argues that primates are social animals, and must constrain their behavior in order to live in a group. He maintains that these constraints have shaped behaviors from which human morality has emerged. He does not assert that chimpanzees are moral, but argues that emotional bases that can be observed among primates are the foundation for the evolution of human morality.
He points to the display of both empathy and self-awareness among apes, and asserts that human morality begins with a similar concern for others and the understanding of social rules about the treatment of others.
However, these arguments presume evolution to be true. The stance that God created such creatures to act in a way that we would consider moral has at least as much scientific validity as the evolutionary position.
Evolution actually provides no basis for morality:
Jaron Lanier: ‘There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.’
Richard Dawkins: ‘All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.
Peter Singer argues that a distinction must be made between the origins and the justification of morality, allowing that evolutionary explanations can be given for the existence of brains or minds able to reason, and hence able to determine what is moral, but that morality has its own logic and is not determined by contingent facts of evolution.
Morality based on atheism
See also: Atheism and morality
Lacking a transcendent, objective moral authority (such as the Bible), atheism relies on subjective sources. The basis of morality for some atheists is their own opinion. Bertrand Russell, for example, said that his opinions on right and wrong were based on his feelings.
In practice, atheists may adopt the morality of the society they grew up with, which in the case of the Western society is generally one with a Christian heritage. Richard Dawkins said, "I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics".
Although atheism provides no basis for absolute morality, this does not mean that atheists cannot be moral people. Rather, it does mean that atheism itself provides no moral boundaries to constrain the actions of people. As mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer said in an interview:
If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing...
Other atheists, such as Peter Singer, argue that our powers of reasoning provide a basis for morality. This view is shared by many theists, such as Richard Hare and Immanuel Kant, who do not deny the existence of God but think that morality is not derived from, but rather is exemplified by, a divine power.
The effects of atheism
It is contended that in broadly condemning "religion", atheism frequently focuses on Christianity, which is seldom defined according to its source (the New Testament), and which they often include Hitler in, and which they blame for atrocities such as the Inquisition and the Crusades. In addition, when confronted by the fact that the objectively baseless moral authority of atheism allowed atheists such as Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot to easily justify their atrocities (which seemed reasonable measures to them), they are observed seeking to disassociate the two. Harris attempts to do so by judging such men as "not especially rational", with this perhaps establishing Harris as the authority of what is, and then he proceeds to implicate religion for the evil of their regimes. In response it is seen that the authority for the religion at issue at issue (Christianity), is what transcendentally condemns them. (Jn. 10:10; Rm. 9:1-3ff; Gal. 6:10)
It is argued that while atheism did not directly cause these atrocities, because atheism provides no objective transcendent moral boundaries, it allows these atrocities to occur, while fostering "political religion" due to the tendency to worship mortal men in place of God.
...atheism has been tried as a basis for life in many countries in the 20th century. The results have been some of the biggest bloodbaths of all time under communist despots above the law, e.g., Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. For example, the Inquisition killed 2000 people in three centuries; Stalin killed that many before breakfast.
- The Conservative Voice: "Morality and Political Order" by Thomas Brewton
- Ramsey, 2004
- "Primates and Philosophers" by Frans de Waal
- New York Times: "Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior"
- 'Evolution: The dissent of Darwin,’ Psychology Today 30(1):62, January/February 1997, quoted in Creation 20(3):44, June 1998.
- The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, 1983
- Bertrand Russell: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don't say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.
Frederick Copleston: Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?
R: I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.
C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?
R: By my feelings.
(1948 radio debate; http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p20.htm)
- The Science Show, ABC Radio, 22nd January, 2000, quoted by Walker, Tas., National emergency in Australia, 29th June, 2007. (Creation Ministries International)
- Dahmer, Jeffrey, in an interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, 29th November, 1994 
- Sam Harris, An Atheist Manifesto Dec 7, 2005
- Sarfati, 2004 & 2008. See also Morris.
- Atheism's Body Count