A very common theme I’ve run across in discussions of atheism is that of God and morality. I’ve heard one of the main reasons that many people give for giving up religion is the question of how a god can allow so much evil in the world. If this god is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how can he sit back when there is so much pain and suffering amongst his children. When I wrote an essay in a philosophy course in college I chose to try and disprove God. One of my classmates suggested that I entertain this issue in my essay. I did, but I doubt the section I wrote went along the lines of what she was thinking.
To tell you the truth, even as an atheist I’ve always had a problem with this argument. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not going to give a religious defense against it, nor am I going to defend religion. The point is that I can’t use an argument that I don’t feel comfortable with. If this god did exist, who are we to question his moral judgement? For that matter, who are we to decide what is good and evil? Perhaps pain and suffering isn’t evil. Perhaps morals are an illusion in the first place, an illusion to which this god is immune.
Then again, maybe God is evil. What proof do we have otherwise? His word? The religious texts handed down through the centuries? Suppose one of these texts is actually inspired by divine intervention. We’re still going by what he told the people who wrote this stuff down. If they wrote exactly what he told them and even believed it themselves, what does that make them? At worst they were brain-washed drones, and at best they were the ancient equivalent of corporate yes-men. If God told them he was good, that’s what they put in. The masses bought it.
As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, science is starting to discover sections of our brains that process morality. To what extent remains to be discovered. There’s still a lot about our brains that we don’t know. (I would argue that maybe it’s best that we don’t but I’ll save that for another time.) Still, the connection is too powerful to ignore. If there is some sense of morality hard-wired in our brains, then it’s likely to exist. It may not exist in the world outside our heads, but it’s there. Certain religions would have us believe that God created is in our own image. Does that include our brains, too? If morality is inherent in our genetic make-up, then our sense of morality would be his as well. In that case, the initial argument at the top of this post would make sense. It would help us see what he wrote through the Bible-writers that he was good. The Book of Genesis has that neat trick where Adam and Eve didn’t know of good and evil until they ate from that tree in Eden, but that doesn’t prove anything.
This is still a weak argument for me. There are stronger arguments out there not to believe in a god. I still maintain that even if a god exists than surely all of the world’s religions are wrong. Still, the God and morality issue causes people to disbelieve, so I can’t dismiss it entirely. I just hope that once people get beyond that point that they apply logic further.