Inspired by this discussion initiated by Kevin Beck, comes some more comments on atheism and morality. We are constantly asked things like: "in a materialist universe if two people disagree on a moral question, there is no way to settle who is correct; it is ultimately a matter of taste."
Do you see the non sequitor here? Why would a matter of taste be beyond reconciliation? We are faced with subjective differences of opinion all the time: where to eat lunch, what music to listen to, what style of clothes to wear etc., and we manage to settle the disagreements without too much difficulty. True these disagreements are rarely settled absolutely by reference to some objective external standard, but so what? Why must that be the standard? The methods we do use to settle them serve us just fine. There's no there there to this objection.
Of course, those who make this argument will insist that only with the authority of the absolute code of the gods backing your view can your persuasion be successful. I've already shown that we are able to make persuasive arguemnts without it, and yet they are wrong on their end of the deal as well. One would think, given their boast, that religious people all over the world were settling their disputes quickly and peacefully, if indeed they had any disputes at all. That sound like the world you know?
See, those who appeal to a universal morality from the gods can't seem to agree on the message, even for the most trivial practices. But of course since they all think they have the true morals backing them, their conflicts escalate into violence quite frequently. They would have us believe the practical difficulties with determining what the gods are saying are beside the point.
On the contrary, that is entirely the point. It makes little sense to presume the existence of a god handing down objective moral rules in a world where the moral rules vary all over the place. There is no evidence there even is such a being, and even less that he has anything to do with morals.
If they want to make their case, they can start by demonstrating the existence of moral universals among humans that lack pragmatic value. I know of no such values. All the morals I've examined correlate very well with pragmatic benefits to those who practice them, either individually, or as a group. Paying one's debts increases one's credit. Remaining nonmurderous reduces the chances of one being murdered, and produces a more stable society. Benefits to all galore, and no gods needed.
This puts those who claim gods are necessary for morality in the same class as witch doctors who claim the magic spell, and the arsenic, are necessary to kill one's victim. Newton would not approve.
Even granting their premise doesn't get them out of the woods. The question I keep asking the theological (and not getting an answer) is "So what?". If you prove that gods are necessary for morals, and you still haven't made your case for the existence of gods, that means the reality is there are no morals. OK, so there are no morals. And?
Most of their objections are answered by identifying the mistaken premise that all our behavior is [rationally objectively] chosen. The shrinks have proven pretty conclusively that it isn't. We are driven by instinct far more than was ever suspected, at least as my read of the data goes. And instincts are going to evolve like everything else.
This means that we don't need for everyone to be able to conclude rationally in every case that it is in their best interests to not murder people. All that need happen is to introduce a genetic predisposition to avoid murder into the population, and it would come to predominate, both individually (being less disposed to attack reduces one's chances of dying in counterattack), and collectively (the group that refrains from murdering their own will outoerform the ones that don't).
Now, is there solid evidence this occurred? Not to my knowledge. But it makes a lot more sense than positing some universal lawgiver on high that magically gave us morals that we just can't seem to understand well enough to agree with each other on even with the most basic issues. A god did indeed give us our moral sense. But in this case, the creator god was the evolutionary process.