We seem to be getting into deep philosophical waters here, and I’m not sure I can keep my head above them.
However, it seems we agree that no deity is needed to define “good”.
The great value of IAmAnAtheist.com (besides its superb entertainment quotient) is exemplified by its declaration of Atheistic Rights and Responsibilities. Remove the god stuff from the christian 10 commandments, and you have a set of precepts which, if followed by everybody, will tend to lead to a harmonious and happy community, without anyone having to swallow great lumps of incredible material about miracles and resurrections.
I have a couple of friends who are ordained Anglican priests. They are rock-solid in their beliefs (not creationists or ID-ers, but generally lined up with anthropic fine tuning of the universe, and acceptance of the bible as often allegorical, but certainly divinely inspired) But it does seem as though they live in a parallel world – the church has its own rules, politics (Oh, the politics!), conventions, and even vocabulary. The more I talk to them, the more I tend to the belief that their religion is the main thing holding them together – without it, they would have great difficulty in coping with the world.
And that’s what I think religious belief is – it’s a way of coping. Sometimes it’s also a way of accruing power and authority, but mostly it’s a way of coping with a complex and frightening world.
There are substantial numbers of us who do not need a deity and the associated rituals and conventions to cope with the world. The things that frightened and perplexed the people who invented the religions now have rational explanations. We know that storm and flood are impersonal events driven by complex weather systems, not targeted vindictiveness from some too easily-offended deity. We know that people sometimes recover from the most devastating illnesses, or sometimes just die through lack of interest, without the intervention of some bearded sky-guy.
Some of us dare to think that our existence has no particular purpose or meaning except to those we love and love us : worse, we dare to think that we can still lead a moral and ethical existence despite that.
And that’s my point, really. I can, as an atheist, lead a “good” life, harming no-one as I lurch through it, yet I have no expectation of reward afterwards, and no fear of punishment either. I do not need to believe in a deity, so I don’t. – although I do keep an open mind – I am a scientist, after all – and will objectively evaluate any evidence as it is presented.
Bot, lest you think I am just a kindly sort, with no bad word for anyone, I have to admit to rage against IDers and creationists who try to subvert my children. Which is why I think that Judge John Jeffries lll, who handed down that devastating judgement against the Dover School Board, should be awarded (in the words of the late Bernard Levin) “The Order Of They Shall Not Get Away With It, with Crossed Swords, Oak Leaves, and Golden Knobs On” OK, I’m a Brit, and the case was nothing to do with me, but the man struck a blow for Truth and Honesty, Science and Objectivity, which will not be easily forgotten
Thank you for the thoughtful note.
Reacting to your final paragraph, I tend to be very accepting of other people’s beliefs, but I also have no use for those who try to use legal or other means to impose their religious beliefs on others. Religion is a personal thing, and it needs to remain a personal thing. If it does not, then we get into the frightening area of legislating religious morality, and given the variety of religious moralities out there, I think it best to avoid that situation completely.