Evil Atheists?Certainly there have been some some evil atheists, Joseph Stalin being the most extreme example. But the fact of the matter is that criminal behavior just isn't a prevalent characteristic of atheists. What little evidence exists suggests that atheists are less likely to be criminals [a citation will go here to prison studies], but that result is probably better explained by the fact that atheists tend to have above average levels of education and intelligence [cite will go here], while it is exactly the opposite for the prison population [citation will go here]. At worst atheists are just like everyone else with respect to ethical questions.
More than an argument from ignoranceIt is easy to say that the theists are just being silly when they claim that true atheists can't have morals. But I think it is more interesting to explore what might underlie such silliness. At first it looks like our accusers' reasoning goes something like this:
I don't see where atheists gets their moral imperatives from, therefore they must not have any.When stated this way the logical flaw is obvious. It would be like me saying, "I don't understand how microwaves heat water, therefore microwave ovens don't work." But our accusers can be more subtle and less stupid. Theists, they say, get their moral imperatives from faith in God, while atheists, without such faith must either not have them or get them from somewhere else. "Atheists," they may go on to say, "need a separate explanation for a moral sense." So for the theists the existence of God explains our moral sense in a way that atheism can't. And so by Occam's Razor (which atheists like to quote so much) this is presented as evidence for God. There are two approaches I could take in answering this challenge. One would be to present all of the naturalistic explanations for morality. And without a doubt I would recommend the book Good Natured and other sources. I would also point out that the two great moral philosophies, utilitarianism and Kantianism make no reference to any supernatural God. But that is not the approach I'm taking in this essay. All of those points have been argued well by others, and I doubt I'd have anything useful to add.