Phi Beta Cons

Virtuous Atheists

In the recent and ongoing flare-up of antagonism between believers and non-believers–especially common on campuses–some of the self-professed atheists claim that human beings do not need God and religion to be good, and they cite the sterling behavior of many pronounced atheists as proof. British Prof. Richard Dawkins, for example, amuses audiences by noting that the members of scientific academies are mostly atheists and yet exhibit exemplary moral behavior with nary a murderer or rapist among them. But this is a very low standard of proof. To be absolutely scientific about it, we would need about two millennia of purely atheistic culture in order to learn for certain whether human beings on their own would generate what we today consider moral behavior. Without that, we are perfectly justified in concluding, not scientifically of course, but in a common sensicalway, that the saintly behavior of today’s atheists comes from their having absorbed the morality that mankind has developed through centuries of religious belief and that is part of the cultural oxygen we all breathe. As C.S. Lewis says, if you are challenging the Tao, or the idea of a transcendent moral law, it’s because you have been cultivated within it. Someone outside of it could not even have the wherewithal to challenge it.