Sunday, November 12, 2006
Ethics of an atheist
One common misconcepetion about atheists is that they do not care about anything, after all, why would anyone want to be good unless they are rewarded with a place in heaven?, and what would stop someone who do not fear the eternal fire in hell from rape and murder?
I think statements such as these say more about religious people than it does about atheists. It reveals that the only reason they are acting morally is because of the reward that they believe will be given to them.
For me there is really no egoistic reason for behaving morally, it is just something I try to do for its own sake, acting morally is simply good. I think that ethics in the 21st century should not be based on an ancient book of fiction which advocates "turning the other cheek" on one page and stoning to death those who do not share your faith on another page. Rather, I advocate thinking rationally about ethics.
I personally subscribe to some form of utilitarianism, meaning that we should try to maximize happiness in the word. I say some form of utilitarianism, because sometimes I think it can be questioned whether the end justify the means. Another sound ethical principle in my opinion is the one of the "original position" advocated by Harvard professor John Rawls. According to Rawls it should not matter where or by whom you are born. If being born in a certain part of the society or by a certain class means entering a life of unhappiness or even slavery, then it is not a good society. A leader, thus should be able to say that "if I was reborn tomorrow, it would make no difference to me where or by whom I was born". This may be a utopian idea, but I think it is a good guideline.
How does a belief in evolution fit into all this? Surely, evolution teaches us that the killing rivals and raping is good? No! Evolution, says nothing about what is good and what is bad, that is for us to decide. Evolution can teach us many things about the ways in which humans work and what kinds of instincts to expect. Evolutionary psychology can give us invaluable information in the building of a just world. Not taking into account what we know about humanity when building a society just seems rather stupid to me. I will end with a quote by a great Professor, Leda Cosmides (see picture), whose class I had the privilege to attend; "Go save the world, but do it using what you know about human nature!"