The On Faith blog asked panelists to comment on the questions:
Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?
A few excerpts stand out.
Herb Silverman points out the flaw in the question itself:
I think it’s meaningless to ask whether people can be good without God. As an atheist, I believe we are all without any gods. The question is really about whether people can be good without a belief in God. And by just about any measure, the answer has to be yes. The Scandinavian countries, for example, are the least religious and have low crime rates, as well as good social programs and a high quality of life.
You also have to love Herb’s retort to a radio show’s caller:
I was once a guest on a talk-radio show when a caller said to me: “Since you don’t believe in God, I suppose you can go out and rape and murder and do anything else you think you can get away with.” My response was, “With an attitude like that, I hope you continue to believe in God.”
Why would I derive my values, for example, from a religious tradition that insists it is wrong for a menstruating woman to touch her husband? Or from another religious tradition that tells me it’s wrong to use contraception? These are nothing more than superstitions that defy both common sense and science. I believe it’s good for people to express sexual love and desire without producing a dozen babies in the course of a lifetime–partly because that has been my experience and partly because the benefits of population control are obvious at a larger social level. Why should I listen to what old men sworn to celibacy have to say about this?
Today we should ask, what is the proper context of the current conversation about atheism and religion? What is the larger cultural project within which it should be seen? As Charles Taylor has observed, ours is a secular age, an age in which belief is no longer axiomatic but optional. We educated peoples of the rich, industrialized democracies inhabit a disenchanted universe, a world unperturbed by occult powers. It doesn’t get to cheat and bring things about by magic, but must resort to some natural, causal mechanism. The remaining anti-secular, anti-naturalistic messages of some contemporary Christians, whether from Saddleback or Vatican City, are not the dictates of a triumphant force but the cries of an animal grown more desperate because it is cornered. After five centuries of surrendering to non-religious institutions the dominion over cosmology, biology, medicine, education, entertainment, the arts, and civil society, they are desperate to retain some sliver of continued relevance.
(Thanks to Angie for the link!)