HAO member Mark Fournier (who doesn’t post nearly often enough) has put up an excellent essay on the materialist basis of ethics at his blog Tachyphrenia. The next time someone tells you atheists can have no morals, just send them that URL. A sample to whet your appetite:
A recent study has shown that almost 40% of Americans consider atheists to be the worst part of their society. This perception hangs upon several convictions: 1) atheists have no morals; 2) atheists are materialistic; 3) atheists are elitists, and 4) atheists represent the worst of modernity.
To the first, that atheists have no morals: in the absence of divine authority, atheists are required to revisit moral questions in naturalistic terms. This effort has been rewarded on several fronts. First, as the natural order represents no divinely ordained moral order, you cannot get an ought from an is–that is, the status quo is not morally sufficient simply because it exists. There is always room for improvement. This insight is from Hume, a refutation of natural law, though often pressed into dubious service particularly by the religious. Furthermore, absent the interests of a meddling deity, morality is a human concern, subject to human needs and desires. There is no excuse for subjecting the populace to odious measures for the benefit of a mysterious authority, who is in fact the sock-puppet of a theocratic elite. Finally, in the absence of divine omniscience, we are required to establish our own knowledge by submitting ourselves, not to divine authority, but to the authority of evidence. Ours is a harsher discipline, harder won and less forgiving. Believers choose the God who agrees with them, but we do not have the luxury of choosing our evidence. It is what it is, and we must adapt to it. In selecting a deity who is never their opposition, believers are effectively solipsists, alone and unchallenged in their beliefs, which they choose with their God…..