Arguing with believers about the existence of gods per se is futile in the extreme; simply pointing out the lack of evidence for intercessionary-style deities and the genuinely stunning evidence one can marshal against the idea are not sufficient, since, philosophically at least, it’s impossible to definitively establish the universal absence of gods, or of anything.
But I remain perplexed by the widespread and deeply entrenched inability of theists to grasp a very basic concept: People can behave benevolently simply because it is, intuitively, the right thing to do. A wealth of obvious and tangible payoffs are delivered to those of us who act compassionately, kindly, and honestly; in the same vein, an array of punishments can be avoided by not behaving violently, licentiously or rapaciously.
There is no need, no role in fact, for an external consciousness in this. All one needs to do is throw a clump of people together and watch what develops. And this “experiment” has been conducted countless times in human history, with highly predictable, replicable results.
Even those who ascribe their own moral behavior to gods are kidding themselves; they do what the godless do for the same essential reasons, but keep these at a comfortable distance. But this self-deception can be pernicious indeed.
Look at Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Count, if you like, the number of times someone answered the witless question, “If there’s no God, then what is morality anyway?” or a variant thereof. As if it weren’t bad enough that this is an inane query, those posing it have proven remarkably resistant to even acknowledging, much less accepting, the answers given, as though they are using some rogue version of IE or Firefox that renders certain text strings typed by atheists invisible.
You’ll have to forgive my awful typing over at Jared’s blog; I really need a new keyboard witha space bar that works, and even I can’t account for the phrase, “anutter no sequitur.” That sounds like something either Jar Jar Binks or Benicio Del Toro’s character in The Usual Suspects would say.