A large contention between atheists and theists is that of morals. "If there is no God, why be good?" This is something I hear fairly commonly in my life, whenever I start talking about evolution in a place where ignorance is high. There are many books, blogs, articles, videos, podcast's, and radio shows that answer this question. I will be included, with my own intriguing spin.
What is the benefit of being good? There are 4 evolutionary reasons for altruistic behaviour (helping others even to the point of hindering yourself).
Firstly, there's Relatives. A person you are related to has a higher chance of sharing similar genes to you, and so it would be beneficial to those genes that you help our family.
Second is Reciprocation. If you reward good, you'll be rewarded for your good acts. Reciprocation is a 2 way street, if you don't do good acts, you wont be rewarded, and if you do bad acts, you will be punished.
Third, Reputation. By doing altruistic things, you are known for those acts, and are more likely to be rewarded, if only because you are likely to reciprocate it.
Lastly, there's Ego. Large, obvious acts of altruism can be used as a way of saying "Hey, look at me, I can afford to give you my food, cause I'm that good. I can head the charge, cause I'm brave." This technically isn't altruism, as the reason isn't selfless, but the word fits better than most.
These can easily explain why we have a conscience. This doesn't explain how we determine our morals. A lot of it is easy, and obvious. An application of the Golden rule (which is attributed to religion, but can be traced back otherwise) is all we need for most of our morals. We don't kill because we wouldn't like someone to kill us. Immanuel Kant was right on the money when he said: "act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Understand? I didn't get it at first either, but what it means is that you should act in a way that you would want everyone to act at the same time. Be nice to others, because you want everyone to be nice to others. Don't be violent, because you don't want everyone to be violent.
Morals are, and always have been, relative. Relative to the circumstances, to the people, to society as a whole. I feel that everyone should be morally correct killing, provided the circumstances left only that option. I also feel that there would be certain circumstances in which being mean would be right. Just cause I can think of them doesn't mean they don't exist.
"Without god, why be good?" seems to me to be the same as asking "Why not rob them, they're blind". I also never thought god wanted you to be a brown-noser. I suppose there's no "thou shalt not kiss ass" commandment, and he does want you to please him above everything else. I guess it is better to be good to make a petty, vengeful guy happy, than to be nice without worrying about him. He'd make you pay for not trying to please him, or so it seems.
I am going to look into the research on the correlation between religiosity and morals/crime/violence/life span/living conditions/education. I have a strong feeling that the less religious a person/city/country is the higher the morals/life span/living conditions/education and the lower crime/violence is. It will be up next week. Until then,
crites evidentia logica.