This discussion got me thinking:
I have been having some trouble reconciling something in my mind. I do NOT think we need god(s) to keep us moral, but I DO think we need government and laws to do so. Someone once challenged me on this and said I may as well be an anarchist. I couldn't come up with a satisfactory response to explain why that was false at that moment.
Finally, this morning, it dawned on me and I realized it's really quite simple. God isn't real. Government and laws are.
I'm still churning this around in my head, but bear with my clumsily put together thoughts.
All of us, for evolutionary reasons (as Dave G outlined in the discussion), are selfish and greedy to a certain extent. Natural selection requires us to be that way so we get more resources and have more offspring. On the other hand, natural selection also allows for some altruistic and cooperative behavior. If we help someone, they help us, or it helps my social pack, and we get to have more babies! (side note: stop having so many babies!) If you rape, murder, steal, or generally become a burden to others, it is likely you will be outcast from society. This is not advantageous for the individual or the spreading of their genes. So nature and society have selected for a balance between greed and altruism. We are naturally moral creatures on the larger moral issues mentioned.
However, we need actual consequences that are palpable and real to keep us in line. We don't need an imaginary threat (god, hell, etc.). The trick is balancing everyone's freedom so no one is giving up too much, and no one taking too much. This is especially true for the finer moral points. I don't think that human nature allows for this. We need government and laws (that are real).
That's why believers don't understand how we can be moral without god and heaven and hell...it's all real to them. They can't wrap their heads around the idea that atheists are nice because nature and society have selected for it. That laws based on common sense enforce our behavior, not god. An imaginary god doesn't give us any recourse and never directly punished anyone (in a provable way). Real government and laws do give us recourse. Some may argue that there are plenty of consequences and laws in the [insert holy book here]. I would argue that people made those laws up and enforced them. It was the laws and the real human-enforced consequences that worked, even if they believed it was coming from god. Sure the threat of hell is convincing to many...but it isn't needed.
So that's where my brain is right now. Help me refine this...what are your thoughts?