How can an atheist know right from wrong?

The Spectator has a story on The return of God: atheism’s crisis of faith. That the world as we know it cannot possibly be the result of spontaneous creation and Darwinian natural selection is so obvious that I am no longer even embarrassed in the company of atheists who I now think of as intellectually shallow and impossibly obtuse. Atheism cannot be defended other than as a form of wilful ignorance. Even the existence of a morality within human societies, a largely common morality shared across all religious groups – although with large differences in view about whether non-members of the religion are protected by these beliefs – shows a kind of understanding of the difference between right and wrong.

The new atheism has reached the limits of what it can achieve because it is attempting to renew secular humanism in anti-religious terms. This cannot be done. It’s a paltry and dishonest attempt, because it avoids reflecting on the tradition of secular humanism. Such reflection is awkward for it, due to its muddled claim that morality is just natural, and so no special tradition is needed. And yet — felix culpa! The atheists have unwittingly raised the question, which we generally prefer to evade, of what secular humanism is, how it is related to God. By tackling this big issue ineptly, they have at least hauled it onto the table. (Also — a slightly different point — their unattractive polemics have surely helped to push some semi-Christians off the fence, onto the faithful side — seemingly including A.N. Wilson and Diarmaid MacCulloch. And they have nudged some quietly Christian authors into writing about their faith — Francis Spufford stands out.)

Evade it as you like, without God there can be no morality beyond self-interest and what you can get away with.

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