The moral debate in our postmodern age is both majestic and melancholic. Do we still think that there is real concepts such "right" and "wrong?" The terms "good" and "evil" have to some people lost their meaning entirely. While to others, these words have only become harder, though not impossible, to define.
Is there a set of universal laws which govern the way man is to act towards his fellow? Can we speak in objective terms while discussing questions of ethics and morality? Does man have some kind of responsibility towards the universe, or is the world a jungle in which the only the strong survive? These questions have plagued mankind for centuries, perhaps ever since man became aware of himself. [It is fascinating to note that even though no moral code has ever been universally accepted, nor do any two people agree on every ethical dilemma, practically everyone cares about and values morality. We almost instinctively know the value of a moral system, even if we differ on how to define it.]
Religious people are quick to pose these problems to atheists as proof of their religious doctrine, or at the very least, they wish to show the value of dogmatic belief over the "hopelessness" of secular rationalism. I once heard a rabbi who, when challenged as to whether or not God existed, answered by stating that without God there can be no morals, and therefore... He went off to quote Dostoevsky (as they almost always do) who is said to have written: "If God does not exist, everything is permitted." I have also heard many religious people say that were there no God, nothing would stop them from becoming murderers and rapists. As if the only reason they do not carry out such horrifying acts this moment, is to prevent punishment, in this world or the next, from an invisible God. How contemptible. Though, to their credit, I'm quite certain a great number of them are lying, and that they wish only to frighten my heart, so that I too should take cover in the absolutism of their faith. Religion has held a monopoly on morality and they believe this gives them a rational platform on which to stand in the God debate. It does not.
I will admit, however, that without a god dictating our universal laws, there would arise moral difficulties that are almost, if not completely, insoluble. There are fascinating philosophical discussions which have attempted to create an objective moral code based on rational arguments. There have been yet others, who challenge these premises and simply say that all is relative. "His pleasure is not my pleasure, and I have no right to dictate what he does or does not do," is the basic gist of the argument. In practice though, I must add, one will be hard pressed to find the surge of atheists who, because they have no belief in God, are committing crimes. (If the reader is tempted to to say here that Hitler and Stalin disproved this, I will say that while at least Stalin was not a believer, his totalitarian movement was just as dogmatic and anti-rational, as the worst of religions. It therefore, does not negate my point, and rather strengthens it.) It seems that where atheists may differ entirely on whether we can say objectively that there exist these universal laws of ethics, most atheists in practice, live rather morally and upright lives. A seeming paradox indeed, yet a consistent one.
I will further admit, that if there was an all-knowing, all-seeing being, it would certainly be fitting for such a being to dictate our morals. Surely such a creature could make accurate and precise claims as to the nature of the universe. Even more so, if that being created the universe! Of course, everyone following a sacred text which is claimed to be authored by such a being, should wonder if he is indeed following the morals of a god, or simple unenlightened middle-eastern shepherds from a much earlier century.
It is this last point that should compel the religious to make certain their sacred texts are, in fact, true. If they are not, you may, because of them, commit certain acts that I think even the staunchest of believers would agree are immoral. Even if a moral code would be impossible to create or sustain without a god, we have no right to say that such a being exists! The world may be a terrifying, gloomy, hopeless existence where wickedness prevails, that still does not mean that Truth can be manipulated to comfort us. Religion may offer the world many precious comforts. It may allow humans to experience certain sensations such as spirituality, more often than the secular. Religion may, though some would differ, refine a great many people. All these values lead us no closer to knowing whether it's claims are, in fact, true.
Mankind has always been very adapt to evolving to fit their surroundings, we have evolved as creatures both physically and mentally, and will probably continue to do so. Is it such a stretch to say that as we became more conscience of ourselves, we evolved morals that would allow the continuance of our gene pool? Crediting the moral advancements to gods would simply ensure the observance of those moral achievements. Hence religion.
I am no expert in the origins of religion, nor do I claim to know when our sense of morality evolved to where it is today; I merely wish to point out that though religion is an easier moral system, and perhaps has done some good for certain people, we still cannot say without evidence that it is God's word.
The question that must be addressed, the only question religion must answer, is: Does God exist? If you claim he does, the burden of proof is on you. To show the history of religion, to talk of the morals it possesses, to waste time talking about the comfort and hope religion cultivates, is to evade the most important challenge to religion; the only question worth answering.