The Christians will tell you we are fallen from perfection. And it was the knowledge of good and evil that made us fall into a state of sin.
Now, if you ask your average atheist, can you be good without god, s/he/it will probably say “of course I can, I don’t need your silly sky deity”.
But being good with or without gods doesn’t really address the important question. What does it mean to be or do good?
Is good objective, distinct from our preference, measurable?
Or is it mere preference?
We find that even 3-month-olds prefer the good guy to the bad guy, and that older babies and toddlers will reward the good guy and punish the bad guy. Babies also prefer other characters that do the same; they prefer a just puppet who rewards the good and punishes the bad over an unjust puppet who does the opposite.
Ah ha! We are born good. Morality indeed has a solid footing.
Indeed, studies find that babies start off as little bigots, eagerly dividing the world into us versus them and strongly favoring their own group over everyone else.
So… babies would also make good bloggers. Clearly bigotry is as natural as compassion, and therefore good.
But wait… I feel a fallacy coming on. Just because we evolved a certain tendency doesn’t mean it has any value beyond that. It may have helped our ancestors survive, but so what? Is good simply reducible to ‘useful’.
Such is the problem with morality. If we claim nature, or even survival, as the foundation of morality, we get both altruism and self-interest.
But that is not enough for most people, they want ‘progress’. So we have stuff like ‘human rights’ and ‘social justice’. But those came about by consensus. Just because you and I agree that heterosexuality is an abomination, doesn’t make it so.
Just because we have an instinct that something is good, that doesn’t make it so either.
Ethics is hard, you can’t really trust your gut, your common sense, or your intuition, because we didn’t evolve to be good, we evolved to survive. And as a species we have developed conflicting strategies for assigning value.
What is good for me, what is good for my family and friends, what is good for my country, what is good for the poor, what is good for the helpless, what is good for our species?
There are no easy answers… beware those who claim to have them.