Monday, May 19, 2008

The Conscience Existence

This thing called conscience—that intrusive, uninvited voice that so often challenges our intentions—is inexplicable in a naturalistic universe. Unbelievers may try to deny its existence, but just like believers, they feel guilty when they lie or steal. They are appalled at themselves when they lose their temper and hurt a friend or a loved one. They can’t stand bearing the blame for their misdeeds, so they make excuses to justify their bad behavior. Even the worst, most godless criminals always have a rationale for their crimes: they were mistreated or deprived as children; society has cheated them, and they are getting even; their victims had it coming; treating themselves to someone else’s property just levels the playing field after a run of bad luck.

People who operate outside the bounds of the universal moral code (see blog #22) always grope for traditional morality to justify their errant behavior. Sane people cannot live with themselves without finding some way to justify their own behavior by the standard the universe prescribes. If the universe is really meaningless and humans are nothing more than impersonal blobs of atoms, unbelievers shouldn’t need to scramble for excuses—but they do. They feel compelled to align themselves with the universal standard of morality, even though they deny the existence of such a standard. And if they fail to justify themselves, the conscience they deny will sting them just as painfully as it does believers.