It seems to me that societies and morality are inextricably linked and any appeal to a creator is not only unnecessary, it’s unparsimonious. To some degree, we need certain notions of good and evil for people to exist in relatively close proximity to one another.
To some degree morality must be objective, however that in itself isn’t any indication of a creator (and certainly not a Judeo-Christian one). Take murder for example - imagine a society where murder is explicitly permitted. Gradually, after people discovered the consequences of having a world where anyone could kill freely, people would go into seclusion – they’d remove themselves from such a society. They might retreat and form smaller groups in the wilderness with people that they all could trust, but in such a case, it’s a society where murder is implicitly illegal. This is, I think, precisely what we find in nature – any species that form social groups don’t kill each other under normal circumstances (we find this even with animals). So you see, it’s impossible for a society to exist without certain codes of morality.
So why would man choose good over evil you ask? I think because what we define as good and evil is shaped by evolution. Evolution favors the formation of society because “there’s strength in numbers”. Particularly for humans – a species that is physically weak – it’s not hard to see how collaborating/communicating could be conducive for survival. I think language is one of the most remarkable evolutionary achievements and one of the biggest factors in our success as a species. The internet is possibly the ultimate culmination of this.
We admire acts of courage and altruism because although natural selection only operates at the level of the individual, I think there’s a cumulative effect in “species survival”. For all the instances of competition and domination in nature, you’ll find examples of symbiosis and cooperation. As Stormcrow put it, good acts are beneficial to society, and evil acts are detrimental to it.
Consider the alternative: What makes an act evil or good? God? If the standard for morality comes entirely from God’s authority alone, then actual consequences of good and evil are absolutely meaningless. Think about it, what we define as good and evil is based largely on the consequences it brings about. Murder produces a lot of pain and suffering, and from an evolutionary standpoint, prevents partial continuation for the species. If the only thing that makes something good/evil is God’s saying so, then we can’t even be sure our sense of morality conforms with his.
Imagine a world where God condones murder. Would this actually make murder a good act? By your reasoning, it does, because God is the one who sets the standard for morality – by the view that God determines morality, consequences don’t matter in the least. With all due respect Brain, I think you’re the one with the dilemma. Do we really consider murder evil SOLELY because God says so?