Morals and Ethics! The thing that most theists believe Atheist lack. Where do we atheist get our morals from. There is obviously no divine order to keep us in check then what exactly is there that keeps us from stealing, cheating, killing, raping, marrying six year olds, asking widowed women to perform Sati, introduce slavery, burn free thinking women alive saying that they were witches, killing people who leave our religion. Are we, the non-theist, prone to committing all these acts because we don't fear a tyrant in the heavens, who would fart out stuff we should be and should not be doing? I think morality doesn’t have anything to do with religion or God.
1500 years ago women were not entitled to a share in the family fortune, thousand years ago it was moral to keep slaves, 60 years ago it was wrong for African Americans or for women to vote. Right and wrong vary across time and cultures. What was wrong a thousand years ago is right now, what was right a thousand years ago is wrong now. What is wrong in one society won’t be in another. There cannot be a single complete and comprehensive script that would serve as the moral code of conduct for all time, for all of mankind.
The reason we as humans and some other animals live in groups is to improve the chances of survivability and continuity of the specie. Ants, bees, termites, wolves, herds all have similar reasons, for becoming a part of a group that protects them and also increases the chances of finding food, shelter and the opportunity to reproduce. In such societies; rules, procedures, ethics evolve as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups.
Morals and Ethics have evolved to their current state. The "evils" of the society cheating, stealing, wars and oppression taught us that these things are wrong because they hinder the establishment and progress of a cooperative and effective group. It wasn't divine intervention. It was evolution of human thought. In order for societies to function it became necessary to put in some guidelines and rules. Societies that refused to set these guidelines failed to grow ("Survival of the fittest"). Members of that society either moved to another society (immigrations/asylum) or fell victim to the law of the jungle. While the societies which were more advanced intellectually survived better than the others.
Each religion has stories of how bad were things before it came, how the region was in lawlessness and then it transformed to save mankind. And also how the people of the status quo were against the religion and changes it brought about. Each religion introduced liberal laws as compared to the times and culture of the era. But as times moved on and so did our understanding of right and wrong, we modified our understanding of right and wrong. Religion on the other hand could not. It was to be rock solid, immovable, unchangeable and uncompromising.
Religion (Islam) made it lawful to marry a minor. It also made freedom of expression (beyond a certain limit) and freedom of leaving religion as offenses. Religion (all) considered same sex marriages as immoral. Modern concepts are different, now more and more people are accepting same sex marriages, it is illegal to marry a minor, it is illegal to have slaves, freedom of expression and freedom to choose ones religion are now considered basic rights.
I never got comfortable with the idea that something is wrong because God says so. Would there be no standard of right and wrong if God didn't write it down for us? Then moral by definition is whatever God commands. Are you really comfortable with that? Do we not have any instinctive, logical thinking behind what is wrong and what is right? Once someone was explaining to me the "justice” of Islam, the "fairness" of Islam in light of the eye for an eye, hand for a hand punishment. She (yes she) was of the opinion that "it makes sense" since a person who has done the crime should feel the pain of his/her victims. Hold on right there, did you read that ... to me the most significant bit of this sentence is "it makes sense".... It makes sense! That is your basis for moral ladies, gentlemen and mullahs. The concept of justice, law and order, moral ethics, crime and punishment is put in place by each society because "it makes sense" not because of some divine doctrine.
An Atheist will do the right thing because it is the right thing. He won’t be doing it because someone told him to do so. Most average theist would be doing the same it is just that they would feel like connecting that with their God.
So am I saying are atheist more moral than theist? No. Is it the other way around? No. Statistics from prison population would indicate that Atheists are more moral and to be honest in a way that makes sense. This would be hard to really know for sure since we are smaller in number and our exact number isn't known since some of us don't identify ourselves as atheist. By my observation an average atheist is mostly better educated and intelligent than your average theist.
I hold that morality doesn't have to do anything with belief in God. It also doesn't have anything to do with the lack of belief in God. Atheists are like everyone else, we are human beings we have greed, we are intolerant at times we are irrational at times. We are still the same as you. Why are atheists seen as immoral by believers? I think it is mostly because most theists are indoctrinated to demonize atheist and hence they seldom get a chance to really get to know an atheist and see how normal she/he is. Religion does not make a person good or bad. Society, upbringing, family, personal character makes a person good or bad.