These kinds of questions just crack me up. Is it implied with the asking, that only believers have a moral center? If that’s so, is it fair to assume that “moral” people are only moral because of their religion? So, if a person, rightly, distinguishes right from wrong (s)he is obviously religious? But, if someone only does the morally correct thing because of fear of reprisal from God, how sincere is that moral compass? The assumptions made in the premise are many and are fallacious. It doesn’t take religion to have a moral center – to tell right from wrong.
So, how do atheists tell right from wrong?
I think it’s safe to assume one learns right from wrong from upbringing and by example, regardless of religion or lack thereof.
I happen to have been raised by two rather religious people. My dad, in particular, is a very devout Catholic. My brothers and I were raised as Catholics. Ironically enough, it’s the Catholic Church that turned me off of religion as a whole. And, why? Because the Catholics, like most religions, believe they have the market cornered on morality. Unfortunately, the way they teach things in the Church is counterintuitive to true morality. The Catholics encourage you to do the right thing, but not because it’s the moral thing to do. No, the Catholics say do the right thing because, if you don’t, you’ll burn in hell for all of eternity. It’s a sort of morality by extortion. I think true and sincere and honest moral behavior is more than that.
Yes, I was raised with morals and, yes, I was raised by parents who happen to be believers. One thing that’s different for me, I suppose, is more than just morality: my parents raised me to think for myself. That was always the case. Yes, until I was done with high school, there was an expectation that I would go to church – and I did. However, now that I’ve long since graduated and long since stopped attending church, my parents trust that I’m still doing the morally correct thing (and, for the most part, they’re correct). My moral center has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with the way I was raised.
Frankly, I’m a little insulted by the implication of the question. How does an atheist tell right from wrong? How does anybody tell right from wrong. They’re brought up with morals or they’re not. It has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with parenting.