I read posts here that call different things, "harmful to humanity."  Others call something, "good" or "bad" or "evil."

A very simple question, who gets to decide the definition of  "harmful to humanity" and what is there critieria? The same for "good," "bad," and "evil?" These are not material terms. If everything is material isn't there just "is" and not these moral declarations if one is being thoroughly atheist?

Help me understand your position so I am fair and honest about the views. Thanks.

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Keep asking the questions. That's what we are here for :)

Your tone has been civil and thoughtful. I see no reason to bash you over the head. A certain frame of mind comes from thinking things with religious reference and it's to be expected. As long as you are asking questions out of a desire to understand and not to stir up trouble, keep it up.

Wretched, this can be a real bear pit. Sorry

An example of atheist morality:

To quote Atheist Exile: "World hunger is NOT a fucking moral problem....Take your bleeding heart someplace where people will overlook your privileged life while you cry for the starving masses.

Full post here.


I call White Savior Industrial Complex.

I'm assuming that you are "religious" in some way.  It is always amusing when a religious person starts asking atheists how we determine "good" vs. "bad" (or just assume that we can't tell the difference).  The fact is, we determine "good" and "bad" just like everyone else does, including you. 

I would define "harmful to humanity" as something that stifles freedom, that encourages or demands that people not think clearly, and/or something that encourages human suffering for no reason other than the feeling of superiority. 

As you might guess, I consider religion to be one of the most destructive things to humanity and civilization.  There are many reasons for this.  To name a few:

Religious people feel the need to indoctrinate their children at a very early age.  That need comes from the fact that, more often than not, a person must be convinced that religion is true before that person is able to start thinking critically.  If a person is too old when introduced to religion, it is far more likely that the irrationality of it will cause them to not buy into it.

It discourages people from free thought. When a person believes something not only with no evidence, but with the mountains of evidence that religion has against it, that person is susceptible to believe anything.  Religion is taught and conveyed using emotions.  In other words, people learn to evaluate the evidence against religion on an emotional level rather than an intellectual level.  Unfortunately, that causes people to do the same thing in other parts of their lives, like politics.  For example, many of the religious right actually support Romney for the sole purpose of the fact that he is considered "more religious" than Obama.  Would he do a better job running the country?  Well, with all his flip-flapping on issues, it's really hard to say, but he certainly is more interested in big businesses making more money at the cost of the middle- and lower-classes in this country.  He would drive an even larger wedge between the rich and the poor, which I don't see as being, in any way advantageous to the country as a whole.  Would it be "good" for some?  Sure.  Any time the rich can get richer, they are very happy with the results.  Basically what I'm trying to convey is that this country is in as bad a shape as it is because of poor political choices and that is due to emotional evaluation of the candidates rather than clear, rational intellectual evaluation.  That is what religion teaches people to do.

It also teaches people to ignore any evidence that goes against their "belief system".  Creationism, for example, can not in any way shape or form be considered "science", yet we are still debating whether we should allow creationism to be taught in our schools as an "alternative" to real science.  That is just scary.  And because of the outrage of xians, teachers are not allowed to teach it for what it is: a fairy tale with no evidence supporting it in any way.  If you drive around most neighborhoods in this country, you would hardly be able to throw a rock without hitting a church where some priest, pasture, deacon, bishop, or some other con-man is selling the bible to people as the Truth.  But the second someone points out any of the hundreds of inconsistencies, contradictions, logical fallacies or flat out lies in it, you have people swarming to shut that person up.  If the bible were "true", why can't it stand on its own?  Why do people scurrying to make excuses as to why it "seems" inconsistent or illogical, but really isn’t?  Simply because they are trying to suppress the mountains of evidence that it is nothing but a bunch of fables.

People distort the truth in order to support their beliefs.  Look at all the people out there that profess that this country was built on "xian principles".  Unfortunately, they are somewhat right, however we, as a society, have matured past most of the horrific things that religion has allowed people to get away with.  Burning people at the stake, trial by ordeal, slavery, treating women as property, lynch mobs.  I don't know about you, but I certainly consider these things "harmful to humanity".  And they are all not only allowed, but supported by religion.  The majority of "good" that came out of the founding of our country has nothing at all to do with religion.  Freedom as a whole is a very non-xian concept.

Because some religious institutions do "good" work, like helping the poor, people irrationally associate them with being, as a whole, "good".  But when those same religious institution uses those same poor underprivileged people as a political pawns in order to force its will on the people through political means, it very rapidly turns to "bad".  This happens all the time and the bigger the institution, the more political pull it has.  Take, for instance, all the political pressure to outlaw same-sex marriage.  Marriage is, at its basis, a legal contract between consenting adults.  It has nothing to do with religion.  The religious talk about the “purity of marriage”.  Yet if one looks through history, marriage has been a tool to unite families.  Seldom was it just simply two people wishing to spend their lives together.  It has only really been the past couple of hundred years that marriage has become the institution that we associate it to today.  However, the religious in this country feel that they have the personal liberty to deprive others of their personal liberties.  Why? Because they think that they can force their perceived "morals" on others without a second thought.  The same thing goes for abortion.  They wish to make some sort of blanket moral judgment on everyone without a second thought as to how harmful that will be to the individuals involved.

All in all, I think that atheists actually have a better sense of right and wrong than most theist do.  We, more often than not, evaluate an action based on its impact to individuals, society and the world as a whole.  The religious, more often than not, evaluate actions based on the emotional impact to themselves and justify it by claiming that it somehow "offends" some imaginary overseer with no evidence of either the overseer or that it might be "offended".

Dear Wretched Saint, I would love to answer your question in a direct and simple way.  Unfortunately, I have learned through painful experience, that the discussion of ethics on atheists' sites is a ruse.  Discussion of the actual, timely, ethical conundrums, and progressive ethical movements of the day is not tolerated here.  While many atheist take that "Good without god" seriously, others feel that our atheism means that, as individuals, we have no  "reason" to design an ethical code for ourselves.  This stance reminds me of a kid who tells the babysitter that because she is not his mother, he has no reason to stop hitting his baby brother.  In fact, it is not the rules of his mother (the church), he won't consider, but any suggested self limitation on his urges and desires.  To suggest that it is sometimes more ethical to moderate our own behavior for the benefit of others, is often condemned here and on other atheist sites as  religious dogma.  You will see. 

We all live together - the reasonable and the superstitious.  We also share the world with the rest of the natural fauna and flora.  I think acting according to a sense of justice and compassion toward everyone else will improve the world and promote our comfortable residency here.  To be more specific would be to invite scorn,  wrath, verbal abuse, and ad-hominum attacks.

Actually, Dogly, ethics are discussed here all the time, on multiple forums covering all sorts of topics.  For the most part, people realize that there are often no concrete foundations for ethical frameworks and there are always underlying preferences for certain axioms.  Just because every single other Atheist has not come to your conclusion that we must all be vegans doesn't mean we won't tolerate ethics - it just means we wont' tolerate your efforts to enforce your underlying axioms on the rest of us.

@Dogly - "Discussion of the actual, timely, ethical conundrums, and progressive ethical movements of the day is not tolerated here."

I find this statement curious.  I've been to a lot of atheist sites and have read several posts here on TA, and have yet to have anyone other than theists get their backs up when discussing ethics.  I'm curious as to what experiences you've had that would harbor such an attitude. 

In my experience, almost every atheist has the same basic understanding that morals have evolved with sociological and socioeconomically pressures.  I agree with Heather that, in my experience, atheists tend to have no problem discussing and debating the finer points of ethics, as long as one person doesn't just declare that everyone *must* hold a specific moral just because someone else *feels* it's the right thing to do (which is, I think, the biggest problem we, as a group, have with theist moral debates).

Anyway, if you could point me to a couple of discussions where debate on morality or ethics has been dissuaded, I'd be interested in seeing how and why it was done on this or any other forum.

@Dogly, what site are YOU reading? I have been on here a long, long time and have never seen the climate you describe. You must be confusing us with Atheist Nexus or some NewsGroup or something. I think the discussion that's occurring in this thread provides a direct contradiction to your presupposition.

One other thing: I have performed, have read of others (here and other places), and have witness firsthand the amazing work, dedication, and self-sacrifice for the "greater good" by atheists than many theists, actually. I attribute this to the fact that we know this is the only life, and only world we have. Therefore we tend to work hard to take care of our fellow humans and or world, because there are no others.

Incidentally, I'm a proud veteran of the U.S. Air Force. I know there are many other atheist servicepeople and veterans, here and nationwide. The act of serving your country is definitely self-sacrifice "for the greater good" - and that was just an example, and the beginning, of my service to others.

Rocky, I thank you very much for your service to our country.  I never said that atheists are unethical.   I said it is perilous to discuss ethics.  Though the climate here is not as contentious as Atheist Nexus sometimes gets, I recall some dismissive, disrespectful, posts in debates about feminism and sexism here. 


My question is foundational and by no means am I trying to stir up a hornet's nest. From where do you draw your definition and determinations of what is deemed firstly "good" in and of itself and secondly, "greater good?" That is the question I am getting at with the initial question.

Wretched I deem those acts to be good that promote happiness and well being and those things that are bad that cause unnecessary harm, pain and suffering.


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