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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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.

Dogly, First, THANK YOU! I greatly appreciate your tone and honesty. Very refreshing and for that I am grateful. I love it when people can admit the challenges of their own philosophical systems. I am willing to admit mine and I am not here to pick a fight with anyone but to learn and try to be consistent in my own beliefs.

Second, for you--lest you dare speak for atheism as a whole, and be summarily crucified--you state it is important for you to act in accordance to justice and compassion. My question is this. From where do you draw your definitions of justice and compassion? 

Third, why do you choose to live by justice and compassion rather than what Bertrand Russell called ethics as our enlightened own self-interests?

Fourth, what atheistic moral philosophers should I read whom stand out as the "best of the best?"

Fifth, If you are ever in the Dallas area let me and you get a dinner on me!

Wretched. Sorry to encroach.

Some atheists, I owuldn't like to say how many, do try to live ethical lives and do aspire to be better than they are. I like utilitarianism becuse it is a simple principle even though the process can be very complicated. Although never really a believer (theist), I do believe it really importajnt to have some sense of an ethical code otherwise the pull of self-interest can be too great. While I obviously don't agree with adopting the Bible as a moral guide, it does have in its favour standards to live by to overcome selfishness.

Why people who don't believe in God strive to be better people is unknown to me. Maybe it has it's basis in evolution I don't know. Maybe it's the awful state of the world and wanting it to be better and to play a part in that.

I think you'll find, just as there are many Christian who pay lip-service to morality, so to do many atheists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism

John - RE: "While I obviously don't agree with adopting the Bible as a moral guide, it does have in its favour standards to live by to overcome selfishness."

With all due respect John, I believe that the best method of teaching is by example, and the example provided by the god of the Bible is far more selfish and self-promoting than any Human I have ever known.

pax vobiscum,
archaeopteryx
www.in-His-own-image.com

Hey, don't get me wrong. I deplore the moral message of the Bible taken as a whole and indeed the very idea that we shoul dadopt another's morality. What I am saying is that I find it useful to try to work out a simple ethical position for myself. Something positive that will act as a guide. This helps me try to be consistent, guards against self-interest and helps me challenge myself to do better. With self-interest being such a strong pull, I think there is a danger in not aspiring to anything.

So while I do deplore the Bible, I have to admit that it works for a great many Christians and does help them be better and ignore in part self interest.

So while I do deplore the Bible, I have to admit that it works for a great many Christians and does help them be better and ignore in part self interest.

@ John - I agree but I often wonder how many of those types of Christians hurt loved ones that are not believers. I have a close atheist friend who goes through all manner of emotional angst due to her strictly religious Catholic family.

Her religious family members are great people and are strong contributors in various charitable organizations and also make it an important priority to help people they know when needed. But, wow, do they ever make my friend feel frustrated with their disapproval of her values, and at times she despairs.

She always says she feels fine with letting them do what they do, why can't they give her the same respect? Is refusing to pray before meals because you would feel hypocritical such a horrible thing?

I often wonder how weighing the good against the negative comes out in the end. I tend to go with it would be better not to put an imaginary being before a loved one that has done nothing wrong but has only chosen not to believe in something that has not been proven. Oh the horror! Not believing in something for which there is no proof at all. 

I agree with Dogly. I have looked at lots of discussions on atheist forums and I don't see a lot of evidence of an alternative ethical code. Rather, it seems most discussions quite happily revolve around a single issue and almost never get to the code that underpins it. I think this is perhaps becuse there isn't a code at all.

I think it is of course up to people whether they want a code of ethics or not. I think the downside of not having one is that it makes it more difficult to be consistent and perhaps allows for too much self interest. Having a code of ethics allows one to be aspirational, to recognise what is right, recognise a need to do better and challenge yourself.

It is not surprising that theists score easy wins on moral debates when so many atheists chose not to give any cogent alternative ethical system as a reply.

Hmmmm . . . that actually makes sense. Never thought of it like that.

Basically what you are looking for is a discussion of an integrated moral (or ethical) code, rather than just one issue at a time?

You know expounding a complete moral code takes a LOT of space, then arguing over everyone else who disagrees with it takes even more, don't you?

You are basically looking for a book--that's what it would take, really, to intelligently propound an ethical theory (I know, I've seen it done).  And if it's not obvious from reading our discussions of various issues, few of us would agree with a specific book that someone put forward.  So you are really looking forward to a whole thread full of books, arguing against each other.

It's not that we don't have our own ethical theories but this medium isn't a good one for bringing the whole thing out and hashing it over, along with the twenty odd competitors I am guessing it would have here.  And that's assuming anyone is ambitious enough to write a book just to post it here.

No I'm not looking for a book, quite the opposite. I think it is important to have an ethical code to steer your ethical reasoning. Heather Spoonheim expressed something like it when she said she wanted all humans to live 'without fear of physical harm or emotional harassment.' Surely something as simple as this should be a starting point for all ethical considerations - acting to reduce pain and fear or emotional suffering, and by implication promoting well being. This then gives us something to aspire to. The problem is, so few will even agree on something as fundamental (and to me common sense) as this making it easy for thesists to spread scare stories about amoral atheists.

Again I'd like to point out another view on ethics..this is from Marimba Ani:  And please don't go ballistic, it is posted to prompt a look INWARD!  It could be an interesting read for atheist who think outside the box..

http://www.africawithin.com/ani/excerpt_chap6.htm

@ Dogly   Very true, Take a look at this rant by Atheist Exile on the issue of starving peoples of the world. It is NOT a fucking moral issue.

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