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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RE: "If you became conscious of an intent to mow the lawn, that intent was actually formed in your brain in the preconscious mind a few seconds before that intention entered your mind."

Even considering it's source, I can't fault that reasoning, but what has that to do with free will? I can't accept - assuming that's what you're saying - that I'm instinctively hardwired to decide to mow the lawn, because in actuality, I'm instinctively hardwired to park my butt in front of the bigscreen with a bag of chips and a cold Bud and rent a sheep to take care of the lawn.

Well put, Pope.

To me, you are describing God quite well here.

Actually, the Bible teaches that we are innately sinful, not innately moral. I think you have it backwards.

Sinful, yes, but innocent and lacking in mens rea.

The main thing the Bible teaches - albeit inadvertently - is that we are innately gullible.

Kevin, successful cultures do indeed teach moralities suitable for their survival.

But, "Humans are hard-coded [or whatever]?

How do you explain psycho/sociopathic behavior? If you are among a culture's leaders, how would you deal with such behavior?

How do you explain psycho/sociopathic behavior?

Not much more is needed to explain it than any other physical or brain illness, right? Not even hard-coding is always perfect.

There's a lot of research on psycho/sociopathy reported on the Internet. Some of it says gray matter brain damage is genetic and white matter brain damage is learned. All of it says there is a lack of empathy, an inability to connect ethically with others. Because the "pathy" words I used above are so widely and even carelessly used, many researchers are using "anti-social personality disorder" to describe the condition.

Am I correct in concluding that your "hard-coding" is a metaphor for "entirely genetic and not at all learned"? I see the metaphor "hard-wired" often.

Am I correct in concluding that your "hard-coding" is a metaphor for "entirely genetic and not at all learned"? I see the metaphor "hard-wired" often.

That's a good point. No, I don't mean the term as literally as it's used in (say) computer hardwire. Especially when considering epigenetics, even genetically coded design often expresses in unexpected ways during development, causing phenotype variances in (say) genetic twins, and so on.

Physical brain structure even changes during the learning process, so there's not always a fine line in the hardware/software.

I think that since our brain has evolved relatively quickly and changed so much in the past few hundred thousand years that we're bound to not yet have perfectly evolved some of its rushed, less-than-perfect design. I'm saying this speculatively, not with scientific evidence.

By virtue of being human and living in a society we assign beneficial/detrimental values to things. That's just how things work and have always worked. Now, on a small scale we determine everyday what is good or bad for us as individuals. We don't need religion to tell us that drinking drano is bad or that treating another living being with respect is good. We can see the results for ourselves in our everyday lives. We also don't need the Bible to tell us that killing another person is bad, Society tells us that. Even before the Bible, societies recognized that citizens killing each other wasn't a good thing and incurred a punishment on the perpetrator. 

Nor does the Bibke need to exist for us to respect our elders.. Again, the Chinese and Japanese have been respecting their elders/ancestors for centuries before the Bible written-- as have the North American Native populations. 

In other words, we as Atheists don't need the Bible to provide a moral compass. Besides, the Bible didn't tell us something that societies all around the world didn't already know and have laws for..  

As Kevin mentioned we are 'hard coded' for survival. We learned early on that in order to survive we had to live in groups and as a result of this, codes of conduct had to be developed/enforced in order to increase the sustainability of the group. Man's laws and the Bible are examples of this. Just rules to live by in order to survive. Sure the Bible has stories by which it attempts to pass these laws to others.. but otherwise it's really no different. 

Man, by virtual of an unwritten 'contract with society', gives power to the laws which govern him. Again, the same goes for any holy book a religion follows. A follower of that religion gives power to that religion, its holy book and the tenants contained therein to govern him. 

We, as Atheists, give no power to holy books so therefore we don't allow what they contain to govern our lives..Not that we need to. 

Rob, "...the Chinese and Japanese have been respecting their elders/ancestors for centuries...."

Point out to a Chinese or Japanese that Western cultures long ago threw off tyranny, and then ask why their far older cultures have not yet done so.

The reply a Chinese gave me when I asked was, "Because we have been so thoroughly taught to respect our elders."

And, "...an unwritten 'contract with society', gives power to the laws...."

Some folks, psycho/sociopaths among them, live outside contracts with their societies. Since they are about one percent of people not in prison, you will probably meet a few. How will you recognize them?

I would like to refer you to Sam Harris' ted talk about how science can answer moral dilemma's (even if only in theory) http://www.ted.com/talks/sam_harris_science_can_show_what_s_right.html
But let me sum up his argument simply which that all morality is based on the concept of limiting human (and some would include all intelligent beings however in my opinion it remains a case to be argued) suffering and as we go forth in the field of neuroscience by leaps and bounds he sees it as inevitable that we can make a quantifiable estimate of this suffering and use these measurements to establish through logical argument the best moral framework in the circumstances.
In the mean time in my opinion our best hit at an understanding of human suffering would come from psychology but the core of the argument lays in the possibility of defining morality based not any moral dictatorship or absolutism but rather on the very minds that are subject to it's rulings.
I think much of the misunderstanding of this issue stems from a common misunderstanding of the atheist stance on the human mind where many would propose that without mysticism it is impossible to conceive a human mind that is more than just a series of interconnected neurons repeating their genetically determined orders, however this is not so. A true understanding of the human brain reveals a far more complex picture whereby there comes a tipping point at which consciousness can appear and in the words of French author man becomes the animal out of nature, meaning each mind becomes unique in seeing the self and non self as two very different worlds and even going to so far as to imagine other minds that also see the world in a partial way different of our own. In fact this very change can be seen in children between the ages of 3 and 5 where when presented with a situation where a character has less information then he does then he can imagine the world picture that this other character would have. This is seen in another ted talk below.

http://www.ted.com/talks/rebecca_saxe_how_brains_make_moral_judgmen...

Thanks I hope that helps.

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