That anyone should desire information on the value system of atheists is prima facie evidence that atheists are presumed to be different. It is therefore appropriate that consideration should be given to the commonly accepted value systems before the atheist viewpoint is put forward.
A pecking order is common in the animal kingdom and becomes more highly developed as the mental powers become more sophisticated.
In family life the code of behaviour may be dictated by the dominant male or female or some times by a dual approach. With the development of tribal life the bravest and strongest assumed the mantle of authority. The one with the most heads, scalps, wives, cattle, etc. became the chieftain. It was a small step to kings and lineage, to armies and the ability to physically enforce the rules of the ruler.
Sometimes it was the most wily who managed to be ‘top dog’ and occasionally it was the most wise who adjudicated when problems arose, though often they played second fiddle to the bully-boy.
Obviously rules are necessary to enable people to live together in societies. Imagine driving on our roads and freeways without road rules or running a restaurant without hygiene standards.
This leads to the question of who or what should lay down the rules and who or what should ensure that they are being observed.
To the Greeks belongs the honour of conceiving the idea of democracy as an alternative to a single authority. The Greek model was very narrow with only a segment of society being deemed worthy of participating. It took well over 2000 years for women to be given the right to partake in our political process of election and they are still excluded from many institutions and societies.
The British can claim the honour of clipping the wings of the absolute monarch who claimed to rule by ‘divine’ right and to begin the process which has led to the parliaments of today.
We elect our representatives to formulate both our laws and rules of general behaviour and the procedures to be followed when they are disobeyed.
We are all very much aware of the consequences when society reverts to one man or a limited clique dictating the rules and having the ability to enforce them.
For four thousand years there have been men who have attempted to set forth rules to ensure that society functioned equitably for all.
The first recorded of these was the Babylonian King Hammurabi c23OOBC whose laws were found engraved in cuneiform script. He has been identified with Amraphel of Genesis. The ten commandments of the Biblical Moses may well have had their source in this ancient code.
The Pharaohs of Egypt decreed codes; many of which were contained in the Book of the Dead.
The Greeks produced many outstanding philosophers whose ideas have found a place in our laws and methods of determining the most appropriate way of resolving problems. The Roman Empire required a very wide range of laws and they form the basis of our laws today.
Many of the myths and laws of the Hebrews came from their neighbours, usually as the result of them being captives in powerful empires. To give authority to their rules the priests declared that their chief god Yahweh was the author and hence that the laws were binding.
Confucius (c5OOBC) whose teachings were enshrined as a religion was one of a long line of philosophers extending to the present day.
Philosophies which purported to have super natural backing often gave rise to particular religions, especially when given written form and considered sacred – The Vedas (c1OOOBC), parts of the Old Testament (c5OOBC), the New Testament (100AD), the Koran (c650AD) and the Book of Mormon (21st Sept 1823) etc.
A vital question arises in regard to these philosophers, rulers, books, religious organisations and men and women claiming supernatural authority. What degree of credibility and authority should we grant them? To an atheist who has sifted the evidence and arrived at the conclusion that the 10,000+ supernatural beings are figments of human imagination the answer is straightforward.
There are no codes or laws in concrete form given by any supernatural being. There are plenty which claim to have supernatural input but on examination they fail to measure up to the best which humans can devise. Therefore atheists claim that humankind must determine the best rules according to the situation. We do not consider that any one man in the past or in the present has had the wisdom to dictate to humanity as a whole, for all time and in every situation, the one correct course of action.
Atheists maintain the right to collectively winnow the best from the past and the present and advocate that fellow citizens meet that standard. We see no justification for according to one person or to a specific group of people the authority to impose their particular codes or standards on society at large.
Being an atheist in no way implies that he/she will be ethically correct in every situation. Human beings are not biologically programmed that way. Being an atheist implies that he/she has the ability to weigh the pros and cons of a proposition and reach a rational conclusion. In real life some decisions must be made in a split second and instinct, rather than conscious mental thought, is often the determining factor. Further, atheists consider that humans and all sentient animal life must be accorded basic rights and we honour people such as Thomas Paine, who 200 years ago set forth a list of rights, all of which have not yet been fully granted anywhere in the world. Though written specifically for the USA, France and England, they apply to everyone everywhere.
Just as rational thought and scientific method has solved countless problems in physics, health, astronomy, chemistry, government, agriculture etc, we, as atheists, strive to use the same technique to define ethical problems and to solve them.
Whilst religion promises eternal bliss or ever lasting torment as the consequence for right or wrong behaviour as inducements to ‘toe the line’, atheists reject such ‘carrot and stick’ procedures. Hypothetical ‘pie in the sky’ may secure the desired result with the ignorant but not with a sophisticated society.
Humans are but a small part of the life forms of a natural world and, though we may consider ourselves to be at the top of the evolutionary sequence, there is no evidence of any specific gulf separating us from other branches of our type. The idea of a supernatural element is simply the result of human arrogance and has no basis in fact. Human beings today must be convinced that a specific action or activity is for their own well-being and the well-being of society. Even purely altruistic behaviour must be seen to be for someone’s benefit.
Strictly speaking a person is an atheist when he or she comes to the realisation that supernatural beings do not exist and, by extension, that there is no supernatural realm.
It is not possible or desirable to lay down hard and fast ethical codes which would apply everywhere, every time. Ethics must always be determined by the situation and seldom, if ever, would the same set of circumstances apply.
It is far better to aim for the happiness and well being of individuals and society than to try to compel people to accept a moral code into which they had no input, especially when that code is not based on fact or reason but on myth, superstition and primitive suppositions.
IN SUMMARY ATHEISTS:
* Maintain that the scientific method has been outstanding in separating fact from fiction. It has enabled humankind to understand the natural laws and produced the enormous benefits which we presently enjoy.
* Declare that, in the total absence of any empirical evidence for the existence of a supernatural dimension or beings, all religions based on such beliefs should be rejected, together with the ethical codes based thereon.
* Denounce the brainwashing of children which is the pre-eminent method by which religious and political organisations maintain the numbers and strength of their organisations. This is the principal cause of the confrontation and conflict between communities, countries and nations.
* Deplore the fact that children in particular are being taught to accept propositions based on myths and superstition and are not being taught to question and reach conclusions through the exercise of reason.
* Reject the notion of a scapegoat being an effective alternative to personal responsibility.
* Reject the proposition that it is morally acceptable to threaten punishment and promise rewards in a mythical after-life to secure compliance with a particular code of conduct.
* Deplore the fact that faith is accorded pre-eminence over reason and not subjected to in-depth evaluation.
* Reject the idea of ‘truth’ as being an entity and consider that all propositions ought to be considered on their merit.
* Recognise that knowledge is seldom complete and therefore we remain forever ready to change as increasing knowledge requires it.
* Insist on the democratic principle of the individual’s right to partake in the framing of all binding laws, be they political, secular, moral or whatever.
* Object to any law or code which fails when submitted to rational and empirical scrutiny, particularly those which are based on so-called revelation from some supernatural entity or source.
* Reject the proposition that some races are intrinsically superior, that women are inferior to men and that men should have exclusive positions of power and authority.
* Reject the proposition that all people are born equal but insist that everyone should be accorded equal rights.
* Recognise that no one is an island and therefore it behoves everyone to work for the betterment of all by solving the glaring problems which flawed philosophies and powerful organisations have created.
* Recognise that everyone is genetically unique and consider that they have the right to act as they see fit provided that such actions do not have undue negative effect on other individuals or on society.
* Consider that society should encourage and assist everyone to reach their full beneficial potential.
By Keith S Cornish