200-word letters on atheism and morality

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WHITLOCK'S BLOOD LIBEL

Linda Whitlock (Dec.18) repeats yet again the "blood libel" against unbelievers, that only Creationism offers any basis for ethics.

Whitlock has it backwards. Religion offers no basis for ethics. Religious morality consists of obeying the alleged will of God, as reported by your chosen authority. But obedience is not the same as morality. If believers wish to make war or keep slaves or oppress women, they need only persuade themselves that their god approves. This seems not to be hard, and no god has ever popped up to correct them.

Understanding evolution does provide a basis for ethics. Some animals are social animals, who survive by cooperating in groups. Humans are the most social of any, cooperating in groups that include millions.

Morality serves to maintain peaceful and cooperative relations among group members. If you want to maintain peaceful relations, don't kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. Do not do to others what you would not wish done to you.

Natural selection gives us a simple standard for judging our neighbors. A "good" person is a desirable neighbor, from the point of view of people who wish to live in peace and raise families.
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MORALITY DOES NOT DEPEND ON ANY GHOST

Some animals are social animals, who survive by cooperating in groups. Humans are the most social of any, cooperating in groups that include millions.

Morality is the way that peaceful and cooperative relations are maintained among group members. If you want to maintain peaceful relations, don't kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. If you want peace, work for justice- people will fight if their share is too small. As Shakespeare wrote, "It needs no ghost, Milord, come from the grave, to tell us this."

Health is the ability to survive; the goal favored by natural selection is to "promote the health of your family."  We are all descended from uncounted generations of ancestors, every one of whom acted successfully to promote the health of their family.

Because we are social animals evolved by natural selection, we have bred into us a "natural" standard for judging our neighbors. A "good" person is a desirable neighbor, from the point of view of people who wish to live in peace and raise families.

Morality is not Obedience. The Good is that which leads to health, the Right is that which leads to peace.

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ATHEIST ETHICS IN 200 WORDS

Purpose is ours to choose.

There is a natural "default" purpose, which we may choose if we like. We all have parents, as did they, back to the beginning of life.  Every one of our ancestors had children. Health is the ability to survive; the goal favored by natural selection is "promote the health of your family." We are all members of Darwin's family, all kin from the beginning of life.

The Good is that which leads to health, The Right is that which leads to peace. If you want to maintain peaceful and cooperative relations with your neighbors, don't kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. As Shakespeare wrote, "It needs no ghost, Milord, come from the grave, to tell us this." If you value anything, value other humans, for they are the only help you will have in times of trouble.

Meaning is the story we choose to join. Instead of seeking a ticket to Heaven by being obedient on Earth, we can gain meaning by seeking to make this Earth a better place, for ourselves and our posterity.

This wondrous Universe is more than enough. We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

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This one comes in at 211. Perhaps it could be edited further, considering the above. 

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Clonnie Yearout (Jan 30) believes "many of us embrace evolution as truth because the only alternative obligates us to a divine creator", and they wish to deny such obligation.

We learn as children that "being good" means "obeying your parent." I believe many of us embrace creationism because they have never learned any other morality, and fear the loss of it.

Adult morality is a means of maintaining peaceful and cooperative relations with your neighbors. If you want peaceful relations, don't kill, steal, lie, or break agreements. As Shakespeare wrote: "It needs no ghost, Milord, come from the grave, to tell us this."

Living beings evolved by natural selection are going to value the health of their families, "inclusive fitness", where "health" is the ABILITY to survive, and "family" is "all who share your genes, to the degree that they share your genes." Their desires are shaped by natural selection, and inclusive fitness is what natural selection selects for.

Social animals, who survive by cooperating in groups, have a "natural" standard of ethics: The Good is that which leads to health, The Right is that which leads to peace. A "good person" is a desirable neighbor, from the point of view of people who seek to live in peace and raise families. 

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(I'm sure this one does not come in under 200, but it could be edited down.)

To the editor, Greetings-

In reply to Jeff Cox's ignorant and insulting essay on Feb. 11, "A teenager's rebellion against God and country", I'd advise him to learn more about atheists by examining the "meaningless, amoral, and selfish" lives of the following atheists and agnostics.

Famous dead nontheists

http://www.jmarkgilbert.com/atheists.html

Some names:
Epicurus, Lucretius, Christopher Marlowe, Simon Bolivar, John Stuart Mill, Walt Whitman, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Luther Burbank, Marie and Pierre Curie, Robert Frost, Albert Einstein, James Joyce, Irving Berlin, Charles Chaplin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Margaret Sanger, Linus Pauling, Katherine Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Francois Mitterrand, Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, Charles Schultz, Richard Burton, Frank Lloyd Wright, Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando.

For a list of famous nonbelievers still living, see
Celebrity (living) atheist list

http://www.celebatheists.com/

Some names:
Warren Buffet, Dick Cavett, Albert Ellis, Brian Eno, Jules Feiffer, Ira Glass, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, Barry Manilow, Sir Ian McKellan, Hans Moravec, Desmond Morris, Jack Nicholson, Ron Reagan, Jr., George Soros, Steve Wozniak. 

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Comment by Loren Miller on January 31, 2012 at 2:56pm

If it takes the threat of hell to make you a moral person, then you are not at all moral, you are just a coward who responds well to threats.
-- Leo Wolf

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