How can there be moral people without god(s) to tell them what is good and what is evil?
I hear this a question, genuinely asked, by theists to atheists on a regular basis. It is usually presented to stump the atheist but always fall flat for a number of reasons.
First, we know there are atheists who are moral people. Therefore, any attempt to say that one cannot be moral without faith in a religion is absolutely foolish and can immediately be discredited.
Still, it is interesting to really examine why its unnecessary to be religious and do good.
What is good and what is evil?
According to religious dogma, good and evil have been defined by god and revealed through prophets. Thus, human actions are subject to black and right rules of good and evil--wrong and right. In Christianity, the religion with which I am most familiar, morality is usually defined by the Ten Commandments. These were revealed to Moses by Yahweh (in the form of a burning bush).
These are usually seen by Jews and Christians as laws that must be upheld at all times. Thou shall not steal, kill, lie(false witness), honor your parents, be jealous of your neighbor, and commit adultery.
But does upholding those rules no matter what really make sense?
I'm going to ignore the commandments about no other gods and idols, blasphemy, and the Sabbath because they have nothing to do with morals or ethics. They are entirely related to maintaining the integrity of the religion.
I'm also not going to go into every other commandment and dissect them piece by piece. Rather I will simply pose a few questions.
Would it be a sin to kill Hitler to prevent the Holocaust?
Would it be a sin to steal just what is needed from someone has too much, to feed the poor?
Would it be a sin to not honor parents who murder, kill, and steal?
Anyone can see that any set of ultimate rules of morality are inherently flawed. We as individual sentient beings know that we do not live in a world of black and white... we are almost always in grey areas.
I propose that our ideas of good and evil are merely linguist constructions. There is no ultimate good or ultimate evil. Killing/murder can be good, bad, or a little of both.
Good and evil are nothing more than human conceptions. Internally we know that evil or bad is an action that causes harm to someone who does not deserve it. Isn't that how we think? Don't we feel awful when "someone didn't deserve it?"
Good is merely an action that benefits others who deserve it.
Those who deserve it are those who also follow this code.