opus649 wrote: If I take something from you without your permission, how is that "by definition" wrong?
Ask yourself the following questions Opus:
1) What is it that makes human actions "wrong" or "right", which applies to all of humanity?
2) Is there some standard we can all recognise to know something is right/wrong, or is it just an inward recognition of something we perceive to exist?
3) Does right and wrong really exist, or is it just an evolved feeling?
4) If right/wrong really does exist, then what is its objective reality grounded in?
5) How does this moral grounding make moral actions wrong for all regardless of what others might believe, think or feel?
6) If I go against this moral grounding, then what is it that still makes my action(s) wrong?
7) If right/wrong doesn't exist, then how can anyone say another person is morally right or wrong?
An atheist is left in a sticky position, especially when morals enter a debate. Richard Dawkins claimed it is hard to defend morals on anything except religious grounds. Let's say evolution just caused us to feel some things are wrong. But this doesn't mean actions really are wrong. Because having found out they just evolved, perhaps for the better of society, I can just decide to discard them for my own benefit. What is morally right/wrong just ultimately becomes what I find acceptable or unacceptable, unless I decide to give this up.
On the otherhand, Theism, in particular and especially Christianity, validates as true, our moral perception that some things really are wrong and evil (ex., child abuse), and other actions to be morally applauded as good (ex., self-sacrificing for others). There is a moral standard built into us which came from a Creator. Thus, what we know to be good is rooted in our Creator. And unless we are psychopaths (considered as an abnormal mental condition), our recognition of this moral standard justifies and condemns us as we live out our lives depending on whether we uphold or break it.
Atheists are people who, whether they like it or not, have the law of God written on their hearts (Rom. 2:15). They are subject to the same laws of our country (and other countries) and they have a sense of right and wrong. They often work with people who are religious and have ethical standards as well as work with other non-believers. So they are exposed to all sorts of moral behavior. In addition, they often form their own moral standards based on what suits them. Besides, robbery, lying, stealing, etc., can get you imprisoned, so it is practical and logical for an atheist to be ethical and work within the norms of social behavior, even though the reason Western socity has those laws as its benchmarks and foundation is because Western law is based on Biblical law. However you want to look at it, atheists, generally, are honest, hardworking people.
Nevertheless, some Christians raise the question, "What is to prevent an atheist from murdering and stealing? After all, they have no fear of God and no absolute moral code?" The answer is simple: Atheists are capable of governing their own moral behavior and getting along in society the same as anyone else.
At the risk of labeling atheists as self-centered, it does not serve the best interests of an atheist to murder and steal since it would not take long before they were imprisoned and/or killed for their actions. Basically, society will only put up with so much if it is to function smoothly. So, if an atheist wants to get along and have a nice life, murdering and stealing won't accomplish it. It makes sense for them to be honest, work hard, pay their bills, and get along with others. Basically, they have to adopt a set of ethics common to society in order to do that. Belief in God is not a requirement for ethical behavior or an enjoyable life.
On the other hand
Atheists' morals are not absolute. They do not believe they have a set of moral laws from an absolute God by which right and wrong are judged. But, they do live in societies that have legal systems with a codified set of laws. This would be the closest thing to moral absolutes for atheists. However, since the legal system changes, the morals in a society can still change and their morals along with it. At best, these codified morals are "temporary absolutes." In one century abortion is wrong. In another, it is right. So, if we ask if it is or isn't right, the atheist can only tell us their opinion.
If there is a God, killing the unborn for ex., is wrong. If there is no God, then who cares. If it serves the best interest of society and the individual, then kill. This can be likened to something called, "experimental ethics." In other words, whatever works best is right. Society experiments with ethical behavior to determine which set of rules works best for it. Hopefully, these experiments lead to better and better moral behavior.
There are potential dangers in this kind of self-established/experimental ethical system. If a totalitarian political system is instituted and a mandate is issued to kill all dissenters, or Hindus, or mentally ill, what is to prevent the atheist from joining forces with the majority system and support the killings? If it serves ther self-interests, why not? Morality then, becomes a standard of convenience, not absolutes.
But, to be fair, just because someone has an absolute ethical system based on the Bible, there is no guarantee that they will not also join forces in doing what is wrong. People are often very inconsistent. But the issue here is the basis of moral beliefs and how they affect behavior.
That is why belief systems are so important and absolutes are so necessary. If morals are relative, then behavior will be too. That can be dangerous if everyone starts doing right in his own eyes. A boat adrift without an anchor will eventually crash into the rocks.
The Bible teaches love, patience, and seeking the welfare of others even when it might harm the Christian though it also teaches one to defend onself from harm and also and especially to hate evil. In contrast, the atheists' presuppositions must be constantly changing, and subjective and does not demand love, patience, and the welfare of others. Instead, since the great majority of atheists are evolutionists, their morality, like evolution is the product of purely natural and random processes that become self-serving.
Basically, the atheist cannot claim any moral absolutes at all. To an atheist, ethics must be variable and evolving. This could be good or bad. But, given human nature being what it is, I'll opt for the moral absolutes -- based on God's Word -- and not on the subjective and changing morals covered in human tradition that atheism offers.