It seems like a simple question—until you actually go to define it. The question of “What is Good?” is fundamental to the discussion of morality. It is at the foundation of discussions of religions, politics and even family life, and what is good will shape your worldview and your view of those around you.
Berlzebub, an atheist that I had the chance to talk with at another site, attempted last year a definition of good. In his post What is Good? he laid out what he considered would be a good action. The problem with this is something that he recently stated in his Atheist Analogies #2: Morality:
Most of all, morality is subjective. Each person or group of people has their own views of what a moral or immoral action is. You can base your personal philosophy on objective standards, but when moral and immoral between people are subjective it renders the idea of morality as being objective useless. I can say why I consider an action amoral (i.e. actions not pertaining to morality) but it’s only by my standards of morality that it is immoral. As an example, I consider drinking coffee as an amoral action, but someone who has the LDS church as primary part of their philosphy [sic] would probably consider it immoral.
It’s this difference that makes it almost impossible to debate the morality of an action. In order to have a debate you have to agree on the definitions of the terms involved, and if the definitions of right and wrong cannot be agreed upon then debating whether an action is right or wrong will never be resolved.
Morality cannot be defined by the atheist for this expressed purpose—good would become the subject of the person looking at the action. What is good for one may not be good for another.
The only standard for good would have to be a standard that was imposed by someone outside the system.
For example, if I create a card game and lay out the rules, the players that chose to play the game would have to obey the rules in order to be good. If they did not, they would be cheating, or doing bad.
This is important because this is the exact place that the major religions and atheism find themselves at the crossroads and discussing different set of morality. Christians, in general, follow Christ in a Christ-centered worldview, defining good and bad based on the Bible. Jews follow the Torah. Catholics the church traditions. Mormons the Bible and the Book of Mormon, etc.
Each religion chooses to define morality external to mankind, choosing the divine (whichever they choose to follow) as the source of the rules.
Atheism, on the other hand, has no source from which to draw. There can be no “good” rationally, because anyone can draw up the rules, and they’re equally binding or not binding. If you give the right to draw up morality to the majority, what may be good at one point in history may be bad in another.
This leads to chaos or anarchy. People that were once considered good can soon be considered bad, etc. Hence why most Western Cultures chose to anchor their beliefs not simply on reason, but also on Judaism and Christianity.
The problem for Atheists is that, because they cannot derive their own source of morality, they must act as parasites, usurping other’s moral views, but without the framework or the foundation or the “teeth” to logically enforce their concept of good. They may say that helping an old lady across the street is “good”, but how can they be sure.
It’s irrational, and yet foundational to their belief that there is no one that is able to stand outside the system and make rules for the system.
And yet each human being has certain beliefs of right and wrong ingrained in their being (such as loyalty, bravery, etc.) that cannot be explained rationally, since there is no rational reason these things should be good or bad.