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What is "Good?"

By Ben Love ~

"Good" is a concept that exists only in the perceptions of the humans that are here to ask the question. In other words, what would be "good" if there were no humans here to define the term? What would be "good" if there were no humans alive to ask the question? What would be "good" if there were no humans alive to recognize it when they saw it? What would be "good" if humans weren't here to identify what is "bad?"

English: Indian family in Brazil posed in fron...
Indian family in Brazil posed in front of hut - 3 bare-breasted females, baby and man with bow and arrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The concept of "good" is, like everything else in the theoretical world (as opposed to the material world, which would exist without us), a product of the human imagination. Something is deemed "good" not because there is an unseen deity somewhere saying so, but because we, as the products of natural evolution and our own social evolution, have projected this ideal into being.

To wit, let's take an example from the evolution of human civilization...

Early humans were hunters and gatherers and were wholly uncivilized in the social sense. Then, after the advent of agriculture, humans no longer needed to migrate; they could stay put. Staying put eventually led to humans forming small coalitions for protection and cooperation. These coalitions eventually grew larger. Thus, centers of congregation (which you know better as "cities") evolved out of these growing coalitions. Now that humans were interacting in symbiotic partnership and living in close proximity with each other, standards for conduct became necessary to govern these communities. As a result, the first social laws were drafted. This process was likely an ongoing adventure in trial and error. Over time, the laws which proved to be effective spread into wider use; the laws which proved to be useless fell by the wayside. This is called progression. It's a slow process, sometimes a painful one, and sometimes it requires hard lessons and severe loss before true advancement can occur.

"Good" is therefore a concept that exists in the minds of human beings and owes its perimeters to the imaginations of the same. With this in mind, let us ask the question again: "What is good?" As this process of civilization, progression, and advancement has occurred, humans themselves, without the need of a deity to point the way, have identified "good" as that which adds to life, and "evil" as that which subtracts from life. "Good" is therefore a concept that exists in the minds of human beings and owes its perimeters to the imaginations of the same.

Do all humans agree on what is good? No, they don't. The concept, then, is a fluid one that depends on a number of other factors, such as culture, ideology, various religious affiliations, and even tradition. This is consistent with an evolutionary explanation. How so? If various groups of humans, separated by time and geography, are undergoing their own trial and error process of social advancement, these divergent groups may be at different points along the line of progression. Remember, not all ancient civilizations had contact with one another, and some tribes remain un-contacted even to this day. Why didn't these isolated tribes evolve at the same pace as those who were not isolated? Because of their isolation! The process speeds up when various societies are connected. How so? Through contact and trade, ideas are transmitted. An isolated tribe does not have the benefit of exposure to this collective advancement, and thus, their progress is much, much slower. It may even have stagnated.

If a deity is responsible for standardizing what is "good," as the theists claim, then "good" would be a universal concept that does not differ from culture to culture, age to age, race to race, or land to land. As it is, the concept of "good" is fluid and ever-evolving, and this is much more consistent with the evolutionary model. For instance, if something was considered "good" in 1,500 AD, such as the burning of heretics at the stake, and this sanction of "good" issued forth from a deity, then one would expect that this deity, being consistent (one of the qualifications for being a deity), would sanction this act regardless of what year it was. But we here in 2014 know that executing religious dissenters does not fall under the category of good. If "God" is the one who decides, then why was this kind of behavior perfectly acceptable 500 years ago but considered abhorrent today? Doesn't this divergence point toward an evolutionary model rather than a theistic model?

In any case, now that technology and industry have allowed for the various civilizations of Earth to be in constant contact, we will most likely see a homogenization of the concept of "good" over the next few centuries.

What is "good?" Ask yourself, because you already know.