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As I stated earlier, we can’t solve a problem (practical or moral) unless we know what we want to achieve. Thus, the first thing we have to do is determine what goal we want to achieve, one, like you stated, that is “bigger than themselves.”
Here’s a suggestion. “Helping Life to Evolve” could be our “goal.”
Lots of “moral codes” devolve from this. For instance,
1.it is “right” to learn, to support others learning (because Life lives and advances by learning and putting this knowledge to use), or
2.it is “right” to make us of this knowledge (because Life lives, grows, reproduces and becomes richer in every aspect by using the energy and resources it has learned to extract, or exploit, from its environment), or
3.it is “right,” and necessary, to control excessive exploitations (because these harm Life’s future. Determining where to draw the line between helpful exploitation and harmful excesses is, and always will be, a difficult undertaking), or
4.it is “right” to help other humans and other life-forms (because Life’s progress may benefit from the contributions of others as much as, or even more than, it does from ours.
But there are many other “moral codes” that can be derived from seeking the suggested “goal.”
The essence of this discussion is that it is “right” or “good” to behave in a certain way if doing so contributes to achieving the desired goal.
Thus, I think we first have to state what goal we want to achieve before we can state our moral codes. Then, and only then, we can say, “Yes, it is “right” to do this,” or “No, it is “wrong” to do this.”
But. I’m not sure what the “right” goal to seek should be!
If we want to answer this question we have to recognise how we solve problems.
First, we should ask how we solve a practical problem. Here's an example:
1. we want to achieve a goal (e.g. go somewhere, influence someone, eat, drink, be happy, etc.)
2. we use our knowledge of the appropriate environment (the terrain, his/her interests, where to find food or drink, etc.)
3. we plan a course of action and move towards achieving our goal (solving any other problems that crop up on the way)
This is what our mind does when solving a practical problem.
Now, it tries to do exactly the same thing when attempting to solve a moral problem, but runs into a difficulty. Let me illustrate.
Here is a moral problem: “Is it ‘right’ to use embryonic stem cells?”
How do we solve this problem?
We can’t solve it unless we want to achieve some goal because the only way to decide if we are solving any problem correctly is to ask: “are we moving towards the desired goal?”
(The goal can be “heaven,” “help people with this disease,” “produce healthy babies,” etc.)
All problems are “solved” in the same way—by trying to achieve some desired goal.
The biggest problem for everyone is: “How do I live a satisfactory life?”
Some solve this problem by reaching for one or more of their culture’s goals (success, power, love, etc.). Others want a more universal, significant, meaningful goal and choose a religion (Christianity, Communism, Socialism, etc.) or invent their own goal.
They then have something to work towards, and this gives them a feeling that they are living a satisfactory and meaningful life. It gives them hope for the future and they often inculcate their children with this goal.
Thus religions are born by followers of the same goal building traditions, cultures, ways-of-behaviour, etc. We atheists fell the same emotion; we need some kind of religion to guide our behaviours. But we can’t find a suitable, rational religion that encompasses all we "believe." So. I think, we have to develop one.
What we atheists need is our own religion—a non-superstitious, rational, “greater-than-humanity” kind of religion.
So, even though I am atheist (for where did “God” come from if “It” created everything?) a few years ago I wrote a book suggesting we need a rational, universal religion. Not a religion for individuals (who wouldn’t be able to overcome existing beliefs) but a religion that might help our civilization to survive.
Well. No one wanted the book, so it’s now free from http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/849.