Three recent books that inform me are by John Gray (The Silence of Animals: One Progress and Other Myths), Julian Barnes (Nothing to Be Frightened Of), and Peter Watson (The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God).
Today the Huffington Post pointed me to another recent "how to live as an atheist" book - Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-first Century, by Lex Bayer and John Figdor. Bayer and Figdor give what they call 10 "non-commandments" for an atheist's life. They are:
I. The world is real, and our desire to understand the world is the basis for belief.
II. We can perceive the world only through our human senses.
III. We use rational thought and language as tools for understanding the world.
IV. All truth is proportional to the evidence.
V. There is no God.
VI. We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not.
VII. There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave.
VIII. We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.
IX. We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society.
X. All our beliefs are subject to change in the face of new evidence, including these.
I just heard of this book, and have not read it. It probably gives support for each of these. My hope is that Bayer and Figdor address the following:
Non-commandment II - "We can perceive the world only through our human senses."
Define "perception." I'll guess that, by perception, B&F mean "sense perception." If so, then this non-commandment is circular (We perceive the world by perceiving.)
Non-commandment IV - "All truth is proportional to the evidence."
This is an old and famous rephrasing of W.K. Cliifford's "It is wrong, always, everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence." But surely this is false. If, e.g., the truth of "2 + 3 = 5" must be proportional to the evidence then we should not believe it to be true. The statement Our sense give us accurate information about the external world is in the same predicament. As are also the laws of logic (modus ponens, et. al.)
Non-commandments VI and VII - "We all strive to live a happy life. We pursue things that make us happy and avoid things that do not"; "We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy."
This is utilitarianism. Hopefully B&F will address its many internal problems.
Non-commandment VII - "There is no universal moral truth. Our experiences and preferences shape our sense of how to behave."
I'd be interested in how B&F support this, other than the trivial but true claim that if God does not exist then of course there is no universal moral truth. Note that behind VI and VIII there is no "ought" which, if God does not exist, is as it should be.
Note also that several atheists affirm the existence of objective moral values.
Non-commandment IX - "We benefit from living in, and supporting, an ethical society."
Again, this is utilitarianism. It also strikes me as trivial and I wonder if it is not also circular. Because "ethical society" most likely means "utilitarian ethics" which, by definition, "benefits" us.
I suggest non-commandment XI - Free will does not exist. If that is true than I still need explanations of volitional verbs in the non-commandments such as "desire to understand," "rational thought," "strive," "pursue," "act morally," and evaluate new "evidence."
One more thing - VIII says "We act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy." But V says - "There is no God."
V leaves many people, such as myself, unhappy. V marginalizes me in the happiness universe. In fact V leaves the vast majority of the world unhappy. So I assume VIII should read something like: "We act morally when the happiness of other atheists makes us happy." Which is anti-utilitarian, since it leaves most people unhappy most of the time. What would make most people happy most of the time would be the atheist removing non-commandment (belief; statement) V. Here is where I suspect the atheist will want to convince me of the truth of V, not because it would make me happy, but because V is a universal truth. Or something like that.