3 Questions for Atheists — 2nd Question

If you haven’t read the first post, you can find it here. Otherwise, I’ll assume we’re all on the same page. Here’s question 2:

2. You behave ethically. I suggest that is because you were brought up christian. Most atheists choose to behave reasonably ethically, but why? Are some things really right and wrong, if so, how come in a physicalist universe? If it is just their personal choice, how can they criticise anyone who chooses differently? For example, I just read a newspaper article about rape as a weapon of war in Mali. You and I would both find that abhorrent, yet it makes sense on evolutionary terms – impregnate the women of your opponent and maximise your own genes. So how does all that fit together?

It’s true that I was raised in Christianity, so it’s impossible for me to say that I would be just as moral if I’d been raised any other way. And when my wife and I first started discussing the possibility that Christianity was false, we worried about where our morals would come from without it. But pretty soon, we realized that there were really good reasons for living morally, regardless of God’s existence. On top of that, we knew plenty of Christians who hadn’t always lived morally either, so it’s not like remaining Christian was any kind of guarantee.

As an atheist, I tend to think that this life is all we have. While there might be something after it, I have no real reason to believe there is. And I think this might help me value life more than many religious people. When all those children were killed in Newtown, I didn’t believe that Heaven had gained a bunch of new souls — I was very upset that those young lives had been cut so short. It’s a point of view that doesn’t have as much comfort as what most religious people have. Their real life was here, not in some supernatural realm, so the tragedy is arguably more real. That helps me value all life, not just my own. We are social creatures — we naturally tend to look out for others’ well-being, not just our own. And I am personally happier when I do good things for others rather than take advantage of them.

So those are some of the reasons why I choose to live morally. As to whether or not there is a true universal morality, I don’t know. I think there are some things that come pretty close to it though. Rape, torture, murder, etc — those things are good candidates for being absolutely wrong. But I don’t think we need a deity to tell us that. Most people agree that human well-being is better than human suffering, so I think that’s a pretty good standard. We don’t need a transcendent being to tell us that, any more than most of us would need a transcendent being to tell us that cake tastes better than spinach. Throughout human history (and well before Christianity), people have been coming together to define morality as what works best for them as a society. As time has gone on, we’ve gotten better at it by protecting minority rights, etc. I don’t see why we need anything more than that.

I’ll cover the 3rd question in the next post.

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93 thoughts on “3 Questions for Atheists — 2nd Question”

  1. There are plenty of people who follow non christian religions and I am sure they believer their morals are fine. Chance are they ARE fine too.
    Are we to assume that only Christians have the handle on morality?

    Ouch..what a dreadful thought!

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  2. I think ethics stems heavily from empathy. Suppose a person was to witness a stranger being beaten by three other men.

    If a person were to witness such a confronting event fight or flight kicks in. Because it is adaptive in us to place ourselves in another persons role (even when that person is no longer present mind you) we soon find ourselves either helping or ignoring the circumstances we are exposed to. However, empathy allows us an inner dialogue that may go something like this: I know what it is to be in pain, therefore I can relate to that man being beaten in the street. With this identification a whole lot of emotions are triggered, strong sensations, urgency, possibly anger at injustice because we are seeing that beaten man as one of our own. We are seeing him as ourself. Then you either fight or run (leave).

    But say if a person decided to intervene to help the man being abused? Why would he put himself directly in harms way to help a stranger? I think this is partly because in order to thrive humanity needs to have a degree of self-preservation that extends from just an individual level.

    We are after all social animals, therefore we depend on one another within roles that create a functioning society. If a group of people are seen as abusing norms then preservation kicks in, but not an individual self-preservation, but a preservation that firmly rests on the empathy of seeing another human being in need.

    This I think is where we establish laws and social norms, and these norms do vary depending on the environment a community develops in, but there are some universal empathetic responses that humanity recognises eg: I don’t like people stealing stuff from me.

    Because people don’t like having stuff stolen from them, its not functional to live in a society that doesn’t have a shared understanding not to do this, then enforced by people in various roles. Same with murder (and yes in a functional society rape as well).

    However, when a society is ravaged by war people get desperate and empathy probably is redirected towards a “us and them mentality”. Battle lines are drawn and a select group becomes “less than human”, therefore easier to separate from that empathy triggered preservation.

    Interestingly I think people would be less compelled to help or intervene if two drunken me are having a fight outside a bar. Yet, most people I assume would feel a sense of outrage if a small child was beaten by a group of men. Preservation and empathy go hand in hand. We feel strongly if the weakest of our species and tribe is being harmed, even if we don’t personally know that weaker member. In the same way, a man being beaten by a number of other men for no known reason carries with it a public outrage, since we have we would not like to be in his position there on the ground all alone.

    That empathy might be redirected if we learn the man on the ground is a serial rapist, but we still might feel like it is unfair, because we know what it is to be in pain.

    However, Empathy can sometimes be wrong, after all not everything I want to be done to me others necessarily want done to them.

    Not only is there physical pain, but also there are emotional triggers like anxiety that we assume most of the human population has experienced to some extent. Unless you’re a psychopath or sociopath and empathy is either ignored or maybe just isn’t triggered.

    Anyway those are some of my thoughts

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  3. Great answer. I loved your illustration – “We don’t need a transcendent being to tell us that, any more than most of us would need a transcendent being to tell us that cake tastes better than spinach.”

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  4. Hi Nate, just to clarify first, I agree that there are good and bad atheists and good and bad christians. I don’t think we need a God to tell us what is moral. But I think you haven’t answered the difficult questions.

    1. You say you choose to behave ethically because you value life and living that way makes you personally happier. Ryan says ethics is based on empathy. But my question is this. If someone doesn’t feel that empathy, if it doesn’t make someone happier to value life, is there any reason why they shouldbehave morally anyway?

    2. You later say that “there are some things that come pretty close to … universal morality”. But what do you mean by universal? Do you mean all people happen to share it, or that they are objectively, truly, right and wrong? And if the latter, what makes them objectively right and wrong?

    As I said about freewill, I don’t doubt that you have a strong morality, I just think your atheism is totally unable to explain what we all think about morality.

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  5. 1) Psychopaths are sometimes defined as not having empathy, but they should still be held to some standards of morality because their actions can impact others. As a society, we have the right to hold others accountable to our laws.

    Even if God existed, people without empathy typically wouldn’t follow God’s laws any more than they would society’s. So this still wouldn’t result in a change of behavior, and it has the added problem of having to wonder why God created such a flawed individual?

    2) I disagree that atheism is unable to explain our feelings about morality. As Slimdusty said in the other thread, even animals possess certain moral rules. Through evolution, we developed into societies where it was very important to work together and respect one another’s rights. We’ve gotten better at doing that over the centuries, but that’s to be expected from an evolutionary point of view. I just fail to see where any of this is a problem for atheism.

    Also, it’s important to remember that atheism doesn’t really make any positive claims. As I’ve conceded before, perhaps a god of some kind really does exist. But I’m reasonably sure it’s not a god from any of the revealed religions.

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  6. Nate, you wrote: “As to whether or not there is a true universal morality, I don’t know. I think there are some things that come pretty close to it though. Rape, torture, murder, etc — those things are good candidates for being absolutely wrong.” If you believe in absolute wrong, do you also believe in absolute good? If you do, doesn’t that contradict with the notion of being an atheist? You wrote you “don’t know” if there is universal morality. Isn’t this a position held by agnostics instead? Just trying to understand your view. Thanks.

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  7. Hi UnkleE 🙂

    you wrote:

    “I just think your atheism is totally unable to explain what we all think about morality.”

    I think an exchange that develops a model of morality could go like this:

    Imagine many, many years ago there existed small community of people that happened to live close to one another. One day they meet and start to exchange food and start to communicate. Over time, they build houses for shelter from the elements together, since they are stronger together than they are as separate families (especially in times where things are hard). In order to build such shelters they would need to work together, or at least stop fighting in order to look for material to use for building.

    They shared their lives around the campfire. Over time strong connections were formed among families through routine and co-operation. Eventually they built walls to protect them and those around them from wild animals or other humans.

    Through trial and error, these are the shared dislikes that this particular small community came up with (in no particular order of importance):

    1. “Hey you live pretty close to me. If we are going to exist together and not waste all our resources fighting, then we need to establish a social contract so to speak.”

    2. “I don’t want me or the family with me to get hurt. I don’t like to see them get hurt because I have very strong connections to them”.

    3. “I don’t much like having stuff (particularly stuff I’ve worked hard to get) taken from me”.

    4. I also don’t like to get murdered. I also don’t like my family getting murdered. Also, \

    5. I don’t like me or my family being sexually abused (for obvious reasons).

    These are things that I would say most of humanity wants to avoid, and because of this we see similar models of living that have developed all over the world. In order to stop people doing those things to me, a social contract must be reached in a society that prevents anyone doing those things.

    Based on those basic shared preferences, people throughout history have organised meetings and outlined what they wanted to avoid. I think this is how a society can then establish laws.

    Then these shared preferences, once agreed upon and enforced, become the norm. The norm is like an invisible wall that keeps each member of that society in compliance. The norms are reinforced by authority figures (maybe village elders or young men who act as a sort of basic police force).

    And the rest is history.

    As technology progresses these ethics evolve to take into consideration how to prevent the less desirable outcomes of some other things (pollution) from impacting us in ways that we each want to avoid.

    Throughout recorded human history each society has developed its own models of enforcing how ethics are enforced. Hierarchies have been developed and punishments for trespasses have been discussed, adapted and reinforced. How these models look may vary depending on how isolated a society has been, where it has developed and whether it’s rich in resources or not.

    However there are some basic dislikes (including the ones I listed above) that most if not all human beings share. In an increasingly globalised world and tools like the Internet, we are seeing these models crashing into each other every day.

    I think possibly some religions try to complicate ethics so they can claim that without them ethics could not exist. Yet, it seems to me that a sense or right and wrong can naturally develop as a basic requirement to function as social animals. It also comes down to trial and error. Furthermore, we have the tool of writing though to make things stick.

    I think this to some extent could explain why societies have ethics and how these shared ethics are organised and presented in different societies and environments.

    Kind regards, Ryan

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  8. Noel, thanks for the questions.

    I really classify myself as an “agnostic atheist.” In other words, I haven’t seen enough evidence to make me actually believe in a god, but I’m rather agnostic as to whether or not one exists. I’m doubtful of it, but I recognize that one could be there.

    As to morality, my post was pretty vague on what I meant by “universal morality.” I think that we humans make our own morality, but I think that things like rape, murder, torture, etc are almost always recognized as wrong by everyone. To me, that makes them universally wrong. Not universal in the sense that they were dictated at a cosmic level, but universal in that they apply to all humans. Certainly there are people that would disagree with me on that — it’s just what I think. And I don’t think that position violates atheism, because I think those moral laws developed naturally alongside our evolution as a species.

    I don’t really believe in an absolute good. I view morality as more “middle of the road.” Morality is doing no harm, in other words. Honestly, I haven’t thought too deeply about that until now, so I reserve the right to change my mind about it down the road. 🙂

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  9. I don’t think its about objective right or wrong. It’s about what is effective.

    What model effectively prevents pain, harm, abuse being directed at any member of that society. In any society, in order for one person to effectively avoid pain, abuse and theft, they themselves cannot steal, kill or abuse others.

    We now live in a world where there is a global society. People know about and care what’s happening in other countries. We may not always agree on another countries ethics, or way of doing things

    It is effective for the majority to follow shared morals, otherwise a society cannot maintain itself and still remain productive. It would waste all its resources and energy of ripping itself apart. Of course people do still kill, steal and abuse – but that’s where law and order step in. There still needs to be cheques and balances, for that’s how societies work well.

    Its not so much objective as it is effective. It works and therefore through its many versions it continues to persist.

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  10. Ug. The arrogance in that question is appalling. Christian values are ethical? Genocide is ethical? The subjugation of women is ethical? Advocating murdering infidels and homosexuals is ethical?

    I grew up in the United States and I am proud that though I was exposed to the Christian religion, I *never* accepted their brand of ethical thinking.

    Christian values have shifted with the social winds throughout its conception, suiting the political needs at the time – like most religions.

    My morals and values come out of my head.

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  11. In my country,
    A textbook for Islamic or Moral Studies mention that;

    All major religion teach their follower to be moral and ethical values.

    For me, fighting about “Be Atheist” is moral, “Be Christian” you’re good- Is “not so good” ideas. Japan is the largest non-religion society can be morally good. Commonly, all major religion teach about morality and ethic.

    Still, to be maintain morally good you must have “principle of moral” which agreed by major of people. To maintain the “principle of moral” is not easy, it require a belief that “principle” is correct and acceptable. In Japan, they have principle of “honor”, “adoption of Buddhism”, “respecting elders” to maintain their culture…

    The idea of religion should teach to find the truth, “obedient to God”, “way of life”, and of course morality is a part of it…
    The important idea still “Finding the Truth”…

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  12. “I think an exchange that develops a model of morality could go like this:

    Ryan, I think your scenario is quite what one might expect granted evolution. It just isn’t mortality that you’ve come up with.

    What you have described is a pattern of behaviour that evolves for various reasons. Societies which develop those patterns of behaviour presumably survive better. But what about the recent example of the uprising in Mali, where it was reported that the rebel soldiers used rape as a weapon of warfare – it punishes the enemy, stops their women passing on their men’s genes (temporarily) and adds some of their genes to the gene pool. All explicable in evolutionary terms, but not at all what we’d call moral.

    Morality is about not doing what comes naturally when there’s a moral reason against it. Morality says we can condemn the behaviour of those soldiers. But your tale doesn’t suggest that at all. It suggests that whatever we decide as a society is OK, for your source of morality is what societies decide.

    So I still can’t see a naturalistic explanation for freewill and true ethics.

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  13. “Ug. The arrogance in that question is appalling. Christian values are ethical? Genocide is ethical? The subjugation of women is ethical? Advocating murdering infidels and homosexuals is ethical? …….
    My morals and values come out of my head.”

    Hi tmso, if I grew up in some churches in the US, I guess I would probably feel as you have expressed here. But I don’t think I talked about “christian morality” did I, still less about the morality endorsed by some sections of the christian church? (If we were talking about christian morality, we would talk about the morality taught by Jesus, just as Confucian morality would be the morality taught by Confucius.)

    But do you notice the inconsistency in what you have said right here? At the start of your comment you infer that a number of behaviours are not moral, a statement I agree with as it happens.

    But then at the end, you say your morality comes out of your head. But if that is true, what gives you the right to pronounce these behaviours as immoral? If you say that is just your opinion, why shouldn’t someone who differs from you say and their view is just as valid?

    You have nicely portrayed the dilemma I am talking about. We don’t seem able to live without making moral judgments, yet naturalism doesn’t provide any reason to believe those moral judgments are true. I suggest you probably have the right morality, you just may lack a worldview that logically supports it.

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  14. @Unklee
    “As I said about freewill, I don’t doubt that you have a strong morality, I just think your atheism is totally unable to explain what we all think about morality.”

    The real question is how you and other religious folk believe you CAN explain morality from a religious, god-belief perspective.
    To suggest, however obliquely, that your morality and ethical behavior is somehow divinely imprinted is diatribe of the highest order.
    When one considers that the most brutal act in human history, the biblical Deluge ( even though this is a silly story) was visited upon the earth by your god, Unklee, albeit in his Non -Jesus form, it makes your god based morality appear nothing but an heinous aberration.
    You should be thanking your lucky stars that there are non religious people of decent morals and exemplary ethics around to correct your deviant beliefs.

    Its about time you took a long hard critical look at the deity you consider above reproach.

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  15. let me try to take a stab on the general morality question…

    Really in regards to this question, there is the academic answer: That we behave morally, because it is byproduct of our evolutionary process. That those humans and community that have a focus on ethical and moral behavior have a higher survivability. And one that does not behave as morally/ethically is more careless with his life. There is a field of study on this topic, which is called bioethics.

    Than there is my personal answer: Which is we act moral, because we choose to act moral. We really don’t need a reason to be moral, but we should seek a reason as to what forms each persons moral behavior. And that is many things. Our friends, our family, and our daily experiences. In fact this comes out of the first law of a civilized-moral society….Don’t Do unto other, which you don’t want done unto you.

    And lastly, a Theological answer: If we are to concede that morality is proof for God and all morality is from God, than the obvious next question is, What is the most moral religion? because the most most moral would be the true torchbearers for God. And it definitely would not be Christianity.

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  16. Morality is about not doing what comes naturally when there’s a moral reason against it. Morality says we can condemn the behaviour of those soldiers. But your tale doesn’t suggest that at all. It suggests that whatever we decide as a society is OK, for your source of morality is what societies decide.

    And societies have decided that rape is wrong for many good reasons, and these soldiers (who probably believe morality comes from some god) chose to behave immorally anyway. That allows us to condemn their behavior.

    I just don’t see a dilemma here.

    And lastly, a Theological answer: If we are to concede that morality is proof for God and all morality is from God, than the obvious next question is, What is the most moral religion? because the most most moral would be the true torchbearers for God. And it definitely would not be Christianity.

    Well put, Marcus.

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  17. ”What is the most moral religion? because the most most moral would be the true torchbearers for God. And it definitely would not be Christianity.”
    Yes, Marcus. Nailed it in one.

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  18. Unklee, makes a very good point. Naturalism combined with morality has no logical support.

    In truth, moral naturalism comes down to this: you either believe in your own, subjective, morality, or you claim that moral values are still objective within a naturalistic worldview. That is to say, these objective moral values are natural values, natural facts, natural properties, etc. Or you claim that naturalistic morality should be determined by what makes the most naturalistic sense, or scientific sense.

    The problem with subjective morality is exactly what Unklee said. It gives no logical or moral basis on which to criticize the acts of other individuals because, you have already decided, that morality is subjective. Morality can’t be subjective and objective at the same time that would be a contradiction. So, if you think rape is wrong, we are in agreement, but we, as atheists, have no objective authority to appeal to for why we believe this to be the case. A condemnation of rape is not a universal truth. It is just your opinion. It may be a widely held opinion, but from within this viewpoint, morality would be based entirely on opinion. One can see how this would prove problematic in our current society.

    However, if you take the objective morality view or the effective morality view, which many do, then you are faced with Moore’s open question argument. I recommend you Google this because it is quite complex, but, crudely, Moore’s point is to show that it is necessary to distinguish “What is goodness?” from the question “What things are good?”

    Also, if you take up the mantle that science can inform naturalistic facts about morality then the moment science begins to dictate, as Harris wants, moral values you become susceptible to a whole new kind of dogma, as physicist Sean Carroll put it, a scientific imperialism. If science claimed to have discovered a moral fact really all science would have discovered would be a convention and that can easily turn into a dogma.

    The whole issue revolves around the idea that, within a naturalistic worldview, morality doesn’t make much sense, logically or ethically. I freely admit there is not a good atheistic solution to this problem, and this was a primary problem for Kant as well.

    Regards

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  19. “If we are to concede that morality is proof for God and all morality is from God, than the obvious next question is, What is the most moral religion? because the most most moral would be the true torchbearers for God. And it definitely would not be Christianity.”

    I wonder if you are basing your definition of christian morality on Jesus’ teachings, non-christian teachings in the Old Testament, or the behaviour of apparent christians in the US? And I wonder which religion you think is the most moral?

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  20. Yes, Marcus I think that is a very valid question. If one were to utilize God as some sort of specific philosophical function to save oneself from from total relativity then what God would one be placing in this philosophical function? One could even argue that by doing this more problems are created for God than solved.

    Regards

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  21. Nate,

    I understand why it doesn’t bother you and it needn’t necessarily. I, actually, have a moral approach similar to your moral approach, but I also understand Unklee’s objections to naturalism and, in my opinion, those objections are valid and problematic for our worldview.

    Regards

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  22. “Naturalism combined with morality has no logical support. ….. those objections are valid and problematic for our worldview.”

    Persto, I really appreciate your honesty here. I think too few people on either side are willing to recognise the weaknesses in their own positions.

    On my part, I would say similar about the problem of evil. Some christians try to explain it away, but I would agree with any atheist that the problem of evil is “valid and problematic for my worldview”. i.e. if the only evidence we had was the problem of evil, I would not be a theist. But it turns out that I find many more problems for atheism (such as the discussion we are having here) than I do for theism, or, in other words, more evidence which theism explain better than which atheism explains better. So I am a believer.

    It is very freeing to be able to admit strengths in one’s opponent’s argument and it helps us better evaluate truth. We can as dispassionately as possible assess all the arguments and score them fairly for one side or the other. If one side clearly outweighs the other, we can legitimately follow that view, if both are roughly equal, we would be agnostic.

    Thanks again.

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  23. Unklee,

    “Ryan, I think your scenario is quite what one might expect granted evolution. It just isn’t mortality that you’ve come up with”.

    But I think one of the reasons rape as a weapon of warfare is considered wrong and terrible because we would never want our mothers, daughters or sisters to be treated that way.

    Again, through empathy I think people can place themselves and their loved ones in the position of those abused. This especially strikes us when the more vulnerable members of a society are targeted and abused, for we can relate to them as fellow human beings in need. This is a form of morality I think.

    War is by nature cruel and terrible. It is where human beings actively try to redirect their empathy away from a select group and turn those they are fighting against into “beasts” and “monsters”. Of course, this is done so it is easier for people like those militia in Mali to do horrible things in order to gain power.

    The abuse of civilians is never justified just because desperate militia are treating their enemy as “less than human”.

    The again another thought is maybe this empathy comes from God?

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  24. I want to emphasise that last point.

    One of the reasons rape as a weapon of warfare is considered wrong and terrible is because we would never want our mothers, daughters or sisters to be treated that way.

    This is a form of morality. And arguably think this is how moral systems are developed in a society.

    And maybe this empathy comes from God?

    Kind regards, Ryan

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  25. I like this discussion because it is helping me think more through these difficult questions. One quick comment I’d like to point out is that we shouldn’t equate naturalism (or “physicalism” which might even have another distinction from naturalism depending on who you talk to) with atheism. Atheism just claims there are no gods. I am a lot more agnostic about naturalism than I am about atheism. I do realize however that a great many atheists are naturalists (although I don’t get that from the polls that have been taken of philosophy faculty – the more I read the more I think there may be a disparity between what the average Joe atheist believes versus what atheist philosophers who think about this stuff for a living believe). Just as we shouldn’t paint Uncle E as a particular conservative Christian we shouldn’t paint all atheists as holding to certain other philosophical views.

    Another point is that just like the discussions you guys have been having about meaning, it may very well be true that these very strong feelings we have about morality are simply a biproduct of natural causes and that there really are no moral truths outside of humans. To put it bluntly this would piss me off, but that doesn’t imply a logical proof against a physicalist belief system. I would agree however that because these intuitive feelings exist and are so incredibly strong that it should give us pause and we should grapple with this. Again I don’t really hold strongly at all to a physicalist view anyway, but just thought I’d point that out.

    I see some other possibilities here as well. Perhaps even without a god moral truths could exist somehow just like laws of logic exist, or “Platonic abstracta” such as numbers. While I understand J.L. Mackie’s point of the “queerness” of this because moral truths do seem kind of different from things that seem more objective like logic and numbers. The “ought/is” problem I believe is the main factor for this queerness. But even though it would be weird that doesn’t at all mean it is a logical proof of them not existing outside of conscious thinking entities as we understand them. And it could simply be transcendent and beyond things that humans are capable of grasping. I believe it is important to note that there are some god-believing philosophers like Richard Swinburne who do hold to the view that some objective moral truths exist outside of god. That doesn’t make it true, but it indicates that things are not as simple as a lot of theists would suggest, and I definitely see this as a possibility. Shelly Kagan, Erik Wielenberg, Stephen Law and Louise Antony are all atheist philosophers who explain this kind of view much better than I can (not appealing to authority here, just noting that it’s not just some idea that only crackpots like myself hold to.)

    Questions about morality and meaning are a tough one for me, but I don’t think that the questions go away once one believes in a god. Even if one believes in a god there still remains very tough questions like how did that god come up with morals? what is it that actually grounds the moral authority of that god over us? and if in reality there exists 2 or more gods with differing morals which one of them would win over as far as the one whose morals are the objective ones that all should follow? I don’t believe it is wrong to ask these kinds of questions just as it isn’t wrong for theists to ask atheists questions about moral ontology without a god.

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  26. “One of the reasons rape as a weapon of warfare is considered wrong and terrible is because we would never want our mothers, daughters or sisters to be treated that way.

    This is a form of morality. And arguably think this is how moral systems are developed in a society.”

    Ryan, thanks for continuing this discussion. I wonder if we all agree on what morality is? I believe it is not just a description of how we do in fact behave, but an ideal of how we “ought” to behave. Do you agree?

    On my definition, what you have described clearly happens, but it isn’t morality. Most of us are indeed revolted by certain behaviours and we choose not to do them. But that doesn’t mean we have said anything about whether we “ought” not do them.

    And if another society decides that they will not do revolting things to their own tribe, but will do them to others (which we see happening all too often in the world), than on your definition, that would be “moral”, but it would not be on mine.

    So I think you are still left with explaining why that tribe’s behaviour is “wrong”.

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  27. Howie, thanks for a very measured and thoughtful response. I agree with much of what you say, including that atheism doesn’t necessarily imply naturalism or physicalism. If an atheist tells me they are not a naturalist/physicalist, then I would ask them what other form of non-naturalism can they suggest apart from theism, and discuss that.

    “Perhaps even without a god moral truths could exist somehow just like laws of logic exist”

    I actually believe that is the case.

    “Even if one believes in a god there still remains very tough questions like how did that god come up with morals?”

    And I agree here also. Being a christian doesn’t remove all my problems, whether personal or intellectual! But it does reduce them considerably.

    I think that God doesn’t just invent morality, but recognises it just as he recognises logic. He is none the less for this, and in fact would be much less if he didn’t. Where we need God is knowing what is right. Our ethical faculties are deeply impaired, and we have no way of being sure that there is objective morality or knowing what it is without God working in us – call it conscience if you like.

    So all the atheists who have a strong ethical sense, such as those discussing here, are generally quite right. They are receiving input from God, they just (unfortunately) don’t recognise it. Best wishes.

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  28. “So I think you are still left with explaining why that tribe’s behaviour is “wrong”.

    Unklee, I have to respectfully disagree with you here. Who and what we value strongly guides who we have empathy for.

    Rape is wrong because we recongnise the victim as a fellow human being who is just as valuable as you or me.

    It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. I think it’s probably fair to say people who commit such terrible crimes don’t value their victims as human beings.

    When a person acknowledges that another person has value then they call the abuse of that person immoral. If a person recognises that other people outside their “tribe” have worth because they belong to the same humanity as you or I then they respect those people, as they themselves would like to be respected.

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  29. I still don’t see it. There’s no “ought” in empathy – either you have it or you don’t. I still think you are not talking about morality, certainly not as I define it. How would you define it? is there any “ought” in it?

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  30. Someone “ought” not to murder or abuse someone else because they identify that other people as just as valuable (or even more valuable) as themselves.

    Why should they value other people in this way? – Because there are no degrees of separation in humanity. In this sense Social Darwinism has long ago been shown as an empty concept.

    There are not some people who are more superior or more human than others, and therefore if human beings are all the same in value, then wherever they exist they are entitled to the same respect. This is true whether you are in a war torn country or a stabilised country.

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  31. But why “ought” someone do that, especially if they don’t identify people as valuable? (As experience shows happens. For many people, it is the tribe, or the religious subgroup they owe respect to, not any wider grouping that they see as “enemies”.)

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  32. yes people do cruel and ugly things to one another. Throughout history people have fought and abused people who were considered part of the “other tribe”.

    They ought not to do that because the international community looking from the outside considers killing women and children as wrong. But in times past abuse, rape and murdering outsiders was seen as ok from the inside of many tribes. Did it make it right back then? no. A human being is a human being.

    So what’s changed? people ought not to do this because we now rightly recongnise that humanity is not limited to “our tribe” not only limited to “able bodied people” not only limited to “men”.

    People ought not to do this because human beings are valuable and dominating another person in an unjust way in the pursuit for power is wrong. why is it wrong?

    because again, we recongnise these people are also human beings, and we wouldn’t want our mother, daughter or sister to go through such things. There is no difference in value between my loved ones and theirs, its just that I am linked to my loved ones through circumstance. Unfortunately not everyone recongnises the reality that other people as valuable just as valuable as you or I. And here is the problem.

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  33. and why are they valuable? why ought we to value others we don’t know? who are not part of our “tribe”? because we recongnise that we are not better than another human being. If they are not valuable then neither are we.

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  34. and finally, if people out there don’t identify other people to be as valuable as them then they are not grounded in reality, which then enables them to do horrible things.

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  35. sorry got to add one more thing, what makes someone or something valuable to us, isint it based how much we interact and place our focus on?

    For example, what makes a pet more valuable than a stray dog? is it the relationship we have had with the pet, interacting with it it as it has grown up. Is it because we feel some ownership over a pet?

    Is personal value then based on the relationship and proximity we have had with something or someone?

    But is the inherent difference between a long loved family dog and a stray mutt. there is not inherent difference. people placed value on the dog we selected to look after.

    Both dogs belong to the same canine family, yet one has a personal attatchment to a family and one is considered a pest, is one better than the other?

    in this sense some way sof thinking of it are 1. all canines are in reality valuable, only we don’t always recongnise them as valuable. either that or 2. no dog is inherently valuable. or 3 the dogs are only as valuable as we have use and affections for them.

    Of course humans are not like this 3 is not an option. well it is but its a terrible option (eugenics). so either all huamns are valuable or no one is. and im going to stop rambling now. I go for all humans are valuable.

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  36. for the record im not making any comparison between humans and dogs, it was just an example of how differences exist in the way people base their values on interaction and proximity.

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  37. May be for individual, moral is enough, “I do my job, I don’t bother everyone, that it, I good”. In social interaction, to have moral itself is not enough. There are responsibility, protection, justice, ethics, right, code, laws, of course, moral is a part of it.

    When Christian defend about morality, it always about social interaction. When atheist say about morality, it always about individual right. So, it quite difficult to find similarity between two clashing ideas where are individual is static and society are more dynamics.

    In Buddhist ideology, there are called “Karma”, when people do bad thing to others, bad thing will happen to them in future. When people do good things to others, good thing will happen to them.

    Sometime, stray dog have a better life than pet dog. A fancy life doesn’t make you more happier than other who doesn’t. Stray dog have freedom that pet don’t.
    Happiness is thing hard to describe.
    Some people say if they have a lot of money, they will happy, when they got it, they are not.
    Some people say if they have a sport car, they will happy, when they drive it, a normal car is more comfort.

    All human are valuable, but the idea of value is different from one to another. Their need and expectation also different.

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  38. Author, Terry Pratchett wrote, without things we are just clever animals.
    Self actualization is part of human growth and morality and ethics form part of this growth.
    If love is considered the highest expression of these qualities then why does it matter if we have free will or not?
    I choose to believe I do.

    Negative morality and ethics are inevitably self destructive.

    Atheism requires the highest moral and ethical standard as it does not allow the need or necessity of a supernatural outside ‘force’ (deity) to influence one’s decisions, choices or calls to action. Neither does one expect to turn to one’s imaginary friend to ask for forgiveness.
    The phrase, “What would Jesus say?” is a redundant. meme as banal as, ”Be good or Santa wont bring you presents.”

    http://www.selfcounseling.com/help/personalsuccess/selfactualization.html

    Do the right thing. Help humanity. Become an atheist.

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  39. Ryan, I think it is time to give Nate back his blog. It has been an interesting and pleasant conversation, but we appear to be not connecting. I still don’t see anything in what you say that tells me a good reason why anyone should think the way you say if they are not disposed to, or why it is objectively “right” to do so. But I think anything more from me would be repetitious. Thanks, and best wishes.

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  40. @unkleE

    Sorry it takes me so long to respond to comment back on your post. But this has been I have been following closely to see what people say.

    In regards to the whole conversation of morality, I think this is one of the reasons, why I did not like Mere Christianity, because I have never seen morality as proof for/of God. When i was christian, my doctrine of morality was that similar to Divine Command Theory, That things are moral when God says they are moral or when God commands that it is moral. Something is only moral when God commands it.

    From that I mindset I could never use morality as proof of God, )because he is already morality. (In my warped christian sense.

    and as for question, which religion is the most moral…I really don’t because I am not an expert in world religions and world history, But I would Jaines, Quakers, and Buddhist, in no particular order.

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  41. Marcus, no worries about delay – leisurely is good!

    I don’t hold to Divine Command Theory, but I think it is the strongest form of the moral argument. The argument is simple. It starts with the observation that most people act as if some ethical statements are objectively true – if they weren’t, we’d have no basis for saying Hitler, or Pol Pot, or a pedophile, were truly wrong – all we could say is that we don’t like their behaviour.

    But what makes something truly wrong or right? DCT provides an answer. My own answer isn’t quite as simple, but either way, belief in God provides an answer, and nothing else seems to. So we are left with one of three options:

    1. Give up believing in objective morality (not very easy to do).
    2. Believe in God.
    3. Accept there is illogic at the heart of our life and beliefs.

    I’m a little surprised at your choice of religions you prefer. Quakers are generally christians (though there are some non-christan Quakers); the Buddha didn’t teach about God as far as I am aware; and the Jains are an extremely ascetic religion that imposes amazing restrictions on its adherents. But thanks for your thoughts.

    Best wishes.

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  42. I’ve been away from the computer the last couple of days too, so I’m a bit behind. Thanks to everyone for all the great comments. I want to thank Persto in particular, since he offered a different perspective from what some of us were saying.

    I still think the issue isn’t as black and white as the 3 options UnkleE lists out in the above comment would suggest. But I am not well-read when it comes to philosophy, so many of the arguments made over the last couple of days are a bit over my head. Something I’ll have to study up on. Other than that, I don’t have anything new to add. Feel free to carry on the discussion though — maybe I’ll jump in again later. 🙂

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  43. @unkleE

    yeah fair enough,

    Those last few posts I made were very poorly written, plus I posted them before I reached a moore complete idea of what I was meaning to say.

    all the best

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  44. “My own answer isn’t quite as simple, but either way, belief in God provides an answer, and nothing else seems to. So we are left with one of three options:”

    Cleverly done, Unklee. The subtly snarky answer.
    God provides an answer when one cannot face reality. It is a mode of retreat to safer, familiar ground.
    Hide behind his skirt.

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  45. Uncle E: I’m confused by something. You’ve stated that you do believe that moral truths exist apart from God. What I don’t understand is why that is not a fourth option for an atheist. Why can’t the atheist also believe that moral truths exist much like the law of non-contradiction exists? I understand that you believe that we have a need for God because our moral faculties are impaired. But I’m not following why that implies that if God doesn’t exist then those moral truths that you believe exist apart from him would be unable to exist. Can you explain that?

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  46. “why that is not a fourth option for an atheist”

    Yes, you are right, I was being too brief. It is indeed a fourth option for an atheist, and I know of some atheist philosophers who opt for something like this. For example, Michael Martin has written:

    “Atheists and theists both agree that prima facie this is a moral universe with objective moral values. Atheists who are moral realists attempt to show how this appearance is not deceptive and that such a universe is possible without God.”

    The problem is, how can this be explained and shown to be true? How did a naturalistic universe come to have the property of having true moral values, and how can we demonstrate this?

    The parallel is logic. We all believe (I suppose) that the laws of logic are really true, they exist in some abstract sense, like the set of integers. But we have rational minds that can test the laws of logic and see that they are true, something we cannot do for ethics. We cannot test ethics for truth, only for convenience or for outcomes.

    So an atheist can indeed say that, but at the cost of perhaps having to give up physicalism/naturalism and having to admit that we cannot know these ethics or even know that they exist. Such a step has been the start of a slippery slope towards theism for some atheists – something that I would welcome, but others here may not!

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

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  47. I’ve read the post (well done) and all the comments and wanted to add my 2 cents.

    I think everyone who has commented agrees that rape is morally wrong. The question is, why do we think this way? I have to agree with Portal that it is because we feel empathy for the victim, we can picture ourselves or our daughters in the victim’s shoes. We all are disgusted by the action. Just as we would be disgusted by cannibalism. I think UnkleE confuses the matter by asking why it “ought” to be this way. No one said it “ought” to be this way, we are just all agreeing that we don’t like it. Obviously there are some men in the world (Mali) that thought it was the right thing to do. Can’t we denounce them (in unison) based on our own opinions? Why do we have to invoke a higher power to tell them that we think they are disgusting?

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  48. “No one said it “ought” to be this way, we are just all agreeing that we don’t like it. Obviously there are some men in the world (Mali) that thought it was the right thing to do. Can’t we denounce them (in unison) based on our own opinions? “

    Hi Dave. Of course we can all tell them that we don’t like it based on our own opinions. But:

    1. That isn’t what most people seem to think and want to say – they want to say its wrong.

    2. Why should anyone care what our opinions are, when they have their own opinions?

    3. How would it be fair to impose by way of law (whether our own country’s laws, or international law) some sanctions on behaviour if we didn’t think it wrong but only that we didn’t like it?

    I have yet to see convincing answers to those difficulties.

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  49. Hi UnkleE, thanks for the response. I’ll take a stab at answering those.

    “1. That isn’t what most people seem to think and want to say – they want to say its wrong.”

    I get what you’re saying, and I think it’s because most people are not satisfied with just voicing their opinions, they want to take it further and impose them on others. They say it’s universally wrong or it’s wrong because God says so, but ultimately this is just their opinion.

    “2. Why should anyone care what our opinions are, when they have their own opinions?”

    They don’t care, and frankly, if a helpless victim was not involved, neither would we. In the case of a helpless victim our empathy moves us to take action and help.

    “3. How would it be fair to impose by way of law (whether our own country’s laws, or international law) some sanctions on behaviour if we didn’t think it wrong but only that we didn’t like it?”

    It would be unfair to impose our moral opinions on someone who was only hurting themselves (like outlawing smoking). When the actions start to affect others then it becomes fair to impose some boundaries (like no smoking in restaurants). Isn’t this why people invented governments? It works to resolve these issues by setting up boundaries so we can co-exist with each other.

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  50. Thanks Dave, I think those are reasonable responses, though I don’t think I’d like to live that way – not thinking that even HItler or a pedophile or the ethnic cleansers in Bosnia were wrong, but just that I don’t like them. And I wonder whether you can live consistently with those views, never really condemning anyone’s actions as “wrong”. But thanks for replying, and best wishes.

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  51. Abusive action can be condemned as wrong in a very real way, because we recongnise that those people being abused are biologically no different to us in value. Thus, even in a struggle for power, children and women should be treated with respect, because we would never like those abuses to be done to us or our kin.

    Those people who committed such crimes do not recongnise this. It doesn’t make it less wrong. These abuses can be considered wrong in a real way.

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  52. Uncle E: we may want to check if we’ve entered an alternate universe, because I largely agree with the gist of what you’ve said in your last response to me. 😉 Yes, laws of logic and math do seem to hold a more objective sense to them, and I also see a difference in the belief of moral truths existing. There is some weirdness to them.

    I would also even agree further that belief in them has some similarities to belief in theism. For me I see believing in conscious entities that exist without bodies as a much bigger intellectual hurdle rather than something that can be easily slipped into after believing in moral truths, but that really is just my opinion, and not even sure I could quantify that.

    I think most (although not all) atheists who are unwelcoming of theistic like beliefs are probably more worried about having dogmatic rules legally shoved down their throats.

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  53. what i find interesting is that like rape, sane people find genocide or mass murder to be immoral. No one was shocked or surprised to learn the bible said murder was sinful or wrong. Becuase of our immediate and unquestioning recognition that in fact rape and murder are immoral, it stands to reason that we didnt really need the bible to tell us they were.

    Yet the bible portrays god as commanding mass murder/genocide in several instances.

    So, is the act of genocide morally wrong, or is it the lack of god’s blessing in mass murder that would make it morally wrong?

    or is it that god commanded immoral actions?

    And could a theist condemn a mass murderer since we cant be sure whether god sanctioned or approved the mass murder or not? …unless someone speaks directly with god and is privy to all of his thoughts on a given subject…

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  54. Actually, I feel awkward to read all the comment.

    Why discussing morality with something that obviously immoral such rape, kill, genocide, etc. Why all thing that human do must relate with morality? In this world, there are rights, law, protection, etc.
    There are something that are morality wrong, but right thing to do, example a judge who give a life sentence to a mass killer, of course you take his freedom but it right thing to do.
    Killing is obviously unlawful, but if suddenly some robber put a knife at your throat, you defend yourself and accidentally killer the robber. It was a right thing to do even unlawful.
    Honor is ethical act, but if you are honor the tyrant you are unethical.

    Why all thing that human do must limited to 2 categories as “morality” or “immoral”? There are many others criteria that need to be consider.
    The philosophy of life are screw all over the place.

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  55. Hifzan, I think you’re right. And I think this ties in to what William, Portal (Ryan), and Dave have been saying.

    It’s okay for a society to dictate its own rules about what’s right and wrong. And society can typically do it in a way that allows for the kinds of nuances that you’re talking about.

    Typically, unless there’s a problem in a person’s development, we seem to have an intuitive sense of what’s right and wrong. Maybe this is ingrained through evolution, or maybe we learn this so early in our childhood that it seems ingrained. Usually, when people deviate from these moral standards, like in the subjugation of certain minorities, and still call it “morality,” it’s due to indoctrination of some kind or another. Without all the dogma, I think most of us would naturally see all people as equals.

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  56. Unklee wrote….
    “It is very freeing to be able to admit strengths in one’s opponent’s argument and it helps us better evaluate truth.”

    I would not admit to any strengths in a theists argument. Theism actually has no strengths simply because its foundation is based upon a lie that has been inculcated in humanity.
    It is,therefore, immoral, and thus any argument for it is fallacious.

    It is as ridiculous as espousing the immorality of stealing sweets while you are eating stolen sweets and refuse to recognize the fact.

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  57. “Uncle E: we may want to check if we’ve entered an alternate universe, because I largely agree with the gist of what you’ve said in your last response to me.”

    Howie, I think peace has broken out! Let’s enjoy it. Thanks.

    “I think most (although not all) atheists who are unwelcoming of theistic like beliefs are probably more worried about having dogmatic rules legally shoved down their throats.”

    This is an interesting comment – I wonder how much of the shoving you see being done by God and how much by churches?

    I am a christian who is very critical of most brands of church, and who holds a brand of christianity somewhere between evangelical and liberal. As such, I find most atheists are disbelieving a form of christianity I don’t believe either, and in many cases many/most christians don’t either.

    Probably someone needs to come up with a checklist of christian beliefs so we can all know where each other stands before we argue!

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  58. “Yet the bible portrays god as commanding mass murder/genocide in several instances.”

    This is one of the most disturbing things about the Bible, and probably the thing most often raised by atheists (and rightly so). But you need to consider that:

    1. Christians generally believe that Jesus is a much fuller revelation of God than we find in the OT. So, when the discussion is about christianity, we should start with that as the view of God we are believing or disbelieving. Then we can discuss the OT view as a problem, not the claimed basic belief.

    2. Christians grapple with the OT difficulties in various ways. I would guess most hold to the view that they were commands of God appropriate in the very difficult circumstances, but others (like me) are troubled by that view, and believe that it was in some way a misunderstanding of God.

    If we are going to discuss these commands,we need to be a little more nuanced in our statements or the discussion quickly becomes polarised.

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  59. Why, thank you William. I think Nate sets a good tone on this blog, and this attracts people who want to discuss courteously, and I appreciate all of you who contribute in that way.

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  60. Well, I may not always be as courteous as i should be or that you and nate are, but i’ll try to do better.

    I think it is hard to separate the bible and Christianity. I understand there are different brands, each with their distict set of beliefs, so for argument sake I am fine addressing the bible over christianity.

    And maybe we’re doing the same dance as before, but when i see flaws, errors and questionable morality on the part of the book’s deity; i cannot then see where any additional example of truth or good morality erase these the negative examples we have. I find it hard to understand why, in light of the problems anyone is willing to accept the book a divine.

    So history agrees that Jesus was probably real and that he was known as a healer or miracle worker? He isn’t the only religious figure who can claim that sort of historical support.

    I dont know, Unklee. the more I look at all of this, the more clear it becomes. Can you say the same? Granted, i’ve never experienced a miracle or god talking to me; I’m convinced that would make a difference.

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  61. While I agree that evolutionary adaptive strategy led us from non-sentient beings to sentient beings and with this gradual adaptive process came reason, which allowed the creation of civilized institutions like morality and law, that adaptive process was indifferent to our species progression towards betterment or goodness. It reminds me of something Stephen Crane once said about how humans can’t love the Universe as much as they loved God because the Universe doesn’t love us back. In a sense, I agree with him because the adaptations that allowed our species to survive and thrive, in fact, could have led to our extinction. Much like a trait that is advantageous to the individual (being an efficient predator) could become more and more frequent and wind up driving the whole population or species into extinction. Natural selection has no ‘bettering’ intentions. It simply selects among individuals in a population, favoring traits that enable individuals to survive and reproduce, yielding more copies of those individuals’ genes in the next generation. Not to mention that natural selection acts on genetic variation which is generated by random mutation–a process that could care less if that variation is beneficial to the organism. Sometimes it will be beneficial–like most European humans ability to drink milk after a certain age, at least those of us who aren’t lactose intolerant–and in other instances it may drive the population into extinction. But in no case will evolution, with great foresight, offer a progressive trait. The natural evolutionary process, as Tennyson pointed out, “is red in tooth and claw.” Nature made us aggressive and that trait benefited our ancestors’ in hunting and defending themselves, but that trait also complicates social interaction, especially in cases of conflict of interest, where it tends to be maladaptive, causing suffering, injury, and death.

    What I am getting at, is that, in evolutionary terms, a positive trait is usually accompanied by a negative one or ones, eventually. Morality is great, but it also causes guilt, shame, litigation, and frustration. Does the shark wonder if he should kill his prey? No, it is just instinctual.

    My point is that if our morality is to be guided by evolution that could make for a very dangerous society because evolution does not care about us. Certainly, evolution explains our journey up to this point, and it offers a reasonable explanation for why morality exists, but it doesn’t become a morality. Our empathy is natural but that is not morality. We may feel physical pain, but that is just a warning mechanism; not morality. Human morality is the result of a long evolutionary process, but that process is not morality.

    Morality must, in a way, transcend human nature for it to make any sense. Morality must be more than how humans feel for one another because humans don’t always feel for one another. Rape is wrong and love is right, but why? Why are these things ‘wrong’ and ‘right’? Morality is an attempt to move beyond our mere natural circumstances and inclinations to a higher realm of being that can answer these questions, satisfactorily. I don’t mean god, of course. I mean the discussion about morality. The ability to talk about these things, while a consequence of the evolutionary process, moves humanity above merely ‘noble savagery’ to a place of existence that is not morally determined by those natural processes. Just because nature created me with insatiable desires and wants in a world with limited resources and sympathies doesn’t mean I have to give in to those natural inclinations. That is what Dawkins was getting at when he said humanity must rebel “against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” Just because the natural world made us to behave in such a way does not mean that we should behave in that way and it does not provide a reason for why we shouldn’t. Morality is about separating humanity from savagery; not throwing us into it, which is what naturalism does, even if naturalists don’t see it. That is why the discussion about morality is not about adaptive traits, but rising above those traits, which is even what Harris is arguing for.

    Regards

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  62. I disagree. You make it out as if people evolved to be selfish. I would allow that is only true, otherwise people wouldn’t have ever begun to live communally. That adaptive trait would lead to a set of moral laws that would enable man to do this. That’s why we’re not like loner fish who live their entire lives alone, with the sole purpose of fulfilling their desires. that is not man. Sure, some are that way, but those are anomalies, and would be outcasts, which would be evolution’s attempt at weeding out those loner traits.

    And I can imagine the universe loving me just as much as i ever imagined god loving me. Their hugs feel the same anyways.

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  63. “That is why the discussion about morality is not about adaptive traits, but rising above those traits, which is even what Harris is arguing for”.

    Persto,

    Please forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but doesn’t empathy allow us to rise above these less desirable traits?

    After all, would we be able to even come up with any other standards of living, that go beyond what we observe in other mammals, without our capacity for empathy?

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  64. “I find it hard to understand why, in light of the problems anyone is willing to accept the book a divine.”

    I think that is clear. (1) It tells us about Jesus, who many of us believe was the most important person who ever lived. (2) Many, many people have found hope in it, which changed their lives.

    “I dont know, Unklee. the more I look at all of this, the more clear it becomes. Can you say the same?”

    Presumably you mean you are becoming clearer that christianity isn’t true? I don’t think I feel any clearer, or any less clear, about my own beliefs, but I am understanding the issues better and how people like you and others here approach them. Which is good for me to know.

    “Granted, i’ve never experienced a miracle or god talking to me; I’m convinced that would make a difference.”

    I think this is key. Most christians probably believe because of their own, or shared, experiences. I am slowly collecting stories that come from reliable sources about people being healed after prayer, seeing visions of Jesus that changed their lives, or having emotional healing from God which changed their lives. (You can see some of them in True life stories.)

    Now we all know that even if these stories come from reliable stories (because I have omitted obvious urban myths, etc), we cannot verify them. But that is no reason to stop there – we can take a statistical approach. Even if we put a small probability on each story being true, the cumulative probability of so many of them adds up to a pretty decent probability that there is truth in some of them. Which is all we need to believe God has probably been at work

    That evidence is there to be investigated, we don’t need to wait for something to happen to us.

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  65. Persto, do you think morality is a bit like love (the self-sacrificing sort)? Something that evolved but that is difficult to justify through reason alone?

    Great comment, by the way. A lot to think about.

    And William, this made me laugh out loud 🙂

    And I can imagine the universe loving me just as much as i ever imagined god loving me. Their hugs feel the same anyways.

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  66. Even if we put a small probability on each story being true, the cumulative probability of so many of them adds up to a pretty decent probability that there is truth in some of them. Which is all we need to believe God has probably been at work

    I’m certain that most people believe the things they’re recounting, but I have major doubts that they’re evidence of God being at work. We humans are notoriously bad about misreading our senses. But I don’t want to be uber-skeptical about everything — I’m open to the possibility that the supernatural exists. So I’ll try to check out the stories and keep an open mind about them.

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  67. William,

    There is a common misconception in biology that organisms evolved to do things for the good of the species or for the good of the group. It is just not true.

    Our tribal ancestors didn’t form communities because they cared very much about strangers or other humans or even, to a certain extent, their own community, but because that type of behavior benefited them, individually or genetically. Even in a hypothetical group of altruists, whether it be a small selfish group within the group or an out-group of selfish individuals, there will be people who take advantage of the altruists. These exploiting individuals are going to be more likely to survive and reproduce thereby spreading their genes to the next generation, who will be similarly persuaded towards selfishness and at some point the altruistic group will become predominantly selfish instead of altruistic. Altruism in nature isn’t sustainable, communally speaking, because there is always, at least, one individual who will refuse to make sacrifices and will exploit the altruism of the others thereby improving his chances for survival and reproduction, which means more people from the next generation will have his/her genetic makeup. This sort of progression will eventually lead to the dismissal of altruistic motives in favor of selfishness because more people will be selfish than altruistic. Also, in nature, even apparent altruism, can be selfishly motivated.

    It would be a very dangerous morality that is based on evolutionary tendencies because those tendencies are never what they seem to be and are always changing.

    Regards

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  68. Ryan,

    Yes, empathy is a part of morality, but it is not a morality itself. I may feel a certain way about someone today and tomorrow not so much. Empathy is fickle in many ways. So, while you may be able to understand and share the feelings of those less fortunate than you, Bob, from down the street, may not feel similarly because he is the exploiter in the group. By your moral standards, Bob, when he takes advantage of someone, is doing wrong, but by Bob’s moral standards he is not. A purely empathy based morality creates a moral subjectivism that is tough to comprehend. If, in an attempt to bring Bob into line, you force him to not do those things you don’t agree with then you are being morally inconsistent because what about Bob’s feelings?

    Of course, you could say that is what the law is for. To stop people like Bob. Well, of course, you are right, but saying Bob is doing something illegal is quite different than saying Bob is doing something immoral. But what if Bob is not doing anything illegal. What if Bob likes to call black people a name I won’t write? Or cheat on his wife? Or maybe Bob is doing something illegal but not immoral. What if he steals from the rich and gives to the poor? Or what if he doesn’t like wearing his seatbelt? Does illegality entail immorality?

    By your definition of morality, you would be incapable of saying anything about the actions of others that was not just your opinion on the matter.

    For morality to operate properly something more meaningful than empathy has to be incorporated. But empathy is certainly a part of it. It is just not all of it.

    Regards

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  69. Nate,

    Yes, in a way, I do, but I do think you can justify it through reason without inserting God. I understand the evolutionary background of morality but moral truths, in my opinion, are best discovered through a combination of philosophical reasoning, empirical analysis, and spirituality. Philosophical reasoning gives me a conceptual idea of goodness and badness, because I can’t see those under a microscope, and empirical analysis offers insights into human behavior, while empirical observation gives me a graphical representation for analyzing my moral conceptions against reality, and a hopeful spiritual component just sort of fills in the gaps. It is a little contradictory, but I am attempting to utilize and maintain both a common sense approach and a scientific account of reality, while incorporating a secular form of spirituality that is close to Spinoza on many levels, except for God, of course, in my working model of morality.

    Regards

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  70. Persto,

    I can agree to some degree in that “There is a common misconception in biology that organisms evolved to do things for the good of the species or for the good of the group. It is just not true.”

    But if we evolved in such a way that made it easier for us to thrive in communal settings, it only stands to reason that acting in ways that lend itself to communal living would be more attractive.

    I wasn’t saying otherwise. You say that the selfish has a better chance of passing on their genes, and that may be true in some situations, but I see people tending to avoid jerks if they can. And in order to live in a successful and thriving community, people are better off getting along than indulging in selfish acts.

    and again, there are animals that are community oriented that share kills, and help each other take care of their young, etc. Those who do not share or help out are often ostracized. I dont think anyone would suggest that these animals read about jesus, and if we say that the animals knew about god’s plan inherently, then how are people better than the animals if we need an instruction manual?

    maybe I’m using “evolve” too liberally. And really, I am just pointing out that “morality” via evolution, god, alah, or especially nutrient rich flatulence, could still be moral. morality does not only make sense by god or by understanding a book reported to be from him.

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  71. and people wouldnt have to have evolved to be “gooder” or more moral, people, like anything else, would keep an evolutionary trait if it helped them survive and thrive.

    And again, living in communities is much easier when people cooperate, or behave morally, so those traits and characteristics would natural follow and present themselves.

    I dont think evolution has plan, but is more like lighten striking. Sometimes it causes a fire and sometimes it doesnt.

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  72. Hi Persto,

    I think I understand what your saying. But empathy goes beyond just feelings. It does trigger emotions, but those emotions are temporary. Empathy also creates an interaction that helps us move beyond ourselves by imagining ourselves in others. But I’ve thought some more about it, and I think both and Unklee are right. Empathy alone is not morality. What is needed is an absolute morality that is consistent and moves beyond temporary feelings.

    Many monotheists believe God created humanity in His own image. In contrast, many atheists believe humanity created gods in their own image.

    From a monotheist perspective, God is the absolute Lawmaker, and in this sense law and morality are personally connected. From the atheist standpoint, “god” is considered to be an idea that is used to communicate an “absolute” that could not be overstepped. However, many theists also believe that human beings made “other gods” in the image of man, however their God is the genuine God.

    If God has decreed a moral then it is no longer just the opinion of one man or a majority of people. It becomes an absolute. These are two very different ways of looking at morality.

    The difficulty is, without an eternal Lawmaker that is truly higher than humanity, how can morality ever be anything more than just the mere opinions of other human beings?

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  73. I have a positive view on Sam Harris idea about “Science can determine human value”. Even I do not agree with all that he said, but this idea is very good and reflected my understanding.

    In 11th century, Imam al-Ghazali mention : Ethics in Arabic is ilm al-Akhlaq (science of morality), which is the branch of knowledge that studies akhlaq (morals). Today, I believe many research have been conduct within this scope at non-English speaking university and widely being use by Islamist.

    Assume that, in future, we can determine that morality or human value through science, facts, evidence, biology, medical, etc.
    Can we change the people through the science?
    Can people changing their behavior through the evidence that being shown?
    Will public accept that?
    How government will behave, are they going to change their policy?

    As science practitioner, I know that science also being manipulate by marketing, popular voice, television networks, etc. So, even science can proof that is right and wrong, it not easy to do it.

    Example: Smoking, drugs and alcohol is dangerous to human body and I believe everyone know that. Still, people want to destroy their bodies and justify their action…

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  74. Hifzan,

    I think scientific language can be used as a vehicle for marketing and spreading an agenda, but the scientific method in itself hopefully removes human bias as far as it is possible.

    Persto,

    A third option could be that values extend beyond just tribes, and humanity in of itself is now being valued as a whole. Laws are set down based on what is considered to most effectively value humanity. Through considering what works in action societies can become more moral, if of course they consider valuing humanity moral.

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  75. Hifzan,

    Just to go a bit further, scientific data can be selected by companies and interest groups and then framed for the group’s own agendas. E.g leaving data out and intentionally skewing it so it only supports the position they want to promote. But this is not correct science, this is just misinformation.

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  76. Hifzan,

    As your an engineer, I’m sure you have a far firmer understanding of science than me, based on your training and experience 🙂

    I like your blog btw, interesting ideas

    Respectfully, Ryan

    Like

  77. When we talk about science, it always about organized knowledge and it always about “prediction” and “explanation” of universe. What we understand today, may be change in the future.. It was evolving knowledge..

    Science of morality?
    First, we must define the “science of morality”. From my understanding, morality should sound like ” practice of virtue, morality and manners”…

    Then, define the purpose of morality?
    Why we really need morality? Why I need act morally? (1) To show off? , (2) To be look good? (3) To attract woman (4) To satisfy myself? (5) Because my mother said so (6) Because people say I need empathy…

    Lack of empathy rarely happen to poor people, it always happen to rich people.
    The normal answer that I heard are; “They are lazy, they deserve it”, “I can not give them much, I also have a problem”, “How I going to help them, if they can not help themselves”, “They can take care of themselves” or “Why I should care, they are not my relatives”, “Maybe that is his destiny”…

    Lack of empathy is disease of rich people… A product of arrogant, proud, success, materialistic, etc… And, this are people that we look as model and example…

    Back to morality…
    From my understanding, Not having a purpose of morality is total disaster…
    How human have good moral?. It come through habit that being accumulate from born until today… Normally this habit being learn in a good family, religious institution and school by observing, example and role model…

    If there are no more morality in this institutions, actually you can say Bye, bye to next generation. Even, I disagree that Christian is “religion of truth”, I need to agree that Christian also teach about morality regardless what have Bible said…

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  78. Ryan,

    In business, commonly data that being provided are quite good and reliable.

    Commonly, if there are a fraud, either it was a real mistake or purposely do the mistake… Actually, the fraud is very minimal, may be (0.1% ~ 0.5%), but the consequences is very high. It can just turn the company upside down.

    Example, the horse meat scandal, it was done by few “stupid” company, and the whole meat business is affected.
    That why, it was very important to spread the truth even it was painful…

    Same goes to morality and religion, It always about trust and truth…

    Like

  79. I think one reason most people are good most of the time is because they have to be. Punishments like prison, the death penalty, jail, fines, and even just the embarrassment of getting caught when it is not even a crime but deemed immoral by that society or even in places where they might not have a true prison/court system in place, it is even scarier for them because when a take justice in your own hands idea is in place as has been in the last even here in America, than you really have to worry about consequences for what you do not to mention just being an outcast.. I also think most people behave morally because we came from God and God is good and God is love, we do all sometimes choose to rebel against that some but for the most part I think most people want to be Good want to love and be loved, they just sometimes take the wrong path to that. We feel guilt we feel remorse. Even the love of money and power is wanting to be loved, wanting to be loved by all or at least control all and force them to love you (thinking of dictators like Hitler, Hussain and others here). Even Osama Bin Laden had good intentions. His reasons for doing things were not selfish he thought he was doing good and right. But we here in America do not really know what it is like to take God completely out of the picture. As much as some act like it we have never really lived in a completely Godless society here. Any Godless society that has existed did not last. Some think it would be ideal without God, think of John Lennon’s song but that is assuming some are right about Good not coming from God but if you are wrong and it does come from God and there is a God without God there is no good and why would got let something continue that has no good and is only bad?

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  80. I have seen more poor people with lack of empathy then rich or middle class especially those who have always been poor and have never known any different as opposed to someone who might have been poor before and are not richer. As someone who moved from poverty to middle class growing up poor I have seen a lot of lack of empathy in poor people and middle class people, this is not unique to the rich. Poor or middle class people often assume all people with money did not get that way from hard work and doing the right thing like many have and that they don’t help a lot of people with their money, which is about the same as rich assuming all poor people are lazy mooches. Yes some are but not all. My parents were both born into poor families and both worked their way out of it without government assistance while a lot of my family remains in poverty on government assistance and while receiving assistance from us but my parents must be the evil greedy ones with no empathy because they have more money? And everyone feels so sorry for poor people but in so many ways we were happier when we were poor, we did not need much to be happy as long as we had enough to survive we were good, We did not even know what we were missing and now I can tell you most of it wasn’t much, the best things in life are free.

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