Atheism and Morality

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Bondolon
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Postby Bondolon » Thu Aug 16, 2007 8:06 am UTC

Herman wrote:
arbivark wrote:
Sure. First of all, the assertion that morality didn't start with the 10 Commandments is valid and all, but it still doesn't put forward a theory as to where morality does come from.

And saying that morality comes from evolution isn't fully satisfactory either, for two reasons.
1. Is != Ought. If my conscience can be explained naturalistically, what justification do I, as a rational thinker, now realizing this, have for following it?
2. As I noted a few posts ago, many people have moral opinions that seem to have very little to do with the kind of basic social morality that might arise by natural selection. Indeed, many people have moral opinions so strong they actively fight the rest of society in order to do what they believe is right. These people are outside the "everyone just kind of getting along" morality that evolution might create. You probably have such opinions yourself. Where do they come from?


It's useful to think about human populations as being in evolutionary competition with each other. Just as genes and individuals compete, populations do too. Morals are the instructions sets, the programming, of those populations. They have accumulated runtime and have been debugged.
That doesn't mean that new conditions won't expose new features or bugs that didn't show up in the past 50,000 years of uptime, but code that is known to work and has been tested is better than some random code that's just been written, but not proved itself.
Morals as code works at two levels - it permits the continuation of the human population, and it permits the continuation of the culture.
It's hardware and software compatible.

Granted, there are conditions now that are different from conditions before. So there are tensions between conservatives, who argue to keep the known and tested, versus the script kiddies who claim to have written a whole new set of operating instructions, that they claim will work better.
So morality is rules for living that have been tested and known to work, in the past.


Okay. No argument. But... once again, Is is not the same as Ought. Why is keeping society going a "good" thing? Granted, we humans have these traditions and instincts. There they are. But why *should* we follow them? Because the traditions and instincts say to? That's circular.

Of course, the answer is probably that it's possible to be rational almost to the point of nihlism here on the intarblegs. But if you're faced with a moral decision out in the world, the autopilot kicks in and the purely logical part of you is politely told to wait in the corner and not touch anything. So morality (including your deep feelings that your moral code is good) is something that just happens to you. It's totally irrational. But then what justification do I have for following it? I have none. So why...

And then, before the rational part of me divides by zero and crashes the system, I get hungry and go eat some food, and go back to work, and life goes on.


Presumably, a rational, well-adjusted person will examine the morals bestowed on them and determine which seem "good" (in a personal sense, be it utilitarian, darwinian, etc...) and which seem "bad" (ditto). For example, my father is fairly racist, believing that the fitness of a group of people (archaically referred to as a "race") is reflected in the status of the majority of its members, and that such a reflection exhibits a moral mandate to uphold this reflection, and, at some point in the past, I questioned this. I found it... unfounded. In this case, my morals were questioned (and actively revamped), while my morality remained. In other words, because I found one aspect of my morality questioned did not mean that I threw out morality altogether, I just made an ethical judgment of the legitimacy of a particular set of my morals by questioning them. As a counter-example, there have been other morals that I questioned (i.e. hard-drug use) to which, after careful examination, I remained adherent. I think you're trying to hard to make this black and white, one or zero, when in reality all of us have a fairly finite (though not necessarily discrete or integral) moral code, parts of which can be questioned an revamped.

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Postby Bondolon » Thu Aug 16, 2007 8:10 am UTC

Herman wrote:Bondolon,

So if I read you right, ethics is the study of what kind of morality to choose. Whereas morality is the answer -- the rules that I arrive at. Yes?


Morality is just "How/if people ought act". It's the abstract, the inconclusive. It's the entire set of statements and controls regarding the regulation of human behavior, internal and external. Morals are what people actually live by (morals literally equals "a moral code") and Ethics is the scholastic field. Morality, then, is just behavior with any sort of value judgment involved.

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Postby Robin S » Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:06 am UTC

Aetre wrote:Because Christianity revolves around a deity who says specifically that only through faith shall people be saved, a Christian ethic necessarily includes faith as a character trait, and acts of faith as part of one's daily practice. Because the word, "Islam," actually means "submission" or "obedience" in Arabic, those traits become part of the ethic of any decent Muslim [highlighted for emphasis]. If you know of Christians or Muslims who disagree with this, please show them to me. I'd like to hear their point of view.

Ok. First of all, I would like to clarify: it doesn't seem to me that you're saying Christians' or Muslims' beliefs are limited to religious ones (they may have independent ethical beliefs). Please correct me if I'm wrong. If I am correct in making this assumption, then the ethics of individual people within each religion will differ in some respects. However, you are claiming that one common point among Christians is that faith is an essential character trait, whereas a common point among Muslims is that selflessness is essential character trait.

On the other hand, I would contend that the main necessary criterion for identification (in as objective a manner as possible) of a person as Christian or Muslim is self-identification by that person as a member of one of those faiths, and therefore that any shared moral ground within a faith is implied only if it follows logically from the fact that the person has self-identified as a member of that faith. It is a fact that people exist who contradict your claim. If you don't believe me, I can try to persuade some of them whom I know personally to join the fora and back me up.

It seems to me that you are subscribing to the "No true Scotsman" fallacy, which has been mentioned recently already on these fora in connection with religion. I have highlighted the phrase "any decent Muslim" in what you said, because it amounts to the same fallacy.

Please let me know if any of what I have said is badly phrased or confusing in any way.

atheists still believe in right and wrong

A gross overgeneralization, but I'm assuming you didn't mean it to apply to all atheists.

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Postby Bondolon » Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:18 am UTC

atheists still believe in right and wrong

A gross overgeneralization, but I'm assuming you didn't mean it to apply to all atheists.[/quote]

By an large, atheists aren't mass-murderers. There are some who claim nihilism, but you'd admit they still exclude certain behaviors from their repertoires. If they are excluding certain behaviors because of the value of those behaviors, be it consequential, inherent, religious or purportent, those exluded behaviors are done so on the basis of morality (unless they are butt-slapping insane, which doesn't even VAGUELY relate to morality). Morality doesn't have to be metaphysical, it just has to refer to behavior modification for some reason. So, excluding non-insane or non-[truly]nihilist atheists, every atheist obeys morality.

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Postby peri_renna » Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:27 am UTC

peri_renna wrote:What about Darwinian evolution? That's not even restricted to animals.
zenten wrote:Still only what we know about. There could somehow be aliens who change under a different system.
Andrew wrote:Well I guess that depends what you mean by "Darwinian evolution". If you mean "that which survives, survives, and if imperfect copies are made then the variants that survive well and copy well will tend to predominate" then I'd say that goes far beyond biology and ends up in memetics, culture, cosmology, literature, and so forth. That's just a particular piece of logic, and as such everything must obey it.

If you mean they actual mechanisms behind it, then it's entirely possible that there exist other lifeforms out in the universe that don't have those mechanisms -- in theory, possibly even ones which neither reproduce nor die and as such never evolve.

You might say something like "all biological entities must convert energy from one form to another somehow" but I would argue that would be part of a definition of biology than a "truth".


Valid points, all. I'll have to think these things over.

peri_renna wrote:Why should we discount relativity? Euclid's fifth postulate is wrong-headed, if we're talking about the shape of the universe, and even when we didn't know that, everyone did not agree on geometry.
Vaniver wrote:Perhaps we are discussing planes, instead of spacetime.


Planes don't exist. One might as validly speak of the absolute truth of the en passant rule.

That said, comments elsewhere in the thread have raised my awareness of the nature of my convictions on the subject of morality, and hence left me questioning them in a way that makes it difficult for me to carry on debating.

(And it's probably incorrect to compare Euclidean geometry to chess - the former is generally an excellent approximation on the small scale, making it rather more like Newtonian mechanics in truth-value.)

peri_renna wrote:Are you imagining that because I say morality is absolute I believe we know what it is? We don't know what it is. We might never know what it is. But it's not arbitrary.
Vaniver wrote:What do you mean by absolute?


Existing independent of the observer. The laws of physics are absolute, but taste, for example, is not.
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Postby Robin S » Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:34 am UTC

Bondolon: fair enough. I was talking about belief in absolute right and wrong, which I think it's fair to say many atheists (and indeed many people who believe in God) do not possess.

peri_renna: do you have a reason for claiming that morality is absolute, or is it just a belief that you hold (because, perhaps, of gut feeling or something similar)?

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Postby zenten » Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:41 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
zenten wrote:Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but how is a moral truth different in that regard from any other truth?
Because other truths can be measured in a way that moral truths cannot.


As in measured with a physical device of some sort?

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Postby Bondolon » Thu Aug 16, 2007 11:46 am UTC

Robin S wrote:Bondolon: fair enough. I was talking about belief in absolute right and wrong, which I think it's fair to say many atheists (and indeed many people who believe in God) do not possess.


Actually, even according to these definitions, certain activities, though probably found trivial, might be classified by anyone as absolutely wrong. For instance, destruction of the universe, permanent poisoning of all water on Earth, and sustained genocide of all life forms on Earth. These behaviors need not be practical, as we are discussing whether someone would do something with reason. I daresay nobody on Earth would consider these things good.

veryfakeedit: I remembered Evangelion, and realized that I really don't have any problem with these happening (again, morals vs. ethics) as there would be nobody around to expound on their benefits or detriments.

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Postby Aetre » Thu Aug 16, 2007 12:32 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:It seems to me that you are subscribing to the "No true Scotsman" fallacy, which has been mentioned recently already on these fora in connection with religion. I have highlighted the phrase "any decent Muslim" in what you said, because it amounts to the same fallacy.


It's deductive logic, not a fallacy.

Assumption: A is defined as B.
Assumption: If B, then C.
Conclusion: If A, then C.

Now:

Assumption: Christians believe in following the word of Christ. (Evidence: Romans 15:5, with entire chapter included for context. Note how "as you follow Christ Jesus" is written in the introduction and almost taken for granted as a prerequisite for the rest of the chapter.)

Assumption: Christ tells his followers to have faith. (Citation: Mark 11:22, along with the rest of the Mark 11 in case one doubts context.)

Conclusion: Christians believe in having faith, according to the ways Jesus describes it.

Note: It's pretty easy to find other passages that back these statements; the Bible is pretty repetitive that way. If you don't believe me, do a search on any online Bible site for passages containing "faith," "follow," "Christian," etc.

---

It's simplistic logic, perhaps. But I fail to see a fallacy there, much less the Scotsman one. The Scotsman fallacy necessitates one making up a convenient definition of "Scotsman" in order to back their claim. Religions have the luxury of defining their own beliefs via their various texts, so in making my assumptions, I can go by their own texts' definitions.

Of course, you're right that I do generalize. Christians (also in general) sin, so not all might follow the word of Christ all the time, and so forth. And there may be people who describe themselves as Christians who say it's okay sometimes not to follow the word of Christ. You got me there. But I didn't make up the definition of "Christian" to back my argrument any more than I made up the definition of "Islam," the literal translation of which was the basis of my argument for that religion.

And yes, it's a generalization to say that most atheists believe in right and wrong. It's also a generalization for people who claim to have religion. That was my point, in fact; that the statement, "most believe in right and wrong" is as much generally true of atheists as it is of religious people.

So if you dismiss what I'm saying on the basis of generalization, then by all means, do so. If we were to spell out each and every individual interpretation of what it means to be of a certain faith, or to be moral, we'd both be wasting time until we could no longer type.

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Postby zenten » Thu Aug 16, 2007 1:09 pm UTC

Aetre wrote:
Robin S wrote:It seems to me that you are subscribing to the "No true Scotsman" fallacy, which has been mentioned recently already on these fora in connection with religion. I have highlighted the phrase "any decent Muslim" in what you said, because it amounts to the same fallacy.


It's deductive logic, not a fallacy.

Assumption: A is defined as B.
Assumption: If B, then C.
Conclusion: If A, then C.

Now:

Assumption: Christians believe in following the word of Christ. (Evidence: Romans 15:5, with entire chapter included for context. Note how "as you follow Christ Jesus" is written in the introduction and almost taken for granted as a prerequisite for the rest of the chapter.)



That's the assumption that fails. Especially since you're not stating it correctly, as the assumption you are making is that Christians believe in following the word of Christ as defined by the Bible you linked to.

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Postby Aetre » Thu Aug 16, 2007 1:27 pm UTC

"As defined by the Bible I linked to?"

What do I have to do, link every biblical translation of the same passage?

Or maybe I should point out that the first time the word "Christian" is actually used in the Bible, it refers directly to Christ's original followers, the disciples? Acts 11, Verse 26.

Or maybe I should point out I've been in Christian churches for the past 23 years and heard many, many, many times "what it means" to be a Christian, from multiple pastors and reverends of multiple denominations?

Or, though it is admittedly not always wise to appeal to authority on the subject, shall I link to Luther's Small Catechism and let you read it yourself?

Maybe Wikipedia?

Maybe Webster's?

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Postby solarchem » Thu Aug 16, 2007 1:51 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:Bondolon: fair enough. I was talking about belief in absolute right and wrong, which I think it's fair to say many atheists (and indeed many people who believe in God) do not possess.

peri_renna: do you have a reason for claiming that morality is absolute, or is it just a belief that you hold (because, perhaps, of gut feeling or something similar)?


As an atheist I don't think there can be an 'absolute' right or wrong. Any moral code we choose to live by has to be derived from our own minds, not some higher power.

So where do these morals come from? Millions of years of evolution. Humans require a cooperative group to survive (or did before the invention of firearms, etc). Acts such as murder are bound to lead to a fractioning and thus weakening of a tribe. I believe that the code we seem to have ingrained in us is simply what worked best toward insuring the success of a small human population. The code would be spread as the population grew and took over other areas.
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Postby Vaniver » Thu Aug 16, 2007 2:38 pm UTC

Existing independent of the observer. The laws of physics are absolute, but taste, for example, is not.
To exist, does not something have to be measurable?

So, you see absolute morality as a standard by which we can judge systems of ethics, by holding them up to the absolute morality and seeing where they disagree. But, if we cannot find this absolute morality to hold our system of ethics up to it, and we have no way of finding it, why do we believe it exists, or refer to it in practical discussions?

As in measured with a physical device of some sort?
I cannot think of a way of measuring something that does not involve a physical device. (We can say that people are physical devices and their lives experiments for the purpose of this discussion)
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Postby gmalivuk » Thu Aug 16, 2007 3:29 pm UTC

Aetre wrote:Or maybe I should point out I've been in Christian churches for the past 23 years and heard many, many, many times "what it means" to be a Christian, from multiple pastors and reverends of multiple denominations?


If you the same definition from all of them, you didn't really check that wide a variety of denominations. There are almost 2.2 billion Christians on Earth (source), and, coincidentally, there are also about 2.2 billion different definitions of what it means to be Christian. Granted, many of those are pretty similar to each other, but a goodly number are still way "out there" from the perspective of others calling themselves by the same label.

All your argument really "proves" is that Christians believe some kind of faith is important. They may even *say* they believe in faith according to the ways Jesus describes it, but then you ask them exactly what ways these are, and you're back to approximately 2.2 billion variations. And whether faith is an inherent part of their ethical views is also not certain. You can (or at least, other people I know can) be Christian and believe faith is important without believing that (the normative part of) their overall ethical system must include acts of faith.
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Postby Aetre » Thu Aug 16, 2007 3:33 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:All your argument really "proves" is that Christians believe some kind of faith is important.
That's all I was trying to prove, though.

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Postby Robin S » Thu Aug 16, 2007 4:06 pm UTC

Bondolon wrote:Actually, even according to these definitions, certain activities, though probably found trivial, might be classified by anyone as absolutely wrong.
Please note: by "absolutely wrong", I don't mean "so wrong that no rational human would claim otherwise", but "wrong in a sense which transcends human definition". The laws of mathematics, and possibly of physics, are generally held to be absolutely true in the sense that absolutely anything in the universe must follow them. However, it is possible to conceive of a non-human sapient species which might benefit greatly from, or even depend upon, humanity's utter annihilation. In this case, humanity's destruction would not be "wrong" for that species, and therefore could not be held to be "absolutely wrong".

Another, more concise way of saying that is that there is no right or wrong inherent to the universe.

Aetre wrote:Assumption: Christians believe in following the word of Christ. (Evidence: Romans 15:5, with entire chapter included for context. Note how "as you follow Christ Jesus" is written in the introduction and almost taken for granted as a prerequisite for the rest of the chapter.)
Like zenten, I disagree with your assumption. Romans was written the best part of two millennia ago, when the church was relatively uniform compared with its present state. I do not think that everyone who today identifies as Christian would believe they were following in the literal word of Christ and, even if they did, there are denominations which disagree on certain fundamental things. Don't forget, you don't have to be religious to identify yourself as Christian.

I think you largely grasped what I was getting at with your paragraph which begins "Of course, you're right that I do generalize."

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Postby gmalivuk » Thu Aug 16, 2007 4:16 pm UTC

Aetre wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:All your argument really "proves" is that Christians believe some kind of faith is important.
That's all I was trying to prove, though.


Then why'd you muck it up by going on to say some shit about daily acts of faith and their overall ethical system?
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Postby Aetre » Thu Aug 16, 2007 4:39 pm UTC

I was making the distinction that people who believe in a given religion will base their moral/ethical practices off of a set of beliefs dictated by said religion, whereas atheists derive their ethics elsewhere. Thus, there is a distinction to be made between atheist morality and religious morality in the sense that they are derived from separate sources.

As an example of religious beliefs being turned into practice, I mentioned Christian acts of faith and Muslim acts of selflessness, or more specifically, how a Christian or Muslim would aspire to these as general personal character traits. Although an atheist might aspire to help others, not kill, or any number of things based on moral beliefs, the distinction is that the atheist does not say, "I believe this is right because the Holy Book says so." Instead, they have different rationales to offer for why, exactly, something is right or wrong in a given circumstance.

My original argument--the distinction between how religions and atheists derive their morals--seems to have gone mostly unchallenged in this thread, but the examples I picked seem to have sparked a big, longer-than-it-needs-to-be discussion. My apologies.

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Postby Robin S » Thu Aug 16, 2007 4:53 pm UTC

That's fine. It's often the way with discussions like this. I think part of the reason is that your original point was so easily taken on board that people then started looking for things in your post which could spark further discussion.

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Postby yy2bggggs » Thu Aug 16, 2007 5:03 pm UTC

Aetre wrote:I was making the distinction that people who believe in a given religion will base their moral/ethical practices off of a set of beliefs dictated by said religion, whereas atheists derive their ethics elsewhere.

I'm not so sure that you have a correct characterization of what people who believe in a religion do. In your argument, you seem to assume not only that Christians necessarily believe in the bible, but that by definition they do. That assumption is way off. Even among biblical literalists there are interpretations of what things mean that fall outside of the scope of the bible, and there are conflicts as well over the correct interpretation.

Furthermore, even biblical literalists aren't really like this. Few advocate stoning adulterers, for example. Why? Presumably, their religion dictates this, but that was just for the Jews. That is symbolic. That was the old testament. There are many such things these people pick out to explain why such and such isn't really dictated by religion. For more evidence, consider that as our concept of what is moral evolves, so does theirs; in fact, the atheists have no monopoly of challenging existing moral conceptions.

It is misleading to say that religious people follow the morality dictated by their religion. What's really going on is that they are dictating what morality is dictated by their religion.

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Postby Aetre » Thu Aug 16, 2007 5:32 pm UTC

yy2bggggs wrote:It is misleading to say that religious people follow the morality dictated by their religion. What's really going on is that they are dictating what morality is dictated by their religion.
I'll agree to this. Though of course, they do at least tend to profess to try and follow the morality dictated by their religion as best they can; it's rare, I think, for a religious person to admit that they're really the ones doing the dictating a lot of the time.

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Postby a900poundmoron » Thu Aug 16, 2007 5:34 pm UTC

I think that if you look at it with God existing morailty comes from God trying to influence good behavior will Satan tries to influence destructive and bad behavior.

But if you take God out of it nobody would know where moraltiy comes. It just might be natural reasonable logic that says not to cause harm apon others. We might be afraid of reliation, or the effects of destructive behavior, or knowing that we have a chance of being rewarded for good.
What i really think it boils down to is that we have "morals" based on our laws and justice. A lot of what stops people from loosing themselves and doing great acts of violence is the law. It is that one entity that can and will take away whatever is seen fit, even your life.
For smaller acts of evil like cussing and immoral acts in ones personal life probably comes from your own decision of wether what you're doing is good or not. I would imagine that atheists are probably have a greater percentage of immorality compared to people who believe in god. That though does not stop them from permitting themselves to do certain things that religion has declared immoral.
So as far as to know what's right and wrong I think it comes from the laws and your own personal choice of doing things. I don't see it as if someone a long time ago made it this way because that's how he wanted everything to go down. The crimes that law prohibits usually are sensible in that the action of these crimes almost certainly do not help the common public. Battery, rape, murder and things of that nature would bring up unrest and animosity in the public and don't coop well with us to begin with. So the law makes sense in it's foundations of prohibiting us from doing certain things, and it creates a more peaceful order and helps everyone really.
Where all this evil nature comes from could be blammed on satan, but if you believe in no gods, then it's a unknown force. Where it originates I don't think will ever be found, weither it be on earth, in our minds, or some distant place, it still consumes people.

So that's my thoughts on the subject...

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Postby zenten » Thu Aug 16, 2007 6:51 pm UTC

a900poundmoron wrote:I think that if you look at it with God existing morailty comes from God trying to influence good behavior will Satan tries to influence destructive and bad behavior.



A *lot* of Christians don't believe in Satan though, or at least one that meddles in human affairs like that.

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Postby Herman » Thu Aug 16, 2007 7:19 pm UTC

solarchem wrote:
Robin S wrote:Bondolon: fair enough. I was talking about belief in absolute right and wrong, which I think it's fair to say many atheists (and indeed many people who believe in God) do not possess.

peri_renna: do you have a reason for claiming that morality is absolute, or is it just a belief that you hold (because, perhaps, of gut feeling or something similar)?


As an atheist I don't think there can be an 'absolute' right or wrong. Any moral code we choose to live by has to be derived from our own minds, not some higher power.

So where do these morals come from? Millions of years of evolution. Humans require a cooperative group to survive (or did before the invention of firearms, etc). Acts such as murder are bound to lead to a fractioning and thus weakening of a tribe. I believe that the code we seem to have ingrained in us is simply what worked best toward insuring the success of a small human population. The code would be spread as the population grew and took over other areas.


At the risk of repeating myself...

Do you really not see the problem with this type of argument? Morality comes from evolution, or whatever. Great. But in every other situation, the act of explaining, in a naturalistic way, a moral opinion, serves to *invalidate* that opinion.

"You only believe in free markets because you're rich."
"You only say the war is wrong because you don't want to get drafted."
"You're only a feminist because you're a woman."

Explaining where morals come from in a naturalistic way doesn't answer the question of why you still believe in them. In fact, it's an excellent way of explaining why you *don't* follow a certain moral rule: "This rule evolved thusly, for these interesting historical reasons. So you see, it's just a product of the circumstances of the time and place. How silly we were to think that this rule was, in some sense, "right." It's no more absolutely true than the number of days in a week. Therefore, we are free to change it at our convenience." But you just did that for *all* of morality. See the problem?

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Postby Bondolon » Thu Aug 16, 2007 7:21 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:
Bondolon wrote:Actually, even according to these definitions, certain activities, though probably found trivial, might be classified by anyone as absolutely wrong.
Please note: by "absolutely wrong", I don't mean "so wrong that no rational human would claim otherwise", but "wrong in a sense which transcends human definition". The laws of mathematics, and possibly of physics, are generally held to be absolutely true in the sense that absolutely anything in the universe must follow them. However, it is possible to conceive of a non-human sapient species which might benefit greatly from, or even depend upon, humanity's utter annihilation. In this case, humanity's destruction would not be "wrong" for that species, and therefore could not be held to be "absolutely wrong".

Another, more concise way of saying that is that there is no right or wrong inherent to the universe.


Fair enough, though there are atheist ethicists that make cases for moral value being a metaphysical thing (i.e. something inherent to the universe). Not to suggest that they are right or wrong, I'm just trying to point out that it is conceivable to believe in such, even as an atheist.

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Postby Molichka » Thu Aug 16, 2007 7:30 pm UTC

To return to the OP's question,

There are several codes of ethics which are specifically "god-free" out there, in fact most post-enlightenment philosophy in the west has been exactly that.

One of my favorites is utilitarianism:
Utilitarianism, first laid down by Jeremy Bentham, is summed up most briefly as "the greatest good for the greatest number" which is premised on the fact that happiness/wellbeing = good precisely because we are thinking and feeling beings that exist and can enjoy these things. Applying this view in an egalitarian fashion becomes classic Utilitarianism.


To put a curve ball into this discussion:
Baruch de Spinoza a pre-enlightenment philosopher was instead of being an "athiest" (which he was often accused of being) was instead a "monist" or "pan-deist". Those of you who are mathematically minded in the crowd will enjoy reading Spinoza's Ethics, where he uses the format of a geometric proof to show that God and Nature are one and the same, and that all that exists (you me and gymsocks) are different modes in the "Deus sive Natura" (God/Nature) whole. The separate-ness we perceive in objects is only that, a perception. He is a bit like a mathematicians Lao Tzu, and Deus sive Natura is the Dao.

I would also like to point out that not everyone who calls themselves a Christian has studied the laws laid out in the Bible and not all athiests have studied athiestic philosophy. Most people live their lives by their "gut" which is far less difficult an allows them to remove themselves from any uncomfortable ethical quagmires.

for example a utilitarian, upon finding that animals too carry weight in Utilitarian philosophy must therefore cease consuming meat unless physiologically necessary for their survival, or no longer be behaving in a rational fashion. (after all the joy one gets from a steak is hardly comparable to the pain a cow has in living in a feedlot then dying at the butchers.)

A person who lives by the "gut" may themselves come to this conclusion themselves but can just as easily avoid it. A hard and fast Utilitarian cannot, no more than a devout Jew eat bacon, no matter how tasty it smells on the grittle.

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Postby Vaniver » Thu Aug 16, 2007 7:53 pm UTC

after all the joy one gets from a steak is hardly comparable to the pain a cow has in living in a feedlot then dying at the butchers.
Which is the weakness of strict Utilitarianism- other people's happiness and my happiness are not equally important to me.
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Postby Robin S » Thu Aug 16, 2007 8:08 pm UTC

Bondolon wrote:I'm just trying to point out that it is conceivable to believe in such, even as an atheist.
Fair enough. My point was that the proportion of people believing morality to be inherent in the universe is considerably lower among atheists.

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Postby zenten » Thu Aug 16, 2007 8:10 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:
Bondolon wrote:I'm just trying to point out that it is conceivable to believe in such, even as an atheist.
Fair enough. My point was that the proportion of people believing morality to be inherent in the universe is considerably lower among atheists.


I'm not sure on that, really. Especially the "considerably" part.

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Postby gmalivuk » Fri Aug 17, 2007 2:34 am UTC

Herman wrote:Therefore, we are free to change it at our convenience." But you just did that for *all* of morality. See the problem?


Nope. And neither do the large number of ethicists who don't believe in some absolute external morality.

One way "out" of this "problem" is precisely to say that morality is like many other evolved psychological characteristics.

Kind of like feeling affection for our kids. Knowing how it came to be, and believing that it isn't part of some absolute morality that magically infuses the whole universe, doesn't actually make it any easier to change it.
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Postby Herman » Fri Aug 17, 2007 5:22 am UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Herman wrote:Therefore, we are free to change it at our convenience." But you just did that for *all* of morality. See the problem?


Nope. And neither do the large number of ethicists who don't believe in some absolute external morality.

One way "out" of this "problem" is precisely to say that morality is like many other evolved psychological characteristics.

Kind of like feeling affection for our kids. Knowing how it came to be, and believing that it isn't part of some absolute morality that magically infuses the whole universe, doesn't actually make it any easier to change it.


Okay. But not all moral decisions are as obvious as "kids are nice." There are moral decisions that are highly complicated, where there's no obvious emotional response. Yet we make them. How?

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Postby peri_renna » Fri Aug 17, 2007 12:30 pm UTC

Robin S wrote:peri_renna: do you have a reason for claiming that morality is absolute, or is it just a belief that you hold (because, perhaps, of gut feeling or something similar)?

I'm beginning to think it's a belief, mainly because I've noticed that I believe morality should be absolute. Given this clear source of bias, I'm planning to start taking my arguments with a heavy dose of salt.

That said, I realize that I never answered an objection to my metaphor upthread:
peri_renna wrote:Speaking as a kinda-strong atheist (as in, I believe no gods exist as strongly as I believe that the Earth exists, but I'll follow the evidence), what that explanation reads to me as is:
  • God is an authority on goodness.
  • God says 'you should do these things'.
  • Therefore, you should do these things.
Reading this, though, I might point out a parallel:
  • Charles is an authority on biology.
  • Charles says 'species evolve by this mechanism'.
  • Therefore, species evolve by this mechanism.
I don't see much reason to argue that the former explanation is stronger than the latter.
Dalenthas wrote:That being said there was a logical fallicy on the atheist side a while back I feel like pointing out. peri_renna compared God's position as an authority on goodness was parallel to Charles (Darwin?)'s position as an authority on biology. The problem in his argument is that (according to religion) God defines good, wheras Charles meerly studys biology. If evolution didn't exist before Darwin and meerly came about because of his definition, then yes, that'd be a parallel. However, evolution already existed, and Charles just tried to write out the rules by watching the game, so to speak.

My response necessarily has two parts:
  1. Not every theist holds that God defines good - whether they do or not depends on their response to the Euthyphro dilemma (is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?). Many of the most popular responses (e.g. "God is Good") require that good be ontologically prior to God's commands. In such cases, my metaphor would be valid.
  2. If God does define good, then the non-worshiper has even less reason to accept the definition. Consider an alternate metaphor:
    • Richard is a game designer.
    • Richard says "you should play my game by these rules."
    • Therefore, you should play his game by those rules.
    Has no-one ever had house rules?

(Yes, "Charles" was an allusion to Darwin. Ten points to anyone who guesses which Richard I'm thinking of.)
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Postby Cryopyre » Fri Aug 17, 2007 12:52 pm UTC

mosc wrote:I agree, I think early humans (like most other primates) tend to react like many inanimate objects are alive when they don't understand what is going on. It's hard to see them not viewing things like the wind or the sun as some other animal doing this or that. The notion of anything moving or having some action at all that was not alive probably was foreign to them.


You know, my fellow atheists may kill me for saying this, but I agree. Somewhat anyways. I have no problem my morals and gui;t were first associated with a fear of hell.

However, a world of atheism wouldn't be devoid of morals. Guilt is actually the best tool related to morals.
Felstaff wrote:I actually see what religion is to social, economical and perhaps political progress in a similar way to what war is to technological progress.

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Postby zenten » Fri Aug 17, 2007 1:56 pm UTC

I wonder why people aren't questioning why atheists don't kill themselves. I mean, the Bible tells you not to commit suicide, but without the Bible or something similar there's no reason for atheists to not just off themselves.

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Postby Andrew » Fri Aug 17, 2007 2:11 pm UTC

peri_renna wrote:My response necessarily has two parts:
  1. Not every theist holds that God defines good - whether they do or not depends on their response to the Euthyphro dilemma (is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?). Many of the most popular responses (e.g. "God is Good") require that good be ontologically prior to God's commands. In such cases, my metaphor would be valid.
  2. If God does define good, then the non-worshiper has even less reason to accept the definition. Consider an alternate metaphor:
    • Richard is a game designer.
    • Richard says "you should play my game by these rules."
    • Therefore, you should play his game by those rules.
    Has no-one ever had house rules?
(Yes, "Charles" was an allusion to Darwin. Ten points to anyone who guesses which Richard I'm thinking of.)


Or, put more simply, http://www.jesusandmo.net/2007/08/17/tough/

(Everyone knows arguments are more valid on the internet if you express them in the form of a comic.)

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Postby Dalenthas » Fri Aug 17, 2007 2:11 pm UTC

peri_renna wrote:My response necessarily has two parts:
  1. Not every theist holds that God defines good - whether they do or not depends on their response to the Euthyphro dilemma (is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?). Many of the most popular responses (e.g. "God is Good") require that good be ontologically prior to God's commands. In such cases, my metaphor would be valid.
  2. If God does define good, then the non-worshiper has even less reason to accept the definition. Consider an alternate metaphor:
    • Richard is a game designer.
    • Richard says "you should play my game by these rules."
    • Therefore, you should play his game by those rules.
    Has no-one ever had house rules?
(Yes, "Charles" was an allusion to Darwin. Ten points to anyone who guesses which Richard I'm thinking of.)


To that I say, even if God does not define good, God is infallable and therefore his definition of good is complete. If God does define good and you choose to hold a different definition, God is free to do whatever He wants. (I'd like to note once again that I personally am an atheist, just being the Devil (or God in this case)'s advocate).

As for Richard... Garfield? The man who designed Robo Rally and Magic: The Gathering?
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Postby 4=5 » Fri Aug 17, 2007 11:54 pm UTC

Dalenthas wrote:
peri_renna wrote:My response necessarily has two parts:
  1. Not every theist holds that God defines good - whether they do or not depends on their response to the Euthyphro dilemma (is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?). Many of the most popular responses (e.g. "God is Good") require that good be ontologically prior to God's commands. In such cases, my metaphor would be valid.
  2. If God does define good, then the non-worshiper has even less reason to accept the definition. Consider an alternate metaphor:
    • Richard is a game designer.
    • Richard says "you should play my game by these rules."
    • Therefore, you should play his game by those rules.
    Has no-one ever had house rules?
(Yes, "Charles" was an allusion to Darwin. Ten points to anyone who guesses which Richard I'm thinking of.)


As for Richard... Garfield? The man who designed Robo Rally and Magic: The Gathering?
dawkins is the first name that comes to mind

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Postby peri_renna » Sat Aug 18, 2007 11:46 am UTC

Nope, Garfield. MtG's kinda gone downhill since the Unlimited Edition days, though.

Dalenthas wrote:To that I say, even if God does not define good, God is infallable and therefore his definition of good is complete. If God does define good and you choose to hold a different definition, God is free to do whatever He wants. (I'd like to note once again that I personally am an atheist, just being the Devil (or God in this case)'s advocate).


Why should people believe that God is infallible (in this case, meaning both omniscient and benevolent)? Why would breaking His laws give God the right to do whatever He wants, if He did not already possess that right? (I could buy it giving him justification for some acts - a la defense of possible victims of the violation, appropriate punishment of the violator - but not for any act.)
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Postby Cryopyre » Sat Aug 18, 2007 11:55 pm UTC

Cryopyre wrote:
mosc wrote:I agree, I think early humans (like most other primates) tend to react like many inanimate objects are alive when they don't understand what is going on. It's hard to see them not viewing things like the wind or the sun as some other animal doing this or that. The notion of anything moving or having some action at all that was not alive probably was foreign to them.


You know, my fellow atheists may kill me for saying this, but I agree. Somewhat anyways. I have no problem my morals and guilt were first associated with a fear of hell.

However, a world of atheism wouldn't be devoid of morals. Guilt is actually the best tool related to morals.

I didn't realize this until later, but I quoted the wrong post. Sorry.
Felstaff wrote:I actually see what religion is to social, economical and perhaps political progress in a similar way to what war is to technological progress.

Gunfingers wrote:Voting is the power to speak your mind. You, apparently, had nothing to say.

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Postby purtymouf » Fri Aug 24, 2007 12:53 pm UTC

A common argument made by some religious apologists is that atheists cannot have a basis for morality because they don't believe in a higher power to tell them what's good and bad. Some common atheists' responses:


I'd just thought I'd my own personal attempt at addressing some of these questions.

Please excuse some of the broad generalizations made. Oh, and I'm aware that some of this maybe be a bit hare-brained and rambles about a bit, please be lenient when reading the following, I am pretty tired.

I do consider if a sense of morality is some sort of evolutionary apparatus to propagate our D.N.A(redundant?). However, once assumed true, that means that when I see something that draws indignation out of injustice done to me or someone else, that it is purely a biochemical reaction evolved in our species to make sure that there is enough congeniality to ensure that we do not wipe ourselves off the face of the earth due to belligerence.

Whether this is the case or not, it is not something I could base my philosophy of life upon. Please consider the following -- If someone were to rob and stab a family member, and get away with it, my utter rankling would be nothing more than a chemical reaction fostered by evolution. The sense of some sort of right and wrong that transcends our daily humdrum existence would be sought after with no results. My mind's frenzied state, and my heart's fervent sense of being wronged would be just a biochemical dictate.

Now if I consider if I(I in another reality) happened to stab someone and take their money. Lets say I subscribed to some sort of crazy philosophy that allowed me to justify it to myself. I've decided there was no god, and no external(outside of this world) punishment that was to be doled out because of my actions. I believe that robbing is an efficient(and exciting) way to continue my existence. I've decided that societal norms are not going to hinder me from becoming rich and satiating my animal impulses. I steal more and more often, each time stealing exponentially more until I get wealthy and die. I also inseminated several dozen women. Would I be wrong to do these things? Well if I look at it from a point of view which no external entity determines what is good or what is wrong, it seems to me to be logical way to live(In this reality, find this behavior atrocious). By legitimate I mean, if there is low risk, and I can set aside my natural conscience, there seems to be no reason for me(other reality me) not to do this.

If I tried to apply some kind of moral sense into this -- either based on faith or logic -- and we assume that there is no external entity dictating what is moral, it is then up to me to create it.

I can tell this man(myself in the other reality) that his plan is illogical, that human kind can do more for themselves if everyone works together. To which he would respond, I don't doubt that my friend, but first, humanity must have a system in place which is obliging to cooperation. That takes time. Time is something I don't have, I'd rather steal -- it's quicker and less frustrating.

Fine. I tell this man, what you are doing is wrong! He replies, in accordance with whose standards? I am doing what suits my needs and I can get it done. Just because you have some kind of evolutionarily based emotion that makes you feel that this is unjust, it does not mean it has any sort of actual meaning. I am not beholden to your emotions.

I say, God has forbidden you from taking such actions!. He responds, God? Why don't you know about the mathosophical proofs created by Dr. Hrashisuruba nearly a century ago, it has proven the concept of god is just a delusion.

Well I can go on with these questions, but eventually I(in this reality) would just end up shooting me(in the other reality) in the head.

Which is really illustrates what it would end up as. A power game. Those who are in power dictate the terms by which others live by. It does not matter if something is "right" or "wrong". It just ends up being who can better angle their leverage to apply their sense of what ought to be; "selfish" or not.

Not to say that a universe without God cannot be a "moral" universe. It just wouldn't have absolute morality. Life would have nothing to do with the great ideals I have. It would just be one arbitrary decision after the next, all at the whims of biological and chemical regulation as a result of evolution.

1. People didn't randomly kill, rape, and steal in prehistory, and then suddenly stop when the 10 Commandments showed up. Indeed, some animals demonstrate selflessness that is sometimes extended to others not directly related by blood.


I don't think an apologist could know for certain if people would rape, kill, and steal at a drastic rate if religion was gotten rid of(or vice versa). However, I do think that thinking that rape, murder, and theft in a universe without an external form of morality is wrong, is just not true. It might be disagreeable. Though not wrong, because there would be no such thing as right or wrong.

2. Atheists are underrepresented in the US jail population.


Does this mean that criminals have a greater tendency to be agnostic or theists? Yeah, maybe so. Does it mean that using a system of morality completely created by people, that the prisoners are bad? Using your standards, yeah you could argue that. Personally I can think of no reason to tell these men that what they did was bad. Or in other words, I can't tell these men that my feelings (which are formed by societal norms and evolution) in regards to what they did should dictate their behavior.
3. Religious people do horrible things, sometimes *because* of their religion.


Yes, and personally I believe God really dislikes these things. However, are these things really horrible? Or do we just apply intuitively formed
norms of right and wrong to them, and then assume that these are right.

4. Of course atheists aren't sociopaths; they have a conscience like everyone else.


Yep, I've never met an atheist sociopath. I've never met a sociopath before. I don't doubt you have a conscience. It's just that, in a world without external morals setting standards for reasons unknown, I assume that conscience is just an evolutionary tool, and not some kind of guidance for an abstract sense of right.

ntroducing a "God" to the equation to tell you what is right and wrong doesn't change anything. If God tells you X is wrong, what makes it wrong? Does the cycle continue, and God's god tells him that X is wrong, perpetuating infinitely?

No. That can't happen. X is wrong because X is intrinsicly wrong. That's the problem, and being a theist doesn't change the problem.


I think it's assumed that God knows what's wrong because he knows things beyond the bounds of our logic. It's not relativistic because God has a master plan that makes complete sense, but is outside of our understanding while we are still using human brains(as opposed to when we are freed in forms of souls).

If it is assumed that X is intrinsically wrong, that it comes from some outside source in the universe(and whatever is beyond). As a Christian, the universe is a part of God, and God is an separate but still the same part of the universe. God dictates what is good or bad because it is in the nature of the universe itself. God is the universe. When was that dictated and how? It's always been this way. Just as we cannot know things like infinity, we simply can't expect to comprehend the nature of these things, at least not yet.

And to anwser your last question, what is your conscience but a collection of morals that you stand by? And, these are formed by your upbringing in your enviroment. I personally, believe in God, but a conscience does not need to be divinely inspired to exist, and some of the most honorable and moral people I have met are athiest.


Yes, but words like honorable have not the meaning that you intend(I assume). When I feel like something is honorable, I do not mean, "oh, a biological reaction flooded my brain with chemicals and I feel attuned to you because you hold the same set of values as me, and by values, I mean we share the same principles which are evolutionary artifacts that allow us to co-exist and perpetuate our DNA.

In a world ran by evolution without an outside maker of some kind, this is what would be what is happening. What we imply is different, but is totally apart from what the truth would be in that situation.

Things that are moral (essentially treating others well) are generally good for society in general, which benefits the individual. It's in my best intrest to behave in a 'moral' fashion, regardless of whether someone is threatening me with eternal hellfire if I don't.


Actually, you have no idea if it is in your best interest to be treating others well. It could be that you would find yourself in a much more pleasing state both internally and externally if you would screw some people over once in awhile. I mean, aside from your arbitrary sense of right and wrong derived from evolution, there is nothing stopping you. You probably haven't tried the alternative in an efficient fashion, and you could be sure(nor could I). And ideally speaking, a Christian would not have his primary reason to be good be to avoid hellfire. It would be because he loves his brothers and sisters of the world.

I follow most of the Ten Commandments because a lot of them are laws, and in general it's not in my best interests to break them. I've had religious people ask me "Well if you don't believe in thou shalt not kill why don't you just kill someone?", to which I usually respond with "I'd get arrested?"


Just move to the right country and it would be much easier to get away with it and benefit at the same time.

(Speaking of which, how do you, as a religious person, co-relate the markedly similiar nature of most religious behavrioural systems?)


How do I view the correlations between two similar religions? I think the divine conscience is within all humans, and other religions many times manifest things that are written into our being by God. Though I think my philosophy is the "best", or else maybe I'd be a Scientologist. I hear they have orgies.

I'm confusing how believing in God has anything to do with believing in an objective right and wrong. I mean, if you count "right" as "things that let you go to heaven" and "wrong" as "things that make you go to hell" you're now talking about selfish actions to get you where you want to be, not morality. And I haven't heard any arguments about morality coming from God outside of those kinds of arguments.


In my interpretation of Biblical teachings, you do things right to further the greater god in accordance with God's teaching. I don't think I take into consideration if I will goto hell if I see someone in need of help. I think of what will happen to that person(Ideally I hope). Take for example the parable of the good Samaritan.

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour asthyself.
And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed,leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.



As to why morality can't be objective outside of a universe without external morality? Well if you prescribe to evolution without external morality, our morality is based off evolutionary impulses. You can go against certain evolutionary impulses like compassion, and satiate another like avarice. Though some people wouldn't like that. Though if they said it was "wrong", that simply wouldn't be true. It would be an opinion based of emotion, and maybe logic. Rather than saying it was morally wrong, it would be more accurate to say something like, THAT ISN'T SOCIETALLY SOUND AND MY EMOTIONAL IMPULSES(WHICH STEM FROM EVOLUTION) IS CREATING TURBULENT FEELINGS. PLEASE STOP!

You can have two conflicting philosophies of life and have them both be "right".

No, it makes perfect sense. If a religion says "sacrifice your son to God," and people do it, it's because of their religion. If the religion says "kill the infidels" and people do it, it's because of the religion.


I believe that God gave us a conscience for a reason. Blaming religion because a bunch of sociopaths and the emotionally deranged killed people does not seem fair.

Consider people who are religious, who believe God to be a source of good. Why are they moral?


I personally try to be moral because God has given me a conscience to follow to serve him and be good.

Even if that were true (an "if" of monumental proportion), that would just be our way of knowing right from wrong, it wouldn't be what *defines* right and wrong.


God created man with a unique sense of right and wrong. As to what is right and wrong in a God created universe(and whatever is beyond is universe); I think I can say that apart from what is said in the bible, it is essentially an intuitive understanding that can't be fully understood within our mortal coils. We can define situations in which we can decide what is right or wrong, but we really do not know why something is right or wrong. However, it is assumed that God gave us enough knowledge to make the distinction between good and bad because it is part of the grand plan. For reasons unknown, complete knowledge is veiled from us, so we must feel it out with our hands.

Religion cannot exist without a mind to dream it up. The first mind capable of doing so would probably have wanted to have lunch first, and maybe build some shelter, and perhaps even have a look around, or learn to walk or speak. And until he got around to inventing a god to believe in he was by any reasonable definition an atheist.


Actually, assuming God created man, and man made Christianity, it can be assumed that religion came first.


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