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On morality


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Initial post: Dec 28, 2012 6:01:57 AM PST
The four cornerstones of a belief in Christ, which come under attack by unbelievers, as I have learned, are eternity, charity, accountability and morality.

If one does not believe in God, these valuable life components are either denied and/or confused. Without these aspects well understood within one's worldview, love, for instance, is changeable, such as its politically correct counterfeit, tolerance.

If one views himself as nothing more than matter, plus space, plus time, then the logical question is, "if true, then from what source would such a person know right from wrong?"

Even from atheists, I will hear them borrow from the Judeo-Christian framework when speaking of such bewildering questions like, "If God exists, then why does He allow tsunamis and earthquakes?" Their question is morally based, but, I, as a Christian, would ask "why this question?" when the evolutionist really has no basis for morality?

If one is a purist in his/her evolutionary views, and truly centered on a Darwinian worldview, from where would they derive morality, unless it is adopted from the Judeo-Christian worldview? How likely is it that morality was formed from the Big Bang?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:19:51 AM PST
"The four cornerstones of a belief in Christ, which come under attack by unbelievers, as I have learned, are eternity, charity, accountability and morality."

Eternity - We do not know if, in fact, anything, including the universe, is eternal
Charity - One doesn't need to believe in a deity or deities in order to believe in and practice charity
Accountability - One doesn't need to believe in a deity or deities in order to hold myself accountable
Morality - One doesn't need to believe in a deity or deities in order to arrive at or live by a moral framework

"If one does not believe in God, these valuable life components are either denied and/or confused."

This is simply false, as I've noted above.

"Without these aspects well understood within one's worldview, love, for instance, is changeable, such as its politically correct counterfeit, tolerance."

You really shouldn't speak for others in this way. It greatly lessens your credibility, for one thing.

"If one views himself as nothing more than matter, plus space, plus time, then the logical question is, "if true, then from what source would such a person know right from wrong?"

Morality has many sources: empathy and instincts arrived at via biological evolution, values arrived at via cultural evolution, reason, etc.

"Even from atheists, I will hear them borrow from the Judeo-Christian framework when speaking of such bewildering questions like, "If God exists, then why does He allow tsunamis and earthquakes?"

This is merely an attempt to explore the seeming logical and moral inconsistencies within that Judeo-Christian framework.

"Their question is morally based, but, I, as a Christian, would ask "why this question?" when the evolutionist really has no basis for morality?"

I have a basis for my morality. It just doesn't happen to rest on the supposed will of one of the thousands of deities which humans have worshiped.

"If one is a purist in his/her evolutionary views, and truly centered on a Darwinian worldview, from where would they derive morality, unless it is adopted from the Judeo-Christian worldview? How likely is it that morality was formed from the Big Bang?"

See above.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:22:08 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 6:29:11 AM PST
Mickey says:
Morality? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Any questions?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:29:39 AM PST
Ambulocetus says:
You seem to think that morality can only come from a Divine Dad of some sort. But suppose 1) that such a being exists, and 2) that he has particular ideas about how humans ought to behave. Even given these things, why should human beings follow God's will?

Because they will be punished if they don't, and rewarded if they do? That is hardly a firm foundation for morality. If the best morality humans can get is already with them by age six, it doesn't speak well for the species.

Because God is really, totally awesome, like Superman times 100? Okay, fine, but there is no sense then in condemning those who go against God's will--they just have different ideas about awesome than you do.

Because things naturally tend to go better for people who follow God's will? Great. Then let's do what's moral because it causes things to go better for us. Adding the footnote that "oh, yeah, and also this is God's will" matters not at all.

How do human beings have a moral sense? Why do we insist on fairness and equality, for example, or find unearned suffering so appalling? If you don't see any evolutionary basis for this, have a look at some of the literature:
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html

When nonbelievers judge the universe as being too horrible and suffering-filled to be the work of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God, they are simply judging the universe according to the standards believers use when judging human behavior--fairness, kindness, and so on. These standards have clear evolutionary rationales, and appear to have an innate basis.

Morality NEED not come from some alleged deity, whether Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, or Druze. (Good thing, too, since there is so little agreement among believers of any ONE of these religions about what is moral, to say nothing of disagreements between faiths.) Morality CANnot come from physics and math. The same is true of how to measure a meaningful life, or how to measure aesthetic excellence in a work of art.

In all these cases, human beings decide. They frequently try to punt the ball to God, or to Reason, or to Science, but at the end of the day, all such things are decisions MADE by human groups, EVALUATED by their outcomes, and ENFORCED by human institutions.

Neither the existence nor the nonexistence of something like a soul or spirit makes the slightest difference in any of this. With or without such a thing, I love my children, come into conflict with my coworkers, and wonder how I'll be remembered in 30 years time. With or without such a thing, there are allies and enemies, an ecosystem I live in and human beings I inhabit it with.

With or without a soul, or a deity, there is aesthetic appreciation, meaning, and morality. Punting to the spirit world, instead of to some existing ideology, common sense, hunches, science, or what have you, is a moral choice like any other.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:34:34 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 6:36:02 AM PST
Ambulocetus says:
Mickey says: "Morality? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Any questions?"

I gotta go with C.S. Lewis's "ships in formation" analogy on this one, though I don't share his mythological system:
Mere Christianity

Morality that deals ONLY with how we treat one another is not worthy of being called morality at all. This is because if we treat OURSELVES wrongly, our behavior will inevitably ruin our ability to do right by others. Consider the kindly, warm-hearted alcoholic who kills a family of four in a drunk driving accident.

Further, if there are no larger goals and values for a group of people, then just being nice to one another leads to a pleasant culture that goes nowhere, does nothing, and is bound one day to decay into something less desirable.

Again, I don't find Christianity the answer to this problem, as Lewis does, but I think he's spot on about the inadequacy of a morality with ONLY interpersonal aspects.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:43:20 AM PST
Joe W says:
DDL: Morality that deals ONLY with how we treat one another is not worthy of being called morality at all. This is because if we treat OURSELVES wrongly, our behavior will inevitably ruin our ability to do right by others. Consider the kindly, warm-hearted alcoholic who kills a family of four in a drunk driving accident.

Joe: You present the effects of that alcoholics behavior in the context of his effects upon others. Not his effects upon himself. Morality is about actions in a group context.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:43:49 AM PST
Mickey says:
Driving drunk is endangering others and I don't drive drunk because I don't want to endanger the lives of others.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:59:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 7:01:52 AM PST
Ambulocetus says:
"You present the effects of that alcoholics behavior in the context of his effects upon others. Not his effects upon himself. Morality is about actions in a group context. "

You're right. But moral principles CANNOT be limited to rules about how to behave with regard to other people. The golden rule is lovely, but it cannot tell me to govern my own weaknesses and addictions so that I don't harm others, don't produce an unnecessary burden on the public health system, don't fail to raise my children properly, don't waste the kids' shoe money on hookers and blow, etc. The EFFECTS of morality are interpersonal: moral principles THEMSELVES must extend beyond mere rules of interpersonal conduct. Thus, governing my addictions and weaknesses as best I can is a moral matter, but it is not a moral matter than can be gotten at by moral rules like the golden rule, "be nice to each other," "equality for everybody no matter what," etc.

In Lewis's analogy: it's great for ships to sail in formation, rather than colliding with one another. However, if the ships are unseaworthy hulks, it is not POSSIBLE for them to sail in formation. And further, where are the ships going in the first place, and why? Without seaworthy vessels and a clear destination, sailing in formation is both practically impossible and pointless.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 6:59:50 AM PST
Ataraxia says:
Morality is really no different than just prudence. Humans were capable of very sophisticated moral thought and deliberation before Christianity. I am not sure how it changed that much after Christianity.

In fact, much of Christian ideas of morality were built on pagan ideas: for example, Platonism, neoplatonism, and Greco-Roman stoicism. Much of medieval Christian thought began to incorporate ideas from Aristotle.

If you want to really get a feel for the level of sophistication of pagan moral thought, for example, start with
The Nichomachean Ethics

All this, of course, is only in the western tradition. In the east, you can read about Buddhist ethics, or Confucius' Analects.

Thinking that ethics can only have a foundation in what some external moral authority or deity says is like a kid thinking that the only reason they should clean up their room or bathe regularly is because mommy tells them to. It's childish and immature.

Not only that, it is dangerous. Because if we humans are not capable of moral thought, judgment, and deliberation, and must subsume our own moral sentiments to external moral authority, then there is no limit to the level of atrocity we can commit. That is what the story of Abraham and Isaac is supposed to teach: that no matter how morally reprehensible and outrageous we may find a divine command, ours is not to question, but to obey. Because that is the definition of morality.

One can see how it is then not a far step from that to the massacres and genocides of religious wars and suicide bombers.

So I would argue that the first step in developing a moral out look is to get rid of the idea that a simple "God says...." by definition makes something moral. That then opns up the road to real moral thought, judgment, openness, and deliberation.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 7:20:33 AM PST
Joe W says:
DDL: You're right. But moral principles CANNOT be limited to rules about how to behave with regard to other people. The golden rule is lovely, but it cannot tell me to govern my own weaknesses and addictions so that I don't harm others, don't produce an unnecessary burden on the public health system, don't fail to raise my children properly, don't waste the kids' shoe money on hookers and blow, etc. The EFFECTS of morality are interpersonal: moral principles THEMSELVES must extend beyond mere rules of interpersonal conduct. Thus, governing my addictions and weaknesses as best I can is a moral matter, but it is not a moral matter than can be gotten at by moral rules like the golden rule, "be nice to each other," "equality for everybody no matter what," etc.

Joe: But all of those examples are decisions that are made with regards to the effects of one's actions upon other people. When I say that morality is about group interaction, I am not unaware that some action that I take that only has a direct effect upon me, may also have an indirect consequence to another. When I make decisions on how to act, I consider the consequences of those actions as far out in both space and time as I am able. Not only for the sake of others, but how else can I discern as to whether or not what I do will yield the desired results for me?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 7:22:35 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 7:23:09 AM PST
>>If one does not believe in God, these valuable life components are either denied and/or confused.<<

Well that's handy. If I don't agree with you it's because I'm confused. You immediately establish the ground rules by which knowledge will be exchanged with you.

>>Without these aspects well understood within one's worldview, love, for instance, is changeable, such as its politically correct counterfeit, tolerance.<<

A muddled contention with no support. Opinion disguised as fact.

>>If one views himself as nothing more than matter, plus space, plus time, then the logical question is, "if true, then from what source would such a person know right from wrong?"<<

Wrong again. Who makes this the logical question? Why, you of course. "My question is, "What right and authority does any church have to tell me how to live my life, particularly given observed examples of their morality that I do not share?"

>>"If God exists, then why does He allow tsunamis and earthquakes?" <<

Personally, I would ask "Why do believers praise God for the five survivers but not hold him accountable for the 5,000 deaths?

>>.....from where would they derive morality,.....<<

Who care's? As long as it comes from somewhere. Your insistance on a singular perpective is rather dictatorial and reflects nothing more than the attitudes of the intolerant power hungry ancients who fashioned your archaic system of morality.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 7:52:05 AM PST
Irish Lace says:
"The four cornerstones of a belief in Christ, which come under attack by unbelievers, as I have learned, are eternity, charity, accountability and morality."

You are quite mistaken, David. The only "cornerstone" that fundamentally affects the atheist is evidence.

There is no empirical or credible evidence that gods exist. This would include the ones named "God" and "Christ" along with the many, many others humans have invented throughout history.

Everything else is just interesting conversation about the condiments of theism.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 7:52:22 AM PST
Irish Lace says:
"If one is a purist in his/her evolutionary views, and truly centered on a Darwinian worldview, from where would they derive morality, unless it is adopted from the Judeo-Christian worldview? How likely is it that morality was formed from the Big Bang? "

Behaviors such as you would call "moral" have been observed in other animals besides humans. Further, what you are suggesting implies that, before there were Jews, humans had no "morality." This is a profoundly narrow and possibly ignorant point of view.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 7:57:40 AM PST
I don't agree with you, of course, but "condiments of theism" is a clever little phrase, Irish Lace.

Clarissa, herself

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 8:44:23 AM PST
Ambulocetus says:
Joe W,

I think you and I are arguing the same sort of view in different ways. If no possible way of living my own life in the privacy of my own home could ever affect anyone else, then nothing about my personal life could ever involve morality.

My problem is with the idea, suggested above, that the Golden Rule, or some other such heuristic, can possibly be all there is to moral decision-making. Instead, morality must also involve 1) what I do with my thought, speech, and behavior, even if these do not DIRECTLY involve others, and 2) where the culture as a whole is going in terms of its values, goals, etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 9:05:28 AM PST
Joe W says:
I think we are in general accord. Though if in saying "what I do with my thought, speech, and behavior" you are implying that I can have immoral thoughts, I disagree.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 9:29:49 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 9:32:26 AM PST
I can have as many immoral thoughts as I want Joe.

That's the fun of having a brain (not suggesting you don't.....eek).

It is a safe, private place I can explore all kinds of immoralities without them impacting on anything or venturing outside my consciousness. In other words, without suffering the attendant consequences.

In fact, I can explore all kinds of issues of morality from as many perspectives as I can define, to decide if there is even an issue of morality.

But somehow I think I might have misinterpreted your intended meaning.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 10:00:52 AM PST
Joe W says:
*snort*

:-)

Posted on Dec 28, 2012 12:11:48 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 12:35:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 12:36:16 PM PST
Ambulocetus says:
Nonsense. Human beings 1) must pass on their genes to offspring, and ensure that those offspring will thrive, and 2) must live in social groups. In order to avoid having to face environmental evils alone, we must cooperate in various ways, provide difficult-to-fake signals of cooperation with our social groups, etc. Here are some works which talk about these issues in fuller detail:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-nature-nurture-nietzsche-blog/201005/did-morality-evolve
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclusive_fitness
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kin_selection
Selfish Gene
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 12:39:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 1:06:27 PM PST
Ataraxia says:
I think what you mean by "morality" is then something like sacrifice, or selflessness, or cooperation, or empathy, or love. In other words, why do we do things for others when it might not be helpful to us directly?

Well, because it's built into our survival as a species. Life would be pretty nasty, short, and brutish for all of us if it was just a "predatory" system. Any species who was that predatory as to eat its own young would be a pretty stupid and short-lived one indeed. Such considerations don't exist just in Judeo-Christian societies, or just in human societies, but in animal societies as well. Why does the hungry mother lioness take such tender care of its cubs when it is ravenously hungry? Why do packs of wolves cooperate to bring down prey much larger than themselves, and then share in the meal afterwards? Why do worker ants work so sacrificially for the colony? Why do some dogs have such intense loyalty for their owners that they will endanger their own life for them? Somehow I don't think they do it because they have read holy scripture or worry about after-life consequences.

It's all part of survival. So of course nature is red in tooth and claw, and can be merciless. But so is selflessness, love, and cooperation. It's all part of the rich tapestry of nature.

Of course, it can go wrong sometimes. There are humans copletely incapable of feeling any empathy. It's called antisocial personality disorder by psychologists, better known as psychopaths. It is a specific, biologic, neurologic disorder much like dyslexia or autism.

Reading religious scripture to such folks has not proven to be very helpful in terms of disease management.

Tell me: in the absence of a promise of an after-life or divine retribution, would you think there is no reason to not eat your family, friends, or loved ones for lunch?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 12:55:28 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 12:57:23 PM PST
Morality is a tool that is used nowadays as a judgement call toward others. My view is that it's like bacteria. I know this sounds nuts, but stay with me. People don't care what the bacteria is, they care more about what is does to people, how it's used.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 12:56:09 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 1:01:26 PM PST
Ashwood says:
David A. Brayshaw says: There must have been provided for man a moral lawgiver to provide guidelines and reasons for them.

Ash : There are reasons for our moral guidelines? Could you provide a few examples of these divinely provided reasons and explain why we mere humans wouldn't have been able to figure them out on our own?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 1:03:21 PM PST
Please explain how tacking "... because God says so" onto the end of a moral code makes a difference when it comes to the validity of that code, the value of that code, or our ability to follow it?

Also, does it matter if the "God" in question is Zeus, Odin, or one (or more!) of the other thousands of deities which humans have worshiped?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2012 1:07:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2012 3:42:15 PM PST
David,

The fittest were the fittest because survival requires humans to care for their children for many years. Consequently, they formed into lasting family groups and tribes in which they cared for each other. They didn't need someone to tell them what to do. Social behavior is built into us to keep us alive.
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