Top positive review
He ends up discussing what more needs to be investigated in coming to a better secular morality
on July 14, 2017
Walter Sinnot-Armstrong argues in this book that the basis of morality can be found without god, as the subtitle states. In addition to this he argues for why morality based on god, in particular the Christian god, can not form a basis for morality. His basis for morality without god involves the concept of harm. Those who harm another, or fails to prevent a harm when possible, commits a moral wrong.
After he sets the stage, he presents that there is no factual evidence that atheists or secular societies are any less moral than Christians or Christian societies. From there he goes on to give a version of objective morality based on the concept of harm as stated above. After making his case for a workable morality without god, he confronts god based morality, and shows the problems with it and how it is not a workable solution. He ends up discussing what more needs to be investigated in coming to a better secular morality.
Here are some comments I made at particular points in reading the book. Numbers in brackets  are pagination in the Kindle edition.
 After Sinnot-Armstrong mentions the story of the fall in the Garden of Eden, I thought there is a form of human evolution here. Human beings evolved the capability to obtain moral knowledge. When humans evolved from some form of ape to humans moral knowledge became possible in the reality of real life, not the made up biblical kind.
 “Theists use this popular slogan [‘If God is dead, everything is permitted’] to assert that nothing can be objectively morally wrong if God does not exist. The question, in short, is whether atheism entails nihilism, which is the denial of all real moral values, duties, and obligations.” Even supposing moral subjectivity, atheism does not necessarily entail nihilism.
[56-7] “Everyone I know—whether theist or atheist or agnostic—agrees that rape is morally wrong.” The theist is questionable on this if he or she really accepts the Bible as the word of god. The Old Testament does not condemn rape, at least not in all cases, and the New Testament is silent on it. So, the Christian can believe that rape is not morally wrong, at least in some cases. And, marital rape occurs in some Christian marriages. The fact that most theists believe rape is morally wrong is because they feel it is, not that they are command not to.
[59-60] “Almost everyone agrees that death, pain, and disability are bad.” But, the reason for this does not have to be an objective standard. People when they think that these things are bad, usually have feelings associated with this thinking. Matter of fact this kind of thinking without feeling may not lead to moral behavior, and it maybe that the feelings actually lead to the thought. A reason for people to believe these things are bad is that they, in most cases, would not want them occurring to themselves or are in psychological pain when they observe these situations. So, it is possible that morality does not depend, or at least initially, on an objective standard. I think that it is moral feelings that lead to objectivity in morality.
 “Certainly each item [in a list of harms] needs to be specified more precisely.” This and other statements he makes leads me to an admire his sense of grayness.
 “Call that harm-based core of morality ‘shared morality,’ because it is shared with theists, who agree that rape, murder, theft, child abuse and neglect, and so on are morally wrong.” However, some Christian parents abuse their children when administering punishment because they believe the Bible sanctions severe punishment. So, if moral feelings are the basis of morality, how is it that some people do not see some acts that most people consider to be harmful to be immoral? It is because feelings can be overridden by thoughts, especially thoughts that are repeatedly reinforced by others and supposedly sacred texts.
 Speaking of group discussion as an aid to making moral decisions, he writes: “An example should help to bring these abstractions down to earth. This case illustrates a real problem that hospital ethic committees have faced many times and that has been controversial in the past.” Never mind the specifics of his example, the point I wish to make is that few of us have the benefit of a committee discussion when faced with a moral decision, and certainly not when the decision is urgent. So, while hospital ethics committees are useful in their domain, as a general approach to finding out the differing amount of harm among moral choices is not much use.
 Coming to a firm conclusion to his exploration of morality he states: “But at least they [those who are willing to give up divine command morality and fear of atheism] would base their positions on the real foundation of morality, which <i>is avoiding harm and preventing harm</i>.” (My italics) I would agree that this is a better standard than a god based morality.
Sinnot-Armstrong’s whole concept of moral harm seems like a negative form of classic utilitarianism—the greatest happiness principle. And, while his concept of moral harm as an objective form of morality is on sound footing, it does not negate that it is moral feelings that lead one to see that harming or not preventing harm to others is not the way of moral action.
I think Sinnot-Armstrong firmly and effectively argues against the divine command theory of morality, despite not focusing on this in my comments. I really like the way he approaches the subject. He is respectful of others and refrains from obnoxious attacks like some atheists and theists are prone to do. And, while his conclusions are firm he does not present his exploration as leading to an absolute claim of correctness of his moral theory. I also felt he wrote very well and avoided technical jargon, so that it would be attractive to non-specialists.
I rated this book highly and would recommend it to anyone who is serious about how we can come to moral conclusions that would be acceptable to most people willing to reflect honestly. If you are a Christian he does not attack your beliefs per se, but divine command morality that is often associated with Christianity. Plus he spells out, at least as a beginning, an acceptable moral theory without god.