Do believers act more morally?

100


Discussion by: catphil

One recurrent theme in the debate between atheists and believers is whether deists/religious people tend have better morals or ethics than non-believers.  “Arguments” from one side include Steven Weinberg’s famous “for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.” Several (including RD, as I understand it) suggest that each person’s   position on moral issues can/should be derived from first principles (common sense?) in the light of evolving current societal norms, and without reference to  precepts in any ancient sacred text) . Sam Harris, for his part, holds the (rather tenuous, I think) view that the right thing to do can be derived from facts-Moore’s “naturalistic fallacy” being itself a fallacy.

The argument tends to be inconclusive, in the absence-as far as I know- of proper scientific testing, and even of agreed definitions of “good/bad”, “moral/immoral”.

Although I have not seen this argument developed in debates, the strongest reason, IMO, which would favor God-fearing persons to act more ethically, is the fact that they believe they are being watched at all times by God(s). Under the circumstances, they are less likely to succumb to the temptation of, say, theft, or not reporting an accident, than a non-believer, whenever conditions are such that chances of being found out by mortals are considered very small. This has, in particular, definite practical advantages in rearing children in the fear of God (or being frowned upon by Santa or similar), thus lessening the probability that they will indulge in some mischievous- or possibly dangerous- activity behind the minder’s back. Similarly, it is quite rational for religious people to give “generously” to faith-based charities or zakat since a reward in the after-life may be expected-a motivation not available to non believers.

Is this line of argument to the effect that believers act more morally/altruistically developed somewhere? what is wrong with it ? and what could be a counter-argument?

100 COMMENTS

  1. Somehow, having the eye of God on them hasn’t prevented believers from committing mass murder on a colossal scale in wars throughout the ages. Admittedly both sides, invariably, have God on their side. At the individual level, the eye of God has been replaced by the security camera and forensic techniques such as the use of DNA to find the culprit. Nevertheless, even with these far more effective means of detection than the nebulous workings of God’s justice, people continue to take the risk.

    As for rewards in the afterlife, the essential for receiving them appears to be, not doing good but professing faith in the celestial Stalin. From the humanist perspective, morality is a set of rules guiding behaviour which will result in maximising good in the ‘only life we have’. An obstacle to releasing the power of this far more rational motivation is religion itself. Altruism is enlightened self-interest.

    • God-given morality is arbitrary. Hence the endless cherry-picking and hoop-jumping required to ‘interpret’ texts. And when you don’t (fundamentalism), it makes you a monster.

    • Fear as a motivator is mental abuse. Show me a society where fear as a tool of power was conducive to progress and well-being. Applying it on children is barbaric.

    • Expecting a potential reward for your actions is not on my list of valued principles.

    they will indulge in some mischievous- or possibly dangerous- activity behind the minder’s back

    And they will. It’s in the nature of things. You tell a kid to not do something, and they will do it. Scaring them against it doesn’t mean they won’t do it, out of spite, or curiosity. And what happen when they discover the consequence are fictitious. What sort of trust is then established. This is not the way to educate about morality, the consequence of their actions, empathy, and learning personal responsibility.

    Religious (as in the Judeo-Christian tradition) morality is stone-age mentality. No thanks.

  2. I think that atheists act more morally than religious people.
    I, as an atheist, believe just in this world, and I will act with the morale of this world, the morale of this time… Futhermore, the most religious people believe in the apsolute morale, some morale in the other life, and they act on that imaginary morale.
    Recently I spoke with a Minorite on one seminar, and I ask him this question. He answered me that he think the atheists have better morale, because the atheists have just a morale, and if they lost his morale they have nothing, while religious people always can say that God will forgive me. I agree with him.

  3. One recurrent theme in the debate between atheists and believers is whether deists/religious people tend have better morals or ethics >than non-believers.

    I think these types of arguments are what are called open ended questions. There are as many answers to these question as there are people who are answering them.

    Maybe there is no such thing as better morals or ethics, because the quality of being better is really a subjective experience, and not an objective reality. And since it is a subjective experience, it all depends on the person who is interpreting morals and ethics within himself or other people.

    Here is one example, simplified:

    For this argument, people have been divided into two groups: Believers and Atheists. Believers here are all those people who believe in God, and Atheists are all those people who do not believe in God. However, within the group called Believers, we discover we have sub-groups, where each sub-group is a group of people who believe in different kinds of gods, such as Muslims, and Christians, and Hindus. Generally speaking, Hindus are as different from Muslims in their morals and ethics as any atheist can be from any believer. So, the division of Believers and Atheists really stop making sense at this level. But we can go even deeper, and when we do, we discover we have more sub-groups within each sub-group, where people in each sub-group have different views about the same god, such as Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. Shia’s and Sunni kill each other frequently, because of many reasons including their differing moral and ethical values. Still, go even deeper and we have various schools of thought within both Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, and on and on it goes until we get to the individual level, where each person has his or her own unique set of moral and ethical values, which are values that are influenced by a mix of countless factors, such as the person’s social standing, the city in which he grew up, the country, the level of education, and so on. .

    Now, suicide bombing are rather a common occurrence in some parts of Pakistan. The people who kill in such bombings are Muslims, and the people who get killed by the Muslim killer are also Muslim in most cases. Is it likely that those who get killed in such incidences, their relatives and friends approve of, in moral and ethical terms, them getting killed because they were killed by a believer who believed in the same God? Highly unlikely. In fact, not possible. But, at the same time, we would have some believers — those who believed in the killer’s cause– who would readily approve of, in moral and ethical terms, the killer’s killing himself and the other people in the name of God. So, believing or not believing in God really doesn’t matter much here, because it is both stopping people from doing immoral and unethical acts, and at the same time, causing people to indulge in immoral and unethical acts. What matters is, how one sees and interprets what is immoral and unethical.

    • In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

      Maybe there is no such thing as better morals or ethics, because the quality of being better is really a subjective experience, and not an objective reality.

      You make the point very well that there is no single religious morality because there are many religions and many sects within these religions, which have different and contradictory principles. I don’t agree that there is no such thing as morality. There are principles which are universally accepted, forbidding murder, theft, rape and violent acts generally. There are humanist principles on which rules of behaviour can be founded which are valid for the religious and non-religious alike. What these ‘best principles’ of behaviour are is as elusive as the ‘right’ theory of economics and politics but that does not make them ‘subjective’.

      • In reply to #8 by aldous:

        In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

        You make the point very well that there is no single religious morality because there are many religions and many sects within these religions, which have different and contradictory principles. I don’t agree that there is no such thing as morality. There are principles which are universally accepted, forbidding murder, theft, rape and violent acts generally. There are humanist principles on which rules of behaviour can be founded which are valid for the religious and non-religious alike. What these ‘best principles’ of behaviour are is as elusive as the ‘right’ theory of economics and politics but that does not make them ‘subjective’.

        I still maintain that the sense of being moral/immoral ethical/unethical is a subjective phenomenon, because the sense of being moral/immoral is an emotional and mental response, which is generated within a person, not outside of him. When a person sees someone doing something immoral or moral, he is simply feeling a sense of morality or its opposite within himself, which comes about through his own interpretation of the situation. Now since it is a personal emotional response, it can’t be shared with anyone else. As such, it could be said, every person holds a different and unique set of principles as own guide on what is moral or immoral, or what is ethical or unethical, or anything in between these two extremes. Now, how a person creates this set of principles for himself is quite a different debate. There could be countless factors involved in the creation of this set of principles. These factors may include, the person’s social standing, his family background, his society, his education, his country, his friends, his neighbors, his religion or the fact that he is an atheist, and much more..

        Regarding universally accepted humanistic principles, such as not killing or raping people or stealing or theft, there are countless examples when immoral acts suddenly got turned into moral acts for millions of people. It happened when the Germans started killing Jews and destroyed half of Europe during WW2, and it happens every time a nation declares war on another nation. Soldiers are paid to kill their fellow human beings in wars, and some even get turned into national heroes for the killings they do in wars. Police officers can also kill humans and get rewarded for that. So, murdering humans is both moral and immoral, depending on how you see it, and how the society makes you see it. It can and does happen at an individual level as well. A certain person may ordinarily see theft as something deeply immoral, but this person may find himself in circumstances in which he may convince himself that stealing a particular item from a particular person, and that particular person only, is not immoral because of … this and that and whatever. He may make changes in his own rules. So, theft is also both moral and immoral depending on how you see it through your personally held principles, which by the way, are always changing, and are never static.

        So, as I said before, I believe this is an open end debate. It has, and can never have, a logical conclusion, pretty much like the debates about what is consciousness and whether or not humans have free will. It is good for exercising the mind, writing books, having a hot debate with opponents, but not so good for solving the practical matters of life.

        • In reply to #11 by rizvoid:

          In reply to #8 by aldous:

          In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

          I still maintain that the sense of being moral/immoral ethical/unethical is a subjective phenomenon, because the sense of being moral/immoral is an emotional and mental response, which is generated within a person, not outside of him. When a person sees someone doing something immoral or moral, he is simply feeling a sense of morality or its opposite within himself, which comes about through his own interpretation of the situation. Now since it is a personal emotional response, it can’t be shared with anyone else. As such, it could be said, every person holds a different and unique set of principles as own guide on what is moral or immoral, or what is ethical or unethical, or anything in between these two extremes.

          Hi rizvoid,

          I get what you are saying, however if empathy is genetically wired into us as the testing of babies empathising with coloured blocks and puppets seems to indicate then couldn’t we argue that there is an objective preference for certain types behaviours driven by our need to exist as social animals. If so then we can at least understand why we prefer certain behaviours at base (in general-I do accept your point that this will always to some degree be individual). Also our ability to behave in such a way that we can be tolerated within the group would also be to our survival value. This might go some way to explain how whole peoples can do something as hideous as the holocaust. To me though our long term survival relies on us being able to overcome some of our instincts and think more globally. So in this case morality (what is good for us) will dictate if we survive or not. This is objective reality, there are real consequences for our actions, which really hurt people. So the holocaust was objectively immoral from say the Jews perspective. What you seem to be talking about is beliefs about morals. For example if greed is not pretty soon considered immoral and kept in check issue like global warming will bite us in the arse. So I don’t see it as just subjective. But happy to be proved wrong its a tricky issue.

          • I get what you are saying, however if empathy is genetically wired into us as the testing of babies empathising with coloured blocks and puppets seems to indicate then couldn’t we argue that there is an objective preference for certain types behaviours driven by our need to exist as social animals. If so then we can at least understand why we prefer certain behaviours at base (in general-I do accept your point that this will always to some degree be individual). Also our ability to behave in such a way that we can be tolerated within the group would also be to our survival value. This might go some way to explain how whole peoples can do something as hideous as the holocaust. To me though our long term survival relies on us being able to overcome some of our instincts and think more globally. So in this case morality (what is good for us) will dictate if we survive or not. This is objective reality, there are real consequences for our actions, which really hurt people. So the holocaust was objectively immoral from say the Jews perspective. What you seem to be talking about is beliefs about morals. For example if greed is not pretty soon considered immoral and kept in check issue like global warming will bite us in the arse. So I don’t see it as just subjective. But happy to be proved wrong its a tricky issue.

            Yes, I agree. But thinking globally for survival as one mind seems like literally impossible given how we have evolved, and how we have constructed our societies. Take the holocaust example. For the Nazi Germans, and for those who supported them, the holocaust was simply a matter of survival. Conquering Europe was also a matter of survival. So, whatever atrocities the Nazis committed during ww2, they were all morally justified within their eyes, even though they were highly immoral for most of the world. Just like the US’s responses after the 9/11 were justifiable for most its population, and its allies, despite the fact millions of people have been killed and injured in these responses, and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure has been destroyed in Iraq.

            These are mighty grand examples. Get down to the individual level and you’ll discover that no two people can ever agree completely on any topic the world. Spouses do not agree, or when they do, they do only partially, and an agreement now can easily turn into a conflict in a few days, or even a few hours. Siblings do not agree. Friends do not agree. This is probably (or most likely) because, as I said before, no two people are ever completely alike. No two people see and experience the universe in an exact same manner. And if this is true, and sounds like it is, then how could two people ever agree completely on what is morally good, and what is morally bad — let alone attempting to make two countries agree completely.

            I think you are talking about achieving a moral utopia? I am saying it cannot happen, because of the way we are, and because of the way we have evolved our societies and our lives — and if anything, it is only going to get worse. It can happen though, if we can achieve and sustain states of complete euphoria and love and empathy, like the ones we experience on drugs like MDMA, LSD and so on. It sounds silly, because when we in such states, we are completely careless about our future, about our jobs, about our pasts, and about our enemies, and even about our basic survival. All we see is love, beauty, empathy and all the goodies life can offer. But if you look into it, it is precisely these worries and anxieties about our jobs, our future and our pasts, our friends and relatives, our social standing, that are causing all sorts of problems in the world. So, either we change completely, or we accept that we cannot achieve moral utopia in our current state of affairs. It cannot happen because the way our social systems, our societies, and we as individuals within these social systems operate, a destructive outcome is as certain as the outcome that putting your hand in fire will burn it.

            That’s my view anyway, and I will be happy to be hear yours…

            In reply to #24 by Reckless Monkey:

            In reply to #11 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #8 by aldous:

            In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

            I still maintain that the sense of being moral/immoral ethical/unethical is a subjective phenomenon, because the sense of being moral/immoral is an emotional and mental response, which is generated within a person, n…

          • In reply to #38 by rizvoid:

            Yes, I agree. But thinking globally for survival as one mind seems like literally impossible given how we have evolved, and how we have constructed our societies. Take the holocaust example. For the Nazi Germans, and for those who supported them, the holocaust was simply a matter of survival. Conquering Europe was also a matter of survival. So, whatever atrocities the Nazis committed during ww2, they were all morally justified within their eyes, even though they were highly immoral for most of the world. Just like the US’s responses after the 9/11 were justifiable for most its population, and its allies, despite the fact millions of people have been killed and injured in these responses, and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure has been destroyed in Iraq.

            This surely is an example of a population uncritically swallowing ideological dogma – similar to theocratic dogma – and to some extent integrated with it. – just like US populations swallowing anti-evolution, anti-vax, AGW denial, and “weapons of mass destruction”, from propagandist media.
            It shows the errors of misplaced faith in authority figures!

          • Yes, but what is the solution?

            I am saying there is no solution. For one thing, people usually have no choice when their countries decide to go to wars, except to write letters and protest, which usually don’t stop their countries anyway.

            We all know how corporate greed is killing the planet, and regardless of how much we detest it, we all remain very much a part of it. We all want more money, better jobs, higher social standing, don’t we? We all want latest gadgets, air conditioned homes, luxury cars….

            We can’t improve this system with things with modifications, and then expect that this system will yield happy outcomes for all of us. It won’t. It won’t, because the way it has been constructed, it cannot do so. Modifications can’t and won’t help. Only a complete change will. That was my point.

            In reply to #39 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #38 by rizvoid:

            This surely is an example of a population uncritically swallowing ideological dogma (similar to theocratic dogma). – just like US populations swallowing anti-evolution, anti-vax, and AGW denial from propagandist media. I shows the errors of misplaced faith in authority figures!

          • In reply to #40 by rizvoid:

            I am saying there is no solution. For one thing, people usually have no choice when their countries decide to go to wars, except to write letters and protest, which usually don’t stop their countries anyway.

            There is a solution. It’s called the United Nations. At the European level, it’s the European Union. The solution is there. Implementation has to be worked at. It may never be achieved but we have certainly come a long way.

          • Just like the US’s responses after the 9/11 were justifiable for most its population, and its allies, despite the fact millions of people have been killed and injured in these responses, and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure has been destroyed in Iraq.

            Millions killed? Can you be a little more specific or is that just a figure of speech. Do you include all the people killed by insurgents? And if so, why don’t you just add them to the number killed as a result of 9/11 and blame it all on Bin Laden?

            In reply to #38 by rizvoid:

            I get what you are saying, however if empathy is genetically wired into us as the testing of babies empathising with coloured blocks and puppets seems to indicate then couldn’t we argue that there is an objective preference for certain types behaviours driven by our need to exist as social animals….

          • Oh sorry. Millions killed and injured. It is indeed a figure of speech, but I am including here all those people who got injured, got displaced, suffered trauma, and lost their homes and families due to the attacks.

            And one more thing I should here:

            The response the US gave for the 9/11 incident had become morally justifiable only because of the 9/11 incident. In the absence of the 9/11 incident, or something similar, it would have been a highly immoral act for the US and its population. This means, as I said before, what is moral can become immoral, and what is immoral can become moral. It all depends on how people see and interpret a situation.

            In reply to #42 by Marktony:

            Millions killed? Can you be a little more specific or is that just a figure of speech. Do you include all the people killed by insurgents? And if so, why don’t you just add them to the number killed as a result of 9/11 and blame it all on Bin Laden?

          • In reply to #43 by rizvoid:

            The response the US gave for the 9/11 incident had become morally justifiable only because of the 9/11 incident. In the absence of the 9/11 incident, or something similar, it would have been a highly immoral act for the US and its population. This means, as I said before, what is moral can become immoral, and what is immoral can become moral. It all depends on how people see and interpret a situation.

            one could argue then that the US-government have sought an excuse to go to war in this instance which would have been (and turned out to be) morally justifiable for the majority of Americans (this in the light of conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks, which IMO may be true… I still have huge problems with the two towers falling the way they did…)…

        • In reply to #11 by rizvoid:

          In reply to #8 by aldous:

          In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

          snip … the atrocious acts of the nazi were considered moral…

          Having a bunch of psychopaths declare murder and rape is “moral” does not make it moral. Morality is not based on feelings, but on the objective outcomes actions have on people. Yes, people naturally have feelings of disgust, shame, etc… in regards to moral and immoral actions, but a truly moral person has to spend some time rationally thinking about what is moral, not just feeling, to be truly moral.

    • In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

      Maybe there is no such thing as better morals or ethics, because the quality of being better is really a subjective experience, and not an objective reality.

      I’m pretty sure morality based on the actual lives of real people is not subjective. I do not want to be killed. I don’t know any sane people who don’t share the idea that killing is generally immoral. I don’t want to be harmed. Again, there is pretty strong consensus that it is wrong to purposely and directly harm another person. We can argue about exactly what “harm” is, but it is clear to me that morality is not relative, is not cultural, but based on the real needs of real people in the real world.

      The only time morality appears to be subjective is when you base it on fairy tales or arbitrary customs.

  4. Is this line of argument to the effect that believers act more morally/altruistically developed somewhere? what is wrong with it ? and what could be a counter-argument?

    Believers can act as morally as atheists when they evaluate the outcomes of their actions in terms of the “Golden Rule” or some professional code of ethics.

    The more fundamentalist types who “take their morality” on pseudo-authority from “gods” – or more accurately from their religious organisations, will behave DOGMATICALLY regardless of moral issues – and then pretend superior knowledge of moral issues, while remaining ignorant (or uncaring) of predictable outcomes of actions.

    They will often have the additional moral handicap, of having been indoctrinated/schooled in the flawed thinking/interpretation techniques and cognitive biases, needed to believe in alleged accuracy/infallibility of religious texts/rulings which were written in the ignorance of the distant past. As history shows, this can cause them to deny modern scientific information, and become dogmatic deniers of various scientific or medical benefits to society.

  5. You shouldn’t put deism and religion in the same basket..

    “ethics, also called moral philosophy, the discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad, right and wrong.” says Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Under the title “The origins of ethics,” states that “…ethics began with the introduction of the first moral codes.” Then, in order to give examples to first moral codes, it begins with Babylonian records. (Code of Hammurabi, the link also makes a reference to Sumerians) As you see, even before organized religion, there was ethics/morality issue.

    In RD’s The God Delusion there is a discussion of the subject. I recommend you to have a look.

    In my opinion, a modern society’s understanding of “rights” and “freedoms” determine its ethics standard. Without doubt, religion, tradition, myth etc. have some affect on it.

    “The term comes from the Greek word ethos, which means “character”. ” This quote is from wikipedia. I believe, at a personal level, character of a person determines his motivation on ethical behavior.

  6. Can accept the idea that if you are part of a group that sets a high regard on charity, unthinking conformity and good manners then it will promote your own charity, unthinking conformity and good manners. But personally think it is much more gooder to be part of a group that sets a high regard on reason, open discussion and knowledge. Imagine a very driven person in the first group. If he takes Christianity at the “Jesus Loves You” level then he will probably not do too much harm but if he starts to read the bible there is no end to the misery he can bring into this world because he will soon learn that God and his son Jesus are much more vengeful than forgiving. Put the same person in the second group (reason, open discussion and knowledge) and he might become a great scientist.

  7. Sam Harris, for his part, holds the (rather tenuous, I think) view that the right thing to do can be derived from facts-Moore’s “naturalistic fallacy” being itself a fallacy.

    The argument tends to be inconclusive, in the absence-as far as I know- of proper scientific testing, and even of agreed definitions of “good/bad”, “moral/immoral”.

    I think people on all sides get confused about morality because I think it is often made out to be more complicated than it actually is.

    I think Harris is absolutely right about morality. For morality to have any significant or objective meaning, it must be the defined as the concern for the well-being of conscious creatures, and in principle the rightness of moral actions can be determined by scientific evaluation. I.E. there are measurably better and worse ways to achieve well-being.

    The confusion around morality comes from the fact that humans have an innate sense of morality that evolved to be somewhat more complex than the very simple and straightforward (and true) morality that Harris describes. This is because our sense of morality is bound up in the intricacies of social behaviour. We have a need to be seen to be good moral agents by our fellow citizens. This is where the sense comes from that certain behaviours are good or bad, simply because they are deemed to be so. Religion jumps on this opportunity to declare X is good and Y is bad because God deemed it to be so. This arbitrary morality makes absolutely no sense, but social pressures (and possibly instincts) make it very hard for many people to see beyond this view of morality.

    Is this line of argument to the effect that believers act more morally/altruistically developed somewhere? what is wrong with it ? and what could be a counter-argument?

    A counter-argument to the idea that the religious may be more moral because they believe God is watching them is that they can be lead to believe something is morally good simply because they’ve been told, whereas if they thought it through they might realise it actually wasn’t morally good. And in the case of some religions (e.g. Christianity) people might actually be inclined to behave in a way they know is morally wrong because they believe it doesn’t matter as they’ll be forgiven in the end.

  8. I find this argument to be a manufactured dichotomy to serve the religious. If you look at the majority of individuals who commit crimes, poverty and lack of education is at the core. People who are in need either financial, emotionally, psychologically are more likely to act out in less socially acceptable ways to fill whatever hole they have in life. People who have been well cared for, live balanced lives, are well educated, tend to live lives that might be considered more moral. This usually includes people from solidly middle to upper middle classed backgrounds. Of course, people all social classes can commit immoral acts especially if there is some sort of psychological illness or emotional neglect involved.

    In many studies, babies and toddlers who are given positive attention by their parents tend to be better adjusted. Babies and toddlers who have parents who communicate with them using an extensive vocabulary and are given positive feedback, compliments, and constructive correction are most likely to succeed in life far beyond children of impoverished parents. The language gap between rich and poor children starts in infancy. People who are empowered to succeed are less likely to resort to unsavory tactics. (I think of Sam Harris and no free will.)

    Anecdotally, (IMO) people who are involved, attentive, and proactive with the direction of their life are less likely to act in unskilled ways. (Accept for control freaks. Then again something was probably missing early on.) People who are apathetic or indifferent seem less likely to extend effort to be caring or conscientious in their dealings with others and even themselves. I can name countless people who come from religious families that lead highly “moral” lives. If you look beyond religion, you will find parents that took an active interest in their child’s well being, education, health, physical care of their home, yard, and belongings, etc. I also grew up with atheist neighbors who held the same values. Individuals and families with problems tend to have more difficulty juggling all of the demands of life and some big stuff slips through. I recall the problem neighbors and their less cared for property, unclean children,”borrowing” of tools and items. They were believers but rare church goers because their indifference and consistency could be observed in all facets of their lives. They really never made a strong earnest stand for anything. (Which of course may or may not fall under the subjective category of “moral.”)

    Morality is a slippery topic since everyone has their own view of what it is? Is it being fuctional? cooperative? not committing felonies?

  9. The lists of moral and ethical behaviour (two different things) are the codified rules that fall out of evolution of our species for survival in tribal groups. The ten commandments is a classic set of common sense rules to help you pass on your genes. I argue that morality and ethics are a evolutionary survival strategies, nothing to do with god. The religious just plagiarize commonsense, and attribute it to god.

    In relation to the Golden Rule, it is now number two. As Bertrand Russell so succinctly put it, “What if I don’t like what you are doing unto me.” The Golden Rule is a license to colonize and impose your values on someone else. It has limited merit, because it asks you to think how you would feel if it was done to you, which, most of the time is not a bad guide. But there are times when the Golden Rule will fail. I recently witnessed a group of American Fundamentalist missionaries invading some Amazonian tribes villages doing enormous harm to the culture of the tribe, and the security of the children’s view as to their place in the world. They thought they were abiding by the Golden Rule, but they were doing harm.

    So I propose that the Golden Rule be preceded by Rule Zero, “First, do no harm.” Then followed by the golden rule. You do harm when you try to impose your religious view on another person.

  10. Harris does not suggest to have developed a moral system rather a basis on which we might look at problems. Based on his basis ‘what is good for sentient creatures well being’, and that some things are obviously better and obviously worse we have somewhere to start. I’m interested in specifically what you find problematic about this. I disagree with Sam on a number of issues but I can’t fault this although I admit it’s only a first step. Can you fill in some more detail about what you find difficult about his position?

    Ta

  11. Is it not slightly sad that apparently the reason for theists morals is down to being watched over by their deity whereas the only reason for an atheists good behaviour is their own internal moral compass? Take away the deity and would all theists have no reason to behave well, is that their argument?

    • Even if it is true, why it is sad? If a deity is making people behave well, what’s wrong with that?

      It is fear of police and fear of being caught that really stop most people, atheists or otherwise, from doing crimes. It is not their personal morals and ethics that are really stopping them. How many people do you think, atheists or otherwise, would not steal money from a bank if it was perfectly legal by law, but was only immoral and unethical? .

      In reply to #14 by naskew:

      Is it not slightly sad that apparently the reason for theists morals is down to being watched over by their deity whereas the only reason for an atheists good behaviour is their own internal moral compass? Take away the deity and would all theists have no reason to behave well, is that their argumen…

      • In reply to #16 by rizvoid:

        How many people do you think, atheists or otherwise, would not steal money from a bank if it was perfectly legal by law, but was only immoral and unethical?

        If it were legal then it would not be stealing! There is no absolute right or wrong as others have also mentioned. My own moral code broadly comes down to the “do unto other’s” philosophy, but that would not work if I were someone who perhaps enjoyed getting into fights as I’d be only too willing to attack random strangers in the hope they would fight back.

        Perhaps the argument should not be that religious people act more morally, but is a deity required to be moral. Clearly the converse argument, is a lack of moral values only possible in non-believers, has been answered. Many others have given examples but mine would be the rife child abuse perpetrated within religious organisations. I would argue the confessional is probably a clear driver towards low moral values. I mean I can go around perpetrating all sorts of acts that most would consider reprehensible and so long as I can confess before drawing my final breath I get a “get out hell” card. One can only assume that the priests who abused children were either making use of this clause or were not actually convinced that the wrath of their deity would extend to them.

        I am also not convinced that most people fear the Police in the way you suggest. I certainly hope that you are not saying that your own moral compass is only active when there is a fair chance of being caught out. Mine certainly is not. Stupid and gullible it might be, but I’d like to live in a society where people are considerate of others and so I do my bit to help.

        • In reply to #17 by naskew:

          In reply to #16 by rizvoid:

          If it were legal then it would not be stealing!

          I think it would be if it were legal, but was considered an immoral and unethical act. The kind of stealing a child does within his own house?

          Perhaps the argument should not be that religious people act more morally, but is a deity required to be moral. Clearly the converse argument, is a lack of moral values only possible in non-believers, has been answered. Many others have given examples but mine would be the rife child abuse perpetrated within religious organisations. I would argue the confessional is probably a clear driver towards low moral values. I mean I can go around perpetrating all sorts of acts that most would consider reprehensible and so long as I can confess before drawing my final breath I get a “get out hell” card. One can only assume that the priests who abused children were either making use of this clause or were not actually convinced that the wrath of their deity would extend to them.

          I don’t know about that. I think I don’t really understand the point fully here I think. But if the argument is about whether a deity is required or not to be moral… then I guess we all need some sort of internal set of guiding principles in order to live a productive life. All of us. No exceptions. What people here call a deity, is in fact nothing more than an internal set of guiding principles for believers. No one has ever seen the deity, so the believers must have an image or a symbol of that deity in their minds that they worship, then they must have rules associated with that image or that symbols. Non-believers should pretty much go through the same process. An atheist may revere a prominent non-believer human figure, such as Stalin, make an image of that person in his mind, and then associate rules with it. There is no external deity. In all cases, whether one believes in a deity or not, one is ultimately getting his sense of morals and ethics from his own set of guiding principles.

          I am also not convinced that most people fear the Police in the way you suggest. I certainly hope that you are not saying that your own moral compass is only active when there is a fair chance of being caught out. Mine certainly is not. Stupid and gullible it might be, but I’d like to live in a society where people are considerate of others and so I do my bit to help.

          It’s not always about being moral or immoral. I mean I don’t do speeding mostly because I will get a speeding ticket in mail a few weeks later. Speeding here doesn’t mean driving around at 200 km/h like crazy. It means exceeding the speed limit by a few km, especially on an empty freeway. See, my morals and ethics and my common sense tell me I can speed a little when it is safe to do so, when the road ahead is almost empty and when I have a good car. But, my fear of getting caught by a hidden police car or a speeding camera, and then paying a few hundred dollars and/or losing my license, tell me I should never ever go over the posted speed limit. Fear is the primary force in every human being, whether he knows it or not. So, naturally, fear plays a vital role in how we have built our societies, rules, laws, customs and just about everything. Just because a non-believer has stopped fearing a deity of his own creation, doesn’t mean he has become free of fear. It is not possible given how we have been built, whether by evolution by natural selection,by some deity, or by something else. This is the way we are…

          • In reply to #21 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #17 by naskew:

            In reply to #16 by rizvoid:

            If it were legal then it would not be stealing!

            I think it would be if it were legal, but was considered an immoral and unethical act. The kind of stealing a child does within his own house?

            Or like tax avoidance?

      • In reply to #16 by rizvoid:

        Even if it is true, why it is sad? If a deity is making people behave well, what’s wrong with that?

        It is fear of police and fear of being caught that really stop most people, atheists or otherwise, from doing crimes.

        I’ve just had a flick through your previous comments and I came across another post in which I hold a very different point of view. You assert that it is only fear of detection, or fear of god’s punishments that causes people to obey the law and behave honourably. In many cases with many individuals this may be so ( even in the majority of instances) however I think people respond well when put “on their honour”. I can’t speak on behalf of atheists, but it gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that I’m “trustworthy”. Most of the time, I don’t give it a second thought.

        PS I delved further & came across your example of chn stealing in their own home. My parents were very open with us in the fact that we were trusted & they could leave small change about without any cause for concern. I would NEVER have betrayed that trust! I used the same reasoning with my kids and never a cent went missing.

  12. My wife and I are atheist but our nine year old daughter attends a catholic school. We feel it is down to her to make her own decision about her beliefs but do not hide our opinion from her. I was recently explaining OCD to my daughter. I told her that sufferers perform certain actions and repeat certain tasks because they believe otherwise something bad will happen to them. Her reply was “is that like religion?”.

    Indeed how can you differentiate between OCD and religious belief. Actually the average germophobe probably has a closer connection to reality that someone who fears divide retribution for not worshipping in the prescribed manner.

    • In reply to #15 by naskew:

      Indeed how can you differentiate between OCD and religious belief. Actually the average germophobe probably has a closer connection to reality that someone who fears divide retribution for not worshipping in the prescribed manner.

      Indeed. The vast majority of OCD sufferers understand that their compulsions are irrational, as they are after all compulsions, they don’t choose to do those things they just feel as though they have to do them.

      Religious rituals on the other hand are not the specific compulsions of the individual following them, they’re somebody elses compulsions that have been forced onto them through dogma, and so they have to try to rationalize doing them, and the only way to do that is by appealing to faulty deity-centric logic.

  13. Although I have not seen this argument developed in debates, the strongest reason, IMO, which would favor God-fearing persons to act more ethically, is the fact that they believe they are being watched at all times by God(s).

    2 rather big problems with this argument:

    1. It does not guarantee that any such good moral behavior will happen. The theist that choose not to adhere often will justify their own belief, find some way to distort the meaning of their own text, or ignore it altogether to do and get what they want.

    2. In some cases they will even find that some even more immoral behavior is justified by the same deity. Stoning, slavery, the subjugation of women as chattel…there are far too many things the so called sacred texts are simply willing to allow that it has taken civilization the intervening years to eliminate in most countries. the only countries that any such acts are even tolerated are theocratic at best.

    Morality is a human endeavor that we have yet to get completely right, and we are much farther along in most areas than we were some 2 millenia ago. And no one group of people have a monopoly on it, certainly no one group of religious people.

    We decide what is best for the benefit of all people, and we live with the consequences until we decide something is ultimately better. Morality is a direct product of society, and we only move forward when we as a society can move past bad ideas about how to treat other people.

  14. As for the topic. I would have to take the position that morality or ethics are down primarily to education and upbringing, or rather the most moral people tend to be those with a better moral education, regardless of religious belief.

    People can be moral whether religious or not, just so long as they personally evaluate their own morals and don’t rely on others dictating their morals to them.

    Religion simply muddies the waters and causes problems when there is a lack of education, when people are too intellectually lazy to self-evaluate, or simply never learnt how.

    I think the “god is watching you” angle comes into play as a substitute for education, which worked back when we didn’t have a great deal of education available to us, when the written word was a rare commodity and we relied on the teachings of elders, or priests. Nowadays this is a very poor substitute and when indoctrinated with this attitude actually hampers further moral development through proper education.

  15. Do believers act more morally?

    On average no and with one notable exception increasingly less so. As Aldous notes once a moral reckoning is mooted in an afterlife, harms will be left unattended that shouldn’t. This is an unrecoverable flaw when ever an an afterlife is part of a punishment or reward system.

    Choosing the more moral path is difficult, and dogmatic prescriptions are little help. I would identify useful moral duties for all to include both acquiring and facilitating maximal education and a comprehensive understanding of all the modes of harm to others; also a requirement that every single morally concerned individual would do well to resolve the more moral path for themselves and strive to input that to the daily conversation on such matters to refine the evolving societal consensus.

    Religions count themselves out of this if they are successful, as the freedom of thought required defeats the memetic durability of the faith. (In the face of real explanations, only the strict blinkers of fundamentalism confer the memetic robustness within its adherents across the range of their intellectual capacities.)

    One religious flavour stands out here as possessing a near fully moral capacity and that is Quakerism actively encouraging the view that people are and duty bound to be the effective moral authors of their own actions. It is not thriving…..

    • In reply to #23 by phil rimmer:

      [Quakers] actively encouraging the view that people are and duty bound to be the effective moral authors of their own actions.

      Bit wrong there.

      It should say-

      actively encouraging the view that people are, and duty bound to be, their own moral authors with full responsibility for their own actions.

    • In reply to #23 by phil rimmer:

      One religious flavour stands out here as possessing a near fully moral capacity and that is Quakerism actively encouraging the view that people are and duty bound to be the effective moral authors of their own actions. It is not thriving…

      I’ve seen reference to Quakers several times recently and this is the first time I’ve bothered to follow the link? Apart from the supernatural aspect, it sounds like a worthwhile philosophy. The attributes of Quakerism I’ve come in contact with in the past, were as pacifists ( I like that, though not unconditionally) and as a brand of rolled oats, ( in other words, a wholesome, no frills metaphor for life.) I had a mental image of this group as being rather severe and uncompromising. I remember when Richard Nixon was elected to office, my family was extremely pleased, though things did not quite turn out as hoped.

      • In reply to #31 by Nitya:

        In reply to #23 by phil rimmer:

        Thanks for looking, though the essence of my point is that they encourage you to make your own mind up about these matters. That in so “licensing” their adherents earlier they got, collectively, to agree, hugely ahead of the national curve in the UK a truly enlightened policy on homosexuality, for instance. (In reviewing other religions for any decent moral progress I looked at non-orthodox Judaism and discovered that Lionel Blue, a very pleasant, liberal and affable Rabbi only came to terms with his homosexuality in the early sixties thanks to the Quakers.)

        This overlapped with my own experience of our next door neighbours as a child. The Foxes (!) erudite, liberal, kind, kind, kind and the first on the street to get a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover in 1963. What was clear was God figured only as some kind of internal aesthetic (Not for me….shudder).

        You have neatly cancelled out the Foxes with Nixon but in truth we shouldn’t be using these folk. It is not the individuals who count but the broad effect of the beliefs they currently share. These are the least offensive of the religious in my view. In insisting the individual is obliged to be their own moral author they promote an idea I feel that can be at the heart of a vigorous and responsive morality. Even now Sam Harris (perhaps unintentionally) has caused some to expect that we sub contract our moral decision making out to experts. This is failing to see the last step is for the individual to weigh the views of experts against others’ and decide how you feel, how you would prioritise concerns. Values (we’re talking axiology now) are personal and different from one person to another. Aesthetics, morals, the worth of white goods, all susceptible to natural and nurture-al change, and not one of them objectively right. You must decide and tell others so we know. It informs everyone about your harms and helps create the most acceptable society.

        I suspect views on pacifism have changed. They do seem to do lesser harm calculations now and Hitler certainly changed minds. I recall Richard Fox, a history lecturer, being quite clear on the need to stop Adolf. If you cannot get enough people to agree not to fight, pacifism loses its best potential outcome.

    • In reply to #23 by phil rimmer:

      One religious flavour stands out here as possessing a near fully moral capacity and that is Quakerism actively encouraging the view that people are and duty bound to be the effective moral authors of their own actions. It is not thriving…..

      and isn´t it a shame the same cannot be said for all religions (the not thriving part ;) ) ?

  16. For years, I have been told that without a belief in God I cannot truly be a “moral” person. I’ve usually responded by pointing out that whatever ancient books are cited to show God’s word are filled with inconsistent, often downright horrifying, commandments and that it is up to us as individuals to use our own innate moral sense to choose which bits of God’s “morality” we actually want to follow. Sometimes that works to get my point across, but more often than not I’m told that the “innate moral sense” I’m referring to is some sort of “Light of Christ” which comes directly from God. Never mind the inconsistency of having God tell us one thing in the supposedly inerrant scriptures and then giving us the ability to determine which parts are false…

    Anyway, one thing that has struck me in all these conversations is the fact that believers tend to have a much lower opinion of humanity than nonbelievers. Most atheists I have talked with seem to accept that morality, while not absolute, has it’s origins in the social and evolutionary development of our species. It evolved as a survival trait and is simply part of what makes us human. We treat each other the way we would like to be treated because, on the whole, it makes living together easier.

    Most theists I have talked with, on the other hand, seem to think that man is basically a depraved animal driven by the basest of motives, perfectly willing to lie, cheat, kill, rape, steal, etc., at all times, held in check solely by enforced obedience to a set of divinely revealed rules and regulations. OK, so they never actually say it quite like that, but the implication always seems to be there.

    I dunno. I just have always found it ironic that Christians (in particular) rail against evolution because it somehow debases humanity and makes us appear no better than any other animal, and yet they are the ones who think we would all run around acting like “animals” if it weren’t for their archaic moral codes.

    • In reply to #25 by godzillatemple:

      For years, I have been told that without a belief in God I cannot truly be a “moral” person.

      believers tend to have a much lower opinion of humanity than nonbelievers.

      Spot on! The religious parasites, priests, shamans and other protection racketeers, must have a problem-solving product to sell. The obvious product is protection. In the fallow period for them, when crops were good, they could still invoke the potential for disaster and drum up trade with a little scare-mongering about the innate evil of ordinary folk. The pure genius of original sin, that one time inoculation into the brain of kids, needs only tiny booster shots which most provide for themselves to keep that protection money flowing in. Just brilliant!

  17. Talking about morality in terms of philosophy opens up a huge can of worms regards what ‘good’ moral judgement is; Kant, Mill, Aristotle and more. I research moral behaviour in psychopaths at the moment using neuroimaging and I find it much more interesting to just see what moral decisions we make and how – with regards to behaviour and neural response. We tend to say moral when a decision either: diminishes or increases the well-being of other sentient lifeforms. Various areas and processes in the brain react when we do this and most of them involve the integration off complex information about what we want to acheive tempered by our emotions, the way we think about them and the issue at hand (goal directed behaviour, emotions and cognitive conflict). So there’s the classification and also what happens (in the most basic possible description) when we make decisions based on that classification.

    I would argue that as a coalitional species moral behaviour, or rather, doing those things that don’t diminish the well-being of in group members (or annoy them) is advantageous on the individual level and that of the group. We have to live together, if we try not to we can go psychologically mad – the technical term there! We then developed basic rules and punishments for transgression; as primitive apes trangression could be punished by a swift hit or bite as many of our ape ancestors mete out justice today. But a better diet, leading to a better brain, capable of emotions like empathy, with an imagination and an ability to use complex processing which meant that such simple a paradaigm was no longer sufficient, as people could break the rules quite easily and escape punishment. So people instituted the notion of an ever-lasting all seeing thing that would punish you, if not now, then after wards and some clever members of the group realised they could use this to their own ends by saying they spoke for it. Therefore people, who invented god to explain those things they didn’t understand as well as a disciplinarian, codified some of the best of our morals and claim them as objective, divine morality. When really morality is wholly subjective as we decide what morals govern us and various groups might not even get what ‘good’ morality is as evidenced by the clash of cultural / religious values the world over.

    I mentioned empathy before and in psychopathology research empathy and related cognitive processes seem to be important in moral reasoning. High empathy and high cognitive conflict (need to think things through) enables people to make more moral judgements (utilitarianism, if that’s what we’d call morality) before a particular point where the trade-off between life and death isn’t seen to be worth the negative result, regardless of religion; faith has a tiny influence if any at all. Paradoxically, low empathy also increases utilitarian judgements beyond that of those with normal or high empathy. That to me says that peoples’ perception of moral acts differ due to neurology and individual response to moral problems. The decisions also remain typical of many groups but still don’t tell us what a good or bad moral decision is. Our consensus’, such as they are, as an evloved species, tells us what ought to be a moral act with regards to different individual circumstances which we try to set down rules for all to live together by – for those withn ‘normal’ brains at least.

    • In reply to #27 by GlenNeuro:

      Talking about morality in terms of philosophy opens up a huge can of worms regards what ‘good’ moral judgement is; Kant, Mill, Aristotle and more. I research moral behaviour in psychopaths at the moment using neuroimaging and I find it much more interesting to just see what moral decisions we make a…

      What interests me is the unwitting “immorality” high empathy, hyper pro-social individuals may be heir to. Reading and “feeling” the harms experienced by others can lead to admirable levels of concern and actions on behalf of these people, but there is no reason to suppose these intuited feelings at this extreme end of empathic behaviour are accurate. Indeed I claim they become increasingly untrustworthy. (There is a functional reason why there are two ends to every bell curve.) In over-reading the harms done to (often absent) others the hyper pro-social may misuse scarce resources, wrongly demonise others and neglect the deserving stoical.

      Empathy researchers, like Simon Baron Cohen are often empathetic empathy enthusiasts and see its simple cultivation as risk free and it takes someone like Steven Pinker to set the record straighter and note the risks.

      As you suggest empathy and moral behaviours have a complex relationship. And as SBC is keen to point out low empathy doesn’t equate to psychopathy. Those aspie amongst us may do better with our moral calculus of harms, possessing a cooler eye for them. If he is also correct that autism is the extreme end of the male personality type then we must expect the way that men and women “do” morality my differ a little also.

  18. This web site says 0.07% of the USA prison population is athiest.

    That is a lot lower percentage compared to how many people in the general population are atheist. This is interesting evidence, but by no means “proof” atheists are more moral than the religious.

    The other problem is how do you define “moral”. Doing what the bible says is certainly NOT moral. Only cherry picking allows most christians to claim the bible is a good moral guide.

  19. Several (including RD, as I understand it) suggest that each person’s position on moral issues can/should be derived from first principles (common sense?

    FYI, I don’t think Dawkins says this, if you have a quote I would be interested in what he said that makes you think that. There is a classic problem in ethics known as the Is Ought problem that says you can’t deduce ethical principles only from first principles. The problem is where you get your starting axiom(s) from. If you start with an axiom such as “the ethical choice is to always maximize human well being” then you can start using reason and science to figure out exactly what is well being and how do you maximize it. But getting that initial axiom about exactly what is to be valued, that can’t come from first principles. The basic problem was first laid out by David Hume, that it’s not rational to draw conclusions about the way the world should be from factual statements about how the world actually is.

    The problem is that different people have different fundamental principles. For some it’s maximize well being for others it may be “do the will of God” for others “maximize fairness/justice” (Rawls). And there is no rational basis for choosing one axiom over another.

    Sam Harris doesn’t think this is a problem but I’ve never understood how he thinks he gets around the issue except by waving his hands and saying it’s not really an issue.

  20. The so-called “objective” morality handed down by the Abrahamic religions, in fact changes over time. At least in the more advanced countries, heretics are no longer burned to death, nor adulterers stoned to death, nor anyone put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, or eating a prawn sandwich.

    “Thou shalt not kill”, one of the Commandments, was / is widely ignored by Christians on both sides of WW1 and WW2 and during the Rwanda massacres where Christians murdered Christians. The Holocaust was mainly carried out by German Christians, Lutheran and Catholic, and the British bishops would happily bless the bombs falling upon Hamburg. If that is “objective” morality, I want none of it. If the bloody holy book of rules is so vague as to mean any and everything to all comers, then it is worth nothing as a guide to human behaviour. With or without threats of hellfire and brimstone !

    Morality is a product of society, and it changes as society changes.

    • In reply to #33 by Mr DArcy:

      The so-called “objective” morality handed down by the Abrahamic religions, in fact changes over time.

      That’s the biggest gripe I have with those who claim to get their “absolute” morality from the Bible. When you point out all the horrible commandments in the Old Testament, they claim that Christ came to fulfill the old law and lay down a new law instead. Terrific. So why do they still venerate the Ten Commandments and claim they are the basis of our country’s legal system? And why do they constantly point to the OT commandments against “man lying with man” if those laws no longer apply?

      I’ve also heard some Christian apologists try to justify the horrors in the OT by claiming that the laws were given to a specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose and that we need to look at them in context in order to understand why they were given. If that’s not the very definition of “moral relativism,” however, I don’t know what is….

  21. These are the least offensive of the religious in my view. (regarding Quakerism)

    Back in my church going days, I checked out several religions and decided I wanted a church that was accepting of all people since I felt any church that would reject any group of people (gay, divorced, etc.) would automatically lack integrity since they were passing judgement rather than extending love and acceptance. I found only a few – Unitarian/Universalist, United Church of Christ, Unity, Quaker, and “Religious Science.” All others had some sort of exclusion or limiting “policy.” I’ve been to all these churches and found that Quakerism has both a liberal and more fundamentalist branch of their religion.

  22. If someone were to ask you if Abraham, the Biblical character, was guilty or not guilty of child endangerment (sending Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert) and attempted murder (of Isaac), what would you answer on each of these two counts? I ask this because I just listened to a mock trial and was perplexed that the jury handed down the verdict of guilty for child endangerment and not guilty for attempted murder….. Only one person in the audience clapped when someone commented that if “God spoke to someone” asking if the person was “nuts” would be a good consideration. I really wanted to hear the jury’s reasoning. I couldn’t help but think that their religious views colored their perception. If this is religious morality, do we really have any room for this reasoning in a secular society? Does anyone agree with the not guilty attempted murder charge?

    • This is interesting. Muslim scholars defend the prophet of Islam’s marrying a child girl, Aisha, by arguing that the prophet only did what was a customary practice back then. It may be immoral and illegal now, but it was perfectly moral and legal back then. So, he did nothing wrong. And it makes sense too. How can we judge what happened a few thousand years ago using our current moral and ethical values? Maybe something that is highly immoral today was perfectly moral a 1000 years ago? Maybe guilty now, but not guilty when the actual event took place?

      In reply to #45 by QuestioningKat:

      If someone were to ask you if Abraham, the Biblical character, was guilty or not guilty of child endangerment (sending Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert) and attempted murder (of Isaac), what would you answer on each of these two counts? I ask this because I just listened to a mock trial and was…

      • In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

        This is interesting. Muslim scholars defend the prophet of Islam’s marrying a child girl, Aisha, by arguing that the prophet only did what was a customary practice back then. It may be immoral and illegal now, but it was perfectly moral and legal back then. So, he did nothing wrong. And it makes sen…

        To have sex with an under age child, incapable on consent, will always be immoral, regardless of what was “customary” back then.

        Situation ethics. A wagon train heading west in 1800’s America. Attacked by Indians. A mother with two small children and baby hides in the brush. The Indians are searching for her, and she knows they will kill all four of them if found. The baby starts to cry. She smothers the baby, killing it, but avoids capture by the Indians and certain death for her and all of her children. Did she commit an unethical act. Or, as the heading implies, are ethics based on the situation at the time. Sophie’s Choice.

        • In reply to #47 by David R Allen:

          In reply to #46 by rizvoid:
          To have sex with an under age child, incapable on consent, will always be immoral, regardless of what was “customary” back then.

          OK. But why do you think it was customary back then, if it was immoral?

          Situation ethics. A wagon train heading west in 1800’s America. Attacked by Indians. A mother with two small children and baby hides in the brush. The Indians are searching for her, and she knows they will kill all four of them if found. The baby starts to cry. She smothers the baby, killing it, but avoids capture by the Indians and certain death for her and all of her children. Did she commit an unethical act. Or, as the heading implies, are ethics based on the situation at the time. Sophie’s Choice.

          Interesting. I think there are situations when the answers cannot be a simple choice between this OR that, right OR wrong, moral OR immoral, and so on. Maybe killing her child was unethical act, but saving herself and the rest of her family was an ethical act. So, what she did was both ethical and unethical at the same time, in my opinion.

          By the way, this logic could also be applied to Muhammad’s marrying a child girl, even when we judge Muhammad by today’s standards. He did an immoral act by marrying an underage girl, but he also did a moral act by providing her with a house, food and shelter, and giving her future children his lineage, which all must meant a LOT for a any girl back in those times.

          How many aspects does a situation have? From how many angles a situation can be viewed?

          • In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #47 by David R Allen:

            In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

            This Sophie’s choice reminded me the hypothetical situation in RD’s God Delusion. I will summarise as far as I remember the case. In a hospital there are 3 people sitting and waiting for urgent organ transplantation. If soon nothing can be done they will die. Another person, who is healthy, is sitting there. Would it be moral taking the necessary organs and hence killing the healthy guy to save those 3 people? Especially compared to Sophie’s choice..

          • In reply to #51 by YesUCan:

            In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #47 by David R Allen:
            This Sophie’s choice reminded me the hypothetical situation in RD’s God Delusion. I will summarise as far as I remember the case. In a hospital there are 3 people sitting and waiting for urgent organ transplantation. If soon nothing can be done they will die. Another person, who is healthy, is sitting there. Would it be moral taking the necessary organs and hence killing the healthy guy to save those 3 people? Especially compared to Sophie’s choice..

            Actually, I think the emotional reaction of that mother killing her child to save herself and her other children is rather easy to understand. However, killing a healthy person to save the three patients…it’s a little more tricky, and difficult to understand. I have read The God Delusion, but only in bits and pieces. I never came across the section of the book where this scenario is. So, not enough information I guess.

          • In reply to #51 by YesUCan:

            In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #47 by David R Allen:
            This Sophie’s choice reminded me the hypothetical situation in RD’s God Delusion. I will summarise as far as I remember the case. In a hospital there are 3 people sitting and waiting for urgent organ transplantation. If soon nothing can be done they will die. Another person, who is healthy, is sitting there. Would it be moral taking the necessary organs and hence killing the healthy guy to save those 3 people? Especially compared to Sophie’s choice..

            I sincerely hope nobody here would find this morally right… the case is completely different if he had had a car accident and was braindead, but healthy, awake… that is definately morally wrong, definately wrong..

          • In reply to #90 by Anti-theist preacher:

            In reply to #51 by YesUCan:

            In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #47 by David R Allen:
            This Sophie’s choice reminded me the hypothetical situation in RD’s God Delusion. I will summarise as far as I remember the case. In a hospital there are 3 people sitting and waiting for urgent organ transpla…

            But I thought you said that morality came about by being good for the group?

          • In reply to #90 by Anti-theist preacher:

            Would it be moral taking the necessary organs and hence killing the healthy guy to save those 3 people?

            Of course I suspect most if not all people would find it wrong if the victim was unwilling but what if the victim was (for example) the parent of the 3 recipients and demanding to be sacrificed for the sake of his or her offspring? Now we are approaching the euthanasia situation and it is far less clear.

            Equally what if the fat man on the bridge that could be used to stop the runaway train was asking to be used but was too scared to jump. Would it be easier to make the decision to push?

          • In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #47 by David R Allen:

            In reply to #46 by rizvoid:
            To have sex with an under age child, incapable on consent, will always be immoral, regardless of what was “customary” back then.

            OK. But why do you think it was customary back then, if it was immoral?

            In Societies where the men have absolute power, one of the first things they do is grant themselves access to the little girls. Just like David Koresh in the Branch Davidians, the boss got to have sex with the kiddies. Jones of Jones Town fame did the same. I think it was only “Customary” back in Mohammed’s time, because they could get away with it. If peasants had any power, they would have defended their child. So the excuse of “Customary practice” doesn’t overturn the immorality or the fact that it is unethical.

          • In reply to #64 by David R Allen:

            In reply to #49 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #47 by David R Allen:

            In reply to #46 by rizvoid:
            To have sex with an under age child, incapable on consent, will always be immoral, regardless of what was “customary” back then.

            OK. But why do you think it was customary back then, if it was immoral?

            In Societies where the men have absolute power, one of the first things they do is grant themselves access to the little girls. Just like David Koresh in the Branch Davidians, the boss got to have sex with the kiddies. Jones of Jones Town fame did the same. I think it was only “Customary” back in Mohammed’s time, because they could get away with it. If peasants had any power, they would have defended their child. So the excuse of “Customary practice” doesn’t overturn the immorality or the fact that it is unethical.

            I am not saying at all that it is not unethical and immoral to have sex with a child girl. I am just saying maybe it wasn’t immoral and unethical for those who lived in Muhammad’s time, which also suggests why it was a customary practice back then.

            You know, it really doesn’t make sense that a society would have a customary practice, which it also viewed as immoral at the same time, especially in Muhammad’s time. Although it is possible that a certain customary practice that belongs to a certain society is seen as highly immoral and unethical by some other society or cultural group, but not by the same society. Just like bathing topless on beaches is seen as almost a moral practice in France, but not so moral in the US, and highly immoral in the Muslim world. France has its own customs, the US has its own, and Saudi Arabia has its own. Which ones of these countries have the right customs? None. Only different customs. So, if our customs can be so different from each other within the same slot of time, what happens if we move back thousands of years in time? Do you imagine kids back then waiting to be turned 18 so they could legally buy alcohol, and enter a night club?

            By the way, historical records suggest that little girls back then still had to meet a condition before men could have sex with them. which is, girls needed to have reached puberty before men could have sex with them. Which is not so bad, given puberty means a person is ready for sex.

            And you know, I have also read somewhere that it was customary for the Royal Egyptians in ancient times of the Pharaohs to marry brothers and sisters, so the royal blood stays within the royal lineage. Do you think the royals back then were openly engaging themselves in immoral acts? Why would they? The mere fact the royals of that time were doing that would have made incest a royally moral act, wouldn’t it?

          • In reply to #64 by David R Allen:

            Might want to check your histories again mate. Child brides weren’t uncommon -across- social classes. The peasantry engaged in it just as much as the nobility.

            And religious sentiment isn’t a requirement either. Among the Walpuri people of central Australia, it was common for women to have their first child at age -12- right up until the 1930’s, a tradition that was part of their culture for centuries before Europeans arrived there.

            What most people today keep forgetting is that for most of human history, getting married at 12, being a parent by 14 and dead by 40 wasn’t uncommon. Much as I loathe Muhammad (thieving, murderous, lying bastard that he was), calling him a paedophile isn’t supportable; for all that it turns our guts today, his having sex with a 9 year old -wasn’t- out of step with the moral standards of his time. Sure, our standards have changed, but so have our circumstances. Everyone reading this is quite likely to have an expected life span well into their 70’s or further. 1400 years ago, not a common occurrence.

  23. In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

    Maybe something that is highly immoral today was perfectly moral a 1000 years ago?

    And you don’t have to go back in time, obviously, to find differing moral standards. You can say that the moral standards are wrong while accepting that an individual sincerely believes they are acting correctly. The executioner in Saudi Arabia, with his sword, and in Texas, with the lethal injection, are right by local standards but wrong by universal standards. That’s arguable and is being argued about. It’s in the nature of moral standards that there are differing opinions about them but the presumption of all concerned is that there is, indeed , a right and a wrong answer.

    • In reply to #48 by aldous:

      In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

      And you don’t have to go back in time, obviously, to find differing moral standards. You can say that the moral standards are wrong while accepting that an individual sincerely believes they are acting correctly. The executioner in Saudi Arabia, with his sword, and in Texas, with the lethal injection, are right by local standards but wrong by universal standards. That’s arguable and is being argued about. It’s in the nature of moral standards that there are differing opinions about them but the presumption of all concerned is that there is, indeed , a right and a wrong answer.

      I disagree. I disagree because I believe there is no such thing as universal standards. There are only different standards. Who is to decide which standards are right and which are wrong? Also, what is right today can easily turn into wrong in a matter of days, and what is wrong today can also get turned into right very quickly.

      • In reply to #50 by rizvoid:

        In reply to #48 by aldous:

        In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

        And you don’t have to go back in time, obviously, to find differing moral standards. You can say that the moral standards are wrong while accepting that an individual sincerely believes they are acting correctly. The executioner in Saudi Arabi…

        You’re right, there are no universal standards, there is no objective morality. I think the problem is that there are various contexts of subjective morality and some of those contexts appear to be all-encompassing.

        To clarify, values are applicable on various scales, and their validity depends on the scope of the individual applying them. The grandest scale of course being life, second to that is human life, then we get into muddy waters with race, nationality, gender and religion, and even further with statuses of rich, poor, guilty, innocent, etc. It’s easy to see that morality applicable to gender or religion is subjective, because we have different genders and different religions to compare the differing subjective morals to. It’s somewhat trickier to distinguish values between human-life and other life because non-human life doesn’t pose a direct challenge to our human morality, so it takes a wider perspective to recognize the subjectivity of human-centric morality. Then the values people would deem as universal or objective, are simply subjective to life, but as we’re all alive, they appear objective. So for all intents and purposes these values can be treated as universal or objective in their application, until such a time where we need to apply them to non-life.

        However these values being deemed universal does nothing to stop multiple conflicting values from coming into play. Most notably when religious or other “lower level” morals (or local standards) come into conflict with “higher level” morals. In such cases I would propose that the higher level morals take precedent over the localized morals, if they can be defined in that way of course, because this isn’t a fool-proof model.

        In this case the executioner in Saudi Arabia, with his sword and his moral imperative to exact justice comes into conflict with the higher level moral of a desire to reduce suffering. It’s his obliviousness to this hierarchy that means he fails to recognize the conflict. His methods seem right to him, but only because his moral scope does not extend to the level that invokes human rights but is currently limited to the level of cultural norms and the status of guilty and innocent. Of course even if he recognize this conflict it wouldn’t necessitate that he would come to the same conclusion, simply that one level of the moral conflict is more widely applicable and appears to be more “right”.

        • In reply to #52 by Seraphor:

          there are no universal standards, there is no objective morality.

          There is disagreement on what the rule actually is. Some advocate the death penalty. It has been abolished or is not applied in most countries of the world. However, both those for and those against, accept that there is a correct position. It would be absurd to say that execution is morally right in Texas but becomes wrong when you cross the state line.

  24. No ! Christians do not act more morally then Athiests. What gives the right to say that a religious person is more morally correct then a non believer. If you are a God fearing christian then you are only being good because you fear your “God”. And that doesn’t sound right to me.
    I am thinking of Kend Hovind who was convicted of 58 tax offences. Is it morally correct to avoid paying tax. Even Christ had to pay tax.

  25. In reply to #52 by Seraphor:

    In reply to #50 by rizvoid:

    In reply to #48 by aldous:

    In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

    In this case the executioner in Saudi Arabia, with his sword and his moral imperative to exact justice comes into conflict with the higher level moral of a desire to reduce suffering. It’s his obliviousness to this hierarchy that means he fails to recognize the conflict. His methods seem right to him, but only because his moral scope does not extend to the level that invokes human rights but is currently limited to the level of cultural norms and the status of guilty and innocent. Of course even if he recognize this conflict it wouldn’t necessitate that he would come to the same conclusion, simply that one level of the moral conflict is more widely applicable and appears to be more “right”.

    Yeah. But what if the executioner was executing someone who would have raped, killed, robed and tortured hundreds of people if he was allowed to walk away alive? Maybe sometimes it is necessary to do a seemingly evil act in order to prevent many evil acts. In this case, the doing of this seemingly evil act may in fact be serving a greater and higher moral purpose of reducing suffering by saving hundreds of potential victims, and at the same time causing human suffering by executing a person.

    The US I guess applied the same logic when it leveled two countries for the two buildings leveled by the terrorists. Though I should say, it is rather easy to understand the executioner’s moral dilemma, but rather difficult to understand the US’s moral dilemma.

    • In reply to #55 by rizvoid:

      In reply to #52 by Seraphor:

      In reply to #50 by rizvoid:

      In reply to #48 by aldous:

      In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

      In this case the executioner in Saudi Arabia, with his sword and his moral imperative to exact justice comes into conflict with the higher level moral of a desire to reduce suffering….

      Ah…but what if the executioner had the wrong man? Isn’t that the rationale against capital punishment?

      • In reply to #56 by Nitya:

        In reply to #55 by rizvoid:

        In reply to #52 by Seraphor:

        In reply to #50 by rizvoid:

        In reply to #48 by aldous:

        In reply to #46 by rizvoid:

        Ah…but what if the executioner had the wrong man? Isn’t that the rationale against capital punishment?

        Yep. Right you are. Didn’t think about that. Probably this is why executioners are not required to have an impressive educational background, unlike the judges who send people (to be executed) to those executioners. All executioners require is raw muscle power, and their ability to show them being indifferent to the situation. So, they in the end are nothing more and nothing less than a police officer who is enforcing the law. They enforce the law, they don’t interpret it. An executioner could be saving hundreds of people by executing an evil person, or he could be depriving hundreds of people of the company and wisdom of a wise man by executing a wrongly convicted scholar, or he could be doing some lonely person a huge favour who if not executed would have committed suicide, or, or, or, and on and on it goes….. These debates have no logical conclusion. Don’t you agree?

        • In reply to #58 by rizvoid:

          In reply to #56 by Nitya:

          In reply to #55 by rizvoid:

          Oh well then, you’re obviously right! A person has never been wrongly convicted in our legal system ( or in Saudi Arabia ).

          • In reply to #59 by Nitya:

            In reply to #58 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #56 by Nitya:

            In reply to #55 by rizvoid:

            Oh well then, you’re obviously right! A person has never been wrongly convicted in our legal system ( or in Saudi Arabia ).

            No, I am not saying that. I am saying you are right when you say “what if the executioner had the wrong man? Isn’t that the rationale against capital punishment?” I am saying it is possible that an executioner may be executing a wrongfully accused person, and when this happens, such incidences can be used as a rationale against capital punishment. I agree with you. But I am adding to it, that it is also possible the executioner may be executing an evil swine, who would have killed hundreds of people if he were allowed to live. Anything is possible. I think you can add as many aspects to a situation as you like, or you can view a situation from as many angles as you like. And in debates likes this … what else can you do?

          • In reply to #60 by rizvoid:

            it is also possible the executioner may be executing an evil swine, who would have killed hundreds of people if he were allowed to live.

            The usual remedy is imprisonment.

          • In reply to #60 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #59 by Nitya:

            In reply to #58 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #56 by Nitya:

            When I issued my first comment about the executioner, I was speaking figuratively…..glibly if you must. I know how the justice system works. To me, it doesn’t really matter if we manage to rid the world of a mass murderer by taking his life. The important thing is that we have a measure in place to ensure that a convicted murderer is not wrongly put to death. To my sense of morality, this is a very important safeguard.

            Over thirty years ago an Australian woman, Lindy Chamberlain was wrongly found guilty of murdering her baby. Everyone just knew she was guilty. Call it a mass “gut feeling”. Fortunately she was imprisoned, not executed, because she was later found innocent. She’ll never get those years back, but she still has her life, which in my opinion is the only one you get.

          • In reply to #62 by Nitya:

            In reply to #60 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #59 by Nitya:

            In reply to #58 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #56 by Nitya:

            When I issued my first comment about the executioner, I was speaking figuratively…..glibly if you must. I know how the justice system works. To me, it doesn’t really matter if we manage to rid the world of a mass murderer by taking his life. The important thing is that we have a measure in place to ensure that a convicted murderer is not wrongly put to death. To my sense of morality, this is a very important safeguard.

            Yeah, I understand that, and I agree. I don’t favour capital punishment myself. But since capital punishment is a fact, I was just discussing the situation from its moral standpoint. Someone implied that capital punishment can never serve a higher moral purpose, because capital punishment takes away a person’s life. I said, capital punishment can indeed serve a higher moral purpose if the life taken away was someone’s who may have killed hundreds of people if were allowed to live. Someone like, say, Hitler or Bin Laden. So, through capital punishment, by doing something immoral, you can serve a greater moral purpose by saving hundreds of people.

            Yours was probably a different take on the situation. You seem to be OK with capital punishment if the accused was not wrongfully accused?

          • In reply to #63 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #62 by Nitya:

            Someone like, say, Hitler or Bin Laden. So, through capital punishment, by doing something immoral, you can serve a greater moral purpose by saving hundreds of people.

            I’m sorry rizvoid, I’m afraid we’re at cross purposes. I’m probably misunderstanding you and you’re certainly misunderstanding me. Capital punishment is completely wrong in my eyes under any circumstances at all, precisely because there is always the possibility of a wrongful conviction. Life imprisonment should be the maximum sentence in any circumstances, no matter what sort of swine the person is, because there is always the chance that a mistake has been made. Multiple eye witnesses could be mistaken, and so on. Once the accused has been dispatched there’s no going back.

            I didn’t agree with the ultimate end of Bin Laden as I would have liked to see him stand trial. It was very convenient for us that Hitler committed suicide, but I would preferred that he be tried as well. Most western democracies have abandoned capital punishment for good reason.

          • In reply to #67 by Nitya:

            In reply to #63 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #62 by Nitya:

            Capital punishment is completely wrong in my eyes under any circumstances at all, precisely because there is always the possibility of a wrongful conviction.

            You know, this is what I thought before. But then decided to ask.

            I think the debate about capital punishment has become more of an ideological issue lately, than a humane issue. Those democracies that have abandoned capital punishment, such as the one I live in, still sanction the killing of humans. If not by capital punishment, then by something else. A good example is those young people who quite often get killed in high speed police chases. It’s a hot topic here. Police and the governments furiously support high speed chases, though it often turns out that the person who got killed in a high speed chase was a young driver, who couldn’t understand the situation correctly and just got panicked. Then the same democracy has equipped its police officers with lethal weapons… True, these are highly trained police officer who have been trained extensively on how to properly use their firearm, but being humans, they can and do make mistakes by overreacting in tense situations, and when that happens, we see the whole police department backing them up. There are many other examples. The question is, why the death of a person through capital punishment matters so much, when we have people dying all around us, and quite often, by the same governments that have abandoned capital punishment?

            I don’t favour capital punishment, like I said before, but I also don’t see something extremely wrong with it, given there are many many other things happening all around that are equally wrong or immoral. Why focus on one tiny part of the system, and not the entire system? Maybe it is the entire system that is wrong, and a tiny improvement here and there will never make it right.

          • In reply to #68 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #67 by Nitya:

            For once we completely agree. I think we must both be Australian or maybe you’re from New Zealand? The weaponry on the police vests is staggering and quite frightening. I’m not sure those evading capture in speeding vehicles are quite so innocent however. It’s the collateral damage in such chases that is really sad.

            As you say, there is a lot wrong with the system but I don’t think it’s as bad as it seems. When you read the actual statistics ( ie the real numbers, not the ones concocted by shock-jock radio commentators) we have never lived in safer times. Our perceptions are not the reality, thank heavens!

            Media coverage of events lead us to think that we are living in some sort of war zone. Several strands of the police force dress in ways that resemble “Robocop”. I think this leads us to think that the modern, secular system is not working, when in actual fact we are living in times when personal safety is at it’s best to date.

          • Feels great to agree for once. Yes, I live in Australia. Though not technically originally from Australia….

            Anyways, I agree with you when you say the system in actuality is not as bad as it seems, and we live in safer times as compared to the people of the past.

            However, when I say the system is wrong, I am saying the system is wrong because of our very nature — the human nature–, and since it is our own very nature that has produced this system, it can’t be made into a ‘good’ system unless we first change our nature completely. For instance, as long as it is in our nature to compete with other people, the system can’t be made into a good system, and it is not difficult to see the point. You say we live in much safer times? Yes, but only when seen from a certain standpoint. Look at the situation from a broader perspective, and look at some of the global problems we face now — problems that people of the past could never have thought about. Problems like global warming, over population, diminishing natural resources, corporate greed, ever increasing demands of modern living, better jobs, higher social standing, and on and on and on… Do you see a real solution to these problems? I mean it feels good to buy and drive a hybrid car, and use green energy, but do you really think one hybrid car will save the planet when the same manufacture that sells you the hybrid car is also selling maybe around 100,000+ petrol and diesel cars for each hybrid car that it sells?

            This is not an ideological debate, because I am not proposing how to improve our human nature, and how to improve the system. I am saying it can’t be done. And since it can’t be done, maybe now is a very good time to figure out why we have been given this nature, or why we have been built like this, no matter who or what built us.

            And that’s all. My fingers are sore now. It’s fun talking here, but I think I have finally reached my limit. It was nice talking to you and everyone else I talked with.

            In reply to #69 by Nitya:

            In reply to #68 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #67 by Nitya:

            For once we completely agree. I think we must both be Australian or maybe you’re from New Zealand? The weaponry on the police vests is staggering and quite frightening. I’m not sure those evading capture in speeding vehicles are quite so innoc…

  26. I think that Atheists are more prone to act morally not only because their morals are based more on logic and reason and thus less prone to the cognitave dissonance of wondering whether or not to perform a life saving abortion, but also because the idea of having to do what a god says in fact causes people to act less moraly, because if you make an immoral desicion or do something horrible to another person it can be internally reasoned that because god wanted you to do it it is fine, having to submit to anothers will, the only moral rule being submit. But as an Atheist you have to internalize all of your actions and think of them objectively. Thus an atheist has to deal with constant moral feedback and internalize blame for all negative actions while also being able to take credit for all good deeds. Infact having been religious and then becoming an atheist being an atheist made me a better person and I feel better about all of my action because I operate on my own set of rules, boiling down to only two rules. Suffering is Bad, ability is responsibility. Meaning that if you can help someone you should and when in a difficult situation always go with the choice that minimizes the amount of suffering, that way it is justifiable to have abortions and simultaneously not justifiable to put drug addicts in prison, rather than in a psychiatric facility.

  27. I have just finished my manuscript and am now looking for a publisher. I am a big fan of Richard Dawkins and I wish that I could contact him about my book. Can anyone lead me in that direction? I believe that my book, which points out so many flaws in the Bible, would be of interest to Richard Dawkins. I have studied the Bible (King James Version) for about fifty years as a Christian. But, now I do not carry any religious labels. I prefer to think of myself now, as a “Free Thinking” person which is neither Religious nor Atheist, but completely “Open Minded.”

  28. It may be immoral and illegal now, but it was perfectly moral and legal back then. So, he did nothing wrong. And it makes sense too. How can we judge what happened a few thousand years ago using our current moral and ethical values? Maybe something that is highly immoral today was perfectly moral a 1000 years ago? Maybe guilty now, but not guilty when the actual event took place?

    Just because something is acceptable to a majority society does not make it right. Just because something happened centuries ago under a different moral code of today does not make it right. History is filled with ignorant attitudes and beliefs. If a group of people kills individuals because they are believed to be witches, is the group acting morally and ethically? No, they simply are not advanced enough culturally and unaware of human psychology to know what they are doing wrong. I think you might be conflating justified punishment with the immoral act itself. Let’s put aside any idea of punishment and consider the act. I think we all agree burning people because they are believed to be witches is clearly wrong in many ways. We look back in time and see the errors of our ancestors and realize that there is a better way. This is good reason why religious need to question their views against homosexuality because they are perpetuating antiquated views. This is good reason why secular morality is best. It advances and improved based on new understanding of human behavior via research.

  29. In reply to #75 by QuestioningKat:

    Just because something is acceptable to a majority society does not make it right. Just because something happened centuries ago under a different moral code of today does not make it right. History is filled with ignorant attitudes and beliefs. If a group of people kills individuals because they are believed to be witches, is the group acting morally and ethically? No, they simply are not advanced enough culturally and unaware of human psychology to know what they are doing wrong. I think you might be conflating justified punishment with the immoral act itself. Let’s put aside any idea of punishment and consider the act. I think we all agree burning people because they are believed to be witches is clearly wrong in many ways. We look back in time and see the errors of our ancestors and realize that there is a better way.

    Kat, I wasn’t going to post in this thread anymore, but your response looks interesting…and i feel fresh this morning.

    I agree. People back then didn’t know about psychology of humans as much as we do. So, ignorance was their excuse, but it can’t be ours. Take our own example. We can say there could be millions of things about human psychology that we still do not know at this point in time. So, it makes sense that people living 100 years from now, having made many advanced discoverers about human psychology, would see us as ignorant and would see our attitudes and moral codes about certain affairs of life as stemming from ignorance, as compared to them. Does it make sense that we be judged by what moral standards people will have 100 years from now? Of course, not. We can learn from what mistakes our ancestor did in the past, and change our behaviours accordingly; but we certainly can’t modify our behaviour by guessing what discoveries the future generations will make. And this rule, as it is easy enough to see, applies just as much to those who lived 1000 years ago as it applies to us. We always have a past that we know of, and we always have a future that we do not know of. So, I guess we can say, what was moral and right for a society 1000 years ago was moral and right for them, but if that practice or ritual has become immoral and wrong today, then it is immoral and wrong for us, but not for the people who saw it as right and moral 1000 years ago. They were ignorant, and it wasn’t their fault.

    As for burning people, even if it was legal back then, I still find it really hard to believe that it was the whole society that sanctioned these inhuman actions. We always have people of influence and power in any society, just like we have today, and these are the people who greatly influence what rules and laws a society can have. Governments ban drugs, governments sanction capital punishment, government go to wars, and the citizens keep protesting. Back in those times, citizens could not protest as they can now, but it surely doesn’t mean the citizens agreed with everything the people in power did. Maybe there were millions of silent protesters there that we will never know about.

    This is good reason why religious need to question their views against homosexuality because they are perpetuating antiquated views. This is good reason why secular morality is best. It advances and improved based on new understanding of human behavior via research.

    I can’t say much about that. I don’t really like to question what other people personally see as best, wrong, better or moral. Like I said before, I think no two people can ever agree completely on what is best, what is right and what is wrong. These inquiries are based almost entirely on subjective feelings, and as such, they can never have a logical conclusion. 2+2 can have a logical conclusion. What colour is your car can have a logical conclusion. But whether 2+2 is better than 2+4 can’t have a logical conclusion, and whether your car’s colour is better than my car’s colour can’t have a logical conclusion. That’s all.

    • In reply to #76 by rizvoid:

      I don’t really like to question what other people personally see as best, wrong, better or moral

      Perhaps you don’t personally feel you have to an activist. The fact is, though, that change doesn’t come about by saying that one person’s opinion is just as good as another’s. The death penalty is abolished, retained or re-instated because people discuss, argue, campaign, petition. The facts of death penalty advocates have been questioned and their logic contested and, in most countries, they have been defeated. This is because people believe that it’s objectively wrong and not just in some countries, but throughout the world.

      • In reply to #78 by aldous:

        In reply to #76 by rizvoid:

        Perhaps you don’t personally feel you have to an activist. The fact is, though, that change doesn’t come about by saying that one person’s opinion is just as good as another’s. The death penalty is abolished, retained or re-instated because people discuss, argue, campaign, petition. The facts of death penalty advocates have been questioned and their logic contested and, in most countries, they have been defeated. This is because people believe that it’s objectively wrong and not just in some countries, but throughout the world.

        I agree with you. And you don’t seem to disagree with me as well. But I will still make this small comment about capital punishment. My personal feelings…

        The debate about death penalty is a debate that has gone far beyond good and bad, far beyond about being a debate about the humane aspects of life, and about saving people from suffering. It has become an ideological debate. The main issue here is not about saving human lives and reducing suffering anymore, the issue here is proving oneself right and joining a group and achieving an ideal. Nothing wrong with that. But what is really so inhumane about death penalty that the whole world is going crazy about it? There is usually one person that dies in death penalty, and it happens quite rarely even in countries where it is still rather a common practice — countries like India, Pakistan and the US. True humanitarians do, or rather should not, condemn one form of human suffering yet sanction another form of human suffering, condemn one form of killing humans and sanction another form of killing humans. The death of a human is still the death of a human is still the death of a human… So, why countries keep abandoning death penalty, yet keep funding grants so their government-funded organisations could make more and more lethal weapons? Does that make any sense?

        • In reply to #79 by rizvoid:

          So, why countries keep abandoning death penalty, yet keep funding grants so their government-funded organisations could make more and more lethal weapons? Does that make any sense

          This is the way progress is made. One step at a time. There is no magic wand to be waved that creates Utopia at one stroke. Abolishing the death penalty drives away the shadows of our barbarous past in one area of our lives. Achieving world peace is a larger task–not one that will inevitably be achieved. We have to hope that it is or human life risks disappearance in a nuclear cataclysm.

  30. My husband loves the television show “lockup”. It’s a prison documentary on A&E (I think). Those places are filled with thieves and murderers who read the bible and suddenly concluded that what they did was wrong. I think this is and extreme illustration of my feelings on this issue.

    The only people who act more morally because of the bible are those of extremely weak constitution in the first place.

  31. I observed pre-school age children playing one day at the Jewish Community Center Health Club. They were in a day care program held on the basketball court and I was on the balcony with others watching. They were all under six years of age. I saw the children helping each other–one little boy tried to tie the shoes of a little girl and he was having trouble so another child came over to help. When children would tumble, their playmates would come to help them get up. I saw incident after incident where the tots “did the right thing.” I started a conversation with the person next to me and commented on how well the children were getting along. She said I should come and see them next year because ‘they will begin their religious studies then and will learn the rules.” I felt ill.

  32. @ catphil: The most sane liberal believers do nat take their scriptures literally. Why? Because there are things in these scriptures that are unaceptable from a contemporary point of moral view. Why? Because we developped morals far beyond what is in so called holy scriptures about 2000 years old and for hundreds of years comuincated verbally. How did we do it? By the means that developed morals in the first place. Our mind! So there is a difference between the question how did we develop morals at all and how morally (always seen in the context of time and society) we act. This is to a great extend a question of upbringing.and I don’t think that obsiquisness is helpfull in teaching children respect to the world they live in.

  33. @ catphil: The most sane liberal believers do nat take their scriptures literally. Why? Because there are things in these scriptures that are unaceptable from a contemporary point of moral view. Why? Because we developped morals far beyond what is in so called holy scriptures about 2000 years old and for hundreds of years comuincated verbally. How did we do it? By the means that developed morals in the first place. Our mind! So there is a difference between the question how did we develop morals at all and how morally (always seen in the context of time and society) we act. This is to a great extend a question of upbringing.and I don’t think that obsiquisness is helpfull in teaching children respect to the world they live in.

  34. Well, I guess for people with a pathological lack of empathy the ever-watching god can function as a deterrent. But, most of us have this thing we call a conscience. It does not matter whether we get caught or not, when we do something we know is wrong we feel guilty. Deterrence by the way, has nothing to do with morality. If you refrain from doing something bad just because of fear of getting caught you are not a moral person. You are just afraid of being caught. There is a big difference.

    The problem with religion is that the same mechanism that allegedly makes people refrain from doing bad things can just as well be used to justify doing bad things. The problem is that you never know which one will be dominant and that is why it’s such a bad idea to teach people to suspend their own conscience, reason and common sense and just have faith.

  35. I don’t believe most religious people do believe they are being watched by God. If they did then none of them would ever mastibate, pick their nose and eat it or scratch their testicles while watching TV. After all, which normal person can do these things when they believe a father-figure is watching?

    However, I do think it is possible that Christians act better than some godless people. Christopher Hitchens always used to ask ‘Which moral actions can a religious person perform that can’t be performed by an atheist?’ I think this question was daft. The more interesting question is not whether we atheists are physically capable of performing moral acts but whether we actually do perform them as often as Christians. I think it’s possible that we don’t.

    However, I need to make a distinction here. I think there are atheists and there are ‘godless people’. Atheists have often thought their position through and thus tend to be clever and questioning. They think of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, as well as themselves, when comparing a lack of religion to religiosity. However, there is a large section of British society that is godless without ever having thought anything through. These people are often what I believe are called ‘the dregs of society’ in PC language. They are nihilists with nothing to do but try and live out their three score years and ten as entertainingly as possible. As long as they stay within the law, then they think they are good people. But that is setting the bar rather low. I think most atheists and religious people want to be something better than just non-criminals. They want instead to be good, moral people.

    I can even see this desire to do good in fundamentalist Muslims, even if their idea of morality is hopelessly twisted and dangerous. They scare me but they don’t depress me in the way that the nihilistic godless ones do. At least the religious maniacs have an impulse to do good. The godless seem to lack this impulse. A little bit of Christianity might give their lives some meaning and give them a reason to be more moral.

  36. The moral question is important. I think an atheist should be aware of it , and once aware of it , think more in terms of what is fair and what is not. I would never want to be described as a moral person , ethical , yes ,fair, yes , moral, no

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  38. being morally good because of fear of god!?.. is that the world you want to continue living in??
    being morally good has evolved because it is good for the group to which you belong.. god came into the picture way after we learned to be morally good as a species…
    and have you any idea of how many lives have been taken under the watchfull eye of the guy in the sky??

    • In reply to #87 by Anti-theist preacher:

      being morally good because of fear of god!?.. is that the world you want to continue living in??
      being morally good has evolved because it is good for the group to which you belong.. god came into the picture way after we learned to be morally good as a species…
      and have you any idea of how many l…

      I think another way to approcah this is that you become morally good by being with God not out of fear. I think it’s a false assumption that people to attend religions out of fear of hell etc. Even if some did that doesn’t account for those that have otehr motives. Doign the morally right thing is only possible when appealing to absolute moral goodness i.e. God. Alternatively you have what you asserted- namely that morality is either pragmatic or a product of evolution. The evolution one can’t really follow rationally and depends on many different interpretations of the term evolution. so it then comes down to pragmatism. Deciding on whats best for he group and then having that as your guiding moral light… which group do you belong to? I mean if i follow this line of reason i get into utilitariansim… in which case you better not hope that the majority of people are Christian! ramble ramble ramble… why do i do this?

  39. In reply to #94 by naskew:

    In reply to #90 by Anti-theist preacher:

    Would it be moral taking the necessary organs and hence killing the healthy guy to save those 3 people?

    Of course I suspect most if not all people would find it wrong if the victim was unwilling but what if the victim was (for example) the parent of the 3 r…

    I think the phrasing of the question is misleading. It’s not which one is more moral – neither are good options – but which one is the least immoral. In such a sadistic choice or Morton’s fork, there’s no positive and no win, just two different ways to lose, two negative ways to proceed, and the best you can do is pick the one that causes the least damage. It might be called a necessary evil.

    Sometimes, I suspect – though not with much confidence – that the correct answer is to sacrifice the one to save the many rather than sacrifice the many to spare the one. This is assuming that death is death, and greater resistance to being killed rather than to dying naturally is irrational (a big assumption that depends on being able to compare the two). In such a scenario, a willing parent demanding to be sacrificed would make the decision easier.

    However, this assumes the scenario is isolated and has no other consequences, when there being no unseen consequences elsewhere might cause bigger problems (for instance, such a mindset leading to a deeply unpleasant dictatorship, leading to a net loss). Also, I think many people viscerally find it too distressing or self-incriminating to want to do it, even if the reasoning seems sound. So, for now, I’d go with sparing the one and letting the many die (until I come across better arguments, that is). In keeping with my point above about necessary evils, though, I don’t particularly like this option either.

  40. Culture influences our perception and understanding. For instance, suicide bombers usually believe they are doing the right thing. You would have to define what makes something/someone more or less moral before you could determine if believers act more morally.

  41. Culture influences our perception and understanding. For instance, suicide bombers usually believe they are doing the right thing. You would have to define what makes something/someone more or less moral before you could determine if believers act more morally.

  42. Believers are trapped in major acid like trip. What they say should be done is mostly not what they do. It suffices to pray to say you did the lords work. They call that a job. They get tax breaks. The gov is in on it because it is filled with believers too. Do you think they are moral or even have any standards ? no ,politicians notoriously have no sole how could they lol …

    They use god and jesus and being a god fearing church going person as a recommendation letter straight from god. This is supposed to guarantee they will do no harm and tell the truth. The more pious the more trustworthy right? wrong those are the worst offenders…

    The seudo-moral moral of believers is severely flawed.

    Just ask that pastor who recently killed his wife and was trying to flee to Germany to meet with and marry his male lover.

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