Where do atheists derive their morality from?

theist Says:

Where do atheists derive their morality from? Can you really just say it is “innate” without either implying that God created us with a sense of morality built in. Also, if you argue that we are socialized to have a moral sense, does that not originally derive from religion?

45 Responses to Where do atheists derive their morality from?

  1. The Atheist says:

    theist,

    That’s a very insightful approach – thanks!

    When I say “innate”, I mean that it is in-bred. By in-bred, I’m not actually specifying whether we were created or that we evolved. However based on fossil evidence and other evidence, I do believe that we evolved by natural means and in this context, I say “innate” without implying that we are divinely created.

    By citing socialization, I’m arguing that the our innate ability to empathize combined with our innate ability to reason (both of which are present in other animals in varying degrees) and our need to navigate large, complex society, prompts us to develop moral norms. I think religion is a result of this normative process, and not its origin.

    How does innateness imply God in your view? Why do you see religion as the origin of morality?

  2. Demodocos says:

    I hope It’s all right for me to jump in… I was wondering a few things along these very lines. It seems to me (please clarify if I’m wrong) that atheist’s notion of morality is nothing more than public opinion of how a particular society ought to be ordered. Beyond that, there are no grounds on which to call something “wrong.” So for instance if some tribes in Africa want to control women’s potential promiscuity via female circumcision, that would be morally “right.” Scientific evidence shows that female circumcision dramatically decreases their ability to enjoy sexual pleasures and thereby take away a major motivation to be promiscuous. The desire to order a society in this way is what many sociologists might call “innate.” A similar argument can be made of certain groups of people whose moral norms, socialization, and innate predispositions would lead them to assume a posture of “ethnic cleansing.” I’m curious to hear on what grounds you would call these things “morally” “wrong.”

  3. The Atheist says:

    Welcome, Demodocos.

    Please feel free to jump in! Thoughtful discussion is always welcome here.

    I can’t speak for the “atheist notion of morality” per se since there is no official “atheist view” on anything except for the belief that there is no God (and even then, the reasons for disbelief vary). However, I’m happy to share my own beliefs about morality from an atheist viewpoint, so that is what my answer will reflect:

    I think humans are moral beings by nature. I think that our sense of morality grows out of our ability to empathize. Then our ethics arises out of our sense of morality, plus our ability to reason, and our ability to communicate reason through language. Our ethics might arise in part from public opinion – or perhaps more accurately, public sentiment. By definition, ethics is a conversation, guided by our sense of morality, about how society should be ordered.

    To use your example, an empathetic person who understands the harm and pain caused by female circumcision would feel that the act is immoral. Upon introspection, that seems to correlate with our personal feelings: the reason we feel that female circumcision is wrong is that we are disturbed by the harm and pain that it causes women. We are disturbed because we imagine the suffering, and we empathize – that is, we ourselves share the feeling of pain on some level. The pain is “wrong.” Then we formulate an ethical proposition: because the harm to the individual woman outweighs any potential benefit of subduing sexual promiscuity (whether subduing sexual promiscuity is desirable is yet another discussion), then society ought not to allow female circumcision.

  4. Demodocos says:

    Thanks for the welcome and the response. It’s great to have a forum for this conversation that doesn’t seem disintegrate into ad hominem reactions.

    Point taken that there is no “ashiest view.” Likewise, I might add, there is no “Christian” view. At any rate, I would like to press you on some of your answers.

    It is highly problematic to say both that we are “moral by nature” as well as “our morality grows out of our ability to empathize.” How would you go about validating such claims? Can you test empathy? How do we know empathy even exists? What if empathy is a bad emotional habit that we inherited from a sappy sentimental paradigm of perceiving life?

    Do you feel empathy any more than aunt Grace feels the presence of God? And even if you could scientifically validate that you were indeed feeling empathy, who says it’s an emotion that is worth having? Your logic for determining that an action is wrong is highly solipsistic. Your rationale is contingent upon the premise that people feel empathy for the same things – which they obviously don’t.

    It seems that many people’s “sense of morality” assumes a great deal of Christian baggage, which can be justified within the Christian paradigm. But once you negate the premise of Christianity then you have to give back the baggage. Science is an excellent common ground for convincing someone else whether or not zinc can cure a cold. But what is the common ground for convincing someone else whether or not something is “wrong.” So far the only grounds you have given to justify an act as “moral” are your own personal proclivities, not scientific evidence or religious conviction. It seems to me that the only posture atheists can take on issue of morality is indifference – to each his own.

  5. The Atheist says:

    Demodocos,

    It is highly problematic to say both that we are “moral by nature” as well as “our morality grows out of our ability to empathize.” How would you go about validating such claims? Can you test empathy? How do we know empathy even exists? What if empathy is a bad emotional habit that we inherited from a sappy sentimental paradigm of perceiving life?

    I don’t see what is problematic so maybe you can point that out for me.

    You can test empathy in a couple of ways, both in humans and in other animals. You can see brain patterns caused by a controlled stress in one individual, and see similar brain patterns in the second individual who witnesses the stress reaction of the first individual. You can also compare the facial expressions of both individuals ans the first receives the stress stimulus. When the test is given to humans (who are old enough to talk), you can interview the second individual to see how his feelings correspond to the other observations.

    I don’t think we can say that empathy is bad or good; only that it is part of our nature.

    Do you feel empathy any more than aunt Grace feels the presence of God? And even if you could scientifically validate that you were indeed feeling empathy, who says it’s an emotion that is worth having? Your logic for determining that an action is wrong is highly solipsistic. Your rationale is contingent upon the premise that people feel empathy for the same things – which they obviously don’t.

    Both empathy and feeling the presence of another (be it supernatural or natural) can be stimulated by an external source. Both empathy and the feeling of a presence can also be imagined.

    I don’t claim that empathy is good or bad, but I will claim that it is a valuable tool (“worth having”) for survival.

    Could you elaborate a bit more how my logic regarding empathy is solipsistic? I’m not sure I follow. I don’t believe that people are identical, and so I don’t believe that people have identical empathetic responses. In fact, sociopaths show much less empathetic response than the general population does.

    It seems that many people’s “sense of morality” assumes a great deal of Christian baggage, which can be justified within the Christian paradigm. But once you negate the premise of Christianity then you have to give back the baggage.

    If I am correct about the origin of morality, then one would expect that norms based on empathy would be codified. If I am correct, then it would be reasonable to view the bible’s morality is the result of natural morality that arises in humans. What would I have to give back?

    Science is an excellent common ground for convincing someone else whether or not zinc can cure a cold. But what is the common ground for convincing someone else whether or not something is “wrong.” So far the only grounds you have given to justify an act as “moral” are your own personal proclivities, not scientific evidence or religious conviction. It seems to me that the only posture atheists can take on issue of morality is indifference – to each his own.

    People have moral discussions based on similar feelings of empathy, similar language, and similar ability to reason. If any of these shared commonalities is missing in some individual who does not share your sense of morality, you (along with others who do share these three attributes – western society for example) might still be able to convey to this individual your disapproval and intolerance for certain of his actions. A threat of retribution might curb his behavior, but you won’t convince him that his action is immoral.

    One other note: science can’t convince people, like young-earth creationists, that the universe is billions of years old. It can only convince the majority who share similar reasoning skills.

  6. Demodocos says:

    You asked how it is highly problematic to say that we are “moral by nature” as well as “our morality grows out of our ability to empathize.” First of all, your example for testing ones empathy would qualify as a confirmation fallacy. First, this test would assume that there is a common understanding of pain. Using this example to confirm your notion that “our morality grows out of our ability to empathize”, still begs the question of whether or not the ones doing female circumcision (to use one example), have the same brain patterns as the women being circumcised. If they did, would they still be doing it? Do you honestly think that during the civil rights movement in America that a white police officer had the same brain patters with regards to empathy as Martin Luther King Jr. when they witnessed the beatings of countless African Americans?

    You are more than welcome to say that our morality grows out of our ability to empathize, but it seems to me that you have to be willing to say that the tribesman that circumcises women, as well as the white cop that beats African Americans for drinking from the wrong water fountain, are morally right because their actions grew out of their ability to empathize in a certain way. Your logic is problematic because the tribesman and the cop in the above example can both claim your rationale to justify their actions as “moral.” That is to say, it must be morally permissible because they themselves felt no empathy.

    This is partly why I regarded your logic as solipsistic. You believe that an action is wrong because you empathize with the individual in question. Perhaps I got carried away when I called it solipsistic, but I was only intending to imply that you might be confusing your own personal proclivities with what is inherent within all human beings. My point being that not all humans share your same empathies, so on what basis do you justify your empathies as morally superior to the tribesman and the white cop?

  7. The Atheist says:

    First, this test would assume that there is a common understanding of pain.

    Are you saying the assumption is that the experience of pain is the same from person to person, or that the understanding of pain and how to measure it among researchers is the same? In either case, why would that be a problem to measuring empathetic responses?

    Using this example to confirm your notion that “our morality grows out of our ability to empathize”, still begs the question of whether or not the ones doing female circumcision (to use one example), have the same brain patterns as the women being circumcised. If they did, would they still be doing it? Do you honestly think that during the civil rights movement in America that a white police officer had the same brain patters with regards to empathy as Martin Luther King Jr. when they witnessed the beatings of countless African Americans?

    I don’t understand how that begs the question (can you clarify?) but I understand why you might ask me to clarify how my response applies to the question. To this end, let me offer 2 suggestions: the first is the notion of the greater good. Perhaps the quickest way to explain is by example: A priest who was a member of Opus Dei said: “But you should love the people who tortured you. They did it to save your immortal soul. If you died under torture, you should go directly to heaven.” (from http://korstag.blogspot.com/2006/06/torture-according-to-opus-dei.html). Even if the priest empathizes with the victim’s pain from being tortured, he empathizes more with the victim’s eternal torture in hell. The African tribes who perform female circumcision may feel that reduced poverty and violence as a result of reduced unwanted pregnancy and promiscuity is the greater good. To the extent that this is the case, their behavior that you and I agree is unacceptable, can still be motivated by similar empathetic feelings.

    Secondly, empathy is not the only motivator. Some examples of other motivators are social norms (tradition), authoritarianism, self-serving practical considerations (wealth, power). It would be unreasonable to presume that a deficit of empathy (or a dissimilar empathy) is the reason for female circumcision.

    You are more than welcome to say that our morality grows out of our ability to empathize, but it seems to me that you have to be willing to say that the tribesman that circumcises women, as well as the white cop that beats African Americans for drinking from the wrong water fountain, are morally right because their actions grew out of their ability to empathize in a certain way. Your logic is problematic because the tribesman and the cop in the above example can both claim your rationale to justify their actions as “moral.” That is to say, it must be morally permissible because they themselves felt no empathy.

    I agree that it is possible for each group to claim that their actions are ethical. For example, what if the African tribes can present credible data that an enormous amount of suffering is avoided by female circumcision, and that there is no better means to avoid the enormous suffering. Would you then agree that female circumcision is ethical? As a personal aside, I think that the opposite is true – I think we can present evidence to reasonable African tribesmen that female circumcision is needless suffering and, except for other social pressures, they would have to agree that female circumcision is unethical.

    I’ve discussed only the African tribes here only because I believe that the white cops’ behavior was motivated more by social norms and less by empathy.

    This is partly why I regarded your logic as solipsistic. You believe that an action is wrong because you empathize with the individual in question. Perhaps I got carried away when I called it solipsistic, but I was only intending to imply that you might be confusing your own personal proclivities with what is inherent within all human beings. My point being that not all humans share your same empathies, so on what basis do you justify your empathies as morally superior to the tribesman and the white cop?

    I don’t claim that everyone’s feelings of empathy are identical – as indicated by my earlier comment about sociopaths.

  8. Demodocos says:

    As I was thinking about your post, as well as how I might clarify my own questions, I realized there was a clearer way to convey the impetus of my questions. It seems to me that Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals lays out a clear and precise critique of the dominant notion of morality. Both atheists and theists alike have to answer to his critique. While his wrecking ball is primarily directed at a theistic paradigm, he nevertheless calls into questions everyone’s notion of morality. He then takes atheism to its logical conclusion.

    I do not know how familiar you and/or your compadres are with this work, but that is where the core of my question lies:

    How can you give an account for your notion of morality, if Nietzsche’s critique of morality is right? How can you claim any basis for morality when the poster boy for atheism eloquently, systematically, and thoroughly debunks such notions?

    I realize that this question might be too dynamic to explore in this setting, but I do appreciate your thoughtful response.

  9. The Atheist says:

    Demodocos,

    It seems to me that Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals lays out a clear and precise critique of the dominant notion of morality.

    I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of Nietzsche’s critique. My understanding of his critique is that he indites the aristocracy for forcing their notion of the “good” (vs. the “bad”) upon the whole of society. Specifically, he critiques the notion that ‘what is good’ is good because the aristocracy deem it so. And on the other hand, he indites the “slave society” (the under class) for inventing a notion of “evil” (vs. the “good”) to attribute to the aristocrats in order to settle the score. His point is that if people take pains to understand how these competing notions of “good” came about, then we are freed from the bonds of history to make better choices and to live better lives.

    I don’t see Nietzsche’s critique as very pertinent to our discussion. And more generally, I don’t think it’s a very good fit in a modern western world where the lines between a slave society and a self-appointed moral aristocracy have become significantly more blurred than they were in Nietzsche’s society. It might be more apropos to contemporary conflicts between Arab and European societies.

    Not so much as an atheist, but as a non-traditionalist, I’m not chained to traditional views of the “good”, nor do I have any cause to invent an “evil”. As Nietzsche advises, I am more than willing to look at the historical origins of any particular set of moral values with a critical eye. So I don’t think I fail Nietzche’s challenge.

    As I understand it, your question is (or was) a critique of the existence of a naturally-occurring morality, and not so much an argument in support of either an aristocratic notion of good vs. bad, or a slave-society’s notion of good vs. evil. Would you agree?

  10. Datdamwuf says:

    I just found this site and can’t help myself, just jumping in to all these discussions!

    Morality is another piece of the evolution puzzle. As group hunter/gatherers we had to cooperate to survive, this cooperation had to take many forms. Our ethics and morals evolved from the need to survive in a society that required larger and larger numbers of individuals to work together. Certainly emotions played a part in this, but these too are a result of our evolving over long periods of time.

    In different parts of the world different needs were required to be met, in my view this led to different religions codifying somewhat different moral codes. But even here we see evolution at work because the underlying principles are the same. If indeed our morals streamed from a religion, and only one of those religions is correct, then why are the main morale principles of each religion the same?

    In the main I am speaking here of the male dominated religions that are most prevalent today. However, the female dominated religions that preceded them also had commonalities. Of the two I much prefer the morals and concepts of the latter.

  11. The Atheist says:

    Datdamwuf,

    I just found this site and can’t help myself, just jumping in to all these discussions!

    Don’t fight the urge!! :) I’m looking forward to your insights!

    Good observation about the female dominated religions. I never really considered that. What kind of moral differences do you find between female and male-dominated religions? Do you have any thoughts about why the differences may have arisen?

  12. Leonito says:

    this website of atheist are full of assholes. There is not such thing like atheist morality. I don’t believe in Darwing. He was just wrong. Do you think you are a free thinker? Are you really free? Who hell are you or you think you are?
    You just have choose a kind of reasonable thinking that make believe you that you are the most envolved people on earth. It is bullshit. There is not such thing like “envolved people”. If you believe you are some special human being you are full of shit. All we are people that live caugh in other’s throats. It is the fact. Don’t be such an asshole. I have not beliefs. Just because all you in this website are believers (atheist,agnostic,free thinkers,and all the shit going on and on…) it doesn’t make you a very special and intelligent “envolved people.”. All you here are like monkeys. I know the fact that you are caugh in this trap named culture or civilization.. Culture is the only thing that don’t allow you to be free. You are a prisoner and a slave. You live,suffer,make sex,pay taxes,work hard and compete one with other for a living. But life is an extraordinary thing and our bodies are not interested if you are or not an atheist or some agnostic asshole. The only thing the body want is functioning.
    The tick tack of your heart doesn’t care about you thinking,your sex drives or atheist beliefs. It only want to function properly and carry blood to the brain. All this website I asure you that is full of morons.

  13. Leonito says:

    Talking about morality is bullshit. You must to learn the lenguage of this world if you want to survive in this man made-jungle.

  14. Leonito says:

    Society,whcih has created al these sociopaths, has invented morality to protect itself from them or their own lack of morality.Society has created the “saint” and the “sinners”. I don’t accept them.

  15. Leonito says:

    There is not such thing like love. The fundamental attributes of life are survival and reproduction. But Darwing was wrong about how the man came into being.

  16. Leonito says:

    You know the history of Alice in Wonderland? The red queen has to run faster and faster to keep still where she is. That is exactly what ll you here are doing. Running faster and faster. But you are not moving anywhere.

  17. Leonito says:

    All the necessary for the survival of this living organism is already there. The tremendous intelligence of the body is not match for all that we have gathered and aquired throug our intelect

  18. Leonito says:

    It is a fool advise when somebody tell you “follow your heart”. I say: “don’t follow nobody,not your heart. Just follow your guts”.

  19. Leonito says:

    Often I hear from some scientific talking about “black holes”. I don’t know why they believe in such nosense. It is filled of matter. Only then the matter is inmortal. Matter is constantly recycling itself and creatring space. There is not such thing like end of the time. Time has not begin and not end. It eternally is. There is time to go from some place to another. But there is a time that can’t measured by the mind. The mind creates the concept of time and space. Mind is space itself. You need space to walk from some place to another. You create space and time when you walk. If it was not true,you could not move anyplace. There is not such thing like inercia. The whole universe is energy in ebullition. It recycles matter itself and it is why there is creation and destruction going on and on but as a matter of fact,there is not such thing like end of the whole universe . There is not such like the gloomy darkness of the nothing
    Such thing exists like the end of the universe as if all the lights of stars similar to a lamp were put out of a switch.

  20. supermanchild says:

    Whenever the question of whether an atheist can create a valid moral system without the assistance of a God or gods I find myself surprised that the following questions are rarely addressed, by either theists or atheists:

    1.How does this question represent a tenable line of inquiry when there are many philosophical ethical models (kantian or utilitarian models for example) that while not perfect, do function without being derived from a deity?

    2.If morality is derived from the dictates of the aforementioned deity, then on what authority does he establish ultimate moral truth? I don’t see a sense of gratitude for creation working there. I wouldn’t consider myself morally obliged to be a racist because my parents were racists, no matter how skillfully and carefully they gave birth to me. Nor do I consider the argument that one must be moral in deference to a deity’s supreme power to be tenable, as this reduces a God to nothing more than a great celestial bully.

  21. The Atheist says:

    supermanchild,

    1. I’ll go even a step further. The morality in the Bible is also based on those same ethical models. That suggests to me a human origin, not a divine one.

    2. I’ll differ here. If I believed that I was created by a god, then I would feel obliged to please him in any way I could. That is different than the feeling of obligation I have toward my parents, but only in magnitude. In fact, I do feel an obligation to please my parents. I would feel even more obliged to them if I believed they chose to give birth to me specifically, rather then just a baby that turned out to be me. If I believed that a god created me (actually created my “soul” as distinct from a mere physical body), then I would feel beholden to him in the same way, but to a much higher degree In fact, I would feel beholden to the degree of wanting to do everything possible to please him.

  22. Demodocos says:

    Wow, thank you Supermanchild and Atheist for bringing the conversation back around. It got a little crazy there for a moment. I wanted to get back to you, Atheist, for your excellent response with regards to Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, but this conversation seems to be equally as interesting, so I’ll wait.

    First, if we really want to nail down who got what from whom with regards to moral codes, there is plenty of evidence to support both sides (some evidence suggesting that Near Eastern religions borrowed from Judaism and others suggesting the other way around). While there is evidence of written codes predating the written moral codes of the Jews, there is also plenty of evidence that point to the fact that the Jews maintained their moral codes within the oral tradition for at least 4,000 years prior to its first written form. So while there are Near Eastern written moral codes that predate the Jewish written code, they do not necessarily predate the actual moral code as it was held within the oral traditions. All of that to say, the evidence does not suggest one thing more than another.

    Second, Christian scholarship has been well aware of the multifaceted ways in which non Judeo-Christian wisdom, traditions, laws, etc., have been woven into the Judeo-Christian faith (and vice versa). The importance of origin is not placed on the tangible written moral code, but on the continual revelations and struggle with who God is and what sort of people God wants us to be. The evolving moral code is but one of testimonies of this revelation. As Christian we believe that Jesus Christ was the fullest revelation of who God is, but even this revelation must be transmitted via many different facets – scripture, reason, tradition, etc. It is not that Christians believe that our moral code came straight from God, but that God has been continually revealing Godself as people continue to be faithful to God (which ought to imply a great deal of caution and humility). Our moral code is one byproduct of this dynamic interaction. Even our scriptures point to the fact that the law did not simply fall out of heaven but that “the law came through Moses.”

    Supermanchild, you are right to point out that there are multiple philosophical ethical models (kantian or utilitarian models for example) that while not perfect, do function without being derived from a deity? Furthermore, some Christians do use the argument that you outlined in your second paragraph, the only problem is that it is heretical (a.k.a. unorthodox, a.k.a. not Christian theology). All ethical models are directed towards a particular end. It is imperative that we are honest about the end to which our ethical models are directed. What is even more problematic is determining which end/goal is best.

    This leads to a question that is similar to your question with regards to “on what authority does he establish ultimate moral truth?” God does not force moral codes (and neither should Christians). It is offered and is free for the taking. It’s truth is validated in a life that is good, and noble, and true. If Christians cannot demonstrate that in their lives, then nobody has any business believing it.

    My question is on what authority do we determine what is good. Science can do a lot of things, but it cannot tell us what is good. Furthermore, it seems to me that it does not have the “authority” to prove that the way Christians come to know what is good, is actually bad.

  23. The Atheist says:

    Welcome back, Demodocos!

    Good points about the mixing of the various cultures with respect to moral codes! Could you point me to any of the evidence you mentioned about the Jews’ oral tradition appearing 4000 years before the written traditions? I do believe that oral code preceded written codes (and I believe that written codes were derived from those oral code) but I’m not aware of anything that indicates just how old the oral codes are.

    I was hoping supermanchild was still around and would respond. Maybe he still is and he still will. In the mean time, I wonder if I could ask you for some clarifications about a few things you said in your post.

    You said that “the evolving moral code is but one of testimonies of this revelation.” How in your view does the evolution of a moral code testify that there is a God who wants us to be a certain way?

    You also said that “God has been continually revealing Godself as people continue to be faithful to God … Our moral code is one byproduct of this dynamic interaction.” Do you believe that God has revealed Himself to people of other faiths just as He has to Christians? Are you basing your belief about revelation on scriptures (and other writings), and if so, is it because the scripture claims that God has revealed Himself or do you find other compelling evidence that this is the case?

    As an aside, I didn’t want to preempt supermanchild by answering questions that you had for him. Let me know if any of them were for me as well and I’ll do my best to address them.

  24. Demodocos says:

    How nice it is to reason together. I am indebted to your great responses as they bring about better rigor with which we reason.

    You asked about the evidence of oral tradition appearing 4,000 years before the written traditions. I probably oversimplified the matter, because the range of time to which the oral traditions correspond is between 26 and 3 B.C.E. All of the research about this is under the general title “Source Criticism,” and the research that deals with the compilation and dating of the first five books of the bible (Torah) falls under the specific category of the “Documentary Hypothesis.” Nearly all of the biblical research that is done in these fields is bases on scientific and historical research. Very little is accepted among the biblical scholars in these fields unless it corresponds to historical accuracy of everything else that is discovered (biblical or not). Scholars writing on the documentary hypothesis come from a wide range of institutions including Oxford, Harvard, and Yale.

    Your other questions were so loaded that I think any sufficient answer to them would be tedious and long. I feel I have to keep my comments brief, so I’ll try to respond to the heart of your questions in the most concise way.

    Just as there is bad scientific research, so too there is bad Christian theology. Just as there are bad scientists with loud mouths, so to (as all to many of us know) there are bad theologians with loud mouths. Hopefully, websites like these can bring the best of these two disciplines together. Some of the best theologians have said that God has revealed Godself to people of other faiths and traditions. We believe that all truth is God’s truth, regardless of who finds it. Through Christ, we come to know certain truths in other religions and faith traditions that we could not have come to know by staying in our own. But this happens from the perspective of Christ, and through Christ. To name one well known Christian thinker who explored and articulated these things is Thomas Merton. He is a well-known and well-loved Catholic monk, even among non-Catholic traditions like mine (he died in the 60s). For instance, he mentioned that “some of the wisdom of the Tao Teh Ching is absolutely necessary for us not only to progress but even to survive.”

    I agree with what you mentioned in your recent post “Presupposition and Other Logic-based Apologetics” when you said, “Christians are forced to consider the reasons why others should believe as they do. And in the process, Christians are forced to reevaluate their own reasons for faith.” This is truly where the rubber meets the road. While I have questions I would like to press you on (and you me) it boils down to the fact that we claim that the “life of Christ” is life to its fullest, as well as society to its fullest. The blood will be on our (Christian’s) heads if we cannot embody and portray life to its fullest. If anybody will be burning in hell, it will not be the atheist who deeply and honestly searches for truth, it will be the Christian who claimed to have it and failed to embody it. We are both seekers after truth – may we both find it.

  25. The Atheist says:

    Demodocos,

    How nice it is to reason together. I am indebted to your great responses as they bring about better rigor with which we reason.

    Nice indeed!! And I, yours.

    I’m acquainted with the Documentary Hypothesis. I just never thought of the writings being older than ca. 10’th century bc. In any case, we agree that the oral tradition well precedes any written record, and that the written record testifies that oral traditions from different societies routinely borrow from each other.

    Your other questions were so loaded that I think any sufficient answer to them would be tedious and long.

    As an aside, when I asked them, I fully expected that you would understand the salience of the questions, I didn’t intend them as any sort of trap. I hope you feel at ease in our discussions; at ease enough to test ideas, and even to concede points without feeling any risk of being pressed to retract broader beliefs you may hold – and I hope you feel at ease to press me in return! I won’t hesitate to concede either. As Pro 27:17 wisely says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” At the very least, each becomes more adept at defending his position, but the better outcome is that the interactions afford each of us an opportunity to reach better knowledge of ourselves and our universe.

    Through Christ, we come to know certain truths in other religions and faith traditions that we could not have come to know by staying in our own.

    I agree that understanding often comes from an external perspective. Just as Merton (and others which whom I’ve had the pleasure to converse with personally) have seen Christ in Buddha, it’s interesting to note that Buddhists often see the Buddha in Christ. It seems that transcendent thought appears in many diverse traditions. Do you see this as necessarily a hint of God’s existence? Or could it instead be humanity’s grappling with the understanding of “soul”? While the discussion of ‘transcendence leading to knowledge of God’ may be somewhat orthogonal to the question of ‘morality leading to the knowledge of God’, ‘transcendent thought’ may be closer than morality to the heart of the issue.

    it boils down to the fact that we claim that the “life of Christ” is life to its fullest, as well as society to its fullest

    On what you would base the claim?

    We are both seekers after truth – may we both find it.

    What a refreshing outlook. Hear! Hear!

  26. Demodocos says:

    For the record, I defiantly feel at ease in our postings and have felt nothing but an atmosphere of gracious dialogue. Saying that it was “loaded” was definitely a negatively charged colloquialism, which was not what I was intending. As you can probably relate, sometimes I feel certain questions deserved much more time and care than what might be appropriate for the setting. But that is life. To be sure, you can assume a respectful, direct, and/or playful tone, but never biting, sarcastic or antagonistic. By the way, nice use of Proverbs.

    I wonder if we should start thread here (It’s totally up to you). You asked on what do we base our claims (or at least the particular claims in question here). This is another topic that I wanted to press/explore with you, because it seems that we differ on what gives validity and weight to the things on which we base some of our claims.

    To begin, is there “a basis” for a claim that is as nuanced and multitentacled as the good life? To name a paltry handful of things that I consider are a part of “life to its fullest”: my relationships, my health, and my leisure. Life to its fullest is comprised of many different things, and the validity of each of those things is not necessarily based on the same thing. We base good health care on something different than what we base good relationships. Both are valid, but based on different criteria (this way of thinking about what gives things meaning is based on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work, particularly with regards to his work in the Philosophical Investigations).

    Rational proof (scientifically speaking) is the basis for some of the things that make our up notions of the good life, but there are numerous other things that make up the good life that are based on things that are not validated by the scientific method. You could use the language of scientific evidence to base your claims on what makes a marriage “good.” But on what would you base the claim that these aspects of life need to be based on the same claims as science? (I know that was convoluted)

    So the short answer is that your question cannot be answered in generalities. To be fair, I’ll try to express what I think makes a relationship good and how my belief in Christ plays into that. I anticipate the response to whatever rationale I give to be, “why do you need a belief in Christ to believe that?” This is a fair question. But why do we need Darwin in order to affirm certain theories of revolution; why do we need Einstein to believe the theory of relativity. We could argue that these things could have been discovered without these men, but why would we want to distance the people from their discoveries? More to my point, if I felt that someone had given me a great gift, what good reason would I have to drive a sharp distinction between the gift and the person that gave me that gift, when in fact they are intimately connected. Similarly (and this only plays a minor part in my rationale), to ask why I would need Christ in order to affirm the all of good things in my life that exist because of him seems to be dishonest.

    Christians can say that it is because of Christ that we have friends who are men and who are women; black and who are white; who are heterosexual and who are homosexual. It is because of Christ that we can see the power in loving our enemy, and even accepting death at their hands rather than inflicting it ourselves. It is not only because of Christ that I we empathies with those suffering injustices, but also because of Christ that we see some things as unjust while others may not, like abortion. I could go on to tell of all of the ways in which I have trusted in my faith and that it has only led an abundant life (of course the word “abundant” has a very particular definition within my faith, and it does not refer to monetary things).

    I understand that this doesn’t constitute proof. Nor does it prove any other religion as “wrong.” But you asked on what I base my claim, and it is the fact that I have lived out the aforementioned (which is only a small list), and have seen it as “good” not merely for me, but “good” for an entire community.

    I feel bad for the long post (that could have been much longer), but I am particularly interested in the conversation of what constitutes a valid basis. As you can probably guess, I’m assuming that we differ on this topic. At any rate, thanks for the conversation thus far.

  27. The Atheist says:

    Great idea about starting the thread. The new thread is The “life of Christ” is life to its fullest and I’ll post my response there.

  28. I'm drunk says:

    I believe that all people from the very beginning select morals based on few things having to do with their emotional development and their societal function — but not that societies values or influences (somebody could accept a moral code and follow it, but not adhere to it in their mind). In society, you realize that you have to treat people certain ways in order to achieve certain things or avoid certain others; morality becomes a matter of survival subject to practically everything — reason, religion, information, law, class and so forth. The origins perhaps then are pain, fear and reason. Whatever those moral codes become is a issue of understanding what is necessary to avoid pain as well as survive. If you live in a society where you can hurt somebody and not be punished, so long as you don’t like that person or what you can gain from that person is greater to you than appreciating that person, you may have no grief in hurting them but you know that to live in such a society would render you vulnerable to being hurt by others in the same way if everybody had equal rights, such has never been the case. This could help to explain why I believe every society throughout time has had it’s “bogeyman”, from witches to schizos and how social class plays a role in how we treat others. If you live in a society where women are merely meat than you may treat them that way because you will not fear that pain will result for you, because if it is the societal norm then the odds of being hurt because of it is low and the advantage given to you is appreciated.

    Something to note, humans are more likely to empathize with a pet than they are a human.

    But then, why don’t animals of the same species often kill each other. Well, they cant think or interact the way we do so they do not fear each other in the ways we do. A system of order designed by reason for societal function may be the origin of moral codes, adopted by people early in life and subject to change until death. I don’t believe that it is innate, nor do I believe it is natural — A feral child could perhaps be evidence of this. With the ability to think we become very dangerous beings, and upon our ability to hurt others we will realize their ability to hurt us. We will fear each other without some sort of moral basis and we know that laws are not unbreakable.

  29. The Atheist says:

    I’m drunk,

    Welcome to the blog! I hope you will post here often.

    I don’t think that ethics is innate; I only think that the sense of empathy (and other components of morality) are. So I agree with your assessment that people will act in society in a way to avoid pain and to get what they want, and that ethics and laws are informed to a large extent by those trade-offs.

    On pain avoidance, one of the kinds of pain people avoid is psychological pain that one feels when he hurts someone in his family, tribe, etc. This sense of empathy is innate and can cause us to risk bodily pain (a mother protecting her young for example). In the West (but not in some parts of the world), we consider our pets to be “one of the family,” of the same tribe – even if they aren’t human. It is often easier for us to dehumanize a human enemy than it is to dehumanize our pets (even though our pets aren’t human). One other aspect of morality is the sense of tribe – the more distant the tribe membership (for example, family is the closest tribe, then the inner circle, then the outer circle, etc), the less we show reciprocity (as in “the golden rule”) for that person. For many, their pets are in an inner circle, but not quite family.

    I do disagree that we behave fundamentally differently than other social animals in this regard. I think the difference is based on our reasoning ability with which we formulate ethics and laws, but not based on our innate sense of morality that is similar to other animals. In our case, the inner sense of morality is one of the components that informs our ethics and laws.

    Thoughts?

  30. Mithotyn says:

    I just believe that it’s a matter of social economics from the very start. That even in caveman days those who develop “love” through “empathy” for their fellow tribesman do so because it is a matter of their survival. Now, when many tribes together — who wont get along having no business to do with each other — form societies, the need for a widespread moral code becomes seen as necessary for these social factions to unite in the hopes of building more prosperous societies with less starvation.

    People empathize with pets more undoubtedly because the pets can not think or speak, they can only feel — they are no threat to us borg, they are dominated.

  31. Mithotyn says:

    “(a mother protecting her young for example).”

    “but not based on our innate sense of morality that is similar to other animals. In our case, the inner sense of morality is one of the components that informs our ethics and laws.”

    I still believe it is a matter of selfish survival, often seen and demonstrated as not (love) because of our conscious and unconscious awareness of the fundamental necessity of other humans to survive. At some point I believe we had feelings but could not think so well but we understood the importance of other humans. We are not cheetahs, running around eating gazelle. We rely on other humans to survive, “love” and kindness has become a sort of survival mechanism for the species and it’s no wonder people almost only ever attribute it to their own (Families, class, religion, whatever). Aware of it or not, when somebody views somebody in need of help and decides not to help them it is because they do not feel that they owe anything, and when they help them it is because they feel guilty for having been helped or are afraid that maybe one day it could be them (empathy) and would want somebody to help them.

    A mother and her child is a greater extreme to this, but throughout time and in these days when a mother subconsciously has no sense or idea of benefiting from or needing future support from their child we see the consequence of abuse, neglect and even death but also the reality of our morality being a mechanism for survival.

  32. The Atheist says:

    Mithotyn

    Don’t get me wrong, just because I talk about an innate sense of morality, I don’t mean that the innate sense is anything more then a self-serving development along the evolutionary path.

    The idea that we empathize more with a pet only because we have total domination doesn’t seem to hold true through. For example, we have complete domination over houseplants and goldfish, but we don’t empathize in the same way as we do with our cats and dogs for example. On the flip side, we might even empathize with a rodent that invades our house – even though we are somewhat out of control of the invasion. Yet we still may prefer to catch and release him rather than kill him with poison or mousetraps. And just to be clear, I believe that these feelings of empathy that I’m describing here developed via evolution as a self-serving trait that benefits survival and prorogation of genes.

  33. Mithotyn says:

    “For example, we have complete domination over houseplants and goldfish, but we don’t empathize in the same way as we do with our cats and dogs for example.”

    Because theres nothing to empathize with, they have no feelings.

    Think harder.

  34. Mithotyn says:

    “The idea that we empathize more with a pet only because we have total domination”

    O.K. apparently we missed each other somewhere. And it’s complicated.

    Are you making a case that the feelings are innate, as in innate by nature?

    If so, I’m making the case that we developed them first and foremost through a artificial understanding of what was necessary to survive, which is still observable today,

    But now I’m really confused… I fear our perception and logic are so amazingly different, all I can trust in semantics are not its truth but its effect.

  35. Mithotyn says:

    O.K. I just figured it out, I’m using presupposition and thus leaving so much out… But besides being insane, I’m drunk as well and my mind races so fast I have to type in a stream of conscious to keep up.

    “I’m making the case that we developed them first and foremost through”

    ‘them’, being not just feelings in general, but (I presupposed) regarding that which leads to morality…

    And so on and so forth I could dissect everything here and try to explain it to find the actual ‘truth’ in our statements… But it’s pointless, yet purposeful sometimes.

    I wish language were more like math,

  36. Mithotyn says:

    “‘them’, being not just feelings in general, but (I presupposed) regarding that which leads to morality…”

    Meaning having feelings for ourselves was natural, innate. But feelings for others is not.

    That’s it… But theres undoubtedly a lot more I never clarified … This is why people like me end up on drugs if we don’t hide from society.

    If I cant keep up with my brain, it’s no wonder everyone thinks I’m crazy.

  37. Mithotyn says:

    “‘them’, being not just feelings in general, but (I presupposed) regarding that which leads to morality…”

    — Being love, empathy.

  38. Mithotyn says:

    O.K. a friend of mine who is an expert on semantics just told me I might as well give up, I distorted even my own points and statements.

    I’m convinced there is no need, nor pleasure for anyone that I continue rambling.

    But, I believe in returning to the base of all things to find ‘truth’. To study the universe, instead of learning about it. …

    I end and apologize with the statements I was making.

    Human beings love themselves, but are taught to love others
    Human beings love themselves because of fear of pain, our pain is like another being attacking us — we cant accept to believe that it is natural — the force of nature…

    Humans become the source of all morality, based of course on partially what you and everyone else here has even said, including the leonito guy, but the development is social and fear driven, from generation to generation.

    Don’t ever wonder why some people like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted bundy can do what they do, for even they had no diagnosed brain abnormality (sociopathy is not a brain disease nor a mental illness but a personality disorder) …

    They developed a certain way, and into certain extroverted attitudes toward others, with their introverted feeling of self. It might actually be that simple. I dunno. Theres no way to explain this.

  39. Mithotyn says:

    – Being love, empathy.” – Being the artificial feelings,

  40. Mithotyn says:

    “– Being love, empathy.” – Being the artificial feelings,

  41. The Atheist says:

    Mithotyn,

    Are you making a case that the feelings are innate, as in innate by nature?

    Yes.

    If so, I’m making the case that we developed them first and foremost through a artificial understanding of what was necessary to survive, which is still observable today,

    I’m talking about something more basic than understanding. I’m talking about a trait that we can see in other animals – bonobos and chimps are probably the best examples.

    Actually, my perception is that we basically agree – but you don’t realize it yet ;) The only point where we disagree is that it sounds to me like you think that humans learned morality where I think it evolved in humans as well as in other other animals that display a sense of morality.

  42. Mithotyn says:

    “The only point where we disagree is that it sounds to me like you think that humans learned morality where I think it evolved in humans as well as in other other animals that display a sense of morality.”

    No that I believe any morality we see in animals is not like our own, it’s all subjective, not objective.

    I don’t want to sound like a snob, but I have to encourage you to use critical thinking at this point.

  43. Mithotyn says:

    ““The only point where we disagree is that it sounds to me like you think that humans learned morality where I think it evolved in humans as well as in other other animals that display a sense of morality.””

    I explained the process… So how am I disagreeing?

    “I think it evolved in humans as well as in other other animals that display a sense of morality.”””

    We don’t have so many cows because of natural selection, this is up to us. It’s all based on, basically I’ve already said…

    But we’re speaking another language

  44. Curious says:

    I’ve read some of the foregoing thread but not in detail so if this has already been answered, please forgive me. My questions isn’t whether an atheist has morals and, assuming they do, why they have morals or where the morals originate from….my question is this, does an atheist have any right to require any level or expectation of morality from others? The majoriy may have the ability to require “morality” of the minority but that is only as a result of the strength in numbers. So, if I find it beneficial to murder someone and I can get away with it, can an atheist judge my acts as immoral or wrong? Maybe I’m just more evolved…

  45. Denis Loubet says:

    Do you want to be killed? No? Then it is in your best interest to live in a society that does not tolerate killing. And to commit murder in such a society would make the society more fearful and irrational, and ultimately this will ruin what you found valuable about the society in the first place, placing everyone, including yourself, at greater risk.
    That’s the logical reason.

    I was once asked by a Christian why I was not out raping and killing. I responded by asking him if not for the strictures of his god, would he rather be out raping and killing? He answered “Yes.”

    I suspect that answer was offered only to avoid surrendering the point, but still…

    Plus, religion cannot be the author of morality, it can only be the author of obedience. Obedience is not moral. “I was only following orders!” is not moral.

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