Can Morality Exist Without Belief in God?

  • Thread starter Greg Bernhardt
  • Start date
In summary: This is not unique to any one religion, it is found in all religions. Again, if you are not religious, where do you get your morals from?
  • #1
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I was watching a tv program where a priest and an athiest were going back and forth. At one point the priest started badgering the athiest with the question of "why be good" and "where do you get your morals from". Strangely the athiest was a big flustered and avoided the question. At first glance these seem like difficult questions to answer, but the more I thought about it they are quite easy.

1. "Why be good"
You could say there is natural animal altruism and that history has shown that collective cooperation has more benefits than selfish hostility. But a quick and obvious answer can simply be "I don't want to go to jail". Right? People always make the argument, "if you don't think there is judgment at death, go crazy, rob people, kill for a stereo." No thanks I'd rather not spend my life in jail. Morals a side there is a practical side that is very powerful. Maybe if we were on a "Lord of the Flies" island some of us would kill and be selfish. But society has bounds you want to live within even if your morals don't coincide. Does that makes sense?

2. "Where do you get your morals from"
Why do people equate a moral set with a specific belief in God? Can't I adopt some christian values and retain my skepticism? Personally I adopt my morals from many religions and philosophies. Doesn't mean I believe in their Gods. It just means they make sense to me and my life. Is that so hard for atheists to admit?

A. Side statement: I regularly go to a pentecostal church once a week. It's a night for young adults and I go for the social side and stories. One thing I hear all the time there is during story telling (which are fascinating) they speak as if these stories are truth and how historically correct they are. I feel like I am the only one there who understands that the stories that have historical backing are the ones with a huge disconnect between the story and the proof of God. I once heard someone tell me that they thought the Bible was written and constructed in a way that people at that time could understand. That God did things in that time that people would understand. An interesting comment, but the problem is that then God should update things so that we in todays time can understand. Because what worked 2000 years ago, is not working now, atleast for me :) He should get someone to write a New New Testament and get more miracles going that we today can relate to.

Perhaps I am not thinking these things through enough, but these are my immediate thoughts.
 
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  • #2
1. "Why be good"
You could say there is natural animal altruism and that history has shown that collective cooperation has more benefits than selfish hostility. But a quick and obvious answer can simply be "I don't want to go to jail". Right? People always make the argument, "if you don't think there is judgment at death, go crazy, rob people, kill for a stereo." No thanks I'd rather not spend my life in jail. Morals a side there is a practical side that is very powerful. Maybe if we were on a "Lord of the Flies" island some of us would kill and be selfish. But society has bounds you want to live within even if your morals don't coincide. Does that makes sense?
From the practical side, there is less stress when one is good - well assuming one has a conscience. Then there are persons with pathological personalities, who commit harmful or evil acts but feel no remorse (i.e. apparently have no conscience). Examples would be Ted Bundy or Jeffry Dahmer.

2. "Where do you get your morals from"
Why do people equate a moral set with a specific belief in God? Can't I adopt some christian values and retain my skepticism? Personally I adopt my morals from many religions and philosophies. Doesn't mean I believe in their Gods. It just means they make sense to me and my life. Is that so hard for atheists to admit?
from within. Morality is choice. I have learned about morals from my parents and larger family, from friends and from my experience in the world. If I am moral or act morally, it is by choice.

A person once said that morality without God was an abstract concept. Well - God is an abstract concept (requires belief or faith in the absence of evidence or direct observation). Some people require a belief in an authority or 'higher being'. If that helps them be moral or live a happy life, then fine. Otherwise, if it causes them to do harm to themselves or others, then there's a problem.
 
  • #3
Greg Bernhardt said:
I was watching a tv program where a priest and an athiest were going back and forth. At one point the priest started badgering the athiest with the question of "why be good" and "where do you get your morals from". Strangely the athiest was a big flustered and avoided the question. At first glance these seem like difficult questions to answer, but the more I thought about it they are quite easy.

1. "Why be good"
You could say there is natural animal altruism and that history has shown that collective cooperation has more benefits than selfish hostility. But a quick and obvious answer can simply be "I don't want to go to jail". Right? People always make the argument, "if you don't think there is judgment at death, go crazy, rob people, kill for a stereo." No thanks I'd rather not spend my life in jail. Morals a side there is a practical side that is very powerful. Maybe if we were on a "Lord of the Flies" island some of us would kill and be selfish. But society has bounds you want to live within even if your morals don't coincide. Does that makes sense?

On that basis, it becomes a risk to benefit ratio that is subjective. The next guy might feel that murder is justified if the reward is large enough.

2. "Where do you get your morals from"
Why do people equate a moral set with a specific belief in God? Can't I adopt some christian values and retain my skepticism? Personally I adopt my morals from many religions and philosophies. Doesn't mean I believe in their Gods. It just means they make sense to me and my life. Is that so hard for atheists to admit?

Some people choose to follow the teachings of Hitler. Some people believe that "greed is good".

A common belief is that by accepting Jesus... you are open to "the truth", as opposed to misguided and flawed principles.

A. Side statement: I regularly go to a pentecostal church once a week. It's a night for young adults and I go for the social side and stories. One thing I hear all the time there is during story telling (which are fascinating) they speak as if these stories are truth and how historically correct they are. I feel like I am the only one there who understands that the stories that have historical backing are the ones with a huge disconnect between the story and the proof of God. I once heard someone tell me that they thought the Bible was written and constructed in a way that people at that time could understand. That God did things in that time that people would understand. An interesting comment, but the problem is that then God should update things so that we in todays time can understand. Because what worked 2000 years ago, is not working now, atleast for me :) He should get someone to write a New New Testament and get more miracles going that we today can relate to.

That's why the Catholics have the Pope. Beyond studying the scriptures, other beliefs lead one to pray for guidance. For example, when I was a Mormon [briefly as a young adult], I remember someone asking what sex acts are and are not... good. The answer was that you should trust yourself. If it feels wrong, it is. This is generally considered to be a good rule of thumb. It is believed that this guidance comes from the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps I am not thinking these things through enough, but these are my immediate thoughts.

Once you get this all settled, let me know the correct answer. :biggrin:
 
  • #4
Greg Bernhardt said:
I was watching a tv program where a priest and an athiest were going back and forth. At one point the priest started badgering the athiest with the question of "why be good" and "where do you get your morals from". Strangely the athiest was a big flustered and avoided the question. At first glance these seem like difficult questions to answer, but the more I thought about it they are quite easy.

1. "Why be good"
You could say there is natural animal altruism and that history has shown that collective cooperation has more benefits than selfish hostility. But a quick and obvious answer can simply be "I don't want to go to jail". Right? People always make the argument, "if you don't think there is judgment at death, go crazy, rob people, kill for a stereo." No thanks I'd rather not spend my life in jail. Morals a side there is a practical side that is very powerful. Maybe if we were on a "Lord of the Flies" island some of us would kill and be selfish. But society has bounds you want to live within even if your morals don't coincide. Does that makes sense?

2. "Where do you get your morals from"
Why do people equate a moral set with a specific belief in God? Can't I adopt some christian values and retain my skepticism? Personally I adopt my morals from many religions and philosophies. Doesn't mean I believe in their Gods. It just means they make sense to me and my life. Is that so hard for atheists to admit?

A. Side statement: I regularly go to a pentecostal church once a week. It's a night for young adults and I go for the social side and stories. One thing I hear all the time there is during story telling (which are fascinating) they speak as if these stories are truth and how historically correct they are. I feel like I am the only one there who understands that the stories that have historical backing are the ones with a huge disconnect between the story and the proof of God. I once heard someone tell me that they thought the Bible was written and constructed in a way that people at that time could understand. That God did things in that time that people would understand. An interesting comment, but the problem is that then God should update things so that we in todays time can understand. Because what worked 2000 years ago, is not working now, atleast for me :) He should get someone to write a New New Testament and get more miracles going that we today can relate to.

Perhaps I am not thinking these things through enough, but these are my immediate thoughts.

This has been soundly addressed. You may want to take a look here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_parsons/misconceptions.html#motive
 
  • #5
From the evolutionary point of view, developing a level of altruism allowed humans to work together and outcompete other tribes. Basically everyone enters a social contract since birth, that we impose on ourselves. Things like killing, raping, or stealing are forbidden in many cultures if not all. And if were you break this contract then you are subject to be punished by the group.

The details of what is accepted or not is solely decided by the group or the tribe you are from. For instance in our culture we look down upon cannibalism, but it was perfectly normal for many pacific islanders. The famous captain Cook who explored the Pacific Ocean was actually captured in Hawaii and consumed by the primitives.

The same psychology applies to Paris Hilton for example. She is a role model who is worshiped by many young women. And if she wears pink and huge sunglasses, then it must be OK. They'll all wear it.
 
  • #6
I do think that this is a valid question. Saying that you don't want a Lord of the Flies scenario explains why you would want other people to behave morally but it's kind of a Rube-Goldberg-machine logic, that doesn't really work, to say that you think you ought to behave morally yourself through some sort of self-interest, because you behaving morally indirectly supports the rest of society behaving morally.

Like, you would risk your own life to stop a murder from happening, because if you do it will slightly discourage other people in society from committing murder, so you'll face a slightly lower likelihood of getting murdered yourself... if you survive your attempt to stop that murder, that is.

It seems to me that, if someone really thought morality was all simply in people's heads, they ought to regard the rest of society a bit like a farmer who raises and milks a cow: there's a sort of exchange going on - the farmer gives the cow grass to eat and a barn to sleep in, and the cow gives the farmer milk, but the farmer doesn't owe the cow anything. If the farmer decides he wants steak for dinner more than he wants milk with breakfast there's no quandary, he just slaughters the cow.

Similarly, with no fundamental morality you've got to keep everyone else thinking you're a law-abiding citizen but you don't owe them anything; you're just doing what you need to to get the milk. Like the farmer would avoid getting kicked by the cow, you'll avoid the danger of jail, but if circumstances arise where you think you can get away with something that's immoral but in your best interest there's no reason not to.

Personally, my sense is that it's really wrong to murder or defraud someone, for example. It may be difficult or impossible to articulate this fundamental morality as a set of rules or principles but it seems to me that the sense that those things are wrong must be perceiving something similar to logic or mathematics - immaterial but in some sense "real" or "existent". (But, I could certainly be wrong about that.)

Religious people are gung-ho to say "well that comes from God!" but I think that would actually weaken it, for several reasons. If it's something that somehow issues from God and is subordinate to Him, then it's not really absolute morality. If it was really absolute morality God himself would be bound by it. But it's often pictured as subject to divine whim - when the Israelites are fleeing Egypt God tells them it's okay to steal from their Egyptian masters. Or in Israel it's okay to kill when they slaughter the worshipers of the Golden Calf. (Who, according to the Bible, are their own brothers and cousins.)

Another thing is that Judeo-Christians seem to usually end up having to come up with this concept of "divine justice" - special moral laws for God that explain why it's right for God to do things to humans that it wouldn't be okay for one human to do to another human.

And furthermore, it seems to me that it can't have anything to do with punishment. If you obey a moral law simply out of fear of punishment then it's not really a matter of right and wrong; you'd behave the same way no matter what the law was. So, while I'm sure that God could punish you with an eternity in Hell for breaking his laws, and consequently get you recant or renounce anything, it wouldn't make his laws right - any good torturer or tyrannical autocracy could accomplish the same thing.
 
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  • #7
It's very simple to me. I don't follow any religion or believe in any deity. I fear no punishment from any supernatural creature, but I don't harm others physically or emotionally because *I* don't think it's right, not because I am afraid of some mythical creature harming me.

Many of my friends are religious and I know they would still be good people without the fear their religion places on them.
 
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  • #8
waht said:
From the evolutionary point of view, developing a level of altruism allowed humans to work together and outcompete other tribes. Basically everyone enters a social contract since birth, that we impose on ourselves. Things like killing, raping, or stealing are forbidden in many cultures if not all. And if were you break this contract then you are subject to be punished by the group.

The social contract concept is a good behavioral description of how society works. The problem is, I think, that it makes no sense as a rationale for one's own actions.

I was just discussing this with someone the other day and I came up with a good way of explaining it - it's like Pavlov's dog adopting behavioral conditioning as its personal religion or something: "You don't understand - the bell rang! I have to eat now! I have no choice! That's what behavioral conditioning says!"
 
  • #9
Evo said:
It's very simple to me. I don't follow any religion or believe in any deity. I fear no punishment from any supernatural creature, but I don't harm others physically or emotionally because *I* don't think it's right, not because I am afraid of some mythical creature harming me.

Many of my friends are religious and I know they would still be good people without the fear their religion places on them.

Well said Evo! :approve:
 
  • #10
Evo said:
It's very simple to me. I don't follow any religion or believe in any deity. I fear no punishment from any supernatural creature, but I don't harm others physically or emotionally because *I* don't think it's right, not because I am afraid of some mythical creature harming me. Many of my friends are religious and I know they would still be good people without the fear their religion places on them.

When you refer to God as a mythical creature, and when you belittle religion as silly rather than respecting different beliefs, and when you describe religion as "fear", rather than "love" based - the essential difference between the old and new testaments [Christianity] - aren't you trying to insult people here who believe in God and hold these beliefs in the deepest regard?

That's not a very Christian thing to do.

Now go to confession and say ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers.
 
  • #11
Greg Bernhardt said:
1. "Why be good"
You could say there is natural animal altruism and that history has shown that collective cooperation has more benefits than selfish hostility. But a quick and obvious answer can simply be "I don't want to go to jail". Right? People always make the argument, "if you don't think there is judgment at death, go crazy, rob people, kill for a stereo." No thanks I'd rather not spend my life in jail. Morals a side there is a practical side that is very powerful. Maybe if we were on a "Lord of the Flies" island some of us would kill and be selfish. But society has bounds you want to live within even if your morals don't coincide. Does that makes sense?
That's true, but I don't think you are going deep enough. Yes, a lot of people follow a certain morality because they don't want to go to jail, but that doesn't explain how that morality came to be. It happened because people decided that these rules made sense/were necessary in forming a functional society. If morality was purely reactive, it (both society and morality) never would have developed. That's Hobbes.
2. "Where do you get your morals from"
Why do people equate a moral set with a specific belief in God?
Tradition. Christianity predates widespread education, which is a good thing, because for the average person there was no possibility of developing a morality via their own intellectual power until people became educated.
Can't I adopt some christian values and retain my skepticism?
Absolutely! I consider myself Christian, but I've argued on this forum a number of times (because of your #1) that morality can be derived logically, as a matter of practicality. Heck, it can even be tested to see if it works: it is scientific in nature.
Personally I adopt my morals from many religions and philosophies. Doesn't mean I believe in their Gods. It just means they make sense to me and my life. Is that so hard for atheists to admit?
I'm not quite clear on what you mean there, but that may be a byproduct of that second point: morality, traditionally, was purely in the domain of religion, so if you want to learn morality, you need to learn how religions defined it. It is only in the last few hundred years that that has begun to change (save for a few Greek philosophers who I doubt your average Dark Ages peasant ever heard of), but religion still has such a strong hold on people that the alternate means of arriving at morality have not been widely taught. It needs to be taught in school.

Just an fyi, much of this moral theory I hold I had a vague idea of growing up, but it was developed in detail during my time at the Naval Academy. Due in large part to the Mai Lai incident, the military put a heavy emphasis on morality and ethics training for officers and intellectual development of morality (as opposed to religious development of morality) is the direction it is taught from.
A. Side statement: I regularly go to a pentecostal church once a week. It's a night for young adults and I go for the social side and stories. One thing I hear all the time there is during story telling (which are fascinating) they speak as if these stories are truth and how historically correct they are. I feel like I am the only one there who understands that the stories that have historical backing are the ones with a huge disconnect between the story and the proof of God. I once heard someone tell me that they thought the Bible was written and constructed in a way that people at that time could understand. That God did things in that time that people would understand. An interesting comment, but the problem is that then God should update things so that we in todays time can understand. Because what worked 2000 years ago, is not working now, atleast for me :) He should get someone to write a New New Testament and get more miracles going that we today can relate to.

Perhaps I am not thinking these things through enough, but these are my immediate thoughts.
Your forum, so we'll talk about religion if you want...

My opinion: there is much of the Bible that is historically verifiable, but little of that is germane to the religion. More people live in the US today than in the entire world's history prior to 1 AD, yet God has not chosen to openly reveal himself since then. That should tell us something...
 
  • #12
russ_watters said:
My opinion: there is much of the Bible that is historically verifiable,

Such as?

More people live in the US today than in the entire world's history prior to 1 AD, yet God has not chosen to openly reveal himself since then. That should tell us something...

There are only three possibilities really:

A) He doesn't exist
B) He exists, but he could care less about what happens to us, which would contradict Christianity.

C) The believers have it all wrong, and God is seeing who will be smart enough to remain skeptical of his existence based on the lack of evidence. He will then burn all credulous people for eternity.I am curious Russ as to what aspects you're religious in, and why you're not an atheist.
 
  • #13
I think it's pretty offensive the way Christians always take credit for morality.
As if God and faith is the only way to gain morals.
There are many ways to gain a set of morals, the most obvious one is to learn of right and wrong internally.

I have morals because I am an adult who has developed the viewpoint that doing bad things to others, is a bad thing. It's not any more complicated than that.
People who feel they need a higher authority to keep them in check, and everyone else, must either have bad faith in humanity, or bad faith in themselves.
And I don't blame them for it, humanity is capable of a lot of terrible stuff, which we might never grow out of.

But I do know that 99.9% of all people I have met who are atheist, scientifically inclined and a curious nature, are usually peaceful and nice, while religious people have, through history and now, a higher tendency to violence.
So I just find the whole Morals Through God thing ridiculous.
 
  • #14
octelcogopod said:
But I do know that 99.9% of all people I have met who are atheist, scientifically inclined and a curious nature, are usually peaceful and nice, while religious people have, through history and now, a higher tendency to violence.
So I just find the whole Morals Through God thing ridiculous.

Well, firstly, I think your sampling is a little biased! The reality is that religion is a major factor in a lot of people's lives. For example, in the US I think around 80% of the population call themselves Christian!

I agree with you, though. I think one needs to just look back in history to see how much hatred and violence religion has spawned, and such violence is still taking place today. Personally, I will respect whatever anyone wants to believe, since it's up to them to do so, but I don't think that organised religion is beneficial to anyone.

I also don't understand how scientists can believe in a deity. Surely when they do, any chance one has of explaining nature is tossed out, since one can simply say "it was god's will."
 
  • #15
Now, far be it for me to defend organized religion. One can easily check the records of my posts to know that I'm not a big fan of it.

However, to be fair, one also should look at the fact that major violence against mankind has also been done by non-organized religion, simply based on secular ideology. Look at the cruelty done by the Nazis, the Fascists, communists Soviet Union, and currently, communist China and North Korea. So such violence isn't just a monopoly of organized religion.

My conclusion? People who have hatred always want to latch on something to justify their hatred. This can be organized religion, ideology, etc. Why? Because it accomplishes two things: (i) it allows them to rationalize their hatred, and (ii) it gives them an already-established support, because if they can sell their hatred as being based on a set of beliefs or ideology, then all the followers of that belief and ideology will also be persuaded to adopt the hatred. One can clearly see this today with what groups like Al Qaida and others are trying to sell.

Zz.
 
  • #16
CaptainQuasar said:
The social contract concept is a good behavioral description of how society works. The problem is, I think, that it makes no sense as a rationale for one's own actions.

I was just discussing this with someone the other day and I came up with a good way of explaining it - it's like Pavlov's dog adopting behavioral conditioning as its personal religion or something: "You don't understand - the bell rang! I have to eat now! I have no choice! That's what behavioral conditioning says!"


Pavlov's dog experiment sums it up. We are already biased by being conditioned by our culture to behave in a certain way. But if you were to take this out of the picture, and contemplate on morality without bias, such as is it right to kill a living thing? then we can bring up game theory and assess the pros and cons.

People have a potential to behave in any possible way. But what drives people to behave is a constant struggle between your ego and your emotions. Whoever wins determines what you are going to do next.

For example, it would be a con to kill someone out of the blue, because you are putting yourself at risk, and wasting resources, and energy. So you might as well just not kill.

But if you are driven emotionally to kill someone than that could be a pro for you, because you are satisfying your emotional needs, as it is with many serial killers.
 
  • #17
ZapperZ said:
Now, far be it for me to defend organized religion. One can easily check the records of my posts to know that I'm not a big fan of it.

However, to be fair, one also should look at the fact that major violence against mankind has also been done by non-organized religion, simply based on secular ideology. Look at the cruelty done by the Nazis, the Fascists, communists Soviet Union, and currently, communist China and North Korea. So such violence isn't just a monopoly of organized religion.

*Sighs in relief* I'm glad you didn't jump the gun with that tired old argument of "well the most vicious dictators were atheists!" Christians say that a lot as if it invalidates the atheist position. A lot of those vicious dictators they mentioned followed their own warped ideologies, which had nothing to do with atheism. I can't think of a single person in history that killed in the name of disbelief.
 
  • #18
LightbulbSun said:
I can't think of a single person in history that killed in the name of disbelief.

Are you saying you can't think of anyone in history killed because they don't believe in the religion that someone else did? That's just wrong!
 
  • #19
cristo said:
Are you saying you can't think of anyone in history killed because they don't believe in the religion that someone else did? That's just wrong!
No, I think he was referring to true atheists that simply "do not believe" in a god. And saying if you don't care/don't believe you wouldn't take action on behalf of something that you had no feelings about. I don't know if that was very clear, perhaps not.

An example would be why atheists don't build fancy buildings and require other people that don't care/believe to meet once a week to not worship something they don't think about.
 
  • #20
As a philosophy student, I took care to separate morals and ethics, as did the professors. My first class was actually designed for grad students and advanced philosophy majors, and it was a weekly 3-hour seminar in which we critiqued a book being written by the department head - "Meta-ethics". The most probing questions involved the origin of ethical motivations.

Then and now, I see "morality" as being imposed from the outside-in, with laws and rules that are interpreted and applied by a hierarchy of authorities. It was this view of faith (held by those in power) that got Jesus into trouble, because he instead urged ethical behavior, which was antithetical to the goals of the existing establishment. In other words, you could find good within yourself and approach God on your own terms, not those of the authorities in the temples.

I once wrote a sig on a philosophy site that said (IIR):

The ethical man does what is right.
The moral man does what he thinks his god will let him get away with.
God has a very warm place reserved for the moral man.
 
  • #21
LightbulbSun said:
I can't think of a single person in history that killed in the name of disbelief.

Of course, by fiddling around with the definition of "in the name of" you might include or exclude a great number of deaths but it seems to me there must have at least been one and probably many more:

Dechristianisation of France during the French Revolution

(To be taken with a grain of salt since it's a Wikipedia article. I haven't checked through the references, which are available on Google Books, but it seems to generally agree with what I remember from school.)

And atheism was an official component of many strains of Communism. In Soviet Russia they went back and forth between suppressing religion and trying to use it as a tool of the state but I'm pretty certain that at least some people were sent to the Siberian gulags in the name of disbelief. It seems feasible that others might have been killed for the same reason.

I would certainly think that on average, atheists probably have a much harder time coming up with a faith-related reason to kill others or do other such things. As an atheist myself I'd like to think that in the absence of faith rationality might be more successful in restraining the baser impulses.

But many atheists do not exactly feel neutral towards religion and I have known some who utterly vilify religion, hate it like a theist might hate an errant sect or group of infidels, and seem almost to blame it for everything bad that ever happens.

Evo said:
An example would be why atheists don't build fancy buildings and require other people that don't care/believe to meet once a week to not worship something they don't think about.

But some of them http://www.atheist-experience.com/archive/! (Not really, but they ought to do a televangelism-themed episode. They're pretty entertaining for a cable access show.)
 
  • #22
CaptainQuasar said:
But many atheists do not exactly feel neutral towards religion and I have known some who utterly vilify religion, hate it like a theist might hate an errant sect or group of infidels, and seem almost to blame it for everything bad that ever happens.

You're interchanging the terms "atheist" and "anti-theist." There is a significant difference between the two. What you're citing are cases of "anti-theist".
 
  • #23
LightbulbSun said:
You're interchanging the terms "atheist" and "anti-theist." There is a significant difference between the two. What you're citing are cases of "anti-theist".
Salient point, here, boys and girls. There are many people who don't believe in any god who can't be bothered to actively disbelieve in the existence of such gods. Believers call them atheists, but the the true designation is agnostic. An agnostic has come to the realization that we cannot know if a god exists or not and simply disregards arguments posited on either assumption.
 
  • #24
LightbulbSun said:
Such as?
That is such a huge, common knowledge, and ultimately pointless question when related to this thread. However, one very important piece of history:
Almost all historical critics agree, however, that a historical figure named Jesus taught throughout the Galilean countryside c. 30 CE, was believed by his followers to have performed supernatural acts, and was sentenced to death by the Romans possibly for insurrection.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bible_and_history
I am curious Russ as to what aspects you're religious in, and why you're not an atheist.
Perhaps by this point it is more hope than anything else, which probably makes my own characterization of myself different from how others would classify me.
 
  • #25
octelcogopod said:
I think it's pretty offensive the way Christians always take credit for morality. As if God and faith is the only way to gain morals.
Why? It's basically just a historical fact that most peoples' morality comes from religion. And what is religion if not a set of beliefs: if you believe a morality based on religion, then it goes without saying that you think religion is responsible for morality. There is nothing offensive about that.
But I do know that 99.9% of all people I have met who are atheist, scientifically inclined and a curious nature, are usually peaceful and nice, while religious people have, through history and now, a higher tendency to violence.
So I just find the whole Morals Through God thing ridiculous.
Historically, athiesm is a relatively new thing so comparisons are thin, but still, athiesm has on its rap sheet the greatest murderer in the history of the world and a failed, immoral athiestic society. The current rise in right wing christianity is likely partly due to the existence and failure of the USSR. I fully believe that the failure of the USSR was due in large part to the morality that communism is based on (collective good completely trumping individual rights/freedom). Marx was an athiest and I suspect that his athiesm played a part in the development of communism, but Stalin took it a step further: communism was essentially the new state religion. It is easy to see why this evidence would convince some that athiesm is inherrently immoral.

Let me try that from a different angle: is there any society, generally considered to be highly moral, that wasn't developed via religious-based morality? For a start, most of western political theory has at least some basis in christianity. It's in the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution for a reason: the framers knew of no other reason why it could be claimed that individuals had rights.

Just for the sake of any late comers missed my first post, I'm not saying religion must be the basis for morality, I'm saying it is, for historical reasons. But I think that as society continues to evolve, morality - good morality - independent of religion will continue to expand. And rightly so.
 
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  • #26
LightbulbSun said:
You're interchanging the terms "atheist" and "anti-theist." There is a significant difference between the two. What you're citing are cases of "anti-theist".

We were talking about killing done in the "name of disbelief". Whether the people who did it were "taking atheism's name in vain" or not, the killings I mentioned were ones done in the name of disbelief.

There are significant differences among all atheists, just like there are significant differences among Buddhists or Muslims or Democrats or ecological activists. I look at this way of claiming it has nothing to do with atheism - that if someone avows a lack of theism they're an atheist but if they do that and dislike religion at the same time they're something totally different - with as much credulity as the people who tell me that all of the Christians in history who did really bad stuff weren't "True Christians" so those acts "don't count" when considering Christianity.
 
  • #27
LightbulbSun said:
You're interchanging the terms "atheist" and "anti-theist." There is a significant difference between the two. What you're citing are cases of "anti-theist".
I'm not sure I agree here. Anti-theist is a subset of athiest - all anti-theists are athiest, but not all athiests are anti-theist. Just using the word athiest covers both and you have to look to the context to tell if someone is specifically talking about anti-theist athiests.

That said:
Evo said:
No, I think he was referring to true atheists that simply "do not believe" in a god. And saying if you don't care/don't believe you wouldn't take action on behalf of something that you had no feelings about. I don't know if that was very clear, perhaps not.

An example would be why atheists don't build fancy buildings and require other people that don't care/believe to meet once a week to not worship something they don't think about.
This is a pretty big danger I see with the way a lot of athiests view athiesm or, rather, the concepts of morality and beliefs in general. With the definitions above, the difference is simply that one is passionate enough about the belief to want to spread it and the other is not. But that's just a matter of degree: The whole point of this thread is thread is that the beliefs have to come from somewhere. In the absence of God, you look to intellect to build the belief system, but the belief system is still there, so it is not correct to say an athiest "does not believe". And these beliefs are important and people believe in these things because they think they are right. Whether taught in a building on Sunday or enforced via the law, a society must operate with at least a partial consensus on what belief system to use. And we want to make sure we use a good one, so we need people to speak up about which one to use (they'll have a chance to do that in a few weeks...).

The danger here is the blase attitude some have that gives rise to the flawed concept of moral relativism. If one can arrive at a belief system through intellect, then people with similar goals will arrive at similar belief systems. And in the absence of intelligent people speaking up about right and wrong, the squeaky wheel still gets the grease: that crack dealer on the corner with his Uzi and concubines will set the tone for society if you don't. The 'I don't care what others do' attitude leads to a breakdown of a society's collective morality and failure of the society.
 
  • #28
russ_watters said:
That is such a huge, common knowledge, and ultimately pointless question when related to this thread.

There's a great deal of confirmation of things in the Old Testament, both archaeological evidence and corroborating independent historical sources, but almost all of what's in the New Testament has no independent confirmation. Have you ever read the reference from Josephus, the only non-Bible / apocrypha source that mentions Jesus of Nazareth? If I recall correctly it's only one sentence that says something like "A man named Jesus and his brother James led a rebellion in Palestine."

I don't specifically disbelieve in Jesus' historical existence but it seems to me that with a single source it's not very well attested. The way I always think of it is, to my knowledge Achilles from the Iliad is also a single-source historical figure, so if you can believe Achilles existed you ought to be able to believe that Jesus existed and vice versa.

But you're right, it has no relevance to the source-of-morality question. (BTW, also, I am not a historian or a Biblical scholar or anything like that, the above is an entirely amateur and personal opinion. To my knowledge what you wrote is correct, most historians consider Jesus to have been a real historical figure.)

russ_watters said:
Let me try that from a different angle: is there any society, generally considered to be highly moral, that wasn't developed via religious-based morality?

I think you're totally correct that the historical basis of morality is religious. But since the above was an interesting question, I thought about it a bit and it seems like notions of honor or how a warrior should behave don't directly come from religion. Though that's not really a comprehensive morality.

russ_watters said:
The danger here is the blase attitude some have that gives rise to the flawed concept of moral relativism.

I agree with that 100%. I have never come across a formulation of moral relativism that even remotely appears to work, to me.

(Though, as you may recall russ, I consider "terrorist" to be a relative term. But that's because I really believe that, unlike a concept such as "murder" where it seems you can give at least examples that most people agree is a case of murder, even if they can't agree on a definition, the way "terrorist" is applied it seems pretty dependent on whether you're on the same political side, not solely on qualities of the act itself. But not to re-open that argument, I just wanted to explain because as I recall we differed on that.)
 
  • #29
russ_watters said:
Why? It's basically just a historical fact that most peoples' morality comes from religion.

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist would disagree with you.

He then turns to the subject of morality, maintaining that we do not need religion to be good. Instead, our morality has a Darwinian explanation: altruistic genes, selected through the process of evolution, give people natural empathy. He asks, "would you commit murder, rape or robbery if you knew that no God existed?" He argues that very few people would answer "yes", undermining the claim that religion is needed to make us behave morally. In support of this view, he surveys the history of morality, arguing that there is a moral Zeitgeist that continually evolves in society. As it progresses, this moral consensus influences how religious leaders interpret their holy writings. Thus, Dawkins states, morality does not originate from the Bible, rather our moral progress informs what part of the Bible Christians accept and what they now dismiss. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_Delusion#Religion_and_morality


Historically, athiesm is a relatively new thing so comparisons are thin, but still, athiesm has on its rap sheet the greatest murderer in the history of the world and a failed, immoral athiestic society.

So the USSR failed because they were atheists? You really can't believe that, can you?

Marx was an athiest

Guilt by Association.

and I suspect that his athiesm played a part in the development of communism, but Stalin took it a step further: communism was essentially the new state religion. It is easy to see why this evidence would convince some that athiesm is inherrently immoral.

No, it's just fallacious reasoning on the part of believers. Like you said, these dictatorships were more based upon their own warped ideologies, which acted like a religion itself, than them simply being an atheist. Correlation does not imply causation.

Let me try that from a different angle: is there any society, generally considered to be highly moral, that wasn't developed via religious-based morality? For a start, most of western political theory has at least some basis in christianity. It's in the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution for a reason: the framers knew of no other reason why it could be claimed that individuals had rights.

The primary leaders of the founding fathers were deists, not Christians.

The Christian Nation Myth
 
  • #30
russ_watters said:
I'm not sure I agree here. Anti-theist is a subset of athiest - all anti-theists are athiest, but not all athiests are anti-theist. Just using the word athiest covers both and you have to look to the context to tell if someone is specifically talking about anti-theist athiests.

There's all kinds of subgroups of atheism:

Agnostic atheist
Anti-theist atheist (could also be called a militant atheist)
Weak Atheist
Strong Atheist

It's an important distinction you made that all of these subgroups are atheist, but not all atheists belong to the same subgroup.
 
  • #31
russ_watters said:
In the absence of God, you look to intellect to build the belief system, but the belief system is still there, so it is not correct to say an athiest "does not believe".
I said "does not believe" in a God.
 
  • #32
WHY be GOOD? what does that mean first of all. that is only a relative question to a moment in time. I mean, I am very good at a lot things. So my master says. But that is being bad to others way of thinking. My husband (who by the way is not my master) thinks I am a very good cook. But I cook what he likes. So do you see that the question is flawed . No wonder the man was put off. How do you answer such a question in general terms.
I really have no belief system for or against a higher power. It is like believing in Santa Claus, it really does not matter if you believe or not the day after it just won't matter. oh MORALs well i guess I should have begun with that after my statement on having a Master and a husband. I know what makes me feel good. Has nothing to do with right or wrong. It feels good to eat a cow. So does that make me a bad person? I don't think I would feel good eating my child, because I would miss him. SO there you have it I refrain from eating children but when I see a cow I think Steak is what is for dinner. I would say that is really what Natural instrict is about and that is where I get my morals from. and NO I don't have goat heads in my living room , BUt i did have a uncle that had a deer head above his fireplace. well have a day you choice to have. Lolli
 
  • #33
cristo said:
Well, firstly, I think your sampling is a little biased! The reality is that religion is a major factor in a lot of people's lives. For example, in the US I think around 80% of the population call themselves Christian!

I agree with you, though. I think one needs to just look back in history to see how much hatred and violence religion has spawned, and such violence is still taking place today. Personally, I will respect whatever anyone wants to believe, since it's up to them to do so, but I don't think that organised religion is beneficial to anyone.

I also don't understand how scientists can believe in a deity. Surely when they do, any chance one has of explaining nature is tossed out, since one can simply say "it was god's will."

I agree with your first statement there.. It's a statistical probability at best.
Some religious people will be hateful, but many won't as well.


ZapperZ said:
Now, far be it for me to defend organized religion. One can easily check the records of my posts to know that I'm not a big fan of it.

However, to be fair, one also should look at the fact that major violence against mankind has also been done by non-organized religion, simply based on secular ideology. Look at the cruelty done by the Nazis, the Fascists, communists Soviet Union, and currently, communist China and North Korea. So such violence isn't just a monopoly of organized religion.

My conclusion? People who have hatred always want to latch on something to justify their hatred. This can be organized religion, ideology, etc. Why? Because it accomplishes two things: (i) it allows them to rationalize their hatred, and (ii) it gives them an already-established support, because if they can sell their hatred as being based on a set of beliefs or ideology, then all the followers of that belief and ideology will also be persuaded to adopt the hatred. One can clearly see this today with what groups like Al Qaida and others are trying to sell.

Zz.

This is very well put..

But I do think that in some cases the violence comes from the belief itself, and that maybe the hatred they feel comes from them believing in this cause so much.
"Kill anyone who doesn't believe in Allah" it says in the Qu'ran.

But yeah, the lesson I think is that any ideology or religion who endorses violence and hatred, is by default a bad ideology.
It's a very powerful tool for the very few and powerful to indoctrinate the many, and the only way to battle this is individualist ideology through experience.
Sure social groups are important, but isn't it time we grew beyond all this hate BS.
 
  • #34
russ_watters said:
This is a pretty big danger I see with the way a lot of athiests view athiesm or, rather, the concepts of morality and beliefs in general. With the definitions above, the difference is simply that one is passionate enough about the belief to want to spread it and the other is not. But that's just a matter of degree: The whole point of this thread is thread is that the beliefs have to come from somewhere. In the absence of God, you look to intellect to build the belief system, but the belief system is still there, so it is not correct to say an athiest "does not believe".

I think that the distinction should be made that the position of atheism is not one of systematic belief, but of systematic non-belief. Once the position of atheism is declared, then one can discuss subsequent systems of belief. An atheist is not required to believe anything at all. In other words it is a default position, and really should not even have a name or a cause.

Also, it is important to remember that Theist do not simply claim to receive their morals from a god, but that morality can not be achieved without said god. As if, " I could not be moral without God, and neither can any of you." To be self-consistent, religion must be inherently universal in it's claims. And that is offensive.

Religion is more than a system of belief, religion is the complex outcome of human group dynamics in which servility and rigidity quickly become the rules of thumb. Watered down versions of the more reformed and 'modernized' religions turn into a laughable kind of trivial pursuit, but one must never forget what a group of rigid, motivated, confident and delusional individuals are capable of. Tribal in-group-out-group behaviour is powerfully wired into the brain, as is evident by the way in which religion spreads into every aspect of public life and the feverish mannerism of the sad sorry saps that try and devoutly follow its various tenants.

Lust for power, fear, control, bigotry, pettiness, despotism; all come quite naturally to the human race, religion puts proudly on display and exacerbates the most detrimental aspects of human nature.

That is not to say, however, that human nastiness can not be manifested outside of a religious context (Stalin, Mao Zedong, and even Nazi Germany to a lesser extent); the lesson to take from this is that:

Strident, rigid, non-evidential systems of belief always have and always will lead to some greater or lesser degree of human suffering; thus all forms of such should be openly and publicly shunned, mocked, and denounced so as to be avoided, by society in general, like the plague.

I think that religion is a major problem and would be a great hurdle to o'er-leap here in the States, but I also am aware that all forms of delusion originate from the nature of human beings and the major problems of religion may really be problems of the mind.
 
  • #35
robertm said:
Strident, rigid, non-evidential systems of belief always have and always will lead to some greater or lesser degree of human suffering; thus all forms of such should be openly and publicly shunned, mocked, and denounced so as to be avoided, by society in general, like the plague.

Wow, what a strident, rigid, non-evidential claim to make. You should have entitled your post "An atheist creed written as a parody of intolerant and obtuse religion."
 

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