Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Morality and Religion

  1. Sep 14, 2004 #1

    I would like to explore the following concepts.

    1. What is morality?

    2. Is morality a byproduct of religion/s? (I only know about 3 major religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.) & Do all our moral values come from religion/s?

    3. Where do you draw the line?
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2004 #2
    Chimps have morality. I've never seen evidence of them having religion. Morality is not a product of religion.

    I do have morality. Whether it's like yours or not is another matter. I have no religion.
  4. Sep 14, 2004 #3
    really, what kind of morality are we talking about here?
  5. Sep 14, 2004 #4
    really, what kind of morality are we talking about here?
    any set of animals have their own kind of morals or basic way of life.take a look at lions and how they hunt in packs,gorrilas or even ants live in some kind of organized way.it took time to develop their way of doin the doin thing.so nature has its own way;some basic rules.
  6. Sep 14, 2004 #5
    There is a large difference between moraliy and instinct.

    Morality is founded on the natural law. Throughout life's existance, there has always been a set law in the order of the world; everything is meant for each other; everyone and everything strives to achieve goodness and avoid evil. Our morality is built on this notion of a natural law.

    Our conscience is the use of our morality.

    Animals have instinct and not morality; only human life can have a moral judgement because our soul allows us.

    Thus, our morality can not strictly be a byproduct of religion(s). A stranded mother has a baby, the mother dies, the baby somehow survives. The baby grows up stranded on this island and adapts this unusual lifestyle. Even though the baby or now adult has no understanding or knowledge of religion, it/he/she somehow builds a certain conscience founded on a morality. This is because all human life searches for goodness, truth, unity, and justice (and thus, a higher power); because human life searches for goodness, it also searches for the natural law.
  7. Sep 15, 2004 #6
    Words and concepts only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context. In general, animals are not concidered moral because they are assumed to have no awareness of why they do what they do, anymore than an apple has any apparent awareness of why it falls to the ground.

    Especially in the west, morality is generally thought of in absolute terms. The ten commandments are a good example. They do not provide any exceptions to the rules such as, "Tho shalt not kill (except in self-defense!)" Legal systems are another good example of what we normally call morality, and do not require any religious beliefs. What virtually every modern day morality shares in common is Aristotelian logic.
  8. Sep 15, 2004 #7
    I'm not so sure about that. It all depends on what constitutes "good" and "evil". I believe what seperates us from animals in terms of morality is solely that we constantly pre-judge people by their actions. Therefore, any action performed that would bring about a negative judgment from others is considered immoral. This also asserts that morality is firmly lodged in the beliefs of others, and is not something that is inherent to our nature (though it is a result).

    A simple thing as "not sharing" is a decent example. Though it is only slightly immoral in most of our eyes, it is frowned upon. If a wild canine had a kill and was eating, and another wanted some but the first wouldnt share, would the second then make it known that the first's actions were immoral? Would it judge the first? No. Humans seem to be the only animal that constantly judges others, usually negatively on actions that personally affect the judge.

    Killing is the extreme example. In some cultures if you catch a thief stealing something of yours, you may execute him. The stealing is seen as immoral, but punishment is not. You could slay him and noone in the society would think "deep-down" that it was wrong. So its not something built into our nature, though the forcing of ideas upon others is.
  9. Sep 15, 2004 #8
    Everyone has a religion. It's just not the same religion.

    (1) Morality defines actions of right and wrong in respect to living and/or living with others; or higher standards and lower standards in respect to living and/or living with others.

    (2) Morality is not a byproduct of religion since it is a combination of intelligence, knowledge, instinct and imagination that gives us awareness to make such judgments on living. Also, religion deals with one's beliefs about God, and furthering these beliefs will affect one's morality just as one's beliefs will affect one's actions. Morality is a product of acquired knowledge that helps us value behavior as a positive consequence or negative consequence by judging something/someone as having "good moral judgment" or "bad moral judgment". By doing so we're able to predict future behaviors and outcomes of having such beliefs in terms of living, so that we may have better awareness of our choices as living beings with various instinctive needs. Needs that can lead us to negative consequences if we do not control them or handle them by having the knowledge of other needs that will require fullfilment.

    (3) "Drawing the line?" I guess what has you asking that questions is that you're refering to people saying, "If it wasn't for <insert religion>, people wouldn't have moral ground to stand on anymore." Am I correct? Anyhow... the belief in God helps our judgment by giving our conscious a point of perfect existence. It helps our imagination. So, I guess one would draw the line depending on one's desired living standards and ideas of a perfect existence with respect to consequences and how Life works.

    Simply put, if all it took was religion to have good moral judgment, then we wouldn't have religious wars.
  10. Sep 15, 2004 #9
    Are you implying prejudice is one of the -- if not the only -- factor which seperates human morality with this so called "animal morality" ?
    Prejudice is a byproduct of our secular humanist society. When humans allow their passion to get ahead of their virtue, they can become angry, fearful, frustrated, etc ahead of time ; thus, prejudice is this byproduct. Animals can in no way have morality. Morality is only allowable by a soul, which -- correct me if you think otherwise -- animals do not have.
  11. Sep 15, 2004 #10
    By pre-judging someone I don't mean in any way to imply a derogatory meaning. I pre-judge people everyday. I see someone at the labs that I work at and assume they're really smart. That is pre-judging someone. There is nothing wrong with it. And this has nothing to do with prejudice either.
    About the animals and souls stuff, I'm trying to define morality without bringing beliefs into it, but being able to bring belief SYSTEMS into it. Like I could say that religion is what gives us these guiding rules about their "morality" but that what the SYSTEM teaches has nothing to do with some religion's view of a "soul".

    As for the animal argument; I believe they are capable of immorality solely due to humans. Remember my definition of morality is based on conforming to a society's viewpoints. This seems to be your view in essence too, if you're religious then you're conforming to that church's viewpoints. Once again, don't take "conform" to be a deragatory term, its just a description.

    One thing I would like to point out is an example of my late dog(as of two days ago). She learned that she must conform to our family, the society, to be accepted. If she were to perform an act that was against our rules or wants then she was frowned upon or scolded. The next time she did it, she would realize that she did something wrong, something "immoral", and you could tell she shrunk down with tail between her legs and eyes avoiding ours that she was ashamed of her actions; but solely due to OUR influence on her. She was NOT afraid of being hurt or anything (we would never hit her) but she knew that her actions had upset us. Deep down inside her instincs may have been telling her that going to the bathroom in the house was perfectly acceptable, but in our society in the house it was not.

    The thing about animals living in a non-human contaminated enviroment is that their society is solely based upon their natural instincts. Therefore there is no need to conform to a groups wants and expectations that is different from the animal's own expectations.

    Do you see what I'm trying to put forth? Immorality can be observed as nothing more than deviation from a society's imposed standards.

    Now the question becomes "What makes humans so different?"

    I believe the answer actually lies within our use of technology. By "technology" I dont mean computers, but anything from writing to cave drawings to bard's tales. By having this means of transfering information about our past society's style of existence, we become more knoweldgable as to how humans have acted in the past. I believe inherent to our nature, as well as all animals, is to increase their "comfort" and "stability" in life. As we can see from past experiences both human and animal, the ones who live the best lives are usually the "alpha males" and those who express a higher social status than others. Now thanks to this ability to remember how past societies have acted, those who wish to be viewed as "above" the norm of social status make attempts to surpass the regular/past customs. Pretty soon everyone is above the norm, thus the norm moves up as well. This creates a propagation of whats considered "acceptable" and "unacceptable", or "moral" and "immoral".
    Now we can see that there ARE groups that take the other extreme, "evil" and make that their "moral" standard. The problem with these "cult-like" groups is that though they have a defined moral standard, their moral standard is detrimental to their society, and thus self-destructing. This is why most of what is viewed today as "moral" and "immoral" to the extreme are actions that are beneficial or detrimental to the advancement of the population of the society.

    Ok, this post is getting too long. Hopefully people still read it. I feel like I should be printing this off for an ethics class or something...
  12. Sep 16, 2004 #11
    Adam : Morality is relative, true, but there are universal rules, driven from even more fundamentally basic rules of balance down to atomic level. The reason I started this thread, was, 3 days ago I accidentally came across, a radio program, "the howard stern show” he had some porn star on and she was talking about doing an Anal gangbang with 100 guys :surprised this kinda got me questioning her morality, the thing that troubled me most about all this was, she happened to be married and had 2 small kids, 11 and 5 even Mr. Stern seemed shocked! he asked her if she was ever physically abused as a child, and don’t her husband take offense?..... she said no and no! and I was like, man! may be religion is important in life, this women has crossed ever boundary one can imagine. Then I said to myself, but what about priests in catholic church, those priests weren’t any better? and so I asked myself where do you draw the line. on one hand you have a person so repugnant that she would let total strangers ravage her in the worst way, with her kids being the real victim, victim of extreme ridicule and embracement keep in mind her kid is 11 not far from the discovery stage. and on the other hand you have religious people doing even worse.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2004
  13. Sep 16, 2004 #12
    Well Amir, you can look at this two ways depending on your beliefs.

    (1) Religion is about your beliefs in God, and that's as much as it has to do with God.

    (2) Morality is strung from having knowledge about Life; the more knowledge you have the better your moral judgment is because you know what needs Life imposes on your existence, and thus you have the judgment to make better choices in your life. You better your judgment even more if you do it in ways that makes life easier for you and for others.
  14. Sep 19, 2004 #13
    Mate.. take a moment to think. Without the concept of God there is no such thing as good and evil. For example this statement...

    If you believe that we evolved from apes and that there is no God then there is no reason for making life easier for others - we are animals. We are supposed to advance ourselves not others. Certainly there is no such thing as morality. Your statement is a misinformed opinion. You think its "better" to make things easier for yourself or others. But there is no justification for this statement other than your opinion.
  15. Sep 20, 2004 #14
    First, what do you define morals as?
  16. Sep 20, 2004 #15
    I think it would be good if you could clarify this further. I'm trying to be non-confrontational here.

    You say that morality is relative, I presume you mean that it is based on values of societies which are imposed on the individuals within those societies.
    Then you say that it is driven by rules of balance which are somehow either derived from or the result of fundamental atomic rules.

    To me, saying that morality is relative suggests that there is no fixed principles from which the moralities of different cultures deviate. But with a sort of "Tao of physics" morality, you are suggesting that in fact there is a universal. In which case THAT is the source of moral truth, and all or all but one of the societies are wrong to an extent.
    However from that I'm left wondering how exactly atomic laws which vaguely suggest harmony came to relate to or should have anything to do with how we act as human beings. We are far more complicated than just positives and negatives. And the questions still remains: why?

    (Emphasis mine)

    The debate here I think is about what defines a better choice. If, as you suggest, a better choice is even better if it makes life easier for you and for others, the questions then become
    - Where did this come from if anywhere? and
    - Why bother anyway?

    And in response to Amir, relating to priests in the Catholic Church - these are isolated cases. And the thing is, this woman didn't claim that anything she was doing was wrong. The Catholic faith however (although I am not a member) does claim both that everyone has done wrong, and that everyone will keep on doing wrong. It also suggests what is right and what is wrong an why. So they can condemn the action as being wrong, whilst the woman really doesn't care either way. The actions of a few priests shouldn't affect your view of their explanation of what right and wrong are/how they came to be that way.
  17. Sep 20, 2004 #16
    Thats not true. Even apes work together as a group. Most of them share meals, help eachother keep clean, help take care of eachothers' children.

    Morality can, in one definition, be just that: actions that better the society. Thus, if your death would result in 10,000 others staying alive, would not killing yourself/accepting death be the moral thing to do?
  18. Sep 20, 2004 #17
    Leon: Perhaps I didn’t word it correctly, what I meant to say by, “down to atomic level” was,..... it appears that morality or principles are part of us by design. There is balance at every level, starting from a simple atomic level (or even subatomic & so on) ......the point being, that perhaps there is a reason why we developed principles, these principles or laws are govern by nature itself. Seeking balance is in our nature, be it a simple thing or a complex social moral behavior.

    oh by the way I remember her name now, it was Victoria Givens, She is an adult movie star married with kids(2), got a husband who lets her take strange men up strange places LOL! do you see the imbalance? sorry this wasn’t meant to be funny.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2004
  19. Sep 21, 2004 #18
    Thanks Amir for your response.
    Healey, I agree that in one definition morality can be actions that better the society. However I would question whether (to an atheist [as a philosophical position, not as a religious belief :tongue2: ]) this definition actually refers to anything - and by that I mean, is it just a concept that we have invented in our heads and attatched to a certain type of behavior, or is there some sort of real, universal motivation or driving force behind that morality?

    Amir attributes it to the sense of balance inherent in the laws of nature. I guess I still struggle to see why we should obey these 'laws', when in many cases I see them as being unclear on the best course of action in a given scenario. And in any case I can't see any reason why one should be bothered following them if one could just not and potentially enjoy oneself more.
  20. Sep 21, 2004 #19
    I have a concept of God, and I see God as the Creator. I also don't see the world as black and white like you do. (good & evil). If I did, I'd understand a lot less.

    (1) Evolution doesn't conflict with Creation.
    (2) Life isn't as selfish as you think. The easiest way to advance is with others. Even wolves understand it. It's the reason we came to living in a social existence. It's beneficial to survival.

    Another word for it is called giving. Understand the principal of giving and why it exist and you'll come to an understanding of what I'm saying.
  21. Sep 21, 2004 #20
    - "Where did this come from if anywhere?"

    Well, a better choice can come from hindsight or imagination. Your choices in life are limited by your knowledge. What you know influences your belief structure, and you see what you believe. In other words, Perspective is Reality, or better said, Individual Reality. It's a concept of awareness, and understanding that we are not aware of everything to always have the best choice available, but we can always find a better choice. Now I'm not saying walking that path is easier. I'm saying the end result is that life becomes easier with knowledge. We live in a world governed by natural law, and the better we understand the laws, we are more able to influence its force.
    Where does natural law come from? Well that depends on your beliefs.

    -"Why bother anyway?"

    Natural means of survival and living/experiencing life to the fullest most possible way. No one is responsible for our existence, except ourselves. We can't change natural law. We can only abide by it through understanding or abide by it through misunderstanding. Either way it controls us and affects us because it's what gives us our consequences and choices. All we can do is find all the choices that gives us a reward, and be consistent with receiving such reward.

    I hope I answered your questions...?
  22. Sep 22, 2004 #21
    Difficult to define; I'll only expose some thoughts. It seems to me to be narrowly related with 'will', 'responsability', 'reasoning', 'advantage', 'subjectivity', 'laws' and 'common practise'.
    1) My morality is mainly based on my pro-choice viewpoint. This can be extended to even letting people choose to violate my own freedom at times. 2) My moral values aren't based on how people say how I should live, but on how I think I should live. What I am is a product - not merely a product, I'm very proud on what I am :wink: - of biological evolution in which egoism and altruism can both give advantages (to the individual or the specie). 3) There is no line.

    Ha ha! In that case I've probably the same religion as these chimps! What kind of religion do chimp have, Tigron? And ants?


    Are you asking for authority? Where something does come from doesn't have anything to do with its validity.
  23. Sep 22, 2004 #22
    This is entirely incorrect. It has been shown that social animals do, in fact, make life easier for each other, and have good reason to do so. Any examination of primate society will show numerous instances of socially productive behavior. There are innumerable examples of elephants looking after each other and working together as a society. Packs of lions have been documented as providing for sick members of the pack who are unable to care for themselves.

    I do not believe in a God, and yet I can think of hundreds of reasons to make life easier for others. The statement "If you believe that we evolved from apes and that there is no God then there is no reason for making life easier for others" shows a complete disrespect and disregard for large numbers of atheists who wouldn't agree, as well as any number of animals who act in blatant defiance of this uninformed statement.

    The very first subject dealt with in moral philosophy is that of morality without religion. Socrates had the puzzle solved with his question to Euthyphro thousands of years ago, and Christian scholars have always used it as a primary pivot when dealing with the subject. I can't think of a statement less true that could be said about the subject of morality than to say that there can be none without God.
  24. Sep 22, 2004 #23
    Alright, I agree. My post was provocative and smplistic however I often find such a stance helps promote these discussions. What I meant to illustrate was that if we really are just advanced animals then there is no basis for the concepts of right and wrong - absolute morality as it's called does not exist. Our sense of right and wrong is probally just a genetic artefact to incourage the formation of societies amoung humans. Which is a more effective way of existing than working alone. If you don't believe in the concept of a god morality becomes a tool for encouraging humans to work together rather than a collection of absolutes to live by.

    Ok. well you already said you believe in god so my argument doesn't apply to you. You think its wrong to kill (read: murder) because god says so. However imagine that you didn't believe in god. You would still think that it is wrong to kill however there are others who believe that it is right to kill in order to advance themselves. Without the concept of God to define moral guidelines there is no way to say whose viewpoint is correct. If we are no different than animals then the only reason that killing is deemed wrong is not because it is "wrong!" but merely that it is undesirable to society.

    Anyway hope that all makes (some) sense. bd
  25. Sep 22, 2004 #24


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I agree with what you say here; the question is, it that necessarily so bad? If moral codes such as "thou shalt not kill" are valuable to a society, then a society will enforce them. Without a God, there would be no absolute sense in which an act of murder is right or wrong in a philosophical sense, but in a practical sense there would still be a society enforcing laws to restrict and/or punish it.

    More relevantly, people will have an innate sense of right and wrong right from the get-go, due to those genetics you mention. Such an innate sense serves as the skeletal basis of all moral philosophy, and includes at least the beginnings of general and well-accepted sentiments such as "it is bad to kill." So while you will still have your bad apples (as we do in abundance even today, when something like 95% of America believes in God), what you will not have is a sudden flood of soulless, unsympathetic monsters-- human beings are not blank slates.

    And if you are concerned about environmental influences, there is always good old secular moral philosophy. It's not clear that the absolute anchor of a Godhead really makes much of a difference in practice in people's attitudes towards morality. (Who knows, such absolute, inflexible certitude in one's convictions may do more harm than good!) After all, Confucius's Golden Rule seems to have made a big splash in Eastern philosophy, and Jesus's "love thy neighbor as thyself" could certainly resonate with one's moral sensibilities even without a God to act as a tuning fork.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2004
  26. Sep 23, 2004 #25
    Innate sense of right and wrong
    I'm inclined to disagree about this. Can you specify what you mean by an innate sense of right and wrong? I think this knowledge someone obtains by living life. I do think that there is some circuit involved that has to do with empathy, but I don't think that there is something that 'decides' what is good or wrong. Our social construct and ability to feel empathy prevents mankind to end in a flood of unsympathetic monsters. We are - indeed - not blank slates, but neither filled with that amount of a priori knowledge as you seem to say.

    Evolving morality within a particular person
    You don't have of the beginning the slightest idea of killing. You just want your milk, and a few other things. It are experiences* that learn you; that you can interact with someone, that you can hurt someone, that persons can have things wrong (even your dad :smile:), that appearances aren't the things itself, that you can soften the way you express things, that you can lie about things, that you can take things without asking. How do you know that stealing is wrong, if you don't have an idea about possession?

    Comparison with beauty
    You don't 'know' what is beauty beforehand. You 'learn' it by observing things. There is no circuit that decides what is 'beauty' or 'ugliness'. You just like your milk, and a few other things. You start to like the one that gives you the milk, the (body)warmth of your folks, their way of talking, the characteristics of their faces, you start to like the specie mankind. This kind of 'discrimination' between beautiful/ugliness is even more evolved as our discrimination between good/evil. In respect to evolution processes it's maybe just as important to have sex with the most fertile person, as not deserting when your hunting fellows are in danger. Strange that appreciating 'good' seems to be prefered above appreciating 'beauty'. Even hypocretical IMHO.

    Structured presentations
    Do we structure beautiness on certain scales as we do with morality? Why do we formulate laws to discern good from bad, and not to discern beauty from ugliness? IMHO this has to do with our stance toward pro-choice. At the end most important to us is that we can live our lifes on the way we want, with the religion we think that's true, with the woman/man we like, and so on.

    *Experience shapes someones morality. This doesn't mean that someone can not know if something is 'good' or 'wrong' until he/she performs the very act. Mankind is able to extrapolate, e.g. if hurting someone against his/her will feels wrong and if someone is able to feel empathy, kiling someone would certainly be considered as evil.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook