Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Morality: It's All In Your Head...

With respect to today’s subject, I am in the minority even among atheists. Few non-believers—no matter how strongly they reject traditional Christian morality—are willing to call moral issues strictly matters of opinion. However, I remain a steadfast nihilist despite the rarity of my breed. Morality is, at its heart, a subject about which no hard facts exist. Murder is bad…Altruism is good…Theft is bad – These are nothing more than statements of opinion and expressions of personal taste. Although this bold assertion might seem shocking and offensive to some, I hope to explicate my position by way of two pertinent analogies: weather and movies.

Weather conditions can be classified as “good” or “bad” (or somewhere in between those). Personally, I enjoy the heat. My ideal weather would be 90 degrees and blazingly sunny. If I awoke tomorrow and those were the conditions, I would classify the weather as “good.” However, nothing intrinsically is good about those conditions. Given alternate preferences (for example, preference for snow and wind), the aforementioned conditions would be considered “bad” weather. To me, 90 degrees is “good.” To hypothetical individual A, 90 degrees is “bad.” There is no method by which to discern the intrinsic “goodness” of weather—no existing scientific instrumentation is up to the task. And so, we must conclude that no weather intrinsically is either good or bad. Those concepts are coherent only in the eyes of the beholder, and one opinion is just as good as any other, since none could be considered objectively correct.

Movies can be classified as “good” or “bad” (or somewhere in between those). Personally, I enjoy slasher movies. My ideal flick would be a gory slasher story on the order of Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If I went to the multiplex on Saturday night and saw a movie similar to the one I just described, I would classify that film as “good.” However, nothing intrinsically is good about that hypothetical film. Given alternate preferences (for example, love stories or historical dramas), the aforementioned flick might well be considered “bad.” To me, slasher movies are “good.” To hypothetical individual A, slasher movies are “bad.” There is no method by which to discern the intrinsic “goodness” of films—no existing scientific instrumentation is up to the task. And so, we must conclude that no movie is either good or bad. Those concepts are coherent only in the eyes of the beholder, and one opinion is just as good as any other, since none could be considered objectively correct.

Morality (the study of “good” versus “bad”) is precisely the same as my two examples. Morality cannot be gauged, measured, quantified or tested in the scientific sense. There are no measurable units of morality comparable to inches, ounces, volts or calories. Unless, and until, a reliable “morality meter” is invented by an enterprising scientist, moral claims must be recognized for what they truly are: statements of unsubstantiated opinion masquerading as universal standards to which we should submit.

13 Comments:

Anonymous Tommykey said...

I would say to some degree that morality is subjective, but acts that violate the rights of others have to be considered wrong because society could not function in the absence of clear standards of right and wrong. If there was nothing really wrong with killing people, then you would have more people killing each other and it would have a paralyzing effect on society. The same holds true for other acts such as rape and theft. My wife should be able to walk alone to the grocery store without fear of being raped, robbed, murdered or all three.

Some issues of morality are more subjective. While Americans tend to favor legalized abortion, the majority consensus at this time is not comfortable with late term abortions. Because of advances in medical technology, babies born prematurely have a greater chance of survival. Ultrasound technology allows us to see the unborn children, which could also have an effect on the opinion of some people who are on the fence. On the other hand, in hunter-gatherer societies in the past that lead marginal existences, sometimes abortion or even infanticide was seen as necessary because there was so little food available that killing the unborn child or newborn was seen as necessary.

As for the weather, some of us might wish that every day could be warm and sunny, but if we did not have rain, then crops would wilt, gardens would die, lakes would dry up and so forth. So whether we like rainy days or not, we still need them.

OT, for some reason, I am unable to post comments on your blog anymore when using my blogger account name and password, so I have to select Other.

9:57 PM EST  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

My only quibble would be this:

While objective morality might be NEEDED in order to live peacefully in a civilization, that does not mean it actually EXISTS. We also NEED a cure for cancer, but that surely does not exist.

At best, we fabricate a moral code and pretend that it's objective--in the interest of peaceful coexistence as a society.

However, we must never forget that this moral fabric has been invented out of whole cloth. It is not intrinsic, inherent or objective in any true sense.

7:00 PM EST  
Blogger pgc1981 said...

Jolly,

At least we agree on the weather issue, the warmer, the better because golf is a pretty tuff sport to play in the snow. I loathe the snow and cold and I ask myself why I still live in Michigan since its bloody cold way too much. I heard Jeff Foxworthy once describe the seasons of Michigan. Almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction.
I thought that was pretty good because it does some up this state.

I prefer a good action/thriller flick myself. I stay away from the horror movies, just not my taste. And the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Jessica Biel was horrible, I think I laughed more than anything especially when she hacked his arm off with that dull rusty blade in two chops, pretty cheesy, just my opinion.

I would agree that your views on laws or rules or moral values may not line up with the typical atheist, probably more so from your Christian upbringing. I would agree with the laws of our land are good and a must have. Despite what you may believe or like I'm glad the moral values of the people who found this country were more so Christian moral values.
With out them we could be far different than we are today. However it seems people are letting their morals slip more and more these days and maybe we are headed down the wrong road. When Christian morals slip, society starts to slip and people simply don't care anymore when that happens and that is what I’m starting to see today. Science has played a large role in that case in my opinion. The reason why I feel this way is because with scientific belief in evolution people no longer believe in God because evolution puts God out of a job. With that people no longer have any reason not do things that are morally bad. People feel they can do what they want when they want and it no longer matters and I believe this is starting to show in society today. With the belief in evolution we are no different than any other animal right? And if we are simply just another animal where do morals values come from? Like what you said, it comes down to one's opinion, but I could also ask where does your opinion come from and why do you believe what you believe to be right and wrong? In my opinion morals values have to come from somewhere. In my opinion abortion is a moral value that is slipping big time. I’m strongly against abortion at any stage in pregnancy. With abortion life is being devalued and meaningless because if a woman simply doesn’t want the child she get abort it with no consequence. I disagree with abortion because God gave us life and told us we should not take a life. Thousands of couples desperately want children but are not able to for certain reasons and would gladly adapt a child that is unwanted by the mother. I simply don’t agree that girls can be sexually active with multiple partners, get pregnant, get scared that their life is over because of the child and be allowed to abort the child simply because they don’t want to change their life style. The same would go for hookers. Adoption is a viable solution for women who don’t want the child and in most cases they could get the cost of the pregnancy paid for so lack of money shouldn’t stop them from having the child. In my opinion women have abortion because they are for one reason or another scared, they don’t want their life to change and they don’t want the responsibility, thus all selfish reasons and no care of the child. Life should be more valued by people in this country and not just see as disposable garbage.

8:06 PM EST  
Blogger Lui said...

"The reason why I feel this way is because with scientific belief in evolution people no longer believe in God because evolution puts God out of a job. With that people no longer have any reason not do things that are morally bad."

I hope you don't mean to say that without God, you see no good reason to act morally yourself? You surely wouldn't think to yourself "well, there's no God to punish me if I do something wrong, so I might as well go out and start raping and murdering." If that is indeed your mindset, then I can only stand aghast at such a bankrupt sense of ethics. I don't believe in God, and yet I see PLENTY of reasons not to do immoral things.

It might be the case that America is suffering social breakdown and dysfunction, but in other Western democracies, religiosity is not (to nearly the same extent) seen as the be-all and end-all for behaving morally. A recent study found that less religious nations such as Sweden suffer far less dysfunction than America. Perhaps they have a more secular view of morality, so they can live without God and not go apeshit. Personally, I think the US is largely an extremely selfish, ignorant, indifferent, spoilt, aloof, and childish society plagued with corruption and moral cowardice. I see religion as being part of that overall problem, not as its solution. It's abhorrent to teach children that they can only be good if they believe in God. Apart form being utterly false, it's also extremely dangerous, for how can such children later on in life act morally if they were to lose their faith.

"With the belief in evolution we are no different than any other animal right?"

Every animal is different. We are animals, to be sure, but we do have something pretty special in the form of our intelligence and ability to ponder our own existence and the reasons we exist, and no scientist would want to deny or minimise this truth. (though they would want to place it on a more rational, scientific foundation, though losing nothing for doing so)
Reading "The Selfish Gene" won't make you a homicidal maniac if you're sane. Dawkins himself expresses his distaste for the idea of modelling society on evolution. Evolution is a scientific theory, not a moral tale. As Dawkins also says, we can oppose it as human beings and be horrified by its implications (when appropriate) but accept it as scientists, just as we can oppose cancer as human beings but acknowledge it as a scientific reality.

I think this view that evolution is going to make us all lose control and run amok is patronising and rather a lowly view of human potential. If having to appeal to religion is the best we can do towards acting ethically (which I don't believe for a second) then maybe we really are lost.

4:41 AM EST  
Blogger pgc1981 said...

Lui,

“I hope you don't mean to say that without God, you see no good reason to act morally yourself? You surely wouldn't think to yourself "well, there's no God to punish me if I do something wrong, so I might as well go out and start raping and murdering." If that is indeed your mindset, then I can only stand aghast at such a bankrupt sense of ethics. I don't believe in God, and yet I see PLENTY of reasons not to do immoral things”

With or without God I would act morally. I believe moral rules or values are different than the laws of the land, but it still becomes a moral issue if we decide to break those laws. We are all bond by the laws weather we like it or not, but the laws are there for a very good purpose, to control people to a certain extent. I say to a certain extent because not all people obey the laws and there begs my question, where do one’s moral values come from if not from God? What reason do we make our choice if not for God? You see, I believe killing, rape, stealing (laws) are bad because God tells me they are bad, the Bible tells me they are bad. Obviously you believe the same things just from a different perspective right? If so were does that come from? Moral issues for me, outside the laws, lies in sexual desires/orientation, alcoholism, greed for money, arrogance, abortion, untrustworthiness, rudeness, drug usage, laziness, etc. The list could go on. If you don’t believe in God what would the boundaries of these moral issues be? It would come down to personal belief, but where does that personal belief come from? Out of thin air?

“Personally, I think the US is largely an extremely selfish, ignorant, indifferent, spoilt, aloof, and childish society plagued with corruption and moral cowardice”

Yes, I would agree with this statement. I believe it starts with the leaders of our country and their lack of willingness to work together, the media, Hollywood, music, movies, tv programs right on down to poor parenting. I would have to say the attitude of advertisement in America today is poor. It’s the get rich quick, do all for yourself only, sex bombarded attitude portrayed by the advertisers that impacts people the greatest and makes them throw decency out the window.

“I see religion as being part of that overall problem, not as its solution. It's abhorrent to teach children that they can only be good if they believe in God. Apart form being utterly false, it's also extremely dangerous, for how can such children later on in life act morally if they were to lose their faith.”

Again what defines good and who defines good? I agree that religion is part of the problem. Parents have gotten away from the foundations of Christianity and adapted the foundations of the worldly view which in turn gives extremely mixed signals to the children as they grow up. Parents need to stick to the foundations and things would be much better off. Evil plays a large part of this as well. Every where God or Christ is the opposite is sitting and waiting to take and create a false image of Good. Bottom line moral issues stem from the upbringing of your childhood. I think you would agree with this. If your parents are good moral people the likelihood of the children being the same is good. If the parents are bad moral people the likelihood for the children would probably be bad. In the end it comes down to choice of the individual person. If a person’s parents were messed up that person can make a good choice and not do the same as their parents.

“Every animal is different. We are animals, to be sure, but we do have something pretty special in the form of our intelligence and ability to ponder our own existence and the reasons we exist, and no scientist would want to deny or minimize this truth. (though they would want to place it on a more rational, scientific foundation, though losing nothing for doing so)”

The evolution debate can go on forever and it probably will. I agree we are pretty special. We are the only living being that has everything that we have and that’s another thing that makes me not believe in evolution and that the environment simply played the entire role to where we are today. We came from someone greater for a special reason. Call me crazy, stupid or dumb all you want it really doesn’t bother me. I believe in God and Jesus because the live inside me through the Holy Spirit. I can’t explain in words what God has meant to my life, my ever changing and growing life. We were meant for so much more other than pure selfish desires.

“I think this view that evolution is going to make us all lose control and run amok is patronising and rather a lowly view of human potential. If having to appeal to religion is the best we can do towards acting ethically (which I don't believe for a second) then maybe we really are lost.”

I bet you will find people who have lost a lot of care because of their belief in evolution. Like I said evolution puts God out of a job and if people don’t feel they need to live to please God than some will feel they can do whatever, whenever and it won’t mean anything. Now people can believe in evolution and still make the choice to be civilized humans but this isn’t the choice all make. I heard on Chuck Swindall the other day that more kids fall away from faith during their college years than at any other time. College in America has been labeled ‘the great party time’ kids simply go to school to party, party, party and school last. Again it’s not this way with all but you see it too often. Most college professors are liberal and probably atheist and would love to teach kids about their views and make them fall away from faith and I believe that evolution is one of those views taught by professors. I have a friend who attended Michigan State U. for pre-med and is also attending their for med school, I asked him, knowing he had to take all the science classes, if they taught him evolution. He said no, you simply can’t teach students something like that because it’s very risky. Now, I was pretty amazed that MSU, a major university and one of the 5 largest universities in the US that they didn’t teach evolution to their students in the pre-med program. Now why would MSU consider it risky to teach evolution while others teach it as fact?

2:43 PM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

PGC, college students turn away from religion in college, like I did, because we learn to think critically. I didn't have any liberal atheist college professors that turned me away from Christianity. It was my own personal examination of the issue that made me realize Christianity was not true.

My life has been much better as an atheist then it was when I was a Christian. So you can extoll all you want about how much believing in Jesus has made your life more fulfilling, because my life improved after becoming an atheist. It's all a matter of perspective.

7:05 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is PGC for some reason it wouldnt let me sign in

Tommy

Why was your life bad as a Christian? What happened that made it bad? Or what were the reasons it was bad? You left for a reason other than learning to think critically so if you don't mind sharing what made you turn or why was your life bad?

8:32 PM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

PCG, you do not even know me, so you have no place telling me that my reasons for rejecting Christianity are wrong and yours are right. Yours is a standard ploy, try to get a skeptic to open up about his/her personal life so you can say, "Ahh, that was really the Devil tricking you!"

If you want my reasons, feel free to visit my blog. I am not going to repeat the same thing over and over again.

12:43 PM EST  
Blogger Lui said...

“What reason do we make our choice if not for God? You see, I believe killing, rape, stealing (laws) are bad because God tells me they are bad, the Bible tells me they are bad.”

And what if they told you that they were good? Do you really need God to tell you these things are bad? Would you only refrain from raping and killing if you didn’t believe in God because of the threat of jail time?

The origin of morality is an interesting topic that bears upon sociology, psychology, and evolutionary biology. God isn’t the only conceivable “source” of morality. Religion is the enforcement of a moral code via the invocation of a higher power. But since we invented God, we imputed to him our morals, not the other way around. If you’ve ever felt sympathy for a suffering child or animal, then I don’t believe what you say about you thinking that certain things are bad because God says they’re bad.

“Parents need to stick to the foundations and things would be much better off.”

This is essentially moral blackmail, in the flavour of “do and believe what we say, and no one has to get hurt.” What we need to teach children is respect for their fellow human beings by appealing to their empathy, and showing them the consequences of their actions, as well as showing them that we all need to do our bit for society to function properly.

“We are the only living being that has everything that we have and that’s another thing that makes me not believe in evolution and that the environment simply played the entire role to where we are today.”

Please explain, because I don’t think anyone’s ever advocated this.

“Now people can believe in evolution and still make the choice to be civilized humans but this isn’t the choice all make.”

But it’s the choice that most of those who believe in evolution make (a note here: evolution isn’t a “belief”; it’s a scientific theory, and whether it makes us behave morally or not is absolutely irrelevant to the scientific validity of its claims).

Immorality isn’t all one way; there are some very evil theists as well. You can use God’s name to justify any atrocity, or to justify living a decadent life at the expense of others because you have been “divinely ordained”. Emperors, presidents, and terrorists have all used the name of God, genuinely believing that they were granted permission by God to do as they saw fit.

“Most college professors are liberal and probably atheist and would love to teach kids about their views and make them fall away from faith and I believe that evolution is one of those views taught by professors.”

It sure is, because it’s part of the curriculum. Whether kids fall away from their faith is their own business and is a consequence, not the goal, of teaching critical thinking and science.

“Now why would MSU consider it risky to teach evolution while others teach it as fact?”

Why are you asking me? Ask them; maybe it’s because of the political climate in Michigan, maybe it’s because the particular course your friend is doing doesn’t necessitate coverage of evolution because of the specific subject matter. If he were doing microbiology or genetics, then he almost certainly would learn about evolution. It’s not because of hating God that the centres for disease control need to know about evolutionary models of how bugs mutate and spread.

I’ll just finish this by saying that George Bush and his administration have been involved in numerous scandals, cronyism, corruption and war mongering, yet Bush is one of the most religion-pushing presidents ever. Religion doesn’t equal morality; you need to begin with an idea of people’s aspirations and emotions, then try to set up a system that takes them into account. Religion often does this but it slaps God's name on as a label. God's morals are still our morals, it's just that we impute him with them so that they'll stick in people's heads. We can do without the label, but only if we're sensible and grown-up about it.

6:07 AM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

You da man Lui!

10:21 AM EST  
Anonymous still learning said...

neither argument can prove anything. it takes faith to be a thiest or an athiest. either way, one has to have faith (or hope) that they aren't wrong. but if the athiest is wrong, he will regret it. if the thiest is wrong, then he might have lived his life for a non-existent entity, but nobody will ever prove him wrong b/c they will cease to exist. i just can't understand how some people can hear only two or three points for either argument and base their lifestyle on that... they have more balls than me. i, persoanally, would love to hear intelligent arguments from either side b/c i haven't totally made up my mind after reading volumes of science and theology. i would definately prefer the christian worldview, but i'm about as objective and open-minded as they come, so i will continue to pray that God helps me understand while i study the sciences and listen to everybody's opinion. one day, hopefully, i will have my answer.

e-mail: cambro21@yahoo.com

thank you all

11:28 PM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

Still Learning, it is a violation of basic blog etiquette to copy and paste the same comments under multiple posts on the same blog.

11:35 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never belonged to any religion, never been taken to church (well my Grandmother took me twice), never had God interjected by my parents as a reason for doing/not doing anything. How can I possibly have "morals"? I believe that adults have a right to do ANYTHING that doesn't infringe upon the rights of others, consequently actions that DO infringe are IMMORAL. I can't steal, that would infringe on the rights of others to enjoy their possessions. I can't murder, that would absolutely infringe on the victim's rights. I can't commit adultery, that would infringe on other's lives. Can you see my point? Where is God NECESSARY in this? Is my contention lacking somehow (other than not worshipping your God)?

spot@carbinworld.com

9:24 PM EDT  

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