A common comment that will be thrown at you when debating or discussing with a theist will be that "if you don't get your morality from god, where do you get your morality" or "are atheists then immoral" or something else of that flavor. There are many way to address these comments such as discussing where morals come from and the definition of morals, which can be tricky, or that morality is intrinsic in each being and you don't need god to have them or that morals preceded religion and there are plenty of examples that can go along with that last point. These can all be very effective but I heard something the other day that I felt made a lot of sense.

When asked "were you a moral person", the person, who was an atheist said, "you're right I'm not moral because morals is a set of behavioral guidelines derived from authority whether real or imagined and I don't use morality in my day to day life to make decisions, however I'm a very ethical person, and I think that social ethics as they evolved out of social dynamics, are a better course to pursue then morality, because if you're being a moral person, and you are doing what the authority has instructed you to do,  that authority may not in itself be moral. So for me social ethics are the way to go."

Now I understand that by ethics are defined as moral behaviors. But the distinction is blurry to me. So I would like to hear your opinion on a) the differences between the two if there are any in your view and b) your preferred method to answer this question. How do you answer someone who comes at you with the "morality" argument?

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Being asked the same questions over and over makes me not want to give each one an individual answer. Thankfully, there's an app for stupid questions like this. lol

"Portable Atheist App" Answer to this question:

"The bible contains many commands to murder, such as the command to stone an adulterous woman, or even a child who disrespects his parents. The moment you disagree with a single instruction in the bible you acknowledge that there exists a superior standard by which to judge moral action, and there is no need to rely on a bunch of primitive, ancient, barbaric fairy tales."

Yup... no need to answer the same dumb questions over and over when you have a standardized response ready for them. For anyone interested in the app... it's available on the android app store for free for android smart phones. Very useful for quick snappy responses to theists on the go. I give it a thumbs up!

I believe in making a distinction between morals, which to me means merely following a prescriptive set of precepts issued by some authority, those precepts obeyed blindly and followed in a spirit of blind faith in their correctness; and ethics, which is one way to describe the struggle to discern the best way to behave.

So, I'm immoral or amoral, however you want to put it.

We had a really great discussion regarding the subtle differences between morals and ethics, several months ago, but I don't recall the title (so I can't check any archives, if there are any) and I don't believe I saved any of the posts, but I should have, because there was some good stuff in there.

Does anyone else recall?

Interesting distinction. I have used them interchangeably but will try to stick to 'ethics' in future. If ethics is based on rationality to some extent, would you agree that the application of ethics should be consistent.

If we are trying to be consistent, for example the application of the Golden Rule, what if anything would you try to be consistent about?

Many people do use them interchangeably, but if one wants to talk about something in an unambiguous way, one can't use interchangeable terminology. Words have to mean something.

What do you mean by "should"? Do you mean that there is a metaphysical ethical reality by which all actions are to be judged? For a Christian this would be The Word Of God, but there are non-theists (such as Plato*) who believe that The Good is an objective reality. Do you mean that once someone has reached an ethical decision, his actions should be deterministically consistent? I could formulate the question many different ways of which those are just two. So what do you mean by saying that "the application of ethics should be consistent"?

* Technically, one could argue that Plato was a theist of sorts, but his ethics have nothing to do with The Word Of God (or Gods).

Ethics tells is what we ought to do even though it might not be in our self interest. It is based on a rational process and so implicitly should be free from contradictions. If ethical thinking throws up contradictions, we will not know what we ought to do. So for me, consistency is the hallmark of good ethics. Examining our lives for inconsistencies helps us in our ethical development.

There will of course be times when there are conflicts where our ethical thinking pulls us in two different directions. Where a decision is required, we must rationally reexamine our thinking and decide, weighing the alternatives.

When we act in accordance with our ethical beliefs we have integrity. If we are inconsistent and only apply our ethics when it suits, the we lack integrity and the whole claim to ethical living is fundamentally undermined.

We are the judge of our own actions. I know when I have been in inconsistent and I feel guilt; that I have let myself down, usually for some short term gain.

You are right that our worlds should have meaning. I think I am moral if I am acting in an ethically consistent way.

Do you believe consistency is important? If so, what ethical position do you hold about which you are consistent?

Dear Folks:

I just figure that anyone asserting that 'without god, there is no morals' is setting bait. The person wants you to fulfill their belief in their superiority, which then allows them to justify discrimination, special treatment, down to racism, of YOU!. They want you to prove, that because you are different from them philosophically, that you must be challedged to define the nature of your personal 'goodness'. If your case fails, which is likely, since the one making the assertion thinks they have all rights as judge and jury, they can continue with their beliefs as usual with no disturbance. I think the assertion has similarities to the old question, 'when did you stop beating wife?' The common responce could be 'I never started', which still puts the weight upon you, wasteing vast amounts of personal time pursueing this dead end that is only intended to upset you, make you look like a fool, and validate the other clown.

I suggest taking a different tact. Force the question back upon the other fellow. You already have half of this, just by mentioning the twisted history of the bible, the church, christian cults, racism, murder of abortion doctors, discrimination against gays, the list can be vast. In the end the poor fellow, if he has half a mind, will rethink, stop talking with you, call in bigger guns, or try to lay hands on you as a prayer gift..LOL 

James - I think it's up to us to make our case, the same as we expect religious people to make their case.  Christians actually have a good and valid case, when they do it properly.  We do too, it's just that we haven't got it together. 

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the movie, "Chimpanzee," distributed by Disney, but filmed on location among Jane Goodall's Chimp reserve in Africa.

Normally vegetarians, chimpanzees occasionally crave meat (sorry, John), so they hunt monkeys. A group of two or three males, the "hunters" climb into the trees and conceal themselves among the foliage, while a band of "beaters" - much as in a human safari wildlife hunt - make as much racket as possible from a clearly visible location, frightening the monkeys and "driving" them, via noise, into the waiting group of "hunters." I find it hard to view such obvious strategy without the use of imagination.

Dolphins "herd" schools of fish into a cluster, making it easier for others of their group to scoop them up.

Just two instances of strategy and cooperation within animal species. I can't imagine the ability to imagine just springing full-blown into the mind of man - it had to have begun somewhere and evolved into where it is now. Otherwise, we may as well say, GodDidIt!

@Arch. Did you watch the TED Frans de Waal lecture. It is great. The chimps were collaborating in the knowledge that joint effort is the only way to achieve a goal. Same with elephants. It's really funny to watch.

No, I didn't and would like to - was it on TV or video?


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