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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Went there John, but couldn't watch it - got a pop-up telling me to use RealPlayer to open it (which I have), but when I clicked, "Play," got another pop-up saying, "Server not found" - don't know what to tell you.

Sorry try


Or go to the TED website and search Frans de Waal

What about lions on the hunt? or wolves? Both lions and wolves will divide, with some members doing the driving of the prey into the jaws opf the others who are wiating to ambush. Do ants collaborate in the knowledge that joint effort is necessary to achieve their goals or do they operate purely on instinct? Does instinct sometimes require an ability to conceptualize? I think there's a lot of work yet to be done in this area, starting with getting very clear definitions of the terms we use.

Not nit-picking here Blaine - also not disagreeing with you, but questioning the Harvard researchers - I've seen dolphins shown geometrical shapes, then go and fetch plastic shapes (from among other shapes) in the water and return them to their trainer. Wouldn't you say that they would have to hold those symbols mentally, while they searched for the proper shape?

Blaine, you should know by now that I never mind a funny, but I thought you were serious - sorry I missed it --

Yeah. Homo sapiens are special. More intelligent. We should have dominion. That's one thing those Christians have right!

One thing I've noticed John, in the Chimpanzee movie, "Wild Kingdom" or any of the other wildlife specials and/or series I've seen, I don't recall that any of the predators particularly moralized over their kill, unless it was during the digestion process. In fact, the captured monkeys were ripped to shreds by our closest cousins without even the "benefit" of death first.

I agree. Are you suggesting we adopt 'moral' behaviour of other animals as our guide? We have a choice. I'm not certain any other species is aware there is a choice to make; they lack the required rationality.

No, I'm simply saying that we must never forget that we, too, are animals, with millions of years of reptilian brain guiding our instincts. Do they lack the rationality? I don't know, and won't until some means is devised whereby we can successfully communicate with them. I just think we might be moralizing a bit to think we're so superior.

Arch. I think we actually agree here. We are not superior, just other animals. Pure ego to think we are better. But now that we humans are able to think about morals and ethics, why exclude all other species? Why draw the line at things that are peculiar to humans like highly developed intelligence. That is just an arbitrary measure picked to suit us.

Killing and causing suffering is prime facie wrong although some may disagree. It is that capacity that is important and deserves moral consideration, not genes. That's why it is similar to discrimination on the basis of race or sex, just the exploitation of some arbitrary difference to suit someone's selfish interest.

Saith John Major: "Killing and causing suffering is prime facie wrong although some may disagree."

To paraphrase a movie from my childhood, "I'm fuzzy on the whole right/wrong thing. What do you mean, 'wrong'?"  (The correct answer is NOT "total protonic reversal.")

Replieth John. Wrong - unethical, betraying a lack of compassion and empathy.


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