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?
Ed, this is really two parts. I am replying to an earlier post so it doesn't shrink the text. Morals are a social tool, but since the dawn of human civilization, religion has been found to exist. We existed on the tribal level before that, and there is no way to measure how long supernatural beliefs have existed, but we know for certain that they existed at the dawn of civilization when man stepped beyond tribal living. We know this from excavations at Jericho, Ain Ghazal and others.
I think that many have it backwards. They see it as religion took over morality. Actually what happened was that belief in supernatural realities appeared and since morality was already incorporated into every other part of life, it was then incorporated into religion. The fact is that human morality is so weak that social philosophy trumps it every time the two compete.
See, the relational innate sense of morality is not as strong as people would think. People even see breakdown in family moral standards. If nurtured, it can be made strong, but not without justification beyond benefit. It absolutely requires justification because it has to hold its own against social philosophy and social rulemaking.
This is the very thing that made it possible for man to develop civilizations, because a justified moral code that extends past the local social level was required for that. Kings were to be obeyed because they were divinely sanctioned. Splintering was made more difficult, and cities grew larger. Civilizations revolved around the priestly and cultic practices. Festivals binding each other together created unity and a sense of camaraderie.
Now we have declared Religion obsolete. But the very foundations of civilized society are built upon it. Of course morality as it has been practiced is subjective. It always was. It was the illusion of objectivity though that gave it its benefit.
Morality has evolved four times:
First it was on benefit alone. Individuals did not do things if consequences of the action was a threat to quality of life.
Over time, individuals developed stronger tendencies toward moral actions, and morality gained innate properties. Morality also still had consequences for immorality.
Next, morality was incorporated into supernatural belief and became sacred. Then morality was sacred, innnate and had consequences for noncompliance.
Now we are at where we are now. Atheists rest as Nelson put it that morality is good, but we have no unified rational reason for why it is good. That is an irrational preference for morality.
I propose a fifth evolution of morality in which moral actions are justified on first principles of superiority. On this, accuracy trumps error. Best action becomes the new "right thing to do".
Morals can be objective, because morals have always been based on the foundation that good is superior to evil because sacred is superior to everything.
This evolution of morality would provide a solid basis on which something can be measured. Of course the old ways of measuring morality are subjective. However, superiority is a solid basis because things are superior to others, whereas nothing is sacred. It doesn't matter that most will differ on what is superior. Most differ on what is moral. However, superior provides a basis for justification of having morality in the first place.
I sigh repeatedly during these discussions because, as atheists, we all should really have a better answer than I see most of us having.
Don't sigh, that's why we keep having these conversations. :-)
Absolutely. Completely agree. :)
Nelson, I could wax philosophic and attempt to come up with a TOE (Theory of Everything) that would shake theists to the core, but the truth is, that I can never speak for anyone but myself, and I would be deluding myself and attempting to delude others, if I were to try to do so.
This may sound a bit simplistic, but so is E equals MC squared:
I'm an Atheist. There's no god, no heaven, no hell, and no life after my electrical impulses shut down. I don't have to live with a god, but for as long as it lasts, I must always live with myself, and if we're all there is, then we're all we've got. If there's no afterlife, anything I do, anyone I touch, I have to do it now. If I detract from another's enjoyment of the brief existence we all share, I have to live with that, and that is simply something I'd rather not do. I can't purport to tell other atheists how to think or believe, that's something we each have to decide for ourselves - we exchanged the hard and fast rules a "god" gave us, for the right to think for ourselves. I can only decide what I feel is important to me. As simple as it may seem, that's all the argument I need.
I don't have a problem with that position. What I have a problem with is people think that that's an answer to the argument. Because it's not. You know...
It's when people offer something that doesn't even address the argument while acting like not only does it address the argument, but even destroys it. That drives me nuts.
Well we can't have that now, can we?
Yeah, there’s one thing I can’t comprehend about people who worship the God of Abraham. God demands you worship/love him. Hello religious people! Do you not see anything “morally” wrong with this? Here’s a little friendly advice. More like a rule really…….
If something demands you worship/love it, then it doesn’t truly love you in return.
Now in its delusional psychopathic mind – it might think it loves you. But it doesn’t. That’s not love. It’s an immoral concept. And as a human being… you should have a problem with it. I would argue that worshiping is immoral. So… I’m the one without morals? hmmmm
Always remember that the theist is saying that we have no grounding for our morality such that we can't say that anything is actually good or bad, that we have no moral compass. Most theists would admit that atheists can certainly act admirably as judged by others.
This theist would reply to you to say that you've just made her point– the only way that you can say that the actions of the priests and the actions of the philanthropists are bad or good is with recourse to some ultimate arbiter of good and bad: God.
Is not this Craig's argument?
Craig makes it, absolutely.