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I disagree. The Biblical value system is not of a high enough standard for me.

Agreed

I think Brooks is suggesting that any moral code is easier to uphold if the individual has it 'handed' to them,they are encouraged/coerced to follow said morals by a religious belief/community, and hence have less of a burden in acting in a consistently moral manner.

I disagree in that I think a person's morals are largely determined by the society he grows up in, i.e. cannibalism is acceptable and moral in one culture, but certainly not in ours. My values are shaped by my parents, family, friends, and all by extension the society in which I was raised and continue to live in. Some might suggest that, because american society is made up of a majority of christians, that the soceity that informs my values is heavily influenced by christianity and hence my own values as well. But I contend that basic human values/morals, such as honesty, honor, compassion, and so on both pre-date religion and are necessary to hold together a society of any form.

I agree being in a social group that shares your basic morals helps you to be true to them, that social group certainly need not be religious. Many of my friends are not and have never been religious, yet motivate me to be a moral being.

Yes Captain obvious you have it right. This argument is in opposition to what intellectuals like Dr. Bob claim that our current morality could only exist because of Christianity...that because our shared morality comes from an age where most people where Christians...some how our morality is Christian...and no meaningful morality can come from any other source. Perhaps elements of biblical law and vatican law shaped some of our shared morality but so did all of the pagan influences that preceded Christianity as well as countless other cultural influences and a plethora of narratives. In any case, none of this matters, if you compared a list of our actual shared moral code with one you can devise from the bible and the average Christian doctrine...you would fine the Christian moral code hopelessly incomplete (it would cover about 10% of our daily actions and give no guidance to modern problems), it would be terribly at odds with what our morality is actually like and atrociously lacking morality in any rational or philosophical form. 

But I contend that basic human values/morals, such as honesty, honor, compassion, and so on both pre-date religion and are necessary to hold together a society of any form.

All of us religious folks would agree with you.  We'd say those things are aspects of moral natural law. 

The challenge is that whether we're talking about Newton's Laws or the moral version of natural law, these are things which need to be taught.  Anyone who pays attention to even the youngest humans recognizes that we are often selfish creatures.  Honesty, honor, compassion and the like must be learned.   A strong and stable family helps; a caring and compassionate community helps, but in the end people need rational structures to "believe in" enough to use as guides for making decisions that can often be contrary to personal self-interest.

Secularism typically retreats to the notion of a social contract and of constitutional law, but those are unsatisfying.  We have all kinds of examples of unjust law and unjust societies, so to ground our morality in law is at best incomplete.  Morality needs to challenge laws often enough.

Humanism tries to secularize the Golden Rule and such, but often fails to gain traction.  It's propositions are often vague and its practice is not sufficiently emotive to build commitment.  Social science, psychology, economics and game theory can offer insight into certain questions, but at least for the moment the complexity of the system foils these approaches.  Given the frequent rejection of even obvious physical science by many humans, it's unclear whether science can be a successful framework for human morality even if we had the answers.

Atheism is just a label, and so offers nothing.

So what we have are the peer-reviewed and society-tested religious approaches that have been successful.  It's fine to continue to try to refine these, or even to speculate or play with alternatives in small experimental ways.  Abandoning them without a better replacement in hand is a bit like undertaking a large, uncontrolled experiment on the human race.

Secularism typically retreats to the notion of a social contract and of constitutional law, but those are unsatisfying. We have all kinds of examples of unjust law and unjust societies, so to ground our morality in law is at best incomplete.  Morality needs to challenge laws often enough.

You can call that "retreat", but I think it's stepping back and looking at the larger picture. And being "unsatisfied" is part of the human condition, necessary for self-reflection and growth. I challenge you to specify a religion that universally satisfies everyone's needs as well as (say) secular government as practiced in most of the western world. Lastly, yes, it's reflective and sometimes constructive for morality to challenge laws, but to also challenge institutionalized religion.

Humanism tries to secularize the Golden Rule and such, but often fails to gain traction.  It's propositions are often vague and its practice is not sufficiently emotive to build commitment.  Social science, psychology, economics and game theory can offer insight into certain questions, but at least for the moment the complexity of the system foils these approaches.  Given the frequent rejection of even obvious physical science by many humans, it's unclear whether science can be a successful framework for human morality even if we had the answers.

Largely true, but civilizing humans has required arbitrary and artificial authority (e.g. a religion and deity) ever since they gained enough community time together (i.e. after attaining adequate shelter and food for survival) to make up rules and philosophies about how to spend that surplus time and energy. It's always been "unclear", short of relying on purported divinity and dictation/translation into scriptures. Besides, consideration of golden rules occurred long before scriptures were invented.

Atheism is just a label, and so offers nothing.

So what we have are the peer-reviewed and society-tested religious approaches that have been successful.  It's fine to continue to try to refine these, or even to speculate or play with alternatives in small experimental ways.  Abandoning them without a better replacement in hand is a bit like undertaking a large, uncontrolled experiment on the human race.

Atheism as practiced (e.g. variously here at TA) offers paths away from the absolutisms and presumed authority of mass-produced religious ceremony and traditions. Encultured morality has almost always been a "controlled" experience, if not a controlled experiment. Abandoning arbitrary codifications in scripture and embracing skepticism of authority has been humanity's only way to beat new paths. The trick is to learn which and what applications of control work best in humanity's ongoing cultural experiment with healthy growth.

I too am uncertain of science's ultimate role in such cultural experiments, but I am certain that religion's legacy role of imposing absolutisms and divine authority increasingly declare cultural experiments and future, healthy growth of humanism to be natural enemies of their bronze age institutions. Religions almost always would rather fight than come together.

Humanism tries to secularize the Golden Rule and such

Can you really be this unread and have such an incredibly unsophisticated understanding of secularism, humanism and basic ethical theory? I highly recommend picking up a book and reading more than just a two page religious critique of secular humanism before making such preposterous claims. Oxford books offers a 90 page book called "A brief introduction to Humanism" (they are small pages).

it's unclear whether science can be a successful framework for human morality

Do you know anything about modern secular humanism?

I'm a bit concerned Bob thinks compassion has to be learned. I'm afraid I couldn't really get past that. Really? Learned?

"Humanism tries to secularize the Golden Rule and such, but often fails to gain traction."  - I agree with Bob, I think he's hit the nail on the head.  Atheism and secular thought doesn't have a resource like the Bible which attempts to teach a complete moral grounding.  Motivation - reasons to behave well - has also traditionally been a problem for secular thinkers, but this is solved once the benefits of morality are witnessed first hand and people can see how fruitful and beneficial it is to cooperate and treat each other compassionately. 

I think that compassion has to be learned in the sense that kids need to be raised the right way in order to learn how to be nice people.  On the other hand, it's innate to all life and something we instinctively crave to receive if not to give. 

I don't think it's beyond the wit of atheists to come up with a central resource for moral teaching that is as useful as the New Testament.  Jesus' main philosophy was compassion and forgiveness, and while these are excellent, they don't describe the entire moral landscape of everyday personal interaction.  We need to know what works: what a moral expert would do.  There isn't THAT much to it.  It's a finite subject area. 

Yeah. Be religious because it's easier and it feels good. Where do I sign up?

He comes across as a moral and philosophical weakling and coward. He is under the impression that coming up with our own sense of morality would be a "burden". When it reality it is a gift.

My second problem is that he seems to think that to come up with our own sense of moraliy we have to wipe the board clean and start all over again (as though there is some committee that goes through each ethic and votes for or against). That's not how secular morality works. In most of the cases, individually, we subconciously either accept or reject most of the norms that have developed in our culture (the far majority of it is very acceptable) of which some is religiously based, most is evolutionarily based, and some is socially based. There is little of it we actually reject and little new moral standards that we create however this is what we do rationally, consciously and and hopefully done so carefully. These are the important changes.

My third problem (and the biggest problem) I have with his text is his claim that our ethic or morality must be based on spiritual emotionalism. That is garbage for two reasons. Firstly, the most primal emotionalism is nothing spiritual but comes from our evolutionary morality. Spiritual infers that there is some sort of supernatural force exerting that emotion on us or driving us in some special way. That would be evolution...and there is no need to morph that into the confusing and almost manipulative term "spiritual". More importantly, there are many ethical systems that are very much devoid of nearly all emotion, especially Kant's ethics which is a pretty good standard if you want the most consistent and rationally thought out ethic.

In any case, any man made rationally worked out consensus based morality would be better than any scripted ethic written by savages. Those codes are nasty.

And finally, this guy is a moron.

I giggle my ass off anytime some theist points at a bible or koran or torah and pontificates on the moral and ethical lessons contained there in. I want to ask, "Have you guys read this thing?"

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