Many times i come across serious religious fundamentalists or scared of atheist religious moderist, that not only instantly assume that the self denoted title of atheist is the description of the antichrist. Or at least someone trying to steal god away from them, cause that's what being an atheist is all about right? (snicker) But when i've confront them one topic tops most of all their arguments and not until recently did i begin to reflect deeply on it.
How can Atheist be moral or ethical if they don't believe in god?
Now my normal response has been to smirk and tell them to fuck off, unless they are someone i know then i have to smooth shit out.I begin by clearly stating that in any case if they ever met an atheist they would soon find out we are more ethical than religious fundamentalist, if they could only put their prejudice aside. I state that if atheist can be kind to their peers by simply respecting laws of men and respecting each other without the fear of god and hell or rewards in the afterlife. Shouldn't we be considered more ethical? We don't seek vindication after our evil deeds and pray to have our sins absolved, i'm sure victims of horrendous crimes have something to say about that right?
Now my question arises out of the reflection from a past argument with someone, and they were comparing the bible to history books. First of all let's skip the comparing the bible to factual history, i'm sure we can all agree with the incongruities that exist there & we don't need to touch that area not here at least.
I got them to agree that the bible is not factual history, but of course they moved on to cherry pick what they liked and agreed from the bible. I told them they couldn't do that. She asked why? Well religion is all or nothing, you can have your own views but you can't call yourself part of a group that can also modify the rules to whatever their own views may be, was my response.
The stalemate played out like most of us are much too accustomed to, and i had to back down before it escalated and i lost a friend. But one thing stuck with me, aren't we too cherry picking our role models from history books?
Breaking it down to my queries:
History books are also the trust that something might have been written down correctly and unbiased, or verbatim. The further we go back in history the more we fall victim to the same area maybe not the same level but area that religions do. We are trusting something happened or not, but digressing. We all have some sort of role model or story or occurrence that we base our own ethical behavior on, i always thought that some laws over time kept human nature in check. As technology helped us not be hungry and cold we didn't have to kill our neighbor as much to take their food.
But the level our society has reached, don't we all base our actions on learning from the errors and pains of others like in the bible? I don't claim to be an incredibly intelligent person, but well educated in certain areas. And when someone asks me how i know not to hurt someone i almost tend to say instinctively. But that's not true, i model my life intentionally or accidentally on the lives and actions of men i've read in history. From Thomas jefferson, Socrates and Diogenes of Sinope and many others.
So mainly my question is how is our morality or ethics any different from the religious if we all base our actions on stories of the past? Some with more evidence than others, but even when they don't we take what we like and apply it to our own life. So have we evolved to understand what is right and what is wrong almost like instinct, or are we just as gullible as religious men to accept old tales? And if so are they maybe right, not entirely but on our ethics and morals?
I understand we always think we know what's best and morality and ethics evolve with time, my question is how we know this and not dependent on our era?
I model my life on me..
What makes you think we base our actions on stories of the past? We learn OF and FROM the past, as history, but we don't live BY the past. We certainly don't get our inate sense of right and wrong from old books- holy or otherwise.
We, as a species, are not able to live a solitary existance. We are a social primate. We developed our morals over the millenia. And of course morals evolve. For instance- not only was slavery OK for millenia, it was, and still is, condoned in the BiBile, right down to how to treat and beat them. Now what changed? Not the holy books- they still say all the same horrible things.
We changed (well most of us-slavery still happens on Earth). The fact that some people against slavery were xtian just proves the point. They had to look beyond what the scripture actually says- pick and choose the parts they like and disregard the slavery bits- and interpret some other part to say slavery is bad.
We have no need of any old story, holy books, or imaginary gods to know that killing, beating, inflicting pain etc is wrong. We feel sympathy for human and animal suffering (natural or man-made) and as evolved, thinking primates we can, should, and do, do what we can to alleviate it. We all do that - instictively, even religious people. We all have morals- other than psycho and sociopaths, and fanatical religious zealots- especially when in well armed groups.
But as we see daily in the papers, news, tv, and internet and in those old history books- the displayed morality of suicide bombers, Pro-lifers murdering people, 300 + of the Inquisition, witch burning, Crusades, Fatwas, genital mutilation, no condoms, no birth control, pedo-priests and the cover-up, Sharia Law, 9/11, stoning, genocide... I wish this list didn't go on forever---"honor" killings, racism, homophobia and all the "us vs them" phobias, the rack, the chair, the Iron Maiden, the Maleous Malcrom (sp?)- the ever so moral book on how to hunt, torture, and kill witches and warlocks, the burning and banning of books....prisons full of belivers, politics full of believers, the banning of stem cell research, anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-progress...on and on and on...
Sorry for the rant- I don't know what these people mean by morality. If they think god gives morality to them, how can all that immorality, explicitly condoned and performed by the religious, with the full consent and decree of the highest religious leaders, be explained? Literal or metaphorical religious books still say the most grusome tales and then holds them up as morality and virtue.
No need for a story, myth, or fairy-tales of any kind to be kind.
There are some books out now on evolutionary psychology and morality. Sam Harris "The Moral Landscape", Marc Hauser "Moral Minds", Robert Wright "The Moral Animal"... All cover a lot of ground.
Also look through the discussions on here- this topic comes up often...
Well i appreciate what you are saying and i know all this already, that's why my question didn't stem on what you are answering. But it is almost your neglected after thought that i'm discussing, that without the history books recording all these gruesome events we don't learn from our past. So then the way you model your life after yourself, is really modeled after history and evil past actions not to be repeated. Evolving morality after all requires it be learned and grow on it's known past, not an assumed innate human nature. So my real question is should we be more understanding towards theist in the sense they are just as afraid of evil men with evil actions doing evil things? Even though their approach towards it is more childish than the atheist view, disregarding and cherry picking the bible for parables still applicable to their view of life. Not discussing the actions of the religious extremist, but the ordinary individual that just calls themselves a theist because that's all they've known in life.
I'm sorry i just feel you quickly contradicted yourself in the first paragraph when you say you model your life on yourself and not actions or stories from the past. Then immediately add we learn from the past and history, are you excluding yourself? But i also disagree with this view of innate sense of right or wrong, be it morality or anything else. It reminds me of an argument i heard a vegan use once, put an apple and a bunny in a babies crib and if it pets the apple and eats the bunny i'll admit i was wrong. (ignoring the obvious absurdity to begin with of the baby being able to eat an apple.) But still the same area assuming that men are born with the explicit code inbuilt into us that exonerates or punishes us from certain actions, and it wasn't instilled into us from our parents, religions (bad or good), and what we learn in school from history.
How is our morality and ethics not acquired?
I think there is a part of the argument that is being largely forgotten here. A theist will say, "I base my moral standing on this book, or that book, this god or that god". Then, and this is what I think is being forgotten, when an atheist faces them with the fact that the book in question is essentially unmoral, they make up excuses for it. An atheist will not do that.
An atheist, or at least myself and those I know, base most of their moral code loosely on Locke's principles, laid down in his second treatiss on government. To paraphrase, humans are no different than animals, when we are in nature, that is to say, the wild, we will do what is necessary to survive. Killing, to use an example, is no longer immoral, if it means us getting food to eat. You never see a christian in the zombie appocolips movies saying, "well maybe we shouldn't kill them and steal their guns, its not right." Usually its, "remember, aim for the head". However, when man, as a group or species, chooses to form into a group, and start a city, they agree upon a system of laws and practices, which then creates a moral compass for them to follow. Those morals are completely and totally arbitrary, and dependent upon the situations and circumstances in which the culture is found.
For example, the native peoples of the pacific islands had no idea of private property before the arrival of the christians. Their moral code said that everything was everyones, and they were happy with that. It was unspeakable to the christians, and they purposefully made pains to eraticate it from the culture.
The biggest thing to remember is that morals are arbitrary. They only effect you in perfect conditions. You can say, "stealing is wrong", until your starving, and the only way to eat is to steal. Then it is not immoral, its survival. That is what theists do not take into account, an atheist would see the situation objectively.