Having found such a large group of people who can see through the thin, yet sometimes impenetrable, veil of religion, I feel the need to bring this up. My largest problem with any given religion is the need for an outside source of moral fiber. Morals are a part of you, something you should know, or at least have the gut feeling of right and wrong. I comprehend that "right" and "wrong" are just words, what matters is what you do, but those words can easily be defined by whoever tells you of those words. Example: What is right to you, is wrong to him.

So my question is, do you, as atheists, need a book of morals, something to turn to when right and wrong are all muddled up? 

Tags: Fry, Keenan, Morals

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Thanks Yeddie. We look forward to learning about the evidence you have for your claims.

There's some individual variability in individual beliefs in ethics, but ethics can still clearly be a function of general group agreement. Just setting agreeable standards (e.g. with language), by definition makes intercourse of various kinds more predictably productive.

We humans can generally agree on such standards and define for ourselves what we think is "right and wrong", in the context of what each of us can (most probably) expect from each other, assuming a stable and healthy environment.

That's different from concepts of absolute morality. Morality takes it much further, in that people with differing beliefs think they should be able to judge and pressure others who've chosen a different moral code. And that's what makes Law important, so that at least a minimum of social order is enforceable, sans enforcement of someone's preferred moral system.

It is no longer ethical to discriminate against people based on race or sexual orientation, and so on. Ethics and Law tend to evolve, while morality tends to cling to a more arbitrary code just because it was long ago written in stone.

There's some individual variability in individual beliefs in ethics, but ethics can still clearly be a function of general group agreement. Just setting agreeable standards (e.g. with language), by definition makes intercourse of various kinds more predictably productive.

That's still far from making ethical statements facts. That's like kind of deciding if a pregnant woman's child will be a boy or girl by putting it on a ballot and letting the public vote on it.

Ethical standards a subjective and individual and if people agree on them all that shows is that people agree. It doesn't follow that they are right.

Ethical standards a subjective and individual and if people agree on them all that shows is that people agree. It doesn't follow that they are right.

Yes, I think I got it right, now, thanks. It depends on using the right definition of right.

Right? I won't argue against that. In fact, "right" is a relative term, not absolute.

Popi - I think you're saying that ethics are more pliable, more situational, while morals are more rigid --

That works. More pliable, yet more respectable by a civilized society than ancient morals.

You can judge the rightness or wrongness of this for yourselves --

Sanal Edamaruku is a world-renowned author and rationalist currently facing a maximum sentence of three years in prison plus fines for criticizing the Catholic Church. As president of the Indian Rationalist Association, he is a fixture on Indian television where he provides a skeptical view about alleged miracles and paranormal claims. In 2012 Edamaruku investigated what was being called a miracle: a crucifix dripping water at Our Lady of Velankanni Church in Mumbai. He quickly discovered the dripping was actually caused by water seeping through the wall onto the crucifix. Edamaruku reported his results on TV-9 and criticized the Catholic Church for “creating” the so-called miracle and being “anti-science.” In response, the church demanded an apology and its supporters filed official complaints against Edamaruku. He was charged with violating 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code, also known as the “blasphemy law,” which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” His lawyers are arguing that the law infringes on free speech and are requesting the courts declare the law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, he was refused bail and fled to Europe. In this interview he speaks about his work, his family, the criminal charges, and the dangers of the “blasphemy law.”

Studies with very young babies has led researchers to believe that a certain amount of human morality may indeed be genetic. That coupled with the lessons learned growing up in a healthy society leads most to develop a sense of correctness and empathy when dealing with others. The key is a healthy environment where religious dogma has not skewed one's perception of morality.

Even if we were born 100% empathetic, reality would eventually temper it. A 100% empathetic person would be dysfunctional, never acting in their own interest if it meant adversely affecting someone else. Striving to get a promotion will mean someone else fails to get the promotion, for example. Perhaps they are supporting a family and having a hard time making ends meet and you are not.

Empathy is an interesting trait that uses perception and knowledge of the self to compare and evaluate the feelings and intentions of others. "100%" empathy would usually mean you also care about yourself, too, so it's not just a one-way caring like altruism.

In any case, you're right that it gets tempered later by survival needs, and wider social interactions.

Unalloyed empathy would be a form of insanity, a dissolution of the self into the problems of others.

I'm reminded of the fate of the Martians in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. They are empathetic and spectral beings who eventually disappear and become extinct because they have no innate resistance to their empathy for the humans.

No, I don't need a book as a source of morality, nor should anyone, yet I'm going to go right ahead and recommend a book to you. Its Sam Harris' 'the moral landscape'; though, rather than being a book, like the Bible, which tells you what and how to believe, this book will make the case that there is am objective, scientific way to approach moral questions. The premise is that the morality of an action or judgment should be (and- indeed, already is) based on how it affects human well-being. It is intuitively clear to us, for examiner, that certain divinely sanctioned events in the Bible are immoral, suggesting that there is some innate, objective criteria by which we judge such things. The fact that different people may value different things, and to different degrees, is not, in principal, a barrier to establishing an objective yet flexible code of ethics governing human relations.

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