As a new atheist, I'm interested to see what some non-believers use as their moral foundation. Coming from a deeply Christian background, my moral fiber was knitted with no sex before marriage, refrain from using the 'Lord's' name in vain, not using foul language, etc. But I find that I have a very different view on most of these, like sex before marriage; I think that so long as two people are of age to consent and are willing to accept the consequences that may surround sex then go ahead!
So, with that said, what supports your set of morals? Is there a 'test,' so to speak, that you run through to define what is 'good' and 'moral?'
The "no sex before marriage" thing doesn't serve any real function anymore by the way. It's mostly straight up misogyny. Ostensibly it applies to both genders, but in practice you'll notice that it's mostly women who are guilted and punished for it. They are the ones who are indoctrinated with concepts such as purity and virginity. Boys less so - even up to the point where it can be sort of expected that they'll sleep around to some degree.
I said "anymore", because in the old days there was a point. There was no contraception. Girls who became pregnant had no way to support their child on their own and added an additional burden to their family. So it became religious law that women should only have children with a husband and that was then accepted as a good moral teaching. Today it's just nonsense that screws up people. Teenagers will have sex. There is no way to prevent it. So at least teach them to be responsible about it.
Well, I typed out a lengthy reply to this and went to edit a typo and when I hit backspace, it sent me back a page and wiped it all out. To sum it up, as an atheist now, my eyes are opened to a lot of oppressive subtleties within Christianity with regard to women.
With teens and sex, well, that's inevitable. As a Christian previously, I actually was a youth minister. I would actually sit and preach to these kids to wait until marriage to have sex. Hypocritically, since how I got back into the church was through a sexual relationship with an engaged woman, whom I worked for. Another story, another discussion. My moral underpinnings were askew as a Christian, quite confusing actually. But as I apply more reason and critical thinking to my moral set, it's becoming clear that it's easier to define what is moral and what is immoral as an atheist with a couple simple questions: Will it hurt anyone? Is it for the right reason?
Does the action I am about to take have serious consequences for me, or someone beyond myself?
Can I control and moderate these consequences?
Would doing/saying this hurt someone else without good cause? Is there a way I can do/say this respectfully?
Do my actions and thoughts support the world I want to live in? If everyone did this, would I be happy?
Those are the big questions I ask myself, usually in that order. Sex can lead to kids or serious attachment, so knowing that ahead of time is very important. Swearing too much doesn't do much beyond shock, so it's a situational thing. Same with all basic behavior. Consequences are very important to yourself, the people around you, and the rest of the planet.
I especially like the second question, Can I control and moderate these consequences? because it seems that too many people act without considering this, AT ALL! It's something I like to think about before I act. Sometimes though, this can prove to be difficult, as there are unforeseen negative consequences that will come about, even if the action is responsible and good.
Take, for example, my last semester at school, I was working for Microsoft Xbox doing customer service from my own home office. It was a fantastic job to have while in school, but was NOT very flexible with the hours I was required to work. I was eventually posed with an ultimatum; due to new responsibilities we were taking on as a whole, my job was dissolving in a week. If I wanted to remain part of the company, I was required to attend training M-F from 12-8 EST, and that overlapped all of my classes. To shorten this up, I had to stop going to the classes at school in order to remain with the company, but was outside of the withdrawal deadline. Because of my decision to work and discontinue classes, my previous summer Pell grant was 'taken away' and I now owe the school a large amount of money. This is in no way a moral dilemma, but my point is that there are unforeseen consequences to some of the choices we make and I wish there was an easier way to see those. But I'm all the better for going through that, because now it has led me to know and better understand the financial aid policies and procedures.
This was one of my first questions after rejecting Christianity, and accepting a natural science interpretation of reality. A problem here is that whatever one decides upon as morality, is in a sense, an entirely unnatural phenomenon. Unless of course one bases their "morality" on survival of the fittest, which I believe, nearly everyone would reject as decidedly immoral.
Another point to keep in mind is that religion, morality, and civilization, have been subject to co-evolutionary forces, since we first began gathering in groups larger than 30 or so, and that for the majority of our historical development they have been inextricably tied together.
Within all this you have the evolution of consciousness, and as I would propose, the gradual development of an increasingly internal "locus of control" for the individual. That then brings us to your question, within the framework of a strategy for questioning I learned a long time ago, i.e. If you want to investigate something, the first three questions to answer are:
What is it?
Where did it come from?
So morality developed as a means to promote cooperation within large groups in order to enhance the survival of individuals within the group? Seems a reasonable conclusion to me. Please pardon me for exceeding the scope of your question, I haven't had the opportunity to readdress some of the "big questions" within a potentially fruitful environment for some time, so let me collapse this back to the personal, individual level of observation.
In my opinion the only reasonable response to reality is one of wonder, therefore I should do that which allows me to experience wonder as much as possible, and do nothing that inhibits, and what I can to promote, another's ability to do so.
That's a very common misinterpretation of the phrase "survival of the fittest", though it seems you may be aware of that.
It does not mean "strongest". That idea has led to nonsense like social Darwinism. Rather it refers to the species that is best adapted to its ecological niche. A species could be small, weak and prey, but be best adapted through superior camouflage or defense mechanisms.
I like the 3 questions posed here in the investigation of determining reality. Especially the question 'why?' I walked through Christianity without ever really posing this question, and it wasn't until recently that when I asked why about Christianity that I began to see the light. The light of atheism and freedom of thought.
The idea that morality is mostly built into our conscience (but nevertheless altered by religion to possess and control those who follow) is very stimulating. I like how you said, "Morality developed as a means to promote cooperation within large groups to enhance the survival of individuals within the group. This idea is fantastic in that it's now inherent in us that we perform actions that promote 'good' and survivability, and refrain from actions on the contrary.
And no troubles for you exceeding the scope of my question, it allows for me to better understand where you're coming from, and also allows you to reflect on why you feel the way you do about morality. It's all growth.
Good day Merlin, and thank you. I'm not sure what you mean by "built into our conscience", and I've seen a number of references to morality being genetic. I would in no way support the idea that morality is genetically transmitted.
Richard Dawkins wrote a book titled "The Selfish Gene", I highly recommend this book, in fact I can think of no one book I would more highly recommend, to anyone wanting to build their understanding of human behavior, Dawkins does a masterful job of explaining the fundamentals of behavioral genetics in language understandable to those not trained in the field.
I did indeed allude to morality, religion, society, and consciousness being subject to, and in the ongoing sense, products of, evolutionary forces but, they are forces of a different evolutionary paradigm that began with the formation of the first societies, those of co-evolution.
I believe that widespread understanding of this paradigm is absolutely critical to the species, unfortunately I know of no popularized works that explain it. I first became aware of it due to a course and textbook I took in college 25 years ago, "Genes, Mind, and Culture", Lumsden and Wilson, this however is no casual read, it is a thorough description of the scientific basis for the theory.
Eventually I hope to discuss co-evolutionary theory here in some respect; however, it will be some time, I need to refresh my understanding of it, as it has become somewhat dull with time and the unavailability of others willing to discuss it.
The Selfish Gene, get it, read it, you will never regret it.
I think what I meant by '...built into our conscience...' was that we instinctively know the difference between right and wrong. Although after really thinking about it, I might be wrong about that. If you take a baby and raise it, teaching it morals, while taking another baby and not teaching it any type of morals; would it be fair to say that even the baby that grew up without morals could know the difference between right and wrong by a certain age? Conversely, the baby that grew up being taught morals could end up being an extremely immoral person. Herein lies what it is I want to understand.
I have held a copy of The Selfish Gene at one of my local public libraries, and will be picking it up tomorrow. I am a Criminal Justice major currently, and it is very important for me to know why people behave the way they do.
I have never been introduced to co-evolution, but would like to learn more. I searched for the book you mentioned, Genes, Mind, and Culture, and found some used copies for a couple bucks. Is this a novel type book, or more of a textbook? I'd like to do a little independent study and would find it helpful if it was textbook style.
Thank you for you input.