I was inspired by this thought because of a lecture given by Sam Harris and the following discussion between him and Richard Dawkins. 

Do you think science can say anything about what morality is. 

I think it actually can and on the contrary Religion can't. It is an argument I hear very often by religious people. I think religious "morality" is very immoral because it is absolute. Morality has to be relative, has to be discussed and reasoned. 

Furthermore I act morally because I want to. A religious person acts "morally" because he or she wants to be rewarded for it in the afterlife. I think this is very selfish and thus immoral. 

You have to be moral because you want to be and not because you're told to be so because that in it self is immoral. 

To act moral means to be ourselves, to be human and to be responsible for our actions. 

Now the latter argument can be discussed or argued against since science has shown that there actually might not be a free will, thus it is questionable wether we can be held responsible for our actions.

What do you think? What can Religion say about morality?

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I think The Moral Animal (Wright) and The Moral Landscape (Harris) are decent books dealing with this post.


What can religion say about morality?  Anything can be justified in the name of the god du jour - look at history and the middle east today. 


As far as Christianity, I agree with Hitchens - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYaQpRZJl18



Thanks for all your info, everyone.  I will check that stuff out.  I have developed a theory of objective morality.  When I'm ready I'm going to spring it on Think Atheist so that people can check it / destroy it.  It came about because I needed to check the validitity of my own behaviour, independent of what I or any other asshole thought about it.  It's stood up to 25 years' hard use.  The "manifesto" is not quite ready for publication, but - if anyone wants to have a look, the text file is available here.  Comments welcome. 

Not that I would agree with her outlook, but Ayn Rand has some interesting things to say about a rational morality in http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ari_ayn_rand_the_ob... 



No philosopher has given a rational, objectively demonstrable, scientific answer to the question of why man needs a code of values. So long as that question remained unanswered, no rational, scientific, objective code of ethics could be discovered or defined.


This is where she and I differ.  My point entirely - over-intellectual. 

I've been thinking recently about new ways to describe and define human behavior and morality.

1) Cold, "natural", survival of the fittest, lower animal behavior that comprises most of the natural world. These are our roots.

2) Naturally evolved, emotionally based feelings, caring, and behavior that depends on how our (and higher animal) brains process these feelings.

3) Mostly artificially evolved, cultural and intellectual philosophies and codifications.

We codify into civil law the most important and what our society mostly agrees on are the most universal codes of behavior, including penalties for infraction thereof. Perhaps the most obvious purpose for such laws are to protect people from the selfishness or carelessness of each other. These civil laws are the product of thousands of years of intellectual evolution.

What we try not to codify into law are various definitions of morality, using instead and resulting from social/peer pressure, where we have more choices in the friends we choose and where we give dissimilar groups of people leeway in their points of view and behavior.

Codes of morality used to be the only codes of behavior, before societies grew larger than tribes, and before we invented pen and paper, books, or libraries. These codes of behavior were communicated face to face, with nothing more than body language and physical behaviors towards each other.

Science is still just a tool available (and still evolving) to help us determine with research, statistics, cost-benefit analysis, and so on how we can improve our health and lifetimes, and allow us the time to ponder our own existence and speculate and create new approaches and set higher goals.

I think it's important to realize a major difference between our codified, civil laws, and morality. Laws are enforceable by the state, but morality is more of a choice and assumes a measure of tolerance of other morality systems. Almost by definition, there cannot be one, best, absolute set of morals.

morality is more of a choice and assumes a measure of tolerance of other morality systems.

(1)  "Almost by definition, there cannot be one, best, absolute set of morals."


(1)  Ah, but why not?  What if we our proposed set of universal morals allows tolerance of other morality systems, where appropriate?  Also, the point is not necessarily that the universal set has to consist of the best morals that exist.  Rather, it has to be a basic, objectively reliable, reasonably complete standard to which we can always refer, when we doubt or wish to check our own moral knowledge.  It should consist only of very simple, fundamental, axiomatic values which no morally consciencious person would ever disagree with.  Building upon those, we're free to act as we see fit, and follow all our various, different, more complicated, personal moral beliefs.  It is assumed that since the universal basic standard IS universal, then all higher, more complicated moral values must conform to it in some way, if they are to be called morally valid. 


Here's the little list I have come up with:  Love, kindness, mercy, courage, integrity and honest self-questioning.  The Golden Rule.  Think about your responsibilities and your obligations, and fulfill them.  And::  literally anything is allowed that doesn't harm someone else.


The members of this set are intended to be applied either singly or by combining two or more. 


Apologies for the frigid mathematical language.  Where's the funk, when you need it? 

Laws are enforceable by the state, but morality is more of a choice


Perhaps you could say that laws are a "public" affair, and morals are "personal" / "private" rules which we use all the time in our daily lives. 

Sure, "public" works for me, too. Or "civil".

I believe that science is just as far from the bar as religion. As a humanist, I am completely confident in the ability, however seldom it may be applied, to make decisions for ones self. It is true that there are equations for whatever chemistry goes on while making a decision, but the awareness of the person dealing with the situation is what sets it in motion. I can fully agree that in most cases religion is responsible for more immorality than anything else, but even though it cannot give us morality, it is an example of something similar. So I guess religion has the one up on science, but the individual will always take the cake.

I think that religions set out to deliver morality, they try their best, but they are just not very good at it.  In my opinion Jesus did the best job - it's hard to fault his core moral beliefs, and he did a very good job of illustrating them by example. 

jesus' core moral beliefs line up quite well with buddhism, and why many believe, if he was real, he spent some time between 13 and 30 years of age in the far east... the golden rule is found in many religious texts around the globe and is not new to xianity by any stretch nor were the few good things jesus said about humanity.. most of which can be found it sacred texts around the globe.. does that make jesus some sort of syncratic saviour?


morality must be removed from religion to be truly effective at any level.. many assume incorrectly that religious based morals are good, but they are not any better than mine! the original 10 commandments did not mention rape nor the immorality of slavery, yet both are outlawed in most of the world in spite of relgious leaders spewing their faith and their book as the ultimate authority on morality... we know that is nothing but a load of bat-ass crazy talk!... just sayin!

Many ethical frameworks rely very heavily on the concept of harm. The biggest challenge for these frameworks is the definition of harm. I do believe that science can tell us a great deal about what is and is not a harm and through that could give us some very important insight into many ethical claims.


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