Atheists Cannot be Moral Redux

Hi All,

We had a discussion many moons ago about atheists and morality and a lot has happened since then. I reached some new conclusions (which I'll withhold for now so I don't poison the water) and at least one other poster here has some new ideas about it.

So, I was wondering what the prevailing opinion is out there on this topic. Do you believe that atheists can be "moral"? Is it impossible for an atheist to be truly moral? Is "morality" something to which adherents have a valid claim? The infamous Dawkins and Harris had a discussion at Oxford about this about a year or so ago that was very good and I would also be interested in what anyone thinks of what was discussed there.

Thanks and all are welcome.

- kk

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  • up

    Simon Paynton

    Kir - are you still saying that morality doesn't exist?  I'm not going to get drawn in here, but ---

    does behaviour exist?  [from a previous post:] 

    From "Wild Justice - the moral lives of animals":  

    "Social animals live according to well-developed systems of prohibitions against certain kinds of behavior and proscriptions for certain kinds of behavior.  These prohibitive and proscriptive norms govern the behavior of individuals within a group and relate to harm, welfare and fairness.  These behaviors, in philosophical lingo, are other-regarding, as opposed to self-regarding." 

    We can behave in a moral way - i.e. do the right thing - even though this moral choice may be unpopular with our peers.  

    I think we can divide moral behaviour as follows:

        [idiosyncratic] social conventions

        [universal] social conventions

    "Wild Justice" talks about various "clusters" of behaviour.  The boundaries are always approximate.  I've adapted their model slightly.  Here is my rough version:

    Empathy cluster


    Cooperation cluster

    generalized reciprocity

    Altruism cluster


    Fairness cluster

    sharing rules, eg. who eats first
    impartiality (ie. everyone is treated the same without favour)  
    expectations of what we deserve and how we should be treated

    Justice cluster


    I've noticed that "fairness" is relevant to our feelings of dissatisfaction in life. 

  • up

    Simon Paynton

    I've come to the conclusion that when solving a problem, it is crucial to ask the right questions.  In this case, people want to know "what works?"  i.e. what actions or values help me to uphold this basic principle? 

    Thanks for your comment about Wikipedia by the way.  I do rely on it, and I do need to check the material. 

    I'm currently into investigating how this  ties up with this    This does assume that both are right, which is not presently fully known.  They are both good models in my opinion.  That's science for you I guess.  

    • up

      Simon Paynton

      Experience is a big factor in empathy too.  I need to put that in the diagram.