Building Bridges With Believers

I have a confession to make: I’m one of the New Atheists.

You know the type. Our reflexive, unjustified hatred of all religious people is matched only by the venom of our arguments against them. The mere thought of religion of any kind makes us irrationally furious, like waving a red flag at a bull. We ignore the existence of real religious people because we find fundamentalists easier to attack, and when we’re not ignoring them, we’re driving them away with our hostile, intemperate rhetoric. One thing’s for sure, we’re certainly not interested in making alliances with any kind of church to do any genuine good or work on solving any real problem in this world.

That’s why, this month, I’m making a charitable donation to a church that’s trying to do some genuine good and work on solving a real problem in this world, and I hope you’ll join me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a meta-charity helping atheists and freethinkers to do good in a visible way. Each quarter, the FBB chooses ten charities each addressing a different area of need, all of which must have a proven track record and a commitment to refrain from proselytizing. But it’s always been part of the FBB’s intent that a member charity could be founded in any worldview, as long as it meets those requirements.

This month, the Foundation’s board is putting that principle to work. Their choice in the Peace category for the third quarter of 2010 is Quaker Peace and Social Witness, a branch of the Britain Yearly Meeting and the flagship organization of Quaker peace work worldwide, as well as a past recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

If we’re going to support any religious charity, the Quakers are a good start. Quakers are nominally a Christian sect, but they don’t have rituals, sacraments, or a formal creed. Their most important belief is the “Inner Light” – the idea that God exists within every person and speaks to them on an ongoing basis. As a result, they generally believe that the Bible is at best secondary to this process of continuing revelation, and that every person is equally free to interpret the will of God for themselves. (Like Unitarian Universalists, some Quakers also consider themselves nontheistic.)

Quakers have played a formative role in American history and in the separation of church and state. The Quaker William Penn founded Pennsylvania, whose charter gave a strong guarantee of religious freedom to all of its citizens. I’ve been to the Arch Street Meeting House in Philadelphia, the oldest Quaker church in the world, which was built on land donated by Penn:

The meeting room inside looks like a church hall, except that it doesn’t have a pulpit, or for that matter, a minister. A Quaker service consists of all the members sitting together in silence for an hour, except that if any member feels they’ve received an inward revelation of God’s will, they can stand up and speak it at any time.

Besides religious liberty, Quakers have been pioneers in abolishing slavery, in prison reform, and in equality for women and GLBT people. (That said, there are also conservative Quaker denominations that are more like evangelical Christians, and whose views on same-sex marriage and other issues are far less enlightened. Needless to say, the FBB isn’t supporting any of their charities.)

As opposed to the accommodationists who claim that we can only cooperate with religious people if we totally cease criticizing them, the Foundation’s choice points to an obvious alternative: we can work together with religious groups in areas where we find common ground, without surrendering our right to disagree with them on other subjects. But promoting peace in the world, I would hope, isn’t a controversial goal, and it should be one where atheists and theists alike can work together to build bridges.

If there’s any religious denomination whose work deserves the support of freethinkers, it’s the Quakers. That’s why I support the Foundation’s choice. I split my monthly donation four ways, and this quarter, one-fourth of it is going to them. Of course, the great virtue of the Foundation Beyond Belief is that members choose how their money is allocated, so if you disagree, you can shift your donation to other charities. But why pass up a chance to prove that we can work together with theists if the cause is just?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Larry

    ‘…Promoting peace in the world, I would hope, isn’t a controversial goal,…’ You wouldn’t think defending your country would be either, but most Quakers reject that. Certainly we can work with theists, just not on their terms.

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    Hmm. Not sure how I feel. As much as I like the Quaker approach to religion (in comparison to the other approaches), this rubs me the wrong way. I would have no problem with an organization that just happened to be founded by a bunch of religious people. But to call the charity “Quaker XYZ” … I guess I would just define proselytizing more broadly than FBB, I think if you go around introducing yourselves like that right before doing some good work for others, you are promoting your religion.

    Also, do they discriminate in hiring or do they hire non-Quakers? The website says that “All our work is centrally guided and overseen by Friends and Attenders” — which I thought meant that you could be a Quaker or a non-Quaker — but this site says that an Attender is “A person who worships regularly with Friends but has not joined the Religious Society of Friends.” So you still have to worship regularly, and in the Quaker way, but you just haven’t become a formal member yet.

    I’m sure they do good work. I just don’t know if I’d call the organization “beyond belief.”

  • Steven Carr

    One consequence of non-believers giving money to Christian charities is that the leaders of the charity will then boast about how much good Christians do, and denigrate non-believers for not doing the same.

  • Steve Bowen

    Eerk!! I’d love to agree with Adam (‘cos I mostly do) but I can’t on this. For me the attraction of FBB is that I can be sure and I mean BE SURE that I am not supporting or promoting a supernatural view of the world with my hard earned money. It is difficult enough for an atheist to contribute, according to their conscience, to relieving the inequalities of this world without organizations that profess to be A-Religious clouding the boundaries. Now, Ebon. I understand the sentiment behind this but FBB is not the right forum to apply it. FBB needs to be clear about its remit because it deserves to grow, it really does. This is the reason I signed up, despite the fact that it is not, for a UK citizen, a tax efficient option ( can’t “gift aid” it), it is an ethical safe haven for my charitable donations. Frankly; I do not want to have to make my donation percentages dependent on religious measures, that’s why FBB is there in”t it? If I have to start wondering just “how” religious a provider is before I tick the box, I may as well go back to square one and do the work myself.

  • TommyP

    While I think the Quakers are really swell folks, I am slightly disappointed to hear that any of the money would be going to anything even remotely religious. That said, if you had to do it, simply had to, no other options, Quakers are a decent enough choice.

  • L.Long

    Don’t have any use for quakers, they are more delusional then most and exist only thru our protection. Drop them in any number of other locations and they would be killed or enslaved. They overly stress no violence not knowing that it is both sides of humanity that allow them to survive. It is like the startrek episode where kirk is split in two and neither one could get anything done; the both sides were ineffectual and had to be rejoined to be whole and proper. And they are not assimilating into the USA, they live separate and enclosed.
    But I can cooperate with any religious by them keeping their BS to themselves which most of them do in the short term. When building a home for someone, we can do it, get it done, and go on our way. No problem.
    But don’t expect me to be respectful of someone who expects me to burn in hell forever cuz his g0d is a dick. I wish them all to hell cuz that’s where all the good parties are!!!!

  • Dark Jaguar

    Like herding cats eh?

    I think I agree with this. I’ve read all the points here and, very clearly, pretty much everyone has their own “rules” regarding this sort of thing. I’m an atheist (now anyway), and share the opinion that only through open debate does a society work, and that this should clearly extend to religion and the “let it alone” ethic just hasn’t worked. Someone getting offended because I state in no uncertain terms that I don’t believe in their god, or when asked for specifics that I don’t believe in any of the tall tales in their holy book (the bible in almost all cases since I live in the buckle of the bible belt) is basically just saying the mere presence of someone disagreeing with them is threatening. That said, I don’t actively seek out argument, and only respond when others bring it up (generally though, they respond as though I was the one who instigated it). I take a more active role online though, since locally there’s really not much to accomplish.

    Back on track, I agree here. As much as I disagree with their religions views, I am not going to simply cut off any and all desire to work with people purely based on religious viewpoints. I’ll save that for when their religious viewpoints impact their work in some harmful way. I really don’t even care if it’s their religion motivating them. There’s a point to be made about the Quakers saying they are Quakers when doing their work, but I don’t find that harmful “proselytizing”. Yes it can be taken that way, and again it doesn’t really help anyone, but in the end, all they are stating is, as a matter of fact, they ARE a Quaker group. There’s no denying that. If they were doing more, spending time and energy “spreading the good news” or shipping bibles around, yeah they’d be on my “no donation” list. Just stating, matter of factly, that you are there working on behalf of the Quakers, is simply what it is. While I find that a rather disappointing motivation, “pleasing god”, I’m not about to deny them that much. It’s nothing, at least to me, to get worked up over except for the disagreement on their religion. So long as they’re open to debate on it, they’re a big step above other groups. Yes, I’d say they have my support.

    Of bigger concern is “do they allow anyone to offer to work with them?”. I think that’s a more legitimate concern. Again, to me it’s all about “does their faith get in the way of doing good works”, and in this case, I think an argument could be made that this might interfere. So long as the atheist in their midst is remaining civil and not “proselytizing” disbelief, I think it’s perfectly acceptable, or should be to them, to allow any nonbeliever offering help to come along. If they’re as “big” about being open and accepting as it seems, they should be willing to make that concession. It’s a good point worth considering.

    That said, in this case all the money STILL would seem to be going exclusively to helping those in need, even if less able bodies are being allowed to join in. It’s certainly a worthy complaint but I still think it’s a worthwhile group to donate money to, not a “deal breaker” in and of itself. It’s at least worth saying “hey I’m willing to donate to your group if such and such be allowed to aid you further”.

  • MER

    d6I don’t know. i don’t think I’m willing to get past the venom. Any good done by anyone in the name of a religion gets undone a thousand times by the destruction.

    Even if they’re not showing symptoms, they’re still carriers.

  • http://twitter.com/Arduinnae Arduinnae

    Before my deconversion, I was a Quaker. When I talk about Atheism, I’m often faced with the assumption that my deconversion must be because I had some negative experience with religion, causing me to rebel again God or the church. Quite the opposite! I can’t think of anything negative about my experiences as a Quaker. I loved it and, if I still lived in the same area, I think I would have even continued to go to Meeting. I just stopped believing in the supernatural and that was that.

    By the way, the building where Quakers meet is called a Meeting House, not a church ;)

  • http://www.FoundationBeyondBelief.org Dale McGowan

    I do not want to have to make my donation percentages dependent on religious measures, that’s why FBB is there in”t it?

    FBB is there to give humanists and atheists of all stripes a way to express their worldview through charitable giving. Some choose to avoid religious groups entirely, and they can easily do so. Some see bridge-building value in occasionally supporting a sane, non-proselytizing religiously-based group, and they too can easily do so.

    It would have been easy for us to create a system to serve only one type of atheist. We saw much greater value in a flexible system that allows the whole herd of cats a way to individualize their giving to express exactly what they think is right and good and properly humanistic.

    Thanks everyone for joining this conversation!

    Dale McGowan
    Executive Director, Foundation Beyond Belief

  • TommyP

    Ah Dale thanks for ensuring the flexibility, that was very thoughtful. Wasn’t aware of that, good to know. Getting closer to donating now that I’ve learned about that.

  • Kennypo65

    I truly believe that religion does have good things to bring to the table. I live in Pennsylvania, which is a great place to live because we have such a religious diversity. The Amish, for example, after experiencing the horror of the Nickel Mines killings, has shown the world the power of forgiveness. The Quakers are another religious group that doesn’t get enough credit for their tolerance and, dare I say, grace. These are good people, and deserve our respect and support. Just because I don’t believe what they do, doesn’t mean that my goals and theirs are different. Ultimately, one must decide what is most important: one’s religious belief(or lack thereof) or the goal of peace.

  • Dark Jaguar

    I don’t think religion brings anything to the table, but religious PEOPLE certainly do, or at least can when they’re being human rather than god bots. Other than that I agree with your sentiment.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    DJ has got it right. It’s not the category someone belongs to, but the behavior they exemplify, and I’ve seen good and bad from believers and nonbelievers alike.

    There’s a local charity run by theists to which I donate regularly. I don’t care if they worship God, Buddha, or no one, in this context. Keeping kids off drugs is an important thing to do, no matter the aegis.

    I wish there were more Quakers out here, though.

  • Steve Bowen

    Yeah but, yeah but… thin edges of slippery slopey wedges. I get the intention Dale, and I guess I have to trust FBB to choose charities that won’t proselytise with my money, even if they are religiously affiliated.

  • Nathaniel

    If one is too donate to any religious group, better the Quakers than any others. Comparing their history with that of the Southern Baptist Church is… revealing.

    Slavery: Quakers were the first denomination to formally reject slavery. The reason the Southern Baptists exist is because they broke off to forcefully promote slavery as Christian. They apologized for this… in 1981. And the Baptist and Black Baptist Church are still two separate entities.

    Prison Reform: As stated above, have been advocates in that area. In contrast, states with large numbers of Baptists have some of the harshest prison sentences in the country.

    Equality for Women: Baptists leaders were a crucial part of the coalition that sunk the Equal Rights Amendment.

    GLBT issues: Yeah, I think we can all guess what the position of the Baptist Church here is.

  • Zietlos

    Thank you Dale for showing up! :)

    The idea of building bridges is a good one, I think. When you think about it, what is a bridge? It is something that allows people to cross over. The thing that I don’t think anyone wants is forcing all “averages” into either extreme camp. Bimodal populations often have problems.

    In a way, the bridges are like the origin of Xianity: Celebrate the pagan holidays, act like your saints are just their gods with different names, and get people to realize you aren’t so different, so why not join up? The difference between an atheist and a Xian is really a PR person: Most atheists still “celebrate” Xmas, Easter, Halloween (in fact, more Xians than atheists I’ve met, ironically, avoid celebrating All Hallowed Eve/All Saints Day). The only real difference is, as the ad campaign goes, you get to sleep in on Sundays. You’re still allowed to behave as you did, still donate to charity, be a good person, et cetera. The conversion is allowed to be gradual, not extreme like many of the deconversion stories that get published. (they are good informational stories, but I would prefer most people not need to go through many of those events) People will drift into realizing that they are better off free from religion, and just accept it.

    In other words: You may attract more flies with balsamic vinegar than with honey, but you attract even more when you remember to leave the kitchen window open. :)

    There have been charities that have refused money because of the origin of the giver. I would say those charities are better off without the money. Those that accept that people who think differently are just as allowed to help the world? They’re in my Good Book.

  • Alex Weaver

    I am once again donating after updating my account to reflect the change in my credit card number subsequent to the original being stolen. >.> Have I mentioned before that the account management interface is set up in a really counterintuitive manner?

  • http://www.pagef30.com Mithridates

    Good choice. I think there are two approaches to take when trying to market a certain idea, and that’s 1) promoting groups that agree with one’s approach 100%, and 2) promoting sects on the “other side” that one may not agree with entirely but would be happy to see have more prominence. Islam has Sufism for example and in Somalia they have finally started fighting back:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/world/africa/24somalia.html

    and it’s quite obvious that a world where Sufiism is more prominent than Wahhabism would be a better place.

    “Many Somalis say that the Sufi version of Islam, which stresses tolerance, mysticism and a personal relationship with God, is more congruent with their traditions than the Wahhabi Islam espoused by the Shabab, which calls for strict separation of the sexes and harsh punishments like amputations and stonings.”

  • DSimon

    But why pass up a chance to prove that we can work together with theists if the cause is just?

    I’m absolutely willing to work with theists for a just cause. What I am much less willing to do is work with a theistic organization. If I were to give money to any explicitly religious organization, part of what I’d be supporting is a supernatural view of the world. I don’t want to do that.

    I am willing to make an exception to this rule in cases where there’s no non-theistic alternative organization that accomplishes roughly the same thing… but I don’t think that situation is very common.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I would have no problem with an organization that just happened to be founded by a bunch of religious people. But to call the charity “Quaker XYZ” … I guess I would just define proselytizing more broadly than FBB, I think if you go around introducing yourselves like that right before doing some good work for others, you are promoting your religion.

    I can see the logic in that, NFQ, but I think it’s overbroad. By that definition, not proselytizing would require someone to hide who they’re working on behalf of. To my mind, proselytizing is something that requires an active effort. If a charity doesn’t preferentially assist people of the same beliefs as themselves, make aid recipients sit through a sermon as a condition of receiving help, or use donations to advertise its own beliefs rather than carrying out its charitable mission, then I don’t object to supporting them.

    Also, do they discriminate in hiring or do they hire non-Quakers?

    I don’t know the answer to that, but truthfully, it wouldn’t concern me that much even if they did, since you can be a nontheist and a Quaker. Since there’s no strict doctrinal code for Quakers to follow, the issue of discrimination in hiring seems unlikely to come up. If it were a group like World Relief, which requires its members to affirm a very specific statement of faith, I’d agree that there was a problem. But maybe Dale can enlighten us on this point, if he’s still around.

    I’m absolutely willing to work with theists for a just cause. What I am much less willing to do is work with a theistic organization.

    I think Mithridates’ comment speaks to this point. Granted, we’re not going to agree with every Quaker 100%. But if we’re looking at things from an atheist viewpoint, they’re still “better” (i.e., friendlier to us) than the average religious person. By supporting them, we pull that average in a direction that’s more congenial to our interests – and that’s not something I think we should dismiss lightly.

  • Alex Weaver

    In any case, I’m not sure about this idea of building bridges with believers. Their faith may be strong, but no matter how much of an excess supply there is, I just don’t think we can replace structural steel with them.

  • MissCherryPi

    And they are not assimilating into the USA, they live separate and enclosed.

    I know!! It’s not like we ever had a Quaker President of the United States or anything.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I find that when believers learn of my lack of faith, they’re surprised; after all, I’m not eating babies.

    Only by reaching out to them can we undermine their stereotypes. Fairly or unfairly applied, they exist, and must be addressed. Blowing theists off only reinforces the preconceived notions many hold anyway.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net dgsinclair

    As an evangelical, I find accommodationists annoying as well. Not that I mind giving time or money to some humanist do-gooders or organizations like Habitat FH who aren’t prostheletizing, but organizations that promote peace without justice or truth are, in my opinion, not going to be that effective.

    With that said, I wrote an articvle regarding Christians and atheists attempting to work together on common goals – and I am not that optimistic. Enjoy Letter To Tim Challies / Luke – Part I. Here’s a snippet:

    However, practical help alone will not solve the existential or practical suffering of mankind until we address human behaviors and underlying attitudes. And to address those, we need to provide ideological help – i.e. ‘truth’. And this is where we are going to diverge – you have the rationalist/scientific/materialist and ‘godless’ approach, and we offer hope through a theist world view.

    To put it in other words, we both will want to help the world through service and evangelism. And we won’t both have the same evangelical message. In fact, that is perhaps the main difference between religions/ideologies in general. And this important and large difference will necessarily limit what we can do together.

    That does not mean that we can’t still accomplish more by working together in mutual respect. But I believe we will often be frustrated in our efforts by our ideological differences.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net dgsinclair

    >> THUMPAL: I find that when believers learn of my lack of faith, they’re surprised; after all, I’m not eating babies.

    I think this misunderstanding arises for two reasons. The first is that many Christians are still taught that atheists reject God for personal moral reasons (“wanting to sin”) rather than primarily for intellectual reasons.

    Second, I think their concept of atheists comes from apologists who argue that *logically*, atheism demands moral relativism, and ultimately, by logical extension, leads to murderous intent. The history of atheistic regimes has seemingly confirmed this logical progression.

    However, Christians need to be taught that atheists, on the individual level, and in reality, do not live in a manner logically consistent with these seemingly obvious conclusions of atheism.

    Instead, if you’ll pardon the comparison, like many good Muslims, they IGNORE the inconsistency between the resulting cruelty of their ideology because they are human and rational enough to recognize that objective morals do exist, and murder is unkind and wrong.

    This explanation is the one that philosophers like Francis Schaeffer made, and which is made in Why All Atheists aren’t Monsters.

    Most atheists are human enough to not want to follow atheism to its ‘logical’ conclusions. However, the great atheist intellectual Nietchze was not afraid of doing so, refusing to live inconsistently with his world view.

  • Thumpalaumpcus

    I think this misunderstanding arises for two reasons. The first is that many Christians are still taught that atheists reject God for personal moral reasons (“wanting to sin”) rather than primarily for intellectual reasons.

    Very true, although I am admittedly baffled why they cling to this teaching oftentimes long after they’ve seen contrary examples in their own personal lives.

    Second, I think their concept of atheists comes from apologists who argue that *logically*, atheism demands moral relativism, and ultimately, by logical extension, leads to murderous intent. The history of atheistic regimes has seemingly confirmed this logical progression.

    The purges of the powerful rarely have anything to do with theology, but rather with the will-to-power.

    However, Christians need to be taught that atheists, on the individual level, and in reality, do not live in a manner logically consistent with these seemingly obvious conclusions of atheism.

    Please support this statement with statistically sound studies.

    Instead, if you’ll pardon the comparison, like many good Muslims, they IGNORE the inconsistency between the resulting cruelty of their ideology because they are human and rational enough to recognize that objective morals do exist, and murder is unkind and wrong.

    Nonsense. You are merely trying to define the viewpoints of people you don’t know, and apparently haven’t met. There are good atheists and bad atheists, good Muslims and bad Muslims, and good Christians and (gulp) bad Christians. My morality is not an objective morality, yet I’ve never committed murder. How does your “hypothesis” explain that fact?

    This explanation is the one that philosophers like Francis Schaeffer made, and which is made in Why All Atheists aren’t Monsters.

    Most atheists are human enough to not want to follow atheism to its ‘logical’ conclusions. However, the great atheist intellectual Nietchze was not afraid of doing so, refusing to live inconsistently with his world view.

    You are merely trying to stake theism’s claim to goodness — without any serious line of thought. Explain why my subjective morality hasn’t resulted in my imprisonment?

    The strength of a hypothesis isn’t tested by expected results, but unexpected.

    There are millions of atheists who adhere to a subjective morality, and commit no evil. Explain that.

  • http://twoorthree.net dgsinclair

    >> THUMP: You are merely trying to stake theism’s claim to goodness

    No, I guess I didn’t make myself clear. What I am saying is that, if an atheist claims that objective morals exist, which I think we all intuit from reality, then they are, according to some, contradicting the conclusions of atheism – that is, moral relativism.

    This recognition of some transcendent moral standard of goodness is what keeps atheists from living out an entirely selfish life, which Nietzsche would say is reasonable in light of the conclusion that there is no ultimate right or wrong if you take atheism to its logical ends.

    So I am arguing that, in order to live a life committed to some objective morals, atheists must accept living inconsistently with what atheism actually implies.

    Atheists, of course, have many possible responses which are worth considering.

    But my main point is that, rather than teaching Christians that atheists are immoral axe murderers because they reject God, I would teach them that atheists can be moral because objective morals do exist, and sensible people realize that. However, in order to live with this view, they must live in contradiction to their stated cosmology.

    You could even argue that Christians do the same thing if you think that living according to Jesus’ point of view leads to evil, as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris seem to do.

    I do not want to take the time to “support the statement with studies” because (a) at this point, I do not think that is the right method, since we are discussion assumptions about world views – we are doing philosophy at this point, not science, and (b) you can certainly make logical responses without requiring data.

    I know to an empiricist, using reason alone seems like a crazy idea, but that is the difference between philosophy and science – sure, the land inbetween the two, experimental philosophy, begins to approach this gap, but it is not necessary to do empirical science to have a good philosophical discussion.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    What I am saying is that, if an atheist claims that objective morals exist, which I think we all intuit from reality, then they are, according to some, contradicting the conclusions of atheism – that is, moral relativism.

    Maybe if by “objective morals” you really mean to claim “absolute morals.” They are not the same and I find although most theists I’ve met have either been ignorant of this fact or have intentionally equivocated the two. Some atheists may claim only relative morals exist, but others will claim that objective morals exist and it is NOT inconsistent with atheism, thank you very much.

    Further, Xians generally follow a more relativistic moral code than atheists. Their code comes down to “What god wants” and “What god wants” seems to always align with what the Xian wants, imagine that.

    However, in order to live with this view, they must live in contradiction to their stated cosmology.

    Unless you conflate “objective” with “absolute” or “divine” (as in divinely mandated morality) this is simply wrong. There is nothing in the rejection of the existence of gods that implies that morality can not be objective.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Atheism implies “no god”. To assert anything else is, well, philosophy.

    As such, I’ll pass.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net dgsinclair

    >> OMGF: Maybe if by “objective morals” you really mean to claim “absolute morals.”

    I think that the moral relativism demanded by atheism’s presuppositions is in conflict with both absolute and objective morals.

    Again, I think the argument is a good one, though of course an atheist would like to argue it for logical, if not personal reasons, that an atheist who agrees that objective morals exist is living in contradiction to the clear conclusions of atheism, i.e. moral relativism.

    There are logical responses to this, but I don’t think they hold water, and as far as teaching Christians this idea, I think it is justified, and more accurate than the idea that those who reject God must of necessity be moral miscreants.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net dgsinclair

    >> THUMP: Atheism implies “no god”. To assert anything else is, well, philosophy.

    Well, and we all know that philosophy is bunk, eh?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    …an atheist who agrees that objective morals exist is living in contradiction to the clear conclusions of atheism, i.e. moral relativism.

    And your basis for this is…? Actually, it doesn’t matter, because it’s pretty obviously wrong. I can create a moral system based on objective rules at any time, follow it, and not have to believe in god. Ta da…you’re proven wrong – in fact, it’s already been done (see ethicism or any of a branch of moral philosophies). That’s the problem with people who don’t understand the difference between “objective” and “absolute” or “divine command.” What you are claiming is plainly ridiculous. “Objective” is not the same as “Given to us by god.”

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Well, and we all know that philosophy is bunk, eh?

    Many thanks to Mrnaglfar for this guide to philosophy and its uses.

  • http://www.twoorthree.net dgsinclair

    >> OMGF: I can create a moral system based on objective rules at any time, follow it, and not have to believe in god.

    Nope, you’ve misunderstood. In fact, as I’ve said, atheists do what you’ve said all the time. It’s not that you can’t recognize moral absolutes or objective values, it’s that your world view logically excludes them. It’s just that, at the point where your atheist worldview meets reality, you live in contradiction – you ignore the logical implications of atheism because they DON’T match reality.

    You can still think of yourself as an atheist at that point, but as many philosophers (perhaps even Nietchze) have pointed out, you have ceased being logically consistent.

    In other words, though like any reasonable person, you recognize and practice as if values are objectively real, you can’t *logically* hold this position and maintain atheism at the same time because they are in contradiction.

    You can recognize and practice good morals and values as an atheist, you just can’t justify their existence based on your cosmology, which contends that no such things exist. That’s my argument.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    In fact, as I’ve said, atheists do what you’ve said all the time. It’s not that you can’t recognize moral absolutes or objective values, it’s that your world view logically excludes them.

    Hello dgsinclair,

    Thanks for joining the discussion here. I welcome new voices on Daylight Atheism, especially theist ones, since I think it’s important to engage with views you may not agree with; it keeps the conversation from becoming an echo chamber. As I’m sure you’re aware, every viewpoint that’s posted on this blog, including my own, is subject to discussion and criticism from other posters. In that spirit of free inquiry and open debate, permit me to pose a question:

    Where the hell do you get off telling us what we can and can’t have in our worldviews?

    Atheism is the lack of belief in gods, nothing more. By itself, that implies nothing about what other entities a person may believe in, or what they may take to be axiomatic. The bare fact of knowing that a person is an atheist tells you absolutely nothing about their moral worldview, just as the bare fact of knowing that a person is a theist tells you nothing about their moral worldview. Again, knowing that I’m an atheist tells you only that my ontological catalog of the world doesn’t include deities. It doesn’t tell you whether that catalog includes objective moral facts, or any other kind of abstract object, entity or principle.

    As it happens, my worldview does include objective moral facts. I’ve written at some length about my basis for believing in them. You’re free to criticize my moral system, if you find it inadequate, or to argue that yours is superior according to some set of criteria. What you’re not free to do, philosophically speaking of course, is to argue that any non-theistic moral philosophy is illegitimate based on first principles alone. I don’t grant you the right to define my worldview for me. You can criticize my axioms if you wish, but you can’t tell me what they are over my objection.

  • http://www.croonersunlimited.com Jim Speiser

    dgsinclair has obviously fallen prey to the meme that the absence of objective morals follows logically from the absence of an all-powerful deity to promulgate and enforce those morals. He is obviously not aware of several facts that inveigh against this thinking. Foremost of course is the fact that an all-powerful deity does not necessarily make for objective morality in the first place. There is very little agreement even among believers in that deity as to what is objectively good, which kinda sorta makes it hard to call it objective. “God loves all of his creation.” “God hates fags.” Which one is objectively true, and what makes it so? Secondly, there is no guarantee that an all-powerful deity is all-good to begin with. Oh, sure, he can claim that he is, or his followers can make that claim on his behalf, but claims aren’t worth much if they can’t be backed up (and God seems to be a bit too camera-shy to come forth and back up any of his claims, let alone his claim of omni-benevolence.) Relatedly, the god of the Bible appears to have some moral issues of his own – siccing she-bears on teenagers, drowning babies in the flood…and let’s not even get into the morality of hell.

    Taken as a whole, these chinks in the armor of a god-based objective morality make it easy to believe that what Bible followers thought for thousands of years was handed down from on high, was in reality a set of human-generated rules for getting along with each other, coated with a patina of divine commandment just to “make them stick.” We as atheists simply peel back the patina, perceive the human origin thereof, discard those rules rendered inapplicable by way of god’s non-existence, and adopt what’s left over as being every bit as objective as they need to be.

    It is bad to commit murder. Why? You say because God said so, which you think makes it “objective,” we think makes it “capricious.” We say its because laws against murder were established as part of a social contract that furthers the survival of the species, preserves basic human rights, and prevents a lot of unhappiness. Try to find an atheist that disagrees with that analysis. It may not be absolute, it may not even be objective in the sense of a “great cosmic beacon of Goodness”, but it is consensually agreed to by almost all of humanity – and that is as good as it needs to be in order to accomplish the goal of furthering the species.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Nope, you’ve misunderstood.

    On the contrary, you’re still conflating your terms and making unjustified assertions.

    In fact, as I’ve said, atheists do what you’ve said all the time. It’s not that you can’t recognize moral absolutes or objective values, it’s that your world view logically excludes them.

    No, it doesn’t. There is no logical connection between “There is no god” to “There is nothing objective.” Or are you engaging in special pleading in claiming that “There is no god” leads only to believe that “there is nothing objective in regards to morality only?” Either way, you’re simply wrong.

    You can recognize and practice good morals and values as an atheist, you just can’t justify their existence based on your cosmology, which contends that no such things exist. That’s my argument.

    Then I challenge you to back it up without simply asserting it is so. In your argument you may want to explain why we can’t use the brute facts of morality in other animals and our evolutionary connection to them. You may also want to conclusively show that objective rules that I create must necessarily stem from god. And, then you might want to defend the position the god-given morality really is objective as I challenged that multiple comments ago and it’s been echoed now by Jim Speiser. Lastly, you may want to look up some secular moral systems, explain why they aren’t objective and/or show that they are objective but only because they somehow came from god even though they are derived from objective facts about the real world.

    Or, are you going to claim that everything came from god, including the real world, so anything that is objective at all must have come from god originally? Hopefully you can see why that would be problematic.

  • Lion IRC

    I have a really hard time getting a consistent answer from atheists about how there can be any agreement upon an international standard of morality among humans.

    Take the very simple thought experiment about 2 humans on a desert island with one loaf of bread that can feed 2 people for a week or one person for two weeks. Is there an objective moral standard by which it could be decided what to do with the loaf of bread if BOTH humans wanted the loaf for themself?

    Theists argue that the creator of the island and the bread and the humans has the final say. (The creator of this blog has the final say about the rules which apply happens here. Might equals right)

    The 2 people on the island might arm wrestle each other for the loaf of bread but this also amounts to a form of…”might equals right” but with the limitation that morality could or would change simply based on who happened to be the strongest at any given point in time. One person might steal the loaf and eat it just before the arm wrestling competition and thereby “win” by using the extra energy from that meal. They could then claim that the missing loaf of bread was now irrelevant. (The “end justifies the means” makes anything permissible)

    As you may be able to see, this effectively nullifies the idea of a “no-God” objective morality because “anything goes” and either of the 2 island dwellers could preemptively act to kill the other in order to prevent the loaf being stolen. (Immorality as a means to avoid the consequences of morality)

    The element of objective morality which I find almost invariably ignored by atheists is …”morality over time”. Morality, in my opinion, should/must extend to the duty of care people have to future generations. How objective is a system if it operates in isolation of future consequences. How can we define whether it is moral to allow same sex couples to artificially “have children” if we only care about the happiness of the “parents”?

    Furthermore, and still related to the morality of future consequences, I find many atheists seek to avoid the question of enforcement of moral codes. If an objective method of determining what is moral can be devised by atheists, such as democracy, natural selection, canon of reason, arm wrestling, what can we make of an immoral action which goes unpunished?

    Monotheistic objective morality addresses this with eschatology and the afterlife. The objective, universal moral law is not undermined by the axe murdering rapist who evades secular earthly justice or commits suicide and joins the victims of these crimes – the guilty and the innocent BOTH sharing the same fate is manifestly IMMORAL.

    There is no claim that atheists lack moral inclinations. Monotheists assert that humans are hardwired with a moral compass in Gods likeness. But the inability of atheists (atheology) to show us their morality “yard stick” is problematic for atheism.

    Lion (IRC)

  • Zietlos

    Now, now, let’s not scare them off you guys n gals… I will present my thoughts, of course, but I try to keep it at the argument level, not escalating upwards into asking you personal questions.

    First, though, let me agree with the core opinions presented by the prior two commenters, in the form of which will spawn them likely complaining about it. Atheism is, in a way, based around the view that everything is objective. Accepting science means accepting that things are objective, and most atheists, I think, accept at least parts of science. Therefore, a full set of objective tenants has a non-zero statistical probability of existing, as other objective things exist in this worldview. Going further, these likely have been ingrained as evolutionary memes to help the species survive, as they can be studied and traced back pre-Xianity, and even in other species as well. An impartial third party can repeat the lineage of the rulesets, and can do the same experiments with animals and seeing their reactions to being “good” and “bad”, and gain the same results, meaning morality does fall within the objective purview of science, and so is objective without the need of outside organisms.

    Religions, however, must rely on everything being Subjective, barring god(s): “God made is so” is an acceptance that you’re relying on the interpretation of the reality of another, interpreting an interpretation of a construct of a deity’s passing fancy. This inherently makes all religions forced into a Subjective worldview: Why do they believe morals? Because they think someone else thinks (but who can never be understood!) that something is bad. Thus, all religious folk are moral relativists, as it must all be relative to some focal point, namely, their deity of choice, who studies HAVE shown (go google it) show remarkable similarities in opinions/traits to the person being questioned: no matter their beliefs, their god tends to agree.

    I believe the key thing of confusion here is not a badly argued juxtaposition of atheism and amoralism, but of atheism and nihilism: Nietzsche, as you seem to like using him, was both a nihilist and a precurser to a postmodernist. His atheism is likely related to one or both of those aspects, yes, however not all atheists are nihilists, nor are all of them postmodernists. His combination of both those philosophies, having nothing to do with atheism except as a secondary side-effect, is likely what shaped his thought processes. Going further, I can say fairly likely the specific aspect in trial now was related to his Nihilism, not his atheism. Of course, due to his demise, unless you know a really good medium (tehe), we can’t know for sure.

    Ebon here has done some excellent essays on the difference between atheism and nihilism, and I would suggest you give them a once-over, they’re quite good reads: He doesn’t win blogging prizes for nothing, you know. (They’re on the sister site “Ebonmusings”).

  • Zietlos

    Oh, good, Lion! We needed some more on the “against” side, it isn’t fair otherwise, and I know I can rip into you. :p

    Using your island example: Two priests are on the island: One loaf of bread, and no Jesus to replicate it. Both know their medieval history, and know that the easiest way to determine who God wants to have the loaf of bread is to have some sort of contest. They arm-wrestle, in mimickry of the holy duels of bygone days, and one wins. Might Makes Right (no god needed!). Otherwise, maybe one priest eats the bread beforehand, claiming god told him to do so: like the quick-thinking atheist castaway, he wins by rule of Illogical Argument: Either could have done the ignoble thing and ate it without the other’s permission, but one did. (Intellectual) Might Makes Right, no god needed, even for Xian priests.

    As that example can be 100% reversed, it is not valid, as your underlying argument as I understand it must be that atheism is somehow different than theism for morality, when it has just been shown it is not. Besides, in the example of two random people, there’s plenty of pedophile priests in the news lately, yeah? Clearly, god must have told them to pull out the Holy Stick and to not “spare the rod”. Or otherwise, we just proved that people can act immorally. Atheists generally disagree with Kantian philosophy I’ve noticed. People CAN act immoral. That does not preclude an objective morality anymore than a lion eating grass precludes an objective carnivore-ality of lions.

    As for the rather non-sequitur argument about same-sex couples, it has been answered long ago! http://tinyurl.com/39apta

    Studies, GLORIOUS, OBJECTIVE, REPEATABLE studies, have proven the same-sex=worse parents myth quite false. Technically, it would be more moral, by these studies, to ONLY let gay couples have children, as more “traditional” kids per capita wind up dysfunctional. So yes, we’re being wrong here, letting the heteros breed for their own happiness, not thinking about the children of the future. Damn those hets, ruining life for everyone.

    Later, you present the view that morality is based inherently on punishment. If I asked someone “if you wouldn’t suffer any physical or afterlife ramifications for it, would you blow up the entire world?”, I doubt many people would say yes. Of course, I don’t have a study for that, but without punishment, most people would still do the “right thing” and not blow up the world. You know why? Continuation of the species. Survival of the genetics and of the tribe. A species wants to continue to exist, so it supports itself. Lions leave their nests, they don’t fight over food sources, because it is better for the species. Monkeys gather in groups and support each other in their tribe because it helps the group survive, and by extension, the individual. I’m pretty sure both lions and monkeys, acting morally to ensure the greatest happiness to the greatest number, are atheists, at least in our sense of the word.

    Finally, an immoral action that goes unpunished is just that: Repeat the phrase here. Morality does not have “Mandatory Revenge” written anywhere in ANY definition of it I have found, and I looked to make sure before posting this. They are acting immoral. In turn, the probability that their genetic code and mnemonic mutations continues to exist decreases in our society, meaning they will truly cease to exist long before the rest of our genetics do. Isn’t that fitting, in a way? It may not happen to him/her directly, but down the line, the genes and memes causing a predisposition to that immoral act (psychoses of your pick) are removed. Thus, the societally accepted version of morality (which theists simply call God’s Morality but is different in every place God is different), will dictate who mates and who doesn’t, statistically speaking. And in a diminishing repeated probability equation, any non-100% probability inevitably will reach 0 eventually. Then that immorality is gone… and of course another could take its place, but I’m an optimist.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    As you may be able to see, this effectively nullifies the idea of a “no-God” objective morality because “anything goes” and either of the 2 island dwellers could preemptively act to kill the other in order to prevent the loaf being stolen.

    Wait, so in your hypothetical, one person could act in an immoral way, so that somehow implies that morality can not be objective unless we get it from divine means, which in itself is subjective? Consider me not compelled to agree with you.

    Yes, even with an objective morality, people can act in immoral ways. So what? It doesn’t mean that the rules in place are not objective. It simply means that people can and do break the rules – and that’s all it means.

    The element of objective morality which I find almost invariably ignored by atheists is …”morality over time”.

    That’s funny, because I would say the same about theists. Was slavery/genocide/subjugation of women/etc. immoral when it was endorsed in the Bible or at some later time? How come morals seem to change over time when they supposedly come from your god? If we understand that our morals change as we understand the objective reality around us, then it makes sense.

    How objective is a system if it operates in isolation of future consequences. How can we define whether it is moral to allow same sex couples to artificially “have children” if we only care about the happiness of the “parents”?

    Nice try, but irrelevant and incorrect. What moral system are we talking about here? Oh yeah, it’s the strawman you made up.

    If an objective method of determining what is moral can be devised by atheists, such as democracy, natural selection, canon of reason, arm wrestling, what can we make of an immoral action which goes unpunished?

    We would say that it went unpunished. If someone cheats at poker, does that mean that the rules of poker are non-objective or faulty? Further, if someone gets away with something, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that they acted in a moral fashion.

    Monotheistic objective morality addresses this with eschatology and the afterlife. The objective, universal moral law is not undermined by the axe murdering rapist who evades secular earthly justice or commits suicide and joins the victims of these crimes – the guilty and the innocent BOTH sharing the same fate is manifestly IMMORAL.

    And yet, how people are punished or not in the afterlife has nothing to do with whether a moral code can be derived that is independent of god and objective!

    Nevertheless, your code is dependent upon a god that acts in immoral ways in order to uphold your moral foundation? Can you tell me how that works?

    But the inability of atheists (atheology) to show us their morality “yard stick” is problematic for atheism.

    Actually, the inability here is your inability to understand the concepts and to actually look up systems of secular morality. Systems have already been made that are objective. That you haven’t bothered to look at them or understand them doesn’t mean that none exist.

    I’d also say that the inability of theists to show us their objective moral code is a problem for theism. Where is it?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    You know what I never get tired of? People telling me what I think and believe. It’s fantastic, I just love it!

    Is it right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right? The day a satisfactory answer is given to this question is the day I stop laughing and mocking those who argue “atheists can’t have morals!”

  • Lion IRC

    Hi themann,

    Is it right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right?

    These are not mutually exclusive.
    Why do you think in dualistic terms? Either / Or.
    Do you know what a false dichotomy is?
    Of course you do!
    A thing can be simply a good idea as well as “right”.
    Loving your neighbor as yourself is not as much a morality “commandment” as it is a perfect way to live happily.
    Clearly, God doesnt “need” us to love one another so His “commandment” is for OUR benefit. It is “right” because it is intelligent and therefore…
    “is it right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right”
    Are BOTH true.
    Lion (IRC)

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So, what you are really saying here is that something is right simply because it is right, regardless of what god says. god simply seems to tell us that which is right in its own right. This makes god superfluous, however, and means that god does not give us our morals, but that they are intrinsic properties of the universe.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    BTW, I always have to laught when Xians chide atheists for thinking in Either/Or terms when it’s done in response to dichotomies/conditions set up by the Xians themselves.

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    /facepalm

    Talk about not getting the question. OMGF explains why this fails as an answer.

  • Lion IRC

    Hi OMGF,
    You claimed that “the inability of theists to show us their objective moral code is a problem for theism.”
    Actually most theists but ESPECIALLY monotheists can name their Objective standard or morality in one word – God.
    We are talking about the morality “Umpire”.
    Two humans who subjectively and mutually agree on morality dont need an objective umpire – thats easy.
    But when two humans theist or atheist disagree on morality who else BUT a higher Being can decide who is right? Who else but an ALL Powerful, All knowing Being can say what is the “right” thing to do? Who else but a Higher Being who can better anticipate the future consequences of an immoral action? And heres the “kicker”…who else but a Higher Being can ENFORCE the absolutely objectively “right” moral law?
    Lion (IRC)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    But when two humans theist or atheist disagree on morality who else BUT a higher Being can decide who is right? Who else but an ALL Powerful, All knowing Being can say what is the “right” thing to do? Who else but a Higher Being who can better anticipate the future consequences of an immoral action? And heres the “kicker”…who else but a Higher Being can ENFORCE the absolutely objectively “right” moral law?
    Lion (IRC)

    In other words, God serves a determinitive set of moral rules that he cannot change. I see.

    Also, if you assert that God is a moral judge, you need to explain the existence of unpunished evil in this world.

    Spare me stories of “hell” and such, as they violate parsimony.

  • Lion IRC

    Hi Thumpalumpacus,
    God could change anything if He wanted to.
    Does God WANT to change something if it is perfect?
    Lion (IRC)

  • Steve Bowen

    But when two humans theist or atheist disagree on morality who else BUT a higher Being can decide who is right?

    Question begging! Just because there may be an objectively moral answer does not mean that it is obvious. A famous example is the “Trolley Problem”, where you have the choice of sacrificing one person to save several. The objective reality is there is not a morally superior position to take. You could be a strict utilitarian and save the greater number of people, but what if the person you killed was a brilliant surgeon who would, if alive, go on to save many more? You can’t know. The theist position would be that whichever decision you made in good faith, God would approve, which is about as morally relative as you can get. But objectively neither wins.
    On a mundane level, received morality from religious text is so abhorrent in the context of a society that respects the worth of individuals so much more than the neolithic tribesmen who wrote them, that without re-interpretation it is useless. Consequently if you have to interpret scripture to make it moral, the morality is that of the interpreter, not God’s.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Hi Thumpalumpacus,
    God could change anything if He wanted to.
    Does God WANT to change something if it is perfect

    Given God’s bloody hands, I should think he’d want to modify this moral code, yet he does not. Might you tell me why?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Actually most theists but ESPECIALLY monotheists can name their Objective standard or morality in one word – God.

    Obviously, and if you had been reading along you’d notice that saying “god” does not an objective moral system make. Try again.

    We are talking about the morality “Umpire”.

    You are, and once again, it’s not necessary for a moral system to be objective or not.

    Two humans who subjectively and mutually agree on morality dont need an objective umpire – thats easy.

    Yet, that umpire need not be a god.

    But when two humans theist or atheist disagree on morality who else BUT a higher Being can decide who is right?

    Other humans using the objective, derived values that come from a study of reality.

    Who else but an ALL Powerful, All knowing Being can say what is the “right” thing to do?

    Because the being claims it is right or because it is right regardless of what that being claims?

    Who else but a Higher Being who can better anticipate the future consequences of an immoral action?

    Irrelevant.

    And heres the “kicker”…who else but a Higher Being can ENFORCE the absolutely objectively “right” moral law?

    Enforcement has nothing to do with whether the moral code is objective or not. Once again, you’re not reading what we write.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I just want to focus on this:

    Actually most theists but ESPECIALLY monotheists can name their Objective standard or morality in one word – God.

    Question for you, Lion – if you take the time to look at the headlines, you’ll see that various groups of monotheists disagree with each other on just about every moral issue of significance. Abortion, same-sex marriage, environmental conservation, stem-cell research, social justice, war and peace, women’s rights, secularism in government, capitalism vs. socialism: on all these issues, and many more, there are religious individuals and groups arguing on both sides.

    So, my question is this: If believing in God gives us an objective standard of morality, then where is it?

  • Scotlyn

    Going back to the start of the thread discussion of objective morality and atheism, dgsinclair claims that

    many Christians are still taught that atheists reject God for personal moral reasons (“wanting to sin”) rather than primarily for intellectual reasons.

    In my case I did not reject God (as I assume there is no actual being of that name or nature to reject), however, I did relinquish the biblical depiction of the God of my childhood faith for “personal moral” reasons – but nothing at all to do with a desire to “sin”. Quite the opposite, I no longer wanted to be associated with sin, or wrongdoing. In my case, I found the idea of a God that would a) order his chosen people to commit genocide on a huge scale b) expect Abraham to unquestioningly obey the injunction to kill his son c) expect Noah to rest easy with the destruction of all his neighbours d) kill Egyptian children because of the actions of a Pharaoh whose heart had been pre-hardened by that very God e) commit people to eternal torment because of actions/choices made within a set limit of finite time, etc, etc to be morally repugnant and evil.

    Somehow, I was able to discover the existence of a larger objective morality, in reference to which the actions of a very “God” could definitely be judged to be morally wrong. How can this be, if that “God” is the only possible umpire by which we can define what is good?

  • Lion IRC

    Hi Ebonmuse,
    I said theists use God as their objective Higher standard to benchmark their morality. I did not say all religions use the same God.
    But even if they did my point would still remain. Theists use God.
    What do atheists use?
    Canon of reason? Whose reason? Yours or mine?
    Democracy? Whose democracy? 1850′s England or 2010 USA?
    Arm wrestling? Do you think Winston Churchill could beat Adolph Hitler?
    If you ask me as a theist on what authority do I rest my morality I say “my divine Being” Now of course you might not accept that but two theists on a deserted island with one loaf of bread would have a system by which both would accept the Umpire’s ruling – a dispute resolution mechanism. A channel Op. A forum Moderator.
    Lion (IRC)
    PS – OMGF, I certainly am reading what you write. Please don’t be so presumptuous as to assume that by simply writing something it makes your POV beyond debate. If you insist that morality does not need to be objectively defined (transcendent) then you are effectively saying there is NO SUCH THING AS MORALITY.

  • Lion IRC

    Hi Steve Bowen,

    I am glad you mentioned the trolley/ethical dilemma thing.

    The loaf of bread dilemma is answered in my morality by the premise that life is sacred by virtue of the idea that it does not belong to us.

    We didn’t create ourselves. A woman doesn’t tell her body when to ovulate. She doesn’t control the number of eggs with which she is born. A man cannot direct his sperm to turn left or right. He cannot command one single sperm to fertilize an egg without fail.

    We are not the cause of our own existence and we cannot prevent our eventual death.

    By my theology, that means another (higher) Cause for my existence is entitled to decide who gets to eat the loaf.

    By mutual consent – 2 theists on the island would regard both their lives as having equal “right to life” as against another human making the “moral” decision and therefore the loaf should be used equally (shared) to keep both alive as long as possible.

    If there is no real objective morality – only what we feel is right at the time under the circumstances we might still agree to share the loaf evenly BUT……what is to prevent either one of us from asserting (ad hoc) that it is more moral to let the smarter/stronger/better looking of the two eat the loaf and the other dumber/weaker/uglier one starve?

    Then we are back to two competing moralities.

    There is no escaping the logical reality that competing moralities – plural amounts to NO morality.

    By the way, I have found myself conflicted in a few of those moral dilemmas – particularly, where the choice is between a loved one versus the lives of 2, 3, 4, 50, 100 strangers. If I had to chose between one loved person and one stranger there isnt much a a problem. But despite the conflict and despite the fact that in real life I might not live up to the standard when tested – I STILL have THE standard.

    Lion (IRC)

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    If there is no real objective morality – only what we feel is right at the time under the circumstances we might still agree to share the loaf evenly BUT……

    You still havn’t explained why an objective morality should need God. As has been pointed out, the Abrahamic God most of us were exposed to is not a moral entity by modern standards, so what objective standard are we judging this ethically challenged deity by? I suggest it is a morality informed by our evolution as a social animal, where reciprocative altruism improved the survival of the tribe and the individuals within it. We have adapted culturally to our more complex society and redefine more people as part of our tribe and in need of consideration, hence our condemnation of slavery, racism, sexism, and otherism in general. The objective standard is the golden rule in the context of what we can expect from our culture. The arbiters are our peers and our individual reputations are measured by them and our transgressions noted.
    As has been pointed out justice has nothing to do with objective morality, you don’t need hellfire or paradise or God to make a moral choice.

  • Nes

    I was trying not to get involved, but… I just had to when I saw this:

    By mutual consent – 2 theists on the island would regard both their lives as having equal “right to life” as against another human making the “moral” decision and therefore the loaf should be used equally (shared) to keep both alive as long as possible.

    Really? You really believe this?

    What of misogynistic religions, ones where men are considered better or more important than women (who are basically dirt and exist only to pop out babies), and there just happens to be a man and a woman of this religion trapped on the island? The man would certainly appeal to his deity as proof that he should get the whole loaf because his life is worth more, and the woman (depending on how well she was brainwashed) just might agree.

    Or is this morally good, since this man can claim an objective* judge in the form of his deity?

    (*You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means [in this context].)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Ebon wrote:

    So, my question is this: If believing in God gives us an objective standard of morality, then where is it?

    Another reason to read here: no bullshit, and cut to the quick.

    Lion wrote:

    If there is no real objective morality – only what we feel is right at the time under the circumstances we might still agree to share the loaf evenly BUT……what is to prevent either one of us from asserting (ad hoc) that it is more moral to let the smarter/stronger/better looking of the two eat the loaf and the other dumber/weaker/uglier one starve?

    Then we are back to two competing moralities.

    There is no escaping the logical reality that competing moralities – plural amounts to NO morality.

    You seem to be missing the point that the idea of an objective morality is, in itself, a subjective thing. Until you can demonstrate your Arbiter, your “objective” morality is only a subjective frame of reference, and nothing more.

    Or do you not “feel” that God is “right”?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    I don’t even know how to respond. It’s just missing the point so entirely, so completely…

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ahhh, no morality.

    Or, at least, a world in which each individual keeps his or her morality to himself or herself.

    Sounds like heaven to me.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    It takes a special kind of ignorance to make the following two statements within a short time of each other and not notice the contradiction:

    There is no escaping the logical reality that competing moralities – plural amounts to NO morality…

    I said theists use God as their objective Higher standard to benchmark their morality. I did not say all religions use the same God.

    So, let’s review: When atheists base our morality on reason, conscience, the sense of compassion, the will of a democratic majority, or whatever else, we might disagree and that means we really have no morality at all. But when theists base their morality on different holy books, different gods, different prophets, different edicts and different interpretations, and end up disagreeing vehemently and at times violently over every moral issue of importance, that’s perfectly okay, and their morality is still objective.

    …two theists on a deserted island with one loaf of bread would have a system by which both would accept the Umpire’s ruling – a dispute resolution mechanism. A channel Op. A forum Moderator.

    I don’t know which planet you live on, friend, but it clearly isn’t Earth. On this planet, what usually happens in such situations is that when two religious people are in conflict, they each appeal to their own personal interpretation of what God wants, no evidence can decide between them, and the result is deadlock, sometimes proceeding to schism, inquisition, and violence.

    I wrote about such a story just this week, where two groups of believers who both belong to the same church, use the same text, and believe in the same god are poised to split apart from each other over an insoluble doctrinal dispute. Where’s this “umpire” you speak of? Again: If belief in God gives us an objective morality, where is it?

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    I said theists use God as their objective Higher standard to benchmark their morality.

    Yes, and multiple people here have pointed out what the problem is with that, which you continue to ignore. You seem to think that you can simply make a claim and go unchallenged, then ignore the challenges you do get and act as if your claim is simply true because you say it is?

    Canon of reason? Whose reason? Yours or mine?

    One based on objective reality perhaps? Oh yeah, you’re not listening, considering this has already been answered multiple times!

    OMGF, I certainly am reading what you write. Please don’t be so presumptuous as to assume that by simply writing something it makes your POV beyond debate.

    Nice of you to accuse me of thinking that writing something makes it so, especially since that’s all you’ve done here. Also, I’d like to believe that you are reading it, and maybe you are and simply can’t or won’t comprehend? Either way, how could you possible follow it up with a statement so inane as this one:

    If you insist that morality does not need to be objectively defined (transcendent) then you are effectively saying there is NO SUCH THING AS MORALITY.

    Really? C’mon. I’ve said no such thing. Not only are you once again confusing objective with transcendent, or given by god, but it’s not even close to what I’ve said. What I’ve said is that you’ve presented no objective measure for YOUR morality, as appealing to god doesn’t cut it. You’ve not sufficiently answered Euthyphro’s dilemma, which was presented to you above, or any of the other challenges brought up. You’ve consistently conflated definitions either because you don’t know what objective means or because you’re seeking to confuse (I hope it’s the former at least). I’ve also said that moral codes that are objective can be and have been derived quite independently of god. I don’t know if I can be more explicit than this, so please try to get it right this time.

    The loaf of bread dilemma is answered in my morality by the premise that life is sacred by virtue of the idea that it does not belong to us.

    How does that make life sacred? Life is a biological process.

    By mutual consent – 2 theists on the island would regard both their lives as having equal “right to life” as against another human making the “moral” decision and therefore the loaf should be used equally (shared) to keep both alive as long as possible.

    And what happens if they don’t have mutual consent? What happens if the island dwellers are interfaith? Historically we see that theists don’t tend to cooperate with each other.

    If there is no real objective morality

    Keep flogging that strawman.

    There is no escaping the logical reality that competing moralities – plural amounts to NO morality.

    So, because different theists claim different gods that give different “objective” moral codes, this means there is NO morality according to you. Thanks for playing.

    But despite the conflict and despite the fact that in real life I might not live up to the standard when tested – I STILL have THE standard.

    Thanks for contradicting your own previous argument. Remember, you previously argued that atheistic moral codes don’t work because people might not live up to the standard set. Oops. Own goal.

  • Lion IRC

    you previously argued that atheistic moral codes dont work because people might not live up to the standard set.

    No I didnt!
    We arent discussing consistent diligence,
    We are discussing the consistent STANDARD

  • Steve Bowen

    We are discussing the consistent STANDARD

    We are? I think that consistency (over time) in morality is pretty hard to demonstrate. We have a different, I would say better, moral standard than our ancestors and certainly better than God’s as revealed in scripture. This does not mean morality can not be objective just that the objective reference is not immutable. This as much as anything is a reason not to ascribe morality to God who one would have been expected to be consistent.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    No I didnt!

    O Rly?

    We are discussing the consistent STANDARD

    OK, so what's to keep me from making up a moral code that constitutes a “consistent STANDARD?” If I say that the rules are A, B, and C, and they don't change, regardless of whether there's 2, 3, or 100 people on an island wanting to eat bread, what does that mean for your contention that we can't have objective morality without god?

    Care to answer any of the other challenges made to the things you've said, or will you continue to dodge?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Door #2.

  • Lion IRC

    OK, so what 's to keep me from making up a moral code that constitutes a “consistent STANDARD?” If I say that the rules are A, B, and C, and they don 't change, regardless of whether there 's 2, 3, or 100 people on an island wanting to eat bread, what does that mean for your contention that we can 't

    could I suggest that you skip the use of apostrophes all together?
    I would love to answer any challenge but you have to accept that even though you might disagree, it doesnt give you the right to say I am refusing to answer (dodging)

    This is a very a simple idea here…

    Objective morality as the arbiter between competing moralities
    /versus
    Accepting that there is no single “correct” universal or transcendent morality

    You keep on pointing out that theists disagree but that is a non-sequitur because even if they suddenly DID all agree would that change your fundamental position?

    If every atheist held to an identical set of moral values would that change the discussion? No. Because when people agree to share the loaf of bread there is no need to appeal to an international, “gold standard” yardstick of morality.

    What I am arguing is that when two people or two million people cannot agree on what is “moral”, who can objectively say what the right or wrong thing is to do?

    The answer is surely either…”no one” in which case there is NO single objective morality or… SOMEONE. In the loaf of bread example – if you say there is no God – then only the 2 people can sort it out. What then is morally right or wrong with one of them killing the other to have the loaf all to themself?

    Who can assess both sides objectively? Who can speak OBJECTIVELY in such a case except a HIGHER authority? Surely what is most “moral” is in part a function of …”the ability to know the future” in which case humans have only a limited capacity to judge “right moral actions”.

    I find atheists who feel there is no such thing as definitive morality or good and evil far more ideologically consistent than those who cannot explain why a certain thing is universally “immoral”.

    Child abuse is wrong no matter whether Christopher Hitchens finds it morally repulsive……or NOT.

    Lion (IRC)

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    OK so we are redefining the territory now. We are not really talking about objective morality at all as that can be rationally derived under any ideology. What we are apparently talking about is absolute morality. No! there isn’t one and if theists say there is I call Euthyphro (if only because I have finally learned how to spell it).

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Steve Bowen is correct, and it’s something that I said well up thread. You’re confusing “Objective” with “Absolute.”

    Let’s look at some of the things you’re talking about here, but with a slight substitution. Instead of morality, let’s talk about poker. There are lots of different types of poker, all with different rules. Which is the true game of poker? I mean, if one person claims that 5 card draw is the true game of poker, and another claims that Texas hold ‘em is the true game, then according to you wouldn’t that mean that there are no objective rules for any kind of poker? Yet, we know that each game has its own objective rules.

    You keep on pointing out that theists disagree but that is a non-sequitur because even if they suddenly DID all agree would that change your fundamental position?

    No, it’s not. It’s a counterpoint to your own arguments, which you walked straight into.

    Who can speak OBJECTIVELY in such a case except a HIGHER authority?

    And once again you’re up against Euthyphro.

    Lastly,

    I would love to answer any challenge but you have to accept that even though you might disagree, it doesnt give you the right to say I am refusing to answer (dodging)

    Except that you have completely ignored the myriad challenges made to your position to simply repeat your assertions as if no one has posed a single challenge to you. The exception might be your attempt at answering Euthyphro, although that was pointed out to be unequal to the challenge and you’ve yet to go back to it. You’ve not shown that theists do have any sort of objective or absolute morality, nor how it could come from god, let alone must come from god. You’ve also not shown why humans can’t derive objective values/morals from real world observations/facts independently of god – you simply assert that it can’t happen and claim that people might disagree, even though it’s been pointed out that disagreement doesn’t make something non-objective. Why should I not consider you to be dodging the arguments?

  • Sarah Braasch

    I actually have a question for you, OMGF.

    I love the poker analogy, but I’m just wondering.

    Isn’t there something inherently subjective about morality.

    I guess I would answer Lion’s point differently.

    I would say — yeah, no one can objectively say that certain behaviors are morally right or wrong. So? How is this a shock to anyone? All of our slowly progressing man-made legal and political and economic and social structures and systems are a response to this fact. We have to live together on this planet and find a way at least to avoid mutual destruction if not to attempt flourishing, given this fact.

    I get the definitions of absolute (true for everyone) and objective (unbiased – disinterested third party).

    But, again, isn’t there something about morality that is inherently subjective?

    I’m a very very amateur philosopher at best, so bear with me.

    I guess I would define morality as categorizing behaviors as good or bad / right or wrong.

    But, when I think of my dentist telling me that I should eat apples (good) and not eat candy (bad), I don’t think of this as a moral judgment.

    I also don’t think that devising a set of rules for a game is either moral or immoral.

    So, I guess I would ask you — what is morality then?

    The more I think about this issue, the more I think I’m going to stick with my premise that morality does not exist.

    The concept of morality is just more pseudo religious quackery and babble.

    This comment is not meant to be antagonistic at all. I’m really interested to hear your response. You seem to know what you’re talking about.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Sarah,

    Isn’t there something inherently subjective about morality.

    In our application of it, maybe, but not necessarily in our moral codification. We can make rules to follow that are objective and based on real world observation – that much has been demonstrated.

    I also don’t think that devising a set of rules for a game is either moral or immoral.

    The point of the poker analogy isn’t that making rules to a card game is an exercise in morality, but that we can develop objective rules and follow them, even if not everyone agrees to those rules or whether they are absolute (I wanted to spell it out, lest our theist friend think that the analogy didn’t apply).

    So, I guess I would ask you — what is morality then?

    Simply put, I would agree that it’s a categorization of behaviors as “good or bad / right or wrong,” as you put it.

    The more I think about this issue, the more I think I’m going to stick with my premise that morality does not exist.

    The concept of morality is just more pseudo religious quackery and babble.

    I’d be careful with that, as it is a real-world phenomenon.

    For instance, would you say that it’s a moral action to go on a hunger strike protest the ill-treatment of another? Or perhaps if someone went on a hunger strike because whenever they ate food it would cause another person to be tortured? I don’t think any of us would argue that seeking to ease the suffering of another person at one’s personal detriment is a moral action. That’s because we have this concept of morality that we apply, making it a real thing that exists, in the sense that the number 3 exists. But, it’s also based on real world application, just as the number 3 is.

    Would it surprise you to learn that monkeys (or apes maybe? I don’t remember) actually have been known to do the above example I cited? There have been experiments where monkeys were put in a situation where receiving food would cause other monkeys to be shocked and hurt. The ones receiving food refused to eat.

    And, I could cite many more examples in other animals of moral-type behavior. That’s because there are many types of social animals out there, and it seems to be a trait of social animals to develop some type of moral behavior. Humans are no different. It’s because societies don’t flourish without it. In this sense, morality is a real thing and describes a real/objective phenomenon.

    What’s religious quackery and babble is the idea that objective morality is the same as absolute morality, and that one must receive morality from on high or some moral law giver who is divine. The great irony in that is that the theistic idea of morality is really subjective.

    You seem to know what you’re talking about.

    Thanks, although I don’t really have formal training or anything. I’ve just been interested in this and it’s taken a long time for me to formulate my present position. I went back and forth on the issue for a long time and Ebon actually helped me to understand this issue a lot better with some of his posts.

  • Sarah Braasch

    You explain things so well.

    I like what you’re saying, but isn’t the whole “I know it when I see it, but I can’t define it” definition of morality what makes it inherently subjective? So, if morality does exist, then isn’t it a wholly personal matter?

    Do you think my dentist is making a moral judgment when he tells me to nosh on apples and forego the peanut brittle?

    If we stick to the generic definition of morality as categorizing behaviors as good / bad, then I guess we would have to say yes, but I think most persons’ knee jerk reactions would be to reply in the negative.

    I’m not trying to be difficult, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I can’t wait to read Sam Harris’ new book. I’ve been watching his TED talk and another, longer talk he gave on the subject.

    I’m sure the Philosophy PhDs out there are laughing at my baby philosophical talk.

    That’s the last degree I want in life — a PhD in Philosophy.

  • Sarah Braasch

    You edited your post. I liked the subterfuge and the mwahahaha.

  • Lion IRC

    I think the poker analogy is a good analogy – for me to use.

    There ARE lots of different types of poker, all with different rules.

    EXACTLY – There ARE rules!

    Which is the true game of poker?

    It is NOT poker if there are no RULES which ALL the players accept as being official and binding on ALL players. If someone was accused of cheating they could NOT say…”oh well I dont accept your rules I have my own rules” If someone tried to play a certain way and another player challenged them what would they BOTH rely upon to decide the matter? The umpire. The adjudicator.

    If a new first-time player wanted to join the game, could they play if they didnt know the rules? If they asked who “made the rules?” surely the answer would be…”Ebonmuse, but what difference does that make?”

    If the new player said “why can’t every player just do what they want?” the answer would surely be that all the players adhere to a universally binding, objective set of rules originally set out by Ebonmuse – the Creator of the Game.

    You dont want to follow the Creator Ebonmuse’s poker rules? Bad luck! Your choice is either play by His rules or dont play at all. Maybe if He is merciful and forgiving Ebonmuse will let you play hoping that you will eventually agree that His rules are best and His poker game is the most fun. Even if you make a mistake and forget the rules or try to cheat once and a while, maybe Ebonmuse will give you many second chances before He finally decides if you will EVER accept His poker rule book.

    Lion (IRC)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    What I am arguing is that when two people or two million people cannot agree on what is “moral”, who can objectively say what the right or wrong thing is to do?

    The answer is surely either…”no one” in which case there is NO single objective morality or… SOMEONE.

    Wrong; there’s a third answer. When two scientists disagree, they don’t go and find a third party to settle the conflict for them, they go out and find evidence that adjudicates between their competing hypotheses. Similarly, two people in dispute can resolve a moral debate by studying the facts of the world to find out which option produces the greatest happiness and well-being for all concerned. As OMGF and others point out, trying to make a person the standard of morality is always subject to the Euthyphro dilemma. You apparently don’t have any good answer to this.

    Who can assess both sides objectively? Who can speak OBJECTIVELY in such a case except a HIGHER authority?

    But as we’ve repeatedly pointed out and as you keep ignoring, no such higher authority ever does speak. To name an example I brought up already, the Anglican church, at this very moment, is fracturing apart over a debate about whether women and gay men can serve as bishops. Why is this happening, according to you? Why hasn’t God stepped in to tell everyone concerned what his will is? And why didn’t he intervene in the countless episodes throughout history in which people have tortured and massacred each other over competing interpretations of his will?

  • http://steve.mikexstudios.com themann1086

    Lion, you continue to conflate the problem of practically solving moral dilemmas (which can be a daunting task, since knowing all of the relevant information can be impossible) and theoretically working out moral dilemmas. You’re also assuming what you’re trying to prove. You assume that there must be some sort of “OBJECTIVE” arbiter who settles moral disputes, but we reject that assumption. Knowing all of the relevant information in a moral dilemma would make anyone an “OBJECTIVE” arbiter; the problem is in getting that information in a timely manner. In practice, you get the information you can and guess. Hindsight works wonders, too.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Sarah,

    You explain things so well.

    Thank you, although it’s something I stuggle with because I’m always worried that I’m not explaining things well enough.

    I like what you’re saying, but isn’t the whole “I know it when I see it, but I can’t define it” definition of morality what makes it inherently subjective?

    If that was what was being described, then yes. But, that’s not what I’m describing. I’m describing ethical/moral systems that are made up of objective rules that are derived independent of god. It’s not so much, “I know it when I see it” as “I know what is moral because I have this objective rule and I can study the situation and the objective facts and come to a conclusion.” Ebon talks about this in his comment above.

    So, if morality does exist, then isn’t it a wholly personal matter?

    No. I would say that there’s an evolutionary component to it which makes it a societal/species level matter.

    Do you think my dentist is making a moral judgment when he tells me to nosh on apples and forego the peanut brittle?

    Let me counter query you: Would you say your dentist is acting immorally if he tells you that it’s OK to eat peanut brittle even though he knows it isn’t?

    If we stick to the generic definition of morality as categorizing behaviors as good / bad, then I guess we would have to say yes, but I think most persons’ knee jerk reactions would be to reply in the negative.

    I would agree to that, in that my first reaction was that he was just talking about a fact – so morality would not come to bear. Then, as I thought more about it, I realized that it is a moral question.

    I’m not trying to be difficult, but this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    Me too, especially since it comes up so much in atheist vs. theist threads.

    I’m sure the Philosophy PhDs out there are laughing at my baby philosophical talk.

    If they can back it up by walking the walk, then let them come and demonstrate it.

    You edited your post. I liked the subterfuge and the mwahahaha.

    I did, because I wasn’t sure if people would get the joke or not.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Lion,

    EXACTLY – There ARE rules!

    And, I can create rules for moral action…in fact, it’s been done and completely independently of god. So far, analogy still works for me.

    It is NOT poker if there are no RULES which ALL the players accept as being official and binding on ALL players.

    Incorrect. One can sit down at a table of Texas Hold ‘Em (THE), claim that he wants to play 5 card draw and that he doesn’t accept THE as real poker, but it doesn’t mean THE isn’t a game of poker with objective rules. Sorry, but analogy still works for me.

    If a new first-time player wanted to join the game, could they play if they didnt know the rules?

    Probably not, and that’s why we don’t expect children to act as adults when it comes to morality. Again, analogy still on my side.

    If they asked who “made the rules?” surely the answer would be…”Ebonmuse, but what difference does that make?”

    Exactly, because the rules are objective. It doesn’t matter who or what made the rules, it just matters what the rules are. Yet, you are claiming that it DOES matter who or what made the rules – you claim that they have to come from god and that it does matter. Analogy still on my side.

    If the new player said “why can’t every player just do what they want?” the answer would surely be that all the players adhere to a universally binding, objective set of rules originally set out by Ebonmuse – the Creator of the Game.

    If Ebon made a game of poker with objective rules, then one would follow those rules to play that particular game. It doesn’t matter if Ebon made the rules or Lion or me. The rules are objective regardless of who made them. And, the rules of poker follow objective realities BTW. This does not mean that players won’t cheat or create their own variations. Some variations may not matter, like how many cards you can turn in during a draw type game, because they correspond to personal preference. Others, however, do matter because they negate the objectively derived reality of the game. If, for instance, one decides that having 2 of a kind is better than 2 pair, then they are ignoring the objective reality that 2 pair is less likely to occur.

    You dont want to follow the Creator Ebonmuse’s poker rules? Bad luck! Your choice is either play by His rules or dont play at all. Maybe if He is merciful and forgiving Ebonmuse will let you play hoping that you will eventually agree that His rules are best and His poker game is the most fun. Even if you make a mistake and forget the rules or try to cheat once and a while, maybe Ebonmuse will give you many second chances before He finally decides if you will EVER accept His poker rule book.

    Um…wow, off the rails here just a bit, don’t you think? Are you really trying to equate the originator of a game with god?

    What you didn’t get about the analogy is something you walked right into. Poker is a human derived activity with human derived rules, yet you seem to accept that the rules can be and are objective. Yet, you turn around and claim that moral rules can not be objective because they must come from god. This is special pleading.

    So, I’m glad that you like the poker analogy, but it decidedly works against you.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I guess I would define morality as categorizing behaviors as good or bad / right or wrong.

    But, when I think of my dentist telling me that I should eat apples (good) and not eat candy (bad), I don’t think of this as a moral judgment.

    I also don’t think that devising a set of rules for a game is either moral or immoral.

    So, I guess I would ask you — what is morality then?

    I’d be happy to venture an opinion. :)

    In my view, morality consists of acting in the manner that produces the greatest overall happiness for one’s fellow human beings. In any given situation, there must be one such action that best achieves this goal. Figuring out what this action actually is may be a thorny practical problem, but it’s still a question of empirical fact whose answer isn’t determined solely by anyone’s opinion. That’s what I mean when I say that morality is objective: there are, in fact, some choices that are more conducive to human happiness than others, and by using our reason, we can figure out what they are and strive to accomplish them.

    With only rare exceptions, choices that only affect the individual making them (like Sarah’s example of eating vegetables vs. eating sweets) aren’t moral actions, because you as the individual are the supreme arbiter of what makes you happy. If you’d be happier eating peanut brittle, and are willing to accept whatever it may cost you in tooth decay and weight gain, then that’s your choice and no one can overrule it. But when your actions affect other individuals who may not share your personal preferences, then they become moral actions in which wider society can rightfully take an interest.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    With only rare exceptions, choices that only affect the individual making them (like Sarah’s example of eating vegetables vs. eating sweets) aren’t moral actions, because you as the individual are the supreme arbiter of what makes you happy.

    Which is exactly where the deontological model falls down as it frequently imposes a personal morality on individuals even when the behaviour it disapproves of only affects that individual. Religions’ obsession with the immorality of sex or governments framing of drug /alcohol use in moral terms are examples.

  • http://www.croonersunlimited.com Jim Speiser

    [quote]With only rare exceptions, choices that only affect the individual making them (like Sarah’s example of eating vegetables vs. eating sweets) aren’t moral actions, because you as the individual are the supreme arbiter of what makes you happy.[/quote]

    I would largely take issue with this. If you’re Sarah’s parents and have to pay for her dentistry, it certainly affects more than the individual in the dentist’s chair. Writ larger, the happiness or unhappiness of one individual certainly can affect others, especially with respect to lifestyle choices that are ultimately destructive to that individual, e.g. drug and alcohol abuse. Take it from a family man who has had to deal with these situations.

    In terms of the larger subject, I have a latin phrase that covers my entire view of human morality: [I]Quid Officina, Sufficio.[/i] Loosely translated, it means “whatever works.” And by that I mean basically what Ebon has said: That which inures to the general benefit of individuals/societies/mankind, and/or causes the least damage/unhappiness thereto, is “good.” The reverse is “bad.” Such a system would “work”; to wit: It would accomplish the evolutionally-programmed goal of preservation of the species. If everyone adopted such a framework, it matters not if it is objective, subjective, absolute, written in stone, written in sand, or found in a Mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall’s porch. It would work. And that is all that should matter, God or no God.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I have to agree with you, Jim.

    I think everything that anyone does affects everyone and everything else.

    So, I guess that would make every action a moral or immoral action.

    i.e. — when I choose to eat a big juicy steak instead of a nice leafy fresh salad.

    It’s not just my health at risk, but I am propagating a system, a system with some serious ecological and human rights and economic and social justice implications.

    The larger issue:

    I think I am still holding to my idea that morality (the categorization of behaviors as good and bad) is inherently subjective and a wholly personal matter.

    I actually think Lion is right about this one thing: no one can objectively categorize behaviors as good and bad.

    I actually find the discussion sort of boring and pointless — it just isn’t all that interesting to me what certain people think is good and bad.

    So what? I think other things are good and bad. Joe schmoe thinks other things are good and bad.

    I think the search for an objective set of moral standards is like the search for God — futile.

    No one can create an objective standard, because no one is objective.

    I think it goes without saying that the very notion of an absolute standard is ludicrous.

    So, how to organize society then.

    I actually think morality has no place in the law.

    I think the point of law is to maximize individual freedom.

    Leave people as free as possible to manifest their individual visions of morality.

    I like the idea (not that I’m an expert, by any stretch of the imagination) of applying game theory to the law to maximize individual freedom.

    But, you say, you could have a society that maximizes individual freedom, and it still might not be a successful, flourishing society. (And, why not just anarchy then?)

    It might not be a society that produces wonderful science and art. It might not be a society with a population of healthy, happy, fulfilled people. It might not be a society that protects the environment.

    So, doesn’t morality have to come into play? We can’t just go to libertarian crazy town.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

    And, I still think that maximizing individual freedom is the way to go. But, I also think that this has to take into account all of the “moral” considerations too.

    How free am I to live as I wish to, if I’m dying, because I can’t afford basic healthcare?

    How free am I to live as I wish to, if I’m dying, because of global warming / environmental destruction / overpopulation?

    If I can’t find food to eat? If I don’t have access to education, employment, housing, resources? If I live under the threat of war, torture, abuse, rape, human rights violations? If I’m a sex slave?

    The more technology advances, the more of my time is freed up to do the things I want to do.

    How free am I to live as I wish to, if society devolves into dog eat dog anarchic chaos or tribalistic communitarianism?

    And, the more I thought about it, the more I think that it really does just boil down to maximizing individual freedom.

    And, all of those other considerations — the so-called “moral” considerations all come into play.

    But, that’s just what I think.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Sarah,

    No one can create an objective standard, because no one is objective.

    The whole point of this exercise is that one need not be objective in order to create an objective standard. If what you just said is true, then the rules of poker are not objective (which is why I introduced the analogy to begin with). Yet, the rules of a game of poker are objective, are they not? It seems that people can create objective standards.

    Let’s even take a quick and dirty crack at it with your examples. Let’s try to “maximize individual freedom.” You rightly acknowledge that morality is an inescapable aspect of living in a society and having freedoms to begin with (I get that from your comment, but let me know if I misunderstood). So, what if we created objective rules to meet the maxim of increased individual freedom?

    What if we went ahead and defined what we mean by freedom (let’s keep to a very simple level because it can get complicated fast). Freedom means that one is in control of one’s own body and thoughts. So, an objective moral rule would be to refrain from activities that reduce other people’s freedom while preserving your own.

    So, don’t go and punch someone in the face, as that impinges on their freedom to control their own body. But, you need not let someone punch you in the face as that would impinge on your freedom.

    We’ve just created an overly simplified objective rule.

    Let’s also not forget that the real, objective world plays a role in all of this. We can’t ignore the evolutionary component of this or the ability of one to look at objective facts and come to moral conclusions (as Ebon talks about above).

    I think it goes without saying that the very notion of an absolute standard is ludicrous.

    This, I agree with, and I’ve yet to see a theist be able to defend it or point to an absolute standard.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Hmmm. I see what you’re saying (I think), but

    I don’t think maximizing individual freedom is either moral or immoral. I think it’s amoral.

    I’m not categorizing behaviors as good or bad or right or wrong.

    No behavior is inherently good or bad in my system.

    But, I get what you’re saying about objectivity.

    The poker player who devises the rules isn’t objective; he or she wants to win.

    But, the rules themselves are objective / unbiased — doesn’t favor one player over another.

    So, ok, we CAN create objective sets of rules for categorizing behaviors as good or bad.

    But, how useful are they in the real world?

    And, what are they based upon?

    And, who decides?

    It feels like an infinite regression problem to me.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I just want to point out too that it seems to me that as societies move their legal / political systems away from worrying about categorizing behaviors as good and bad and towards worrying about maximizing individual freedom that those societies also move towards the flourishing / successful end of the spectrum.

    You could probably just as easily say that as societies move away from theocracies and move toward democracies the same thing occurs.

    I think that’s why all of the “we have morals too, us atheists” and worrying so much about morality and defending our morals and trying so hard to find moral standards worries me.

    Let the religionists worry about morality. That’s Dark Ages territory.

    We’ve got better things to do.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Ok. I’m going to stop commenting after this. I promise.

    I’m sick of myself already.

    But, I’m just going to answer my own question before someone else does.

    Based upon what — reason and evidence.

    Got it. As in the evidence shows us that FGM decreases the well being of those upon whom it is performed, etc., etc..

    Ok.

    I think I figured out my point finally. I think it is not a worthwhile exercise.

    This categorization of all known behaviors as good or bad. And, what about the questionable stuff? Sorta good and sorta bad. Or, sometimes good and sometimes bad. I know Sam Harris talks about the range of possible answers.

    I just think it’s a waste of time and feeds into the mentality of the religionists and that we have better things to do with our time.

    There are better ways to organize our societies.

  • XPK

    This has been an interesting thread to follow. I guess there is some pressure that atheists need to prove some sort of moral fiber (ya know, because we obviously can’t have one since we are atheists). Or perhaps we need to prove that religious morality fails epically compared to “secular” morality. I guess I don’t mind feeding “into the mentality of the religionists” on issues like this. How else are we supposed to show the outright hypocrisy of supposed “moral” teachings?

    I realize Sarah is speaking to a larger, perhaps more idealistic, concept of society as a whole, but I’m not sure on what other level we can discuss morality with religionists at this current point in history.


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