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Food for Thought: Morality


I am always genuinely interested in any article regarding faith, theism vs. atheism, and moral philosophy, so I decided to write one of my own.  I read an article the other day entitled 6 (Unlikely) Developments That Could Convince This Atheist To Believe in God, in which an atheist put forward scenarios that would successfully convert them.  The point of the article was to emphasize the fact that religious theists occupy a completely unfalsifiable position: that is, NOTHING will get them to stop believing in God.  I am not one of those theists.

I can concede that there are perfectly scientific reasons for Earth’s formation (I’m not one of the crazies that think Earth came about 6000 years ago).  I can concede that organized religion has been one of the more destructive forces in human history.  I can even concede that Jesus was probably a hippie and maybe not the divine son of God.  But one riddle that atheism has trouble solving is the origin of morality in humans.

For instance… If there is no punishment to keep me from stealing from another person other than jail (which I can avoid by not being caught), why shouldn’t I do it.  Robert Dawkins, author of The God Delusion (great read by the way), when asked why not kill and steal, said that not doing it because you believe in God is a pretty contemptible reason, and I agree.  He then said that the reason he doesn’t do bad things is because he would rather not live in a society where others choose to do bad things, and I in my experience, this is the rationale used by many atheists.

But there is a problem with this rationale, one that even Dawkins himself acknowledges.  If I steal my neighbors wallet, society is not going to become one in which stealing becomes acceptable, so what is the REAL reason I don’t do it.  Why shouldn’t I take what I want?  Because the person I take it from will be upset?  But that person is a stranger, whose future I have no personal stake in.  I may not want him to take something from me, but why should that keep me from taking something from him, especially without his knowledge?  This “I  wouldn’t do it because I wouldn’t want other people to” argument is completely irrational.  For those who use it, good news…just because you are bad doesn’t mean other people will be, and that fact is obvious.  I am aware that in an evolutionary sense, humans and animals steer clear of senseless violence to preserve the species, but we humans can operate using logic.  In a completely logical sense, there should be nothing wrong with it.

But why does it FEEL wrong to take something from someone else.  Someone you don’t know.  Someone you will never meet again.  You might say empathy.  But I KNOW they will feel bad, but why does that keep me from doing it?  I’m a logical person.  I know that if everyone used that mentality the world would be a horrible place to live, but why not take advantage of the fact that everyone else doesn’t have that mentality?

The point is this.  I will stop believing in a higher being if rationality, logic, and science can explain to me why there is anything WRONG with stealing or killing, keeping in mind that it cannot be logically concluded that doing either of those things will make everyone else in the whole world do them.

Atheism is founded on logic.  It’s premise is that things that are not observable by any means (such as sight, mathematics, electron microscopes, or other instruments of perception that humans haven’t even invented yet) do not exist.  So why let emotions get in the way of stealing the wallet of that tourist you saw walking aimlessly down the street, especially when you rely completely on rationality to form you’re system of belief.

I believe in a higher being because I don’t know scientifically why there are so many good people.  If morality is simply the manifestation of a million year old Darwinian impulse, it should not carry any greater weight than any other urge, such as a sexual urge.  If an objective standard of good and evil does not exist outside the natural world, then choosing a preferable moral philosophy over another becomes as arbitrary as choosing you’re favorite flavor of Gummi-Bear.  If there is no objective sense of morality, then it doesn’t matter whether “God told me to” or because “I wouldn’t want to live in a bad society.”  It becomes easy to defend a contemptible moral philosophy because you have no objective standard with which to measure the validity of one over another.

So then.  I guess I’m not trying to convert atheists or discourage “believers” (like I said some so-called believers are completely moronic and not even good people)  I’m just trying to get you to think.

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6 responses

  1. sheikhjahbooty

    I went to school for math, so I know exactly the reason people don’t steal, even when they could. It relates to game theory.

    In this sense, an objective standard of good and evil does exist outside the natural world, in the world of mathematics, the realm of ideas.

    It’s actually a pretty dumb reason to believe in God though. Think about it. There is no verifiable evidence to establish the existence of God or the truth of any holy book. You believe in God because of how you interpret your subjective experiences.

    The only sane reason for you to interpret your subjective experiences in this way is if the belief in God adds beauty or fun to your life.

    I am a Muslim. It’s fun and beautiful. I’m a Muslim because I like it.

    If someone tells you they believe their religion for any other reason, they are either lying to you about their real motivations (this happens a lot because often people like belonging and like feeling superior to people of other religions, but find those motivations too petty to admit, even to themselves), or they are pathologically insane (in other words, they accept something as true, even though there is absolutely no verifiable proof for it, and it makes them feel bad.)

    I’m not trying to discourage you. From clicking around here I can tell that fun and beauty are important to you. It is likely that your thoughts on God add to that fun and beauty. So keep it up. You’re doing a good job.

    July 23, 2010 at 9:07 am

    • 2 Guys, 1 Blog

      I suppose it does add to my life, although as you can see this is one of my more serious posts. Usually I don’t like being too serious, but that Non-Prophet status article really got me thinking. Anyway, thanks for your input!

      July 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm

  2. Hi,

    Surfed over here from Non-Prophet Status and the great conversation generated out of the “How I Learned to Stop Worrying…” post.

    I certainly don’t have any complete answer to your question, “why does it FEEL wrong to take something from someone else?” and all the more I don’t want to stop you from believing in your God. It sounds like you are a good person striving for understanding, and if your God is helping you with that journey, then I can only hope that I can help with pushing away some of those barriers that pop up on the path.

    But, I think you hit on the mark with the idea of ’empathy’. Have you heard of mirror neurons? Some amazing research is being done on how the very same neurons in your brain fire when you feel pain as when you watch someone else experience pain. A guy named Ramachandran has some TED talk videos that explain this better, or you could likely find it on youtube as well.

    But that’s just a start, it doesn’t explain everything yet by far.

    I would suggest two books that might provide more info on the scientific and social side of things, like why people are good when not rewarded, etc:
    Nicholas Wade – The Faith Instinct (a while ago I did a book review of it on my blog)
    Jeremy Rifkin – The Empathic Civilization (I plan on doing a book review in a few months)

    July 23, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    • 2 Guys, 1 Blog

      Thanks for the comment! I will definitely have to check out those books. I watched that video and it’s very interesting stuff. Thanks for helping me out.

      July 23, 2010 at 3:56 pm

  3. I found your post to be very interesting. I’d like to add that people get the religion churches,mosques/ temples intertwined as if they are God. I think the establishment of churches etc..is man made. I don’t always go with the company line that religion is the most evil thing ever. Religion has helped alot more than anything on the face of the planet. Look at the lives impacted by Mother Theresa and the other people we never hear about. Science can be viewed the same way. Yeah science led to defibrillators to save lives but it’s also led to Atomic Bombs.

    I think if you go back before the catholic church and other religions it was simply an invention to control people from killing their own. You can kill people in the other tribe because they are not the same “religion” but don’t harm people in our own tribe.

    I heard a saying one time that “Religion keeps the poor from murdering the rich” I have to believe that has something to do with it. Also for our own minds to rationalize that there “is a better place” and that our suffering will be justified in the end.

    I did like your post. It made me think. Hope I contributed something to the conversation.

    July 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

  4. Jim Hagen

    Interesting post. I’m inclined to agree with the Sheik about an evolutionary explanation for good behaviour. Plus, what evidence is there, based on the state of the world, that any god who might exist is in fact good? The inventors of religion conveniently arranged it so that man would blame himself if anything went wrong. How convenient.

    August 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm

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