Atheistic Morals Baseless?

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Joshua Thanopoulos's picture
Atheistic Morals Baseless?

I have a theory that atheists get there morals by deciding whether an action is against someone in an unjust way, i.e. murder and theft. If it is, it is immoral. But if it harms no one unjustly or reasonably, it's moral i.e. homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Is this true? If not, where do atheists gain their morals? I am not using this as evidence that atheists are wrong, but merely to get information.

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BAACKJD's picture
Unknown

Unknown

I think that sounds about right. I guess I'm not the best to ask because I was raised Christian. Some of my morals may very well be influenced by religion in ways I don't even realize.

Where I did start to feel a disconnect with the church was with issues such as homosexuality. I was fortunate enough to have a very intelligent girlfriend at the time (high school) who was from a progressive and highly educated family. Fun fact, they were Catholic. This is how crazy the protestants are back home. The Catholics are considered liberals almost across the board!

Alembé's picture
Rather than rehash the

Rather than rehash the origins of morals, I suggest you search back through previous threads where these things have been thoroughly discussed. That search should more than satisfy your need for information.

Nyarlathotep's picture
UnKnown - But if it harms no

UnKnown - But if it harms no one unjustly or reasonably, it's moral i.e. homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Is this true? If not, where do atheists gain their morals?

Atheism is a very broad tent so you will find big differences between them. That being said: what you suggested is common in the community.

Harry33Truman's picture
If it doesn't harm someone

If it doesn't harm someone else, it isn't I that its moral, but that I don't care. There are some things that are immoral but do not directly harm anyone, cheating on your wife for example.

algebe's picture
@Harry Truman

@Harry Truman
"There are some things that are immoral but do not directly harm anyone, cheating on your wife for example."

What a strange notion. You betray the trust of one woman and use another as a toy. That kind of dishonesty sounds pretty harmful to me. I couldn't do that to another human being. But then I'm just an atheist without the refined moral sense of a theist.

algebe's picture
The Golden Rule works for me.

The Golden Rule works for me. I try to treat other people as I'd want them to treat me. It seems to go back to the dawn of civilization.

BAACKJD's picture
Algebe

Algebe
Agreed. I don't think we need a God to teach us that.

Harry33Truman's picture
Wel wed have to deal with

Wel wed have to deal with circular reasoning to do that, if God teaches us morality, who taught him morality? And what authority does he have to proclaim right or wrong? Authority entails an authortauthortity above you that ou are under, enable to be granted that authority. But if God is above all erlse, where did he get his?

Dave Matson's picture
UnKnown,

UnKnown,

Here are some posts of mine that have looked into the origin of morality in some detail:

Thread: "Differences in Approach" (12/15/2016 14:02)
Thread: "Differences in Approach" (11/23/2016 01:02)

chimp3's picture
If you get your morality from

If you get your morality from a bible or religious source you are getting your morality from a secular source. Human beings are the authors of all religious writings. Imaginary gods had nothing to do with morality. The question of moral authority is one of taking responsibility for our moral thought or handing the responsibility to iron aged superstitious warlords.

Harry33Truman's picture
If you want to believe John

If you want to believe John Locke or Thomas Paigne, humans are entitled to Life, Liberty, and Property, and violating these is immoral. Thus my morality is based on the Non Aggression Principle

SecularSonOfABiscuitEater's picture
My morality comes from a

My morality comes from a desire to be fair and just common sense really. I wouldn't want my actions to have a negative affect on the next person. Not killing, raping, molesting, stealing, ect is just common sense to me. Treat people the way you'd like to be treated. I Share with those who aren't as fortunate when I have the means because I just find it to be the right thing to do. The golden rule, being neighborly, whatever you want to call it. Hope that helps.

hermitdoc's picture
My morality stems from the

My morality stems from the idea that if I wouldn't like it done to me, I won't do it to others.
I also like the idea of "my opinions end where your nose begins".
Also, if you need a book to tell you what is moral, you are, by definition immoral.

Valiya's picture
@SAM

@SAM

"My morality stems from the idea that if I wouldn't like it done to me, I won't do it to others."

Do you eat non-veg? If yes, do you like to be slaughtered and eaten too? If no, do you think all non-vegetarians are immoral?

hermitdoc's picture
I do eat meat. I am an

I do eat meat. I am an omnivore who evolved to require the nutrients in meat. I don't consider non vegetarians immoral. Do you consider it immoral that in the process of turning the earth to plant vegetables, countless living beings are killed or displaced from their habitat? How many living beings are killed or displaced in the process of harvesting vegetables? Everyone has to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Vegetarians draw their line at one point, vegans draw their line at another and sanctimoniously look down their noses at vegetarians. I do agree with your later post that the golden rule is relative. I would not hesitate to kill another human to protect myself or another person I cared for.

bigbill's picture
morality evolves through time

morality evolves through time what was considered moral in the 20th century is no longer held today.when people were burned as heretics then, No longer happens today.the golden rule is the best for me personally,

BAACKJD's picture
Valiya

Valiya

I'm part of the food chain, as are lions, tigers and bears. The fact that we are participants does not necessarily discredit anyones morality. I'm not arrogant enough to believe I'm abovery that aspect of nature.

Valiya's picture
HI JB

HI JB

I raised the question to counter the argument of the golden rule. Yes, I agree that we are part of the food chain… but then what happens to the golden rule, the dictum: “Don’t do to others, what you don’t like to be done unto you.” The golden rule gets broken there when you kill an animal. If you can hurt another animal to ensure your survival, why not another human being?

algebe's picture
You raised a difficult

You raised a difficult question Valiya. So I'll counter with another one. Vegetarianism seems benign, but how many insects died to allow those crops to mature? How many field mice and other small animals were killed during the harvesting? How many animals died due to habitat loss caused by the clearing of forest for farmland? Where does blood&bone fertilizer come from?

I've seen Jains in India wearing veils to prevent them from breathing in bugs, but really they are fooling themselves. The sad truth is that animals can't live without harming other living things, either through predation, or simply by moving around. We are great apes, and like our cousins the chimpanzees, our diet normally includes a moderate amount of meat.

That's the natural environment that created us. We are part of it, and it is part of us.But as human beings we place special value on other human beings. Do you think it's ok to buy and own a dog? A cat? A horse? A person? I'm sure you'll say no to the last of those items. Perhaps that's because we recognize that other people, like ourselves, have hopes and aspirations beyond simply eating and surviving. Whatever the reason, we assign particular importance to human beings in our morality, and I think the Golden Rule applies specifically to the way we interact with other people. However, my application of it also includes the avoidance of unncessary suffering to animals.

Valiya's picture
Hi Algebe

Hi Algebe

You are giving me more reasons as to why the ‘golden rule’ doesn’t work everywhere. And that’s precisely what I am asking. What is the basis for thinking that ‘golden rule’ applies only to humans? Isn’t that stemming from your human-centric view of the world… which is nothing but your subjective opinion? Even if for the sake of argument I buy that argument, then what do you say about abortion? If a woman who is just going to enter the peak of her career finds out that she is pregnant, which would jeopardize her career… does she have the right to kill that fetus? What happens to the golden rule there? From whose point-of-view do you apply the golden rule… from the woman or the baby? How do you sort these things out? My point is that ‘morality’ is subjective and will keep shifting goalposts as you deem fit. ‘God’ gives it a locus stand I, and serves as a strong ontology for building your morality.

algebe's picture
Hello Valiya

Hello Valiya
"‘God’ gives it a locus stand I, and serves as a strong ontology for building your morality."

What is god's position on animal rights and abortion? I recall that the god of the Old Testament was very fond of animal sacrifice and burnt offerings, and I don't think Jesus ever challenged that practice. He was just upset about money-changers giving people local currency to buy sacrificial animals. I don't remember abortion even being mentioned in the Bible, but there's plenty of child slaughter. I don't like abortion, but as a man I accept that it's the woman's right to decide what happens inside her own body because she alone has to carry the burden and take the risk. I look forward to the day when there are no more unwanted pregnancies. Those I lay at the door of religions, especially the Catholic church.

I can't pretend to have a moral system that is 100% consistent in all situations. But I don't think god does either.

I see humans as a special case for several reasons. First, they are my species. How can we be anything but human-centric? Are lions not lion-centric? Second, the very fact that we are here talking about morals proves that we are special among all the animals. No other animal has any morality other than the law of the jungle. Third, I believe that humans are the only animals with self-awareness and the ability to think ahead. We are the only animals with names. That's why I see the the Golden Rule as a basis for interactions among people.

Valiya's picture
Hello Algebe

Hello Algebe

You said: “What is god's position on animal rights and abortion?”

Let’s get some basics straight here. We are discussing what standard should we use to judge morality. That’s how the topic of golden rule came up. Now, I have highlighted the problems in that standard, which takes us back to square one.

That being the case, how can we take any position on animal rights or abortion? When I was questioning these issues, I was not taking any position on the correctness of wrongness of killing animals and so on. I was only questioning the standard with which to measure the moral weightage of these acts. Golden rule clearly doesn’t work.

The standard I am putting forth is God. Something is morally right or wrong because God says so. Therefore, I can say that killing animals for food is alright, because god said so, or abortion is wrong because god said so. (By the Way, I am not a Christian, I am a Muslim… so some of the questions you have raised about old testament does not hold much water to me).

You said: “I can't pretend to have a moral system that is 100% consistent in all situations. But I don't think god does either.”

God given moral standard is consistent in that it doesn’t change according to one’s whims and prejudices.

You said: “I see humans as a special case for several reasons. First, they are my species. How can we be anything but human-centric? Are lions not lion-centric?”

If you can give precedence to humans because you are human…I can extend that logic further and say I give precedence to a particular race or clan, because I belong to it. If I am a white man, I can easily justify the persecution of blacks because I identify less with them. What objective standard do you have to set the limits of the golden rule? Where does it start and where does it end?

You said: “Second, the very fact that we are here talking about morals proves that we are special among all the animals. No other animal has any morality other than the law of the jungle.”

And so is a child… it doesn’t understand morality. Neither do mentally retarded people. They don’t understand morality as well… but does that make us justify cruelty against them? On the contrary we show them more leniency, don’t we?

chimp3's picture
@valiya s sajjad : I do not

@valiya s sajjad : I do not believe in god. All religious teachings are man made. So , we are still discussing human morality when we are discussing god given morality. The reasoning process between you and Algebe is all society has to base our moral debates on. The Koran and Allah (along with all other gods) are products of the human imagination. Leaning on Allah as a source of morality is simply shirking your responsibility. God says do not and you do not, God says do and you do. Exchange the words "iron age tyrants" for god in that last sentence and you see the problem.

Valiya's picture
Hello Chimp 3

Hello Chimp 3

My interest in this thread is mainly to show that golden rule as a standard for morality does not work. However, belief in God is a stable standard for morality. May be God is a myth as you argue… that’s a separate debate. I can explain to you on why I believe in God later. But morality based on God does not suffer from the problems of relativism and subjectivism of the golden rule standard.

chimp3's picture
Morality based on god suffers

Morality based on god suffers from the relativism and subjectivism of religion.

algebe's picture
Hello Valiya

Hello Valiya
"God given moral standard is consistent in that it doesn’t change according to one’s whims and prejudices."

But how can you know what god's moral standard is? All the so-called words of god have been written by human beings.

"I can extend that logic further and say I give precedence to a particular race or clan, because I belong to it."

Too many have. That's one of the biggest tragedies of history. But science is now teaching us that we are too young a species to have real races. My ancestors and yours walked out of Africa together maybe 80-100,000 ago. That's an objective fact, and an objective basis for human morality. The differences that separate are cultural, not physical. And religion must take the biggest responsibility for that.

"And so is a child… it doesn’t understand morality. Neither do mentally retarded people."

Human children are born very immature. While other animals have instincts to guide them, we have to learn most of what we need to live from our parents. That's part of the human condition. As adults, we can still apply the Golden Rule to children by treating children as we would want to be treated, or treating other people's children as we would want to them to treat ours.

Like children, mentally retarded people need to be protected. As with children, we cannot really expect them to reciprocate the Golden Rule. But they do have human feelings, and that brings them within the scope of the Golden Rule.

Valiya's picture
Hello Algebe

Hello Algebe

“But how can you know what god's moral standard is? All the so-called words of god have been written by human beings.”

That’s a very important question… and that will lead the conversation into how I believe in God and so on. If you are interested I can take you through that. However, in this thread, my only interest is to show that golden rule doesn’t work as a standard for morality. If you agree with that, then I shall explain to you about god’s moral standard and so on.

“My ancestors and yours walked out of Africa together maybe 80-100,000 ago. That's an objective fact, and an objective basis for human morality.”

I don’t understand your reasoning here. There are human races and that’s a fact no sane sociologist can deny. Just as there are different species there are different races among humans. I need you to explain to me on what objective basis do you exclude all species except homo sapiens from the golden rule? And secondly, on what objective basis do you include all racial groups in the golden rule? Just because human species is relatively young, it doesn’t falsify the fact that there are races and we tend to identify more with our own race.

You said: “The differences that separate are cultural, not physical. And religion must take the biggest responsibility for that.”

How can you say so… don’t you find any physical difference between a mongoloid race and a Caucasian race? If there are no differences, why do you think anthropologists have categorized these races and given them specific names?

You said: “Human children are born very immature. While other animals have instincts to guide them, we have to learn most of what we need to live from our parents….”

Once again, you are just giving me your subjective opinion of who should be included in the golden rule and who not? But what is the objective standard other than the fact that you hold a human centric view?

chimp3's picture
@valliya s sajjad: All humans

@valliya s sajjad: All humans share 99.9% of the same genes. Race is solely a social construct, not a biological one.

Valiya's picture
@ Chimp 3

@ Chimp 3

just refer to my answer to Algebe.

algebe's picture
Hello Valiya

Hello Valiya
"There are human races and that’s a fact no sane sociologist can deny. Just as there are different species there are different races among humans."

Well I never met a sane sociologist, so I'm not sure what they think. However, I believe that biologists and anthropologists are increasingly rejecting the concept of human races. Our surface appearance is mainly the result of our environment. People with more melanin can thrive in high-UV environments. People with less melanin are able to absorb enough sunlight to synthesize vitamin D in low-UV environments. Nose shape also evolves according to climate. Random mutations have occurred in some populations, such as blue eyes in northern Europeans, but as we've filled up the world, even these minor variations are starting to spread across different populations. Caucasians, Mongols, Africans, native Australians are all slightly different positions on a very short spectrum.

"But what is the objective standard other than the fact that you hold a human centric view?"

We humans are desperate to find an objective standard to bring order and meaning to our lives. Some of us settle for intersubjectivity, which is a kind of shared objectivity based on common ideas that we all accept. For example, most human societies regard children as precious, and that concept is accepted widely enough to be regarded as objective. Most of also accept that human beings are somehow different and special.

Others want pure objectivity, so they invent gods. The danger with that is that the people who create those gods have terrible power over everyone else. For example, in the Old Testament there's a strange story about Noah and the Curse of Ham. That was used to justify slavery and mistreatment of black people. Crazy, horrible ideas that would never pass the intersubjectivity test are blindly accepted when they are presented as religious concepts. The idea of original sin is another one. If you told a group of people that they were all born evil and will go to hell unless they do what you say, you'd be treated as a lunatic. If you said the same thing in a church, they'd all say "Amen."

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