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The Value of Value March 6, 2012

Posted by Ian in Miscellaneous, Morality.
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One thing I am increasingly coming to realise is that so much of human interaction rests on the notions of value.  In this post I am going to explore the origin of values in the labelling of things and how seeing the world from an external point of view can totally change your view on life. (more…)

Science and Morality April 12, 2011

Posted by Ian in Morality.
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Sam Harris’s book and recent debate with William Lane Craig have re-opened my thinking on moral evaluation and I have come to realise there seems to be a substantial “blind spot” in this discussion. (more…)

The Nature of Morality November 25, 2009

Posted by Ian in Morality.
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60 comments

Continuing on from my previous post I thought I’d offer my thoughts on the nature of morality.

Often discussions of morality focus on whether or not morality is objective or subjective but I am starting to realise this discussion is poorly framed.  We need to approach morality with a robust understanding of exactly what we are talking about and not just with vague nebulous concepts.  (more…)

My take on morality August 7, 2008

Posted by Ian in Miscellaneous.
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There has been a bit of activity on this blog in the comments sections about the ever entertaining issue of morality.  I have posted on this issue in the past but in this post I want to describe my opinion on how morals work, where they came from, and why we don’t need an objective moral set to explain the values and moral conscience we see in people today.

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Absolute Morals vs Relative Morals vs Love December 15, 2007

Posted by Ian in Religion.
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1 comment so far

Hi all

Been a while since I posted since I have been flat out doing other things which is precisely no excuse. However I would like to point everyone towards a fascinating discussion I am involved in on Dale’s blog about morality – it has been quite interesting and worth checking out.

First post and subsequent comments here.

Second post and subsequent comments here.

Cheers
Ian

Religion and Morality June 7, 2007

Posted by Ian in Religion.
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21 comments

A common claim on the side of religious belief is that without religion you couldn’t have morality. While an easy response of atheists is to point out the numerous cases of immorality from religious people, this is actually a pretty weak argument because it is really just a claim of hypocrisy and ignores the actual issue. The three arguments I believe seal the deal is that firstly morality is clearly independent of religion, secondly that an enforced morality is not morality at all, and finally I’ll mention Christopher Hitchen’s challenge.

Morality is Independent of Religion

There are a number of ways of approaching this but I will start with the obvious. There are devout religious people who are amoral, there are devout religious people who are moral, there are atheists who are moral, and there are atheists who are amoral. Statistics show that prison populations have roughly representative populations of religious and non-religious people. Experience shows us pretty clearly that religiosity is not strongly linked with morality.

That aside (it is not a strong argument either), I would question where religion claims to get its morality from? I will focus on the Christian religion for examples but they equally apply to pretty much all religions. The only source of guidance for Christians is the bible and therefore it must be considered the source of any moral guidance they receive. The only way someone can gain a contemporary sense of morality from the bible is to cherry pick the good verses from the bible and use them. But what is the criteria for such cherry picking? Take any moral issue and the bible will offer conflicting points of view. A simple example would be the creed in Leviticus 20:13 that homosexuals should be put to death. If the bible is the word of God, why are Christians not killing homosexual males? The only possible reason is that the contemporary moral zeitgeist has shifted in favour of homosexuality and away from killing as a punishment for anything (in spite of the numerous creeds such as the one above in the bible rather than because of it!).

The point I want to get across here is that morality exists entirely independent of religion, religious texts or beliefs. That is not to say the bible doesn’t have some examples of good moral guidance, but that is exactly the point – the judgement that the bible does have some good points precisely shows that the criteria for making that judgement exist outside the bible. If I went and killed a homosexual man right now for no reason other than the fact he was homosexual, would it be judged to as a moral act? Of course not! And yet those people who claim morality comes from Christianity have no religious basis to claim it was not a moral act unless they cherry pick the bible and therefore use external moral judgements to ignore that passage. Either that or they must say it is a moral act, in which case why doesn’t it happen? The answer? Because morality exists independent of religion.

Enforced Morality is not Morality

This one is simple: which of the two examples is the more moral position?

  1. I don’t kill people because god will burn me in hell; or
  2. I don’t kill people because I see the inherent benefit in not doing so.

In other words the person that lives a moral life because it is the better way to live is much purer morally than the theist who lives the moral life either out of fear of hell or desire for heaven. There are literally people out there for whom the only reason they don’t kill their neighbour (for example) is that they are afraid of god! They are NOT moral people, they are frightened amoral people.

I don’t think much more needs saying on this point but I’m happy to expand if necessary – Sam Harris’s The End of Faith has an excellent discussion on this topic.

Christopher Hitchen’s Challenge

I want someone to get up, tonight, and say that they can name a stand made, moral or ethical, a stand of moral courage or political courage made by any religious person that could not have been made by someone who thought that the whole idea of god was ridiculous to begin with.
(From a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges on the topic “Is God…Great?”, held at King Middle School in Berkeley, California, on May 24, 2007.)

In other words there is no aspect of morality that is exclusive to religion. What does religion bring to the moral discussion that atheism can’t? This is a very simple point but very powerful.

In conclusion it seems to me the very claim that somehow religious people are more moral than non religious people is simply unfounded and indefensible – anyone can be moral or amoral, and the judgement of that morality is entirely independent of religion, belief or scripture.