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If there is no God, what defines moral or ethical?


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If God does not exist, this life is all there is, and there is no higher authority or greater power, what defines what is moral or ethical?

 

It seems like there are two routes atheists can go. Some say they are still good people doing good in this world and have no need to have a god to be accountable to. The opposite are athiests that do whatever they want because they truly believe there are no consequences for their actions.

 

For those that do no believe in any notion of a God, yet define themselves as "good" people, why is what you're doing "good?" What merit is there in any sort of morality for you? If we are merely higher evolved animals with cognition, why isn't your life merely about what is best for you, basic survival and pleasure seeking?

 

I can definitely respect atheists that are otherwise good people. I do believe religion is a personal decision and would never push my beliefs on another. I hold nothing against someone who chooses to live without a god or religion. That isn't what this thread is about.

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It's an interesting question, and one that has obviously garnered a lot of philosophical debate.

 

I came across a journal article not too long ago regarding a study that scientists conducted with primates. The findings showed that the animals can make legitimate judgements on fairness, empathized when fellow animals were ill, and even spontaneously helped both humans and each other when they were faced with emotionally or physically stressful situations, even when there was no reward involved.

 

At the root of this is a Darwinian evolutionary theory that the brain inherently develops a conscience, independent of religion.

 

There have been many studies like this that seem to use animals, particularly primates, for obvious reasons, to poke holes in the religious debate that morality is a god-given quality that sets humans apart.

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If God does not exist, this life is all there is, and there is no higher authority or greater power, what defines what is moral or ethical?

 

It seems like there are two routes atheists can go. Some say they are still good people doing good in this world and have no need to have a god to be accountable to. The opposite are athiests that do whatever they want because they truly believe there are no consequences for their actions.

 

For those that do no believe in any notion of a God, yet define themselves as "good" people, why is what you're doing "good?" What merit is there in any sort of morality for you? If we are merely higher evolved animals with cognition, why isn't your life merely about what is best for you, basic survival and pleasure seeking?

 

I can definitely respect atheists that are otherwise good people. I do believe religion is a personal decision and would never push my beliefs on another. I hold nothing against someone who chooses to live without a god or religion. That isn't what this thread is about.

 

 

Read "God Is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, and you'll get an idea.

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If God does not exist, this life is all there is, and there is no higher authority or greater power, what defines what is moral or ethical?

 

It seems like there are two routes atheists can go. Some say they are still good people doing good in this world and have no need to have a god to be accountable to. The opposite are athiests that do whatever they want because they truly believe there are no consequences for their actions.

 

For those that do no believe in any notion of a God, yet define themselves as "good" people, why is what you're doing "good?" What merit is there in any sort of morality for you? If we are merely higher evolved animals with cognition, why isn't your life merely about what is best for you, basic survival and pleasure seeking?

 

I can definitely respect atheists that are otherwise good people. I do believe religion is a personal decision and would never push my beliefs on another. I hold nothing against someone who chooses to live without a god or religion. That isn't what this thread is about.

 

 

There are biological and evolutionary explanations for morality and for why we often act against our own immediate best interests for the betterment of a community as a whole. That is, ultimately, what I would define a lot of morality to come down to, and that is easily explainable. As individuals, humans are pretty well hopeless. We are somewhat resourceful, but on our own, we don't stand much of a chance. We have evolved as social creatures, and because of this, actions that are in the best interests of the community as a whole are also in the best interests of the individual, because the success of the individual is highly dependent on the success of the community.

 

Speaking for myself as a atheist, I believe what we consider morality is innate in almost all life forms. Prides of lions exhibit plenty of behaviors that we would classify as moral, and their morality certainly doesn't come from any god.

 

 

 

And as an aside, I take some offense to the idea that there are atheists out there that "do whatever they want because they truly believe there are no consequences for their actions." People like this don't exist, really, and when they do, it is incorrect to classify them as atheists, since their lack of belief likely doesn't drive their actions. They are classified as sociopaths or psychopaths. It is, in my opinion, unfair to try to draw a connection between nihilistic sociopaths and atheists. For all intents and purposes, that connection does not exist.

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And furthermore, I would argue that the idea that morality is derived from religion and God are easily proven to be false by both the inherently immoral actions seen in numerous religious texts, and by the literally innumerable acts of immorality done by the religious in the name of God and religion. Obviously, a religious background does not lead to moral action. The religious are prone to the same lapses in both judgment and ethics as anyone else.

 

Take, for instance, Exodus 32:27, where Moses commands, under God's orders, his followers to slaughter 3,000 of their neighbors solely for having the gall to worship another god. Couldn't anyone agree that this is an inherently immoral action? If taken literally, it is an example of immorality done directly under God's command in the book that is supposed to be taken as God's word.

 

So clearly, to me, we cannot just assume that morality comes from religion.

 

We are, all of us, capable of terrible, terrible actions. Both the religious and the non-religious. The difference is that one group does not assume they have morality on their side. Morality evolved along with the human race, and with that, along with different cultures. I would say it is a subtle combination between our inherent, evolved sense of right and wrong as I discussed in my first post and the influence of culture.

 

However, I would argue that the effect of culture is largely negative when it comes to morality. People born into Islamic fundamentalists societies, for instance, are not born viewing women as secondary humans. That is the effect of culture at a young age.

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I don't think the question is asking about the quality of the morality per se, just where it comes from. But, there is an implication, which OP can feel free to discuss, that religion-based morals are somehow superior to a lack thereof.

 

 

Yeah im curious about that. Please do tell.

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Im not saying that because you believe in God, your definition of morality has more value than that of others. As stated by others above, morality is exhibited by animals and other creatures, who have no notion of religion or of a God. I was merely asking, that if you do not believe in a God, or a religion, what makes you act the way you do. Say, if you dont believe in God, you probably dont believe in the devil or in hell. If you dont believe we are held accountable for our actions when we pass away, do you act like a good person in life because of the way you think or because of its what deemed right by society. If you As I stated above, I believe Religion to be a personal decision, and I would never try to push my beliefs on others. In no way do I think that my religion, whatever it may be, is better than any other, or above. That is not what I meant.

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Well, I can say one ethical principle is firmly established: Don't make light fun of natural disasters the day they happen, but if you wait 2 weeks, it's cool.

 

 

I and my people firmly believe that the proper waiting period is 15.Ï€ days. You are banished from our land. Go, and never return.

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First, I think morality is an innate trait of humans. Second, I do believe in a creator. Third, if I did not believe in a creator, that does not change my first point. Either our creator made us with this innate trait, or it is a product of evolution.

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As an atheist, I believe that empathy defines what things can be moral good or bad. Each person has its own bar. We, as atheists, don't think that our actions are done in one way or another based on divine punishment. Just empathy with others.

 

Well, I can say one ethical principle is firmly established: Don't make light fun of natural disasters the day they happen, but if you wait 2 weeks, it's cool.

 

 

There are two things that determine if you can make fun of natural disasters. Time and distance. It's an unwritten rule of society (?).

If it has happened long time ago it's ok. If the disaster occurred far away from where you live, it's also ok.

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Say, if you dont believe in God, you probably dont believe in the devil or in hell. If you dont believe we are held accountable for our actions when we pass away, do you act like a good person in life because of the way you think or because of its what deemed right by society.

 

 

Like I said, it's ingrained in our DNA.

 

All creatures, instinctually, have a drive to reproduce. As far as we can tell, it's the only reason life exists; to perpetuate life. Humans are physically unfit to survive in the world alone, so we have to work in groups. This may sometimes necessitate the suppression of personal desire for the good of the community, which in turn turns into the good of the individual. That is the basis of morality.

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I just try and do what I believe is right. I don't have a religion but I believe in the existence of a God. I guess I've always just thought whatever created us gave us a conscience to help us determine what is right and what is wrong, and I've always just followed that.

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Humans invented religion. So the morality etc was already there.

 

 

Only something as ridiculous as religion can only be invented by humans, that's a given.

 

It's funny how people actually are implying that religion is "moral".

would have loved to have been there for "this is the bible! It was written by god!" "by god," some guy asks. "well he told me what to write. Pinky promise."

 

Don't get me started on the bible. It has nothing you can consider moral. People for some reason just seem to pick and chose so they can make themselves feel better about their mortality. In reality, the bible is just as disgusting as religion- depictions of violence, murder, rape, genocide, suicides, wars, conquests, killings, racism... the list goes on (most of these condoned by god himself).And if we're talking about the Qur'an... makes the bible seem like a kids book in comparison.

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Wow, this was too perfect not to share. The following comes from the weekly e-mail from my Rabbi, Rabbi Michael Gold, at Temple Beth Torah in Tamarac:

 

One of the fascinating questions of philosophy is - if we take God out of the picture, then what is the basis of ethics? Why treat people with kindness and fairness if people are mere material creatures, having evolved from lower material creatures? If Darwin was correct (and I believe he was about many things) and survival of the fittest is the basis of all life, then why not do what is necessary for survival, even if it hurts others? It is a difficult question to answer.

 

Sam Harris, perhaps the most articulate of the prominent spokespeople for atheism, recently wrote a book on this very question. He called his book The Moral Landscape. His basic point is that all societies have a sense of what is moral and what is right. Those societies that pursue such morality in their day to day life have a better chance of survival - based on pure Darwinism. Societies that embrace the moral landscape of kindness and cooperation will survive, while those that practice hatred and cruelty will eventually perish. Harris's book is a great effort, but I doubt that it is historically true. Many societies based on racial prejudice, cruelty, misogyny, and even torture have survived and flourished. The Nazis came very close to winning World War II. (This Sunday is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, the day chosen by the Jewish community to recall the victims of a society that lost its moral landscape.)

 

There have been numerous other attempts to come up with ethics without God. Perhaps the two most famous in the history of philosophy are utilitarianism and deontology. Utilitarianism teaches that a society should be constructed in a way which maximizes happiness for the maximum number of people. That sounds good in theory. But such a society fails to protect the rights of minority. (What if a society decided that maximum happiness could be achieved if we outlawed ritual circumcision? This is not theoretical - there is a move right now to pass such a law in San Francisco.) Ethics is not just about maximizing happiness for the majority; it is also about protecting happiness for the minority.

 

A deontological basis for ethics comes closer to the Torah view. It speaks about categorical imperatives. The greatest advocate of such a point of view was the philosopher Immanuel Kant. To quote Kant, humans should "act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Act as you wish everybody would act. Kant's words are beautiful, but ultimately, where does this maxim come from? Without a religious basis, Kant seems to have pulled it out of thin air.

 

The Torah gives a religious basis for ethics. Every human being was created in the image of God, and is worthy of our respect. It is a maxim as important today as it was in ancient times.

 

Yes, I'm an atheist, but I always read his emails in an effort to keep my mind open. And he's just an awesome guy.

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I think this topic is stupid; am I the only one?

 

At the end of the day, it's an argument over opinion with no proof, one way or the other. I'm Catholic, but I would never even attempt to tell an Atheist to believe in God. Perhaps it has to do with being in college, at the moment, and having an open mind as I've taken world religion and multiple sociology classes, but I can understand the opposing viewpoint. Since I have no proof as to why people should believe in God (just faith), I'm not going to be ignorant.

 

As to what defines moral or ethical...the laws that the power elite create; that's what the average person follows, thus breaking those norms would be considered unethical by society. I'm not sure if religion necessarily has to play a part.

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I think this topic is stupid; am I the only one?

 

At the end of the day, it's an argument over opinion with no proof, one way or the other. I'm Catholic, but I would never even attempt to tell an Atheist to believe in God. Perhaps it has to do with being in college, at the moment, and having an open mind as I've taken world religion and multiple sociology classes, but I can understand the opposing viewpoint. Since I have no proof as to why people should believe in God (just faith), I'm not going to be ignorant.

 

As to what defines moral or ethical...the laws that the power elite create; that's what the average person follows, thus breaking those norms would be considered unethical by society. I'm not sure if religion necessarily has to play a part.

 

 

It's not stupid, it will not have a definite answer. Many debates sometimes have no proof at all, it's just sharing ones opinion and comparing with others.

And a topic that's about god, moral and ethics will never have proof and it has been a debate on the table for over centuries.

 

off topic

btw, you said you took some sociology classes at college, i've taken 1 sociology course in the US and one here, in Argentina. My question is, just out of curiosity, have you ever read Marx or Marxism? Because the course i took in the US did not have not even a word on Marxism, and it's quite important on sociology. In Argentina, nearly half the course is about him and his ideology (and Argentina isn't a Marxist country, just a Peronist one).

 

That same issue also happened when I took psychology classes in both countries, in the US I've never read anything about Freud, and in Argentina, nearly 90% of psychology is Freudian.

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I think this topic is stupid; am I the only one?

 

At the end of the day, it's an argument over opinion with no proof, one way or the other. I'm Catholic, but I would never even attempt to tell an Atheist to believe in God. Perhaps it has to do with being in college, at the moment, and having an open mind as I've taken world religion and multiple sociology classes, but I can understand the opposing viewpoint. Since I have no proof as to why people should believe in God (just faith), I'm not going to be ignorant.

 

As to what defines moral or ethical...the laws that the power elite create; that's what the average person follows, thus breaking those norms would be considered unethical by society. I'm not sure if religion necessarily has to play a part.

 

 

It's not stupid, it will not have a definite answer. Many debates sometimes have no proof at all, it's just sharing ones opinion and comparing with others.

And a topic that's about god, moral and ethics will never have proof and it has been a debate on the table for over centuries.

 

off topic

btw, you said you took some sociology classes at college, i've taken 1 sociology course in the US and one here, in Argentina. My question is, just out of curiosity, have you ever read Marx or Marxism? Because the course i took in the US did not have not even a word on Marxism, and it's quite important on sociology. In Argentina, nearly half the course is about him and his ideology (and Argentina isn't a Marxist country, just a Peronist one).

 

That same issue also happened when I took psychology classes in both countries, in the US I've never read anything about Freud, and in Argentina, nearly 90% of psychology is Freudian.

 

That's honestly not good... haha. In my psychology class, we spent a decent amount of time on Freud. But most of his principles aren't believed in the current age. I'm pretty sure only his defense mechanisms are. All the id, ego, superego, oedipus complex, penis envy, ect are interesting yet frowned upon lol.

 

And I'm not going to get in this debate because I don't know the answer. I'm Christian (not Catholic) but I don't believe heavily in the bible. I just try to live my life the best possible way because I have empathy and compassion. I don't even know if I believe in heaven, simply because I can't grasp the concept of infinity. I remember one of my history teachers said something along the lines of "I don't care if you worship a God, or you worship your backpack. As long as you have ethics/morals, do whatever you want"

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If we are merely higher evolved animals with cognition, why isn't your life merely about what is best for you, basic survival and pleasure seeking?

 

 

many people live that life anyway, whether they describe themselves as religious or not.

 

Heck, when I act "moral," I feel good about myself, so that's pleasure-seeking in a form, too.

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