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General Discussion
Morals

If there is no God, how can anyone judge what is right and what is wrong, if right and wrong are only matters of opinion?

You might want to read up on secular ethics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_ethics

I really don't see religious-based ethics as even being in the race. The Bible encourages killing, slavery, mistreatment of children, and a host of other atrocities. If such a book was written by a god, then it proves that that god-based morality is obviously inferior.

I don't know of there being any credible evidence that there is a god. It seems that "god-based morality" is nothing more than self-important thugs making it up as they go along. That would certainly explain why the Catholic Church, for example, had no interest in solving their pedophilia problem until it started hurting their income. So please tell me how Godly morality saved the day there. I can point at legal rulings in secular courts by secular juries that have done more to clean up that cesspool than any god ever could.

I found the article to be very interesting, thank you. I guess i still have a question about the origins of the moral code we live by. It seems that most times when we follow our conscience or empathize with other people, we go against the nature of evolutionary survival and natural selection. The article mentioned a higher level of reasoning that humans have gained, that enable them to empathize. That still seems to say that evolution can become a self-defeating process. Your thoughts?

One of the great evolutionary adaptations of humans is our ability to work together on complex tasks (through language) and through the sharing of culture. Many people think of evolution as being all about survival of an individual at the expense of others, but we're a a great example of a social species that helps each-other through cooperation.

Evolution is just one of the players in our complex world. Humans have enough mental prowess to override instincts and urges to achieve greater things. I think that by itself, evolution doesn't explain a lot of humans behavior.

Don, thanks for that link. Some very interesting information over there, and I was five links deep before I even knew it. :)

I think much of the confusion with the Bible comes from reading out of context. Will mentioned the Dawkins video in this thread. I think the phrase "cherry-picked morality" is telling. From a literal reading of the Bible, just because something is mentioned, doesn't mean it's a good thing or that God desires it. An analogy would be to say Dickens obviously approves of child labor because of a passage about Fagin. Along the same lines, just because someone or some group is called Christian, doesn't mean they are, or even if they are, that they are always acting as a Christian. I'm sure there are people who call themselves atheists; yet don't think as atheists and who have done some questionable actions. Their actions don't speak for atheist as a whole. Do the actions of these "Christians" fall in line with the teachings of Christ and the Bible? I bet not.

But, back to the topic at hand, it seemed to me that the secular ethic sites eventually wind down to the fact that right and wrong are subjective and ultimately of no consequence in temporary reality. (By the way, funny post, Makeroni. Yes, you'd be wrong to claim there is an objective wrong, um… I think....) And Don, although I agree that humans are able to override urges to build greater things, that doesn't answer the question of why greater is good or why the advancement of the culture in the future should be important to a temporary being.

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." -- Yahweh in Exodus 22:18.

God's puppet master didn't know there was no such thing as witches, so Christians systematically tortured and killed hundreds of thousands. That's on a good day, I guess, as they read it correctly.

I think that secular morals are based on the concept of harm, which is not so subjective.

I guess from a Christian perspective, any time spent on this planet is insignificant compared to eternal bliss. From an atheist perspective, this is our only existence. Why not make it enjoyable?

Interesting point, Don. That witch thing has troubled me, too. That command is an open quote in the Old Testament. Does God - as defined in the Bible - still expect it to be enforced?

Lots of questions are spawned by that topic, but may I limit them to two, as related to this conversation. Is the command still in effect? And what does it say about Christian morality now? (Of course, this all assumes that God exists and the Bible is accurate.)

There's a paradigm shift from the Old Testament to the New, with the life of Jesus. God doesn't change, but our understanding of him and his instructions do.

Matt 5: 21 - Not only don't murder, but don't even hate. Matt 5: 43 - Not only don't hate your enemy, but show him love. Matt 5: 38 - Not only don't take vengeance, but do good to those who hurt you. John 8:7 - Default to love and forgiveness, not judgment.

I alluded to this in my last post. Would Jesus teach those things and then smile benignly as his children gaily tortured and killed thousands? The answer is no. Were these people Christians? No. (How do I know? John 14:15 If you love me, keep my commands. Matt 7:16 By their fruit you will recognize them. ) The witch hunters used the name of Jesus, but they weren't Christians. They didn't do what he said, nor did they have the traits he said his children would have. Even more strongly, he then goes on to say that a lot of people will be calling him Lord, and he'll answer back, you used my name, but I don't know you. Go away.

These people are probably one and the same "Christians" that you question. Me, too.

So in answer to my first question above, Christians are not to kill witches. In answer to the second question above, Christians are to practice a level of morality higher than any other I can think of at this moment. We're not only supposed to love others, but even those that actively try to harm us. This is not because of fear of God's retribution, but out of love, to follow Jesus as an example and grow into something better than ourselves. Rom 12: 1-2. Concerning your other point, although the Bible does talk about the difficulties of this world being fleeting, compared to eternity, it also pushes to make hay while the sun shines: do as much good as you can in the time you have left. And good is not defined as what benefits you, but what benefits others.

This swings me back to my original question to you. I'm interested in Atheistic morality. You mentioned, from an Atheist perspective, this is our only existence. Why not make it enjoyable? From my understanding of the secular ethics, morality seems intrinsic only. We define good for ourselves. If that's so, it is subjective, no? If my enjoyment includes causing or being indifferent to pain in others, should I care?

Does a perfect being change his mind? I guess since the NT was needed, Christians have to admit their god is a screw up. Shoot. Why not embrace Islam or Mormonism, the newest version of the ever-changing story that God just can't seem to get right, no matter how many times he tries?

The Exodus quote I gave is clear and direct, yet here you are spinning it.

Yes, Christians have rationalizations for the uncomfortable parts of the Bible. The Bible is a Rorschach test for the morally challenged. It's pretty easy to find justification for anything you want to do. It's all in creative interpretation, rationalization, and spin. I call it "apologetics aerobics."

Atheists roll our eyes when we hear all the bullshit rationalizations -- exactly the same thing you scolded others for doing. Please forgive me if I/we write the whole thing off as a giant con game.

"Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth." -- Thomas Jefferson

Are you a hypocrite or a fool?

Don, not sure where to go with all that. No, God doesn't change. That's what I was speaking to when I said, God doesn't change, but our understanding of him and his instructions do. This is not a rationalization. It's an explanation. We spend our whole life learning additional information about things we once thought were absolutes. Weren't you told never to touch an electric socket? Electric sockets are bad. Were your parents liars and hypocrites or were they loving you and giving you the understanding you could absorb at the time? God gave high level information in the beginning. He got more specific later. I realize that a great deal of damage has been done in the world in the name of Christianity. And again, I stress the "name" of Christianity. Would it be fair for me to look for atrocities done by people claiming to be Atheists and then toss out blanket statements that Atheism begets evil and Atheists are morons? I imagine you'd have some words about that, and rightly so.

I joined the conversation thread, hoping to increase my understanding on atheist concepts of right and wrong. I've been sincere. I've been pleasant. I've been aboveboard in my questions and have tried to answer to the point without smearing Atheism or Atheists. How would that foster conversation? Yet so far, I've been called full of BS, a hypocrite, a fool, a slanderer, a religious fanatic, lacking common sense, illogical and a con artist. (Might have missed some.) I keep trying to steer the conversation to the question that started the post, but all I'm getting are indictments of how evil and stupid Christianity is. I guess I anticipated, in a discussion about Atheist morality, that people would be more, um, moral? Socially nicer? Following the social contract of treating others as they want to be treated?

May I once again navigate the conversation back to the original question? Let's take verbal abuse as an example. Is it wrong in Atheism? Social convention might label it wrong, since it's not productive for society's advancement, but there is no objective written rule. Correct? Do right and wrong only get their meaning through one person's or group's opinion?

By the way, I have no allusions to the certainty that Atheists are beat up in Christian forums. And guess what? That would be wrong. :)

Keep in mind that atheists don't think you deserve to be tortured for all eternity for using your brain and not believing in fairy tales. I have been infinitely nicer to you.

I'm trying to point out that Biblical morality and "following God" are both proven moral failures. You are defending the indefensible. I'm sorry if you feel beat up about it.

The reason Christians stopped killing witches is that they slowly started ignoring their "divine instructions" and started to adopt more secular morality. Christians would go a long way by dumping the rest of the garbage.

You can beat up on me now. My morality is based on reason, knowledge, compassion, empathy, and responsibility. We, as a society, can choose morals and laws that mitigate harm. It's "objective" in the sense that it's based in human nature.

Just imagine for a minute how much better the world would be if, say, the Catholic Hierarchy took RESPONSIBILITY for their child molestation and cover up. What does the holy book say about having sex with children?

Hi Don.

Don: Keep in mind that atheists don't think you deserve to be tortured for all eternity for using your brain and not believing in fairy tales. I have been infinitely nicer to you.

Tsukho: The Bible does teach that God created all things, including mankind, who rebelled. Also, that separation from God in hell is the end destination of those who are not his children. And I believe that God's spirit instigated the writing of the Bible. However, I'd never presume to know anyone's future, nor God's plans in their life. I certainly don't hope for torture for anyone. Who does? The Bible teaches me to treat everyone with love.

But what I hear here is that your personal atheistic moral high ground tells you that it's acceptable to be rude to people that have different beliefs than you. Regardless of how they treat you, you can be rude because you don't like their beliefs. Correct?

Don: I'm trying to point out that Biblical morality and "following God" are both proven moral failures. You are defending the indefensible. I'm sorry if you feel beat up about it.

Tsukho: I realize that Christianity gets lumped all together with a boatload of other theist beliefs, and I can understand the difficulty of winnowing out what's unrelated. I don't follow Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or Catholicism. I follow the Bible only, which I don't have to prove or defend. If God exists, he doesn't need my help. My job is not to argue anyone into belief. It's God's job to work in hearts, all I have to do witness. So let me say this, true Christianity DOES work. Christians who actually read and follow the Bible and who develop a relationship with Christ are not the people with which you take umbrage. We live open lives without stealing, insulting, lying, or looking down on others. Divorce is rare. We're prone to help out others in need. We certainly don't kill or torture. We get along and do a good job at work. Our children are happy and well-behaved. We're respectful to older people. We like to laugh and get along with our neighbors.

I don't know about you, but this accounts for most all the people I hang out with, to a greater or lesser degree. These are the things the Bible teaches. We're not perfect, we make mistakes. But as we live, we improve and become better, kinder people. Our relationship with Jesus requires change on our part, from how we are naturally to how he wants us to be. Change is hard. No one likes it. But Christianity does work.

Now, you're going to pull out a laundry list of historical atrocities, and perhaps some personal experiences. Let me say again, these are not examples of Christianity. Perhaps you've heard the phrase that sitting in a church doesn't make you a Christian any more that sitting in a garage makes you a car. If a group calls itself Christian, but then acts in ways that negate Christianity, wouldn't you wonder if are they actually are Christian? Or would you simply say, those Christians are evil and their religion, too.

In our current times, you can find some pastors and church members who step off the deep end into murder, adultery and pedophilia. But long before they get to that spot, they rode their horse right off the reservation. They're not following Christ and certainly not hearing from him. How can they be, when the Bible teach against all three? There's a whole theme through the Bible speaking of those that are "in" the church (body of believers) but not "of" the church. Start with the Sadducees and Pharisees. All white-washed religion on the outside, no true understanding and love of God on the inside. There are lots of folks like that.

Don: The reason Christians stopped killing witches is that they slowly started ignoring their "divine instructions" and started to adopt more secular morality.

Tsukho: God did tell the Old Testament Israelites to do that, along with a bunch of other harsh stuff. Christians didn't start ignoring divine instructions; they started better understanding the previous scriptures through the lenses of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, which is exactly what Jesus told them to do. Jesus made the extraordinary claim that he was the Christ, part of the God head. It was one of his goals to bring additional understanding. I can go into that perhaps in another thread, but you're likely to say I'm rationalizing. My answer would be that I'm only rationalization if it's not true.

Don: You can beat up on me now. My morality is based on reason, knowledge, compassion, empathy, and responsibility. We, as a society, can choose morals and laws that mitigate harm. It's "objective" in the sense that it's based in human nature.

Tsukho: I have no intention of beating you up. What possible good would that promote? I'm just trying to get an answer to the thread's topic question. And still unsuccessfully, I might add. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe there isn't an a real answer for the question. Is this why you keep rabbit-trailing off to attack Christianity? Are you unable to explain the basis of your beliefs? I already know the basis of my belief; I'm here trying to understand the basis of yours. I'd state the question again, but it's already been reiterated four or five times. May I get an answer?

Don: Just imagine for a minute how much better the world would be if, say, the Catholic Hierarchy took RESPONSIBILITY for their child molestation and cover up. What does the holy book say about having sex with children?

Tsukho: The Bible teaches fornication, in all of its derivatives, is wrong and ultimately harmful. Lying is a sin. Not obeying the government is a sin. Harming children is a sin. I think the Catholic Church should clean house and be transparent about the process with the public. The offenders should be tried in court of law like any other person who has broken the law, and then the Catholic Church should do what they can to make things right with the victims and their families. How is a priest hiding behind a church organization and molesting children possibly compatible with the teachings of Christ? The answer is it's not, period. True Christianity doesn't hide at all; it's totally out in the open for anyone to see.

On torture: When you bow your head to your god, you are endorsing torture. You don't get to say it's "god's law" that you just have to live by. Christians have no solid evidence for their god. You are effectively subservient to a fantasy.

When you say that the evils of religion are because Christians don't adhere to the Bible, then I give you a DIRECT command from god that you find reprehensible (and do your best to spin it), You are the one NOT adhering to your Bible. I pointed out the hypocrisy and stupidity of that position and you thought it was rude. Sorry.

The sad fact is that in your heart you know it's garbage and so you have to improve it by "apologizing for it". I think you would do better to jettison it since your morality is clearly superior to that of your god. I believe you are much better than the horrible morality you claim to follow.

Witch burnings (look it up) were a multi-century Christian phenomenon. I'm not blaming Christians for the ills of Buddhism. It was both a Catholic and Protestant thing, so, oops. There goes that opportunity to rationalize by finger pointing. I can point to lots of other Christian atrocities. I guess only YOU are the true Christian in the world. Look up the "No true Scotsman" logical fallacy. Recognize that you're using it, and count me unimpressed that that's the best the religion has to offer.

Please understand that I think the Bible is a genocide manual and I have yet to hear any credible evidence for a god, so I take most of your god blather as just noise.

Christians like you claim that their god-man Jesus fixed everything, but his character in the NT says that he's not there to change the law and that he IS the horrible god of the OT. To make matters worse, he's the gatekeeper to infinite torture, a concept absent in Judaism. Again, if you don't like God 1.0 (Judaism), why not go to God 3.0 (Islam) or God 2.1 (Mormonism)? If God can't get the first version right, what makes you think that he got it right the second, third, or fourth time?

I thought I answered your original question when I explained my morals. If not, ask again please.

You're like most Christians I've chatted with. There is no sense of responsibility for the harm Christianity has done. It's mostly just a hedonistic concern for getting that perpetual orgasm in the afterlife and what one has to do to keep that fantasy alive. Screw the people killed as witches. Screw the Jews. Screw the women. Screw the gays. Screw the atheists. I have my deal with God and nothing else matters. If Christians aren't responsible for Christianity, then it is nothing more than a free pass to do what you want.

Don said: On torture: When you bow your head to your god, you are endorsing torture. You don't get to say it's "god's law" that you just have to live by. Christians have no solid evidence for their god. You are effectively subservient to a fantasy.

Tsukho said: If God is an all-powerful creator, then he gets to decide what to do with his creation, including humbling himself, dying, and taking the blame for wrongs he didn't do. I'm assuming you admit you do wrong things. The Bible teaches that the bad things that happen are our fault, all humanity, each individual deciding to do wrong and adding to the heap of wrongness. There ARE no good people and our wrongness (sin) has consequences on us and on this world. An analogy of this would be drug resistant infections. If I get a drug-resistant infection, is it my fault? Do I deserve it? Well, I'm part of mankind, and we don't use our drugs carefully as individuals and a society, so yes and no. The separation from God you speak about above is our fault, not his. A child can choose to disobey his father, but consequences follow. It does him no good to wish otherwise. The father determines what is right and what is wrong.

As for "fantasy", I find sufficient proof of his existence within my own experience and those of others I know. The rest is toppling dominoes. Just because something cannot be proved, does not mean that it does not exist. Within your own belief system, this is so. I'm sure many atheists feel there are enough indications pointing towards evolution to consider it fact, even though it's a theory. Just the same, I've amassed enough experiential proof of God to know he exists. Consider people you knew, who are deceased. I might erase all facts of their existence on this earth, but you still know they existed because you know them and had a relationship with them. It's the same with Christians and God. He could prove himself physically (See other post about Obama) but he chooses to make us go find him. You have the same opportunity as everyone else.

Don: When you say that the evils of religion are because Christians don't adhere to the Bible, then I give you a DIRECT command from god that you find reprehensible (and do your best to spin it), You are the one NOT adhering to your Bible. I pointed out the hypocrisy and stupidity of that position and you thought it was rude. Sorry.

Tsukho: It may be that I was soft-shoeing here a bit. My goal was to ask questions and better understand what atheists believe with as little disruption to the thread as possible, but it seems that is not possible. I was not trying to spin anything and I do adhere to the Bible. God did say do not suffer a witch to live in the OT. He also gave a number of commands to wipe out individuals or specific groups for specific purposes. He's God, he can do that. He had already given commands about right and wrong, he had already written his law on the hearts of mankind. The truth of the matter is every second we live is by the grace of God. If his command is that the wages of sin is death, then we should die with our first sin. But I'm alive and you're alive. Why? Because he's long suffering. Father's on earth display similar long suffering with their children, hoping for understanding and agreement and often delaying judgment and giving many warnings. Punishment with God is always delayed as long as possible. Everyone doing wrong has had adequate warning. So have I. So have you.

As for the rudeness, please understand I am not offended. It takes a good bit more than a few names to ruffle my feathers. I simply pointed it out, because this is a thread on morality. I find it interesting that on one hand you say, "My morality is based on reason, knowledge, compassion, empathy, and responsibility" and on the other you say, "Are you a hypocrite or a fool?" It doesn't seem like you're interested in being compassionate or empathetic towards me. Or, do your morals tell you to only be pleasant and gracious to those people you like and with whom you agree?

Don: Witch burnings (look it up) were a multi-century Christian phenomenon. I'm not blaming Christians for the ills of Buddhism. It was both a Catholic and Protestant thing, so, oops. There goes that opportunity to rationalize by finger pointing. I can point to lots of other Christian atrocities. I guess only YOU are the true Christian in the world. Look up the "No true Scotsman" logical fallacy. Recognize that you're using it, and count me unimpressed that that's the best the religion has to offer.

Tsukho: Interesting point about no true scotsman. However that does not speak adequately to the point. I give you an example in our current politics. (Please do not try to make this argument political. I merely use this as an example. Fill in your own attributes if you will.) Say you have a republican candidate who is on the republican ticket. However, he is for higher taxation of the rich. He's pro-social services. He prefers a larger federal government. He tends to vote with democrat prejudice. Eventually, you have to make the assertion that he is republican only by name. His beliefs and his actions portray his actual allegiance. He's a democrat. To call the politician a republican is a fallacy. It's simply not true. This is not rationalizing. This is not finger-pointing. This is simply calling a duck a duck, when it walks like a duck and talks like a duck. Similarly, if you have someone who claims to be a Christian but who acts and believes contrary to what Christ taught in the Bible, then eventually you have to assert the person is not a Christian. There are many, many people and groups like this. Now, does this mean that all Christians who are actually following Jesus (and there are many of them, too) are as innocent as babes, never doing anything wrong, pure as new driven snow? Absolutely not! But the Bible talks about how the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of sin. That's how it works with me. The Spirit pushes me to change. Are you claiming atheists never do any terrible things either? I think not. Evil is inherent to the human condition. Again, our fault, not God and not Christianity.

Also, you misunderstood my earlier post. I was not pointing a finger of blame at the Buddhists for "Christian" witch-burnings, as you alluded to above. At that place in the previous post, the topic of witch-burning had not yet been brought up. Please don't twist my words. I was making two points in that section: (1) I speak only as a believer of the Bible and as a fundamental Christian. (2) That Christianity does work. I think that was plainly said.

Don: Christians like you claim that their god-man Jesus fixed everything, but his character in the NT says that he's not there to change the law and that he IS the horrible god of the OT. To make matters worse, he's the gatekeeper to infinite torture, a concept absent in Judaism. Again, if you don't like God 1.0 (Judaism), why not go to God 3.0 (Islam) or God 2.1 (Mormonism)? If God can't get the first version right, what makes you think that he got it right the second, third, or fourth time?

Tsukho: Jesus wasn't sent to fix what God got wrong. He says so himself that he obeys God. Jesus defines himself quite well in the Bible, which leaves no room for Islam, Mormonism or even Judaism, etc. etc. He said he and the Father are one and that he's the only way to the Father. This negates every other religion. They are unrelated and incompatible, so moot point. You can't believe in the Bible and believe in these other religions, too. Jesus did however, teach additional understanding. Jesus who was God as Christ was born to sacrifice himself out of love to pay a price that had to be paid by us. He put the flashlight on a characteristic of God that was ignored: Forgiveness. Does a witch deserve to die? Yes. Does an adulterer deserve to die? Yes. Do I deserve to die? Yes. Every sin brings death. But Jesus forgave the adulterer. I started to go into why God dealt differently with people in the OT than he does now, but that topic is just too huge for this thread. If you're actually interested in understanding it, rather than just shooting from the sidelines, find some books on the topic and read them.

Don: You're like most Christians I've chatted with. There is no sense of responsibility for the harm Christianity has done. It's mostly just a hedonistic concern for getting that perpetual orgasm in the afterlife and what one has to do to keep that fantasy alive. Screw the people killed as witches. Screw the Jews. Screw the women. Screw the gays. Screw the atheists. I have my deal with God and nothing else matters. If Christians aren't responsible for Christianity, then it is nothing more than a free pass to do what you want.

Tsukho: Firstly, I'm not responsible for the harm done by Christianity. I don't hold you responsible for terrible deeds done by atheist, whether they are acting as atheist or not. You're assuming that God was pleased with the witch-hunt and that he wanted the Crusades. What makes you think that? Because the people who did it said it was God's will? Uh huh... I submit he is not pleased and that those who participated will be judged for murdering in his name. Jesus had already made the point of not killing someone caught in sin. He had already made the point of praying for your enemies. He had already made the point of not taking revenge. Enough said. As for the "screw you" list, God makes a blanket statement: repent of your sins through Jesus. It applies to everyone equally regardless of race, age, or gender. It begins a lifetime relationship and a lifetime of change. The Bible does require change, though, which I suspect is the real rub of the matter. We're required to look at ourselves through the template of Jesus. The parts of us not compatible need changing. Human condition is to resist change and resist authority. But we were made in God's image and real joy involves getting back to him. That's not waxing poetic. It's just the plain truth of the matter. When children are small they obey because of fear. As the grow up, they begin understanding the reason behind a rule. A child that understands and agrees with a rule is much happier, content, and in better relationship with their father who embodies the rule. This as opposed to other child who only sees the rule as a restriction and Dad as the authoritarian making random declarations and bringing punishment.

Let me add at the end that, I'm not going to be able to keep up with all this extra discussion. Trying to answer all this is too time-consuming for me right now. Plus, frankly, I don't think you're as interested in gaining understanding about Christianity as you are in shooting down what you can. Also, on the flip side, since I personally know God exists, you're not going to be able to convince me to be an atheist. None of this discussion was my intention in the first place. So, if you don't mind I'd like to circle back to the main question again. I don't feel like I have a delineated answer. Please, this is really what I'm trying to understand.

You said earlier, "We, as a society, can choose morals and laws that mitigate harm. It's "objective" in the sense that it's based in human nature." Personally, I can't imagine anything less objective than human nature. When do people ever agree on anything? Since you use the word choose, would you agree that atheistic right and wrong, which defines morality, is by opinion, as stated by John at the very top of the post? You have what you believe to be right, I have mine, and society has an agreed upon one. For instance, to kill is not morally wrong, except within the parameters of one group's subjective belief for that group's benefit. Is that correct?

I fear that I won't be able to respond to all of your points. Alas, atheists have finite lifetimes. These responses tend to triple in length at each reply.

So you seem to be admitting that you have no solid evidence for your god. You have personal experience, which isn't objective and you've found a community of like believers. Look up Heaven's Gate. Have you ever considered the possibility you were wrong? I know quite a number of people who seriously believed in God, felt the holy sprit, spoke in tongues, preached, and made great sacrifices for their god. Today, they will tell you that they were mistaken. And yes, I am mistaken a lot. That's why I don't rely on my gut intuition. That's why I am open to new evidence and willing to reconsider decisions and opinions. Being mistaken is an opportunity to learn, if one is humble enough to do that. I have talked to hundreds of Christians about their beliefs and there seems to be little consensus on their understanding of the god they claim to know so intimately.

One sentence of yours really struck me and I'd like to pick apart the thinking behind it so that you can see how we differ. You said "If God is an all-powerful creator, then he gets to decide what to do with his creation…". The first thing to point out is that your sentence is a conditional. If the condition is false, then ANYTHING that follows is necessarily true. Stated another way, false premises lead to false conclusions. In the last few years, I've done more than 30 Atheist Experience shows that point out that Christianity has gotten the wrong answer so systematically and in so many different ways, it makes one wonder how the premise of God leads to so many complete screw-ups. (If you're interested, I can give you all the episode numbers. The videos are available in our archives). The simple answer, of course, is that the premise is wrong and that wrong assumptions have led, pretty much consistently, to wrong answers.

But let's suppose for a second that there is some objective evidence for a powerful being. Why would anyone assume it's a god? Why would anyone assume it created the universe? Because it said so? Because it was written in some book? "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." --Arthur C. Clark. We laugh today at those hapless Aztecs who believed that the Conquistadors were the return of their god Quetzalcoatl. Little did they know that their myths would betray them. I see an analogy here.

There's a related assumption that Christians make that this god has their best interests at heart. I find that the most ridiculous of all the beliefs, personally. What being of sufficient intelligence doesn't have its own agenda? Maybe some Christians aren't quite such Pollyannas. Some see the bad temper and wrathful nature of the god of the OT. It seems the Christian response is then to turn traitor on their fellow man and suck up to power. You see it in the pedophilia priest scandal, for instance. Christians are happy to turn a blind eye to the scandal because the perpetrators are "men of God" and "who would dispense the magic crackers if they were in jail?" So, we as a society give their criminal enterprise a pass. "It makes god happy, and as long as I get my perpetual hedonistic orgasm in heaven, who cares who gets hurt?" I could list 100 or more equivalent examples, where "sucking up to some invisible god" occurred at the expense of real human beings. (And the gods of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and so many other religions are either too cowardly to show themselves or it's just a lame excuse con-artist religious leaders give to keep making money: shut off your brain and the con will wash over you. Full disclosure: I don't make any money if you begin to believe what I'm telling you. Can your minister make that claim?)

There is another alternative to blindly following in hopes of making your god happy at the expense of your fellow man. That is to defend the weak or helpless against the rapists, con artists, liars, thugs, persecutors, corrupt, and murderous. And do so regardless of whether the other side claims to have a god on it's side. Look up "Gott mit uns" ("God is with us").

So when I said "When you bow your head to your god, you are endorsing torture." This is what I meant. You have made conscious choices to follow a (fictional) tyrant. Your belief in a god doesn't absolve you from the responsibility that comes with those beliefs. The harm perpetrated by Christianity isn't absolved by faith (or anything for that matter).

On the hypocrite or fool issue, please understand that you had blamed the bad behavior of Christians on their creative interpretation of the Bible, then you went on to creatively interpret one of the clearest passages therein. Christians' power for rationalization and spin is truly amazing. It's too bad my integrity won't let me make money off of it.

The Bible passage about witches is uncomfortable to you, so you rationalize it away. Ultimately, the Bible is nothing more than a Rorschach test for the morally challenged and the religion is just an excuse to do what you want without responsibility. Consider that your own god's morality is "an eye for an eye, … a life for a life," yet when the systematic murders (for centuries) of Jews, "heretics", and "witches" is brought up, whizzzz goes the spin machine. The trouble is that NOBODY is responsible for the harm done by Christianity. It's inherently irresponsible and completely incapable of cleaning house.

I do take responsibility for my beliefs. But consider this: the lack of a belief in god doesn't lead me to murder. Contrast with this: 1) (cave man voice) "must get perpetual orgasm given only by god", 2) "must please god", 3) "god say kill witches", 4) "must go out and kill witches", 5) "me too stupid to know what a witch is" 6) "me kill people and call them witches".

You're welcome to your club, but I think you can aim a little higher.

Thanks for your thoughts above. I'll continue to consider them. In addition, as I stated in my earlier post, I agree we can't respond to all points. So, may I return us back to the original question of defining right and wrong? I may be simplistic here, but this is what I've gathered so far: From an evolutionary point of view (assuming most atheists gravitate towards evolution), mankind contains no more inherent natural value than bacteria or a rock. The universe does not care if we live or die. We're sentient, yes, but that is through chance. We're simply organized atoms. Any concepts of right or wrong that we have are merely our personal opinion or based on group consensus, which is itself based on collective opinion. Is this correct? If a man slays a child, we may be outraged from personal conviction, but the man simply acted against our personal belief. There is no universal law that says killing a child is evil any more than it's evil to cut down a tree or burn oxygen. The action may work against the evolutionary process, but since that is based on chance, the expansion of a species is no more or less important or necessary or required good or bad than the sublimation of a comet. Is that correct?

This sentence I disagree with: "Any concepts of right or wrong that we have are merely our personal opinion or based on group consensus, which is itself based on collective opinion."

Humans can make these decisions for ourselves and have it be more than opinion. We can (and do) base our morality on harm and well-being, which are not subjective or whim. I do admit that harm is difficult to quantify sometimes, but in many situations it's quite clear.

When Catholic priests molest children, it's the harm to the children that we react to.

There is no ultimate meaning as the universe doesn't care. But we can care for ourselves and each-other. Evolution has given us big brains so that we have empathy, compassion, and can reason through the consequences of our actions and the potential harm they cause.

Contrast this with the whim of an invisible magic Creator whose apparent whim is interpreted differently by different people. Which is more sound?

Thank you, Don. That's the most clear and complete answer that I've been able to find so far. If I understand correctly, the universe is impassive and morality is objectively based upon harm and wellbeing. What I take away from that is that to harm a fellow man is wrong, and thus immoral. But then I wonder, we would not say a lion was morally wrong because it killed and ate its own cub. We'd just say that's nature. It may be impractical for a species, but not evil. And if we're just a smarter species in nature, why is it wrong if a man kills and eats his own baby? If that standard does not exist for other life forms, why should it exist for us, just because we have bigger brains and can recognize harm? At what point along the evolutionary trail does doing harm become wrong?

This is why I used the phrase that right and wrong are personal opinion. We believe a man should not harm another and that human society should flourish, but there's nothing in the physical or natural world that demands this. Although it's certainly preferable for us, it's not inherently any more good for our species to flourish over another. Per evolution, killing and eating your young wasn't evil before man walked the earth and it won't be after we're gone. Nature does not hold sentient mankind to a different standard than any other species. So aren't right and wrong just a construct of our opinion and preference, whether individually or by social consensus?

I do think morality is a product of big brains. There are species that have a sense of fairness and empathy, which seem to be some of the rudiments of morality.

It stems from our evolutionary past, which is why I am unwilling to call it a social custom, preference, or opinion. It does have a solid grounding.

Lions have a somewhat different evolutionary history, so we shouldn't assume that human morality applies to all.

One of the great things about human morality is that it adapts to our changing human nature, our culture, and our knowledge. Contrast that with the non-changing Bible, that will always be wrong in endorsing slavery, for example.

From: John (Posted Apr 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm) JOHN SAID: If there is no God, how can anyone judge what is right and what is wrong, if right and wrong are only matters of opinion?

LINDA SAID: People all around the world have different opinions about what is right, wrong, holy etc. Religions do not agree about what's right or wrong, but you would think that a perfect God could make it crystal clear, considering if you go to hell or not depends on it?

From: John (Posted May 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm) JOHN SAID: "I found the article to be very interesting, thank you. I guess i still have a question about the origins of the moral code we live by. It seems that most times when we follow our conscience or empathize with other people, we go against the nature of evolutionary survival and natural selection.

LINDA SAID: Morality didn't come from God's word because if it did we would still be raping, pillaging and burning. You know, the kind of love the bible teaches, that some people read and believe is the word of a superior being. The fact that morality is an integral part of our evolutionary past is now well established in the studies of behavior genetics. Edward O. Wilson was first to assert that morality is an innate feature of our evolutionary past.

JOHN SAID: "The article mentioned a higher level of reasoning that humans have gained, that enable them to empathize. That still seems to say that evolution can become a self-defeating process. Your thoughts?"

LINDA SAID: You clearly don't understand evolution what-so-ever. Moral behaviors of social animals evolved to make societies work and that is the foundation from which human morality evolved. What you are espousing is a very old excuse to keep religion going. Moral judgments provided a survival technique of a primitive cultures that lived in groups, now vanished, selfishness had to be controlled or there wouldn't have been any advantage to communal living. Morality is an evolutionary artifact that is still used to indoctrinate people in numerous belief structures that make little sense other than some people still need to obey their masters and that makes them feel like all is right with the world, in spite of the fact that religion is full of lies and ignorance. Do you really believe that people who are not rapist or murderers would be running a muck raping and killing without silly bible stories about talking snakes and donkeys? What about all of the killing in the Bible. Samson killed 1000 men with the jawbone of an ass Judges 15:14 Elisha (with help from God) sent two bears to kill forty two children for making fun of his bald head. 2 Kings 2:22 etc.

Myths and fables don't keep people civilized! Education does that, but I'm sure religious fanatics want everyone to believe a Holy Book (that is totally false concerning anything that requires an education) will keep them safe from the boogie man! Even though they don't come up with any proof that god or the boogie man ever existed (that would meet the same standards that any scientific or scholarly work has to meet) all they have is a bull shit story; and slander toward those who don't agree with them, the threats of hell, or the reward of heaven. But when you take all that away they have nothing left.

Learning to use logic and common sense along with the ability to reason is far more valuable than all the myths and fables that fanatics can dream up. If atheists are exposing a fake that has been sold as genuine and true for thousands of years without being challenged, and that convinces anyone that there god does not exist, tough tacos!

The facts do not support your position. The most violent countries in the world are the most religious and the least religious countries are the least violent. The least religious countries are better educated and they take better care of their people - the least religious countries are also the happiest people on earth. I've posted all the data and I can do it again if you want me to.

Linda, thanks for your post. I have to say your position is energetic, if a bit vitriolic. Discussions like these have captured the attention of brilliant and stupid people on both sides of the argument for centuries. I appreciate your time in speaking with those of us who are BS, slandering, and religious fanatics, believing in silly Bible stories due to our lack of commons sense and logic and inability to reason. :) Although that was a bit facetious, I actually do appreciate your time in helping me understand your ideas and concerns better. Study is beneficial, which I do, but it's both more interesting and sometimes more productive to have conversations. I'm hoping you can help me understand if there is an objective standard of good in the atheistic framework of understanding. I believe this was John's original question in this thread, which I don't think has been answered yet.

Understand, up front, that I agree that morals and the lack of them are practiced in both non-theist and theist circles.

From my perspective, being a fundamental Christian, the Bible teaches that God determines what is good. He's not good because he does good things. This would indicate there is some kind of universally-existing, objective standard called good, to which he adheres. Rather, good IS good because it exemplifies his character. God defines good, not the other way around. Further, the Bible states his perfect law is written on every heart, from Adam and Eve on down. Romans 2:15. This explains why there are similar moral edicts within all social groups down through time. It's integral to everyone.

If I understand your thoughts correctly, morals are a social mechanism developed through time as humans learned cooperation was mutually beneficial. I believe the theories of Edward Wilson, you mentioned above, points to that. Humans are an eusocial species. Right actions build society, wrong ones weaken it. Maybe consciences are instincts bred into us over time.

I may be being simplistic; I can see in that theory both internal and external rewards to the individual, but no objective definition of right and wrong. Why is it important for human society to flourish? Is it morally right for bacteria to prosper, or only sentient species? I'm unaware of any principle in the universe or law of physics dictating that. On the contrary, the universe seems set to annihilate all life, if the big bang be true. From all this, my understanding would be, my actions might be right or wrong (and thus moral) as defined by humans interested in evolving society, but that's their definition. Why should I be held to their standard? Right and wrong are relative and defined by society, simply ideas thought up by other people who want to hold me accountable for what they want and how they think.

So that leads me back to John's question, and mine: How can anyone judge what is right and what is wrong, if right and wrong are only matters of opinion?

By the way, I'm not trying to sidestep your points about Sampson, Elisha and other Biblical questions. I'd be glad to noodle some thoughts on that, but for the sake of time and space, I wanted to stick to the original question of the thread.

I think Dawkins put it best in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSYosM2ZhzY Christians today have to cherry-pick morality from the bible because it is so blatantly immoral, and it shows the failures of believers in trying to assert any sort of moral code they have on the future. In reality, the present has dominion over the past and therefore the future on the present, and clearly the only way to do these things is to debate and argue these things over time. Secular morality essentially comes from the experiences of humans passed on to each other (primarily in the form of parenting) and the whole thing is made possible and boosted by our evolved ability to empathise with each other. If evolution (through morality) were a self-defeating process, surely we would be able to see it affecting our ability to thrive. If anything it is evolution through technology that is potentially self-defeating in the sense that we have got ourselves in the position of endangering our planet via global warming. It's not looking too good for us seeing as species are dying off at 100x the rate at which they have done in mass extinction events (which kill off over 50% of the planet's species) in the past.

"If there is no God, how can anyone judge what is right and what is wrong, if right and wrong are only matters of opinion?"

:)

Are you saying that if we'd just CLAIM that something is wrong or right without having an objective (or as objective as possible) basis for this... that would be... wrong?

This demonstrates that there are sources of judging right/wrong that we, well, might call into question, but mostly for philosophical reasons. We would, in the end, not abandon them because of some doubt, but we'd stick to them.

The rest is extrapolation.

Religion is not the source of Morality.. Morality is the very trait of human nature. I believe all moral values can be summed up into one single statement- "Don't do onto others what you don't want then to do onto you.." or "Treat others as you want them to treat you". Morality can exist without religion but religion cannot exist without morality.

I feel morality as a word holds no importance cause ultimately everything leads down to 'conduct' : either 'good conduct' or 'bad conduct'. Morality relates to 'good' and people have a habit of relating 'good' to 'God'. That's why its better to stick to the word 'conduct'.

Your morals are often presented to you from your parents as you grow up from the baby stage to a yound teenager, you interact with people in your life to get a measure on the degree of beliefs of these morals. Society has a basic set of morals, we all know what's good and bad in a basic format. Religion doesn't even need to be involved, the notion that you must be religious to know what your morals are is totally ridiculous. What's worse is that many adults rely on religion to teach morals to them, i'm concerned with people that are unsure of their moral standards at this time of their lives.

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