Sunday, December 24, 2006

Morality Without God

People often ask me how I can be a moral person without God. This is a silly question. I tell them so. They walk away. I continue eating my mango pie.

Morals are a function of society. They have been derived from countless experiences throughout the history of a society. This is why different societies have different morals. This is so wildly obvious to anyone that has studied different cultures that I'm not going to debate it here.

Let's say Billy is just walking along one day, minding his own business, when Greg comes along and viciously stabs him to death. Billy's friends and family are distraught, they mourn his death, and then teach their children that, because of the pain they experienced from murder, they should never murder anyone. Repeat this process a few thousand times and you get a social moral. Most people in, let's say, the 'civilized' world-society as a whole don't think it's a good idea to kill each other. Why? Because it's a social moral, and because if you do society will take action and do something to get you back.

When I have given this argument to my religious friends, a few have asked why people would care about the deaths of their friends, if not because God had originally implanted the feeling in their head. This is a silly question. I tell them so. They walk away. I continue eating my mango pie.

Compassion for companions is found in almost every animal with even a pretense at a brain. Therefore it must have an evolutionary benefit so profound that many creatures simply cannot survive without it. Empathy is then not restricted to humans and their so-called holy scripture. But more to the point: appreciating the death of a loved one for what it is is clearly a survival mechanism. If Billy (magically resurrected for the purpose of this example) eats the red berries, and Billy gets sick, Billy knows not to eat the red berries. Similarly, if Billy's sister is killed by a giant porcupine Billy knows he either has to get away from it or kill it so it can't do him or his family any harm. Why does he know this? Because his sister died from it and since he empathizes with her he doesn't want a similar thing to happen to him.

Everyone living in a society is affected by social morals, but many choose to augment those morals with their own experiences. This is how social morals change. Social morals of a certain time period are often written down and eventually worshiped by others. Take the old testament for example. I don't stone people to death anymore, and people don't stone me. Why? Because social morals have changed. The reason that people can still call themselves Christian without following the exact word of the Bible and stoning people is a post for another time.

For myself, I've adopted a view of morality which seems to be shared by many in this blogosphere. I care about the good of the human race. If something I do hurts someone, it is wrong. If something I do helps someone, then it is right. If something I do both hurts and helps people, but it helps more people then it hurts, then it is right, though not so right as just helping people. If it hurts and helps the same number of people, but the people that it helps can do more to help people than can the people that it hurts, then it is right.

Killing a good person is wrong. Cheating on the SAT's is not particularly wrong, unless the knowledge you gain from studying for it can help you or someone else. You see?

Ordinarily I would put a well-written conclusion that restates my original thesis and brings a new and shocking revelation to the post here, but my time could be better spent helping my cat out of the tree it has just gotten stuck in.

Good day.

Oh yes, and Merry Christmas.

5 Comments:

At 12/24/2006 11:04 PM, Blogger Enil Edam said...

Although I disagree with your definition of right and wrong, your general point makes sense.

God doesn't give people morals.
People derrive morals from "God."

Or the literary representation thereof.

I mean, any rereading of Lord of the Flies can safely determine that morals are certainly on a spectrum based on social norms.

Good stuff.

 
At 1/07/2007 7:14 PM, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I don't understand this point: "Cheating on the SAT's is not particularly wrong, unless the knowledge you gain from studying for it can help you or someone else."

I assume that you've made a typo here, but I can't tell where (or what).

Cheating on the SATs is wrong if only because it's likely to deprive someone more qualified than you of the chance to get into the school of choice. (It's also a form of lying, and lying isn't smart, since if you get the reputation of a liar people will not have much trust in you, or dealings with you.)

 
At 1/07/2007 7:17 PM, Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Hmmm ... is it possible you meant ""Cheating on the SAT's is not particularly wrong, unless the knowledge you would have gained from studying for it could have helped you or someone else"?

If so, I agree with that, though, as I said, I have other reservations about cheating on the SATs.

 
At 1/07/2007 10:24 PM, Blogger Barry Leiba said...

«But more to the point: appreciating the death of a loved one for what it is is clearly a survival mechanism.»

And more to that point — a good one, but one that doesn't go far enough — that is actually a reason specifically against attributing things to "God". Using poor Billy's sister and the porcupine... if instead of understanding that it's the porcupine that's a danger, and that one should avoid close encounters with aggressive giant porcupines, we instead think that Porky was sent by God as retribution for, say, overindulgence in mango pie by sa soeur, then we mistakenly determine that one should avoid eating mango pie.

The result is that we both deprive ourselves of the delights of mango pie and continue to perish at the quills of giant porcupines.

 
At 5/15/2007 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

bahhh im a sheep




god rocks! get ova it


the definition of right and rong is down to god and his morals, yet were never gonna acheive that y we have 2 accept his grace!


eek eek im a mousey im a mousey!

 

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