Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


A Challenge to Atheists and Agnostics

posted by David Klinghoffer

Something that’s surprised me about blogging on Beliefnet is how many atheists seem drawn to a website devoted specifically to spiritual expression. One commenter told me to “Go away!” A little bit ironic, don’t you think? Anyway, I have a challenge for atheists and secondarily for agnostics. From where do you derive meaning in life?

It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system. For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers. A real, live cat is not part of the English language. But an English word refers or points to this creature.

In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences. If there’s nothing outside nature or physicality, as atheism presupposes or as agnosticism leans toward supposing, then where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?
If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it? Your conscience? But why obey that, when it’s merely part of the same physical system that gave rise to you and your body (which of course are the same thing)?
I’m not posing the question as a mere provocation. I really am curious how thoughtful people who feel differently than I do about such things actually think about them.


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Kieran

posted May 5, 2009 at 4:08 am


I’ll start by giving you credit for a reasonable and well-phrased question.
Morality and Meaning Of Life are different questions, so I’ll address them separately.
I get my morality from the same place that I think moral persons of faith get theirs – my personal sense of right and wrong. This encompasses a strong sense of fairness, honesty, and an ethos of minimization of harm.
The bible has some charming moral tales. It also has some truly vile ones. A quick flick through the bible reveals incitements to genocide, infanticide, pederasty, misogyny, slavery, racism, rape, murder, death penalties for trivial crimes, witch-burning and more. (I won’t provide references, but there are plenty of websites which do).
Bishop Shelby Spong has a reply for people who say that the bible is a complete source of morality – “Have you read it?”
Presumably some Christians are unaware of these passages. Others pretend that they’re not there and skip straight to the sermon on the mount. A third group take even the most vicious passages literally, which is scary and possibly the world’s most active source of evil. (I’m happy to level the same accusation against people who take similar incitements in the Koran literally). A fourth group will attempt to explain it away – “God moves in mysterious ways” (which must be the ultimate intellectual cop-out) or attempt contorted and improbable theological explanations.
But, surely, there must be at least a sizeable minority who read such passages and think “That’s just evil”. Any reasonable person should be viewing acts of slavery and genocide that way. And that’s where morality comes in. Real morality doesn’t come from obeying the bible slavishly out of fear of a bad outcome in the afterlife – it comes from our own minds.
So, my morality comes from a sense of freedom, fairness, kindness, honesty, and an ethos of minimisation of harm. Some aspects of Christian morality are just fine to me, others are destructive. Many of religion’s sexual hang-ups are simply repressive. Any ethos which limits medical research or processes is just evil (think restrictions on stem-cell research. A fair way to think this through is to imagine that you have a daughter with a genetic disease which might become curable). Misleading the public on matters of science is vile also (yes, I mean you, Benedict). Freedom of speech in the public sphere is crucial, so blasphemy is a badge I would wear with pride.
As for meaning of life, that’s easy. Atheism is totally life-affirming – what could be more inspirational than knowing that this is it, this is our only chance? So, for me the meaning of life is: aged cabernet, rare steak, fried squid, good chocolate, a cold drink on a hot day, Albert King guitar solos, progressive rock epics, English comedy shows, a high level bridge game, boardgames with friends, water views, peace and quiet, sleeping in on weekends, playing games with small children, spending time with my wife, walking through rainforests, making the world a better place.



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D J Wray

posted May 5, 2009 at 4:57 am


Atheists are clearly distinguished from those who have faith in God by their experience of love.
Pure love is a love that does not require feedback. People who pray for the wellbeing of others do not require feedback.
True love requires feedback. In the case of lovers gazing deeply into each others eyes, they are giving and receiving (very) frequent, positive feedback. In the case of giving gifts, feedback is required.
Atheists can experience true love, but they cannot experience pure love.
http://www.atotalawareness.com



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Kristi

posted May 5, 2009 at 8:36 am


“then where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?”
I guess first I would have to say my values, ideals and morals come from my parents.
Just as you have posed this question, i have my own. Why is it so difficult or hard for religious individuals to understand that we (atheists) don’t need to believe in god to have values, ideals, morals and meaning in life?
To me I guess it seems simple. I value human life, I respect others, I want to treat others the way I want to be treated.
As far as meaning in life, I feel that I am lucky to have been born, I’m going to make the most of my time here. I am a cancer survivor, diagnosed at 31. I know how precious life is and I have had to face my mortality at a young age. That was hard. I didn’t believe in a higher power before my diagnoses or after.
I just think that ‘this is it’. Most of us are afraid to die so its comforting to think that there is something beyond.
I guess the most meaningful thing in life to me is the people in it. My family, my friends, my husband, even my animals make life not only meaningful but wonderful and amazing.



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Ray Ingles

posted May 5, 2009 at 9:57 am


When people ask about how a life has meaning, I have to ask: “Meaning to who?” Things don’t just “mean” something, abstractly, hovering there unconnected to anything else. Things mean something to someone. Parents can have purposes for their children, find meaning in their lives (say, being a doctor), that their children care nothing for (they want to be an athlete). The same applies to a God’s purposes – a person would have to decide that a God’s purposes were meaningful to them.
For a detailed meditation on this, see here: http://badidea.wordpress.com/2007/09/27/the-meaning-of-meaning-why-theism-cant-make-life-matter/
As to morality, I get that question a fair amount, and have a detailed response here: http:/ingles.homeunix.net/rants/atheism/strategies.html



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Turmarion

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:19 am


I actually strongly agree with David on this one. He’s saying essentially the same thing C. S. Lewis said in Abolition of Man and also made reference to in slightly different contexts in Mere Christianity and Miracles.
I think the tendency is for atheists, agnostics, and secularists to misunderstand this–they think it’s being said that a nonbeliever can’t be moral. This, of course, is not true–many nonbelievers are very moral, and many believers are execrable.
The point is this: Maybe Kieran gets his morality from “a sense of freedom, fairness, kindness, honesty, and an ethos of minimisation of harm,” and Kristi gets hers from her parents. This is great, but what about those who do not have such a sense of freedom, fairness, etc., or whose parents were abominable, passing on to them a twisted or warped ethos? On what basis could a nonbeliever argue ethics with such a person? In short, if I value freedom and fairness but do not believe in an ultimate cosmic meaning, on what basis do I attempt to persuade someone who believes it’s a dog-eat-dog world, that “freedom” and “fairness” are just an illusion, and he should do anything necessary to look out for number one?
In this regard I’ve always had more respect for Nietzsche than for secular humanism. He was brutally honest in arguing that if there is no overall meaning, everyone must make his own, and no one’s meaning is to be preferred over any others’. If I choose the master morality of the übermensch and choose to oppress others for my own gain, this is as “valid” as what Nietzsche called “slave morality”, which seeks the good of the group. More valid, in fact, according to him, since it’s more honest. I obviously don’t agree with Nietzsche, but I think he is bracingly clear-sighted and honest in describing what a world without transcendent values–without God–is really like.
An excellent article along these lines is here.



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Jay H

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:16 am


My personal opinion on this question:
I am not compelled by anything or anyone to take any specific action at any time in any situation. I personally make my decisions based on the level of harm that they will cause to my fellow creatures. I believe that every animal on this planet has a single goal, to avoid pain(emotional and physical). Because of this I chose to do my best to help them achieve this goal.
To me, someone who choses to help their fellow being, completely aware that no diety is grading them, is my kind of person.
If you only act good to your fellow creatures because you fear retribution from a diety, your acts are hollow and worthless.



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Ray Ingles

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:46 am


Turmarion, you ask, “what about those who do not have such a sense of freedom, fairness, etc., or whose parents were abominable, passing on to them a twisted or warped ethos? On what basis could a nonbeliever argue ethics with such a person?”
Cliff notes version of the link I gave before ( Though there should be two backslashes, not one, after the “http:”, oh well):
Being nice and fair and free works. It produces the best outcomes the vast majority of the time – it’s the way to bet. Moreover, humans are social types, and the vast majority of them need love and relationships with other people, and being mean and unfair and controlling interferes with that.
Even for the psychos who don’t care about other people, the kind of life they lead is its own punishment. Here’s a quote from Newsweek from before the second Iraq war:

When one of the most secure and luxurious of his palace-and-bunker complexes was completed in 1984, at a cost of $70 million, Saddam Hussein moved in right away. But even protected by enormous layers of concrete, sand and steel, behind zigzag corridors and blast doors made to withstand a Hiroshima-size explosion, and guarded by men who knew they’d have to be ready to die for him, or be killed by him, Saddam apparently could not sleep.
“All night long he heard a sound like the cocking of a pistol,” remembers Wolfgang Wendler, the German engineer who supervised the project. Wendler was summoned by angry officials to find out what was wrong. He discovered a faulty thermostat.

Saddam, of course, deserves no pity. But this is the kind of life he led – literally jumping at shadows, because there was no one he could fully trust. Stalin became so suspicious of doctors that later in life he refused their treatment and consulted with veterinarians instead. These dictators had plenty of purely material comforts, but in the process of acquiring them they’d given up any chance of enjoying them untroubled by fears of assassination, let alone the pleasures of sharing them with loved ones. They could literally never afford to fully relax. Perhaps there are a few individuals for whom that would be worth the trade… but I wonder if they ever regretted the situations they’d locked themselves into.



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Rachel in California

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:09 pm


To Jay H–
Leaders in many religious traditions know that reward and punishment lead people away from the deepest values.
From Rabiya of Basra, Muslim (8th century CE):
“I want to quench the fires of Hell, and burn down the rewards of Paradise. They block the way to God. I do not want to worship from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward, but simply for the love of God.”
Jesus of Nazareth encouraged disinterested goodness. We could paraphrase him as saying, “If you do good out of the uncalculating goodness of your heart, you will have the reward of being confirmed as the kind of person who enjoys doing good out of the uncalculating goodness of your heart.–you will enjoy God’s love.”
Buddhists are encouraged to release the idea that good deeds ought to be rewarded and bad deeds punished, and simply to practice compassion here and now.
Most people, whatever religion they are involved with or whether they are involved in any religion, go through a phase in which they believe in just rewards and punishments. “Retribution from a deity” is this desire for justice projected onto the universe.
All the world religions also encourage people to move beyond immature reward/punishment systems to universal compassion.



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Thelemite

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm


Several good answers have already been given, so I will just note that atheists get their sense of meaning & morality in the exact same way that theists do. We are born with a certain brain chemistry that drives the way we are able to think, and those brains are put to work on the values and lessons we pick up throughout our lives. It really is that simple – we are programmed with certain ideas in our youth, and as we grow older we modify our ideals, our sense of purpose, meaning, etc. based on them, combined with the experiences we have along the way. There is nothing compelling us to obey the lessons we have learned any more than a Christian is compelled to obey the 10 commandments; we are each perfectly able to disobey, but opt not to based on our consciences (our knee-jerk reactions generated by past experiences & teachings) and a rational weighing of the pros and cons of any given action.



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Thelemite

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm


For Tumerion, just as many atheists tend to misunderstand the morality question, I find many Christians tend to miss a crucial element of it as well (including C.S. Lewis). I freely admit that I would be at a loss to give a reasoned argument for secular morality to a psychiopath that has no regard for human life, believes their own happiness is all that matters, and doesn’t fear the consequences of death, imprisonment, or being a social outcast. That is why we tend to lock such people up.
However, I don’t see how advising Christian morality would be any more effective on such a person. Heaven forbid you try to appeal to their conscience! As it happens, Christian morality is meaningless to anyone that is not already a Christian him/herself. As an atheist, I see no reason to do anything just because it was commanded by a being I don’t believe in. This really isn’t a big surprise, however, because your question is really asking this: how do you get someone who doesn’t share any of your core values to believe the things you only believe because of those core values? You see how that might be a difficult task.
I’m a big fan of Neitzche, myself. He does demonstrate that in an absolute, universal sense, all morality is equally meaningless (or meaningful, depending on your perspective). However, that doesn’t mean that certain morals are not more appropriate for acheiving certain goals (like personal happiness, freedom, world peace, etc) than others. Just because someone doesn’t believe in consequences after death doesn’t mean they can disregard consequences in life.
Finally, it’s worth noting that from our (atheists) perspective, our current reality DOES reflect a world without God. Everyone decides what they value & find moral for themselves (Christians included); the ubermensch just admits it.



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Haggs

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:44 pm


Meaning in life comes from being alive. Whether or not God exists is irrelevant.



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Haggs

posted May 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm


additionally….if you are a small child on the playground and you hit another kid then the kid hits you back…you now know not only what it felt like for the boy you hit…but that in the future if you want things to go smoothly….it would we best if you didn’t do that in the first place to another human being.
Viola….the birth of the Golden rule….which has been around for centuries…long before christ…and coan be found in any major religion on this planet. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and you didn’t need to even contemplate the existence of Jesus to come to that understanding.



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Brian Beckman

posted May 5, 2009 at 1:16 pm


I think many people are lead to atheism because they note (correctly) that Science provides no direct evidence for any God, and even less for the particular God of Israel. It’s important to note that Science also does not refute the existence of God. Science is 100% about the observable, physical world, and is utterly silent about anything else.
The next step in the reasoning, and the one containing the mistake, is that the ONLY reality is the observable physical world, and that therefore Science, in principle, tells us everything we need to know about everything. The mistake is that there do exist things that are real but not physical (examples in a second), and the tragedy following from the mistake is that one of those real-but-not-physical things is morality, and Science is utterly silent on morality. An atheist who looks to Science to provide moral guidance can get any answer he wants and they’re all equally true. Every member of the empty set is both Santa Claus and not Santa Claus. That’s a true statement.
Now, to demonstrate something real but not physical: a song. Not any particular physical representation of the song like a recording or a performance or a lead sheet, but the separate, single, unique thing that those all purport to represent. Clearly, that thing is something OTHER than a physical thing, because it doesn’t have a location or a mass or a time span, but certainly it is real because we can say that all these physical representations represent the same particular thing.
Other examples of real but not physical are numbers, ideas, morals, emotions, software programs, and so on. All such things are characterized by not having a location, a mass, or a time span, but having a unique, unitary existence amenable to multiple physical representations.
I’m a physicist. I’m used to the idea that the physical world adheres to a fixed collection of absolute, unchanging laws. Having found things that are real but not physical, I must entertain the notion that they might ALSO have their own fixed collection of absolute, unchanging laws, and that idea has led me to the God of Israel and his Torah as the leading candidates. The reason they lead the pack is that their claim is (1) very old and likely to have been completely debunked by now if there were nothing to it, and (2) Sinai is so outrageous a claim (2 million witnesses to the Theophany) that it’s either true or the greatest hoax in history.



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Steve Schlicht

posted May 5, 2009 at 1:19 pm


Hi David,
I am always amused at the faithfully feigned interest the religious folks have in atheists who happen to arrive at blogs, forums and topic boards to refute common religious assertions and mis-characterizations.
The stereotypical “angry” anecdotal atheist makes his appearance nearly every time and I see you have followed that recipe nicely!
Let me start by stating that atheists get their morality from the same place that any of the various and assorted religious adherents do, their own minds, based upon practical personal experience and the successfully developed human tendency for empathy.
After all, what makes religious adherents pick which religious claims and “values” they assert are “moral”?
Are they just told what is moral from extraterrestrial beings beyond space and time and abide by it without their own personally derived justifications?
It is equally valid to ask “Where do the God(s)ess(es) get their morality from?” and why do so many have the same desires of each respective religious adherent, which often conflict with believers of other religious claims regarding what is moral?
Kieran lays out the case just fine for me in this thread, as a strong atheist and a humanist, though I do have some additions for the topic for those interested.
Just as we can see the evolution of “morality” within religious “interpretations” over time, from primitive and bloody, genocidal deities who crave the smell of burnt offerings to ever newer and newer divine directives and revelations purportedly sent via angels or bushes through to specially chosen human conduits in private moments, we have come to understand that the survival of our species is dependent upon reciprocity.
Each cultural “lesson learned” over time and history brings new views on how we should live and treat others.
The relatively recent occurrence of developing nuanced language and the ability to record these lessons has been paramount in the explosion of cultural expression, morality and ethics.
As we have learned these lessons of death and war and hate and destruction, so too have our witch doctors, our sages, our shaman, our rabbis, priests, monks, preachers and…most importantly, our scribes and legislators.
Now, for the most part it can be reasonably observed that social and political power is derived from purported direct association with super beings beyond space and time (especially all powerful, invisible and unfalsifiable ones who really, really go for our fancy hats, scepters and brightly colored capes), so human representatives always have to have just the right interpretation and direct knowledge of absolute “morality” to shop out to those who have already used their own minds to decide to “like it” (most often because their folks and neighbors told them so and they seem happy).
So, with all of these factors in mind, my view is that we should keep moving on as a species and learn the lessons of the divine right of kings and become responsible for our own lives and deep abiding loves and find a balance of reciprocity within the wondrous thermonuclear jewel that is the vast universe in plain view.
No deities required.
Thoughtfully yours,
Steve Schlicht
Biloxi MS



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Glen Davidson

posted May 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Something that’s surprised me about blogging on Beliefnet is how many atheists seem drawn to a website devoted specifically to spiritual expression. One commenter told me to “Go away!” A little bit ironic, don’t you think?

Oh right, it’s a big mystery why one of the fellows at the premier organization dedicated to subverting science education to their purpose ends up with a number of non-believers at his blog. What’s ironic about telling someone to go away when he’s regularly trying to take away our constitutional rights?
I’m sure if you were not intent upon having the government foist religion onto us and on our children through government tax monies, you’d have far fewer secular commenters.
But then I’m pretty sure you knew all of this, and were simply feigning surprise.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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Brian Beckman

posted May 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm


Haggs — I will give you another rule that’s better than the Golden Rule, this is the sociopath’s rule: “Do whatever you can get away with; just don’t get caught.” A population following this rule will consist of individuals competing for every advantage, and the best ones may even become President!
Also, it’s important to note that Judaism’s version of the Golden Rule, following Hillel, is logically different from the Christian one. It says “Don’t do unto others what you Don’t want them to do unto you.” The Christian one would abjure us all to give up everything and become Mothers Theresa.



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Reverend AtheiStar

posted May 5, 2009 at 1:37 pm


“Meaning” is just another way to say “importance.” With that in mind, how can a theist possibly find anything of real importance or value in this life? After all, isn’t this life just something that must be endured, like a boring waiting room, before you finally get to paradise? How could anything be good when it would be compared to absolute perfection and happiness? All of life would be drab and boring by comparison! How, then, can it be said that the theist finds meaning in life while the Atheist does not? The Atheist, believing in only one life, can easily find importance in every second! It is we who have the deep meaning, not they!



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Haggs

posted May 5, 2009 at 2:45 pm


Many religions have what has been called the “Golden Rule.”
Brahmanism: this is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517)
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (UdanaVarga 5:18)
Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you. (Analects 15:23)
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Sunnah)
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. (T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien)
Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself. (Dadistan-I-dinik 94:5)
The only sociopath here is you buddy!!



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culturepress

posted May 5, 2009 at 3:10 pm


The author states that it seems to him that “meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system.”
Yes, but can a value system include family and community? Can we not derive meaning from the relationships that we’ve built throughout our lives with our loved ones?
For many of us, our values and morals come from the good deeds and nurturing that we received from our families and communities, purely in a secular way. We have morals that do not require a spiritual organization or entity to remind us of this.
My conscience tells me, “I’d better not steal that,” or “I’d better not cheat on my boyfriend,” because it’s wrong and it would hurt and disappoint so many people in my life. My conscience tells me, “I should help this lady get across the street,” and “I should be there for this friend in need,” because that’s the kind of respect that I hope others would give unto me.
It’s a matter of empathy, and I’ve learned empathy throughout my life not from watching TV or playing video games, and not based on a belief in deities–but rather, from developing relationships with people I care about, being a social observer, and frankly, a lot of introspection.
The problem with most people who commit moral crimes is a lack of empathy. True that some people were taught empathy from church. Some of us have been taught by other means.
The author’s questions are not easy to answer, but I can say that many of us who are strong-minded and self-disciplined simply do not need a spiritual establishment or a religious entity in order to know right from wrong, and to commit to that. With no offense to the author, and certainly no offense to my dear friends who happen to be quite spiritual, I believe that some of us can say that we have a moral strength and a higher conscience that does not succumb to internal, animalistic, capitalistic desires, and that we simply are strong enough and empathic enough to need no spiritual entity as a reminder.



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SWEJ

posted May 5, 2009 at 3:13 pm


I’m not sure you’ve thought through your reasoning. If meaning must come from outside a system, then:
1. Does your love for your family come from outside your family?
2. Does your belief in God come from something outside God?
3. Does the spiritual world come from the natural world?
4. Are earthly events determined by celestial events, as in Astrology?
5. Does logic come from non-logic?
What you said sounds nice, but lacks substance. Anyway, I think it is entirely reasonable and fulfilling for purpose and meaning to come from life as we know it. I’m interested in why people think it has to come from something outside ourselves!



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Glen Davidson

posted May 5, 2009 at 3:17 pm


It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system. For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers.

There’s your first problem. You’re discussing things without the necessary philosophy and science training. Oddly enough, you even ignores the relativism so common throughout intelligent design creationism. We often hear the ID claim that “you see what you believe,” as if science and courts do not share the same standards which were constructed in order to greatly reduce the impact of belief upon one’s conclusions (or in some cases, merely one’s “scientific conclusions”).
Obviously we have to ask what “reality” means in such a context, at which point it all becomes very difficult. What is a cat, after all? Is it the complex of sensations that we think we “receive” from a cat? Is it the construct or “ideal” of the cat that we have in our minds? Is a cat a dog, as very young children often suppose (four legs, furry, tail)? Is a cat a bunch of cells and systems connected together, as science sometimes considers it to be, reductively? And just what role does language and the thinking behind it play in determining “what a cat is”?
The fact is that our shared notion of what a cat is should probably be considered to be primarily a social construct, if we’re getting down to basics. What demonstrates this is that we have any number of abstract concepts which refer to little or nothing that is concrete(at least little or nothing that we can observe in a way that would satisfy science or the courts), including “god,” “the United States,” or, say, “Jews.” On the latter, definitions can be made, but at the edges they’ll always be on the arbitrary side. Obviously “the United States” exists in a meaningful way, but what it is becomes difficult to say, and again, much of the definition is arbitrary. “God” is one of the worst, of course, because we can’t really point beyond collective beliefs about “god” in order to try to pin it down.
Substitute “Ra” or some other “deity” if you don’t like your own “god” being doubted in this example.
And to what does “Frodo Baggins” refer, to extend the problem of fictional characters, as I consider “god” to be? I didn’t watch the movies, because I want to keep “my Frodo Baggins,” and not get a substitute from someone else, or a hybrid of mine and theirs.
To recapitulate, it does not appear that the word “cat” gets its meaning from the animal, rather it is a construct “intersubjectively” (with language a considerable player in the process) produced by society, with each individual interpretation being different. We know this because “god” (or “Ra”) and any number of other fictional concepts are quite capable of being discussed and even “defined” by social humans, while this “god” (at least today’s “god”) is apparently constructed out of various abstractions received (and interpreted) by each individual from society.
Our English language does not refer to “this creature” the cat. It may in a particular use refer to “a cat,” indeed, but “cat” in general is an abstract idealized concept referring to information stored in our minds, and not to any “cat.”

In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences. If there’s nothing outside nature or physicality, as atheism presupposes or as agnosticism leans toward supposing, then where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?

They obviously come from the same place that “cat” or “god” does for anybody, theist or non-theist. From social interactions, from “intersubjectivity.” Naturally that is not the end of the story, since we value before we pick up information from society. In fact, we probably have to value in order to pick up information, so that we value our mothers from whom we first learn socially.
Which means that we still have much to learn about evolution of the brain, as well as its operations and development. No theist is able to get past the same problem that we face, and the more intellectually honest and knowledgeable theists are on the same journey of scientific discovery guided by philosophical understanding.
What you, David, are doing, is supposing that somehow a “god” vouches for your own world of constructs and language. It’s an old fallacious concept in philosophy, but it tells us nothing, typically leading the theist to the philosophical position of naive realism. Yet we do not know about “blue” because anything in the world “is blue” (in the naive realist’s sense, that is). Our brains interpret certain wavelengths (actually, impulses from cones particularly sensitive to certain wavelengths) as blue. And it’s even more complicated than that, because our perception of “blue” shifts with the changing composition of light, meaning that “blue” doesn’t even depend upon “certain wavelengths,” rather, it depends upon contextual lighting. What is more, some people don’t see blue, due to defects in the eye.
One should not ever suppose, either, that valuing does not come from evolution. We are intensely shaped in our valuing of individuals by “fitness criteria,” especially those in the opposite sex (for heteros), as well as to be highly interested in sex. Valuing by animals is more precisely and empirically understood as being shaped by evolution, however, the very differences in valuing between the sexes appears to have much to do with reproductive fitness, from our preferences for symmetry in faces and in bodies, to men’s tendency to be especially jealous regarding affairs and potential affairs (I tend to be skeptical of most evo psych claims, but some certainly ring true, however well or poorly they are supported empirically).
Morals are, of course, both highly variable and merely a subset of valuing. Considering that 300 years ago most atheists and theists had little concern about slavery, there is little reason to suppose that either sort of thinker has any recourse to some “true” set of morals. Morals should also be considered to be socially constructed, and of course we care about social morality because we evolved as social primates. We thus value how the group we belong to fares, and we also fear the sanctions that other humans visit upon those who “cheat” on the group.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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haggs

posted May 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm


Answers to your questions…..
1)Yes
2)Disprovable theory on the existencew of God to begin with……So cannot be answered
3)Yes
4)Yes
5)Yes



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robgonzo666

posted May 5, 2009 at 5:32 pm


I have to admit that I haven’t put much thought into the meaning of life. For me, it’s the conclusion that this life is my one shot at finding either bliss or misery. Often it’s a bit of both, but my conscience (if that’s what you want to call it) guides me so simply seek out happiness whenever possible. I really don’t need an outside source to motivate me. I gain much satisfaction from doing what is right by my close family and by friends who have become so close that I consider them family. Having said that, my meaning of life seems to be to contribute to the preservation and happiness of those who have stuck by me. A pack mentality I suppose.
I don’t need an ancient text of rules to enlighten me on the negative outcome of living a life which would involve stealing and killing. I don’t know about stealing, but I’m fairly sure that the killing is a simple instinct that we’ve carried with us long before we became human. As I understand, most mammals or animals in general will not kill members of their own species unless it is in self defense. There are exceptions.
This instinct doesn’t only protect the individual harboring it, but the entire species that it is apart of. If this is true and the reason we don’t go around pillaging and burning everything down is simply that it isn’t good for the species as a whole, then the meaning of life must simply be to preserve life. To preserve the existence of the species.
This is just my opinion. No outside sources that I could think of. My meaning and happiness exist within the physical realm because I have never known another.



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Brian Beckman

posted May 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm


Haggs — I’d suspect in a population of individuals, some of whom follow any variant of the Golden Rule (let me call them goldens, for convenience), and some of whom follow the “Do unto others whatever you can get away with; just don’t get caught” rule (let me call them sociopaths, for convenience), the sociopaths would run all over the goldens and eventually fill up society because they will be more successful at passing on their genes. I think some evolutionary sociobiology simulations have found that variations of “tit for tat” are most successful in the long run, but goldens just get pillaged.



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Mark Sloan

posted May 5, 2009 at 6:03 pm


“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative?”
I accept the Golden Rule as good moral guidance. Perhaps the oldest recorded version of the Golden Rule is attributed to the “Eloquent Peasant” from Egypt and is over 3500 years old. It has been translated by R. B. Parkinson in his book The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant as “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.” This cultural moral standard advocates initiating positive behavior with a person who is capable of “doing for you” and the rationalization of why that action promises to be beneficial even if it costs a short term penalty, (“that you may cause him thus to do”). As a cultural standard, it is remarkably apt advocacy for initiating direct reciprocal altruism and obtaining the resulting synergistic material and emotional benefits of cooperation.
A more familiar version for many readers is from Christianity. In it, Jesus specifically states that the Golden Rule, all by itself, summarizes morality: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” New International Version of the Bible, Matthew 7:12. This quote is of special interest as an important cultural moral standard that purports to summarize all of morality. It advocates initiating both direct reciprocity and indirect reciprocity (as when no direct reciprocity is possible, but others may imitate your unselfishness in what have been shown in game theory to be evolutionarily viable cooperation strategies).
A willingness to initiate reciprocity whether direct (the Eloquent Peasant’s version) or both direct and indirect (the New Testament version) is the critical requirement for creating and maintaining the synergistic material and emotional benefits of long term cooperation.
This assertion is supported as scientifically valid by studies of the evolutionary origins of both brain heuristic mechanisms for choosing moral behaviors (like “mirror neurons” for empathy and oxytocin release for mother-to-immature-offspring bonding) and the evolution of cultural heuristics for moral behavior like the Golden Rule. In addition to describing how moral behaviors evolved as part of natural evolution, this assertion also defines a moral system based on acts being moral that are most likely to create and maintain “the synergistic material and emotional benefits of long term cooperation”.
But what makes such a moral system authoritative? The first part that makes it authoritative is that, if practiced, it is predicted (based in science) to be emotionally experienced as authoritative (perceiving pleasure from altruism and cooperation and guilt when we violate its standards) based on our evolved genetic heuristics mechanisms including those that generate our feelings of “ought” and shame. The second part of its authority come from an intellectual understanding that 1), on average and in the long term, it predicted (based in science) to be in our self interest (in terms of life satisfaction) to practice a morality that increases the long term material and emotional benefits of cooperation (the selection force responsible for the origins of morality), 2) a moral system defined by the same selection force (the benefits of cooperation) that created our biological heuristic mechanisms for moral behavior is predicted (based in science) to produce stronger justificatory feelings of “ought”, shame, and pleasure than any alternative secular moral system (like Utilitarianism), 3) practitioners are predicted (based in science) to feel less dissonance between their moral sentiments and what they intellectually think they morally ought to do than is likely with some religious moral standards (an example of this dissonance is what women feel who believe they are morally obligated by their religion to be subservient to men), and 4) such a moral system makes sense of under what specific conditions necessarily imperfect common moral standards like the Golden Rule must be abandoned (in order to behave morally) as in times of war or in dealing with criminals. This last insight into the purpose of morality may be particularly useful for soldiers and police to reduce the presently often painful dissonance between what they must do and what they have been taught is moral (whether from religious or secular authorities).
And to answer your question as to why agnostics and atheists read these pages, we in general feel the need for moral guidance in probably the same degree religious people do, but don’t have a morality handed to us; we have to figure it out as best we can. To date we are still pretty much on our own; there is no single generally accepted secular moral system with significant emotional justificatory force. There are reasons to expect though that a secular moral system based in the evolutionary origins of morality could become a generally accepted, useful secular moral reference for anyone who is not religious.



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Mark Sloan

posted May 5, 2009 at 6:15 pm


To Brian Beckman about “goldens”,
I would add to my above post that if one practices my understanding of a cooperation morality based in evolution, it immediately becomes obvious that the Golden Rule is an imperfect heuristic for picking acts that are moral. It can be rigorous shown with mathematical precision (in game theory) that for the benefits of cooperation to be maximized (for an act to be moral) individuals must be provokable to retaliation when they are treated unfairly (where that retaliation is limited to whatever is most likely to increase future long term cooperation).



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Turmarion

posted May 5, 2009 at 6:29 pm


Thelemite: [Neitzche] does demonstrate that in an absolute, universal sense, all morality is equally meaningless (or meaningful, depending on your perspective). However, that doesn’t mean that certain morals are not more appropriate for achieving certain goals (like personal happiness, freedom, world peace, etc) than others.
True–my point is that even seeing “personal happiness, freedom, world peace, etc.” as worthwhile goals is, to an extent, arbitrary. There are people out there (and not necessarily psychopaths) who are fine and dandy with war, pollution, slavery, injustice, etc., as long as they’ve got theirs. Many of them are in positions of political power.
Another example: Aleister Crowley, in explaining the Law of Thelema in Liber Oz, I think, says (editing for length), “Man has the right to live by his own law–to live in the way that he wills to do: to work as he will: to play as he will…to die when and how he will…to think what he will…to love as he will…. Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.” I know the tendency is to interpret “Do what thou wilt be the whole of the Law” as not actually meaning what it says, i.e. allowing for responsibility and not interfering with others, etc., but Crowley’s life and statements like this, to me, at least, seem very much at variance with such a “nuanced” interpretation.
Having said that, I have no wish to make people accept Christian morality as such. I tend to think that there are universal moral principles (don’t steal, don’t kill, treat others as you’d be treated, etc.) in all cultures and religions. My point is that for these principles to be anything other than arbitrary statements of preference, there must be something transcendent, call it what you will, behind them.



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Kieran

posted May 5, 2009 at 6:45 pm


I’m curious – how do religious people determine that “thou shalt not kill” is moral and “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” is not? Or do they think that witch-burning is entirely moral?



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Reginald Selkirk

posted May 5, 2009 at 7:27 pm


“It seems to me that…”
Wow, now there’s a rigorous intellectual argument.



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Reginald Selkirk

posted May 5, 2009 at 7:56 pm


The author appears to be philosophically naive. While expressing puzzlement over the source of atheist morals, he seems entirely unaware of the difficulties with God-derived morals expressed by Plato in his dialogue “Euthyphro” approx. 2400 years ago. Behind on his reading, perhaps? Maybe a little less blogging and a little more remedial philosophy reading? Many theist philosophers acknowledge the problems with Divine Command morality and adopt autonomous ethics ideas of their own.
So then, from whence does morality spring? Morality consists of rules for getting along with others. A lone person on a deserted island simply has no application for morals. Morals for groups of people are necessary, and inevitable. They are a pragmatic necessity for constructing societies. As such, we cannot expect existent moral codes to have deep philosophical purity.
Since moral codes arose pragmatically among groups of humans (other animals have them as well, but that’s another topic) we can expect them to have a degree of similarity across societies. After all, we are all the same species, moral codes do not arise from a “blank slate.” We can also expect differences in moral codes to appear, both from one society to another, and within one society. This does not support the theist hypothesis. After all, if everyone had some God-given moral code implanted in their brain, how is it that so much time and effort is spent on disagreeing about morals? For example, I find the thought of lying to schoolchildren about science in order to advance a theocratic agenda to be abhorent, and yet some other people apparently consider it to be a good thing.
However, this does not necessarily lead to a conclusion of complete cultural relativity. After all, we do all share much of our biology, due to our evolutionary roots. We also have science to guide our moral choices. (Example: science finds that the ingestion of lead leads to developmental abnormalities in children, then our society has a discussion about the implications and we decide that childhood development is more important than cheap paint, and we ban the use of lead in paint.) We can also try to make our moral systems better and more consistent through the application of reason.
Clearly then, an understanding of our evolutionary biological origins might provide much insight into our moral codes and our moral reasoning. This is one good reason for ensuring that our children have adequate education in evolution.



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Reverend AtheiStar

posted May 5, 2009 at 10:44 pm


Morality is partly learned. For an example of how it is learned, and hence subjective, one only need to look at the Bible. The Bible clearly states in Leviticus 20:13 that homosexuality is a sin that should be punished with death. This divine command is considered moral by many Christians — and some faithfully carry it out. I totally disagree. I think it’s highly immoral and I’m glad our laws aren’t based on this barabaric religious philosophy. For another, just look at Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Add this to John 15:6 “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” and you have the makings of the Witch Hunts, the three Inquisitions and the Holocaust! I don’t find any of that moral. I guess I just learned differently, huh?
The other part of morality — and this is where the universals really come into play — is within us. Our emotional system has evolved as a way of making snap decisions that would take our brains far too long to calculate. When you find something immoral it is because you feel that it is, i.e. you recieve a chemical cocktail in your bloodstream that makes you feel bad. It works the same for something that is moral. You receieve a chemical cocktail that makes you feel good. If something is especially nice, you might even cry. Al the other emotions we feel are the same. They make us feel a certain way and we react accordingly. This is the realm of biology, not theism.



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Turmarion

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:18 pm


Kieran: Different religious people in different religions would answer differently, although few Christians are in favor of killing witches! Most thoughtful Christians (the only religion I can directly speak for, although I think many Jews would agree, in part) would say that the course of history recorded in the Bible shows a slow development from barbaric, tribal-based morality towards civilized, universal morality. Jesus indicates this when he speaks of the permission for divorce being given because the people’s “hearts were so hard” (Matthew 19:7-8)–implying that many of the commands of the Old Testament were the product of human failure to live up to the higher ethic God called them to. Thus, I, for one, would say that some of the stuff like killing witches is a certain amount of cultural “static” that entered Scripture, not God’s command, and was eventually transcended.
Reverend AtheiStar: Morality is partly learned
True–but that puts you back to the basic dilemma. The morality learned by slave-holding Southerners in the pre-Civil-War period was very much different from that learned by the children of Abolitionists. The morality learned in Nazi Germany was very much different from that learned in America. Both were different from that learned in the Soviet Union.
Now it’s true we can say, “The slave-holder ethics were evil and wrong, as were Nazi ethics.” But, on what grounds does one make this decision? I mean, German, Russian, and English are all learned as a part of the local culture. It’s not a matter of good and bad–just what you learn. Ditto whether you like schnitzel, borscht, or hot dogs. Well, so how are ethics different, from a perspective that assumes no ultimate meaning?
You could say that slavery or Nazism are bad for humanity, but the slaveholders and Nazis would disagree. They thought it was actually better for the slaves to be slaves (in the first case), and good for the Jews, homosexuals, deformed, etc. to be liquidated to make room for vigorous Aryans in the second.
You could say that slavery or Nazism is “repugnant”, but to those raised in those systems, they apparently weren’t.
You could say, “Slavery and genocide are just wrong!” But on what basis? If you are asserting this as a transcendent principle, then you’re not a pure materialist any more. If you assert this on the grounds of human happiness, human dignity, human equality, or whatever, well, there are lots of people out there that will deny your assertions and make arguments (some of which, though morally repugnant, are at least are well-argued logically) showing why you’re the one who’s wrong.
It’s like an old example I used awhile back on a different blog: Both I and a Nazi could agree that handicapped people have a difficult time in society. I conclude from that the ethic of making society more handicapped-accessible, and raising societal awareness of the needs of such people. The Nazi concludes that such people should be eliminated to be put out of their misery and for the greater good of society. I might protest it’s an offense against human rights and dignity, but the Nazi responds that only the healthy Aryan has full human dignity and rights. All others have such rights and dignity, if at all, in lesser degrees. So on what grounds do I tell the Nazi he’s wrong, if I cannot appeal to the transcendent?
Reginald Selkirk: Your point about the Euthyphro is well-taken. Everyone of any persuasion should read it, as it pretty much demolishes any simplistic view of Divine Command ethics. I would say that it’s more a case that God, in creating the cosmos and mankind, left a certain “authorial style”, if you will, in His creation. Part of this is the ethical law (what C. S. Lewis follows Laozi in calling the Tao). Just as an artist expresses himself in his art, so with God. Thus it’s not so much a question of the good being good because God “commanded” it, or its being “God-beloved” (the term Plato has Socrates use and quite rightly take down in flames), but more a matter of its being an expression of God’s nature. So in other words, it’s not a matter of the good being good because God commands it, or God commanding it because it’s good–it’s that God and the Good are one. So doing “good” is more a matter of understanding and conforming oneself to the Tao/divine nature/dharma/ma’at or whatever term you want to use.
As such, we cannot expect existent moral codes to have deep philosophical purity.
Excellent and important point. There is no ethical system that I’ve ever studied, even those espoused by my own religion, that can be treated in a perfectly consistent manner without resulting in abominable results at times. E.g., Divine Command ethics: What if God commands you to fly into a skyscraper? What if you and I have different notions about what God commands? Deontological ethics: Do you do your duty even if the CO tells you to torch the village? Utilitarian ethics: Who decides whose “utility” is paramount? And so on. I think we can learn things from all the major ethical systems, but none of them works well if taken too much “straight up”. In this area, some inconsistency and impurity is a very good thing.
We can also try to make our moral systems better and more consistent through the application of reason.
On the other hand, who determines how we define “better” and “more consistent”? As I just pointed out, I think that too much consistency is bad (e.g. Kant’s insane consistency in teaching that it’s wrong to lie even to save a life). As to better–well, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, and others have had some pretty clear ideas of “better”, which resulted in lots of dead people. On a less drastic level, there is still huge disagreement. The secular philosopher Peter Singer thinks that “better” would mean that we all become vegetarians and give almost all of our discretionary resources away. Randian Objectivists, while still secular, would disagree one hundred per cent with this. The point is that I don’t really see any greater unanimity among secular ethicists based on “reason” than I do among religious ethicists.
Having said all this, I do think that all people of good will must make common cause where possible, and try as much as possible to keep moral discussion open and civil, while applying a “live and let live” ethos as much as possible.



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Tim

posted May 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm


Well said Reginald, I was hoping someone would bring up those points.
What we think of as God given morality is really only that which enhances our viability as a biological species.
The reality of this resonates with us beyond the conscious intellect which probably helps to explain the common association with the supernatural.



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SWEJ

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:05 am


Q: Where do non-believers get their morals?
A: The same place as everyone else: From our nature, our culture, and our individual tendencies.
Only loonies like the Phelps gang (that shameful Westboro Baptist Church) actually get their morals straight from the bible. Every rational person must investigate Ethics as they relate to the real world.



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Lowell

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:42 am


I can’t vouch for others, but Google news alerts are what often bring me here, particularly when some theocracy proponent or anti-science Luddite posts something patently absurd. Usually it’s some foolishness from the anti-American ACLJ and their lame attempts to stifle religious freedom for all except the “right” breed of Christian. Or it’s someone who fancies themselves an “expert” on what atheists believe, and post all sorts of absurdities and strawmen which have no basis in reality.



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Your Name

posted May 6, 2009 at 2:30 am


Turmarian:
For cultural “static”, the incitement to witch-burning seems to have been influential for at least 1700 years. Doubtless it’s still taken seriously in parts of the third world.
I suppose the incitements to slavery were also cultural static. The bible was cited in US Congress in defense of slavery.
In any case, you can hardly say that the bible is the word of god and then claim that its contents include cultural “static”. Without an independent moral sense, how can you tell that the Jesus quotes should be taken literally and the stuff about slavery disregarded, instead of the other way around.
If the argument is that you can only make moral sense of the bible by reading it through what I’ll describe as “modern glasses”, I’d rather throw away a book which has been used to justify so much evil and keep the glasses.



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Sivasailam Thiagarajan

posted May 6, 2009 at 9:59 am


Fortunately, not from the bible which is full of recommendations for killing people for minor infringements like working on a Sunday. Not from the Hindu religious texts I was brought up on, that suggest a fatalistic acceptance of my lot in life.
I get my morality by an urge to make the lives of other people (and other sentient beings) safer, happier, healthier, and more peaceful.



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Turmarion

posted May 6, 2009 at 10:46 am


Your Name at 2:30 AM: In any case, you can hardly say that the bible is the word of god and then claim that its contents include cultural “static”.
This would be true only if I were a Fundamentalist, committed to verbal inerrancy. Given that I’m not, it’s no problem. Revelation from God to man is like a broadcast to a very poor, staticy receiver, that is, humans. We get some of the real stuff, but our imperfections, cultural assumptions, etc. inflict a lot of static on the message.
If the argument is that you can only make moral sense of the bible by reading it through what I’ll describe as “modern glasses”
My point is that we all, Christian, Jew, pagan, atheist, see morality through a pair of “glasses”. The question is, where do these “glasses” come from? A believer says they come from God (through indirect means, of course). No alternative can avoid making them arbitrary. Even if you say that human nature and biology dictate what our “moral glasses” are like, well, even secularists disagree about what “human nature” is. If you posit a cosmos with no inherent meaning, there is no ultimate basis on which to reject a Nazi’s moral glasses and prefer those of someone nicer, fill in the blank.



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Jackie Lavache

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:43 am


Humans are not the only species capable of altruistic acts. It has been studied in other animals, not just humans. Kindness comes from the desire to live and propagate. We have an evolutionary need to not kill our own kind and foster good relations. It’s not a complicated concept.
Why is it that nations that are more secular have a healthier society than those that are more religious? Why is it that atheists are severely unrepresented in jails? Most importantly, if you found out tomorrow god did not exist then would you cease to be moral? And if you would, than whose morality is better? Morality that is perceived to come from a sky bully, or the morality that comes from genuine concern for other people and is not contingent on being told so.



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Thelemite

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:56 am


Tumarion:
“True–my point is that even seeing ‘personal happiness, freedom, world peace, etc.’ as worthwhile goals is, to an extent, arbitrary.”
I agree that seeing such goals as worthwhile is arbitrary in the sense that there is no reason a person could not just as easily have contrary goals in mind. We could, as a society, decide to forsake peaceful and cooperative ideals in favor of anarchy and destruction – if we are willing to live with the consequences. It is only our desire to live with as little fear and as much prosperity as possible that keeps the more positive goals in the forefront, as time has shown us that they are the best ways of maintaining our preferred way of life.
You say that in order to see morality as something more than a matter of preference, there must be something transcendent behind them. If it were just a matter of preference, we could expect to see people holding completely opposite values, some seeking after life, others after death. We would expect to see people like Stalin, groups like the Nazis, and people “who are fine and dandy with war, pollution, slavery, injustice, etc.” if there were no ingrained, shared sense of morality in the universe – but those are precisely the things we do see. The only shared morals we find across the board are those that are most useful, and even they are sometimes disputed.
Lastly, I appreciate the Crowley reference. I will simply say that Crowley himself wrote at considerable length about how “Do what thou wilt” does not mean “Do whatever you please”. He devoted many, many pages to what he meant by “will”. I believe he wrote a commentary on Liber Oz as well, but to my mind the language only seems severe when taken too literally. Obviously it would be a mistake to kill someone just because they asked you to wear a tie to a formal event (per your right to “dress as you will”), but if the same person threatened you with death if you did not wear what they told you to wear, a more extreme defense of your rights would be justified.



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AZ

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm


I don’t quite understand the reasoning of the author, but the answer is simple: the meaning of life is life itself. All the things that make life enjoyable give life its meaning: eating, drinking, listening to music, making love, are only a few examples. I’d be very unhappy if I required a supernatural being to tell me that it’s oke to enjoy these things.
With regard to morality, there is no need for a supernatural being (Abrahamic God or otherwise) to dictate us these rules. They are not only obvious from an evolutionary and social perspective (for example “though shalt not kill”) but also because they are lacking in content (for example with regard to rape and slavery). As for the people in question: they must be moral irrespective of the consequences (e.g. hell/heaven, punishment/reward, etc). How else can you be truly “good”?



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Bill

posted May 6, 2009 at 2:56 pm


First you must understand that Atheist =/= Anti-Theist. Atheism is not a position, it is the lack of one on the matter of there being a God or Gods. As well, Gnosticism implies knowledge, so the two are absolutely not mutually exclusive. Personally, I am an Ignostic, Agnostic Atheist. I don’t know one way or the other (Agnostic) I don’t think anyone else knows either (Ignostic) and I don’t believe there’s a God (Atheism.) Not believing in a God is different from believing that there is No God or Gods though.
To finally answer your question, people give meaning to life. People give meaning to the words in the languages they’ve made, people give meaning to the things they do and ultimately to the lives they live. There is no separate system for meaning as you’ve assumed is such in your example. Language is a part of the same world it inhabits, just as all thought is. Dualism might imply they are on separate planes, but I kinda think Dualism is garbage too, so there ya go. :-)
In regards to your morality question: What would make a God’s/creator’s opinion on these matters more important than my own? Morality is a part of society and it develops naturally. Why don’t Piranha kill themselves in a feeding frenzy? Is it because some Piranha God declared it so, or was it simply weeded out over time to better support the society through natural selection?



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Reginald Selkirk

posted May 6, 2009 at 4:29 pm


Turmarion: “This would be true only if I were a Fundamentalist, committed to verbal inerrancy. Given that I’m not, it’s no problem. Revelation from God to man is like a broadcast to a very poor, staticy receiver, that is, humans. We get some of the real stuff, but our imperfections, cultural assumptions, etc. inflict a lot of static on the message.”
How convenient for you! You get to cherry-pick which parts of the Bible are the real, true, Word of God, and which parts are static. The usefulness of this has been apparent throughout history. Science discovers that the Earth is not flat, suddenly you can reinterpret those passages in the Bible as being static, not God’s Word. Science discovers that the Earth is not the center of the universe, and suddenly you can reinterpret those passages as static, not God’s word. The Enlightenment comes along, and people realize that owning other people is wrong and immoral, and suddenly you can reinterpret those passages of the Bible as static, and not God’s Word. Treatment of women, stoning of disrespectful children, stoning of people who work on the Sabbath, insects not having four legs, rabbits not chewing cuds… whatever has to be jettisoned, can be jettisoned. But the rest, well that’s really and truly the Word of the God whose name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14).
A counter-question for the author of the post: how do those persons who claim that morality is absolute and unchanging square this belief with the actual history of mankind? Isn’t it obvious that moral standards previously held – even written in stone – are no longer accepted as being legitimate, or even moral? Is the dissonance really not apparent to you?



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Turmarion

posted May 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm


Reginald: Secularists cherry-pick moral systems, too, if you want to put it that way. A Randian Objectivist, a Nietzschean, a secular humanist, a Marxist, a Nazi, and an existentialist would all agree that there is no God or spiritual realm, and that secularism is preferable to religion; but on ethical and moral questions, that’s about all they’d agree on. The point is, if the cosmos is essentially devoid of meaning, there is no real ground upon which I can argue that the Nazi’s or Marxist’s views are “worse” than those of the secular humanist. There is no reason to believe that people devoid of faith will necessarily act from “reason”, or that pure reason will necessarily produce good results.
Having said this, I think most atheists, agnostics, etc. are as good and moral as anyone else. I just think there is no tenable basis for this–but of course, most people, believers or not, act for reasons that may or may not be tenable, anyway.



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scott

posted May 6, 2009 at 10:51 pm


Dear David,
I’m a little drunk at the moment so I may not answer this very well. If you want, you can contact me at ROT13 eboreg_fcnz@lnubb.pbz
Anyway, I’ll play along.
I routinely do a google news search on the word “atheist” and your article popped up. It’s not like we all troll religious sites.
You say, “If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it? Your conscience? But why obey that, when it’s merely part of the same physical system that gave rise to you and your body (which of course are the same thing)?
My moral judgment is not authoritative for anyone but me. I make the moral judgment authoritative for myself and myself alone. What compels you to obey it? Me, my conscience. Why obey it? I don’t believe there is an “outside” influence that compels me to obey it nor do I think there is an outside intelligence that I will someday be answerable to. I don’t want to live in a world where people are immoral. There,fore I do my part. I obey it because it helps make the kind of world I want to live in.
Your question presupposes a lot. Have you stopped to consider where the Muslims or animists get their moral authority from?
Also I wanted to tell you where I get meaning from. Hate. It’s hate that gets me out of bed in the morning. Hate of injustice. Hate of cancer (I work treating cancer). Hate of the persistent superstition propagated by religion. Hate of action without thought. Hate of litter. I find for me personally, hate is a greater motivator than love; and I get out of bed to carry on the fight the gods are supposed to have fought.
I’m going to bed.
-AA



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Reginald Selkirk

posted May 7, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Turmarion: “Secularists cherry-pick moral systems, too”
I don’t understand your point, since secularist do not consider those moral systems to be the infallible utterings of the Lord High Creator of the Universe.
“The point is, if the cosmos is essentially devoid of meaning, there is no real ground upon which I can argue that the Nazi’s or Marxist’s views are “worse” than those of the secular humanist.”
Not so. You are saying that if something is not eternal, it has no value at all. The burrito I had for lunch was not eternal, and yet it was good and I appreciated and valued it. See comments I have already made about our moral systems arising in part from our biology and our circumstance, rather than from a “blank slate.” Thus in many cases there are rational and pragmatic grounds for judging one system to be superior to another.



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Ben Dreidel

posted May 7, 2009 at 11:18 pm


David Klinghoffer said: “It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system.”
Then, by your definition, the whole of reality is meaningless. (There is no ‘outside’ of everything that is real.)
For myself, meaning is assigned by any thinking subject, and I assign it myself for myself.



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PhillyChief

posted May 8, 2009 at 1:30 am


All believers choose to believe what they believe, and in so doing, make a choice of what will be their absolute moral authority. That’s right, far from there being an absolute authority which is self evident, believers pick and choose one. Now granted, most inherit a religion from their folks, but they still pick and choose interpretations of it. So I’m puzzled why believers seem so troubled by the idea that atheists pick and choose their own meaning to life and own set of morals, because so do they.

If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it?

Perhaps the same thing which tells you you’re right about your choice of faith, and further, your choice of interpretations of the texts of your faith. In other words, perhaps instinct, feelings, or applied intellect.
It’s a mistake to think atheists alone have no absolute authority. None of us do. We all choose who or what to assign as our authority. Just as we assign the label “cat” to a cat, “meaning” to what we consider meaningful, we, of all faiths as well as no faith, assign authority as well. A religious person has chosen to believe and thus, has chosen an absolute authority. The idea that there actually is an absolute authority, independent of us, is only an idea, an idea you can choose to believe.
That’s perhaps the first thing I’d like to separate from this challenge, the assertion that there is an absolute authority and the idea that there is an absolute authority. Should someone make an effective argument that basing a moral code on an absolute authority is superior than not doing so, that still doesn’t address whether there actually is an absolute authority or not. The religious position seems to be to attack a system which has no absolute authority and should they be triumphant in that endeavor, then that magically makes their absolute authority real. No, no, no, that would do nothing of the kind. Validating the effects of belief does not make the belief true. (Personally, I see no value in a belief based on an invention.)
I should also point out that there are atheists who do believe there’s an absolute authority of sorts, for many believe in an objective morality. They may be right, and humanity’s moral variances across time, distance and culture may be one massive experiment through which one day we uncover what that objective morality is. Personally, I have trouble accepting that, but it’s possible. It could potentially explain how many philosophies and religions share a great deal of common morals.
I’ve addressed mostly morals, but the challenge included meaning in life as well. I’d say, even more so than morals, meaning truly is an individual choice. Are two religious people identical? Do all believers have the same careers, the same loves, hobbies, families, etc? Of course not. EACH has unique things which they feel gives meaning to their lives. How, then, can there be an absolute authority for that? That’s the epitome of individual, not some exterior, absolute authority.



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Ordained Atheist

posted May 8, 2009 at 8:14 am


There is no Meaning. However, if you feel you must have meaning in your life, you are develop your own. The cap-M Meaning is the cosmic one (doesn’t exist); the lower-case m meaning is what you decide for your life, if you decide you need it. Atheists find meaning in their work, families, passions, just like anyone else. Atheists — nor you — have ‘Meaning.’
Consider your theory that meaning “by definition needs to come from outside a given system.” If that’s true, then whence comes your deities Meaning? Outside? I don’t mind when theists employ special pleading (they always do); I just wish they’d admit it once in a while.
Even theists create their own meaning. Look at you: you define meaning as “values, ideals, morals”, and assume those are Meaningful to everyone. Says who?
Morals (derived from moral systems, which are interlocking sets of evolved psychological mechanisms–including emotions — that serve to regulate selfishness and make social life possible. [see Jonathan Haidt] are similar to Meaning. “God” doesn’t explain the origins of morality, unless you have solved one of the oldest conundrums in philosophy [see Euthyphro's dilemma].
I have been on an atheist forum for a few years where we welcome theists to challenge our non-beliefs. I sometimes venture out to sites like beliefnet to see if there are any new or imaginative arguments. To date, there aren’t.
One last thing: your challenge included agnostics. Everyone, including you, is an agnostic, unless you have proven the existence of God. Have you?



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5ive

posted May 8, 2009 at 3:47 pm


I honestly do not understand what one means by a meaning of life. And how can anything be “outside” our experiences? I can understand explanations and curiosity, but “meaning” does not make sense. Is just that it is hard for some people to accept that maybe we are just here and that is it? Is it the innate imagination that is responsible for the amazing things humans are capable of that runs astray when it comes to our own actions?
Now values and morals I understand. They are words assigned to actions performed by people (and sometimes animals). Maybe you are trying to say how does an atheist, with no sense of duality in anyway deal with the idea that we are somehow capable of good and bad actions? I would say that it really comes down to species survival. We are pack animals are, as such, rely on others of our kind to help care for our young and each other. Without an innate desire to help others, out species would not have made it very far. The action of helping or caring (especially for the young) is likely born out of a survival trait that allowed humans to leave behind more viable offspring than those that disregard the health and well being of other humans. I think it is just the humans that have assigned a nebulous description of “good” to these actions.
But I still do not understand why we need meaning in life at all. I am very content to do everything I can to make the world a better place in as many ways that I can. I do not see why that has to be the meaning of life. I see as just something that is just part of life and nothing special.
How is it authoritative? It isn’t. Why does it need to be? Do you mean to say, that without the authority of a deity, you would be out raping and pillaging? No, you wouldn’t (at least, I really hope not). Why do you feel the need to have an authority? I guess society could be seen as a sort of authority, if you hurt others, society will shun you at best and punish you at worst, but if you rely on society (or a 2000 year old book) than you don’t even own your own morals. They are foisted upon you and you are less likely (statistically speaking) to stay with them.
What I choose to do is ultimately my choice, just as your actions are ultimately your choice. We are really no different that each other in that.



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Your Name

posted May 8, 2009 at 5:52 pm


You ask: “From where do you derive meaning in life?” It begins in the brain, David. Before I had one, I do not recall what was going on. After I don’t have one, can the circumstance be any different?
“It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system.” It seems to me that the Puget Sound is connected to the Pacific Ocean. Drawing a dividing line is the start of religion.
“For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like ‘hat’ or ‘cat,’ it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers.” A rose by any other name may still have thorns.
“Where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?” From living it.
“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative?” The police.
“What compels you to obey it?” My experience of being deprived of the basic liberty to not believe in other’s superstitions.
Thanks for asking!



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Brent

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:12 pm


As an atheist I accept that this is the one and only life we have, thereby making it infinitely more important, precious, and meaningful than anything religion offers. Each moment is more valuable simply because our time is brief, and when you treasure life itself, it is not hard to derive moral, ethical, even political beliefs.



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David L

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:15 pm


I find it hard to hear a believer questioning non-believers’ morality, considering that the morality of faith is based on the idea of a killer god who, in spite of supposed intelligent design of the universe, couldn’t come up with an alternative to the foreknown outcome of human creation. The idea of that there is something fundamentally wrong with human beings is morally bankrupt. But then, I think you and other believers need thhis story to hide your inadequacies and compensatory sense of superiority.



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Smasher

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:27 pm


Language is a better metaphor than you realize, but it works against you point, not for it, because language (the connection between sounds/letters and objects) is not something that exists outside the human mind. It does not refer to an objective reality.
Would you also suggest that the sounds and letters for “hat” and “cat” have some meaning intrinsic in the universe, or intrinsic in the cat, or handed down by God? Or is the connection between C-A-T and the four-footed furbaby something that humans have imagined, and agreed to among themselves?
I hope it’s option (2), because option (1) would imply that one language is better than others, and not just an convenient convention that works if enough people believe in it.
So here we are – language was NOT handed down by God, it’s something that humans worked out for themselves – and it works. Why can’t morality be the same?



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JP

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:35 pm


One thing I don’t understand is why theists demand answers to every question they can think of and if no answer is currently known, it’s attributed to a deity.
We (as a race) will figure it out eventually. It’s not about getting to your destination, it’s about the journey. And right now is one of the most exciting times when it comes to scientific discovery, etc.
So stop worrying about things we currently don’t know and live your life having fun and caring for your fellow man. :)



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Your Name

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:51 pm


“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it? Your conscience? But why obey that, when it’s merely part of the same physical system that gave rise to you and your body (which of course are the same thing)?”
Because I want to. Seriously. When I was younger I decided what I thought was right or wrong, and I decided that I didn’t want to do the wrong thing. I retain the same list (albeit somewhat modified as I’ve matured) and I still don’t want to do the wrong thing. I don’t find the need for any external motivational factors like “I’ll go to hell if I do this” to restrain myself from doing things that I, myself, have defined as things I don’t want to do.



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Your Name

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:55 pm


1. Not all words refer to things external to the language. What does ‘and’ point to in the world? How about ‘of’ or ‘to’ or ‘how’ or ‘about’? Yet it’s not the case that these words lack meaning.
2. When asking about the meaning of life we are not asking about what life points to outside itself, we are asking about it’s purpose (in the same way that we would ask “what is the meaning of your placing my suitcase beside the door?”). There is no reason to assume that purposes must be defined from without. We are conscious rational beings – we can devise our own purposes.
3. Nothing from outside need compel me to obey my own moral judgements – that’s what moral judgements are. The decision is mine. You might want to ask about where such decisions come from, how they are justified, etc. There are plenty of books and plenty of lively debate on this matter. But do not mistake the lack of complete and total agreement for some sort of moral weakness – it’s not.



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julieb

posted May 8, 2009 at 8:02 pm


My behavior reflects the way I want to the world to be. I do not need promise of reward or threat of punishment to be a good person. I’m here to strengthen the human race and I do that by raising my kids to be good citizens.
It might take 5000 years but humans will one day shed religion. It’s influence has decline dramatically in just the last 200. A blink of an eye in the history of the human species.



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Dave

posted May 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm


My moral judgements aren’t authoritative. They are derived from a base assumption I’ve made for myself and have decided to build off of. There is a widely varied supporting structure behind this assumption, but it would take a long time and you probably already agree for your own reasons. This assumption is that pepetuating life as we know it for as long as possible is an appealiong goal.
To do so, we need to develop the ability to escape the earth before major astrnomical collision. This requires advanced scientific knowledge, which requires complex and sustainable society to support research, which requires stable population and social order, which requires a certain degree of interpersonal harmony. Basic interpersonal ethics of mutual respect and environmental responsibility follow logically.
I don’t need, nor have any reason to believe in, a god. I just need to think critically about what I would like to happen in the long term and make choices consistent with that goal.



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Donnie Davies

posted May 8, 2009 at 8:43 pm


True Christians will not even read the comments of unbelieving apostates as this would be the equivalent of inviting the devil right into your mind! I remember being indoctrinated at a young age, and being told that investigating ANY alternative theories to what I was being taught would be outright immoral. I honestly think that was the main reason I stopped believing in whatever I was told…



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Moral Athiest

posted May 8, 2009 at 8:55 pm


Morality is inherent in the species.
1. The premise that morality must be handed down from above is belied by the fact that generations of humans on distant continents lived peacefully in their own groups without knowledge of a god.
2. There are Billions of people on this planet today that live, work, love and have families that do not know god. Billions.
3. We can see that some morality is inherent in the species. For example, the youngest child understands “fairness” when dividing a cupcake, before they can speak. Most importantly, we have “empathy”–the ability to imagine feel the happiness and pain of another human. Another’s pain is our pain. This single trait embeds all the lessons of “do unto others”, but the pain of mistreating another is immediate, not one threatened in the afterlife.
4. Some morality is handed down culturally from parent to child. In many places, this is codified in one of a million different religions. In others, it is considered the teachings of an elder (Think Confusionism). Some of these lessons are universal (do not kill). Other are more regional (you must not look upon a woman’s hair, you must not work on Saturday).
5. Some morality is codified and enforced. Eventually, large groups of people get together and find that there is no “universal” morality, so they agree upon a number of rules that allow for a functioning society. These will most likely overlap some of the natural moral beliefs, as well as the cultural, but are primarily focused upon the civil interactions between people (you must honor a contract, you must stop a red light).
6. Some morality is imposed by other groups. Because there is no ‘universal’ morality, there will be disagreement between groups about what is ‘right’. Christianity, for example, was one of thousands of gnostic groups in the Middle East, but when adopted by the Romans, became the universal, or catholic, law of the land.
It can be difficult to see where one source of morality starts and the other leaves off, so often people over-simplify the source. For example, many would claim that the 10 commandments are universal, but few are in force today and some are in conflict with law. For example, no one is being jailed for working on Saturday and it is embedded in the Constitution that you may have as many gods as you please, in direct contradiction with the the first commandment.
It is perfectly possible lead a moral and good life without religion. Millions have proved it. It is a fundamental belief of some religions that humankind is inherently evil without the grace of god.
Perhaps the “belief” of atheists is this: humankind is inherently moral. The proof is that we would not have survived as a species were we not.



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Richard G.

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:01 pm


“From where do you derive meaning in life?” It all depends on what you mean by “meaning”. What is my “purpose”? I have none. My destiny is a combination of choices and predisposition. (Choices is used loosely here, as I do not believe in free will.) What keeps me going day-to-day? A combination of the stick (consequences) and the carrot (rewards).
“It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system.” “Meaning” is something that is ascribed by intelligent beings; it’s an etheral concept that has importance in though and communication doesn’t occur naturally. Perhaps meaning needs to come from outside of the system but that does not mean that everything (or anything) has meaning.
“where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?” A combination of “Do unto others” and needs, as identified through experience.
“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative?” Logic, supported by evidence, and tested by experience. This combination is supported by reality, not by proclamation.
“What compels you to obey it? Your conscience?” My conscience and a desire to be effective in what I do instead of wasteful in my efforts.
“But why obey that, when it’s merely part of the same physical system that gave rise to you and your body (which of course are the same thing)?” Because it’s what works the best.



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tired atheist

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:10 pm


ah, this lovely canard again.
yes morality is subjective. get over it.
subjective is not equivalent to worthless.
your sense of taste and your flavor preferences are completely subjective. yes your genetics and cultural background will influence your preferences but still. they are subjective.
by your reasoning then eating chocolate cake is perfectly the same as eating sh*t (excuse the language but it is necessary to the analogy). if subjective is worthless then of course it’s equivalent to eat either one correct?
no. it’s not.
your morals develop from your culture, your genetics (yes evolution helped your morals evolve, and we can even demonstrate this), and your personal experiences and emergent thought processes.
why do atheists get so tired of listening to theists? why do atheists routinely read the crud theists write?
maybe it’s because we are being told we are amoral without god? or maybe that we are treated like second class citizens? (depending on state, if in the us, or country, thats very literal).
your the theist, you supposedly have a connection to a higher power and your ‘side’ supposedly has the moral high ground….so why is it that my ‘side’ is not the one doing the dehumanizing?



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Ray

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:13 pm


Logic exists outside my brain. It’s inherent in reality. It is, in some way, inherent in the notion of definition. Is that a good enough external source of morality?
Logic tells me that if most everyone lives by the creed of leaving the world a better place than when they arrived on it, the world will, ipso facto (indeed, by definition) over time become “better”.
I don’t actually care that much what people define as “better”, except to the extent that no harm is done to others without their consent (otherwise it interferes with this logical rule and makes possible the opposite outcome).



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Paul Prescod

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:20 pm


How do you decide which of the main gods available to pray to? Allah? The Trinity? Jehovah? Odin? Shiva? Zeus?
How do you prioritize and organize which of the thousands of contradictory and competing commandments to follow? Is there REALLY no situation under which you should EVER lie? No situation at all?
Ultimately, you rely on your own intuition about what is right and wrong. Even if there were a God, YOU CHOOSE to follow him. So you invent your own morality. It is YOU who would feel guilty if you chose not to follow God. If God were evil according to your principles, you presumably would not follow him “just because he’s God”.
Consider it from a Abrahamic point of view: In Genesis 18:25, Abraham argued with God. If God is *by definition* the source of morality, then why would Abraham have to argue with him? There is obviously a source of ethics and morals outside of God which Abraham refers to when talking to God. So if God is not the source of morals, then maybe the uncomfortable truth is that we are all individual sources of our OWN morality. That rather jibes with observations you can make every day, doesn’t it?



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Christopher

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:20 pm


I don’t know why this discussion got off on some mumbo-jumbo discussion of the meaning of life. The author intentionally or unintentionally is making a flawed assumption when asking his question.
First he states:
“… When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers. ”
Ok, we have concepts and they are derived from a reality outside concepts. So far so good. Now read what he follows that with:
“In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences. If there’s nothing outside nature or physicality, as atheism presupposes or as agnosticism leans toward supposing, then where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?”
So language refers the “reality outside,” but values and meanings apparently cannot refer to that same reality and leap over it to “outside nature or physicality.”
This trick by the author is absurd. We know that language, meaning and values are all internal concepts that we use for “physical-, material-based experiences.” It is just as obvious that we are taught our values and what is important in life by our family and society as a whole. The process of learning these things, whether through parenting, education or the individual seeking them out, is well known to all of us.
The author then asks:
“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it? Your conscience? ”
Again, the reality is that we are taught what is right or wrong, and society makes those “moral judgments” authoritative with its laws and customs. No outside wrath is required.
Of course the author will ask “where did society or your parents get these morals?” This leads us to the unwritten premise here. The author proposes that, for example, when the Israelites allegedly wandered out into the desert they did not know not to steal and murder. The author proposes that they needed to be told it by some force “outside nature or physicality,” and that we still do today.
However, we know that these values and meanings were well known and followed by humans long before the Abrahamic god supposedly revealed or enforced them. They come from the thought and struggle of humans over tens of thousands of years. Many of these values, such equal rights under the law and freedom from slavery, are not supported in ancient texts. It is the continued struggle by people that spreads these values.



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Plato

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:35 pm


Dooood, it’s like we’re all just like chained in this cave looking at shadows on a wall. Did I just blow your mind?
Wait, Plato’s cave metaphor was hashed out a couple millenia ago. Read a book, man, your ignorance is showing.



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J Char

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:40 pm


Human morality, on a personal or even cultural level is certainly not derived from the church or any religious doctrine. The bible contains many contradictory elements.
When violence, hatred and tyranny are condoned in certain passages, some people take those instances to be moral or ethical. Why shouldn’t they? It’s the word of God. Granted we call those people fundamentalists and even religious moderates might accuse them of taking things too seriously… but what moderates do is read those abhorrent passages and think “that’s just a story/metaphor/crazy version of how things were 2000 years ago” and then they chose the golden rule and certain commandments and say “THESE are moral, this must be what god really was aiming for”.
Why the ambiguity? It doesn’t matter actually. My point is that the cognitive aspect in people that can discern the difference between those good and bad bible passages, that’s where I (along with every religious person who doesn’t take every word of the document to be literally true) get my morals.
I try not to direct my life to any particular purpose. I like to learn and grow, intellectually and spiritually (though not in the soul-based supernatural-spirit way) but I don’t approach these things as if they were tasks. They seem to come naturally to me when I clear my head of all my internal and external nonsense.



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j3rry

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:45 pm


What you fail to realize is that morals are evolved. Lets take two tribes of primitive hunter-gatherers.
Group A treats each other nicely, cares for the sick, don’t frequently beat or kill each other.
Group B is rife with theft, beatings for food, and killing.
Which group is more likely to survive?
Its not about good and evil, it’s about self vs tribe (or group w/e you wanna call it).



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J Char

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:49 pm


On the point of what makes those judgments authoritative -
They don’t need be set in stone authoritative. They can adapt or be adjusted as they interact dynamically (giving and taking) from an individual or a culture. They just have to be reasonable and practical. The same type of adaptation has happened within almost every major organized religion. Additionally, many of the moral basis of Judaism and Christianity and then Islam were around long before their respective prophets or holy books made their rounds.



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scornflake

posted May 8, 2009 at 9:53 pm


Agreed. Evolution seems to hold the key. As a species, we are absolutely dependent upon others to thrive. We have multiple mechanisms in place to that end. Even those who are not wired for faith are aware that acting for the greater good benefits us all.



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Alan Wortman

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:10 pm


I would say that a judgment I make about how to treat others I do so more often than not as a snap decision. But why? This sounds, on its face, to be a flippant blurb and not very dense in the way of philosophical content, but I hope to explain myself more fully below.
I’ve never been perfect, and I readily admit to that. Even still, I have seen other people be very mean and violent, and it left me with a feeling in my gut that I don’t enjoy. How much worse then would I feel if I were the one doing the violence? I don’t get any cookies watching suffering and pain, and as far as I can remember I never have. This was not a learned behavior, but one I discovered was my natural reaction to violence.
I have since come to understand evolutionary biology, and it makes perfect sense to me why I would feel this way. I do not think about all the minutiae of every aspect of every bit of commerce I have with other people, because millions of years of evolution and natural selection for cooperative traits with other humans have seen to it that, in my case, I don’t have to.
Moreover, I have learned over the years that society approves of certain behaviors and disapproves of others, and this serves as a selection pressure for the type of cooperative behavior I and others like me exhibit. Being nice to people around you ensures that you are able to breed. Being antisocial or just plain old sociopathic almost guarantees your chances of passing on your DNA will be slim to none. If you’re not killed outright, you’ll likely be locked up and kept away from society where very little productive mating goes on. Of course I am speaking of the most extreme cases to make my point, and this is understood to be far from an exhaustive list of possibilities.
In conclusion, I don’t have to think long and hard about basic morality before every decision. However that does not mean that I should ever allow my morality to go unchecked. I must question it as often as I can spare time to do so. Snap decisions are not always good, and our environment can teach us the wrong lessons if it is allowed to.
(I would love to continue, but I need to keep this brief as I am pressed for time. Feel free to contact me for a deeper explanation if you like.)
Alan



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ST

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:20 pm


“From where do you derive meaning in life?”
From my relationships with my family and friends. Also from the myriad daily interactions I have with strangers and from learning in general. I have no belief in any god. I do believe there are things we do not understand and many things I cannot explain but to ascribe them to a specific religious belief seems dishonest and wrong.



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Anon-believer

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:22 pm


Although I will yield to you that atheism removes a very simple ‘argument/basis’ for morality, there are many others.
Values, morality, etc. all are somewhat obvious as a social creature. Most everyone can collectively agree that random violence, rape, murder, theft, etc, at least at some level. It makes sense to enforce these, particularly since nearly everyone achieves more by doing so – lighting a neighbors house on fire out of jealousy really doesn’t help when someone else does it to you. Likewise if you (or your SO) was raped, raping someone else really doesn’t help. Murdering someone to get their stuff is fine – as long as you’re the one with the biggest stick, etc.
As for where do we derive value from if we are indeed just a particularly ordered set of atoms? I’d say it’s biology in one respect, since animals have a strong desire to live despite lacking a soul. I would also contend this point – suppose all life or intelligence is meaningless. Then there exists nothing to say that one arrangement of molecules is better than another. On an individual level it’s the same – if i did not exist, than i would not care that i do not exist, so pondering if I should exist is largely fruitless, since it is my existence that allows me to do so. In my mind, perhaps wrongly, it forms a catch 22.
Also, although this isn’t explicit in your post, religion doesn’t mean good values. Most of the world’s religions are steeped in violence, from extinct central american religions to the Abrahamic faiths.



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SusieFoo

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:41 pm


“It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system. For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers. A real, live cat is not part of the English language. But an English word refers or points to this creature.”
That’s a truly ignorant and profoundly unimaginative statement. I very strongly suggest you please go read Saussure’s “Course in General Linguistics”. Language does not work the way you think it does. Neither does the meaning of life.



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SusieFoo

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:49 pm


Oh, one more thing:
“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative? What compels you to obey it? Your conscience? But why obey that, when it’s merely part of the same physical system that gave rise to you and your body (which of course are the same thing)?”
What makes my moral judgments powerful? The fact that I have to live with myself. Seriously, dude, go read something other than the Bible. I suggested Saussure already. Now I’m suggesting Socrates. He’s the guy who figured out a whole sense of conscience that has nothing at all to do with any God, but is based just on the fact that you have to live with yourself. That sort of morality doesn’t need threat to compel obedience to any overarching rule. It doesn’t even need rules. It just requires the ability to think for oneself.
Thinking for yourself: It’s a great thing. You should try it!



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Neil K

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:52 pm


Hello there. I’m an atheist. Firstly, I don’t normally invade spaces for believers if I feel I’m not welcome. But this link was posted in the atheist forum on Reddit.com and you are welcoming all responses.
You’re asking several questions which I think are unrelated. Here’s how I would restate them. Please let me know if I missed something.
1) If there is no spiritual mandate, what is the source of morality and law?
It’s obvious that believers already use an ability to reason morally to determine what are the important parts of their religious texts. Even fundamentalists are not automatons executing a computer program they received from their Bibles.
Consider a geometry text. It will start with definitions of what a line or circle or plane is, and then proceeds to demonstrate things about them. In moral teachings, the Bible skips this step. Nobody needs to tell people that there is a class of actions called good and another class of actions called bad, and this is important. This is assumed by any reader from the first line. The text of the Bible seems to be interacting with a moral sense which already exists, trying to clarify and direct it.
A notion of right and wrong seems to be universal among humans. Science as yet has no answer as to what is the ultimate source of this moral sense in people. There are some persuasive arguments that it is innate. It may be based in some primitive mechanisms that we have for empathy (so-called mirror neurons, which help you feel what someone else feels). Or it might not be biological at all, and it is simply a matter of utilitarian truth that any reasoning being can see; we all profit when all our rights are respected.
Personally I think both are true. There are people in whom the innate moral organ seems to be deficient; they are the sociopaths. They will do whatever they can get away with. But because we have systems of control and punishment, simple self-interest directs them into socially useful roles anyway, most of the time.
On to your next question:
2) Something derives its meaning in relation to something else. Theists believe that the material world gains its meaning from its place in a ‘higher reality’ of spirituality. If materialism is true, how can life be meaningful?
Your argument is circular, and ultimately self-contradictory.
First of all, it’s not true that everything derives its meaning from another thing. If I inhale the scent of a rose, by any other name, ‘twould smell as sweet. The “meaning” of the scent, for me as an organism on earth, is in the pleasure it provides. There are indeed many superstructures of symbolism we can build on this. (And Christians, in their more totalitarian modes, have indeed argued that the rose is just an elaborate metaphor of God’s love). But that’s missing the point. The reason why there is anything to even talk about is because the rose smells sweet. By itself.
Secondly, like many theistic arguments, you suggest that the materialist view has the problem of infinite regression. And that somehow a God solves the problem. But it doesn’t. Okay, so you assert that the materialist world is meaningless. Ok, so let’s grant you that it has meaning in relation to God. Where is the meaning of the whole God-world system? Where does that derive its meaning from?
What is the whole point of Creation is if God planned the whole thing out from the beginning, knowing the position and trajectory of every atom from the beginning to the Last Trump? That in the Big Bang, there are the seeds of the Jewish Holocaust? To me that seems like an incredibly meaningless universe, a horrible charade, set into motion by some retarded child of a Creator.
My personal feeling is that questions of “meaning” are themselves meaningless at cosmic scale. We are used to objects in our environment having a usefulness of some kind, and when we classify the universe as an object, we ask what is the use of the universe. But it’s just an error to ask that question.
But, beyond the sense of utility, human beings need to believe that their life has purpose. It seems to me that the scientific and materialistic worldview offers something here which the religious cannot.
The religious worldview, specifically the Christian one, suggests that the whole universe — planets, galaxies, supernovae, quasars — is set up as some preposterous test of a rather pathetic species on an obscure planet. This test includes such items of cosmic importance, like whether they worked on the Sabbath or not, and whether they stuck parts of their body in one hole and not another. The best part: the outcome of the test is known in advance. Nothing I do has the slightest impact on the outcome.
However, if the materialist worldview is correct, there is a much grander story to be told. We are all part of the slow awakening of matter to self-consciousness. We are raising ourselves up out of the mud, trying to conquer the passions evolved in our primate ancestry, building ever more sophisticated systems to bring the world into balance. This is a universe where what I do matters.



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Slice of jup with oignons

posted May 8, 2009 at 10:55 pm


Hi,
Sorry for the bad english, it’s not my mother tongue.
For me there’s no meaning in life. Life means nothing. And the fact that life means nothing; means nothing. I have no ambitions, and no goals.
That’s thousands years humans are asking themselves the question: “what is the meaning of life?”, assuming the average human life over the past twelve thousand yeas is around 40 years old, and that there’s around 6 billion peoples on this planet right now; it means that in 300 generations of 2 millions peoples (not log&death counting) they couldn’t be able to answer the question… why should/would i? i don’t need to search an answer, i don’t even understand why to bother with the question in the first place anyway… i’m alive and it’s funny.
if you want a real answer, you have to take one or two step aside. look at our planet. dinosaurs are instinct. humans could also be instinct tomorrow (and we have developed the power to fuck the planet up several times). The next dominant species on this little ball of mud floating around the sun could be dolphins, sharks, scorpions or even chickens…
I’m not FOR or AGAINST religion (whichever it is), i just don’t care. But if you think about it in a larger way, life might be everywhere, and we’re just an insignificant step in it… the Universe is evolving, with or without us. and with or without religion or god(s). And mathematically speaking, there’s no meaning to life, just rules.



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Sam

posted May 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm


“It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system. For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers. A real, live cat is not part of the English language. But an English word refers or points to this creature.
In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences. If there’s nothing outside nature or physicality, as atheism presupposes or as agnosticism leans toward supposing, then where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?”
It seems you would benefit from reading Searle.
For example the first chapter of http://tr.im/kT7g and http://tr.im/kT7k



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People's Republic Of Katrineholm

posted May 8, 2009 at 11:42 pm


No pix, no proof. Sorry, folks. Move along now. Nothing to see here.



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knick

posted May 8, 2009 at 11:46 pm


As an atheist my morality and perspective on life’s meaning comes directly from my personal experiences, which I do my level best to approach as openly and honestly as I can manage.
Is this somehow less significant than some more authoritative person’s opinion on what my morality should be? From who’s authority do they derive this opinion? God’s? I find it very interesting that God would need an intermediary to tell me how to find value in my life.
I would suggest to these priests never spoke to God. I would further suggest that they manufactured their conversations with God in order to manipulate people’s fear for their own selfish purposes, just as they continue to do today.
Blessed be the bible belt, ever obedient to their corporate patrons, blessed be the theocratic Israeli state and their bulldozers, blessed be the Muslims and their TNT fanny packs.



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Greg

posted May 8, 2009 at 11:57 pm


What are you? It sounds like a simple question, but take a moment to think about it. Make a list of the attributes that are uniquely “you”. There are some big things that can’t be on the list. For example, your body, which was given to you and is defined by genes that have been shared and passed down for millennia. Similarly, much of your mind is not uniquely yours. The language you frame your thoughts in is shared. Most of the thoughts themselves came to you from outside and are also shared. You see, we are all more composed of and defined by overlapping sets of shared phenomena. The sense of self is more illusion than fact. (This illusion is also a shared phenomenon).
Once you realize that “you” is really more “we” than “me”, a sense of moral behavior is a natural expression of “self” interest. You/we do things that result in the best overall good for you/us. Simple, no? The only thing that prevents this from being blindingly obvious is our complete indulgence in the illusion of individuality. Once we see past that, it transforms our lives in many ways.



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Stephen

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:05 am


I don’t need someone to tell me what is moral and what isn’t. My meaning in life is to function in a society among other humans to further the development of our kind and help preserve the earth we are lucky enough to inhabit. I don’t need some story to explain to me that killing/hurting/stealing from someone is wrong, I understand that to function in our civilization we need to be kind to others and help out when we can. I don’t need to do it out of fear, I find it sad that the only reason you are a nice person (maybe you aren’t nice?) is because you fear gods wrath.
Not everyone is self absorbed in their primal ideas and ludicrous decisions based on something they can only ever have faith in, no proof to support any of it.



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James

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:35 am


Why does anyone need to derive meaning in life? Why is it so scary for most people to even think about having no meaning in life?
I believe most people have to believe they have a meaning, or a reason for being. But my question is, why? I am quite happy with the idea that I have no meaning or reason for being, and I’m quite happy “being.” I don’t need to believe there is some outside entity or force behind everything to be happy with being alive. In fact, I find it more impressive to believe the universe has “always been” than to believe that some single God created it.
As far as actions and doing right instead of wrong, it is simply a desire to be a kind person since it feels better to make someone happy than to make them upset or sad. I don’t need a moral lawbook pointing out right and wrong. I certainly don’t need a threat of eternal damnation to keep me from being bad, or feel the need to obey a rule that I have to accept Jesus to get to Heaven. Maybe you find it easier to believe in these things to keep yourself in check, but I find no reason to “obey” a God that gave us free will only to allow us to spend an eternity in Hell for choosing something other than Christianity even if they were better people than most Christians will ever be.



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Hayze

posted May 9, 2009 at 1:03 am


In short – You following good morals so that you can reap the benefits in the ‘afterlife’ neglects the entire action because ultimately it is entirely selfish.
A man following good ethics in order to truly help his fellow-man, is selfless, and the right path.
Ultimately, words may be intangible, but they definately do exist, and can be made tangible simply by writing them down. There is just as much proof they are there as their true object. God, on the other hand, or any other indication of some external factor to our lives, whether intangible or tangible, has never been proven to exist.
And consciousness is not something that is fully attached to one’s body. It is constantly changing and evolving, to a much further extent than our bodies. Overall, man should help fellow man because he feels an identity, believes in other consciousness and is not simply following a truly questionable moral code, in order to reap the benefits after death.
I personally feel that I am much more comfortable knowing that my actions will only exist in this world after I am gone, and thus am motivated to change the world, even if it is insignificantly so, rather than waste my life away.



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Jim

posted May 9, 2009 at 1:21 am


I find it interesting when people who are religious ask where someone who is not religious finds their moral values. Where do religious people find their moral values? If it was from the bible than they would have to follow ALL of the bible. Instead they pick and choose certain passages to follow and ignore other parts that they feel don’t make sense, don’t apply in this day and age, or are perhaps immoral. Well then in order to do this you have clearly defined your own morals outside of the bible and are merely picking parts that conform to those already pre-definied morals. No different than people who are not religious.



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D.D.

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:19 am


Morals don’t come from religion. Religion came from morals.



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ephemeral

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:43 am


Stop wasting time on earth questioning other’s beliefs, and spend more time unifying. People will always have their differences. Don’t question, but accept that fact.



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columbine

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:51 am


He’s actually completely correct. Without a god there is no such thing as objective morality. Right and wrong are constructs of the human mind. The assumptions upon which any person’s moral code are based are completely subjective–there is no outside system that says killing people is wrong, it is just perhaps something that follows from a decision or agreement that, say, suffering is bad and happiness is good.
A person who thinks it’s okay to kill and eat babies is no more objectively right or wrong than a person who thinks it’s a horrible thing to do. Because there IS no objective right or wrong. There is just popular and unpopular moral codes of conduct.
Fundamentally the universe or anything external to us does not care if humans live in peace and glore for 1 billion years or whether we all nuke each other tomorrow. We are just an arrangement of atoms and energy as valid as any other. Without the imposition of value from an external source, any individual’s assessment of value is as correct as any other’s.
That, however, has nothing to do with the way we organise ourselves socially, and it says nothing abot whether or not people can agree on moral codes, attempt to spread those moral codes to others, and enforce them. There’s nothing wrong wtih doing that, and there are probably biological, evolutionary and rational reasons why we tend to do so. But that doesn’t make any given system right or wrong, it just makes it so.



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satheist

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:59 am


“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative?”
If you read a passage in you bible that told you to be good to your neighbor, you would probably just do it. You wouldn’t second guess it.
If you read a passage in the bible that told you to stone disobedient children, would you run out your door throwing rocks? Of course not, you would say you probably misinterpreted it or perhaps that law was for the times of the old testament. You would make an excuse. Even the most religious cherry pick, they do not follow every rule in their holy book.
That which you use to be able to second guess, to cherry pick, is the same source that atheists use to judge if a certain actions are right or wrong. We all have an idea of what promotes life and stability, religions just claim undeserved credit for it and act as an unnecessary filter.
“What compels you to obey it? Your conscience?”
What compels me to obey is that I trust myself. I have an internal locus of control, I can think for myself. If God one day said killing and raping was good, would that make it so? Would you start killing and raping?



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Enlightenment

posted May 9, 2009 at 4:20 am


The non-believers do correct moral things, because it is the correct thing to do.
The non-believers don’t crash jets into tall buildings to impress some invisible friend / being, why, because it isn’t moral.
The non-believers don’t lead worthless lives and thus don’t require imaginary friends to feel loved.
Why do christians waste so must time trying to disprove evolution, when they can’t even show proof that g.o.d. exists without using religious documents as a reference?



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ryan

posted May 9, 2009 at 4:34 am


There is no right answer to this question… it is a subject of philosophical debate. One possible internal source of morality is empathy. Humans (and other creatures) have things called ‘mirror neurons’ in their brains. Seeing happy people makes one happy. Seeing others suffer tends to be an unpleasant experience for people (with the exception of sociopaths). Humans are social creatures, and without some innate aversion to harming members of one’s social group… we wouldn’t be here having this conversation. Picture two villages. In one village, people tend to cooperate and avoid resorting to violence to resolve conflict. In another village noone cares about anyone but themselves. In the short run, the strong from the latter village will flourish, but as a community? Not so much. They’ll end up picking each other off over petty crap, and the first challenge that comes along that they can’t surmount except by working as a group will wipe them out. This does require you to accept at least some degree of evolution.



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josh

posted May 9, 2009 at 4:46 am

Captain Cortez

posted May 9, 2009 at 5:14 am


100 BC (Israel) Stoning is a fit punishment for adultery
1600 AD (America) A Scarlet letter is fit punishment for adultery
2008 AD (America) Alimony is the penalty for adultery
2008 AD (Afghanistan) Stoning is a fit punishment for adultery
Questions:
a) Why does the One True God’s morality vary from place to place?
b) Why does God’s One True morality vary from time to time
Hypothesis
Is it possible that morality is a function of culture rather than divine inspiration, and that culture evolves over time and space?



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Harry

posted May 9, 2009 at 6:31 am


As an atheist I am drawn to religious websites as I try to understand WHY people believe what they believe.
Human beings are social animals that live in groups. As someone mentioned above they have a better chance of survival when they are able to work together, that way they can overcome greater problems than animals who do not. That is the root of morality.
People behave out of fear to become outcast, even religious people behave like that. That is why for example the religious think that stoning is quite all right when it is accepted in society, but desperately try to find different explanations for the laws in their Holy Books that clearly tell them to stone people.
Morality is a artificial concept that has no universal meaning, like driving on the left side of the road is not bad in itself, but when you have to share that road with many others you need rules that benefit all.
And if God would really exist I would not want to follow Him as he killed many innocent people. Killing innocent people is immoral these days.



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Harry

posted May 9, 2009 at 6:34 am


I noticed I forgot something, I said:
“That is why for example the religious think that stoning is quite all right when it is accepted in society, but desperately try to find different explanations for the laws in their Holy Books that clearly tell them to stone people.”
I forgot to add that religious people try to find excuses for the stoning laws and such in times and societies where such is no longer accepted.



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Charlie Dancey

posted May 9, 2009 at 6:46 am


You said: “meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives.”
No it doesn’t. You just made that up. Your implication is that meaning or value in life needs to refer to God. But if God is part of your life, your argument has just shot itself in the foot.
I’m not sure why I’m wasting my time debating this, since you are starting your argument from the point of view of an unproven faith. Faith demands no proof, for that is the nature of faith. Proof on the other hand demands both evidence and debate, which you are participating in.
Perhaps you are seeking, not to convince me and other atheists about God, but rather to prove His existence to yourself.



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me

posted May 9, 2009 at 6:55 am


So the meaning of life…. Big question.
Is it not possible for us all to get together and agree on one thing.
Life is cool.
You believe in this thing that put us all here through some form of cosmic/spiritual snafu, whilst I like the fact that I was once related to bacteria.
From either beginning, life is still cool. Right?



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John

posted May 9, 2009 at 7:26 am


“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative?”
Let me assure you that human understanding and reasoning is all part of nature. I’m sure you are aware that in this world there are carnivores, but have you ever seen a carnivore eats a member of it’s tribe? Sure, they eat enemies, but an alpha male would never eat one of his many females mates. Why? Is it the male’s conscious decision or just his innate reasoning? Mammals have long learned that being accepted into a community increases chances of survival. Humans are no exception. Our conscience guides us to do what is accepted in order to survive, just as a lion’s stops him from eating his mate. God has nothing to do with it.



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Chris

posted May 9, 2009 at 7:53 am


I always find it obnoxious, and a bit dim when a person suggests to me that “life must (MUST!) have meaning, yet without god there is no meaning, therefore god must exist.” It’s an assumption to say that life needs to have meaning. It doesn’t.
And even if god existed, it doesn’t give meaning to our lives any more than simply having a parent or friend does (and at least I can see and talk with my parents). In this regard, even a theoretical God would be utterly impotent. Great illustration of this point: fight club by Chuck Palahniuk, chapter 30.
“I’ve met God across his long walnut desk with his diplomas hanging on the wall behind him, and God asks me, “Why?” Why did I cause so much pain? Didn’t I realize that each of us is a sacred, unique snowflake of special unique specialness? Can’t I see how we’re all manifestations of love? I look at God behind his desk, taking notes on a pad, but God’s got this all wrong. We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, “No, that’s not right.” Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything.”



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Guffer

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:14 am


Great comments, to this terrible glob of supposition.
I’d just like to add that atheism is the rejection of God and agnosticism is a form of epistemology. The two words are not interchangeable. Not all agnostics reject God.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:19 am


There is no morality apart from God. To illustrate – morality normally implies not following your instinct.
Example:
a) if you want something, you don’t automatically grab what does not belong to you because that would be considered stealing which is morally wrong.
b) If you lust after someone, you don’t force yourself on that person because that would be morally wrong.
If you look at these examples dispassionately and consider a scenario where there is no divine framework for morality, there is no reason a person shouldn’t:
a) Take what is not theirs (if they can get away with it. This is possible if you are in a stronger position than the person currently owning the stuff you are after)
b) Raping the person you are lusting after (again, if you can get away with it. There is also the likelihood that you may have a progeny through the encounter and that alas is a good end in itself if you consider that evolutionists portray the transmission of genes to the next generation as the end goal of all relationships between the sexes and actually the end goal of life itself)
Atheism and evolution proclaims that if it is convenient it must be right – since all our notions or morality itself are just notions drawn from societal constructs which came into play due to evolutionary considerations.
The problem such a notion poses becomes even more stark if we consider stuff such as incest.
Incest, while considered morally repugnant (if you are religious), is only mildly inconvenient if you truly subscribe to the atheistic viewpoint, That is, if the person takes the adequate precautions.
Meaning, if the couple indulging in incest take care to see that either no progeny comes out of that relationship (to avoid any chance of genetic defects) or by taking care to see that any defective progeny are killed before birth.
@john – Drawing conclusions on morality by looking at animal behaviour is not going to win you any medals. Lions routinely kill their young when they enter a pride. Also, many animals indulge in incest and cannibalism. Would you consider those as perfectly acceptable behaviour for humans?
But this necessary distinction between human and animal behaviour is lost on atheist because they see man as nothing but another animal. Therein lies the confusion.



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The Man Who Sold the World

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:27 am


The Dragon In My Garage
by Carl Sagan
“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage”
Suppose (I’m following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!
“Show me,” you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.
“Where’s the dragon?” you ask.
“Oh, she’s right here,” I reply, waving vaguely. “I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.”
You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.
“Good idea,” I say, “but this dragon floats in the air.”
Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
“Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.”
You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.
“Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.” And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.
Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so. The only thing you’ve really learned from my insistence that there’s a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You’d wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I’ve seriously underestimated human fallibility. Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don’t outright reject the notion that there’s a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you’re prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it’s unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative — merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of “not proved.”
Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons — to say nothing about invisible ones — you must now acknowledge that there’s something here, and that in a preliminary way it’s consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.
Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages — but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I’d rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.
Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they’re never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such “evidence” — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.



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Kevin

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:38 am


I don’t agree that meaning must come from outside ourselves. I see it as the other way around. Meaning must come from within. External conditions can provide meaning but since these conditions are constantly changing, it seems unwise to attempt to derive meaning from them. It also seems unwise to me to attempt to derive meaning from something that has not even been proven to exist.
And another question. Assuming this creator exists, why should we worship it? I think we’re much better off as a species looking at ourselves and creating decent societies than trying to please some possibly-imaginary entity and often committing the most heinous atrocities in doing so (though this is getting more into organized religion than belief in god and those are not the same thing).



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?>G5<C

posted May 9, 2009 at 8:51 am


You don’t need morals to put yourself in someone’s shoes. I don’t steal from people because I know how much it sucks to have something stolen from me, I don’t hurt people needlessly because I know how it feels, etc. I am driven to do the “right” thing because I know what it is like when someone does something that wrongs you. Just because I follow the Golden Rule doesn’t mean I believe in God, it just means that I agree with what it says.
Regardless, he asked what drives you through life and I have to say being the best. Going up against someone that will challenge me is one of the best feelings in the world.



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eamon

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:21 am


Having a meaningful purpose in life is due to the exisitence or absence of a purpose in life comes from our culture and parents we are social animals we have some hardwiring to make it so (but not always). Look at ted Bundy He absolutely had a purpose in life, he absolutely did not want to die , is he any closer to god than I? what about people who are profundly depressed and have no purpose in life (and commit suicide) would they be further away from god than you?
You see, a god does not drive human beings, it is internal, social and cultural motivatio that drives us.



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Kirk Schwiebert

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:23 am


Why must the “meaning of life” come from some exterior force? The whole notion that “god” is some external entity is not shared by most eastern religions, so why do you assert it as a necessity? Religion itself can exist without this supposition. It is derived from primitive forms of religion, such as Judaism, which have changed little over the ages. Atheism is simply the belief that no evidence exists for this external force, let alone the anthropomorphic figure our ancestors conjured up.
It is not god’s grace imposed on humans which causes us to be good to each other. If it was then small children with no concept of god or abstract thinking would not act with compassion towards other people or animals, and yet they do, by and large. Instead it is in our nature as pack animals to do right by each other. Sometimes we fail, and some mentally disturbed sociopaths are incapable of compassion, but most of us are driven to be good “for goodness sake” and we do not require self appointed men in collars and silly hats telling us what to do. Instead those men should get real jobs and stop dividing us over whose fairy tale is better.



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Stan

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:30 am


@prem, and anybody else insisting that “there is no morality apart from God”:
If God is all-powerful, and if God is the source of all morality, then God should be able to change what is good, yes? If God decides to make murder, rape, robbery, and deceit good, he can do that, right? And if he were to do that–if he directly, authentically communicated with all the faithful, letting them know that he’d decided to invert morality–you’d all be prepared to change your behavior accordingly, correct? Because you believe that morality isn’t connected with, say, reducing human suffering, or with anything else concrete that anybody, regardless of their religious beliefs, can clearly see; you believe that morality comes from God.
“God wouldn’t do that” is not an honest answer to this question. Either morality is created and defined by God, or it’s something that has nothing to do with God. If you believe that morality is created and defined by God, then you believe that evil, harmful behavior would be good if God said it was.
The alternative, of course, is that moral behavior aims to reduce human suffering and promote human happiness because it’s perfectly obvious to anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, how this kind of behavior improves anyone’s life.



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Jordan Lund

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:39 am


I’d argue that for a moral code to be truly moral then it has to exist OUTSIDE a belief in God.
If the idea is that one can’t be moral because some omnipotent sky god is watching and will punish those who behave wrong then you aren’t actually behaving morally, you’re acting out of fear of retribution. It’s not the same thing at all.
For example:
1) I believe stealing is wrong because I don’t have the right to products or services I did not earn.
2) I believe murder is wrong because I don’t have the right to deprive someone else of their life.
Those are absolute moral statements that do not involve invoking a god of any sort.
Now, take some of the modern Christian beliefs and try to phrase them in equally absolute moral terms.
Why is homosexuality wrong? Because it defies the natural order? Well, what is “the natural order”? The natural order of my eyes is to be nearsighted, yet I correct that with glasses. Isn’t that a defiance of “the natural order”? The natural order is to go around in the skin and hair we were born with, doesn’t clothing defy the natural order? How you explain birds which behave homosexually? Surely if it were against the natural order we wouldn’t see animals duplicating the same behavior?
I think you begin to see the problem.
Why is gay marriage wrong? Because marriage is about reproduction only? So we shouldn’t allow heterosexuals who are unable or unwilling to reproduce to get married?
When you boil it down you find that the people who cry most about moral behavior are, in fact, the least moral of anyone around.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:46 am


@stan: “if God is all-powerful, and if God is the source of all morality, then God should be able to change what is good, yes?”
So your question is primarily this – why does God allow bad things to happen when He is all powerful and capable of making all things work to the good?
Or in other words:
“Why doesn’t God override man’s will whenever something bad happens.”
My question to you is if you think it is desirable that man has no will. That is, he becomes just a robot not knowing either good or evil, but just doing what he is programmed to do.
In that case, this whole discussion about morality becomes moot because morality is only relevant when man has a will.
As long as man has a will, both good and evil will exist. Man, left to himself, will only consider his own betterment. Good will only when man is willing to sacrifice his own desires so that someone else will benefit.
@Kevin: There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that atheism promotes more moral behaviour. A lot of people have died at the hands of atheists (and also in the hands of the religious). Even if you discount what has happened in the past, you cannot argue that atheism will definitely lead to less violence and less loss of life in the future. There is not enough evidence to back up such a claim.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:54 am


@Jordan:
“For example:
1) I believe stealing is wrong because I don’t have the right to products or services I did not earn.”
Why? What makes you think that you can only take things that you have the “right” to? Who grants and revokes these rights and why should you have to bow down to those rules? Is it society? So are you saying that if a society says that something is wrong, that it is definitely wrong? Hasn’t society been wrong before?
@Jordan “2) I believe murder is wrong because I don’t have the right to deprive someone else of their life.
Those are absolute moral statements that do not involve invoking a god of any sort.”
Again, who grants these rights and what makes you think that you subservient to those rules?
Are you saying these are just true because they are true – that is, wholly without any proof? That sounds a lot like how atheists define faith to me.
No matter how you tiptoe around this, you cannot escape the fact that morality as we know it now is based on religious beliefs. Without these underlying religious beliefs there is really no reason why one should consider another person’s interest over own own.



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Pat

posted May 9, 2009 at 10:23 am


Prem, first in your response to stan, that wasn’t at all what his question was asking, you misinterpreted it greatly, please try again.
in regards to Kevin, please give some examples of people dieing to atheists. Even if you can, you cannot argue that religion will definitely lead to less violence and less loss of life in the future.
and with Jordan, in short, the community/society generates those rules and you are in some sense bound by punishment of society, ie prison, what have you.
Morality is in no way tied to religion. You cannot escape the fact that there is no proof or reason for proof to the contrary.
I hope you have some more straw men ready…



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Richard

posted May 9, 2009 at 10:37 am


A genuine meaning to life is intrinsic, like genuine motivation cannot be imposed. As many comments stated, morality motivated by fear of retribution is not morality at all. Genuine morality is driven by empathy, the sincere feeling that all, under benefit of doubt, deserve the same respect as you expect for yourself. This is the reason society exists in the first place, otherwise we would have never been able to create the bonds that gave us the security to learn and invent our way out of primitive life.
I would in fact argue that religious people have less meaning to their life because of their belief in afterlife. Life is full of meaning and value when you know that it is your one and only.



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Dashing Leech

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:11 am


Other people have pointed out the silliness is professing that morality is defined by a god. Simply put, if a god professed something to be true that you or I felt was immoral, what does “felt was immoral” mean? Is your morality literally just following what somebody tells you to do?
The actual origins of morality and value are fairly well understood. They are innate, instinctual feelings towards how to treat other people that have evolutionary reasons for being better than other ways of treating people. As in any evolved capacity, they are biological mechanisms that improve genetic reproductive success.
(In this case, the biology is the structure of the brain that drives our emotional responses.) People who had different morals, say randomly killing people, did not reproduce as much as those who treated other people well and got treated well in return, and therefore didn’t pass on their genes as often.
The question then comes to why the morals we have are useful for survival and reproduction. Many are simply solutions to competition mathematics (aka, game theory) and therefore expected to evolve in any system in which the winning competitors survive and pass on their characteristics, aka, evolution. For example, the Iterated Prisoners Dilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoners_dilemma) models how we deal with, and compete with, other human beings. There are two winning strategies to IPD. One is called tit-for-tat which means “be nice to everyone else until they act against you in which case you act against them until they repent and act nice to you again”. The ‘tit-for-tat’ solution maximizes genetic reproductive success for individuals when interacting with people who are not genetically related. You might also call this approach the ‘social contract’ form of morality (e.g., The Golden Rule).
The other solution that maximizes success is the Southamption solution. It involves a group of people sacrificing their own interests for those of their leader. It maximizes genetic reproductive success if the group is genetically linked. Individuals within the group may not be successful in passing on their genes, but their sacrifice improves the leader(s) success so if they have common genes that drive this behaviour, it will be a net benefit. Since we evolved living in small groups with low genetic diversity (close family), there is good reason for this strategy to succeed. The morals that this approach brings to the table are in-group loyalty and respect for authority. Those with more ‘social contract’ moralities tend to weight these moralities lower because they are the seed of xenophobia and authoritarianism.
Jonathan Haidt has studied the different types of morality between those who consider themselves liberal (“social contract”) versus conservative (“beehive”). (See, for instance, http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jonathan_haidt_on_the_moral_mind.html).
The reason I bring up these solutions to the IPD is because the IPD models many, if not most, human transactions for survival and reproduction. Evolution “rewards” the individuals with the most reproductive success. (Note, not just survival, but long-term reproductive success.) This success is maximized by those who strike the best balance between getting help from others and competing with others. And the IPD predicts these two types of outcomes, and hence evolution predicts those with an innate trait for tit-for-tat “social contract” behaviour should evolve as well as those whose innate traits are more like a beehive where they sacrifice themselves for their group and leader. And this exactly matches what Haidt finds is true. (Note that Haidt seems unaware of the relationship to the IPD. He didn’t start with that prediction in mind.)
Evolution not only predicts that these moral behaviours must evolve, but that they also that the perception of moral behaviour must also evolve. For example, in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins gives a good example of a bird species developing an altruistic behaviour for cleaning parasites off each other. I won’t go through it step by step (read the book), but it’s not hard to see how this could improve survival (and consequently reproductive success). Such a trait would spread through the population, but not to 100%. Such a case is unstable, because in that environment, a bird born without that behaviour can have better success by “free-riding”, meaning getting other birds to pick off their parasites but never contributing back. There is an equilibrium point between 0% and 100% of the population evolving this behaviour. It is maximized if the birds also develop the ability to perceive who is “free-riding” and to avoid or punish them. But there will always be a small percentage who will be “free-riders” who evolve more covert ways to hide their “free-riding”.
It is that perception/belief that we call morality, not the behaviour itself. And there will always be a small part of the population that the majority would say are without morals.
In terms of the future, I think the social contract strategy will tend to become far more dominant over the beehive strategy. The beehive works only in small, genetically linked groups. We did evolve in those sorts of groups and that is why historically there was emphasis on loyalty to their local group and respect for that authority. Now we live in diverse, urban, mobile, individualized environments. There is no genetic success from sacrificing your hard earned income to make the rich richer. Automatic loyalty and respect for this type of authority will actually reduce reproductive success. Social contracting (tit-for-tat) is optimum in this environment. It requires authority to earn its respect and loyalty.
What’s interesting too is that religion, especially the organized variety, very much relies on the beehive mentality — obedience and loyalty to a leader (god and/or priest) and group (congregation). I don’t find it surprising that organized religions are disappearing and obedience to religious authority is virtually non-existent anymore. This trend will probably continue.
I hope that answers your question as to where some of us think morals and values come from. At least that’s where the evidence points, if one is inclined to follow evidence instead of nonsensical dogma.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:14 am


@pat: My point to Kevin is that he cannot assert with any confidence that atheism can lead to less bloodshed. There is simply no evidence to back up that claim. Stalin and Mao both killed in the millions. Both were avowed atheists and that didn’t stop them one bit.
I do not argue that religion will lead to less violence though I do believe that the those who seek God – not religion, will be more moral than either the atheists of the religious.
About Stan’s contention – I did actually misunderstand his question. Thank you for correcting me on that.
I do question his ability to call something evil and something else good. Where did he get these classifications? who defines what is evil and good, if it is not God? Does society define it? Hasn’t society been wrong before?
Some of the problems with letting society define morality:
1) It implies that an individual must conform to these rules of society so as to benefit from society. This implies that morality is inherently self-serving and nothing more.
2) It implies that an individual must conform to society out of a fear for being deprived by society. How is this better than being moral out of a fear of God?
3) It implies that individuals who are powerful or who don’t require the benefits from a particular society can feel free to violate its morals.
4) What happens if the society becomes immoral? should the individual change his/her morality to conform to this? A lot of people have lost their lives by not conforming to a moral society. Were they wrong?
If it isn’t either society or God who should be setting morality, then who should? Should the individual define what is moral for himself? The error of that should be self-evident.



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Chuck

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:16 am


“Again, who grants these rights and what makes you think that you subservient to those rules?”
No one “grants” me these rights. I have these rights simply because I’m a human being. You can certainly decide to deny me those rights, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist in the first place. The only “rights” that really exist are the right to life, and the right to live unfettered by others’ demands on our lives.
I’m “subservient” by choice. I choose to live in society. It bestows upon me survival benefits that far outweigh the costs of behaving decently to my fellow humans.
But for you people that only follow moral laws for fear of divine retribution, I’m glad you have that fear holding you back! Because obviously you’d be no better than animals, free to rape, pillage and plunder at will.
Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue to act morally, simply for the selfish reason that it benefits us personally.



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Diag

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:19 am


Q: Where does meaning in life — values, ideals, morals — come from?
A: Evolved throughout the ages, duh.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:20 am


Corrections: That should read as “IMMORAL” nor “moral”
4) What happens if the society becomes immoral? should the individual change his/her morality to conform to this? A lot of people have lost their lives by not conforming to a *immoral* society. Were they wrong
@Dashing Leech
Even Dawkins argues quite emphatically that evolution shouldn’t be seen as a mechanism for how society should function because society tries to protect the weak while evolution speak about weeding out the weak from society so that the strong are not deprived of resources.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:23 am


@chuck: I applaud your great moral standing! In the meantime, may I point you towards my earlier post on the subject which counters what you have stated:
Some of the problems with letting society define morality:
1) It implies that an individual must conform to these rules of society so as to benefit from society. This implies that morality is inherently self-serving and nothing more.
2) It implies that an individual must conform to society out of a fear for being deprived by society. How is this better than being moral out of a fear of God?
3) It implies that individuals who are powerful or who don’t require the benefits from a particular society can feel free to violate its morals.
4) What happens if the society becomes immoral? should the individual change his/her morality to conform to this? A lot of people have lost their lives by not conforming to a immoral society. Were they wrong?
Example: When the Tutsis and the Hutus were killing themselves in Rwanda, some from both tribes tried to help others from the opposing tribe. Many of these people were killed by their own tribe. Were they stupid?
If it isn’t either society or God who should be setting morality, then who should? Should the individual define what is moral for himself? The error of that should be self-evident.



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Han

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:31 am


@Prem
Stated by Prem: “For example:
1) I believe stealing is wrong because I don’t have the right to products or services I did not earn.”
Why? What makes you think that you can only take things that you have the “right” to? Who grants and revokes these rights and why should you have to bow down to those rules? Is it society? So are you saying that if a society says that something is wrong, that it is definitely wrong? Hasn’t society been wrong before?”
Society is not what drives a sense of morality. Morality is based on ones sense of self and others. It all boils down to “Do unto other what you would have done to yourself” This is usually known as the golden rule. This is used in religion as a basis for moral questioning; however, this can be altered in any way by ones religion due to a higher power. Take for example a holy war, if it is not morally right to kill someone, why is it suddenly ok when trying to obtain holy land? From an atheists point of view it makes logical sense that if you do not want to be hurt, no one else does either. This can only be changed by what a person perceives or logically decides: However, this still constitutes morality based from yourself. This is based from logic and understanding. A Morality that is written (IE, a religion) can only be changed through the religion itself. Morality is not the same for everyone. People will always decide for themselves what is moral or just. here is no definite “wrong or right”, not even with religions since it can change and has been changed in most religions over time.
To answer your question “Why? What makes you think that you can only take things that you have the “right” to? Who grants and revokes these rights and why should you have to bow down to those rules?” I wouldn’t take something that belonged to someone else because I would not like something of mine stolen. My logic as a person and understanding that this would be stolen from another person is what drives me to make the moral decision not to. When morality is concerned it is not written anywhere.
It is through our experiences and education that we make our own morals. If this was not the case, we would all act the same and make the same decisions. Even when morality is written down it is not followed 100% by the people who believe they should follow that set morality. Religion has fear of punishment where a logical morality is not driven by punishment, it is driven from a logical perspective of the world as well as empathy and respect for your fellow man.



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DamnSkippy

posted May 9, 2009 at 11:37 am


“It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system. For example, consider language. When I use a word in English like “hat” or “cat,” it only signifies something because there is a reality outside the linguistic system of our language to which the language refers. A real, live cat is not part of the English language. But an English word refers or points to this creature.”
- I think you’re mixing up meaning with definition. Definition is just a shortcut to what it is you are referring to. Meaning is a made up connection between things; it occurs from within the mind. There definitely is a cause-effect relationship everywhere, but not in the kind of macro-understanding that humans apply to each other i.e., “Why did the apple fall from the tree?” – (the answer isn’t “because I stole something yesterday”…as karma believers would think)



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John

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm


I am an agnostic i do believe that some sort of higher power exists but not in the same way any religious person believes in this higher power. i do not see the higher power as an all knowing all powerful creator as much as i see the higher power as a personal spiritual guide. the morals and meaning i get from life comes nothing from any higher power as much as it comes from my personal moral standing which comes from my experience and education and the meaning comes from living life to it’s fullest without worrying about an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being in the sky. That in my mind is true meaning and true morality. if you are basing your morals based on such beings you are not following your morals you are following the morals of someone else which isn’t moral at all, morals are a personal sense of right and wrong and if you get your morals from somewhere else they aren’t morals, the key word is personal which means that they are your sense of right and wrong not those of a religion. i do find that most religious people with a moral standing follow the religion as more of a spiritual guideline and develop the meaning and morals elsewhere, which is sort of the way i feel about religion but i have nothing against anyone’s beliefs and am not going to try to get them to follow my ways or leave their church or anything because converting people is immoral and is one of the main problem with religion. converting gives a holier than thou attitude and ruins organized religions. to quote a great band just let it be. i guess i would be more religious if organized religion didn’t destroy the principles the religion was based on with ridiculous dogma but then again i might not be. thats just the mystery of living without a divine plan. but like i said i am spiritual i do read religious texts but i dont take morals or meaning from them i get a feeling of spiritual fulfillment which in my mind isn’t meaning as much as it is expanding my mind and fulfilling my spiritual and emotional needs



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etm

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm


@Prem
Did you even look for evidence that atheists can be moral before making a blanket statement?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Atheism.2C_religion_and_morality
Personally, I derive my moral compass from the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have done to you.
To say that all morality must come from religion is patently ridiculous. First of all, how do you define morality? Every single person has a different definition of morality according to their own personal worldview. To make the statement that atheists cannot have morals simply because their moral compass is derived from a different source than yours is simply ignorant. Every single person has a different moral compass – it’s just a question of scale.
The assertion that atheists cannot have morals is upheld only by logical fallacies and circular arguments. The religious are the ones making the assertion that morality is linked to religion (despite evidence to the contrary (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article571206.ece)) – it is up to you to find the proof to support your arguement.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:42 pm


@Han states:
“Society is not what drives a sense of morality. Morality is based on ones sense of self and others. It all boils down to “Do unto other what you would have done to yourself” This is usually known as the golden rule.”
It was Jesus who said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31). And you are right in that it is used in Christianity as a basis for morality.
“From an atheists point of view it makes logical sense that if you do not want to be hurt, no one else does either.”
I argue that it is not logical that one should care for the other especially over one’s own interest. One has to go against his own grain to favour someone else’s interest over one’s own.
If your assertion that atheism will foster greater logic and that would foster greater morality is true, then the present society should be getting more and more empathetic because at no point in history has the number of atheists been larger than it is now. Society should also be getting more and more strong with greater cohesion.
But that is not what is happening now – society is not getting any more empathetic – fact is, it is actually getting more and more fragmented.
Also, your argument that the logical decision is always the morally correct one is specious and not well substantiated. In an immoral society, it is logical for the individual to lower his standards of morality to conform so as not to attract negative interest, but would it be a moral?
“Morality is not the same for everyone. People will always decide for themselves what is moral or just. here is no definite “wrong or right”, not even with religions since it can change and has been changed in most religions over time.”
The problem people have with morality being defined by God is that it does not give them enough leeway to do whatever they want to do. That is, people want to do whatever is right in their own sight. You touch upon this when you say that “people will always decide for themselves what is moral or just.”
But unfortunately that is a recipe for anarchy. Have you ever been in a workplace where each person decides what rules apply to them?
It is one thing to fail after trying to adhere to the laws of morality but it something else altogether to argue that those standards of morality don’t exist or that they can be changed to suit each person’s tastes.
In this corrupt age, people believe that they can decide what is right – that God has to stay out of that decision. That is just not going to work out.



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Prem

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm


@etm
“Did you even look for evidence that atheists can be moral before making a blanket statement?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Atheism.2C_religion_and_morality
Personally, I derive my moral compass from the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have done to you. ”
it is ironic that you mention this “Golden Rule”. Where do you think this rule comes from?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31) Those were Jesus’s words.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethic_of_reciprocity



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Jon

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm


“it is ironic that you mention this “Golden Rule”. Where do you think this rule comes from?”
Surely you don’t think the first place this showed up is in Christian mythology. As with most of the stories from recent religions it was taken from the religions and beliefs that preceded it.



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Internets

posted May 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm


“it is ironic that you mention this “Golden Rule”. Where do you think this rule comes from?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31) Those were Jesus’s words.”
Um, NO! The Golden rule exists in many forms from much earlier than Jesus (Hint: Buddhism). It’s in the same link you posted. How can you miss that?!?! Or maybe you didn’t and chose to ignore it. Kinda like you would ignore all the “bad” things god advocates in the bible, and chose to obey the things you consider good and then claim that the bible is where you get your morals from. You’re just deceiving yourself.



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LS

posted May 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm


I’m an agnostic and I also derive my morals from the “golden rule”. I think that it is certainly one of the most important things Jesus said. How is it a problem that non-believers use it to base their morals on? Are christian morals just part of a package deal where as soon as a person borrows something from it he has to take it all?
I find it insulting that you think a non-believer can’t be a moral person. Why would it be impossible for a non-believer to be compassionate? Everyone has been physically and emotionnaly hurt many times in their lives. That is more than enough for empathy to kick in when seeing family, friends or even strangers go through similar pain. For me this is enough not to hurt others. I’ll also try to give a helping hand when possible. Maybe you think non-believers are all die-hard solipsists.
And to answer your first question: “From where do you derive meaning in life?”
English is only a second language to me. In French, “meaning of life” translates to “sens (meaning) de la vie (life)”. There are two definitions for the word “sens”: 1.meaning and 2.direction. I prefer to see the “meaning of life” as “the direction your life takes”. So for me the meaning of your life has nothing to do with some kind of mystical mission, but it’s only what you made out of it. That’s more than enough to keep me going.
I have a question for you: which is better, an evil person who genuinely believes in God or a good person who doesn’t believe in God?



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Han

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:02 pm


First of all, the golden rule is older than religion. It was actually this basis that religion was created. Most religions (even the ones older than Christianity) take their basis from this. Just because it was used and quoted in religion doesn’t make it any less of a logical thought. I only said “Do unto other as you would have done to you” because I knew it would be recognized and understood as a topic.
I never stated that ” logical decision is always the morally correct one” I stated that the morals that one chooses for themselves are morals. What is morally “good or bad” is in the eye of the beholder. but your statement in no way refers to how society is the source of morality. Society is a source of social mores but no ones sense of morality. your perception may use some of the ideas from your social mores to create your own morality; however, if your in a situation where this is all you have experienced and learned you may not think of the same morals for yourself if you had a richer education.
If deciding your own moral rules is not a logical decision then how do you explain all of the atheist people who don’t commit crimes or hurt people? I can’t speak for anyone else but the reason I do not commit crimes or hurt anyone else is not for fear of the law. It’s because I have come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t. I have derived my own morals and I did not use a religious background to do so. I used my own logic to decide that I shouldn’t. Your argument is wrong if I as an atheist logically come to the conclusion to have morals which regard treating my neighbor as myself.
You stated “I argue that it is not logical that one should care for the other especially over one’s own interest. One has to go against his own grain to favour someone else’s interest over one’s own.” If this is true then you’re saying all atheists never donate, care for anyone else or put their own wants beyond anyone else’s. If that’s true how do atheists have children? Surely they have to care for them. I’m an atheist, why do I donate? I could certainly use my hard earned money somewhere else. I don’t do it for god. I do it because I think it’s morally correct. I don’t do it for recognition or any other reason you may come up with other than looking out for someone else. No one knows I do. You have a different point of view and stating something to the degree of “logical that one should care for the other especially over one’s own interest” it too broad. If it came between feeding my own family or someone else’s and it was a life or death situation I would feed my family. That’s still a moral decision based on logic. But If I have it to give I certainly would and I know many more atheists would.
You stated “It is one thing to fail after trying to adhere to the laws of morality but it something else altogether to argue that those standards of morality don’t exist or that they can be changed to suit each person’s tastes.” Your morality will not be the same as someone else’s. This also has nothing to do with the initial discussion. I am arguing that society is not the reason people who do not believe in god have morals. If ones morality is not defined in the same way as yours how can you know if they have failed their morality? I know your morality has been written for you, keep in mind it’s not written for many people and they may differ from yours but to state that they are “bad” does not prove they have no morality. What is bad to you may be great to someone else.
You can’t fail morality. Morality is subject to ones own system. Morality is similar to an opinion. No one can tell you what is morally right or wrong because “good and bad” can’t be defined. The only thing that can be used as a reference is your self and logic.
You also stated “But unfortunately that is a recipe for anarchy. Have you ever been in a workplace where each person decides what rules apply to them?” People do decide what rules apply to them, they mostly just choose the logical path. The path of least resistance. You would be fired if you did not follow the rules. People still get fired although they have the rules written down for them. Just because someone’s rules aren’t the same doesn’t make them any less valid.
The point I’m trying to make is morality is personal. Just because you find someone’s morality to be “bad” doesn’t make it any less of a valid morality.



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Atheist

posted May 9, 2009 at 3:11 pm


Actually, that’s a sensible question. Before I answer, I’d like to point out that even if there is no moral guide for atheists, that doesn’t mean any religion has it right. We’d all be in the same situation; without a true moral code. Some would just be mistaken about it, while others were agnostic.
I personally derive my morals from trying to empathise with everyone else – its similar to ‘do as thy would be done by’ but not precisely. I also include all sentient creatures in the group I try to empathise with (I’m a vegetarian), so its easy to illustrate why pure “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” can fail. I personally would not want to be dropped out in the middle of the ocean, but a whale might be very comfortable there. This can apply in a similar way to different people; everybody’s unique after all, and has subtly different wants and needs.



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Joe O.

posted May 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm


I’m an atheist and I use “the golden rule” just because I choose to. It makes common sense. In fact, by treating a complete stranger with kindness that I chose to bestow upon her, and the resulting conversation, my daughter now has the chance to have her first two years of collage completely paid for. That includes room and board. God had nothing to do with it, my actions did. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I choose outward positive, and hope to receive positive back.



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Aaron

posted May 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm


If you’re married, do you not cheat on your wife, just because doing so would be a sin? If that’s so, you should inform your significant other than your relationship is a sham. You’re honest and good to people because you value and respect people, and because you want the same in return. Honesty, goodness, kindness, compassion, empathy, sympathy and all other benevolent emotions toward others are physical, neurological impulses. If you’re good to people, people are good to you, life is enriched and grows in a positive direction. If you’re unkind to people, that negativity is reciprocated, and life detracts and erodes. Mortality has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of unseen manipulative force, but is instead a survival instinct which aids in the evolution of our species.



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Agnostic

posted May 10, 2009 at 12:30 am


This is a tricky subject, simply because no one can be completely right, yet all parties think they have the right idea. Personally, I guide my life not by what I learned in Church, but what I learned from my family.
I have long since held the belief that when we are born, we are essentially neutral. It is our upbringing that decides what kind of person we will be, and what beliefs we will hold. I learned the Golden Rule not from hearing it in Church, but from what family and friends taught me as I was raised, and it has worked out pretty well so far. I live my life by the moral upbringing that I was given, and though it may not be perfect for everyone it works really well for me.



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NP

posted May 10, 2009 at 3:50 am


A person of high virtue is not conscious of virtue
and therefore possesses Virtue.
A person of little virtue tries to be virtuous
and therefore lacks Virtue.
A person of high virtue does not make a fuss
and is not seen.
A person of little virtue always makes a fuss
and is always seen.
A truly good person functions without ulterior motive.
A moralist acts out of private desires.
A ritualist acts and, when no one response,
rolls up a sleeve and marches.
When we lose the Tao, we turn to Virtue.
When we lose Virtue, we turn to kindness.
When we lose kindness, we turn to morality.
When we lose morality, we turn to ritual.
Ritual is a mere husk of good faith and loyalty
and the beginning of disorder.
Knowledge of what is to come may be a flower of the Tao,
but it is the beginning of folly.
Hence, the well-formed person relies on what is solid
and not on what is flimsy,
on the fruit and not the flower.
Therefore, such a person lets go of that without
and is content with this within.
–Tao Te Ching



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Sabio

posted May 10, 2009 at 1:36 pm


People rarely use ideas to form themselves but instead to reinforce their Selves. We have meaning before we make-up meaning. Few atheists or theists have a formalized system of ethics which drive them. They are driven and then seek formal systems to justify them.
The best way to teach morals is to live them.



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Jack

posted May 10, 2009 at 1:46 pm


“From where do you derive meaning in life?”
From where do you derive the idea that life has a meaning?
“It seems to me that meaning by definition needs to come from outside a given system.”
It seems to me that that sentence doesn’t actually make sense.
“In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences.”
No. it doesn’t, and no, they’re not. Our lives are both physical and non-physical. Our lives involve thought, which – while being caused by physical processes – is not in itself physical. It is a kind of perception, like sight or hearing. It is a non-physical reaction of the physical materials of our brain to certain physical processes taking lace in that brain. It is the picture on a television screen. And “meaning” can be intrinsic to it. Or it may not exist at all. Your claim that meaning must be external to life is a falsehood which you are advancing for the intellectually bankrupt ulterior motive of supporting an a priori irrational belief.
“If there’s nothing outside nature or physicality, as atheism presupposes”
This is a falsehood. Atheism presupposes no such thing. Atheism says one thing, and one thing only. That thing is this: “I am unconvinced by the assertion that some sort of deity exists”. You will find, as you make your way through life, that you will receive far more respect for your ideas if you refrain from basing them on lazy straw men of your own creation.
“If your intellect or your philosophy tells you that a certain action is right or wrong, what makes that moral judgment authoritative?”
Nothing. Can you understand this? Nothing makes it authoritative – well, other than human law, but I know that isn’t the sort of authority you are talking about. You religious people are driven by a rather weak and pathetic human need to have the law laid down for you. Your minds seem to struggle with reality – which is that there isn’t a damned thing that makes a moral idea authoritative in any absolute sense. We atheists recognise this reality. We understand that we form our ideas of right and wrong purely on the basis of reason, discussion, argument. We understand that they are not necessarily set in stone; nor should they be.
Years ago it was accepted that slavery was morally justifiable. It was accepted that women were inferior to men. These things were seen as obvious, common sense moral truths. And, of course, the people who most fiercely resisted attacks on these ideas were the religious. They clutched their precious holy books to their chests and wailed about divine law, about Leviticus, about the immutable word of God. They were idiots, they were social retardants, they were the enemies of progress, and they were wrong. The idea of absolute morality is a stupid one which is borne of human arrogance and human ignorance.
“What compels you to obey it?”
Nothing compels me to obey it. My reason persuades me to obey it. Lose this fascistic desire for certainty and absolutism, would you?



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jeff

posted May 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm


It’s simple, it’s a trait of evolution. Love, kindness, empathy, sympathy etc are all traits of evolution. When humans were the minority species on the planet living in small tribes you HAD to help each other out or die out. You need to look no further than instinct to understand the reciprocity we live by. To start adding invisible father figures is simply unnecessary.



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jeff

posted May 11, 2009 at 4:48 pm


I realize I didn’t answer the question. As Jack says why does there have to be meaning to life? Our universe produces more black holes than any other known universe in the galaxy. Life on our planet – the only known planet in our universe to possess life and even then life is void on most of it – appears to be a by product of black hole manufacturing.
If I had to think of something that would be a meaning to life I suppose that is different for everyone – except maybe believers. Personally, I am the meaning to my life. When I cease to exist there will be no meaning to my life. I am not scared of this, I do not live in fear of this and it bothers me not in the least that life will continue on long after I’m gone as if I never existed in the first place.



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Meghan

posted May 17, 2009 at 3:00 pm


Meaning of life comes from whatever we make it to be. My meaning of live comes from helping others and working for humanity as a citizen of the world. My life is full of hope, joy, love, passion, and compassion. And it resonates through my actions not through any higher power that controls my action.
I am an atheist, but like you I am a human being. And as such I has moral values. How or why do you ask? Because I have respect for humanity. I love and respect you, even though I don’t agree with you. I hope your God as taught you to do the same for you.
Why does “meaning or value in life need to refer to something outside our lives?” Why can’t it refer to our lives as they are; in people as they exist? I am more gratified knowing I have fulfilled my individual purpose and meaning by positively affecting some else’s life. My morals, values, and beliefs don’t need to authorized by a higher power. For us there is right and wrong without christ or the devil.
I only answer because you asked. Your views are just as valid as mine even though we do not agree with each other.



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Your Name

posted May 17, 2009 at 11:35 pm


For me, there is no single, solid place that I derive meaning. Does this bother me? To an extent, yes. But maybe that’s only because I’ve only been Agnostic for about a year and some part of me still expects to have that meaning coming from some central location.
However, I do derive meaning from things in a much more simple fashion. This is just being a decent, generous guy. I find purpose in giving stressed-out waitresses good tips, in saying “Thanks so much, have an awesome day” to tech support people, in giving someone a ride if they need it, in listening when someone needs to talk.
After I die, will anyone remember me and all I did, right and wrong? Probably not, or at least not for more than a generation or two. I probably won’t change the course of history, but I can be content in the fact that I lived a decent life. I don’t need a God to define what is meaningful, this is plain enough to see. And when I realize I’m hurting the situation, I can just change, rather than holding onto a belif because someone else defined it a certain way.
I find it strange that you were surprised by our pursuit of spiritual things. Since we don’t have a specific code for what is right and wrong, it becomes even more important that we understand our own spirituallity. If we aren’t relying on a God for direction, we need to understand ourselves even more. Like how a sailor without a GPS will pay much closer attention to the movement of the currents and his own ship through the water than the one with the GPS.



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Your Name

posted May 17, 2009 at 11:37 pm


Oh BTW, my name is Joel :)



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Matt

posted May 19, 2009 at 10:11 am


If you are interested in how the other side thinks then you should read Dawkins – in which you will find at least a whole chapter on this; however, I don’t think you need to go further than yourself: do you really base all your moral decisions *just* on a set of rules you have been told to obey? What if the church were suddenly to proclaim that a newly issued divine edict had been received from God legitimising rape. Would you get out there and get on it? I know what it is to be hurt and I therefore know that I don’t want to evoke similar feelings of pain in others. I act based on empathy not doctrine.



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RTod

posted May 19, 2009 at 7:20 pm


David:
My wife (an Episcopal vestry member) just sent me a link to your posting, thinking I might want to respond. I’m an agnostic by the literal definition, but since I firmly don’t believe in the God of any religion my friends think of me as an atheist.
The answer to your question of where my morals come from is, I suspect, the same as yours… internally, in a way that may well be hard wired. If you’re like most believers I know, you would argue that your morals come from your faith and your God. But I’m not so sure.
We’ve never met, but I might take a few stabs about your own moral beliefs. I’m going to guess that you believe that its morally wrong to steal something you really want, and that you do not condone murder, or spreading malicious lies about a coworker to help your own advancement. On a more controversial level, you may also feel strongly against gay marriage, or even openly gay people being allowed to hold certain jobs. And asked why you know these tings to be true, I know that you can point to the Bible or Torah. On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that you find slavery abhorrent. Likewise, if I were a betting man I’m guessing that the thought of your neighbors stoning an unruly teenager or unfaithful spouse horrific, and perhaps even evil. And I know I don’t have to point out to you that these moral codes come from the same book. Who has decided which is right, and which is wring? You have, independently from the text.
That being said, I suspect that you are a loving husband, father, son and/or brother. And despite your fear otherwise, were you to ever lose your faith (and I certainly wish for you that you don’t) you won’t l begin running amok in the streets, raping and pillaging wherever you think you can get away with it. You won;t because you’re probably a good person, and that’s a statement of quality that holds regardless of your religious belief… of lack thereof.
Sociopaths aside, most of us are born with the deep rooted needs to want to do well by our community, and all of us can struggle with pitting those urges against our more base id-driven desires. I know that believing that faith makes you have greater morals is a comfort; but I bet if you look objectively at those around you you’ll see that agnostics, atheists, liberal-leaning Jews & gentiles, and fundamentalists all, on a whole, do equally well (and poorly) with this struggle.
Or to be slightly snarky about it, if belief in God dictated moral actions, Baptist Evangelicals wouldn’t have the highest divorce rate.
I don’t know if any of this will make sense to you, or if you even read the comments to your blog, but hopefully it will.
I appreciated the spirit of your challenge, and the obvious searching for understanding rather than belittling. Or the record, I can relate to your confusion, as I’m always asking the same question from the other side of the mirror: Why do those that think they are accountable to God always seem to give a pass to evils done in the name of Him?



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GMNightmare

posted May 20, 2009 at 4:06 am


That post, is completely contradictory on nearly every point you attempt to make.
“how many atheists seem drawn to a website devoted specifically to spiritual expression”
You mean religious expression. You can be spiritual, and atheist at the same time. Back on track, we find it typically through searches for some atheist material only to get you guys mocking such things(not in this case), or simply links by others thinking you guys actually make a good argument(practically never). But enough of that, I’ll accept your challenge, but you probably won’t like it.
“needs to come from outside a given system”
Hmm, that’s a pretty poor theory, and a cat in the hat is the only backup you have for it? First off, a cat is a cat, only because both you and I agree that it refers(and not symbolizes) to a cat. Have a language lesson on me, that only works with NOUNS, because hey, nouns refer to objects like you said. Do you even realize how little nouns are used in relation to other word classes? Not a lot. You’ll find that most language is subjective, and full of adjectives. And while you’ll find that many NOUNS refer to outside objects, many ADJECTIVES can refer to our personal opinions of them-of which you may or may not agree to. Things get even more sticky when we start to talk abstractly. Meaning, is the message trying to be conveyed. That is meaning. And that does not refer to an outside object, but hey, the meaning could be referring to one.
“meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives”
As the above paragraph suggestion, this is completely bogus. Here, you are begging the question, leading the conversation that your belief must be so. Not really a good suggestion by you anyways, for a few reasons. First, are you insinuating that your meaning of life therefore has no reference to this life? Well that’s basically all that’s wrong with that really. If meaning of life referred to something outside this life, then it would have no purpose in this life… since it’s not a part of it. See? It has to have some connection in this life to have any point. Furthermore, whats the meaning of the “next life” as it where if the only point of this life is to try and get into that one?
But now I ask you… why must there be a meaning to life? Hmm? And that’s just it, there is no meaning. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Morals and values then you ask? Why they come through my relations with others. It seems cliche of course, that you would ask such a silly question, but it really puts your beliefs into focus in a bad light that it is. You have to have a god, to put you straight. You just can’t be good, for the sake of being good. Well, I can, and I do. What forces me to be good? Nothing, I decided, and that’s all there is to it.
You must be asked, but I could do “evil” whenever I wanted. Well, so could you, with “freewill” and all. Why don’t you do it? Because you’ll rot in hell. Why don’t I do it? Because I’m a good guy, and it’s just not a nice thing to do. The only problem left here? The subjectivity of language.



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unyoked

posted May 22, 2009 at 5:28 pm


***From where do you derive meaning in life?***
Vague question. Define meaning.
Maybe I misunderstand you but, you seem to be saying that words are meaningless unless they symbolize objects external to our minds. This is a tautology as words by definition are symbols for more complex arangements of concepts. Concepts which are derived from our interaction with the external world. Words make it possible for us to communicate verbally and think logically about things, but a word is not the thing itself.
From there you make an enormous leap and assert that
***In the same way, meaning or value in life needs to refer to something outside our lives, which are physical-, material-based experiences.***
Here you seem to be using “meaning” in a whole different way as in value, worth or purpose. From here your first point about words is irrelevant. Now we’re left with the bare assertion that meaning must come from outside our physical material based experiences. How would one experience this meaning? Certainly not by reading a physical-material book. Or by talking to physical-material people. Let me guess. You would just feel that meaning somehow just like an islamic terrorist feels that god wants him to kill the infidel. But, feelings are physical and material too. Otherwise they wouldn’t be affected by physical – material drugs or physical deprivation or torture or suggetion.
Then you change tracks and talk about morality. What makes the moral judgements of an atheist authoritative? Why suppose that they are? The question of how humans aquire their morality is still an open one. Science is still exploring the subject intensely. I realise that you want a simple answer but unfortunately natural explanations are often complex and subtle. Books can and have been written on the subject. Moral judgements probably happen on a very unconcious level and when asked to explain an unconcious choice people universaly just make things up. They aren’t being intentionally dishonest it’s just the way we are wired. So when you ask people to explain their moral choices of course a theist is going to say “my morals come from god” and an atheist will say whatevery theory he prefers. That is why you get so much variety in your responses. Asking atheists about morality is like asking people with brown eyes about baseball. Atheists don’t necesarilly have anything in common except a disbelief in gods.
Here’s my favorite theory. Just as humans have a propensity for developing linguistic codes we have a propensity for developing moral codes. Sure all people don’t speak the same language but all languages do have some underlying patterns in common. The same is true of moral systems.
Your conception of meaning and morality is completely empty to me. If that which is moral is moral because god (or whatever) orders it then it is arbitrary. Where’s the meaning in that? If god (or whatever) dictates morality based on an objective standard outside itself then morals don’t come from god. If you don’t have your own subjective sense of morality then how do you know that god is good and that it’s dictates should be followed and not those of satan? If god told you to kill the president, would you do it? How about your son? If your answer to both was yes then keep upping the ante. Where do you draw the line and why? If your answer is “that’s not in gods nature”, you should probably know better based on the bible.
From where do I derive meaning in life? You seem to be asking “why get up in the morning?” “why not just die already?” If you could here a beautiful song, but only once, would you choose not to listen because you new it would end? Do you like roller coasters? What is the meaning of a roller coaster? Have you ever hugged someone? Do you sing in the shower? Why? Because your human. That’s why. And like every other living thing, humans love life.



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Pantheist

posted May 27, 2009 at 5:37 pm


“I act based on empathy not doctrine.”
What I recall of the bible (which is half torah) are stories. For the most part, the stories demonstrate (via realistic fables presented as history) what happens when someone does something good or bad, and in that way, guide readers’ actions. For the most part, I follow the guidance of these stories. But when the bible strays from this strategy into prescribing doctrine (that is, orders, without providing an argument for the rules it sets down) I find it unpalatable. Naturalist EO Wilson has explained why we do what we do.



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david

posted July 22, 2009 at 6:37 pm


I listen to my conscience. I live by the Golden Rule. Why? Because I choose to. Do I really need a better reason?



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Brian

posted September 2, 2010 at 1:09 am


Exacltly!! I mean, if there is no god, then how does the sun keep orbiting the Earth? BAM!
See that people, that’s how you deal with atheist skum, with LOGIC. Hit that bullseye and the rest of the dominoes will come down like a house of cards. CHECKMATE!
And on that note, check out my store…
Aristotle’s Muse
Help change the world one mind at a time.



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Gerald Raho

posted January 16, 2013 at 4:28 am


Your desire to put an atheist or agnostic stamp on everybody who wishes to live in a secular society goes just as much against the principle of freedom of thought as religious authoritarians like the owners of this site. It is nothing to do with you, the governments or religious organisations of this world or anybody else what I believe or don’t believe. Atheist tyrants like Richard Dawkins et.al. are just as bad as religious fanatics who indoctrinate our kids and pollute the TV. The silent majority are free-thinkers and don’t need or want your pseudo moral teachings.



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