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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some thoughts on mythical creatures and morality

I'm constantly bombarded by claims that without god, there can be no morality. Such a claim is absurd in the highest degree, but I thought it might be useful to explain why I think belief in a god is not required for 'morality'. Morals are entirely a construct of society. They are fluid and ever changing and I would argue that there are no single 'fixed absolutes' when it comes to morality. Each religion can make a claim to these absolutes, but it's largely an exercise in mental masturbation. In essence, the claim to an absolute morality is nothing more than an attempt to bolster an individual's belief that they have found the one true religion. 99% of the time I've encountered this argument I am also told that it's impossible to be an atheist and have morals (i.e. I'm immoral). Such an argument does two things. (1) It bolsters the belief in the accuser that morals stem only from their belief in god and (2) that the believer is somehow 'better' than the atheist because of that faith.

I've been told that without morals and without a belief in a god, that I am wasting my life. I reject those arguments as well. From an evidence-based perspective, this life is all there is. Death is final (all anecdotes aside). So, while we are alive, it seems that we serve both our own good and the good of our species to take care of each other and to support each other as best we can. That means (to me) that among other things the strong should protect the weak. In the simplest case, our species would cease to exist if we do not hold to this simple 'morality' because babies are weak and cannot survive without the protection of the strong.

Some say that the 10 commandments are the source of morality, but for the most part they merely codify common sense survival of the species concepts. The 'god' things are merely thrown in to make them look religious and to be self-serving to maintain the religion for which they were written. here's my view

ONE: 'You shall have no other gods before Me.'

JM: Big deal. This is a self-serving commandment for religious leaders to maintain the discipline of their followers. There is no moral imperative in this commandment.

TWO: 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.'

JM: Another silly order with no moral imperative behind it. The commandment is in the self-interest of the leaders of the religion nothing more.

THREE: 'You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.'

JM: No moral imperative. Self-serving to the religion.

FOUR: 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.'

JM: No moral imperative. Self-serving to the religion.

FIVE: 'Honor your father and your mother.'

JM: This is a somewhat reasonable imperative, though not necessary for a moral society. One can think of numerous cases whereby it would be detrimental to honor either parent. Still, an infant is more likely to survive to reproductive age by honoring the commands of the parents (eat your veggies etc). This is not 'moral' though it may in many cases be very logical.

SIX: 'You shall not murder.'

JM: This is a moral imperative, but society has shown this to be a 'special case' imperative. Though shalt not kill except in war, or in the case of self-defense or in the case where killing might remove a greater danger etc etc. I would argue that again in the simplest case, murdering is most likely to reduce the gene pool and therefore be of less benefit to a reproductive species than the alternative.

SEVEN: 'You shall not commit adultery.'

JM: The commitment of one husband to one wife decreases the genetic pool, but it also provides stability and protection to the family. Perhaps the better morality would be not to commit adultery once you have children. Again, this is one of those very fluid morals in society.

EIGHT: 'You shall not steal.'

JM: Except when.....There are many cases where theft has been justified, but again in keeping with the idea that society benefits most when resources are shared seems a reasonable evolutionary strategy.

NINE: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.'

JM: Not really a moral imperative.

TEN: 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.'

JM: A rather nonsensical 'morality' in that coveting does no real harm to society and the actions that might result from coveting are covered elsewhere.

In short, the 10 commandments are not really much in the way of a moral imperative so I fail to see how religion can really make the claim that morality is impossible without religion. Morality is not expressly defined all that well by religion and most 'moral imperatives' are aimed at protecting the religion over the protection of the individual. Talk about a selfish gene!


At 10:35 PM, Blogger Eamon Knight said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "imperative", but I think #9 is a good rule, though perhaps not as vital as prohibitions on stealing and murder. I take it as covering everything from malicious gossip to formal perjury. Widespread lying of that sort damages the social fabric that enables cooperative behaviour.

At 2:07 AM, Blogger rmacapobre said...

all of the most pleasant places to live in are secular places. and most if not all of the worst places to live in are religious places.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Sarafan said...

So if we place the exodus at somewhere between 1400 and 1700 BCE
(between Egypt's Eleventh dynasty(start of Hyksos era) and Eighteenth dynasty, then God had at least a good 90 years or so to plagiarize the Code of Hammurabi (1790 BCE) for commandments 5-10.

That said, God's 2nd draft (Exodus 34) is a bit more...err... original...

Maybe we should just stick with Solon's commandments


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