I would like to
cover a number of points this evening. They include:
That the question of
why be moral has underlying assumptions that need to be examined
carefully and perhaps questioned in light of our increase in
knowledge that now provides the basis for claiming that there is no
choice for humans as to whether or not they will have morality.
That religion is the
basis for morality needs to be challenged based on logic and
evidence and displaced as a working assumption or as dogma.
That religion is
necessary for morality is not supported by evidence and may now be
refuted by evidence.
That a belief in a
deity is necessary for morality is also not supported by evidence
and may now be refuted by evidence.
That morality based
on religious belief systems is superior to morality that is not so
based is also to be carefully examined and has been possibly refuted
That the possibility
that there is a biological basis for the root and origins of
morality needs to be seriously considered.
It is standard
practice in the teaching of ethics for the instructor to deal with
the certain issues before proceeding too far into the subject matter
of ethics and various theories of meta-ethics or theories of what
makes a human action morally good. In addition to the challenge of
relativism there is the more basic challenge expressed in the
question Why be moral? Why care about doing the “right” thing in
the first place? Who does care? Why do they or we care about being
moral? Pursuit of these questions would journey into the value of
morality to individuals and society as a whole. Indeed it would
stretch to inclusion of the benefit of morality to the human
community itself. Tonight I want to go a bit further on that
journey and in a community of inquiry raise even more basic
questions about morality.
In Philosophy the
community of inquirers share a tradition of more than two thousand
years of questioning even onto the most basic of assumptions and
presuppositions and foundational beliefs and worldviews underlying
questions. Now with the information and the knowledge we have
available the delving deeper into questions reaches into new
terrain. Tonight I want to raise the question that the question
“Why be moral?” may contain within it assumptions that are no longer
warranted. The question, “ Why be Moral?”, appears to assume that
morality or more precisely ‘being moral’ is a matter of choice. The
question poses the implicit claim that being moral is a choice that
a human can make: that a human can make the choice either to be
moral or not to be moral. The standard treatment would then be to
offer reasons why the choice to be moral is preferable to the
alternative and then to proceed into inquiry as to how to go about
thinking of being or becoming moral. I want to invite you to
consider that the implicit claim that a choice does exist is in need
of further examination than most give to it.
Raising the question
about the assumption that humans have a choice as to whether they
are to be moral beings or not can open up inquiry in more than one
direction. For several centuries some have paid heed to the matter
of free will and morality and the notion that if humans are not
possessed of free will then, of course, not only do they have no
choice concerning the decision to be moral or not to be moral but
also they have no choice about any of their actions, being
programmed or trained or conditioned or in some way determined as to
what actions are taken from one moment to the next. If the question
of existence of human freedom, of free will and free choice or
indeed of the reality of choice itself is answered in the negative,
then morality becomes problematic as without choice over one’s
conduct responsibility for that conduct is reconceived and along
with that morality and response to behaviors found undesirable to
most if not all members of the human community. While we may touch
on this question of freedom or free choice or free will that is not
the direction I will begin with tonight. The path of inquiry
tonight may bear on the matter of free choice in a manner slightly
different than most approaches to it.
assumption that humans have a choice about whether or not they are
to be moral at this point in the development of our knowledge about
ourselves, raises yet another very basic question. Is it at all
possible for humans not to be moral beings? I raise that question
and will present the position that it is not given for humans not to
be moral. It is of the nature of the species, homo sapiens,
to exhibit behaviors which the human community commonly refer to as
“moral” behavior and in their sum exhibit what is commonly referred
to as “morality”.
Recent studies in
Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, neuroscience, comparative
psychology, and animal; behavior have produced some truly
provocative findings. The position I will take is that in their sum
they present a case that the human species has in its genetic makeup
something shared with other primates, namely a moral sense. The
empirical approach to the study of human behavior sometimes uses
popular expressions such as the ‘ethical brain’ to describe the
findings that somewhat oversimplify but the collective findings do a
bit more than merely suggest that humans are fundamentally possessed
of a moral sense and inclination and instinct for behavior commonly
referred to as moral.
Aristotle noted more
than two thousand years ago that humans are social animals,
zoon politikon. This expression acknowledges that we are
not and cannot be what we are in isolation from one another and that
we realize our natures when we are in community, when we interact
with our fellow humans. In the social context we develop and use
language and develop and use or cognitive abilities and with that we
develop and use our various capacities for creation and
exploration. We are artistic, being creators of things practical
and ornamental. We are rational, efforting at understanding our
physical, social and cultural environments. There is in the
recognition of the social nature of human nature the beginnings of
the recognition of the moral nature. Social life for primates of
any sort is not possible without behaviors that permit and even
foster life amongst others. There needs to be a degree of cohesion
for such gatherings of being coexisting, beings with the capacity to
threaten and cause harm to like beings. For primates the degree of
cohesion is the result of the development over time of behavioral
control elements that inhibit and direct those behaviors that would
cause harms to other members of the group, pack, or tribe.
But before raising
further the matter of these origins of morality, let us look quickly
at the matter of the motivation to be moral assuming that there is a
WHY BE MORAL?
Consider what the
world would be like if there were no traffic rules at all. Would
people be able to travel by automobiles, buses and other vehicles on
the roadways if there were no traffic regulations? The answer
should be obvious to all rational members of the human species.
Without basic rules, no matter how much some would like to avoid
them or break them, there would be chaos. The fact that some people
break the rules is quite clearly and obviously not sufficient to do
away with the rules. The rules are needed for transportation to
Why are moral rules
needed? For example, why do humans need rules about keeping
promises, telling the truth and respecting private property? This
answer should be fairly obvious. Without such rules people would
not be able to live amongst other humans. People could not make
plans, could not leave their belongings behind them wherever they
went. We would not know who to trust and what to expect from
others. Civilized, social life would not be possible. So, the
question for the moment is: Why should humans care about being
moral? In response to this question there are several answers.
Without morality social life is nearly impossible.
People care about what others think of them: reputation and
social censure. Further, some people care about doing the right
thing: a matter of conscience
Some people care about what will happen after death, to their
soul or spirit. For many religions there is an afterlife that
involves a person’s being rewarded or punished for what they
have done. This is another possible motive to be moral or to do
the right thing.
We know that we
should be moral and so should others and without some sense of
morality it would be very difficult if not impossible for large
numbers of humans to be living with one another.
But set against
these possible motives for being moral is empirical evidence and our
own individual experience illuminating that in the moment of
decision making, most human beings pay little attention to these
possible motives in their conscious deliberations. Something else
may be and would need to be operative to provide for the basis of
social life and to preserve social life.
is showing that morality is linked with and dependent upon both
physical structures in and the functioning of the brain as well as
on cultural inheritances.
Before looking into
what science indicates in terms of neuroscience and morality let us
first consider that there is another popular belief about the source
RELIGION and the ORIGIN of MORALITY
For many people
religion has been closely aligned with morality. Many believe it is
the source for morality and the only source. However, Religion is
not and cannot be the source of human morality as morality must of
needs be predating religion. Social life needs to exist on an order
to support the generation of the basic elements for religious
institutions. Thus, that order needs to have obtained by some means
other than religion. Religion is in part the result of a need for a
rationalization of the human instinct for morality that underlies
basic social life. Thus, human morality exists prior to the
development of religions and must exist prior in order to permit the
development of religions. Religion uses morality, religion depends
on the moral sense and then co-opts the moral instinct and may even
Morality is not in need of a belief in a deity.
Are Religion and
Morality identical? Does morality depend on religion? Is morality
only possible with religion? Must morality rest on a belief in a
So identified with
religion has morality been that one of the most popular views holds
that they are inseparable. Consider that for many the basis for
morality are the laws that emanate from some divine or supernatural
source; a deity. For many of those that believe in a Supreme Being
it is God’s law that is the basis for morality. But consider this
Does a society need a belief in a deity for a sense of what makes
an action morally good?
The answer must be,
NO! Why? Because morality can be exercised and evidenced in the
absence of a belief in a deity.
A. Three reasons why
morality does not of necessity rest on a belief in the existence of
1.That society need a belief in a deity for a sense of what makes
an action morally good goes against common moral sensibility
People do not make
moral decisions and each time think about a deity as the source for
what they think of as the morally good thing to do.
People do not think
that unless there is a deity with a specific command making some act
morally good or morally bad then there is no possibility for moral
People do not appear
to accept the idea that any act at all would be considered as being
morally good simply because a deity had commanded it to be done.
According to Divine Command Principle
because all that
matters to make an action moral, according to Divine Command
Principle, is that the "god" commands it. However, most people
think that there are just some acts that are morally wrong and that
no deity would command that they be done because they are not
morally correct. Thus, they deny the fundamental premise of a
morality based on a belief in a deity as the source for morality.
2. That society need a belief in a deity for a sense of what makes
an action morally good goes against Reason
the Divine Command Theory of Morality
It stands against
reason that an act would be morally correct on one day and then not
morally correct on another day under the same circumstances because
a deity had issued new command but that would be the case according
to the most popular idea linking a deity to morality which is the
Divine Command Theory. Keep in mind that as we examine this theory
it is not accepted in practice by any of the world's living
religions as it is quite flawed as a guide for life. Why is the the
Divine Command Theory of Morality both flawed and dangerous?
a. Who knows what
the commands of the deity are? Can just anyone claim to have heard
the command and respond to it? Sane people? Insane people? Anyone?
What if the commands seem to be ridiculous or inhumane or worse?People
have done some horrible and some strange things claiming they were
commanded by god to do it. Read about those who claim "GOD
MADE ME DO IT"
are some recent cases of Divine Commands.
b. The commands may
need to be interpreted, but by whom?
c. If there are a
few who claim to be designated by the deity or who are designated by
some group to be the official recipients of the divine commands are
humans prepared to follow the commands of these designated
recipients as if they were the commands of the deity?
d. If the deity
commands or the designated recipients of the deity's commands do
command that every human sacrifice the second born child on its
third birthday on an altar would that make such human sacrifice a
morally GOOD act?
e. If ideas of the
"good" rest solely on commands from the deity then there is no
standard for what is "good" that humans can use reason with to reach
decisions as to what is morally correct unless covered directly by a
f. The command of
the deity can CHANGE in time as the deity is believed to be eternal
and involved with affairs of humans. When some human declares that
the deity has changed the command what authority determines if the
command has been changed?
g. Some humans can
claim that the deity has commanded them to take the lives of
innocent people in support of some cause. Who determines if they
have received that command?
h. Some humans can
claim that the deity has commanded them to take the lives of the
leaders of some large religion because the deity no longer favors
them or reports that they have lost the "true path" or are
unfaithful. Who determines if they have received that command?
Divine Command Theory can and has been seen as a basis for a form of
psychopathology when it is used to justify the killing, torture or
enslavement of innocents. Religions or cults that use it, even as a
sop to the masses, are warping the basic moral sense that the
species has had to preserve itself and advance. Perhaps you can
understand now why no major religion accepts Divine Command Theory
as the basis for moral decision making. And yet there are many
people brought up to accept the Ten Commandments as guides for a
moral life and they think that following those commandments would
make them adherents to the Divine Command Theory . This is NOT the
case at all. In Divine Command Theory the GOOD is whatever the
"god" or deity commands. This means whatever and whenever and
wherever. Divine Command Theory does not rest on scriptures.
Divine Command is Divine Command. Divine Command does not stop
with the Ten Commandments. No not at all. The theory holds that
the deity did not go out of existence after issuing those
commandments but continues to exist and issues new commandments. The
deity can even issue commandments that change the previous
commandments and even in contradiction to them. In fact it is often
the case that someone claiming to have received a direct command
from the deity will do something quite inconsistent with or a
violation of one of the ten commandments, for example killing
innocent children because the deity told them to do so.
does anyone know what the "god" or deity commands? The "god" or
deity tells them either directly or through some intermediary or
through signs or omens or some experience that those who receive the
command claim has been the transmitter of the message or the
command. How exactly do people get the command ? Well again it is
either directly or indirectly through some intermediary like a
person or a written work. Can the deity continue to issue commands
after previous recordings? Yes, the deity can update and change
commands as the deity wishes.
there are many problems with this theory. So many that the
religions of the West have rejected Divine Command Theory and
instead hold for Natural Law Theory. The rejection may be based on
the fear of some charismatic person receiving a divine command to
change the religion or to kill the leaders of that religion.
Divine Command Theory does not rest on scriptures. Divine Command is
People claim that GOD has COMMANDED them to do X
Therefore doing X is a morally good act.
X can be ANY ACT AT ALL.
ANY ACT AT ALL can be good if GOD COMMANDS it!!!
Divine Command Theory there is NO GOOD or BAD by itself at all.
There is only what GOD COMMANDS
GOD commands= GOOD
GOD forbids= BAD
GOD gives a NEW COMMAND, then NEW COMMAND= GOOD
one who accepts Divine Command Theory can question the commands of
the deity or make a statement such as "I do not believe God would
command the things you stated here at all." And be consistent with
their stated claim to accept the Divine Command approach to morality
because a person who accepts the Divine Command Theory accepts NO
ACT as being GOOD or BAD except according to what the deity
According to Divine Command Theory
that matters is that the "god" commands it.
Sacred scriptures offer no resolution of the problems with Divine
Command approach to morality. Scriptures can record what some
people at some time thought god commanded them to do. Some people
can follow what is written in those scriptures. That is not Divine
Command Theory. Why not? Because, for those who believe in a deity
or a god then GOD lives forever. GOD is alive. GOD keeps issuing
COMMANDS. People hear the Divine Command in 1205 and 1776 and 1848
and on May 10, 2003 and on April 25, 2012 and so on and they follow
it thinking the command makes the act that is commanded the morally
correct thing to do.
Divine Command Theory has so many problems that there are very few
people on earth that use it and they tend to be fanatics in the form
of religious fanaticism, and mentally unstable people. No organized
religion actually supports Divine Command Theory because of all the
problems with it and the threat it poses to organized religions.
Judaism and Christianity and Islam support Natural Law Theory and
not Divine Command Theory.
Many people claim that morality is impossible without the belief in
a supernatural entity (god), from which our sense of right and wrong
ultimately derives. And yet as Massimo Pigliucci expresses it, “,
Plato put a huge hole in this argument, back in the 4th century BCE.
Think about this excerpt from Plato’s Euthyphro (Socrates is
"Consider this: is what is pious loved by the gods because it is
pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (Euthyphro,
as it has come to be known, is this:
If the good is such because God says it is, then morality is
arbitrary (e.g., God condoning all sorts of immoral acts in the Old
Testament, including: Genesis 34:13-29, Exodus 17:13, 32:27,
Leviticus 26:29, Numbers 16:27-33, 21:3, 21:35, 31:17-18,Deuteronomy
2:33-34, 3:6, Joshua 6:21-27, Judges 3:29, etc., etc.).
If the good is absolute, and God cannot do evil, then we don’t need
the middle man to figure out what is good and what is not (e.g., we
know that killing innocent children and women, ethnic
cleansing, etc. are wrong, period).
Notice that this is not an argument against the existence of
God, only about gods’ irrelevance to morality. Yet, if one cannot
avoid either horn of the dilemma, it is difficult to see what the
point of religion ultimately is... by Massimo Pigliucci, at
Natural Law Theory
Here is another theory that in one of
its forms involves belief in the existence of a deity, god. It is
the ethical principle employed by the major religious traditions of
the West: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
With this theory actions in
conformity and support of natural laws are morally correct. A
simple summary would be :
What Is Consistent with the Natural Law Is Morally Right and What Is
not in keeping with the Natural Law Is Morally Wrong .
This is NOT what is natural is morally correct and what is unnatural
is morally wrong. The focus is on the natural LAWS and not simply
In this view humans have reasoning
and the Laws of Nature are discernible by human reason. Thus,
humans are morally obliged to use their reasoning to discern what
the laws are and then to act in conformity with them.
Humans have a natural drive to eat,
drink, sleep and procreate. These actions are in accord with a
natural law for species to survive and procreate. Thus, activities
in conformity with such a law are morally good. Activities that
work against that law are morally wrong. As an example consider
that to eat too much or too little and place life in jeopardy is
This theory has two major variations
on it. For the theists there is a deity that created all of nature
and created the laws as well and so obedience to those laws and the
supplement to those laws provided by the deity is the morally
correct thing to do. For atheists there is still the belief that
humans have reasoning ability and with it the laws of nature are
discernible. For atheists who accept this approach to act in
keeping with the laws of nature is the morally correct thing to do.
What are the laws of nature that
provide guidance for human actions? These would include: the law of
survival, the natural action for living things to maintain
themselves and to reproduce, etc.. It is a major problem for this
theory to determine what exactly those laws are, what they are in
some detail, and how they apply to human circumstances.
Problems for Natural Law Theory
One of the difficulties for natural law theory is that people have
interpreted nature differently? Should this be the case if as
asserted by natural law theory, the moral law of human nature is
knowable by natural human reason?
2.How do we determine the essential or morally praiseworthy traits
of human nature? Traditional natural law theory has picked out very
positive traits, such as "the desire to know the truth, to choose
the good, and to develop as healthy mature human beings”. But some
philosophers, such as Hobbes, have found human beings to be
essentially selfish. It is questionable that behavior in accordance
with human nature is morally right and behavior not in accord with
human nature is morally wrong. For instance, if it turns out that
human beings (at least the males) are naturally aggressive, should
we infer that war and fighting are morally right?
Even if we have certain natural propensities, are we justified in
claiming that those propensities or tendencies should be developed?
On what grounds do we justify, for example, that we ought to choose
For Aquinas, the reason why nature had the order it did was because
God had put it there. Other thinkers, such as Aristotle, did not
believe that this order was divinely inspired. Does this alleged
natural moral order require that we believe that there is a God that
has produced this natural moral order? Evolutionary theory has
challenged much of the basis of thinking that there is a moral
natural order, since on evolutionary theory species has developed
they way they have out of survival needs.
It is doubtful that one can infer moral principles forbidding
adultery, rape, homosexuality, and so forth, either from biological
facts about human nature or from facts about the inherent nature of
Critics of natural law theory say that it is doubtful, however, that
the inherent nature of Homo sapiens establishes laws of behavior for
human beings in the same way as it may establish laws of behavior
for cats, lions, and polar bears. It is especially difficult because
so much of human behavior is shaped by the environment, that is, by
deliberate and non-deliberate conditioning, training, and education.
Two philosophers (Aquinas and Aristotle) integral to the theory have
different views about god’s role in nature, which confuses the
issue, especially when trying to decipher if the theory relies on
the existence of god.
The intrinsic nature of humans as it pertains to establishing laws
of behavior may not be the same for all animals, which presents
difficulties within the theory.
Human behavior may be solely reliant upon the environment that one
is exposed to, which includes social classes, education and
upbringing, this opposes the theory.
3. That society needs a belief in a deity for a sense of what makes
an action morally good goes against Facts
Those who hold that religion and morality are inseparable link God
with the base of morality. God provides the basis for a universal
morality. Without God , they hold, anything is possible. Without God
as the basis for morality all that is left would be a nihilistic
ethics. History provides ample evidence to refute such claims as
there are Buddhists and Taoists and Atheists and Humanists who live
moral lives and avoid nihilism as well. There are hundreds of
millions of people on planet earth with no belief in a deity and yet
living moral lives. So it is possible for people to be moral
without a belief in one or more deities and even without being
raised in and holding to any religious tradition. Thus religion is
not absolutely necessary to live a moral life.
There are billions of people who make moral decisions without
reference to any religious code of morality and without thinking of
their religious background or training or rules. There are studies
of moral decision making that indicate little or no difference in
the moral sensitivity and decision making of religious people as
compared to non-religious.
Does a society need to have religion as the basis for morality?
would appear that
Morality is independent of both a belief in a deity and religion
addition to the mistaken view that morality is inseparable from or
impossible without a belief in one or more deities there is also
that view which holds that religion and morality are not separable.
Contrary to that position is that which holds not only that religion
is separable from morality but that they must be separable. There
are those who hold that the only real or workable basis for morality
is separate from a deity or god or a belief in a god and spiritual
realm and separable from religion itself. They go so far as to hold
that even the deity or spirits are accountable according to a
morality that exists apart from them. Even the deities or the single
deity or the "god" are to be held morally accountable. Even the god
or gods must follow the moral law.
morality is not of necessity linked to religion
religion is not of the essence of morality
morality is separable from religion
and agnostics do not behave less morally than religious believers,
even if their virtuous acts are mediated by different principles.
They often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as
anyone, including involvement in movements to abolish slavery and
contribute to relief efforts associated with human suffering.--Marc
Hauser and Peter Singer,
"Morality without religion"
by Marc Hauser and Peter Singer, December, 2005 http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/HauserSinger.pdf
These studies begin to provide empirical support for the idea that
like other psychological faculties of the mind, including language
and mathematics, we are endowed with a moral faculty that guides our
intuitive judgments of right and wrong, interacting in interesting
ways with the local culture. These intuitions reflect the outcome of
millions of years in which our ancestors have lived as social
mammals, and are part of our common inheritance, as much as our
opposable thumbs are.
These facts are incompatible with the story of divine creation. Our
evolved intuitions do not necessarily give us the right or
consistent answers to moral dilemmas. What was good for our
ancestors may not be good for human beings as a whole today, let
alone for our planet and all the other beings living on it. But
insights into the changing moral landscape [e.g., animal rights,
abortion, euthanasia, international aid] have not come from
religion, but from careful reflection on humanity and what we
consider a life well lived. In this respect, it is important for us
to be aware of the universal set of moral intuitions so that we can
reflect on them and, if we choose, act contrary to them. We can do
this without blasphemy, because it is our own nature, not God, that
is the source of our species morality...
Psychological motivation--Deciding and Acting based on rewards and
punishment is a low level of moral development and motivation
incapable of sustaining more complex moral reasoning on complex
issues involving moral dilemmas. It is described by psychologists as
one of the first if not the first sense of morality that children
develop about the time they are 18 months to 2 years of age. Most
humans develop more complex and socially responsive moral
sensibilities related to concern for others by the time they are in
People making decisions using the principle that "Goodness is its
own reward." would appear to be a firmer foundation than for a
society to operate with than the principle that people will only be
good if they are rewarded for doing so, either in this life or the
next. The motivation to act in a morally good manner if rewarded
appears to be ineffective in most cases of moral decision making
when the rewards for doing the morally correct thing rest on a
belief in another life far removed in time and place from the act
If a book like the Bible were the only reliable blueprint for
human decency that we had, it would be impossible (both practically
and logically) to criticize it in moral terms. But it is
extraordinarily easy to criticize the morality one finds in the
Bible, as most of it is simply odious and incompatible with a civil
Myth of Secular Moral Chaos
by Sam Harris see
Biblical Vulgarities and
Biblical Inconsistencies .
--If religion were necessary for morality, there should be some
evidence that atheists are less moral than believers. -The
Myth of Secular Moral Chaos by Sam Harris
both above and below concerning empirical studies supporting the
claim that there is little or no difference in moral thinking and
moral behavior of religious and non-religious people. In fact some
evidence suggests that a more secularized society may be less
If religion really provided the only conceivable objective basis
for morality, it should be impossible to posit a nontheistic
objective basis for morality. But it is not impossible; it is rather
The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos by Sam Harris
See the material on
this wherein the various ethical principles as deciphered or
invented by philosophers is presented as basis for a secular ethics
Factors- Empirical Studies indicate that religious societies are NOT
more moral than those that are more secular in their cast. There
are examples of societies and cultures that have moral codes without
a belief in a deity and there are efforts to establish a moral order
that is not founded on religion. Their efficacy as compared to
moral traditions stemming from or dependent upon some religious
tradition remains to be determined. However, the secular basis for
morality may be more effective in securing social cohesion and
non-violent resolutions to conflicts than a morality based on
religious beliefs. Here is one study that indicates that secular
societies may have less violent crimes.
A Study that supports the thesis that there is
Less Societal Dysfunction in Secular Societies
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable
Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the
Prosperous Democracies: A First Look by Gregory S. Paul,
Baltimore, Maryland Journal of Religion & Society
Volume 7 (2005) ISSN 1522-5658
Large-scale surveys show dramatic declines in
religiosity in favor of secularization in the
developed democracies. Popular acceptance of evolutionary science
correlates negatively with levels of religiosity, and the United
States is the only prosperous nation where the majority absolutely
believes in a creator and evolutionary science is unpopular.
Abundant data is available on rates of societal dysfunction and
health in the first world. Cross-national comparisons of highly
differing rates of religiosity and societal conditions form a mass
epidemiological experiment that can be used to test whether high
rates of belief in and worship of a creator are necessary for high
levels of social health. Data correlations show that in almost all
regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates
of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and antievolution
America performs poorly.
Societies worse off "when they have God on
their side" By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent The
Times, UK September 27, 2005
RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society,
contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual
promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.
According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only
unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to
social problems. The study counters the view of believers that
religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations
of a healthy society.
It compares the social performance of relatively
secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority
believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many
conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a
social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality. Many
liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that
religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps
to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity
and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have
been described as its "spiritual capital". But the study claims that
the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.
The paper, published in the Journal of Religion
and Society, a US academic journal, reports: "Many Americans agree
that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed,
shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an
increasingly sceptical world.
"In general, higher rates of belief in and
worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide,
juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen
pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.
"The United States is almost always the most
dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes
Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a
social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey
Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his
conclusions. He compared social indicators such as murder rates,
abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy. The study concluded that
the US was the world's only prosperous democracy where murder rates
were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least
dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents
in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout
democratic countries. The US also suffered from "uniquely high"
adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent
abortion rates, the study suggested.
Mr Paul said: "The study shows that England,
despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal
better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a
much less religious nation than America."
He said that the disparity was even greater when
the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan
and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most
successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually
transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.
Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now
because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence
accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion
might actually contribute to social ills. "I suspect that Europeans
are increasingly repelled by the poor societal
performance of the Christian states," he added.
He said that most Western nations would become
more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned
and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the
theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US
unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.
"The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies
contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions
unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.
"The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry
must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted."
There is a moral
sense quiz by the Primate Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Harvard
University that provides data in support of claims that religion is
not needed for morality. Take the quiz yourself at
Does morality require a deity or god? Perhaps not -
see article by Theodore Schick, Jr at
Morality Requires God ... or Does It? Morality
Requires God ... or Does It? Article arguing against the
claim that morality requires God.
where he claims that: It is uncertain whether there are such
things as moral facts at all. People are guided by their deepest
cares and concerns. The position of the modern evolutionist is
that humans have an awareness of morality because such awareness
is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation.
Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an
objective something, ethics is illusory. Morality is just an
aid to survival and reproduction, and any deeper meaning is
The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos
by Sam Harris
A Philosophical Discussion of the Basis for Contemporary Moral
A Philosophical Discussion of the Basis for Contemporary
Moral Choices A paper by Merwin Sibulkin offering an
approach to morality which is independent of religious texts and
addressing contemporary moral problems.
Are God and Ethics Inseparable or Incompatible? Are God
and Ethics Inseparable or Incompatible?An in depth treatment
of the moral argument for God and the meta-ethical argument for
Ethical Oasis Ethical OasisE-zine dealing with
ethical and moral issues without reference to God.
Human Ethics and Morality Human Ethics and Morality
Exploring the relationship between ethics, morality, evolution,
psychology, culture and genetics.
Morality and Atheism Morality and Atheism An essay by
Josh Rubak discussing whether ethics and morality require
religion. Has feedback area.
Morality and Atheism Morality and Atheism An
examination of the theist assertion that one cannot accept both
atheism and objective moral standards and that objective moral
standards prove that God exists.
Morality Without God Morality Without God Jonathan
Blumen discusses whether morality is evidence of God.
The Biological Basis of Morality The Biological Basis of
Morality Scientific fact sheds light on age-old ethical
questions. An article by Edward O. Wilson.
The Ethics of Belief The Ethics of Belief
Philosophical examination of faith and belief. Essays by William
Kingdon Clifford, William James, and A.J. Burger.
The Human Basis Of Laws And Ethics The Human Basis Of
Laws And Ethics An essay showing theological values, as
opposed to human-oriented values, to be the most baseless and
The Relativity of Biblical Ethics The Relativity of
Biblical Ethics Joe Edward Barnhard argues that the Bible
itself exemplifies moral relativism.
The Riddle of Ethics Without Religion The Riddle of
Ethics Without Religion Michael Schermer explores
For other views you can find at
FaithQuest an excellent collection of
contemporary essays by philosophers and theologians as well as
some classical theologians. These are restricted to Christian
Philosophy. Go to this site
FaithQuest and click on the name of the author and then
on that author page click on the title of the article you wish
On scientific versus religious explanations of ethical behavior
The Basis of Morality by Tim Madigan in
Philosophy Now at
Do Our Values Come from God? The Evidence Says No by Victor J.
A non-religious basis for morality is superior because religious
morality is too rule based (principles) and restrictive and less
flexible than alternative approaches.
People often think and many claim that morality is dependent on
religion. Some claim religious morality is superior to secular
morality. Some refer to the nearly universal association of
morality with religion on planet Earth as evidence in support of
their claims. This is backwards!!
Religion is dependent upon
and follows from morality and not the other way around.
Now let us look to Neuroscience and
the mirror neurons and the development of empathy and sympathy to
find that MORALITY results from both GENES and MEMES !!! This is
something that Philosophers have greater need to do as knowledge
advances. IF there is a need to distinguish what is from what
should be and to take care to make clear what is is not necessarily
what ought to be then surely Philosophy takes more care to look at
what is known of what is the case concerning human behavior.
Neuroscience is finding the brain
structures and functioning that make for the "ethical brain". How
is this so? Humans are social animals and as Aristotle put it
zoon politikon. As such they have evolved in part due to a
capacity to relate to others and have empathy and sympathy for
others that serves as the base for acceptance of basic rules of
conduct needed to live with others in relative peace sufficient to
support social or group life and then the advantages of social
life. Evolutionary Psychology is finding/hypothesizing the
evolution of moral notions as an expression of the hardwiring. The
brain appears to have structures evolved and passed on through our
genetic makeup (GENES) that provide for EMPATHY and SYMPATHY and
CONCERN for OTHERS. These each in some way enhanced survival
ability for the social species of homo sapiens. Morality is a
result of and expression of those operations. Particular moral
expressions or rules are enunciated and passed on as cultural
inheritances and thus MEMES (cf. Richard Dawkins work).
The primatologist, Frans de Waal, was
one of many who have argued that the roots of human morality lie in
social animals such as the primates, including apes and monkeys. The
feelings of empathy and expectations of reciprocity are necessary
for the behaviors needed to make any mammalian group exist as
individuals living in the midst of others. This set of feelings and
expectations of reciprocity may be taken as the basis for human
morality. Neuroscientists are locating that sense in mirror neurons
in the brain.
“Morality is as firmly grounded in
neurobiology as anything else we do or are. Once thought of as
purely spiritual matters, honesty, guilt, and the weighing of
ethical dilemmas are traceable to specific areas of the brain. It
should not surprise us, therefore, to find animal parallels. The
human brain is a product of evolution. Despite its larger volume and
greater complexity, it is fundamentally similar to the central
nervous system of other mammals.”---Frans de Waal’s
Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and
Other Animals (1996)
Everywhere humans are found and where
evidence exists of human culture there is evidence of a sense of
morality. While the particular moral rules may not be the same
there is significant similarities and a commonalities in purposes
served by moral codes. Morality is needed for human community and
humans demonstrate this world wide. There is evidence that all
societies have morality. Is this because they could not exist
without some sense of how we are to behave? Human beings are social
beings -they have language which is a social creation. Humans could
not live in groups without some sort of sense of how to behave in
ways that enhances the survival of the group- hence sympathy and
empathy are needed and they are part of the basis for morality: a
There is now the study of
Evolutionary Ethics and part of that is James Rachels’
Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism
(1990) and Frans de Waal’s
Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and
Other Animals (1996).
Both claim that coming to grips with our moral sense involves
looking not toward heaven but rather toward our fellow members of
the animal kingdom, particularly the three great apes."--Tim Madigan
“The moral nature of man has reached
its present standard, partly through the advancement of his
reasoning powers and consequently of a just public opinion, but
especially from his sympathies having been rendered more tender and
widely diffused through the effects of habit, example, instruction,
and reflection. It is not improbable that after long practice
virtuous tendencies may be inherited. With the more civilised races,
the conviction of the existence of an all-seeing Deity has had a
potent influence on the advance of morality. Ultimately man does not
accept the praise or blame of his fellows as his sole guide, though
few escape this influence, but his habitual convictions, controlled
by reason, afford him the safest rule. His conscience then becomes
the supreme judge and monitor. Nevertheless the first foundation or
origin of the moral sense lies in the social instincts, including
sympathy, and these instincts no doubt were primarily gained, as in
the case of the lower animals, through natural selection.”--Charles
Descent of Man,
Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior
“Morality is as firmly grounded in neurobiology as anything else we
do or are,” Dr. de Waal wrote in his 1996 book “Good Natured.
On this, consider Scientist
Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior .
The Ethical Brain by
Michael Gazzaniga (Dana Press: NY, 2005) the neuroscientist
describes experimental evidence to support his claims that the left
hemisphere of the brain operates to unify the various systems within
the brain and serves as an interpreter to fashion stories that
become the personal beliefs of each person. Humans need beliefs
and belief systems to make sense of their sensory inputs. The human
species reacts to events and the brain interprets the reaction. Out
of those interpretations there arise the beliefs by which people
guide their actions. Some of the beliefs lead to rules by which
people will live. And so there emerges a moral sense upon practical
considerations. The left hemisphere continually functions to
interpret events and to create stories to accommodate the sensory
and ideational inputs. Whenever there is information that does not
fit the self image created by the interpreter or the conceptual
framework or belief system previously held and operative, then the
interpreter will create a belief to make sense of it in some manner
or hold it in some way relation to previous information and
beliefs. The human species has a core set of reactions to
challenges. Humans share similar reactions to situations. They
share the evocation of empathy and sympathy. Humans have mirror
neurons that evoke this reaction. Other primates also have such
mirror neurons. They appear to make a social life possible.
Gazzaniga holds that there exists some deep structure in the brain
driving not only a certain common set of values as expressions of
the evoked responses but also the need to create cultural edifices
or social constructs for moral codes. Thus religion evolves to
satisfy that drive.
Religions may have begun from an
instinctual reaction common to humans. It evolved into a social
support system and system of rationalizations (beliefs) that attempt
to make sense of the individual responses to one another and to
situations faced by all humans.
Gazziniga holds that there are neural
correlates of the religious experience in the temporal lobes of the
brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy has as one of its symptoms a hyper
Gazziniga holds for the possibility
of a universal ethics for all humans based on the most basic of
evocations shared by all humans. Current research utilizing moral
sense testing is producing interesting findings in support of the
hypothesis of a genetic base for morality in humans.
For Gazzaniga humans want to believe,
they want to believe in a natural order and they want a codification
of their most basic empathetic responses towards others. Gazzaniga
wants science, as neuroscience to assist the human community to have
what it appears to need and based on the best information available.
So humans are hardwired and
programmed for morality and religion rides in on that as a context
in which the programming results in producing a fuller expression.
This in turn is culturally transmitted and thus the human impulse is
most often being routed through religious institutions and
On scientific versus religious explanations of ethical behavior
The Basis of Morality by Tim Madigan in
Philosophy Now at
There is consideration given to the
impact of looking at morality as rooted in the evolution of the
species and in the neural endowment of human brains.
Is “the new neuromorality” a threat to traditional views of right
and wrong? by Cathy Young
reason on line
Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist,
in Moral Minds (HarperCollins 2006) holds that humans are born with
a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. This
system in the brain generates instant moral judgments. This was
needed in part because often quick decisions must be made in
situations where life is threatened. In such predicaments there is
no time for accessing the conscious mind. Most people appear to be
unaware of this deep moral processing because the left hemisphere of
the brain has been adept at producing interpretations of events and
information and doing so rapidly thus generating what may be
accepted as rationalizations for the decision or impulse and
response that is produced rapidly by the brain without conscious
attention even being possible.
Hauser has presented an argument with
a hypothesis to be tested empirically. That process is underway .
There is considerable support for it already gathered in work with
primates and in close examination of the works of and research now
being conducted by moral philosophers as well as by primatologists
"Morality without religion"
by Marc Hauser and Peter Singer, December, 2005
Consider the following three scenarios. For each, fill in the blank with
morally “obligatory”, “permissible” or “forbidden.”
1. A runaway trolley is about to run
over five people walking on the tracks. A railroad worker is
standing next to a switch that can turn the trolley onto a side
track, killing one person, but allowing the five to survive.
Flipping the switch is ______.
2. You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond and you are
the only one around. If you pick up the child, she will survive and
your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is _______.
3. Five people have just been rushed into a hospital in critical
care, each requiring an organ to survive. There is not enough time
to request organs from outside the hospital. There is, however, a
healthy person in the hospital’s waiting room. If the surgeon takes
this person’s organs, he will die but the five in critical care will
survive. Taking the healthy person’s organs is _______.
If you judged case 1 as permissible,
case 2 as obligatory, and case 3 as forbidden, then you are like the
1500 subjects around the world who responded to these dilemmas on
our web-based moral sense test [http://moral.wjh.edu]. On the view
that morality is God’s word, atheists should judge these cases
differently from people with religious background and beliefs, and
when asked to justify their responses, should bring forward
different explanations. For example, since atheists lack a moral
compass, they should go with pure self-interest, and walk by the
drowning baby. Results show something completely different. There
were no statistically significant differences between subjects with
or without religious backgrounds, with approximately 90% of subjects
saying that it is permissible to flip the switch on the boxcar, 97%
saying that it is obligatory to rescue the baby, and 97% saying that
is forbidden to remove the healthy man’s organs. . When asked to
justify why some cases are permissible and others forbidden,
subjects are either clueless or offer explanations that cannot
account for the differences in play.
Importantly, those with a religious
background are as clueless or incoherent as atheists.
These studies begin to provide
empirical support for the idea that like other psychological
faculties of the mind, including language and mathematics, we are
endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of
right and wrong, interacting in interesting ways with the local
culture. These intuitions reflect the outcome of millions of years
in which our ancestors have lived as social mammals, and are part of
our common inheritance, as much as our opposable thumbs are.
Research in Neuroscience has
proceeded so far as to call into discussion how humans are
responsible for their actions and the degree to which all ethical
thinking or morality is merely post facto rationalizations for the
near automatic responses made to situations by the brain.
The Brain on the Stand
by Jeffrey Rosen on recent scientific
work and its implications.
Morality may be rooted deep in the
evolved workings of human brains with its mirror neurons and the
operation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
Morality and Brain Injury
by Benedict Carey. However, if you
reflect a moment on the question of how people become moral (GENES
for brain structures and functioning) and how they then acquire the
exact moral precepts or rules (MEMES-moral codes and ethical
principles) by which they live you will probably realize that a
number of factors come into play in the development of personal
morality. Indeed you will probably think that people become moral
or learn about morality due to their involvement with:
Media- television, films, videos, music, music videos
How exactly each person develops
their ideas about right and wrong is a subject being studied by
psychologists. This type of study is part of what is known as Moral
Psychology. One of the most famous of the psychologists who does
such studies is Lawrence Kohlberg. He has a theory of moral
development based upon his research with people from very young ages
through the adult years. His work confirms and expands upon an
earlier theory by the American Philosopher John Dewey.
Stages of moral development
I. Pre-conventional :
concern for self
1. Reward / Punishment
I. Pre-conventional concern
II. Conventional: concern for
self and others
3. Ideal Model -Conformity
II. Conventional concern for
self and others
4. Law and Order
III. Post Conventional:
concern for others
5. Social Contract
III. Post Conventional
concern for others
6. Universal Principles
Kohlberg used scenarios to elicit
responses from his subjects concerning their thinking about what
makes an act right or wrong. He was less concerned with their
answer as to what they would do or approve of in others as he was
interested in their reason for thinking as they did. Here is a
simplification of his famous Heinz Scenario:
How would you solve the following
scenario which Kohlberg used on his research subjects ?
A man named Heinz had a dying wife.
The wife had an almost fatal disease.
The local druggist owned a $20,000
drug that could save her.
Heinz could not raise the money in
time and he certainly did not have the cash to buy the drug.
Heinz therefore made a decision and
that night he broke into the drug store and stole some of the
Should Heinz have done that?
Why do you think that?
Kohlberg thought that fewer than 25%
of people ever progress beyond the fourth stage and do so because of
some event that presses them to develop further.
Events can force a person to move
further. The decision to have an abortion, to resist the draft or
to assist your mother lying on her death bed to die quickly and with
less pain and suffering are the sorts of events for which
individuals must come to face just what it is that makes an action
right or wrong. It is at those times and through those events that
individuals come to learn what their values are, who they are and
what their moral rules will be. Consulting with friends and
religious advisors about such matters will bring much advice but
leave the decision-making about the rules and the actions to the
For more recent studies
Learning Right From Wrong or
The Moral Instinct by Stephen Pinker
So it would appear
more and more evidence advances in support of the notion that
morality is part of our nature. Behavioral pathology and the amoral
human being, the sociopath and the psychopath are being related to
the diseased or malfunctioning brain. Thus the claim gains support
that morality is resting on a basic moral sense and not on a created
institution such as religion. Morality based on a non-religious
base may have greater adherence to the fundamental precepts that are
expressions of the basic sense. A morality based on the ideations
of religious traditions may not have a strong a basic hold and when
an alternative secular tradition appears it may gain more adherents
and more influence over society.
Secular over Religious Morality
There are those who think that a
morality based on a negative motivation is inferior to one based on
positive motives. To avoid doing wrong based on fear is far
inferior to a morality based on well reasoned principles and the
desire of the autonomous moral agents to act in a manner that is in
accord with some set of basic ethical principles that resonates with
some core values. Religious morality appears to rest on fear.
There is the fear of reprisals from deity or deities. There is fear
of punishments from a deity. There is fear of a next lifetime being
set under conditions that are not favorable. There is the fear of
the loss of salvation and eternal damnation and punishment. Opposed
to such a motive secular ethics is based on the well reasoned
conclusion that certain conditions for social life that a valued are
better achieved by adherence to some set of guiding principles for
There is much
criticism of the moral foundation of Western Civilization located in
the proselytizing religions of monotheistic tradition. The morality
of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions have all at one time
or another supported many heinous human actions and organized
violence against others, even within the same tradition. Many
atrocities have been committed in the name of those religions.
Religions have been associated as a motivating factor or near total
explanatory cause for most wars and such phenomena as the Intifada,
Crusades, Inquisition, 9-11, arranged marriages to minors, the
suppression of women, oppression of homosexuals and lesbians, the
burning of witches, condoning slavery, ethnic cleansing, honor rape,
human sacrifice, suicide bombings, the sexual abuse of small
children, and so on.
While it is often argued that
religion despite whatever may be its shortcomings or flaws or faults
does at least instill a morality or a community ethos without which
social life and civilized life would not be possible. Against this
claim there are a growing number of people who would argue that a
morality resting on a religious faith that is founded on nothing but
faith in the hope of securing a better life after a life on earth is
a morality that fosters within people a sense of meanness towards
others and even a selfishness in a concern for personal salvation.
Such a morality does its worst on humans when it encourages a faith
upon which it rests that is a faith that is held without or beyond
reason and evidence to support it. Such a morality is inclined to
be one that is without a degree of sensitivity for nuance and for
critical and reflective thought. It is a morality of literal
interpretation and simple minded applications. It is a morality of
tradition that finds it very difficult to adapt to changes in the
physical and social environments and to incorporate advances of
science and technology into its moral schema. This morality is one
that resists adaptation to progress. Slavery, the subjugation of
women, just and holy war theory, the inequality of social classes
are all supported by such morality.
Morality founded upon the hope of
survival of the death of the body and eternal life is a morality
that has at its base a number of difficulties. It is founded on a
reward-punishment approach to morality that is rather simplistic and
childlike. If there is a situation for which there is no punishment
does that make it permissible? If the motive for doing what is
morally good is the hope of eternal life then what happens when a)
there is no proof that there is such a life? b) the idea of an
eternal life becomes less positive and more negative as people
realize that an infinite amount of time is an idea that drains
meaning out of the value of human life?
It is sometimes thought that the
religions of the East are more spiritual and contemplative and thus
more innocuous and perhaps more humane than those of the West. The
record indicates otherwise. There are cases too numerous in the
East of atrocities and of human insensitivity to match those in the
West. Even within the traditions of Buddhism there have been tales
of physical violence on massive scales for over two thousand years.
In the light of the horrors
perpetrated by or in the name of religion alternatives are sought
for the ethical principles found in religious traditions. The
non-religious or secular alternatives are sought through the use of
human reason, a universal resource. A view of morality that is
founded on reasoning and a naturalistic worldview is thought to be
more dependable and more capable of being universalized than is any
set of principles that are dependent on religious worldviews. There
are people at work on developing or applying such secular ethical
principles to their lives and attempting to develop and maintain a
social life under such principles. Secular humanists are such
people along with those who make their moral decisions based on
principles such as those developed by philosophers like Mill and
Kant and Rawls.
Some might argue that for the most
part secular ethics have already replaced religious ethics in
everyday practice, It could be concluded that most people who claim
that their ethical principle is one that is rooted in some religious
tradition are actually in practice operating from another ethical
principle altogether. One of the most common such principles is
Ethical Egoism or here
Ethical Egoism whereby
decisions are made based on what is thought to be in the best
interests of the person making the decision and one that most
satisfies the interests of that actor whatever those interests may
This is most true of people in
developed nations with advanced information technologies and
communications and entertainment systems. There has been a
"secularization" of daily behavior in such locations for some time.
The operative moral base or ethical principle employed in such
settings by most people is not a religion based ethic nor does it
come from a deity. It is the secular principle of ethical egoism.
Philosophers and moralists such as secular humanists have been
working on the promotion of an alternative ethical base, such as
based on caring for other human beings.
Caring to produce the satisfaction of
the interests of the greatest possible number of humans when making
moral choices is at the base of the ethical tradition known as
Recently there has been the growing
movement of secularists (non-religious peoples) to develop a moral
foundation for a social order that is progressive and life
Council for Secular Humanism has its
The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles
available for examination and
consideration. There are other such groups as
Ethical Culture Societies
promoting ethical principles that are not based on any religion as a
basis for ordering social life. "Ethical Culture is a humanistic
religious and educational movement inspired by the ideal that the
supreme aim of human life is working to create a more humane
For more on Humanists and Atheists
and Secularists see this
There are therefore examples of
societies and cultures that have moral codes without a belief in a
deity and there are efforts to establish a moral order that is not
founded on religion. Their efficacy as compared to moral traditions
stemming from or dependent upon some religious tradition remains to
Recall there are now studies that
indicate that secular societies may have less violent crimes. Why is
this? Whence is the basis for morality absent beliefs in deities or
the presence of religious institutions holding influence over the
masses? It could be that it is in human nature itself: a basic
moral sense. This sense does not permit humans living amongst other
humans not being moral in the sense that they will exhibit empathy
and sympathy for the plight of others, if only for the sake of their
own well being. The question “Why be moral?” should be seen as a
mute question for there is no such choice as assumed by the
question. As long as humans have been social beings they have
exhibited behavior we can term as being moral. Such behavior is aprt
of being human. Why have we not realized this as clearly as we
might instead prefering to focus on the rational, creative, and
emotive aspects of human nature? Perhaps because it is too clear.
Stephen Pinker in
his work, the Blank Slate, credits anthropologist
Donald Symons for pointing out something that strikes us directly as
very telling and counting against moral relativism, multiculturalism
and at the same time a morality based on religious tradition.
IF a single person
were to kidnap a young girl and brutalize her, physically and
sexually assaulting her, throwing acid into her face, partially
dismembering her, surely humans would be repelled and revolted by
those actions. They are so against our basic moral sensibilities.
However, should thousands behave in that manner we have come to
calling it a product of their culture and we are exhorted to
withhold our moral condemnation of traditions that are not our own.
What would allow or encourage humans to commit such acts? The
record will show that it is not secular humanism or any secular
ethic that does so. The heinous behaviors are resultant nearly
always from religious belief systems. Some would have them as being
the work of religious fanatics, religious cults, and extremists so
as not to have the behavior disparage religion itself. Be that as
it may, it is religious rationalizations and justifications that
support or drive the inhuman actions. A religious ethic is less
likely to oppose all acts of harm to humans. Few are the exceptions
to this but they do exist within Hinduism(Jainism) and Buddhism and
less so in the religions of the West.
this interesting observation. Most people asked to complete this
sentence: ” People should be free to do what they want to do as
long as they ________ “ complete it in much the same manner.
Again: ” People should be free to do what they want to do as long
as they ________ “
And how do you complete it? Most do
it thusly: ”People should be free to do what they want to do as long
as they do not hurt others. “ Why is this so? There are those
mirror neurons and the human capacity for empathy and sympathy deep
in our nature. IT is the source of a natural instinct for
morality. We inherit an impulse to interact and to seek pleasure
while avoiding pain but for ourselves and for others nearest to us.
We want to do as we please as long as we do not cause harm to
ourselves and want not to bring harm to ourselves and we expect and
ask the same of others. The popularity of the Golden Rule across
cultures is explainable in terms of the common genetic inheritance.
Ethics based on this natural fact are likely to have more adherents
than ethics that would warp such a basic sense of empathy.
Religious ethics can promote a form of psychopathology and moral
blindness as they would have the basic sense of compassion and
sympathy set aside by adherence to commands or even ethical
principles received from authorities that support actions that do
cause harm to others. Many of the worst human atrocities have
religious beliefs and commands at or near their root. Humans should
behave as humans would behave were it not for the interference of
beliefs that would have us deny our basic moral sensibilities. Why
not live and let live as a moral guide? In the absence of beliefs
in deities and religious doctrines and commandments it might just be
Since Socrates, Philosophers have attempted to locate another source
of morality that would fill the void between the absolute, universal
morality based upon religion and belief in a deity as the source of
moral authority and the nihilism of relativistic ethics and the post
modern moral malaise. Now such inquiry must take full account of
the findings of science and our vast increase in knowledge. It
would appear that human being are, by nature, moral beings. But that
we are moral beings and inescapably moral beings does not
necessarily extend to the manner in which our morality evidences
itself. There is the operation of cognition and rationalization and
critical thought that develops and has developed a number of
different approaches to thought about what makes an action moral,
what humans do consider or ought to consider as the moral “good”.
There is much thought about how human values can be instanced in or
through human conduct. This is the territory of philosophical
discourse and the branch known as “meta-ethics”. Exactly which
ordering of our values is to serve or best to serve as some sort of
guide for moral decision making that best serves the human community
is a topic for another evening.