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Morality, Christian vs. Natural

I’ve written two articles which articulate the difference between natural morality and Christian (or other faith-based) morality, but it occurs to me that I’ve never actually presented them sequentially.  So, for anyone who has difficulty expressing the difference, here’s the two-chapter version:

WHAT’S WRONG WITH CHRISTIAN MORALITY

If we assume that there is, in fact, a perfect interpretation of the Bible, we are at something of an impasse. Since logic and conscience can’t be our criteria for making the decision, we must rely on something else, but what? Divine revelation? Again, every denomination makes some claim of divine revelation, so which one is correct? How will we decide? What if none of them are correct? What if, after reading the Bible, you come to the conclusion that everybody’s got it wrong, and that you have the perfect interpretation. God has spoken directly to you, and you are certain you are correct. This is fine for you, but how am I to judge whether or not I believe you? You are now in exactly the same situation as the other fifteen thousand denominations. You must ask people to use either logic, conscience, or divine revelation to decide to believe you.

The sad truth is that if there is a true interpretation of the Bible that does not rely on human logic or conscience, then it is unknowable beyond individual interpretation, which is the same as saying that it’s entirely subjective.

NATURAL MORALITY:  SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE VALUE JUDGMENT

Remember that morality is the name we give to our value judgments of human interactions. The key word here is value. Before we go any further, we need to establish just what kinds of things are valuable to humans. In order to do that, we need to go to the source. If a human finds a thing valuable, it is because his genes have programmed him with the capacity to find it so. This isn’t a small point. Things very seldom happen for no reason in evolution. Natural selection has a way of weeding out traits that don’t directly contribute to their own best interest, and extraneous hangers on are usually dropped off at the nearest evolutionary junkyard.

At the base of our genes’ list of desires is the continuation of the species. Genes want us to reproduce. It doesn’t stop there, though. Every species on earth reproduces, but there is incredible diversity. Diversity is very useful in adapting to different environments. We can say, then, that genes want to create organisms that fill niches. This is common sense. If there are two creatures fighting over the fruit from one tree, and there’s a different kind of tree a mile down the road, it benefits genes to make a new kind of creature that can eat the fruit of the other tree. Instead of having one population fighting over limited resources, there are now two populations fighting over two limited resources. Again, economics gives us a clue. Diversification is always a great investment strategy. That way, all our financial eggs aren’t in the same basket. It’s the same with evolution.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “Morality, Christian vs. Natural

  1. I think that the primary and most important difference between Christian morality and natural morality is that there isn’t a difference at all. That is Christians use their natural morality to determine their Christian morality.

    I’ll try to dig up the study, but it turns out Christians use their natural morality to determine God’s morality.

    Also, I’m not so sure about this:

    If a human finds a thing valuable, it is because his genes have programmed him with the capacity to find it so. This isn’t a small point. Things very seldom happen for no reason in evolution. Natural selection has a way of weeding out traits that don’t directly contribute to their own best interest, and extraneous hangers on are usually dropped off at the nearest evolutionary junkyard.

    If this was true, religion, would have been in the nearest evolutionary junkyard a long time ago, as it’s not an adaptation, but rather a by-product, and frankly a useless one at that.

    Posted by cptpineapple | September 15, 2010, 1:35 am
  2. I’ll try to dig up the study, but it turns out Christians use their natural morality to determine God’s morality.

    We’re back to this, are we? You’ve never clearly articulated how you’ve determined what people would do if they weren’t religious. That’s the major flaw in your reasoning. You’re basically saying, “If person X, who commits act C, was not religious, he would still commit act C, and would find some other justification for it.” I’ve already backed you off of this position several times, when you’ve conceded that some things are genuinely religious in nature, and a non-believer would have no reason whatsoever to do them.

    I believe that what you’re confusing is the difference between innate “moral compasses” and the expression of those compasses. That is, people do tend towards religions in which God represents their own likes and dislikes. Nobody I know of has ever argued against that point. But you have never successfully addressed the observation that FAITH is a catalyst, enabler, and facilitator for going farther down a particular road than would be possible with an evidence based worldview.

    To put it simply, nobody’s ever claimed that religion turns people into bigoted homophobes. But there’s a very clear argument that when a person already predisposed to homophobia and bigotry is put into a social environment that encourages, facilitates, and enables homophobia, the person acts more homophobic and bigoted. You’re familiar with the studies that have proven that when homophobic, bigoted people are put into healthy, friendly environments where they are peers and compatriots with those they dislike, their level of homophobia and bigotry decreases. There are plenty of stories of people who became activists for gay rights after being put in such situations.

    So, no, Alison, nobody’s denying that people make god in their own image. The argument is that the religious paradigm allows the exacerbation of the worst parts of those images.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 15, 2010, 3:49 pm
  3. And by the way, I’m excluding forced brainwashing from this discussion. I hope you recognize that people can and are turned into homophobic bigots through brainwashing. I’m talking about people who are more or less free to choose their own religious or non-religious path.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 15, 2010, 3:50 pm
  4. You’ve never clearly articulated how you’ve determined what people would do if they weren’t religious.

    The reason I’ve never really laid out a scheme of what the world would be like without religion is because I have no idea what the world would be like without religion. What I can do however, is evaluate claims that do claim to know what the world would be like without religion and determine if they are scientifically and logically valid.

    you’ve conceded that some things are genuinely religious in nature, and a non-believer would have no reason whatsoever to do them.

    Well, one thing a theist would do that an atheist wouldn’t is believe in God. However it’s a major leap of logic to go from “There are things that are exclusive to theism” to “C is exclusive to Theism.”

    I think the atheists ethicist said it best in his entry about the atheist hostage taker at discovery

    http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/

    If that society is substantially religious, then these type of people will wrap their acts in religious terms. If their society is mostly atheist, they will wrap their acts in atheist terms. At least, this is a quite plausible interpretation unless and until somebody can come up with proof that there is an actual cause-and-effect to be had.

    That is we do observe people commiting atrocities without religious motivation? If he was religious wouldn’t he have put his actions into religious terms? If he did put them in religious terms would you have said he wouldn’t have done it if he wasn’t religious?

    But you have never successfully addressed the observation that FAITH is a catalyst, enabler, and facilitator for going farther down a particular road than would be possible with an evidence based worldview.

    Seeing as humans have already created one form of faith based thinking, what makes you think they won’t create another?

    You may say “well, they won’t with evidence based world view”, but that assumes that we aren’t hardwired for bias and we are hardwired for rationality.

    Well, the opposite seems to be true and until you can come up with a coherent mechanism to get the rationality to override the bias, then you’ll have about as much success as the absitence movement does in preventing sex. Some of the worst thought out and least supported claims I’ve heard come from the Skeptics movement. They seem to be willing to throw out reason to try to spread it which I find rather odd.

    Posted by cptpineapple | September 16, 2010, 2:49 pm
  5. Sorry, I linked to AE’s home page rather than the actual article

    http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2010/09/james-lee-discovery-headquarters.html

    Posted by cptpineapple | September 16, 2010, 2:50 pm
  6. I’m sorry, Alison. I really don’t feel like I can go through this discussion again. I get what you think you’re saying, and I see what you’re not taking into account, but I can’t think of any other way of trying to explain it to you. People’s environments shape their actions. Changing the environment changes actions. Religion and faith are environments. When you remove them, you’re changing the environment. Actions will change.

    Until you incorporate this basic observation into your theories of moral expression, you’re going to run into a brick wall.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 16, 2010, 4:33 pm
  7. Religion and faith are environments. When you remove them, you’re changing the environment. Actions will change.

    The reason I keep emphasising the importance of religion being a social construct is that religion isn’t the environment, it’s a product of the environment. You’re not going to change the environment by changing it’s byproduct.

    If you do, you’ll errr…. hit a brick wall.

    In order to advocate that the religion is causing the environment and not the other way around, you would have to prove[!] that that is the case.

    But you haven’t proved it, you just have circumstancal evidence and a strong emotional response that you are right.

    I mean, you’ve read predictably irrational right? The irrationality isn’t caused by the irrational environment, the irrational environment is caused by the irrationality.

    While having a strong emotional response towards something doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it does mean that you have to provide a stronger case in order to convince others, it’s not up to them or me to prove you wrong, it’s up to you to prove you right.

    Posted by cptpineapple | September 16, 2010, 5:01 pm
  8. Alison, social constructs are environments.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 16, 2010, 11:55 pm
  9. Alison, social constructs are environments.

    In order to advocate that the religion is causing the environment and not the other way around, you would have to prove[!] that that is the case.

    Posted by cptpineapple | September 19, 2010, 4:42 pm

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