Necessity of Secularism, pg 112

Aug 31, 2016

“Thought experiment: It is widely recognized that nonhuman animals are not regarded as being bound by moral norms. We don’t blame the cat for killing the bird or for fighting with Tabby next door. Interaction between nonhuman animals is governed by tooth and claw, not moral norms. So no humans, no morality. Of course, in the absence of humans, there would still be rain, snow, and times without precipitation; there would still be night and day; the tides would still roll in and out; the laws of physics would still apply. There would be an infinite number of facts about the world even if there were no humans present. Yet there would be no morality. If we acknowledge that morality is an institution to address human concerns, an institution which reflects biological, psychological, and social facts about humans, then why would the contention that morality is an institution developed by humans result in such disquiet?”

–Ron Lindsay, Necessity of Secularism, pg 112


12 comments on “Necessity of Secularism, pg 112

  • It creates disquiet only in those who through a dearth of mental development, require a story-line where humans are the pinnacle of “creation”, and are outside of and beyond the harsh realities of the real, natural cosmos. It is the never-ending fairy tail that assuages the guilt, shifts all blame and responsibility and allows the hapless to live happily ever after. If humanity is the author of morality, then the fairy tale is exposed as an obvious fiction, not a divine revelation. The bubble pops and mother nature, history and reality destroys blissful, guilt-free eternity. The notion that humans are a brave, nascent species in a violent and mysterious universe, battling to discover its origin and evolutionary path through time and space, is anathema to the soothing falsehoods of religious dogma. Logic and reason result in a far greater creative space in which a superior consciousness could be postulated. Science is humble and admits that humans may be joined one day by God-like beings who have discovered their origin and evolutionary path through time and space, and come out on the other side with a control over energy and matter easily mistaken as a deity. What is almost for certain, is that these beings will not condemn lesser creatures to cruel hoaxes, false hopes and needless persecution for simply being who and what they are. Until empirical evidence of other such beings is officially established, I am fine with being a sentient, bi-pedal primate surviving on the third small rock, from a medium-sized star, in a galaxy among billions, expanding into the endless realm of time and space, in search of truth.

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  • I concur with Craig that it’s only the religious who experience disquiet at the notion that morale is developed by human society, rather than a god-given. Both the torah (and later the talmud) and the quran have codes of conduct (which may be mistaken for moral code) for everyday events. Even the bible has it’s 10 commandments, of which 7 are about god veneration.
    Mozes’ law is a beaut in raw, mysognistic and barbarian law, pretty much the same as the quran.
    If you take the events in the OT as a guideline to moral code, than genocide, scorched earth, slavery, rape and incest would still be the norm of the day. For some islamic extremists groups, this is actually the present day law (Sharia).
    In reality, social pressure and the family that you were raised in, dictate moral code, which shifts over time (Read Oscar Wilde in the 19th century about black people; not nice).
    Even the higher mammals have a kind of rudimentary moral code; we think of that as herd behaviour/instinct etc. But look at the way elephants protect their babies, how they seem to mourn their dead. Or how killer wales protect their old and even feed them. All the higher mammals have a form of language to communicate with each other. Unfortunately we are not (yet) able to understand this.
    So humans may not be the only ones that have a moral code; other higher mammals may have too, however rudimentary.

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  • Humans evolved like every creature and so obviously morality evolved along with the creatures. Mammals are the creatures that exhibit moral behaviour including helping those in distress; dolphins rescuing swimmers, guiding boats in trouble, compassion for those in their pod, elephants honouring their dead in elaborate rituals and lifelong grave-site visits, rodents refusing food if the only way to get it involves torturing their kin.

    The only difference is animals have no word for morality but I would argue that the feeling is the same. If I was walking in the forest and saw a child lost and in distress my heart would sink and I would feel compelled to action. If I turned away and left the child there my stomach would start turning, I would be disgusted at myself and if I did not turn back knowing the child would die I would think about that everyday for the rest of my life in shame. On the other hand, if I swoop the child up and expediently bring them to safety where they now smile and cry with the joy of relief hugging me so hard in thankfulness I too would cry with joy and forever remember that moment and be so happy that I was there at the right time to help. I would want to follow-up to have reunions with the child to see how they were doing.

    My body and brain will reward me for doing the morally correct thing; it will punish me for not. I argue that other mammals can experience the same feelings.

    Morality is not a human construct but an evolutionary one. However, humans certainly are the biggest moral offenders, which given doing morally reprehensible things makes one feel awful, is actually rather surprising. Then again, chimpanzees can be terrible bullies and rule by fright and threat of violence so maybe it’s not so surprising.

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  • I wonder – maybe Chris is right and morality is an evolutionary construct. Would that explain why morality does not seem to continually progress toward the universal good? Many people would leave the child in the forest.

    As for wanting morality to be bestowed by god – what is the need people have for structure? Is it because it’s so hard to make your own? Is it because we know people act in their own interests and we long for an independent body that will make the rules the same for everyone. No matter how crazy the rules?

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  • Ep2016

    Would that explain why morality does not seem to continually progress toward the universal good?

    You don’t think humans have moved toward the higher moral ground? You’re not a fan of Pinker I see. But for the record, just five hundred years ago, humans apparently had no problem with some vile behavior that is considered to be barbaric today. Maybe religion can take credit for some improvements but in general I would say that we are moving away from the “morality” of the Bible on a strong stable progressive path.

    The religious have been indoctrinated as children and along with the ridiculous scary Middle Eastern fairy tales that they are programed to believe comes the so called “morality” of the times that these stories were written. We’ve come far since then, but under the influence of this indoctrination it seems that they lack the ability to examine these items individually.

    I think it’s important to challenge these old relics of morality when the opportunity arises. Capital punishment is one example of an old Biblical idea that exists in the mindset of many religious people as being good and just but when I have presented facts and ethical points about it I’ve seen some waver in their opinion and become confused. They’re good people but have been programmed with bad ideas. They can and do change their minds when presented with a strong case.

    I find that some people are convinced that religion is good and true and necessary for a morally superior society. It’s not difficult to produce many examples of morally inferior ideas that come from religion. I always emphasize that people are better off working through moral questions on their own and that they are good people without God or religion.

    Our pragmatic philosophers are a much better source of ethics and morality than any two thousand year old dusty book could be. This comes as some surprise to many who have never imagined what it would be like to strike out on their own and do the thinking for themselves. But like you said above, maybe it’s too hard for some to break away from the pack and make their own rules.

    I’m not sure where you live, but it’s interesting to watch the current push toward death with dignity rights here in the States. This is a moral issue tied in with a legal one. The “right to lifers” have resisted the legal right to medically assisted death for certain patients in certain circumstances but the general public is coming around to the moral higher ground slowly thanks to the arguments of those who oppose suffering as a religious requirement. When it’s pointed out that Christianity admires and requires suffering and that this is is a disgusting idea that should be rejected immediately people really are shocked to realize what they’ve been supporting. These conversations are what it takes to move us all forward step by baby step.

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  • Chris Hill,

    Can I commend “Age of Empathy” by primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waals to you? This is an examination of the (at least) mammalian roots of empathy. Whilst not a complete picture of the evolved mechanisms involved it does give some excellent illustrations confirming that evolution is indeed critical. (Fuller explanations are available elsewhere.)

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  • Ep2016 #5
    Sep 4, 2016 at 10:46 pm

    I wonder – maybe Chris is right and morality is an evolutionary construct. Would that explain why morality does not seem to continually progress toward the universal good? Many people would leave the child in the forest.

    Many tribes, the Greeks and the Romans, regularly abandoned children.

    As far as tribal groups go, it is not “progress toward the universal good” which has evolved, but the fantasy stories about religious leaders working for universal good – created by religious leaders spreading religious memes, for their uncritical followers.

    Promoting the memes of our religious tribe, and falsely claiming credit for any benefits which turn up, or are produced by the efforts of others. = “good”.
    Promoting the interests of outsider others = “bad”!

    “Religious Good”, is a glorified fantasy image in the deluded mind!

    The Vatican idolising fairy stories about the demonic “saint of suffering” – Mother Teresa, is a classic example – with spoon-fed gullibles even believing ridiculous supernatural claims, and denying honest testimony from physically present witnesses on the basis of “faith”!

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  • Yes, it would remain disquiet for people with religion. Their doctrine blinded them to an illogical oxymoronic idea of God—impotent, malevolent and blatantly indifferent—which sheathed them to condescend with their ‘false morality’.

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  • What are morals? Expected behaviours for given situations agreed on by a population. Non humans have morals.
    Religious folks get upset by that because they want the morals provided to them to be fixed and comfortable. Thinking through such things usually undermines both privileges and certainties.

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  • I can’t address the psychological reasons for the disquiet of irrational people.

    I’d like, however, to point out that seeds of morality can be found in other animals too.

    Morality, as a part of human culture is indeed a human construct.
    This construct is constantly evolving but its evolution is not arbitrary since, as the paragraph puts it well ” morality is an institution to address human concerns, an institution which reflects biological, psychological, and social facts about humans” and the latter are given and cannot be selected arbitrarily.

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  • In regards to the progress towards a universal good is concerned, it is worth acknowledging that the genetic drive to pass along genes and survive are in most instances the basis of modern primate ethology (specifically Homo Sapiens). Having cognitive skills that enable objective analysis of human social and moral precepts does not invalidate the underlying instinct to survive, nor does it allow us the luxury of ignoring its influence. Therefore to find or prove a progress towards a universal good, all that is needed is to acknowledge our success at reproducing, surviving and flourishing, regardless of your moral sensitivities and leanings. More humans are better off today than ever before. This has been a slow “progression”. Unfortunately the foresight and depth of our survival strategies are now being challenged by previously unknown or unacknowledged consequences/risks associated with an unfettered diaspora magnified by technological prowess.

    I love the argument that good is just a relative term. This smacks of the far left-leaning liberal politics generated by a failing education system. William F Buckley Jr. once said “Egalitarianism is not a proscription to accept that all ideas are equal. They are not” Regardless of his conservative failings, his point is universal and should serve as a warning to humans not to allow a proclivity for inclusion and politeness to override logic and reason. There is such a thing as good, better and best that retains its validity regardless of your perspective. Anyone who denies this is practicing a dangerous form of self-delusion in order to avoid confronting the often brutal facts of life.

    So there has been a slow progress towards a universal good. The question now is will we allow religion, terrorism, greed and political correctness to force us down a path that leads to the opposite. Lying to ourselves in order to feel good, or following Bronze-Age User Manuals are equally damning strategies. It is our show and we are writing the script as we go. We can chose an ongoing heroic epic or short story tragedy. The one thing we cannot do is stare at the canvas and hope that it will be written for us.

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