Thursday, January 20, 2011

On religion and morality

 If you don't read this post in its entirety, you're gay.

You may think that because I’m an atheist, I have the same haughty and arrogant attitude toward religion that many other atheists have.  Well, you’re wrong.  I still believe that all religions are man-made and that their teachings regarding the supernatural were made up out of whole cloth.  Nevertheless, many religions have teachings that are good and moral, such as that ten commandments thingy.  You know, thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, blah blah blah.  Yeah, that’s all well and good and I’m fine with it, but many religions also have teachings that are the opposite of good (in my opinion) such as the bible endorsing slavery or islam teaching that it’s okay to kill disbelievers. I know some muslims will dispute this.  Theists often claim that morality is objective and comes from god.  Thank god this isn’t actually the case, because if it were, things like stoning adulterers and performing genital mutilation would be commonplace … oh wait.

I realize that this post thus far has completely contradicted my first sentence.  Don’t point it out.

Subjective morality:

Morality is subjective.  Why else would morals change from nation to nation, region to region, culture to culture, and person to person?  Every individual person has a different sense of morality.
There are some things that nearly all humans regard as morally true, such as that killing is wrong and you shouldn’t do it.  The people who don’t consider killing wrong are usually psychopathic and you should avoid them.

Death penalty and abortion:

Actually, now that I think about it, I take back what I said previously.  It’s more complicated than that.  Take for instance, the death penalty and abortion.  Both of those result in the killing of someone or something that was going to be someone.  Both the death penalty and abortion are acts of killing, yet many people regard either as morally acceptable.
On this issue, I have a standard liberal viewpoint.  I’m against the death penalty, but I am pro-choice.  The reason why I’m against the death penalty is not because I value the life of a murderer, I don’t, but because if you execute someone who was wrongly convicted, there is no going back.
I’m pro-choice because there are many instances where I think there is a legitimate reason to have an abortion, such as if the mother’s life is threatened or if the child will be born with a defect that makes its would-be life miserable.  I also think there is something wrong with making a woman who was raped give birth to the rapist’s child and then have to either raise it or give it up for adoption.
Since I’m not religious, I don’t believe in a soul.  That is the main reason why theists are against abortion, because to them, all life is sacred and life starts at conception.
I would like to ask people who believe that this question:  if abortion is murder, does that make a miscarriage manslaughter?  Think about it.
In the beginning of Freakonomics, it discusses how Roe v Wade drastically lowered the crime rates in America during the 90s.  I’m not sure if this is true, but it seems logical.  Women who want to get abortions do so mainly because they believe that they won’t be able to raise the child adequately or that the child will be hindrance to their life.  If a woman does give birth to child and does not raise it properly or can’t raise it properly, the child will be more likely to be a criminal than a child who was raised properly, because of Roe v Wade, women were able to have abortions and an entire generation of potential criminals were weeded out from existence.  That sounds really harsh, but it’s true.  And I know that not all of those children, or even most, would have been criminals, but surely some of them would.

Subjective morality:

Enough about that.  Wait, what was I talking about?  Oh yeah, how some things are regarded as moral by all people.
All normal people consider killing someone for no reason wrong, except in the case of abortion.  All normal people also consider rape to be wrong.  All normal people consider child abuse to be wrong.  All normal people consider molestation to be wrong.  I could go on, but you get the idea: there are many things that all humans believe to be morally wrong.
This is where theists and atheists differ.  A theist believes that our morality was ingrained into our being by god.  An atheist believes that there is a natural explanation to our morality, such as evolution.
I believe the latter for various reasons.

Case against objective morality:

If morality were objective and from god, then why do different religions have different moral codes?  Even religions that are similar, such as Islam and Christianity, have different moral codes.  A practitioner of a religion could make the claim that the other religion’s moral codes were altered from the original and that the moral code of their religion is unchanged and is thus true, but that claim would have little evidence to support it.
The morality that theists believe is objective is actually subjective and based on the morals of the people who crafted them.

How do I know this?  Well, I don’t have 100% certainty.

But I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t god who came up with the idea of infant circumcision and I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t god who endorsed slavery in the bible and the quran.  (Muslims claim that Islam taught people to treat their slaves humanely and that it led to the decline of slavery, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does not say outright that slavery is wrong.)
*It’s especially hard to believe that the previous came from a god who is omniscient and loving*
Morality can be explained scientifically, there does not need to be a god to explain why humans have a sense of right and wrong.  Humans have the second largest brain-to-body size ratio, one of the largest neocortex ratio of any animal, and one of the highest numbers of neocortical neurons (possibly the highest.)  The neocortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for higher functioning activities like language and conscious thought.  This explains why humans are the most intelligent animal.  Carl Sagan’s book “The dragons of Eden” is a great foray into the natural evolution of the human brain.  I highly recommend it.
That being said, humans are not the only animals with a sense of morality.  True, ours is much, much more sophisticated than any other animal, but we are not alone with this.  A lot of other animals show signs of having a moral code and some animals even have hierarchies in their societies, just like people do.
Certain theists, such as practitioners of the Abrahamic religions, believe that animals have no soul and no sense of morality.  This simply isn’t the case.

—-To Be Continued—- (yes, there's more)

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