Saturday, May 09, 2009

Where do you get your God, without morals?

Atheists and agnostics are frequently asked (though its been just as often answered) "where do you get your morals without god"? Let's turn the question around. Where does the Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu etc. get their notions of a god or gods without already having morals? Morals are by necessity a precondition to the societal belief (religion) in any supreme being.

A single person could have a "god experience". Anyone could conceivably stand on a mountain top and receive direct and absolute knowledge of the existence of some supreme being. There is no scientific method for disproving god, or even that someone didn't have the experience of being introduced to that god. We could show them how the brain works. We could even allow them to personally participate in one of the studies that manipulates certain areas of the brain and induces a "religious experience". But they could still claim that their experience on the mountain was the real thing, while acknowledging that science can produce something similar in the brain.

The problem for the person who has the experience is that in coming down from the mountain our prophet finds - universal nihilism. At least that's what he would have found were he the first one to encounter god, and if god is the giver of moral laws. With no morals yet, people would live as the most cunning and resourceful animals on the planet. Since humans would only want to live and reproduce, the only thing they probably could be counted on is not stealing from, raping and killing their own immediate families.

Societies, even small ones, can not be formed without agreements. Those agreements become laws. As the value of the laws for the survival of the society increase, they become morals. Now our prophet would be safe to enter the society and share with others the "knowledge" of god. If these laws of his god are completely contrary to the existing morals of the society, one of two things will occur. The society will either fall apart by following gods laws or it will reject the laws given by god.

If however, gods' laws simply reinforce what was already known then the society could carry on and might even proclaim that the laws they live under came from god. Many of the laws given by god could be largely irrelevant to the ability of the society to grow and prosper - say, commands about not worshiping other gods, what types of meat to eat, mixing materials when making clothes, sexual activities that don't result in procreation.

The point is, there is no way for the meme of religion to spread through a culture without there being a functioning society in place prior to the visions of god. You need morals for the functioning society. So, Christians... where do you get your God without morals?


Lorena said...

Funny how this issue of morals is closely tied to evolution.

To non-creationists, humans have evolved to be physically prettier (some of us anyway) and nicer. We used to be cave people with rudimentary manners, and through evolution, we've learned to treat each other better, more "morally."

Creationists believe that God gave their morals.

Interestingly, their "morals" are still caveman-like and are not going to change, because the Bible will never change and their God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Our morals, however, continue to evolve. We accept homosexuals, people of all races, stand up for human rights, and respect the rights of women.

John Evo said...

Your comment reminds me how everything is subjective. You said, "we have evolved to be physically prettier". In fact we look (to each other) exactly as H. erectus or H. habilis would have looked (to each other)! And it's the same with morals. If humankind lives another 1,000 years they will look at our morals as we look at the morality of the year 1009 CE.

Gideon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Evo said...

Gideon starts off with:

How much 'morality' existed in the cultures surrounding the Hebrews in Old Testament times? Then, along comes Moses...

I had to stop right there. This is the point of my post. There were a lot of morals in those cultures. As a side note, other than Hebrew scriptures, there is no historical evidence that Moses even existed or the the Hebrews had very much of a culture, though I'm sure they had a little something going on. In terms of a god coming and giving his commandments to the world, he picked an odd little group and he neglected 99% of existent mankind.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cultures around the world which didn't get the blessings of his holy decree and didn't even hear about him, in some cases for thousands of years, were nonetheless fully "moral" (though some of the morals were obviously antiquated by today's standards - repudiating your later notion of "de-evolving").

The 99% of the rest of humankind were functioning societies, meaning they had morality. They did not wantonly kill each other, they did not steal from each other, they did not kidnap girls and women for higher sexual success, they did not cheat on agreements, etc.

Now, I can already hear your argument - "yes they did". But understand what I'm saying - some people have always broken the codes of society and codes of society have always been for those WITHIN the society and a very different result will ensue any time one society contacts an outside group. The Hebrews (if you believe the bible and I assume you do) were no different even after "getting their morals from god".

Just to acknowledge, as you have, that there was a Hebrew culture prior to Moses supposedly getting the 10 commandments is to acknowledge - MORALITY.

Sabio Lantz said...

Very well written !
You sound like you could almost be a Libertarian Skeptic.

The Exterminator said...


Morality cannot exist in the atheist's construct, no more than God can.

Although I've been faithfree all my life, I'm afraid I've never encountered this "atheist's construct" that you speak of. What is it, and how can I get one?

Gideon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Exterminator said...


Are you trying to imply that my atheism has been learned from others? Let me clue you in on something that you may not be aware of: It's possible for someone to have lived his entire life without seeing any need ever to have investigated the silliness that is religion.

Atheism doesn't need to be learned -- only religion does. Atheism is the natural state for every living creature.

If you choose to talk about the "atheist's construct," you ought to be able to articulate exactly what that is. I think it's a fictional term, created by you, for a non-existent phenomenon, also created by you.

PhillyChief said...

Hmmm, I feel like I've just recently talked about this at my place, and with several of you. Why does this keep coming up? It seems so obvious to me. Humanity somehow muddled through for how long before we got Judaism, and later, Christianity? Amazing, huh?

Well only if you're crazy enough to think morality didn't come about until those tablets of Moses, because were that true, humanity wouldn't have lasted long enough to get those fucking tablets.

Be that as it may, you also have to reconcile how cultures still exist without those fucking tablets, and do so happily, as well as reconcile how not all people with those tablets are happy and better off.

The logical answer then is that knowledge of, and subsequent abiding by these tablets is not necessary for everyone. Perhaps they're not necessary for anyone.

I, too, would love to learn more about the atheist construct. Are there plans available online? If so, maybe I can build a 3D representation and do one of those Discovery Channel animations of it. What kind of scale are we talking here? Is it bigger than a bread box? Are there gears and levers? What kind of materials? Is it top secret or something? Do I need to obtain my Grand Poobah belt before the plans will be revealed to me? If so, I'd better work on gaining more experience points. Oh bother....

Matt Scott said...

Interesting comment. Sorry I came so late to it. However, you in no way prove that morals are a precondition for societal belief, you merely state it. So without proof for the precondition of your whole argument, you have no real basis for all that follows.

In fact, many primitive religions, and even not so primative religions (Greek pantheism, or even Aristotelian notions of the Absolute) have gods that are either immoral and/or capricious, unrelational, or even so distinct from humans to make a link between said 'god' and human notions of behavioural value impossible.

You are obviously a competent writer, but that doesn't compensate for your undisciplined use of reason.

Anonymous said...

Romans 2:14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: 15Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

Bob said...

of course there is morality without God but it only goes so far. You guys an girls can argue all you want; however, it doesn't change a thing, either you belive in God or you don't. There is no further need to debate the subject. Gideon you wasting your breath. you can't change the cold hearts of the unbelieving. One day we will see who is right

PhillyChief said...

...or not. If there is no god and you die, then you won't know if you were right or wrong because you'd be dead.

Have a nice day! :)

John Evo said...

@ Philly -

It's funny, that. I think people like this actually think that even if there is no god, that they will "find out". Their intuitive sense of "the other" inside of the self is so strong that they think the soul will be around to "discover" whether there is a god or not! Is it possible that many of them believe more strongly in the soul than in any particular god? I think it's quite possible.

Bob said...

"...or not. If there is no god and you die, then you won't know if you were right or wrong because you'd be dead.

Have a nice day! :)"

If the dead are dead why do we spend so much money to bury them with respect

PhillyChief said...

Because we're alive and it makes us feel good.

Bob said...

: ) whatever makes you sleep better a night dude

PhillyChief said...

Funny, I figured that's why you're all into this make-believe stuff.

Bob said...

"Atheism is the natural state for every living creature." If this is true why did the eygptians(who mastered in mathmatics built the pyrimids that we scratch our heads at) still have deity in their life. Or the mayans who were great astronomers, calculating the cycles of years, modeled their citys after the stars with great precision have use for deity. if you "guys" are as free-thinking as you claim the belief in some thing bigger, supernatural even, should be explored not denied. if not maybe you guys can explain that cool "magic" trick where inorganic material some how became organic and a complex system of trail and error called the Theory of evolution.

PhillyChief said...

He was referring to the state before one has ideas impressed upon them by parents and so forth. Naturally every Egyptian kid grew up being told Ra and others existed and were real, as did every Mayan kid with Quetzalcoatl and the rest of the lot, and how today kids grow up hearing Jesus, Allah, Shiva, and even Xenu are real.

As for the supernatural, how exactly do your propose to study something which has yet to be shown to exist? A free thinker, when faced with the unknown, calls it the unknown. A fool calls it supernatural and credits beings from his imagination or ones he grew up hearing were real.

A fool also yammers about things he doesn't understand. Go read a book on evolution before trying to discuss the matter like you understand it. Hell, use the internet to do so instead of leaving stupid comments on blogs. That would be a better use of your time.

Bob said...

should i go read a book because you can't explain it your self.

PhillyChief said...

You should read a book because clearly you have no idea how complex the subject is and even if it was simple enough to explain in this small space, wouldn't you want it explained by someone you know whose life's work is its study rather than someone who you clearly disdain and who you have no idea how much he/she knows on the subject?

I suggest you stop trying to score little argument points because you're just embarrassing yourself, unless you're cool with appearing as a bitter, angry idiot like Gideon (hint: that's not being a good ambassador for your religion, especially when it's supposed to be about peace and love turning the other cheek and so forth).

John Evo said...

"I suggest you stop trying to score little argument points"

Clearly you are accustomed to a higher level of discourse, where people actually give some thought to such things as "argument points". Honestly, this comment of his should have be prefaced with - "I have absolutely nothing of substance to add at this point, but pride prevents me from simply walking away without a word, therefore..."

Bob said...

Peace dear philly chief. I ment no harm. Obvious we come from two different schools of thought. My view works for me as does yours for you. Although in a debate or discussion people make points (big or small) to explain their point of view. Do i distain you, no. However as a rationaly adult I would expect you to try an understand what you believe.
I will point out that the Ten Comandments are a standard given upon exiting eygpt and coming together as a nation under God. I personaly have no ill will towards anyone of differnt race, religion or sexuality, neither did Jesus. Do i agree with them all no, I am human. On the other hand i will not persecute any of them either we are all flawed even the christian. In my belief God love all men and women equally but like parent doesn't alway like what we do.
I personally look at the Ten Comandment as a reminder to the consience I already have.

PhillyChief said...

When called out on pontificating on a subject you clearly had inadequate knowledge of, you attempted a cheap shot, and you continue to do so with "I would expect you to try an understand what you believe." If you choose to speak about evolution, it's your responsibility to be educated on the subject, not mine. Not only is it mistaken to try and fault me for not trying to educate you, but to further assert that my choice not to is indicative of being ignorant on the subject as well is simply rude and insulting and what I meant by trying to score little argument points.

Our "different schools of thought" are not equal, and no better evidence exists for that than in yourself, since for most everything you do in your day, from determining what to wear to knowing when it's safe to cross the street, you use what I use to make determinations, and that's evidence and experience. Only for your religious beliefs do you make an exception.

Your ten commandments (and the rest of them from your bible (well technically the Jews' bible)) are asserted as coming during that exodus from Egypt, but no one knows that's when they came about, nor how they came about. Even the Jewish exodus is in doubt, and they nor the rest of your bible were the basis for our nation's constitution.

I think it's silly to say the commandments are a reminder to conscience when the first three are about how you can't worship any other gods. Even for a believer, what does that have to do with how one treats another human? If anything, it encourages treating them poorly since your bible calls for harm, often lethal, for nonbelievers, witches and gays.

Really, just stop digging your hole any deeper, enjoy your little indulgence by yourself or with other indulgers, and try not to let that indulgence negatively affect others much in the same way (I hope) you'd never drive a car while under the influence of another indulgence like alcohol.

Have a nice day

Larry Wallberg said...

In my belief God loves all men and women equally ...

I don't think you can derive that belief from the bible, though. God is an arbitrary, vengeful bastard throughout the Old Testament, including both versions of the Ten Commandments in which he implies that there will be dire consequences if you don't worship him, and him only.

Even in the New Testament, the god/Jesus character is pretty much of a shit. Have you read the Revelation? And of course, even in those oh-so-peaceful gospels, Christ seems to have a hair up his ass against (1) rich people and (2) those who interpret "the Law" in different ways than he does. He doesn't show much love to the Scribes and Pharisees, or the moneychangers at the temple, does he?

But I know you're a moral guy, and would never wipe out all the kids in a village simply because they made fun of your prophet for being bald. So where do your morals come from? Even if you want to say that you've focused on the more peaceful examples of god's "love," what moral code led you to pick and choose through the bible that way?

You yourself said: Of course there is morality without God but it only goes so far.

I'd say that your sense of morality probably goes farther than your god's. In your daily life, it's likely that you set a much better example than does the mythical character you call "God." Am I wrong about that?

Bob said...

I hate to say this way but you guys tickle me places I haven't been tickled in awhile.
First off being tought by the public school system, by which teaches evolution, I would say that I have a firm grasp on the theory of evolution. Sure I took a couple of cheep shots but who doesn't. Maybe I am an idiot for believeing what I do. To me it takes the same amout of faith to believe what I do as well as the theory of evolution.
Sure there have been bones found, but who is a man to claim understanding of how it all happened or try. The evoultionist camp has as much if not more divisions in it as the belief in God in general. Before I digress I will afirm that the theory of evolution is very complex so complex for a stupid person like me can not begin to fathom it just happened. Nothing ever just happens in this world, there is cause and effect. I have read the proof and scientific papers people have put forth they make good arguements. However why is the question lodged in my silly christian mind, why and how? sciences tells me don't worry we'll find out soon enough. By the way did you know that after only 90 million year we are 85% the same as mice. Genetically I mean.
As for you larry good use of that far superior intellect. Use the book against me will you. The Athiest love the KJV don't they. Next time please, please get out a concordance and compare the word in old english vs. the word in its original language. Children in this instance is a general masculine term coming from the hebrew word na'ar which can be applied to any boy 15-25. I know your gonna say something about that span because of western thinking and how we treat chilren now. However in ancient judea a boy grew and by age 12-13 he was a considered a man being able to buy land and marry. Oh I also like how you make sound like God wiped out an intire villages male population. Bethel may have been a small village by the time of the Romans but earlier records indicate Bethel was a a thriving capital city for the jewish counter culture of Idol worship. It was a big place set up by none less than a king. As for the amount of "chilren" that parished was 42 not a whole village worth.
What was it that you said about Jesus having a problem with rich people he only suggested that the man in question here sell his riches and give the money the those who need it more then he. Then asked him to follow him. Hardly words of hate. As for scribs, Pharisees, they abused their postion in jewish society. They were there to support the people religious and politically. Often times scriptural and historically (Essenes left Jerusalem because they felt the system was corrupt) that did't happen. Like the poltician of today some took advantage of the position over the people. Jesus problem was not with them but in the way the held themselve above the Law but made no exuses for anyone else. The moneychangers should not have been in the temple. Creating a monoply they could charge what ever they wanted, wow thes guys sound great! The temple was built as a place of worship to all not just the one who could afford to.
Larry you stroke my ego when you can me good, but you err in that you have no idea who I am or what I have done in my life. As for the usage of the O.T. get over it because that is over, yes it in the Bible yet it has be reconciled by the blood of the one man Jesus. Simplified love God, Love man(this also included my enemies). so witches, gays any other people that would have violated the O.T. standards are covered by the creed of the N.T.
It is unfair to pick a few verse of scripture to paint how much you think God is an ass. Please take into account there are over three thousand verses in the whole Bible, thats like say because a man/ woman is blond he is stupid.
Peace in Jesus name, amen

PhillyChief said...

First off being tought by the public school system

As for the rest, first, evolution is both fact and theory. The differences in opinion concerning the process are all based on evidence available, and as new evidence is found and discoveries are made, those opinions will likely change. In contrast, the differences of opinion amongst god believers is comparable to difference of opinion over who would win in a fight, MIghty Mouse or Superman. You're all quibbling over ancient texts for the most part without ever questioning the base assertions, such as does your god exist, by what means do you know, and are those means (including the texts) credible?

The "creed of the N.T." doesn't excuse OT laws, and your Jesus is written to have said explicitly that he hadn't come to change the old laws. That's all a rationalization modern Christians have come up with and latch on to to mentally get past the OT. Jesus' sacrifice (which was hardly a sacrifice, but that's another issue) was only to do away with the burden of having to make sacrifices to your god, which are called for and explained in great detail in your OT (he allegedly loves the smell of burning flesh).

Frankly though, I find the quibbling over your bible not nearly as entertaining as quibbling over better works of fiction (ie - my money is on Mighty Mouse, especially if he can get his paws on some kryptonite).

Larry Wallberg said...

It is unfair to pick a few verse of scripture to paint how much you think God is an ass.

Ah, but you would pick a few verses to prove how moral that god is.

So I ask you again: What moral code led you to pick and choose through the bible that way?