Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Christian Morality and TBM Email Part 1

Subtitle - Irreligiosophy exchange, the psychology of morality, and part 1 of an email exchange with a TBM.

First I'd like to link Irreligiosophy and their recent emails with those Evidence 4 Faith people and Kirk the wonder child. For any fans of the podcast you should really take the time to go through the email that Kirk sent out. Truly a wonderful piece of literature.

Also, the new episode on Reasonable Doubts is another masterpiece in my mind. Dr. Professor Luke Galen gives a presentation on morals and where they come from and how does religion influence them. Galen gives a very balanced presentation and asserts that we have intuitive morality. I've viewed morality as an evolutionary aspect for a while now, but he lays out the argument, facts, and studies and examples very well. He also asserts that religion may not actually have very much influence on people's morality.

I wrote a literature review for a writing class on morality and found with my 3 dozen studies or so (I believe it was 33 actually, though I only used about 13 in my paper) that people may say one thing, but act another way altogether. That, people may voice their ethical systems and beliefs, but don't live by them. Often this is the case in findings in studies that people report a moral system to live by and then don't live by it. Galen quotes several studies and examples pointing out the same thing. Religion may influence a person's perspective and attitude, but not their behavior. To make sense of extreme examples, though, Galen points out studies that show the affect authoritarian cultures and organizations have on people, which is much more concise and a much higher correlation. So moderate religion and religious beliefs may not actually be that bad(influential) at all, but authoritarian religions may very well be.

Like the 'Profiles of the Godless' episode, I highly recommend this one ('Religion and the Roots of Morality').

Lastly, I wish to bring an example forward of one of those people who feels a need to debate with their friends when they find out said friend no longer believes in Mormonism or is atheist. Almost everyone in the group has an example similar to this in the group, or at least a similar example (not as extreme as the following one). And I'm betting for every one of these guys there's 10 more who don't get so vocal but just quietly delete you from their Facebook friend list. Forget our loving and fun friendship we had, you don't believe anymore so you're of the devil and no longer my friend.

"I only write and share because this is the most precious thing I know." - I think Galen would say that authoritarian religion would make someone say something like this as a prelude to the most ridiculous, conceited, and unfriendly email so far from people I know who get these.

"I'm not challenging your intellect, or your ability to come to your own conclusions. But I would want to ask you a few questions about your conversion to atheism." - 2 things. You definitely are challenging this person's intellect (which is high, mind you). And second, for any lurkers out there, never use the phrase "convert to atheism" that is not only a paradoxical statement, but a dumbass statement to boot. In the very least say "you deconverted from _ _ _ _ to atheism."

"Have you considered what many eminent thinkers hold to be the intellectual impossibility of atheism?" - I think we can slightly understand what he is trying to say here. But what thinkers exactly? Most often when an 'eminent thinker' was brought up in a class they were never Mormon, generally not religious, and sometimes downright atheist. 93% of the science academy right?

"Atheism is a belief that there is no God. ... Therefore, atheism can never be more than an act of faith." - Religious lingo for sure, from Alma most likely. I prefer the word agnosticism. I also use the word atheist because I don't think I have to conjure up a supposed entity who created everything and then doubt it to have a clear conscience on being 'fair.'

"If you're going to choose a faith, then why not choose God?" - Pascal's wager has been proven to be bad reasoning. The biggest issue, of course, being that if you decide to believe in a god, which one do you follow?

"The fact that many, if not most, of the most brilliant minds in the course of history (Newton, Godel, Kant, Einstein," - STOP! Thank you for pointing out that these great thinkers all said they believe in the God of Christianity! I never realized that, actually, wait, oh, nvm. Whenever Einstein is thrown in the list you can bet that they follow Christian sites or have taken some kind of LDS perspective class on the 'great thinkers.' Even Gant (psychology/philosophy at BYU) corrects students who say Einstein believed in God.

"Have you considered the inevitable moral corollary of atheism? If there is no God, then there is no absolute law. Why should an individual not murder another individual if he could get away with it? Why should a male not rape as many women as he could get away with? In the end, why should you not behave in the most hedonistic way possible? Life is meaningless, so what reason would one have to live in any way that doesn't result in the highest amount of dopamine and norepinephrine levels in their brain? One could say, "I choose to do that which is good for me, and to help others." But what is good? Without the Divine Absolute, there is no good, no evil, no beauty. And why should you help others? That is an old Judeo Christian teaching. It can be true if you choose it to be, but with a flick of your wrist you can make it false. There's no real reason other than a whim to believe you should 'help others.' " - And I admit that morality is a tricky area, but seriously?!

I haven't heard this a 100 times before.

This does deserve an honest reply, but I think the short answer is that he answers his own questions. If God makes the rules then it isn't absolute, it changes. If the rules exist outside of God then how did we come by them in the first place? He also points out that maybe we would do good things because they make us feel good and rewarded. Again I offer that religion and authoritarian tyranny is not a good ethic system, that we have examples of secular nations getting along fine, with actually better results than America, and Galen in the Reasonable Doubts episode points out how morality is different for the nonreligious and the religious - atheists in particular do kind acts more 'on a whim' than theists, and actually in higher numbers.

Lastly, religion does get it's morals from us. Morality is a combination of nurture and nature, and though not absolute it has correlational and causational affects on how we act, feel, think, and react. I'm pretty sure the human race has an understanding of how to make the world a better place, but habits are hard to break.

That's all I'll do for now. The email only gets better. I actually had a nice email exchange with one of my lurking theists but it was pretty cordial and he is postmo so I'll keep that private for his sake.


  1. I typed a long and awesome comment, and blogger lost it. I hate that.

    Anyway, my three points are as follows:
    1) Humans clearly have an intrinsic moral sense. Whether it comes from god or not is irrelevant to its existence.
    2) If religious, in order to select which authority figure to subscribe to for a definition of morality, you need to have some basic moral assumptions already.
    3) A person utterly devoid of morals would have no motivation to do anything at all. Morals include definitions of "good," which could even include pleasure. No morals = no actions.
    4) There is no empirical evidence suggesting that the irreligious are less moral, in fact the incidence of religiousness in inmates is around 6% of the incidence in the US population overall. Correlation is not causation, but the trends are not in favor of the overall moral bankruptcy of atheists.

  2. Good points Dave. Sometimes my blog spams comments too, I don't know why. But I do hate how I have lost several long comments in the past.

    1 - I would disagree that is irrelevant, but it certainly would be irrelevant to a discussion with a theist about morality. If it comes from God then everyone still has it, and if it's innate then everyone has it. Of course this is excluding sociopaths.

    2 - Good point. Very good I'd say.

    3 - Also true. It's obvious that this guy is simply regurgitating the arguments. I mean, we all do, but at least I synthesize mine and study them some to see if they work. He hasn't done anything except read, believed, acted.

    4 - Also true. If you rate the morality of a person by how many random acts of kindness they do and if they do these things to complete strangers outside of organized helping groups, then the nonreligious sector, especially atheists, defeat theists hands down. He have routinely performed better in these three areas. Religious people have a one-up on having more organized help, but that's not something we couldn't eventually catch up on.

    Besides this it should be noted that per ratio of actual funds atheists donate more since many atheists are much more wealthy. By percentage we can improve but for our weight in population we actually donate more than the theist population. Service and morality arguments no longer hold any weight for me. I've done so much research and have found time and time again that 'we' actually outperform theists in personal moral actions.

  3. I'm really good at counting, by the way. So good that I can make 3 into 4. I'll never work another day of my life!

    I agree with you about (1), that where human moral intuition comes from is very relevant to our lives and worldviews. I meant in the limited setting of the comparison of ethics with a theist who insists that atheist have no basis for morality. As human beings, we have a basis built into us. Even if it is an evolved thing, it is there (barring just a few exceptions, like you said).

  4. Yeah, I thought I understood what you meant. When it comes to being morally aware a sociopath is certainly not the norm, and I don't think I know anyone who suddenly acts more evilly because they became atheist. I know a bunch who have now at least tried weed and drinking once, or who continue to be interested in sex, but as for lying, murdering, assault, rape, blackmail, money laundering, etc ... nope.

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