Mikes' (Yellow#5) take on morality.
Morals are to me are subjective to a large degree, how we deal with them can be objective to a degree, for example we can use objective science to determine the deterence, if any, of capital punishment or neurology to determine the thoughts, if any, of a fetus. Such information can help us clear away the clutter and bullshit, but it doesn't tell us what is right or wrong - it simply gives us common ground to start with.
Much of morality is subjective, or based on individual societies and personalities. However there are many parts of morality that are common in all cultures, regardless of faith or lack of faith. What is subjective are typically what lawyers refer to as malum prohibitum, crimes wrong because they are prohibited by society. Examples of malum prohibitum are drug use, homosexuality or sodomy, and obscenity or blue laws. These are things that are wrong, because other people say that they are wrong. What we all tend to agree upon, regardless of culture or religious belief, are what are called mallum in se – crimes that are "wrong in and of themselves". Examples of mallum in se include murder, robbery and rape.
Most humans, regardless of belief system, have the same basic fundamental ideas of right and wrong. We all pretty much agree on what is malum in se (crimes wrong in and of themselves like murder and robbery), where we disagree is in crimes of malum prohibitum (crimes of prohibition like drugs use and homosexuality). The atheist simply sees the Bible's prohibition of homosexuality for example as insufficient cause to condemn it, for example.
However on matters such as murder all people seem to be in agreement, regardless of belief or lack thereof, barring the occasional psychopath or course. Why agree on crimes such as murder and not on such things as drug use? If there is an ultimate divine truth why is it not engrained the same way in all of us by our Creator? Why don't all religions agree polygamy and drug use is wrong or not wrong, but all agree that murder is wrong?
To me it appears evident that on malum in se (crimes like murder) we all agree, we bicker, even amoung our religions about malum prohibitum ("crimes" like homosexuality). This suggests to me that empathy, the ability to identify with another's feelings and emotions, not religion, is what ultimately guides us.
These commonalities stem from an evolved state of enlightened self-interest and empathy, they do not come from a deity - and there is certainly no evidence to the contrary. The fact that most sane people agree that murder is wrong is not evidence of a common conscience guided by a god - this is an entirely definitional argument rather than a substantive one.
Of course, we all agree that murder is wrong, because by human definition murder is an unjustified killing. But what constitutes an unjustified killing? Is abortion unjustified? How about euthanasia? How about killing in self-defence? How about capital punishment? These are unjustifiable to some, but NOT to others - thus there is NO real substantive commonality of morality. Where is this consistent sense of right and wrong again?
It truly frightens me when people insist that morality comes from God, it is essentially saying that if they did not believe in God there would be nothing stopping them from killing, raping, pillaging and plundering at will. Those are the people I think are better off believing, for their sake and mine.
IF there were a common morality there should NEVER be an issue of states disagreeing with ANYONE. IF there were a common morality there should be NO abortion or capital punishment debate, there should be no distinction between a war hero and a serial killer. It is ALL KILLING - we simply look at it differently from our personal perspectives. WHEN does KILLING become MURDER? No holy book tells us this or gives us such a distinction (and in the case that they do, the deity handing down such edict invariably violates their own doctrine). IF there were a common morality, shouldn't we all agree on when killing becomes murder?
There is essentially a 50/50 split on abortion and capital punishment in this country, and this split is different in other cultures - again making the point that opinions on killing are culturally based more than anything else. Sometimes we generally agree that a war is justified, like WWII, sometimes not, like Vietnam or the current Gulf War.
There just seems to a lack of general consensus that one should expect if there were a common theme. I mean, if there is a God, and he can manage to make us all pretty much agree that sweets taste good, why can't he do the same in regard to our views on killing?
The only common theme I really see is one of human character and empathy, and empathy and morality are very different things.
I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. - Richard Dawkins
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