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Why secular ethics is superior to religious ethics

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 12, 2010

As an atheist I usually have to face an iteration of the without-god-there’d-be-no-morals argument. My usual tactic in handling such arguments has been based on Hitchens famous challenge: show me one moral action that an atheist cannot engage in. Now, I’m taking a bit of a different approach. While sticking to the challenge, I take it a step further, by not only asserting that secular ethics is in fact attainable, but by stating that it is superior to its religious counterpart.

There are some schools of thought in moral philosophy that judge moral actions by their consequences only. I partially endorse this thinking, by merging it with the other schools of thought that judge the morality of an action also by the intentions behind it. Consequences and intentions, in my opinion, are both necessary to determine the moral standing of an action or principle.

Based on this I assert that secular morals, derived from our adherence to a set of principles are superior to religious ones, derived out of fear of punishment or promises of rewards in the afterlife. Why? Instead of writing out the theory, let me illustrate through a simple example.

Imagine, if you will, two persons which are presented with an opportunity to steal something in a store. Neither chooses to steal. The first does so because he’s afraid he’ll get caught and punished. The second does so because she believes that stealing someone else’s property is wrong. Both people engaged, or more precisely failed to engage, in the same exact act with the same exact result. They did not steal. However,  we’d all intuitively say that the second person’s act is more moral than the first person’s act, who did not steal only because he was afraid of punishment, if caught. It is a conclusion that requires no discussion; I’d say almost all of us would instinctively deem the second person as more moral than the first. I mean, given a choice of having either one of them as a roommate, who would you choose? I for one would go with the second, and not only because she happens to be female in this example.

The point of this little exercise is that intentions matter in morality. They can add, or take away, from the total moral “score” of an action. Good intentions add to it; bad ones take away points. As such, a set of morals based on principles, will always be superior to a set of morals based on fear of punishment/promise of reward, even if both moral sets are exactly the same and result in identical actions. The former is descriptive of secular ethics; the former is descriptive of religious ethics. As such secular ethics is superior to religious ethics.


Putting God out of the ethics business

Posted in News by Skepdude on November 6, 2009


By now you may have heard about or seen the “good without God” posters in the subways of New York City and elsewhere. Media outlets from the New York Times to Fox News have characterized them as ads promoting atheism. Yet while the campaign aims to reach out to nonbelievers, it also raises a broader issue–something most people seem to have missed.

The obvious meaning of “good without God” is that atheists can be good people. But a closer look reveals a more universal message: people can be good regardless of their beliefs about God. From this perspective, the ad was not about atheism, but about the nature of morality. (I’m writing this blog post along with Michael De Dora, Jr., a spokesperson for the New York City campaign.)

When we act ethically, our reasons are usually nothing transcendental, just simple respect and compassion for others.

With split seconds to save a stranger from death on the tracks at the 137th Street subway station, Wesley Autrey didn’t pause to seek divine guidance or reflect on his reward in heaven. That would have been one thought too many, as the moral philosopher Bernard Williams would say. As Autrey later explained, “I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right.” The exact words that went through his head were, “Fool, you got to go in there.” Responsibility is like that. No one else can claim it for you.

Moral choices are not always as clear-cut as Autrey’s. The solution to complex ethical debates is seldom as clear as a stone tablet or a voice from a burning bush. One problem with stone tablets is that there is only so much you can fit on them. Lists of shalts and shalt nots in and of themselves can never be comprehensive and precise enough to render right answers on borderline cases and contemporary issues. “Shalt not kill” does not resolve whether one-week old embryos count as the kind of thing that may not be killed; “shalt not steal” does not explain when derivatives trading becomes stealing.


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Stand up, stand up, against Jesus

Posted in News by Skepdude on November 6, 2009


Religious teachings promise us much — eternal life, spiritual salvation, moral direction, and a deeper understanding of reality. It all sounds good, but these teachings are also onerous in their demands. If they can’t deliver on what they promise, it would be well to clear that up. Put bluntly, are the teachings of any religion actually true or not? Do they have any rational support? It’s hard to see what questions could be more important. Surely the claims of religion — of all religions — merit scrutiny from every angle, whether historical, philosophical, scientific, or any other.

Contrary to many expectations in the 1970s, or even the 1990s, religion has not faded away, even in the Western democracies, and we still see intense activism from religious lobbies. Even now, one religion or another opposes abortion rights, most contraceptive technologies, and therapeutic cloning research. Various churches and sects condemn many harmless, pleasurable sexual activities that adults can reasonably enjoy. As a result, these are frowned upon, if not prohibited outright, in many parts of the world, indeed people lose their lives because of them. Most religious organisations reject dying patients’ requests to end their lives as they see fit. Even in relatively secular countries, such as the UK, Canada, and Australia, governments pander blatantly to Christian moral concerns as the protection of religiously motivated refusals to provide medical professional services demonstrates.

In a different world, the merits, or otherwise, of religious teachings might be discussed more dispassionately. In that world, some of us who criticise religion itself might be content to argue that the church (and the mosque, and all the other religious architecture that sprouts across the landscape) should be kept separate from the state. Unfortunately, however, we don’t live in that world.


Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on August 19, 2009

It looks to me as if being brought up with a belief in the literal truth of a misogynistic document like the Bible can inculcate the evil idea that women are possessions, and that marriage is an act of handing over a woman’s bill of sale to a man. I thought a wife was a partner, not a slave.

PZ Myers

Moral DNA?

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on April 24, 2009

Please, someone, tell the priests to go tend to their rituals and quit pretending to ha have any understanding of reality. A new archbishop has tried to use biology to argue for his archaic moral position, and I just want to slap him.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan yesterday said advocates of gay marriage “are asking for trouble,” arguing that traditional, one-man/one-woman marriage is rooted in people’s moral DNA.

“There’s an in-built code of right and wrong that’s embedded in the human DNA,” Dolan told The Post in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview, a week after becoming the New York Archdiocese’s new leader.

“Hard-wired into us is a dictionary, and the dictionary defines marriage as between one man, one woman for life, please God, leading to the procreation of human life.

Every word an ignorant lie. There is no genetic basis for a moral code except, perhaps, in the broadest sense of intrinsic rewards for social behavior — Catholicism is not biologically heritable.


Why would there be morals in a Godless world?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 10, 2009

The answer to me is simple. It is more beneficial for humans to be organized in societies (tribes, villages, states, etc etc) than to live alone in the midst of the wilderness. I submitt that it is impossible to have a functioning society without moral codes. What kind of society could exist if everyone would have the inclination to kill the other, steal/rape their women and steal all their provisions. The only way we can have a functioning society is if we put some limitations on such animalistic drives, and thus morals. Some morals are so crucial that they have been codified into law in many societies. Some are less crucial and are only enforced by a collective wagging of the society’s finger or scorn. God did not give us morals. We created morals in order to create a union that would benefit all of us more than if all of us lived on our own. In other words, collaboration is the reason for our species’ success. Collaboration is impossible without morals. Thus the need to collaborate and live close to each other gave us morals. It is preposterous to say that the only source of morality is a God, when I think it is clear that our own need for survival mandates moral behaviour.

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Moral Disgust Linked to Primitive Emotion

Posted in News by Skepdude on February 26, 2009

Feb. 26, 2009 — A new study reveals insights into the ancient roots of our modern-day sense of moral disgust.

Research from the University of Toronto suggests that our sense of right and wrong appears to be directly linked to a primitive survival instinct that caused our ancient ancestors to find foul-tasting, poisonous foods disgusting.

The study appears in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Science.

“These results shed new light on the origins of morality, suggesting that not only do complex thoughts guide our moral compass, but also more primitive instincts related to avoiding potential toxins,” principal investigator Adam K. Anderson, PhD, says in a news release.


Do You Have Biblical Morals?

Posted in Unreasonable Faith by Skepdude on February 3, 2009

Old BibleChristians love to claim that their morality comes from the bible. And they do — to an extent. But they often forget about or ignore the evil examples and commands of their holy book.

Here’s a quiz to see if you have biblical morality. It asks questions like:

Two strangers visit your home, and you are kind enough to provide them with accommodations for the night. They tell you they are angels appearing on behalf of the Lord. However, later in the evening, an angry mob turns up seeking to sodomize your guests. What do you do?

If you buy a Hebrew servant, how many years must he serve?


Belief in God Essential for Moral Virtue?

Posted in Opinion by Skepdude on November 27, 2008

Secular humanists are generally nonreligious, yet they are also good citizens, loving parents and decent people. They look to science, the secular arts and literature for their inspiration, not religion. They point out that religious belief is no guarantee of moral probity, that horrendous crimes have been committed in the name of God, and that religionists often disagree vehemently about concrete moral judgments (such as euthanasia, the rights of women, abortion, homosexuality, war and peace).

The ethics of secular humanism traces its roots back to the beginnings of Western civilization in Greece and Rome, through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the scientific and democratic revolutions of the modern world. Secular humanists today affirm that every person should be considered equal in dignity and value and that human freedom is precious. The civic virtues of democracy are essentially humanist, for they emphasize tolerance of the wide diversity of beliefs and lifestyles, and they are committed to defending human rights.


In the Bible, women sing songs about godly murder

Posted in Evolved and Rational by Skepdude on September 2, 2008


Theistarded Christians often blabber about how reading the Bible makes them feel good about humanity and things they pull out of their asses. Christians also froth about how reading the Bible keeps them close to their invisible sky-god, helps them know the mind of their imaginary friend, and somehow helps them through their daily lives.

Leaving aside the fact that feeling good about believing in something does not make it true by default; let’s take a look at some of the things in this great book that makes millions of people feel better about their lives.

In the Bible, women sing joyful songs about god-endorsed murder. Not only does god endorse, encourage, and participate in murder, people were expected to greet the slaughter of thousands with laughter, joy, and music. All that was apparently standard stuff in the Bible, and Christians don’t seem to be having any trouble with reconciling any of this with the bullshit they spew about a ‘loving god that sent his son to die on a cross, yada, yada…’.

1 Samuel 18:6-7 (KJV) And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Saul was displeased as the crowd only ascribed thousands of murders to him, not tens of thousands. This was apparently too much for poor Saul to bear.

1 Samuel 18:8-9 And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.

If you want to feel good about humanity, the Bible is not the first place to look.

Christians, do you actually realize what your Bible actually says? Are you aware of the parts of the Bible that are not cherry-picked by your pastors while preaching to you theistarded flock of sheep? Do you know about the vile things are in the book you so proudly thump? Who are you to rant about the erosion of ‘morality’ when your own holy book clearly states that god endorses the slaughter of thousands, including innocent children? How dare you even claim that we should base our morality on the Bible?

A lot could be said about the indefensible cruelty, violence, and psychopathic mentality we see in the Bible, but all that is obvious to people who have not been brainwashed or deluded into believing in the Christian cult’s pack of lies.

Anyone who believes in this shit is either deluded, ignorant,…or sick.