Morality without Religion

I find it interesting when people make claims that humans cannot be decent to one another without the bible and religion there to dictate the framework of their morality.

I suspect that the reason many people reject the theory of species evolution is because it would imply that humans, for about 200,000 years (and millions of years before that, in their less-human state) must have had some moral architecture in the absence of Christianity, Judaism, or any mono-theistic religions.  If we are able to be considerate of others’ well-being absent of religion, and these inclinations are a result of social and physiological adaptations that help insure species survival, this reduces the validity of the claim that the bible or organized religion is a prerequisite of moral behavior.

I once heard someone make the argument that secular (contrasted with religious) morality is faulty as a philosophical concept because people can be tricked.  For instance, someone living in Nazi Germany may have concluded that it was imperative to kill Jews (and other minority groups) because it would help maximize overall well-being, and the argument could be made that killing Jews was moral because of maximized well-being, and therefore, this clearly immoral outcome could be justified within the context of secular morality.

I find this argument puzzling for a number of reasons:

1.  Were there no Germans at all who opposed the Nazi extermination of the Jews?  Similarly, were there no Americans who opposed human slavery from the 1700s to 1865?  There are all sorts of people who can oppose something despite the fact that logical fallacies are being presented as an argument for immoral behavior.  In fact, slavery and Jewish extermination were supported by many religious people, citing religious justification for these acts – Hitler was a catholic, for crying out loud.  The way a secularist can come to a conclusion that an act is immoral is by investigating the moral claims put forth, and by assessing the implications, and how well those claims stand up to reality.  Are Jews harmful to society?  Are people of African descent incapable of exercising humanity such that we ought to enslave them?  I don’t think it takes religious moral authority to conclude that these claims are ridiculous.  The gullibility of the masses is not proof that secular morality is errant; rather, it’s proof that people can be convinced of things that are not true, even if those things are egregiously immoral.

2.  It presupposes that any morality we have was put in us by God.  Yet the people claiming that the bible is a beacon of moral authority often have a difficult time reconciling the slavery, rape, infanticide, and murder that is God-sanctioned in the bible.  So when you ask a person how they would decide that these biblical acts are immoral, they have to use moral guidelines that come from somewhere other than the moral teachings put forth in the bible.  How could the bible (with messages delivered from God) be simultaneously immoral but the moral underpinnings that we innately have (supposedly delivered by God) are correct?  Especially in light of the fact that the bible teaches us that we cannot trust our innate morality?  Further, how could it be correct that we are originally wicked and evil and need to refer to the bible for our morality if the bible is objectively immoral?

I think the only way a person could conclude that the Christian bible is moral is by cherry-picking it.  But I don’t believe that cherry picking parts of a philosophy is an intellectually honest endeavor.  If a philosophy has weaknesses or is inconsistent, then that is a burden that philosophy must bear, and advocates of that philosophy must either be able to counter that the weakness or inconsistency is not a problem, or they must change the philosophy.

The fact that the bible cannot change, despite an evolving clarity around moral behavior, is proof that the bible and religion are faulty.  That doesn’t disprove God, but I think that it doesn’t reflect well on the hypothesis, given so many of its advocates inclination to bury their head in the sand.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

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