I want to address a remark that a commenter left here a few days ago. This commenter, who was, unfortunately, banned from this site until he can participate civilly, offered an interesting topic for discussion. He said, “Without God defining moral boundaries, there is no meaning to “honest” “integrity” “fair” words, only what meaning you give, and that is without value.” In other words, humans are not capable of defining right and wrong; we need god to do that for us.
This idea suggests that, if you believe right and wrong are defined by “god’s fiat” (as Bertrand Russell said), then for god there is no right or wrong. He has arbitrarily—and subjectively—defined the moral code for Homo sapiens. If god has no point of reference, no moral compass, no savior, no god of his own, then he himself, according to this logic, cannot be deemed good. Having no belief in god, he is also, like many of us, an atheist.
This idea that god defines words for us also ignores the fact that early man was not capable of identifying or understanding words such as “honest,” “integrity” and “fairness.” These moral precepts have grown and evolved as man has, as we’ve developed language, critical thinking and social skills. At what point would god have passed these principles on to man? While living in caves? The Dark Ages? The Renaissance? Modern times? Isn’t it more likely, as an evolutionary study of humans and their society reveals, that humans have evolved not only physically and intellectually but also morally? I think so. Our history shows us that we continue to define and refine our moral boundaries, and as a result, we are now living in one of the safest, least hostile periods in the history of the world, with, I might add, more rights and freedoms for the individual than ever. And if our morality is evolving, then this suggests that there was no original designer with a master plan. Etymology further supports that our ideas and words continue to evolve; like humans, languages have their own histories.
The disconcerting thing is, if god, the spirit from myth who we cannot hear, see, feel or smell, has decided for us and communicated to us what honesty and fairness are, then it is also possible for the supposedly omnipotent being to change the meaning of these words at any time. After all, if he makes the rules, he can also bend, break and redefine them. I’m not sure how he would communicate this to us, but then, I’m not sure how he would have communicated this to humans to begin with. Remember, too, that before man believed in one god (thanks to the Jews), he believed in many.
Because of our anthropocentrism, many believe humans are the only creatures capable of morality. Yet as researchers like Frans de Waal have found, we are not the only species that show moral behaviors. If morality is not unique to man, then what does this suggest about god? Does he communicate moral instructions, in each species’ language, to those animals capable of living in groups? Has he written specific software for each creature? Or is it more likely that those animals that live in groups have developed their own codes to help them survive and thrive on a hostile planet?
This is how many nonbelievers see morality. Our moral compass has been created by our ancestors and continues to be refined by new generations. And this is a good thing, for it helps us (or I should say, most of us) live together peacefully and cooperatively.
I suppose that it is possible that there was a first cause; perhaps a god spit earth out into the universe with the intent of seeding the planet with life, and then left us here to carry on. But it seems impossible that this god defined morality for us, given our history and following the lines of logic that lead not to a deity, but to humanity.
For those who want to tie morality to a supreme being, that’s your choice, of course. I just want you to know that many of us believe good does not need god. A supreme being was not necessary to develop our moral code. We can live, support and protect you, without a dictate from a mythological man. This is what we are teaching our children: we are moral animals, and we have a duty to continue evolving as individuals and as a society.
As always, I welcome a discussion from those who believe and those who do not, and if polycarp50 is able to comment rationally and respectfully, he is welcome to join us.
Have a happy Sunday and a relaxing, safe Labor Day.