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View Full Version : Morality Without God?Dialoguing with a Dartmouth Professor Who Says There Is



megimoo
12-14-2009, 09:34 AM
Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an unlikely source: an Ivy League savant who says it's wrong to depend on the Bible. The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book Morality Without God by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth professor.

(I'm going to quote him a lot, so I'll use his initials.) WSA begins by complaining that his students quote to him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead, everything is permitted."

WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all should simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or disability—unless there is "adequate...


http://www.worldmag.com/articles/16098

Gingersnap
12-14-2009, 10:15 AM
I would like to know more about this guy's book. Certainly we see an "everything is permitted" worldview among a lot of people. Even leaving aside the big issues, we see it in the smaller things like cheating on tests or in publication, lying during divorce or on job interviews, repetitive drunken behavior to nerve women for random sex (after college, I mean).

All these things were done by people who did have a religious ethical framework, of course, but they generally believed the behavior was wrong even if they kept repeating it. Now, it's only wrong if you get caught. Even then, it's not your fault - it's......whatever.

FlaGator
12-14-2009, 10:56 AM
His argument is based upon the assumption of inherent goodness of man. This, as a whole, is a fiction more along the lines of wishful thinking. Once you accept the reality which is man isn't as good as he likes to think he is, the whole premise of the book comes crashing down.

Gingersnap
12-14-2009, 11:00 AM
His argument is based upon the assumption of inherent goodness of man. This, as a whole, is a fiction more along the lines of wishful thinking. Once you accept the reality which is man isn't as good as he likes to think he is, the whole premise of the book comes crashing down.

Anybody who has spent a few hours in a room full of toddlers would dismiss that notion. :p

wilbur
12-14-2009, 12:17 PM
His argument is based upon the assumption of inherent goodness of man. This, as a whole, is a fiction more along the lines of wishful thinking. Once you accept the reality which is man isn't as good as he likes to think he is, the whole premise of the book comes crashing down.

Is it? Have you read the book? Do you know his argument? Something to cite?

Non-theistic ethical systems often don't assume this all. They often do argue that the behaviour that we usually classify as good, is advantageous, and not at all against our own self-interest. Therefore, it would not only be rational to encourage and engage in such behaviour, but that one has objective justification for the belief that one ought to act in such ways.

How humanity currently behaves as a whole at the present time, generally doesn't really factor into theories about how we ought to act.

noonwitch
12-14-2009, 12:28 PM
Morality without God is possible. There are plenty of atheists who are good, moral people out there-some even make an extra effort to prove it's possible. There are plenty of christians who pretend to be moral, but are not in their words or deeds.


Ginger's comments about toddlers are dead-on. 2 year olds have no conscience, they develop it over the next few years, if they have good parents. Luckily, they don't have the ability to do much harm, since they aren't very big.

Goldwater
12-14-2009, 12:32 PM
Morality without God is possible.

An undeniable fact.

wilbur
12-14-2009, 12:53 PM
An undeniable fact.

That anyone has the potential to be a good person is pretty uncontroversial, accept among a few uneducated and unread Christians, or non-theist philosophers.

A typical Christian response to this fact is to claim that, yes, God gives everyone the capacity to be moral, regardless of belief. Its "etched in our hearts", so to speak. What they often deny, is that there is any rational or objective justification for morality apart from God.

Of course many non-theist philosophers who advocate some form of secular ethical theory, argue just the opposite, that its theism which cannot provide any objective moral foundation, and instead gives us little more than sets of arbitrary, amoral divine commands. In my estimation, that is correct.

FlaGator
12-14-2009, 12:53 PM
Is it? Have you read the book? Do you know his argument? Something to cite?

Non-theistic ethical systems often don't assume this all. They often do argue that the behaviour that we usually classify as good, is advantageous, and not at all against our own self-interest. Therefore, it would not only be rational to encourage and engage in such behaviour, but that one has objective justification for the belief that one ought to act in such ways.

How humanity currently behaves as a whole at the present time, generally doesn't really factor into theories about how we ought to act.

I am familiar with his works and I am familiar with the argument, it is not a new one. This is an variation of the argument that all humans want to do good and be good when in fact the basis of all human behavior is to survive and live comfortably at any cost.

Why would a society create a set of ethics and morals that it is basically incapable of living up to? It may create a set of rules that it feels will preserve the society but it will not, by nature, apply those same set of rules to different societies and the rules of social behavior would probably be different between groups. Man is basically bad. I'm not speaking of individuals here but of mankind as a whole. The history of man is a history of war. It's a history of wanting something that some one else has and a willingness to do anything to get it.

Is there is on example of a non-theistic ethical system that has ever worked. Also why is the need for a deity common to just about all cultures? I've read some of that crap about needing to control nature and nature worship being the precursor of to day's theologies but worship of those gods still doesn't explain how things like 'love that neighbor as yourself' and 'remember the sabbath and keep it holy' came in to being

FlaGator
12-14-2009, 12:59 PM
Morality without God is possible. There are plenty of atheists who are good, moral people out there-some even make an extra effort to prove it's possible. There are plenty of christians who pretend to be moral, but are not in their words or deeds.


Ginger's comments about toddlers are dead-on. 2 year olds have no conscience, they develop it over the next few years, if they have good parents. Luckily, they don't have the ability to do much harm, since they aren't very big.

The book in question is not dealing with individuals but with societies and mankind in general. I am in no way saying that there aren't good atheists, or pagans or agnostics and I 'm not saying that there aren't evil people who are christians. The question here, as I interpret things, can a moral structure for be derived if there is no God and that death is all we have to look foward to.

FlaGator
12-14-2009, 01:01 PM
That anyone has the potential to be a good person is pretty uncontroversial, accept among a few uneducated and unread Christians, or non-theist philosophers.

A typical Christian response to this fact is to claim that, yes, God gives everyone the capacity to be moral, regardless of belief. Its "etched in our hearts", so to speak. What they often deny, is that there is any rational or objective justification for morality apart from God.

Of course many non-theist philosophers who advocate some form of secular ethical theory, argue just the opposite, that its theism which cannot provide any objective moral foundation, and instead gives us little more than sets of arbitrary, amoral divine commands. In my estimation, that is correct.

To which I will reiterate the question
Is there is on example of a non-theistic ethical system that has ever worked?

linda22003
12-14-2009, 01:02 PM
Ginger's comments about toddlers are dead-on. 2 year olds have no conscience, they develop it over the next few years, if they have good parents. Luckily, they don't have the ability to do much harm, since they aren't very big.

This is why we don't let 2 year olds have credit cards or driver's licenses.

wilbur
12-14-2009, 01:05 PM
I am familiar with his works and I am familiar with the argument, it is not a new one. This is an variation of the argument that all humans want to do good and be good when in fact the basis of all human behavior is to survive and live comfortably at any cost.


Moral theories generally have little basis in what humans want to do.. but are devised to try and figure out what they ought to do.

In any case, many would argue that the drive to survive and live comfortably is exactly what leads to traits like altruism, cooperation, love and self-sacrifice... and that malicious behaviour is counter-productive to those goals. I'm inclined to agree.

FlaGator
12-14-2009, 01:18 PM
Moral theories generally have little basis in what humans want to do.. but are devised to try and figure out what they ought to do.

In any case, many would argue that the drive to survive and live comfortably is exactly what leads to traits like altruism, cooperation, love and self-sacrifice... and that malicious behaviour is counter-productive to those goals. I'm inclined to agree.

I think that you are putting the cart before the horse. From what I see in society the need for survival and comfort is what leads to murder, theft and rape. The morals that I believe God created in us is what leads to the beneficial traits of human behavior that you mentioned. Our moral compass tells us to help another and to do so with no thought to ourselves.To show love to those who need it and to care for one another is the results of the adoption of a moral ethic and not the cause of it.

wilbur
12-14-2009, 01:23 PM
I think that you are putting the cart before the horse. From what I see in society the need for survival and comfort is what leads to murder, theft and rape. The morals that I believe God created in us is what leads to the beneficial traits of human behavior that you mentioned. Our moral compass tells us to help another and to do so with no thought to ourselves.To show love to those who need it and to care for one another is the results of the adoption of a moral ethic and not the cause of it.

Those certainly can seem like good survival strategies for those who are very short-sighted, but who is going to really claim that murder, rape, and theft are the best strategies for well-being? That is really what your argument implies. Many humans may mistakenly think that those actions will bring them comfort and well-being, but I think we all know what a short-sighted, and ignorant strategy it really is.

Say we have a group of thieving murders in one town, and a group of people in another who pool their resources, work together cooperatively, and act honestly with one another. Overall, which place is going to have the individuals who survive with maximized comfort?

wilbur
12-14-2009, 09:48 PM
If anyone is interested, here is a good conversation/pseudo-debate between William Lane Craig (renown Christian philosopher) and Shelly Kagan (renown secular philosopher) about whether God is necessary for morality - its entertaining and enlightening (if your into that sort of thing). 10 parts, about an hour long.

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=5C6AC262F765A152&search_query=Is+God+Necessary+for+Morality%3F+%28K agan+vs+Craig%29