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Author Topic:   Problems with being an Atheist (or Evolutionist)
Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005

Message 64 of 276 (538745)
12-09-2009 2:54 PM
Reply to: Message 62 by Bolder-dash
12-09-2009 1:59 PM

If one is truly atheist, why should you have any morality? Why not just do what is best for yourself, and those you love, and the heck with any others?
Is it just a practical consideration, that by being moral in your own mind, maybe its harder to get in trouble, legal or otherwise. Why have principal if you believe life is just a random mix of proteins? I really can't understand that.
This has been answered, but not by me, so I'll give my response.
I don't believe in any god(s) or anything supernatural. As such, I think that the moral dictates of ancient scriptures are nothing more than the words of men. I don;t think "good" and "evil" exist as anything other than human concepts, concepts that are as subject to change as any other human social construct.
My morality stems primarily from empathy. I understand joy and sadness, love and hate, pain and pleasure. Some of those emotions and feelings are more desirable than others, and some I would wish to outright avoid entirely. I comprehend that other people are just like me, feel the same feelings (if not always for the same reasons), and I simply don't have any desire to cause teh negative feelings, while I take pleasure in causing the positive ones.
To put it simply, it makes me happy to make others happy, and when others are hurt or sad it makes me sad. I don't need any deity or written law for any of this - the ability to empathise is part of what makes human beings social animals, and as such is compeltely natural and instinctual.
I extend this beyond those I can individually feel empathy for through utilitarian ethics. The simple version is that I do not see moral questions as black/white absolutes where "x" is bad and "y" is good. Instead, I see all moral choices as a question of benefit and harm, for both individuals and society as a whole. Let me give a few examples:
Theft is widely regarded as "bad." Under utilitarian ethics, I see that stealing can result in a significant benefit for the thief, but a corresponding harm to the victim. Further, I see that widespread theft would threaten the stability of society, and I don't see trading a personal benefit for another's harm to be equitable. Because the harm caused by theft vastly exceeds the benefit received by the thief, I recognize theft as "bad."
I also recognize that theft is not as bad as murder, or rape, because those two acts cause significantly more harm than theft. This is partially because physical objects and money can be replaced, while a rape or a murder can never be undone and will carry significant consequences for the victim and others.
A simple combination of empathy and utilitarianism (while recognizing that others will not always hold the same opinions as I do) comprises my moral framework.
I don;t consider that life is anything more than a stunningly complex set of self-perpetuating chemical reactions. I don't think the Universe or even the Earth would "care" if humanity all died five minutes from now. I don't think that human life carries any objective value...but as a human being, subjectively I personally value human life a great deal.
I don't see any reason to behave unethically. Fear of prison (or Hell, for that matter) doesn't prevent me from being "bad," especially when I don't think I'd get caught. What keeps my behavior ethical is empathy and the honest desire to see others' lives improve rather than suffer, and to value other's abilities to choose for themselves as equal to my own.
I give to charity, when I'm able, simply because I recognize that other people are suffering and I don't like that. I vote in accordance with human rights and improving the standard of living for those who have the least because I think they need it more than those who already have a good standard of living. I'll help a neighbor, buy someone's groceries, help a stranger with a flat tire, or call emergency services if I see an accident not because I think it'll get me praise or into "heaven," but just because I don't like other's suffering.
I think you'd find that, were you to one day lose faith in your deity, that you, too, would not suddenly revert to an antisocial psychopathic monster. I think you'd find the prospect of hurting another person to be just as undesirable as you do now. I think that you wouldn't steal your neighbor's TV not simply because you're afraid of being caught, but because you don't want your neighbor to steal your TV and so extend him the same respect and courtesy.
You'd almost certainly find that, even if there isn't a cosmic father-figure telling you what's good and bad, that you can still figure out a system for yourself. That even if life is "meaningless," we as conscious beings can still create meaning for ourselves.
Art, for example, doesn't mean anything objectively. A lizard doesn't recognize the beauty of the Mona Lisa. A tree couldn't care less about whether Pride and Prejudice is better literature than A Tale of Two Cities. The Sun will continue its stellar cycles unperturbed if the Louvre suddenly collapsed. But you and I hold these things as valuable and significant subjectively.
So too with life and morality. Human beings decide what is and is not valuable for ourselves. We value our own continued existence, and so empathy allows us to value the lives of others as well. The only "meaning" of life is what you determine, for yourself, that meaning to be. If you determine that the value of your life is tied to worshiping a deity (real or imagined), then that's the meaning of your life. If you determine that the meaning of your life is to experience existence and try to make that experience as positive as possible for yourself and others, then that is the meaning of your life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 62 by Bolder-dash, posted 12-09-2009 1:59 PM Bolder-dash has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 66 by Bolder-dash, posted 12-09-2009 3:07 PM Rahvin has replied

Posts: 4046
Joined: 07-01-2005

Message 68 of 276 (538752)
12-09-2009 3:21 PM
Reply to: Message 66 by Bolder-dash
12-09-2009 3:07 PM

And you feel this sense of empathy arises from where? If a tree doesn't have it, why do you?
Well, among other things, trees don't have brains.
Human beings are social animals, much like other apes, or wolves and dogs, etc. Many animals have been observed to care for wounded packmates, or mourn the death of a child. Empathy seems to have a selective benefit in that it allows group activity. You can obviously see the benefit of working together rather than as competing individuals - a lone human is weak, but a society of humans is at the top of the food chain. Caring for other members of the group is what allows the group to function with stability.
It was simply a mutation that held selective advantages? But it doesn't hold a selective advantage for frogs.
An animal not possessing a feature does not mean that the feature does not carry a selective advantage. Evolution is not so much survival of the fittest, but rather survival of the fit enough.
Frogs fill their biological niche quite well. Instead of caring for other members of their species, they simply lay prodigious amounts of eggs so that high losses of new tadpoles are acceptable.
In any event, if you are suggesting that empathy is of divine origins, you'd have to explain why non-human animals also demonstrate the trait, and why the existence of empathy requires a supernatural explanation rather than a natural one. You'd have to provide evidence of a supernatural origin, and a mechanism for its function that better explains observed reality than the current naturalistic explanations, coupled with a corresponding series of predictions based on your mechanism that have been verified with observations.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 66 by Bolder-dash, posted 12-09-2009 3:07 PM Bolder-dash has not replied

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