Friday, August 22, 2014

Morality Without God

Human morality came into existence the first time a primate figured out that he'd get more food by making friends and cooperating than by stealing everybody else's food and killing them.

Religion was invented by lazy greedheads who figured out how to con their neighbors into giving him their food by terrorizing them.

Ronald A. Lindsey at Free Inquiry
Those who cling to the “further fact” view—that is, the view that there must be something outside of morality that provides the objective grounding for morality—are not unlike those na├»ve economists who insist that currency has no value unless it’s based on gold or some other precious metal. Hence, we had the gold standard, which for many years provided that a dollar could be exchanged for a specific quantity of gold. The gold standard reassured some that currency was based on something of “objective” value. However, the whole world has moved away from the gold standard with no ill effects. Why was there no panic? Why didn’t our economic systems collapse or become wildly unstable? Because currency doesn’t need anything outside of the economic system itself to provide it with value. Money represents the value found within our economic system, which, in turn, is based on our economic relationships.

Similarly, moral norms represent the value found in living together. There is no need to base our moral norms on something outside of our relationships. Moral norms are effective in fostering collaboration and cooperation and in improving our conditions, and there is no need to refer to a mystical entity, a gold bar, or God to conclude that we should encourage everyone to abide by common moral norms.


In conclusion, the claim that we need God to provide morality with objectivity does not withstand analysis. To begin with, God would not be able to provide objectivity, as the argument from Euthyphro demonstrates. Moreover, morality is neither objective nor subjective in the way that statements of fact are said to be objective or subjective; nor is that type of objectivity really our concern. Our legitimate concern is that we don’t want people feeling free “to do their own thing,” that is, we don’t want morality to be merely a reflection of someone’s personal desires. It’s not. To the extent that intersubjective validity is required for morality, it is provided by the fact that, in relevant respects, the circumstances under which humans live have remained roughly the same. We have vulnerabilities and needs similar to those of people who lived in ancient times and medieval times, and to those of people who live today in other parts of the world. The obligation to tell the truth will persist as long as humans need to rely on communications from each other. The obligation to assist those who are in need of food and water will persist as long as humans need hydration and nutrition to sustain themselves. The obligation not to maim someone will persist as long as humans cannot spontaneously heal wounds and regrow body parts. The obligation not to kill someone will persist as long as we lack the power of reanimation. In its essentials, the human condition has not changed much, and it is the circumstances under which we live that influence the content of our norms, not divine commands. Morality is a human institution serving human needs, and the norms of the common morality will persist as long as there are humans around.

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