The God Delusion - Chapter 7

Debate specific books

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The God Delusion - Chapter 7

Post #1

Post by otseng »

McCulloch's questions:
Is there is a moral Zeitgeist that continually evolves in society, often in opposition to religious morality?
Do believers really use the Bible as a source of their moral values?

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Post #11

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:I think perhaps we should first define what we mean by morality before debating about it.

I view morality as the concept of right and wrong, good and bad. A moral sense is our capability of choosing between right and wrong. Someone who is moral is considered to be good and right.
Not the sticky terms again. Ugghhh. I need to review the chapter to see if Dawkins gives his definition. If we are to debate his book based on his inferences, then we need to consider his interpretation of morality. But if memory serves me right, he doesn't give an interpretation. He uses it in the generic sense. But I have to look to make sure.
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Post #12

Post by otseng »

bunyip wrote:It should read "Someone who is considered moral is one who performs what we view as good deeds or makes judgements we see as right."
Who is "we"? Who decides what is moral? By what standard do they decide if something is right or good?

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Post #13

Post by QED »

otseng wrote:
bunyip wrote:It should read "Someone who is considered moral is one who performs what we view as good deeds or makes judgements we see as right."
Who is "we"? Who decides what is moral? By what standard do they decide if something is right or good?
Well, I think Confused already demonstrated how why we can rule out the bible as a source for such standards -- because it is silent on many issues that are important for today's civilization. I think this points clearly to evolution and the genetic inheritance of a baseline notion of right and wrong. Being in the genes gives the degree of long-term plasticity we see but also, at any given epoch for the human race, it also presents a reason for the "common agreement" we see among those of different faith -- or no faith at all.

We should not be surprised to see the inheritance of "knowledge" of things like "right and wrong" any more than knowledge of "danger" for example. There's a long list of innate knowledge that is not acquired through experience but exists as a prescription in every new-born individual. Natural Selection will see to it that these prescriptions have an influence that keeps populations afloat.

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Post #14

Post by otseng »

QED wrote:Well, I think Confused already demonstrated how why we can rule out the bible as a source for such standards -- because it is silent on many issues that are important for today's civilization.
Before such statement can be made, a definition will need to be proposed on how the term morality is being used.

And actually, I've never argued that the Bible is the standard for morality (as I've defined it). Rather, what I believe is that morality is built-in to all humans. Humans have an innate ability to judge between right and wrong. It is not something learned or taught or even genetically inherited. It flows from a non-natural part of humans, the soul/spirit.

Let's suppose that it is genetically inherited. Then it's possible to genetically alter people so that they are not capable of judging between right and wrong after identifying those genes and removing them. When this is done, then it will show that morality can be explained genetically. (However, it might be considered wrong to even do this. :-k )

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Post #15

Post by McCulloch »

otseng wrote:Let's suppose that it is genetically inherited. Then it's possible to genetically alter people so that they are not capable of judging between right and wrong after identifying those genes and removing them. When this is done, then it will show that morality can be explained genetically. (However, it might be considered wrong to even do this. :-k )
There already is some research into neurological disorders which show that there is at least a genetic component. Some of these neurological disorders include symptoms such as an impaired ability to communicate, to understand others' points of view and to judge between right and wrong. If morality and criminality can be shown to be genetically caused or influenced, what effect would that have on our justice system or on theology?
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
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Post #16

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote: And actually, I've never argued that the Bible is the standard for morality (as I've defined it). Rather, what I believe is that morality is built-in to all humans. Humans have an innate ability to judge between right and wrong. It is not something learned or taught or even genetically inherited. It flows from a non-natural part of humans, the soul/spirit.

Let's suppose that it is genetically inherited. Then it's possible to genetically alter people so that they are not capable of judging between right and wrong after identifying those genes and removing them. When this is done, then it will show that morality can be explained genetically. (However, it might be considered wrong to even do this. :-k )
I would agree that morals can't come from the bible. But I would have to dispute the notion of morals being innate. Just as I debated with another person in a separate thread, in medicine, we say that if an infant is born with a reflex, then the reflex is innate. However, it is the presence that makes it innate, not the reflex itself. If an infant is born without the sucking reflex (which is not that rare), then they are fed through a feeding tube until the baby can either develop it, or can be trained to have it. If the infant is born with the sucking reflex, then the reflex is innate.

So one might be able to make the argument that if one is born knowing what is right and wrong in the society for which they live (which I think would be near impossible to prove since you couldn't test this until after they were able to perform right vs wrong, at which point nurture could be the source rather than nature) then you might be able to say it is innate. But I can not think of a single parent who didn't have to reprimand their child for either taking a toy from another, hitting another child, yelling, screaming, talking back, etc...... Basically, we teach children right vs wrong. I know there are some studies that say the genetic factors can predispose a person to do X or Y, but they don't determine if the person will do X or Y.

Science has done multiple studies on adopted identical twins where one was raised one way and the other was raised different. While the twins usually share some common themes, their belief of right and wrong was highly influenced by their adoptive parents.

Arguing a sense of morality outside of genetics or learned behavior will be very difficult to support. To say it is connected to the soul is as vague as the old phrase "God works in mysterious ways". If a child displays no characteristics of right or wrong, say by the age 9, do we say he lacks a soul? Did he make a conscious choice to murder? There are kids under the age of 14 that will never see life outside of prison again. What happened to these kids souls? Did they make a conscious choice at 9 to murder? Can they even make that sort of conscious choice. The US law system says they can. Does the religious doctrine agree?

So it is easy to look at this post and say morals don't necessarily come from the bible, they aren't necessarily innate, they aren't necessarily learned, they can't be shown to be connected to a non-physical part of the body (ie soul). So is it not more likely to say that they are in fact a combination of many things. And that they do in fact, change over time, with society? That it is possible to be born without morals, it is possible to become immoral with age, and that it is possible that a combination of genetic predisposition combined with poor environment can lead ones morals to be amoral based on the society in which they live (such as gang members)?

My issue comes into play when one says that if you are religious you are moral. Or it is because of religion one is moral. Or even to say that we can thank religion for introducing morality. I think Dawkins first half of this chapter shows exactly why we can't communicate morality with religion. I think his second half successfully shows how they change with time.
What we do for ourselves dies with us,
What we do for others and the world remains
and is immortal.

-Albert Pine
Never be bullied into silence.
Never allow yourself to be made a victim.
Accept no one persons definition of your life; define yourself.

-Harvey Fierstein

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Post #17

Post by Confused »

otseng wrote:
bunyip wrote:It should read "Someone who is considered moral is one who performs what we view as good deeds or makes judgements we see as right."
Who is "we"? Who decides what is moral? By what standard do they decide if something is right or good?
The problem is that there is no set standards of morality. Dawkins doesn't even try to address what is good and what isn't. We could accept your definition, but it isn't universal, so why would one assume what you consider to be good or bad is actually good or bad.

Instead, Dawkins addresses the fact that morality is subjective to the society in which it is being evaluated and it is relative to the time period in which it is being evaluated. He backs this up when he provides multiple examples throughout the chapter: womens right, slavery, racial integration, etc...
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morality, fairness, loyalty

Post #18

Post by otseng »

Confused wrote:But I can not think of a single parent who didn't have to reprimand their child for either taking a toy from another, hitting another child, yelling, screaming, talking back, etc
Certainly. Children under a certain age are not really capable of distinguishing what is right or wrong. And when they are old enough, it does not mean that even if they do know it that they will always choose to do the right thing. Even adults do not always choose to do the right thing, even though they know what would be right.
Basically, we teach children right vs wrong.
In a certain sense, yes, I agree. There are cultural standards in which society imparts on children on what is acceptable and unacceptable. Yet, at the same time, there is an innate understanding of what is right and wrong.

An example is a story I heard of Martin Luther King Jr. During his childhood, he played with some white kids. But later, the white kids' parents told them that they could not play with each other because they were black. Society told them that it was unacceptable to mix the races. But King had an innate sense that this was wrong.

Another example is that I've never had to teach my children the concept of fairness. Though they don't always act fair, they sense that being fair is right. I can easily appeal to them of being fair. And they don't dispute that being fair is right.
If a child displays no characteristics of right or wrong, say by the age 9, do we say he lacks a soul? Did he make a conscious choice to murder? There are kids under the age of 14 that will never see life outside of prison again. What happened to these kids souls? Did they make a conscious choice at 9 to murder?
A simplistic answer cannot be given. There are many factors that go into a person's actions. But usually there is some motivation for murder. Rarely will someone kill another for no reason. We have an innate belief that it is wrong to kill another person. But, conditions can become so severe that it overwhelms that belief and cause someone to do the wrong thing.
So is it not more likely to say that they are in fact a combination of many things. And that they do in fact, change over time, with society?
It is a combination of things, but I believe an innate understanding of right and wrong is part of it. If morality does change over time with society, then it would be hard to explain the universality of morality. As I've mentioned, Dawkins states in the previous chapter that the Kuna tribe "show the same moral judgements as the rest of us." (page 225)
My issue comes into play when one says that if you are religious you are moral.
If a Christian says that just because they are religious then they are moral, then they have a flawed understanding of the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible teach this.
Instead, Dawkins addresses the fact that morality is subjective to the society in which it is being evaluated and it is relative to the time period in which it is being evaluated. He backs this up when he provides multiple examples throughout the chapter: womens right, slavery, racial integration, etc...
If morality is subjective, then it would mean that society can say that it is right for women to have no rights. Or it is right to have slavery. Or it is right for racial discrimination. If one is to state that these things are always wrong, regardless of what society thinks, then the morality of it would not be based on society and would not be subjective.

When we say something is right or wrong, we are judging by some sort of standard. If I say 4 times 4 equals 20 is wrong, then I'm judging it by the multiplication table. If there is no standard, then one cannot say that something is right or wrong. There would be nothing to judge by.

When we say is it right to be fair, by what standard are we judging by? There is no law or rules stating we must be fair. And the forces of natural selection is opposite to fairness. Rather, the "unfit" are eliminated and the "fit" survive. It would seem odd that a process that is unfair would result in a belief in fairness. The best explanation is that there is some higher standard that all humans seem to possess. And this is one argument that CS Lewis uses for the existence of the supernatural and what led Francis Collins to believe in the supernatural.

The concept of fairness is such a strong force that it is even used to challenge the belief in God. Atheists demand that God must be fair (God unfairly sends people to hell. God unfairly judges people who have not heard the gospel. God unfairly sends calamities on people). But, why the demand that God needs to be fair? What standard do they judge by that requires God to be fair?

Even among violent people we find the concept of fairness. One interesting work that mentions this is Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. Rhodes talks about Mike Tyson biting off Holyfield's ear. And one of the driving forces was fairness. It wasn't simply some madman trying to win a fight at all costs. But, it was in response to Holyfield constantly headbutting Tyson. And when Tyson saw that the referee was going to do nothing about it, he bit off Holyfield's ear.

Loyalty is another concept that we humans think is the right thing to do. Even in places where we think morality is nonexistent, we find that loyalty is still present. If prisoners snitch on each other, then it is not considered a good thing. If a mobster is disloyal to the family, then that person will usually be taken care of.

I cannot think of a society where disloyalty and unfairness are considered a virtue. If all societies think fairness and loyalty are right, then they cannot be a product of a moral zeitgeist that continually evolves.

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Post #19

Post by QED »

otseng wrote: And actually, I've never argued that the Bible is the standard for morality (as I've defined it). Rather, what I believe is that morality is built-in to all humans. Humans have an innate ability to judge between right and wrong. It is not something learned or taught or even genetically inherited. It flows from a non-natural part of humans, the soul/spirit.
Right. Confused says it's very hard to prove that our genetic inheritance supplies us with an innate set of morals. That may be so, but we do know of many other prescriptions that we inherit from our parents that do influence our behaviour. Now some may be nurture (risk-taking for example -- but it's uncanny the way this seems to be "in the blood") but we do have others that we know for sure are of a genetic origin. Autism, for example, is not the result of up-bringing but it has a profound affect on behavioural relationships. While this might be considered a genetic defect, the results are still informative given that we are considering the potential influence of genes on behaviour.

When we consider children's behaviour, like toy snatching for instance, we are only really looking at minor transgressions. Do we think if we left toddlers alone they might kill each other? I would suggest that there is an innate moral brake on this sort of thing just as there is a moral brake on a toddler hurling itself off a ledge. Don't we all know ourselves that we don't need to learn some things the hard way?

So when otseng senses something flowing from a non-natural part of humans, the soul/spirit it strikes me that it's something that Natural Selection would prescribe for our continued existence. It's something that can't be learned, and can't easily be ignored -- an absolute dead-ringer for the way genetic factors influence our thoughts and behaviours. I think it's fair to say that to beleive that this has to be non-natural is to beleive that genetics can't influence behaviour.
otseng wrote:Let's suppose that it is genetically inherited. Then it's possible to genetically alter people so that they are not capable of judging between right and wrong after identifying those genes and removing them. When this is done, then it will show that morality can be explained genetically. (However, it might be considered wrong to even do this. :-k )
I don't think we're too far from this already. We don't need to do the test, it's something nature throws out at us from time to time. I'm having trouble getting free access to a particular article published in nature concerning the genetic profiling of murderers. Once again, useful science is locked away from general view by petty subscriptions. :roll:

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Re: morality, fairness, loyalty

Post #20

Post by QED »

otseng wrote:When we say is it right to be fair, by what standard are we judging by? There is no law or rules stating we must be fair. And the forces of natural selection is opposite to fairness. Rather, the "unfit" are eliminated and the "fit" survive. It would seem odd that a process that is unfair would result in a belief in fairness. The best explanation is that there is some higher standard that all humans seem to possess. And this is one argument that CS Lewis uses for the existence of the supernatural and what led Francis Collins to believe in the supernatural.
If that's the case then I'm stunned. The process of natural selection can be very different from its products. It would be nothing short of a school-boy error to think otherwise... Some processes are violent yet result in delicate products, some involve large amounts of heat yet the product is frozen. It's simply nonsense to expect the sort of connections you cite.

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