God Given Morality?
One of the primary arguments I come across from theists of various flavors, but mostly Christians, is the assertion that without God there are no morals. In their eyes right and wrong is something defined not by man but by God. After all in the Christian world view God is perfect, righteous, moral and will eventually judge the entire world. The problem with this view of morality is that it's wrong. In fact it's obviously wrong, PAINFULLY obviously wrong. It honestly amazes me how many theists are willing to make the argument that morality could only stem from God when the evidence to the contrary is right in front of them and requires only rudimentary observation skills.
Morality is just another thing that believers give credit to God for that God had absolutely nothing to do with.
Morality exists in nature. For many centuries the words animalistic, feral, primal, and bestial all referred to how animals behaved as opposed to the way that humans behaved. At that time animals were thought of as wild savages living with no morals but the more research we do into animals the more that sentiment is overturned by what we observe in nature. In social animals, animals that live and thrive in groups, morality is quite pronounced. We do not see a morality as well-defined as that in humans but then we wouldn't expect to since these animals are not capable of the same level of cognitive thought and do not have systems of writing.
To any who truly look into the subject there can be no doubt that animals have moral sensibilities. This lends credence to the idea that morality evolved over time and is something shared amongst social animals that helps their survival. Traits that help a species survive are likely to be passed on.
Morality fits in perfectly with an evolutionary view of development yet this doesn't stop dunder-heads like William Lane Craig from claiming that if human beings are just animals we have no reason not to commit horrible acts. This simply isn't the case and it's a just plane deceptive and dishonest assertion. Animals do not often attack unless provoked or threatened or, in the case of something like a shark, hungry. The idea that somehow without a God in the heavens proclaiming right and wrong we'd all be raping, beating and murdering each other is absurd.
Morality is Imperfect and it Changes
I've mentioned this before but a perfect God has no business creating imperfection. Morality is imperfect, even those of us with consciences perfectly in-tact can do bad things. After all even under Jiminy's care Pinocchio almost ended up a donkey. Human morality is very imperfect, it changes, it has been getting steadily better for a while now thanks to the stability of our current society.
All one needs to do for evidence of this is read the Bible. The early Mosaic Law is barbaric, horrific and completely alien to anyone with 21st Century moral sensibilities. The idea that shellfish is an abomination or that a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night should be stoned to death are both absurd to us now. Biblical morality may have been ground-breaking when it emerged millennia ago but now there is no need for it.
Even the God of the Bible himself changes his mind on certain moral truths. Adulterers were meant to be stoned but Jesus stops an adulterous woman from being killed by an angry mob in the Gospels. Jesus was far nicer on the whole and while some verses have him supporting Old Testament law others have him tossing it aside in favor of gentler ideas.
Of course a Christian might argue that what I'm talking about is actually human morality. They would need to admit that the Biblical morality was only human first and if they are willing to do that I suppose they can then go on to posit a higher moral code, one that only God is aware of. But then if only God is aware of godly morality what if anything does that divine code have to do with the flawed human morality we see before us today?
Only a perfect morality could stem from God but how would we know it was perfect? It might be something entirely alien to our ideas about what is right and wrong which leads us to the most troubling dilemma of all for those asserting that morality comes from a deity.
If God does have a moral system that he wants us to live by than it must be one that is wholly good. But how would we tell that it was wholly good. Is what is good good only because God commands it or is what is good just GOOD and therefore God commands it because of it’s goodness? This is the Euthyphro dilemma, albeit paraphrased greatly.
The problem is that if God can command anything and it becomes NECESSARILY good than God could command horrible atrocities that believers must claim are completely good. Some Christians actually do this as there are plenty of atrocities commanded by the Biblical God in the Old Testament some of which involve genocide. Christians who believe in this side of dilemma are left defending the morally indefensible, they are forced to claim that atrocities that would make any human killer evil beyond belief are actually part of a WHOLLY GOOD morality of a HOLY GOD.
Those who take the second side of the dilemma, namely that good exists beyond God, must admit that God is therefore bound to good and that it exists separate from him as an ideal he must hold himself to. If God commands it because it is good than good is something greater than God, not something that he defines. For centuries this dilemma has left theists at a loss for words and to my knowledge there has not been a single logically or intellectually sound rebuttal offered to it by those supporting God given morality.
Appeal to Authority
The idea that what God commands is good is known as the Divine Command Theory. I’ve spoken to people who seem to suggest that without the Commandments in the Bible people will become more evil, that without some sort of authority to appeal to support morality we’d all go out and be immoral. As I’ve pointed out to many of them the Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill does not make killing immoral, killing is immoral and thus they made the commandment. They are writing down in stone what simple empathy tells us, that killing another person, other than in self-defense, is wrong.
Human beings do not need to appeal to some authority to be moral, we need only be given the reasons why some things are immoral. For instance murder doesn’t need to be against the law for us to know it’s wrong, empathy, the ability to weigh consequences of our actions before we do them and understand what damage might be done to others, tells us that it’s wrong. We know that we’d be causing pain, both emotional and physical and as social animals we understand that what hurts the group hurts the individual and vice versa.
Most morals do not stem from religion, although religions did become places where our ancestors wrote down the morals they had fashioned. Instead morals stem from empathy and from the ability to form hypothetical scenarios, to play out the consequences of possible actions we might take before taking them. We see and feel the pain of others, we sympathize with it and in that way we seek to avoid doing things that cause that pain. When something is beneficial for the individual or group it is generally considered moral, when something is harmful to the individual or group it is generally considered immoral. This leaves massive gray areas of course and allows for human morality to be tweaked and gain massive levels of nuance.
Human Morality is Better
To me it seems obvious that our current morality is better than any absolute morality, God given or not, could ever be. Our morality has improved. We abolished slavery, we gave women the right to vote and the right to own property, we’ve had the civil rights movement and now we’re having the gay rights movement. Societal morality is making progress, a god given morality on the other hand cannot progress, it would be absolute and unchanging.
Please don’t get me wrong, in no way am I saying that morality should be meaningless or malleable. Some theists will go so far that they will claim that if murder is not objectively wrong than who are we to decide it is wrong. Well it’s simple really, we’re humans, it’s our species, our lives, our society. Thus we can come to a form of objective morality that I call Societal Collective Morality. This sort of morality is similar to that proposed by Sam Harris. Humans need no authority other than ourselves, our own empathy and societal morality will do just fine for us especially if we allow for progress AWAY from the dogmatic religious morality that seeks to dominate the world whether it be in the form of Christian or Islamic or any other religious moral code.
Our morals do not come from God and a morality that did come from God would likely be alien and useless to us mortals. A subjective societal morality, that progressively moves forward to establish moral truths using empathy and a measure of human well being will be infinitely better for us that the commands of a supernatural being. There simply isn’t any evidence or reason to believe that morals come from God or even that they come from religion for that matter and to me the idea of God given morality is patently absurd.
Other hubs in the Giving Credit to God Series
- Giving Credit to God
Objections are offered against the superstitious trend of giving credit to God for things he obviously didn't do.
- God Given Rights?
Further analysis of the bizarre trend of giving credit to God for things he obviously didn't do. This hub deals specifically with the idea of rights from God.
- God Given Gifts?