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Atheists and Agnostics: How do you determine matters of "right" and "wrong"? Answered

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we develop our (individual) systems of morality. Most Christians, Jews, Muslims, and many others refer to a book (or books) for our direction. Other spiritual folks may look to a guru, imam, pastor, guide or spiritual leader. But I'm curious about those who do not profess to be "religious/spiritual". How do you determine matters of morality? Do you believe in right and wrong? Or is everything relative? Are there any absolutes (as far as morality is concerned), or does the situation always determine the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a given action? NOTE: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Etc., Please do not turn this into a debate/arguement (especially about evolution!!). If you have serious questions, feel free to ask.


In reading through this thread, I find it fascinating how almost all of us humanists (agnostics, athiests, whatever) subscribe to one form or another of relativism (i.e., right and wrong are socially and culturally determined, not absolute), and at the same time we assert that we "just know" what they are. I am not casting stones -- I have said the same thing for myself. It seems to me that morality is something that "can't" (isn't?) determined rationally. We can look back on some moral decision we've made, and construct a rational justification for it, but that's not how we got there in the first place. A "sense of morality" seems to be built into the way we function, but how that sense comes to its decision is guided/programmed/forced by our upbringing, training, other beliefs, and any number of things we may not be able to articulate.

. So you think we have an innate/instinctual/built-in set of morals? Or just a sense that there is a right and wrong?

I second Skunkbait's comments below. I think that humans have an innate "sense that there is a right and wrong" (we are "dichotomizing animals," as Stephen Jay Gould wrote). What those right and wrong are is driven by culture for the most part (again, Skunkbait's comments are right on target).

...D**n. So how does someone so clearly faithful come to conclusions so similar to we apostates? Maybe there's something to this whole "logic" and "reason" thing, after all!

From my point of view, I see to many "exceptions" to the rule to make it an innate sense.

I see lives destroyed, not to save another, but to rid one of it's dependence (babies in dumpsters), and a multitude of offenses of a similar nature to make it inborn or natural. I DO see that morality seems to show itself, not in the individual as much as in the group (non-mob). That is, in a group setting, or taking the group (humanity as a whole) we get a better sense of what morality is, then asking any single person.
In most cases, there is more intelligence in a group of 50 persons, then in any one person of that group. I am constantly reminded of, and brought back to the subject of emergence and the quantitative qualities it embraces.

. That makes sense to me. . . I wouldn't be surprised if skunkbait is right about there being a few, survival-driven, universal "morals." Similar to the inborn fears of heights and loud noises. . Ol' Skunk is pretty smart for a Hillbilly, ain't he? ;)

Skunkbait is an intellectual in the tradition of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the sort of person I love to debate about "religious" matters, because I'm sure that I will always learn something as a result (and you never know, maybe I'll end up converted). I just hope that I can stand up to his intellectual rigor.

You've got little to worry about. It's not true intelectual rigor, just an adamant refusal to think within the box or colour within the lines.

If it quacks like a duck... So, do you have one of those "runs with scissors" T-shirts?

Those who deny their powers are the most powerful. I loved Mystery Men

No "runs with scissors" T-shirt (yet), but it was recently suggested that I should wear a "Does not play well with others" sticker!

BTW- Duck season started today, and if you ask my kids (and hunting buddies), I quack NOTHING like a duck. The term "sick cow" comes to mind :-)

Most dangerous thing in the world is a literate hillbilly!

I would say that we have a sense that there are matters of right and wrong. Some of them may be evolutionary (generally infanticide and incest, even though there are exceptions), but others may go even farther. Some things that seem sooo right and SOO wrong, don't seem to have huge evolutionary benefits. Those may be cultural/learned, but then again, they may be part of "being human".

I think it is evolution's way of keeping us from killing each other and keeping the species thriving.

Well, the Gospel is a start, followed by delusions of chivalric duty (upcoming ible :), and numerous other little codes and what-nots, many of which will break if I deem necessary. In short, I have it all boils down to:
Treat life as you would like to be treated, don't destroy life without positive cause, aid those in need, and lead a happy existence
In my Extra-dimensional Life-Force theory, what goes 'round, comes 'round, and all living things have the same basic essence of living, then there are the positive living, and the negative living, and the neutral living etc...

Some examples:

Killing a man because he slept with your mate (willingly): wrong
Killing a man because he killed your mate: justifiable
Killing a man because he kills for pleasure: Kill that S.O.B.
Killing for just war: justifiable
Killing for beliefs: wrong (unless beliefs involve inflicting pain and death on others)
Abortion: yah it may stop an innocent beating heart, but with the millions of neglected, homeless children, + population over populating, justifiable
Hunting: It's the natural order of things, justifiable (damn, when dragons come, they'll say the same...)

If we were in a serious famine, would it be ok to kill all the fat people (overeaters), those who are willfully ignorant, and those who will never add to the gene pool (but still consume our resources)? :-) Seriously, sometimes my "morality" conflicts with my desire for the preservation of the species! I feel guilty about eradicating morons, but I find little desire to prolong their suffering.

I don't say to kill them... Let them die on their own. Let evolution take it's course.

Especially when braised, so the fat melts and keeps the meat moist. Since they don't exercise much, the muscles shouldn't be tough and stringy, either :-)

I've actually been around quite a few (former) cannibals. They usually ate fallen warriors (which were tough and stringy), but prized the meat of plumper folks. It was always done in a ceremonial sense, but they said some people (and parts) just tasted better than others.

but prized the meat of plumper folks.

The first time I read that, I thought you had written: but prized the meat of plumber folks

and I wonder why eat plumbers? I need new glasses me thinks...

Did you ever watch The Twilight Zone? I mean the original, black and white show, not the cheap knock-off. You may find this enlightening :-)

No, but thanks for the link.

I searched on google too-and found this page. Which linked back to this page.

I really, really, really, really hope it is a joke site.

Ummm...I think it might actually be serious. This is pretty much in line with some of the truly wacko WS stuff floating around.

>Is truly and really scared<

Other people think that way...and they live on planet Earth...and I live on planet Earth... =O

There are things in heaven and earth undreamt of in your philosophy. -- WS

The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine -- JSB Haldane

I love that quote from Haldane. Oh well, it's their right to believe that the cell phone towers are a form of mind control...

Just so they don't force ME to wear aluminum foil hats :-)

Hey, risk your own mind and self control if you want to!

I prefer to incorporate it sewn INTO the hat so you can't see it ... besides foil is nto thick enough, and you have to ground it to drain it away LOL

You're just using the wrong kind of foil.

That was one of my favorite episodes. Hmmm, recipes for "serving man".

Puts a whole new spin on our attitude towards cattle, eh?

well, i do find some things weird about that site, if the "new world order" is already controlling our minds why can we think for our selves, or more importantly, why was the person able to post that site, certainly the aliens are smart enough to make sure no one can ever figure out what is happening, and they could just delete the internet site if they control everything. something tells me there is some scam involved in that...

Don't start listing all the things wrong with that site; it'll take up at least a petabyte of site memory.

It can't be all bad - they have a making section.

As a decorative item, those muffin-sized orgone blasters are almost worth making.

yes, because when the alien armada comes i will feel safe knowing i can chuck these muffin-size pieces of metal at them...(LOL) on another note, why is it called a blaster, does it explode, or shoot something?

Orgone is a (completely fake) "life energy radiation" - these things are supposed to fire beams of it.

hahahahahahaha, because everyone needs a muffin-size radiation shooter...

It beats me that people believe this stuff. You can buy "orgone enhancers" on ebay, they're supposed to have healing qualities. Utter bunkum, but when I complained to ebay because there is no evidence to support the medical claims, ebay refused to take the listing down.

haha, something really is wrong with America. i am surprised that ebay would not take down the listing, since the clams really are not true, and it won't do anything to help you. (but just to be safe, i better bury a couple of the muffin things around my house, lest the alien armada comes to kill me...)

I don't think it's a joke. I do think it's nutty, but not a joke.

Um, hey now, stop eying me that way LOL I may be fat, but I am old and tough too :-)

Eww... I guess we could grill them on a spit...

Yes, but wouldn't evolution insist that we cull the dead weight? If you have a cancer (metaphorically), you cut it out. BTW- I'm just being difficult for the sake of discussion. Part of me genuinely feels that way (let evolution take it's course), while part of me is quite compassionate. I guess that's part of being human.