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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where does morality come from?

I hear the comment all the time, if there is no god, there is no way to determine what is good or bad. One persons opinion is just as valid as another. Only the absolutes that come from a god can make this distinction. But is this accurate? Can morality only derive from the authority of a god?

This is not a compelling argument. In fact, if the god of the bible sets the standards for morality, he has done a lousy job of it. He commands people not to kill, but then orders people to kill in his name. He wipes out all of humanity in a flood, with the exception of eight people. I know Christians believe that god can do anything he wants to mankind since he supposedly created us and mankind was entirely evil, however, that argument does not hold up. One week old infants are not capable of evil. We expect authority to be better than the rest of us. God should not only be better, he should be infinitely better. He should not be petty or frustrated or angry. These are human characteristics and god is supposed to be better than humanity. He also is supposed to be all knowing. An all knowing god would know that one week old infants are not sinning against anyone.

The Riddle of Epicurus, or problem of evil, is a famous argument against the existence of an all-powerful and providential God. As recorded by Lactantius:

God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak - and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful - which is equally foreign to god's nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?

This problem is further complicated because according to the bible, evil comes from god.

•I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7, KJV)

•Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? (Amos 3:6, KJV)

•Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good? (Lamentations 3:38)

That means there are only a few alternatives. One, the bible is wrong. Two, god both creates good and evil and permits them both free reign. Three, there is no god and events which are good and bad happen according to the laws of probability. The odds favor the third option.

The fact that we have the concepts "good" and "evil" also does not prove that there is a god making such definitions. For example, there is no absolute definition of "hot." And yet, from our biological perspective, we can judge what is "hot" and what is not "hot." It is the same for "pain"; Yet we are biologically wired to interpret "pain" as "bad." This is one of the mechanisms that we have for the preservation of the self and the species. Our ability to empathize, I suspect, is also a biological preservation-of-the-species mechanism. Therefore, I believe that our concepts of "good" and "evil" are simply conceptualizations of these biological functions. The fact that many concepts don't have an ultimate meaning in a godless universe does not mean that they are without meaning to our biological nature

It is much easier to explain how morality and ethics evolved over time from a naturalist point of view. Mankind is inherently a social animal, like most primates. Behaviors that benefit the group are encouraged, while negative actions are shunned. Since cooperation helps the group, and murder does not, individuals who exhibit those traits are either welcomed or driven off. Over time, these traits form the basis of the social contract and become entrenched in society.

Since mankind is a social animal, he feels empathy for others, as do many primates. He helps people because we have learned as a species those behaviors which best benefit the group. Christians try and make it sound as if these are only attributes that religious people have. In reality, not only do most people exhibit them, but most primate societies do as well. Since other primate societies know nothing of the Christian concept of god, or have ever read the bible, it would seem odd to see them demonstrate these behaviors if Christians are correct. However, since man has developed from the same family tree as these other primate societies, it makes perfect sense why we, as well as other primate societies, exhibit the same type of group behavior.

So, is there actually sin? There is no evil in the religious sense of sin, but there is right and wrong. As mankind developed, behaviors that benefited the species were considered good or "moral" and behaviors that were detrimental for the species were considered bad or "sin". After centuries of the behaviors working for the betterment of the species, they became ingrained into us. It is really very easy to understand.


  1. "Just believing, just having a molecule of faith - that simple step, when focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, has ever been and always will be the first principle of His eternal gospel, the first step out of despair." ~ Elder Jeffery R. Holland of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from the jacket of his book, Broken Things to Mend, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City,, 2008

  2. All religions make that claim. It is not unique to Christianity

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