Discussion of where morals come from


Reading through the comments on the message board for the Yahoo! article "" led me to some comments by someone calling themselves the "Bacon Eating Atheist Jew".  Between the "Fundy slamming" comments, the interesting name, and the fact that he posted a link to his blog, I had to see what else he believes (or rather doesn’t believe).

What I found was a scathing exchange between him and someone called "spacebunny".  I was tempted to leave, because there seemed to be more name-calling and foul-language (on both sides) than actual debate, but something caught my eye:

The premise is that these imbeciles say that morality stems from the word of God and isn’t relative. I said Atheists have morality just like anyone else. Morality is based on sympathy, not the word of God. I’m asking her for HER definition of morality and to give me some examples.

I saw that there were 20+ comments posted to that article, so I figured I’d see if anyone took him up on the challenge.  Naturally, a few felt compelled to do so.  I added myself to that list with the comment here (mostly links to my own blog).

Later on, I check the logs of what incoming links hit my blog, and I saw that BEAJ’s comments page was the source of some hits.  I went back there, and saw this response, where the following lines caught my attention:

I don’t think God gave us morality, I think we evolved much of our morality. However, since the definition of morality is relative depending on who you ask, and the environmental factors that affect one’s own inward feelings of right and wrong, I know that morality is relative.
However, this does not mean that the range is very broad.

So I posted the following response, reproduced here in its entirety (I plan to solidify these ex tempore comments into something a little more cohesive later on):

I would say that how people define morality is not so much "relative" as it is "variable". Like you said, for the most part, the range of what is generally accepted as moral behaviour is not very broad.

My favorite author, G.K. Chesterton said, "Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable."

My belief is that there are certain things (not all things, but a definite, non-null set) that are absolute truth. I believe this does not just apply to the "hard sciences" (e.g. 2+2 always equals 4), but that there are certain things that are absolute moral truths as well. From these, I believe the variances are where human perceive or even delude themselves into believing ("relative" to themselves) that some of these absolutes are "not that absolute". It’s the old "it’s right for you but not for me" or "if you do it, it’s wrong, but if I do it, well, I had a good reason."

Here we get into a big problem people have with Christianity. Christianity teaches that we have all sinned and all need forgiveness. Lots of people don’t want to admit that (even Christians who have admitted to past sins), so some have said they don’t need forgiveness because they have a good enough excuse.

When we are called to forgive our neighbor, it is not because they have a good excuse, but it is precisely because they have done something wrong without an excuse. If every wrong is merely a perceived (but not actual) wrong, then there’s no need for forgiveness – there would only be need for "adjusting personal moral boundaries".

Since some wrongs are inexcusable, but can still be forgiven, the implication is that it is not a perceived wrong, but is actually, absolutely wrong. The moral code broken is a solid truth.

"Thou shalt not steal" (as one example) is not something we evolved – it could actually go against the 1st fundamental law of evolution which states "survival of the fittest". Stealing food from one to feed yourself would actually be more in line with evolution.

I’ll admit that a lot of this is coming from what I remember of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, as well as Peter Kreeft’s book mentioned previously. Lastly, I’d like to recommend Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (from whence I took my username and blog name), which contains the following quote in Chapter V "The Flag of the World":

Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction. There IS a trace of both men having said, "We must not hit each other in the holy place." They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean. The history of the Jews is the only early document known to most Englishmen, and the facts can be judged sufficiently from that. The Ten Commandments which have been found substantially common to mankind were merely military commands; a code of regimental orders, issued to protect a certain ark across a certain desert. Anarchy was evil because it endangered the sanctity. And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men.

As for whether I am a fundamentalist or not, you can judge that from this blog post I did just last night.

Of course, I submitted this and then realized I had broken my self-imposed condition of being brief.  I can only hope that my ramblings made sense to somebody, maybe even BEAJ.

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