Friday, December 10, 2010

Case on Morality

I love the idea of going outside on most days however some of my best days are when I stay back in my room with sticks of self-destruction and a few slugs of Johnny walker (preferably Black). While I enjoy these rather rare moments of solitude, which has been very unconvincing for my dearest friends, tend to get the best of my ‘brain activity’. Allow me to submit the proposition on “Morality and belief in God”

Do you tend to realize the slight insult in the very question on ‘How does a non-believer justify a moral action from a wicked one’?, I suppose this had been addressed by many ancient Greek scholars and Eastern philosophies, why do we act in a certain way and call it “good” and the other way as “evil”. It is a pity to see the whole morality case being hijacked by the parties of god and associated with the belief in a divine supernatural watch dog.

Long ago, even before our mythologies, when we were pure mammalian primates in every sense, dwelling in caves, consuming carcass, scorching on cave walls, gazing at the stars and wondering what everything is all about, did we have moral codes? In other words, is it possible to have coexisted with one another, anticipating to form a society (nothing like today) to cooperate with one another in ease of finding food supplies with an idea that ‘it was alright to murder and rape’. We see the same tendency of group formation with similar moral laws in many animal species. Gorillas, monkeys, elephants and pigs all have different set of laws which help themselves to live as a community, helping them many times to find food (and share them). It would be ‘white noise’ to call all these laws being enforced upon the creatures from a divine entity. It doesn’t mean anything at all. However if we look this through the eyes of science it does make a lot of sense. You scratch my back and I scratch yours, you find this basic law in every creature that calls itself social.

I find it extraordinary that it can said that without god humans wouldn’t know what is good from bad, that there is no moral restrain upon us. When we look at rest of the world, we see that those who commit the most callous, brutal atrocities do so precisely because they think they have god on their side or they are doing god’s work. Let me add a challenge for those who claim Morality comes from divine permission. One of my favorite Professors, Author and Journalist Christopher Hitchens and the challenge goes like this –

“You are to name a Moral action undertaken or a moral or ethical statement made by a believer which cannot be said or performed by a non-believer” There is a second part for the question which is “Think of something wicked that only a believer would be likely to do or say”

If you think you can answer the first part of the question do get back to me and we might be able to publish it on his website and as he says “There is a special prize for the answer”, however you have absolutely no difficulty in answering the second part of the question. Just look at the genital mutilation community which is entirely religious. Someone who blows himself up at a public place, claiming several innocent lives along with his, thinks that he has god on his side for certainty, think of the people who deny abortion even in extreme cases when the baby and the mother have a threat on life. How about those who say contraception is an equivalent of abortion and worse than Aids (as made by the Pope). How dare someone say that the problem is with the non-believers when we see and read about news and articles on a daily basis on the atrocities committed by parties of god? I amplify it again, how dare someone say that without a belief in Religion or god I would have no source of knowing what is ethical and moral.

Let me share an anecdote, a conversation with my mother roughly 10 years ago. We were talking about the caste differences in Hinduism and she shared a childhood incident with her father. Someone had visited their house inquiring for my grandfather who was not at home then; the person gave a message which she was to tell her father when he gets back. Once my grandfather comes back, she tells this “Dad, (I don’t remember the guy’s name let’s put it XXXX) XXXX chettan had visited you and gave this message to you” the first reaction from her father was anger for addressing a person from an inferior caste as “chettan” (means Brother in Malayalam) When we look at the situation today it deserves nothing less than a racist comment isn’t it? But that was very normal back in those days. In mere 30 years we have discarded that feeling of inferiority (not completely though) on a fellow primate. What is the source of that moral distinction, what made us think that he is not inferior anymore? If we were to go by the scriptures we would be in a society with no equality for such people, to say that, this decision to accept all people of the human community as brethren was that of a divine permission is flat out idiotic. We are all part of a Shifting moral zeitgeist, we don’t share prejudices anymore with black people, gays or lesbians, we have been constantly upgrading our standards of morality which I think is largely based on humanistic ideas. Confucius had this rule from a very long date “Do to others as you wish to be done by others”.

If we were to have a society where cannibalism and incestuous relationships were permissible then we would have died out due to various Darwinian reasons. We are yet to understand on many details on the source of morality, may be it is all engraved in our brains. But the comment that it was a law from the divine, explains nothing as we can then go on questioning, then how did the divine get those laws.

I end this post posing a question to the believer, if you think that morality had derived from the divine, then what would they do when they get permission from the divine saying these rules aren’t applicable anymore. Would they then go and murder their neighbors, go on the streets stealing other people’s property, end up having sex with their own siblings. In other words, are you telling me that God is the only factor that is enabling you to behave in the way that you have been behaving all this while?


  1. First and foremost.. I would say.. you are an anti-religious person and not an atheist!

    Not sure what you mean by morality is the derivative of the Divine! But what the faithful tries to reveal here is humans are very special in many ways and morality is just one of it!

    Not sure where you got the idea of linking morality and the Divine!

    Looking for the roots of morality in animals is a difficult scientific undertaking..It starts with looking for emotions central to morality, such as empathy : understanding of an others situation, feelings and motives.

    Personally, I think right and wrong is a foreign concept to animals. But I’m sure they experience emotions — as any pet owner will attest. But emotions ≠ morality.Right ?

    For instance, is it right or wrong for a dog to bite a person? Many wild dogs think it is right — as well as some tamed ones. Police dogs are trained to bite people — does that go against their “natural morality” or does it agree with it?

    I don’t think those questions make sense in an animal context. They don’t have enough information or logic thought to arrive at a moral conclusion. A dog might fight to the death to protect his boy — but it would also fight to the death to protect his owner even if he was a rapist and murderer. Is that right or wrong? Both are right to the dog, but protecting a murderer isn’t right.

    They do, however, have a course of conduct that keeps them alive. If that’s morality, then I suppose everything alive has morality. But that’s a very loose definition and seems to make the term meaningless.

  2. btw... I like the stuff in you! not like the other bunch! :)

  3. First and Foremost you are correct, I am anti - religious, but i could still survive in a company of religious bunch as long as they dont force anything on me. So that is sorted out.

    The case is - Morality was embedded into humans by a divine supernatural. This is a claim made by people who believe in the supernatural. I was just refuting the case on why it couldn't be so.

    Looking for morality via sciecne is not a difficult undertaking, infact Morality can be studied as Science. Moral Naturalism is the branch viewing Morality as something that can be studied, quantified, experimented and presented.

    There is a book "Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris, He doesn't claim Moral Naturalism to be true but proposes that moral facts can be understood with Reason. Dont misunderstand this - I am not saying that source of morality is from a scientific theory.

    Right and Wrong - These are very large topics so when i attempt to cut down the material the intention might change and it could be misunderstood as claims coming from a mean materialist. Try reading Normative Ethics / Moral Philosophy.

  4. "...days of solitude...." haven't had those in a while... btw nice post.. and this is the exact same question i ask religious ppl too... "Do you have to be religious to be a good person?"

  5. Shafzi, often what they will tell will be this – "You know what is right and wrong but what do you think is the source of right and wrong. What is the base on which we decide what is good and what is evil".

    The argument has a rebuttal, there is nothing called ‘Absolute Morality’, our rights and wrongs change with time, infact morality is something that should be thought out, reasoned, discussed, argued and based upon.

    When we cherry pick immoral verses from holy scriptures the best the believer will say is “ Ohh we don’t believe in those any more, we’ve moved out of it”, Of course you have moved out because our morality has been shifting constantly.