Let’s begin with a quote:
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.”
– David Hume.
(Notice how Anscombe totally stole this in: http://www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/)
Hume dropped this bomb in 1738.
And it is a bomb.
Literally any discussion on morals beyond this is fluff talk. Can someone send a copy to Sam Harris? I’m being facetious, but really, Harris steps into the philosophical arena asking questions that have long been answered.
Now: morality without religion. Can it happen?
Of course it can. This is a non-issue.
What is morality?
Morality is a framework that we use to interact with the world. Through morality we determine what is good, right, wrong, bad, evil. We attribute situations, places, things, and feats to morality, making it a value system.
This in itself does NOT need religion to take place. You only need a mind capable of defining and valuing things and capable of weaving a narrative framework for this to happen.
So why does morality get caught up in religion?
Simple: If morality is in our minds it becomes an exclusively and entirely subjective thing. Morality in of itself is immaterial. It’s as subjective as beauty and aesthetics (what is pretty to me may be ugly to you).
The issue– the dilemma– of morality and religion, then, is not one of “can someone be moral without religion?” no, it’s more along the lines of:
Is there an aspect of morality that is objective WHEN separated from the human mind?
I say no.
Dominic Saltarelli, atheist, in the book, “On the Existence of Gods,” argues with deist/christian Vox Day.
Saltarelli proposes a strikingly original stance on morality departed from God. He relates the moral experience akin to one of diet. Humans have an intuitive grasp on moral judgement based on how our brains digest moral situations. Think of how majority of humans (not all) ingest sugar and respond a certain way. Making them hyper, then they feel the crash, and so on. Well to Saltarelli, he relays morals in much the same light. You do something bad, your mind, your internal moral framework, responds poorly. You do good, it responds good. So far, this is the best proposition I’ve come across for explaining how morals can have objective weight apart from God and the human experience.
But it has issues.
Immediately a brief glance over history reveals how separated humanity has been on moral issues from civilizations to civilization. From the simplest issues like murder (feudal Japan had little qualm with on-the-spot execution, while feudal Europe there was somewhat of a judicial process in place) to more complex issues like loaning money (Jews could loan, Christians could not), it seems our moral diet has less to agree on than our intestinal tract.
So, with this, it becomes very plain that morality has little basis outside of the eye of the beholders. Again, its immaterial. What I say is good, you may not think so. What I see as degenerate, you may not think so.
This casts morality into a bad light and begs the question: is it even real?
Again…I’d say no.
It’s an immaterial thing. People often point out a progression in morality (It’s 2017, man!), but where is this progression? Doing this (pointing out that morality progresses upon itself) implies that morality is objective and functions like some type of building block, but morality has shown itself to be immaterial.
Implying it functions with a progression also implies thereby that there is a universal measure that is instated in the universe to warrant moralities worth. And if you’re an atheist, what exactly is that measure? Where’s it come from? Not from God then, but from what? What thing are you ad-libbing?
Think about it this way: if Iran before the 60s allowed females to vote, have freedoms of religion and other things, but after their Islamic revolution, they took these things away, is Iran morally regressing?
If America illegalizes abortion, are we progressing or regressing?
How can we say? Where’s this measure come from? What are we referring to when we say ‘this is moral!’ and ‘this is not moral!’? Beyond opinion, what do we mean? The way one conducts themselves ‘morally’ in a society is more for mere convenience to keep the society going and functioning the way that society wants to, rather than being ‘moral’ for the sake of itself.
Feudal Japan slaughtering peasants with little qualm or worry, while an executioner in Europe experiences PTSD from dropping the guillotine.
Who is right, who is wrong?
Societies weave an agreed upon moral understanding, but I ask where does this moral understanding come from? The ruler? Surely it must. Society must agree upon something to keep it stable and morality is definitely one of those things. But how do they decide ‘this is moral?’ Morality, a sense of humanity, are both immaterial things. Morals seem to crop up and shape themselves based on what the society values, and that’s all well and good, but again–I can’t stop emphasizing this–it’s clearly immaterial for it’s not homogenized across the world–it’s not real, so where’s it come from? Where does it gather its legitimacy?
Mite is right
Think of the early Catholic Jesuits who visited the natives in California, educating them on what is morally decent and morally indecent.
The natives had no idea what they were talking about! To add to the absurdity, the natives would preach the same thing back and the Jesuits had no idea what they were talking about! It was until the natives were beaten into submission that they could agree upon what is moral.
This, terribly so, seems to be the only way morality can gain its legitimacy. The strongest power player gets to say what is moral.
So, can you blame the religious for taking a monopoly on the moral dilemma?
It seems like a logical conclusion: you cannot show that morality exists inherently, nor a-priori in nature, beyond the minds of man. It has to come from something transcendent, and that thing needs to undefinable, and arguably unprovable, aka God.
Otherwise these morals that we all agree upon are up to the winds of change, and the man with the most power controls that direction of wind.
For atheists, I truly believe they are approaching the issue completely wrong, and from an irrelevant direction. The question that needs to be asked is not “can one be moral without religion?” No, it should be, “are morals even real?“
I would say without a God to gift them legitimacy, no, morals are not real.