Moral Relativism – An Overview

Hello skeptics of our local cluster,

Today’s post is going to be about moral relativism, and how it is a secular replacement for the morals of the bible. As an atheist, I am often asked this question or similar “As an atheist, where do you get your morals?”, and I often give a condensed description of moral relativism to them. Religious people often object to atheism because a set of morals are not set out by a deity, and it seems to be without any set of morals, but most atheists are moral (less than 1% of prisoners in the US are atheist), so there must be some morals which we all seem to follow, or something like it. But without a concrete basis for our morals (god), there has to be another way to make moral decisions.

The moral system which I choose to live by are those of moral relativism. At its core, moral relativism is basically just the aim to reduce harm, and this seems to be a logical decision to make. There is no gold standard of morality in moral relativism, as there is in most religions, just a sliding scale of ‘immoral things’ on the far left, over to ‘moral things’ over on the far left. By always just choosing the option which causes the lest harm, you are keeping yourself open to doing anything, so long as it is the right thing to do.

I asked my religion teacher during a lesson about evils, if it is morally right to kill 1 person to save 100 hundred people. I gave the story of a man who had a boy, and worked operating a train draw bridge over a canyon. One day, there was a train which approached, but the man noticed that his son was playing in the large gears of the bridge, there were only two choices the man could make, lower the bridge and save the lives of the hundreds on the train, and kill his son, or keep the bridge up, kill hundreds on the train, and save his son. To my surprise, my teacher said that he would not kill 1 to save 100, and he said that god is the ultimate decider on the right thing to do. This is a circular morality with no clear way to make decisions, because one cannot simply ask god every time a decision has to be made, and even if you could, science is of the opinion that you are hearing your own thoughts reflected back on you, dressed up in gods voice.

Another question asked by champions of absolute morality is “Is it absolutely morally wrong to rape a child and enjoy it?”, and to that I answer “no”. If somebody says to you, with a gun in hand, “Rape this child and enjoy it or I will kill both of you and your families”, you sure as hell will rape that child, and maintain a smile throughout. That’s the great thing about moral relativism, its flexible to all decisions, just make sure to reduce harm. In my above hypothetical, a Christian would run into a wall, as both paths result in some sort of immorality, either raping a child or being responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen people. A moral relativist has an easy decision, because death is of the utmost importance.

Moral relativism is a great moral system, as it never runs into any paradoxical hypotheticals, and it is a good (better) alternative to absolute morality which is championed by so many religions of today.

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Why We Must Die

Hello there skeptics of the world,

Today’s post is going to be about a few of the reasons why we as humans MUST die, philosophically. Now I don’t often blog about strictly philosophical subjects, so please give me some feed back in the comments section below. There are plenty of scientific reasons why every living thing dies (for now), ageing is pretty much inevitable, and eventually, you get to the grand scheme of things, and with the whole ‘conservation of energy and mass’ and ‘total universal entropy’ thing, the universe will eventually end up as a huge ball of energy, in which you cannot survive.  But I am going to be talking about some philosophical reasons why humanity would severely disbenefit from eternal life on earth.

The first is simply the fact that we are already running out of space on this planet and if nobody ever died, the problem would be much greater. Imagine how many people there would be on earth if nobody from the last century actually died. Our world population would be about double what it is now, my guess. Could the planet actually support that? I doubt it. The is too much difficulty in people living for ever, they take up so much space, need so much food and water, and by the time they reach 70, they’ve done all they can for the world with employment etc., so they are just dead weight.

The second and main reason I want to talk about today is this, would the world still be a productive place if everybody lived for ever. In a world of eternity, there would always be tomorrow. Want to go to university and study law? In the world we live in, you go out and do it today, because your days on the earth are numbered, but in an earth of eternity, there would always be another tomorrow. I know what I would do, “Meh, I’ll just do it tomorrow, I’m living for ever anyway”. I know that whenever I am doing something which really is boring me to death, or which I know is not going to help me in any way now or in the future, I always think to myself, “I could be out learning something useful right now, or I could be writing a blog post, or I could be out earning money in a part time job mowing lawns”. In a world where I couldn’t die tomorrow, or ever, I would not think that, and just wait it out until I can do something useful.
Although I would probably never get around to doing it, because there would always be tomorrow for me to do it.

That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Pierre Abelard, “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”, Pierre Abelard, a French philosopher, theologian and logican.

Legacy – the only immortality for a skeptic

Hello there fellow bloggers, readers and browsers,

I was recently reading through my issue of Scientific American (which I subscribe to), and I came to the columns in the back of the magazine, and the one written by Michael Shermer really appealed to me. It is entitled ‘Climbing Mount Immortality’. The whole topic of the column was to discuss mortality and how it shaped our civilizations., but what really appealed to me was the topic of immortality itself. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all spiritual-after-life crazy on you, I want to discuss the concept of Legacy.

Legacy is the only immortality a skeptic can subscribe to. Albeit a very partial immortality, it is the only one there is. If one believes that there is no afterlife, then the only way in which that person can survive in the minds of those around him, is by doing something to remember him for.

This concept is very readily visible for Alfred Nobel. You will be aware of the Nobel prize. If you are, (you should, or you should stop looking at my blog right now) then you will know that it is an award given to scientists, essayists and peace activists for showing exemplary skills in their area, and making great discoveries.
Seeing that 99% of people know about the Nobel prize, Alfred Nobel could say that he is a success.

What most people don’t know about Alfred Nobel is that he was actually the inventor of dynamite. He created this lethal weapon off war in the hope that ‘war would become so bad, that it would be done by nobody’. But this did not happen, wars just became bloodier and more violent, and you must feel for Nobel for having his invention turn into such a disaster in his mind. This is what inspired him to set up the Nobel prize.

He was worried that all of the world would see him as an evil man for thousands of years to come. So what he did was posthumously donate all his money to set up the Nobel prize. this has worked because now, instead of everybody seeing Alfred Nobel as a villainous person with sinister intentions, we see him as the most famous and prestigious prizes handed out to scientists.

The idea of legacy has an impact on me, I want people to remember me after I die, not just by my family for being a brother or a son or a husband or a father, but by the world as a person who changed a field for ever, like Einstein, Hawking or Nobel. This is the only way for me to stick around after my death, I wont be able to experience it, but my family will be proud, and so will I on my deathbed, knowing that I can be content with what I have done with my life.

I will leave you with a quote from Amanda from Saw II, “The answer is immortality. By creating a legacy, by living a life worth remembering, you become immortal.”

How I want my funeral to be

Today I went to the funeral of a neighbor of mine, we have known each other for about 10 years since he moved to our area. After the service, I got to thinking about how I want my funeral to be like. I don’t often stray from the science on this blog, but I will today. Of course, none of this is for my pleasure, I will be dead in a casket, but I want the people paying their respects for me to enjoy the funeral. I hope this helps.

  1. I want to have an organist who knows how to play the organ. The organist today was not that impressive. I have been teaching myself how to play the keyboard for about a month now and I am better with a sustain pedal than he is.
  2. If there are songs sung, I want them to be sung by somebody who has passed at least level 3 in singing. The singer today was also the organist, and he was struggling to juggle the words and the keys. He also had the voice of a man who has had their voice-box replaced with a block of wood. It was not a pleasurable sound.
  3. Obviously, I want a secular funeral. I want not Jesus crosses or mentions of god, Jesus, savior, holy spirit, spirit, soul, master, lord, etc.. This is not because it will be annoying for me, I’m dead, I won’t be able to hear what is being said. It is also not because some people may think I am religious if they here the words spoken during my funeral, again, I’m dead, what do I care about my self-image. The main reason I intend on having a secular funeral is because hopefully, my children and family and friends will be atheist or agnostic, and it would be annoying for them to hear of me being spoken about as ‘being seated with god’ or having ‘his soul going to a better place’. This would be bothering for them.
  4. I don’t want to have sad organ music playing, I don’t want people to be sad at my funeral, so I want them to put on something a bit more upbeat, just to lift the mood a bit. I know this sounds strange, that I don’t want people to be sad at my funeral. I think that people can be sad at home if they want, I want people to remember me at my funeral, not think about my death.
  5. There will not be any bad sandwiches served in the fellowship after my funeral. Every single sandwich will be chosen by me, on rye bread. I want egg & salad; corn meat & strawberry jam; tomato, cheese & ham; peanut butter. The only other thing at the fellowship will be plain sponge cake, orange juice and coffee. (No tea, I hate tea.)

I will leave you with a quote from Mark Steel, “The annoying thing about being an atheist is that you’ll never have the satisfaction of saying to believers, ‘I told you so.'” Mark Steel, A social columnist, comedian and author of some note.

Do atheists believe in invisible intrinsic morals?

Hello to everyone on the world-wide web,

Today’s post will be talking about an argument I read on a Christian blog a few days ago, I will give you the context of the argument. The blog topic was about ‘how to convert an atheist.’ and It was a list of about a dozen simple ways to persuade an atheist to convert to Christianity. It started with simple ones like “Take your atheist to a Christian event, and make them see how much happier they will be with god.” (Obviously for the softest Atheist in all existence), and “Ask them about why they are an atheist, it will make them feel comfortable when you ask questions about their religion.”, and “Make sure not to use biblical quotes when talking to the atheist, this is just silly.”
You know, some of those  obvious and common sense ones, but one tip struck me at first, it went like this, “Ask why, if they do not believe in an invisible god, then why do they believe in invisible morals?” and I thought this was a very interesting statement, so I will delve into why I believe there a morals, and why I don’t rape and pillage all the time because I do not have to impress any deity to get into heaven.

A common question raised by Christians is “What do you base your morals on if you have no deity to listen to?” This is a good question, and I always answer them with something similar to this. My moral judgement is based on past experience, common sense, possible future consequences and how actions affect others. If its my mother asking the question then she will respond with a scoff and “Like you consider others consequences!”

It is true mum, that my judgement is not always clear, but neither is a Christian’s. I don’t believe that morals are invisible, there do seem to be some underlying basic common sense rules that any human can come to realize, without needing a deity to give it too them, and these are best outlined in the UN’s declaration of human rights. These rights were written by many different people across may different countries and many different religions, and settled on something which is really just a lot of common sense.

It is also true that, being an atheist who knows that they only get about 80 years on the earth and have to make the most of it, they will probably not do something which  will abruptly bring somebody’s life to an end or to drastically change it. If you know that the man on the other end of the gun you are holding will not continue to live, and not fully experience life, if you pull the trigger, I am a whole heap less likely to kill that man, because he only has this life on earth and I would not want to finish it for him. Another thing stopping me from being a very antisocial, non-law-abiding citizen is laws and a social life. If I acted like what Christians think atheists would act like, then I would have no friends and be spending my life in jail.

I will leave you with a quote from Carl Sagan, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”  Carl Sagan, an astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist and science popularizer of some note.