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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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.”

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.