Morals, Morality and God

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tommarcus
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Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » July 25th, 2018, 12:02 pm

Can absolute morality exist without God?

The mistake people make when they discuss the existence of morality is they confuse two concepts, Morality and morals. Morality implies an action. That is, a person is moral if she acts according to a set of beliefs which she sincerely believe is right. Her idea of what is right may be the opposite of what another person believes. Both can be moral if they act according to their beliefs. Hence morality can exist without an absolute set of morals.

Morals themselves are ephemeral. They change based on society. Who is more persuasive, more powerful or loudest can establish a set of morals, or what is right or wrong. Ask separate groups of similar people to create a moral code and chances are each code would be different. History proves this. They are many examples of tyrants and religious leaders all of whom believe in the moral goodness of their actions but who created very different codes. If humanity is left to its own devices, absolute moral codes cannot exist. Based on recent events we cannot even claim that the world is becoming more ethical, even though it is becoming more technologically advanced.

Does this imply that the existence of an absolute set of morals is impossible? Not necessarily. A machine works best when it is used for the purpose which it was created to do. Similarly, a human being is happiest when he lives in accordance with how he was made and for what purpose. Morals are nothing more than rules which establish the right way for people to act. And the best objective for people is to act in accordance to how and why they were made.

If we were created by a totally random act of the universe, then we have no purpose except to live and die. What is good or bad for us can change based on changes of our chemical composition. We can search for a purpose, but it would just be a good guess and could never be absolute or certain. But if we were created by God, then we were created for a reason and a purpose which are absolute. The highest objective for our existence would be not just to live or die but to fulfill that purpose. We would be living according to ourselves, not in conflict with ourselves. Living according to such rules would be the highest and most absolute moral code.

Because of the absolute nature of God, such absolute moral code would exist. Our problem would be to discover it and live according to it. But somehow, God would have to tell us what it is. Otherwise we would be just guessing.

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LuckyR
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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by LuckyR » July 26th, 2018, 2:29 pm

tommarcus wrote:
July 25th, 2018, 12:02 pm
Can absolute morality exist without God?

The mistake people make when they discuss the existence of morality is they confuse two concepts, Morality and morals. Morality implies an action. That is, a person is moral if she acts according to a set of beliefs which she sincerely believe is right. Her idea of what is right may be the opposite of what another person believes. Both can be moral if they act according to their beliefs. Hence morality can exist without an absolute set of morals.

Morals themselves are ephemeral. They change based on society. Who is more persuasive, more powerful or loudest can establish a set of morals, or what is right or wrong. Ask separate groups of similar people to create a moral code and chances are each code would be different. History proves this. They are many examples of tyrants and religious leaders all of whom believe in the moral goodness of their actions but who created very different codes. If humanity is left to its own devices, absolute moral codes cannot exist. Based on recent events we cannot even claim that the world is becoming more ethical, even though it is becoming more technologically advanced.

Does this imply that the existence of an absolute set of morals is impossible? Not necessarily. A machine works best when it is used for the purpose which it was created to do. Similarly, a human being is happiest when he lives in accordance with how he was made and for what purpose. Morals are nothing more than rules which establish the right way for people to act. And the best objective for people is to act in accordance to how and why they were made.

If we were created by a totally random act of the universe, then we have no purpose except to live and die. What is good or bad for us can change based on changes of our chemical composition. We can search for a purpose, but it would just be a good guess and could never be absolute or certain. But if we were created by God, then we were created for a reason and a purpose which are absolute. The highest objective for our existence would be not just to live or die but to fulfill that purpose. We would be living according to ourselves, not in conflict with ourselves. Living according to such rules would be the highest and most absolute moral code.

Because of the absolute nature of God, such absolute moral code would exist. Our problem would be to discover it and live according to it. But somehow, God would have to tell us what it is. Otherwise we would be just guessing.
You seem to have a good grasp of the issues. Kudos to you. Just a couple of tweaks to your post. External codes (from, say tyrants etc) are actually ethical codes not moralistic ones. Many would argue that depending on the meaning of the word "purpose", that such purpose is completely consistent with a non-god origin of humanity. In addition if one believes in an omniscient god, the possibility of humans (who are far from omniscient) ever getting any clue as to what the godly purpose is, is somewhere between impossible and extremely remote. Thus if the purpose is unknowable, what is the practical importance of the purpose? Most would deem it immaterial/meaningless. Imagine a meaningless purpose (meaning), ha ha.
"As usual... it depends."

tommarcus
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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » July 26th, 2018, 2:38 pm

Thanks for your response. You make very good points. I will give them thought and consideration.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by CIN » July 27th, 2018, 3:01 am

tommarcus wrote:
July 25th, 2018, 12:02 pm
But if we were created by God, then we were created for a reason and a purpose which are absolute. The highest objective for our existence would be not just to live or die but to fulfill that purpose. We would be living according to ourselves, not in conflict with ourselves. Living according to such rules would be the highest and most absolute moral code.
What if we were created by an evil God whose moral code was evil? In that case our 'highest and most absolute moral code' would presumably be to oppose that evil God to the best of our ability.

More generally, to unquestioningly follow the purposes of a creator God is to be a slave, and slaves do not act morally. They are just slaves.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » July 27th, 2018, 10:34 am

Very good point. But by definition, God is the most supreme being. If God were evil, then God would not be a supreme being since love is a superior value to evil by any reasonable thought process. Even a human who lives by love would be superior to a being that is pure evil. Hence an evil God is a contradiction. Further, if God was evil, God would be not just plain evil but the most evil possible because of God's unlimited power. Our world would be a total hell on earth assuming God chose to create us.

There is also empirical evidence for God not being evil. An evil God would never create us. Evil implies intense selfishness. Such a God would have no need or desire to share existence with anyone. An evil God would do the worst that God could possibly do which is to deny someone existence itself. If God was evil, we wouldn't be here.

tommarcus
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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » July 28th, 2018, 9:46 am

Regarding the question of man's purpose, if there is no God, then the purpose of each of person brings us back to the problem of relativism. Man's purpose would be determined by the variability and persuasiveness of those with the greatest cultural influence.

It is absolutely true that man could not determine precisely and independently God's purpose for us. It would be almost impossible for us to know. Those would have established religions have known this and therefore they have tried to indicate in some way that God revealed God's message to them. As a result, it would be an obligation of a perfect supreme being to tell us what God's purpose for us truly is. Now many philosophers, religious leaders and alleged prophets have claimed to do this. How would we know who was right, if any?

Therefore in order to know whether there is an absolute moral code, we must address two questions. First, we must address the question of God's existence. It would be convenient to dismiss the question of God's existence as a religious superstition having no place in a logical discussion. However, that would be like an archeologist ignoring the question of where the dinosaurs came from. Second, if the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then we must ask where is God's answer for us?

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by Fooloso4 » July 28th, 2018, 4:14 pm

tommarcus:
The mistake people make when they discuss the existence of morality is they confuse two concepts, Morality and morals. Morality implies an action. That is, a person is moral if she acts according to a set of beliefs which she sincerely believe is right. Her idea of what is right may be the opposite of what another person believes. Both can be moral if they act according to their beliefs. Hence morality can exist without an absolute set of morals.
You say that morality implies an action but follow this statement by claiming that a person is moral if she acts according to set a set of beliefs. In other words, to be a moral person is to act in accord with morality, that is, the set of beliefs one believes are right. The distinction collapses. The larger problem, however, is that I may sincerely believe that what I am doing is right, but that does not mean that what I am doing is right. I may believe that God commands me to kill others because they are infidels, or, as a demonstration of faith, as Abraham did when he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac.
And the best objective for people is to act in accordance to how and why they were made.
An interesting claim when seen in light of the Christian asceticism of Paul and Augustine. They equate the body and the natural world with sin. How we are made is, literally for them via sin.
If we were created by a totally random act of the universe, then we have no purpose except to live and die.
No, it simply means that we have no God given purpose. We can still lead a purposeful life. What motivates some is not a known God given purpose but an imagined God given purpose.
But if we were created by God, then we were created for a reason and a purpose which are absolute.
If we were created by God it does not follow that we were created for a reason or purpose. You are ascribing a reason and purpose to what God does. What God does need not conform to human reason or understanding. The book of Job and Ecclesiastes stand as correctives to this conceit. The will of God and the reason of man are two very different things. It was the influence of Greek philosophy that blurred the distinction. Proverbs says that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This stands over and against the philosopher’s quest for wisdom via human reason and understanding.

The Hebrew Bible teaches obedience to God’s Law. The New Testament teaches powerless against sin and the need for divine intervention to free us from our baser selves. But, here is an interesting story where Abraham teaches God something about morality:
When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? [The hiding trope appears in many places, beginning with Adam and Eve hiding from the Lord after disobeying].



Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [This is just what God did with the Flood and later regretted what he had done]. What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Then Abraham spoke up again: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” “If I find forty-five there,” he said, “I will not destroy it.” Once again he spoke to him, “What if only forty are found there?” He said, “For the sake of forty, I will not do it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” Abraham said, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?” He said, “For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home. (Genesis 18, 16-33)

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » July 28th, 2018, 5:21 pm

Interesting points.

Your response is full of examples where certain actions would be considered moral by some and immoral by others. And each doer might even consider herself as doing God's will. And that is the issue The Bible is full of examples like this. And that is the point. While a great source of knowledge, it is human knowledge. I don't think God held the chisel which created the Ten Commandments, Moses did. Regardless, even they have been the ubject of endless debate and intetpretation.Who determines who is right and based on what?

Paul and Augustine were wrong. Why would a perfect creator make a world which is not in accordance with his or her perfection? That is a complete contradiction which every major religion is guilty of. Just because we can't understand it doesn't make it sinful or imperfect.

Good point on my statement man not having a purpose. The point I tried to make is that man's purpose is not true but relative and therefore such purpose can be at odds with his existence. I can make my own medicine but if it kills me then it is not really medicine in spite of my ideas.

It is hard to conceive of a perfect being who would create a universe for no reason or purpose regardless as to whether man can understand it or not. Nor would he or she create wind-up toys whose existence is meaningless. Is he just bored? This contradicts the very concept of a perfect being.

"God's Law"? And how many times has that law been changed, twisted, interpretated, reinterpreted, translated by men and women, most well meaning but some not? There is a way to get a better understanding of God and God's creation Referring to ideas that contradict the concept a perfect being don't do it.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by Fooloso4 » July 28th, 2018, 7:01 pm

tommarcus:
I don't think God held the chisel which created the Ten Commandments, Moses did.
Actually the first set of commandments, the ones Moses smashed were said to have been written by the finger of God:
And He giveth unto Moses, when He finisheth speaking with him in mount Sinai, two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written by the finger of God.(Exodus, 31:18)
This is emphasized via repetition:
and the tables are the work of God, and the writing is the writing of God, graven on the tables. (32:16)
After these tablets were smashed by Moses:
And Jehovah saith unto Moses, 'Hew for thyself two tables of stone like the first, and I have written on the tables the words which were on the first tables which thou hast broken (34:1)


Most translations have "I will write" rather than Young's literal translation "I have written".

But then:
And Jehovah saith unto Moses, 'Write for thyself these words, for, according to the tenor of these words I have made with thee a covenant, and with Israel.' (34:29)
Are these just two stories woven together or is there more to it? Was the content of the tablets identical? Perhaps this reflects on our ineliminable human mediation. Consider how the prohibition God gave to Adam had changed by the time Eve repeated it.
Why would a perfect creator make a world which is not in accordance with his or her perfection?
Why assume a perfect creator? The God of the Hebrew Bible is not perfect (see my previous post).
It is hard to conceive of a perfect being who would create a universe for no reason or purpose regardless as to whether man can understand it or not.
It may be hard to conceive, but reason and purpose are human concepts. What would it mean to have a reason or purpose that cannot be understood by man? It would be no reason or purpose. To say it is God’s will does not involve human notions of reason or purpose, only God's volition.
This contradicts the very concept of a perfect being.
A perfect being is the God of the philosophers. A perfect God does not regret what he has done. A perfect being has no need of a Son who must be sacrificed in order to absolve us of our sins. Religious philosophers have gone to great lengths to reconcile a perfect God with an imperfect world, including denying that it is imperfect and insisting that it is the best of all possible worlds.
"God's Law"? And how many times has that law been changed, twisted, interpretated, reinterpreted, translated by men and women, most well meaning but some not?
Many more than we are probably even aware of, beginning with Eve (perhaps with Adam but we do not know what he told Eve). One critical example for the history of the West is Paul’s claiming that the Law is written in the heart and so the written Law can be ignored, at least by the gentiles. In the Jewish Talmudic tradition, the interpretation of the Law and the interpretation of the interpretations takes on a life of its own that continues today.
There is a way to get a better understanding of God and God's creation Referring to ideas that contradict the concept a perfect being don't do it.
If one starts with the concept of a perfect God then everything that follows is derived from this concept of perfection. The obvious problem is that an imperfect being will have an imperfect notion of perfection and so, one is left with an imperfect God of our own creation.

Neither the notion of a perfect God nor an imperfect God gets us closer to a perfect or absolute morality. The unexamined ideal that an absolute morality is possible or even desirable should be questioned. We are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world. That, it seems to me, is the only realistic and fruitful starting point. The creation of gods, whether perfect or imperfect, get us nowhere. An imperfect morality is the only reasonable and desirable morality for imperfect beings. It is not, as you suggest in your first post, a matter of guessing but of ongoing critical examination of ourselves as individuals and members of society, trial and error, compromise, and a genuine desire to do what is best for ourselves and others even though we cannot always clearly see what is best.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » July 31st, 2018, 11:17 am

If the being that you envision is not a perfect most powerful creator of the universe, then that being is not God. He, she or it is some kind of creature, possibly living on Mount Olympus. And something or someone would have had to create it.

For centuries, all of the major religions have gone through mental gymnastics trying to understand God and create new rules and laws for man. While we have advanced in technology as a function of time, there is no evidence that we have advanced spiritually or religiously. Unfortunately, based on the horrors of history, we may have gotten worse. The large majority of these dogmas about God contradict even the basic understanding of what a supreme being would have to look like if he or she was to be a supreme being. God does not go to war, he does not care what your gender is, she does not care where you live, God does not rejoice in wiping out cities or beheading people, he does not believe in human sacrifice or any sacrfice for the sake of sacrifice. These are stories which serve a human purpose, but a weak and imperfect one. How do I know this? Because I wouldn't want these things and I am far from being a god.

Stories and parables are great teaching tools. But it is important to distinguish the story from reality. Even Origen, one of the early founders of the Christian Church said that only fools believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by Fooloso4 » July 31st, 2018, 12:38 pm

Tommarcus:
If the being that you envision is not a perfect most powerful creator of the universe, then that being is not God.
It would be more accurate to say that being is not God as you conceive of God. Your God is nothing more than your concept. You have no way of determining whether that concept corresponds to anything in reality. There are theologians both ancient and modern who hold that God is not a being but the source of being. There are theologians both ancient and modern who hold that any concept of God is not God. It is the difference between what Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite called apophatic and cataphatic theology.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by tommarcus » August 1st, 2018, 12:54 pm

You framed the issue very well.

At this point, I am not attempting to prove the existence of God. There are ways to do this using empirical evidence, probability and induction reasoning. Most importantly, knowledge should not be defined as requiring one hundred percent certainty. In this case, nothing can be certain in a world that we don't completely understand. Of course, I am aware that major philosophers have made this point.

You are correct that I make use of apophatic thinking. But apoptotic and cataphatic are not mutually exclusive in trying to get a better understanding of God. My argument is with those who define God as the most supreme perfect being and creator of the universe. (Not existence itself, but the universe). Actually any other definition is describing something else. I would agree with them on this. However, given this definition, major religions and theologians of all religions promote beliefs which are contrary to and contradictions of this concept of God. As such, they actually hurt their cause. These contradictions are not lost on even those without a bent for philosophy or religion.

Good discussion.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by Fooloso4 » August 1st, 2018, 2:21 pm

tommarcus:
At this point, I am not attempting to prove the existence of God.
Right, you are attempting to give God necessary attributes.
You are correct that I make use of apophatic thinking.
You seem to be doing just the opposite. If you were making use of apophatic thinking you would drop this whole line of argument.
But apoptotic and cataphatic are not mutually exclusive in trying to get a better understanding of God.
Evidently, you do not understand the meaning of these terms.
My argument is with those who define God as the most supreme perfect being and creator of the universe.
If one accepts that God is the perfect being then nothing follows unless one also accepts that we possess knowledge of perfection.
Actually any other definition is describing something else.
Actually any other definition is describing something other than your imperfect concept of a perfect God.
However, given this definition, major religions and theologians of all religions promote beliefs which are contrary to and contradictions of this concept of God.
You cannot give an adequate definition of something via an inadequate definition of something else. You might think that God could not do X because to do so would be contrary to God’s perfection, but it may be that if you had actual knowledge of perfection you would know that doing X is not contrary to God’s perfection even though it may seem so to an imperfect creature with imperfect knowledge of perfection.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by Gertie » August 5th, 2018, 12:58 pm

Good discussion.
yep.

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Re: Morals, Morality and God

Post by Gertie » August 5th, 2018, 1:08 pm

I take a different perspective.

It doesn't include God or need God for morality to make sense.

If we accept that our 'moral intuitions' evolved for utility in a similar way to our other characteristics (and are then honed by experience, learning, culture, etc), which seems to be the case, then we have a problem. How do we get Oughts from that Is?

My view is that being a conscious creature involves having a quality of life. This matters to each of us, it means we can experience happiness and suffering, harm and well-being. We have a stake in the state of affairs - if I harm you it matters. And that is the appropriate foundation for Oughts, because it matters.

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