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The Difficult Question of Morality: Is it really so difficult?

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In a recent thread where we were correcting some common misconceptions about evolution, a person who does not think evolution is an accurate description of reality asked the following:

 

"What about morality? Why do we hold morals? Where did we "get" them? What good are they? Evolution cannot explain that."

 

 

This point was quickly refuted by numerous members, including myself, where I offered the below very brief synopsis of how evolution does, in fact, explain very simply the concept of morality:

 

 

It comes from the fact that we are pack animals who exist in troops. Those humans who went against the group rules and procedures were ostracized, and hence lost access to resources such as food and potential mates. Over time, those humans who went against the expectations of the group and got thrown out of the group reproduced less than those humans who behaved in accordance with the group rules and expectations. Those who followed the rules benefited from the protection, access to food, and access to potential mates within the group, and had more offspring than those who did not.

 

In short, morals come from our evolution as pack animals. Those who were immoral faced more difficulty in surviving and reproducing than those who acted within the morality of the group. Through time, those who were more inclined to be moral were more successful reproductively.

 

Btw... the same thing can be seen in wolf packs. The wolf who does not act in accordance with the expectations of the group alpha is shunned from the group, and a lone wolf cannot be as successful hunting and breeding as can wolves who remain a part of the larger pack/collective.

 

 

We've had a few threads here on this topic, but some of them have unfortunately become personal and difficult to navigate. My decision to open this thread is motivated by a desire to provide an avenue for people to ask real questions and get real answers about the subject of morality. So... ask away. :)

 

 

In the meantime, the talk below goes into much greater detail than I was able to with my short synopsis above.

I enjoyed it, and thought that perhaps you would, too.

Let us know what you think.

 

 

jnXmDaI8IEo

 

Dr. Thomson uses Francis Collins' claim that morality is proof of God as a jumping-off point to discuss what we know about how morality works and where it came from.

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I know many people who have trouble with the concept of morality.

 

Many people think morality is inherently tied to religion. This includes secular people, at least that I've conversed with. One secular guy I know rather passionately argued with me that "morality" is inherently religious, and "ethics" are secular. I tried to explain to him that, no, ethics represent the study of morality. He didn't buy it.

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Many people think morality is inherently tied to religion.

 

Are you sure it isn't? We inherently have religious tendencies, and we inherently have certain moral tendencies. Also, as far as I know, all religions are tied to morality. Coincidence?

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Are you sure it isn't? We inherently have religious tendencies, and we inherently have certain moral tendencies. Also, as far as I know, all religions are tied to morality. Coincidence?

 

but morality changes over time and religion is claimed to be everlasting truth.

there is quite a bit in the christian bible about how to treat your slaves/wives, and who to murder for their offensiveness to "god", things that would be considered immoral today.

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Bascule,

 

I don't think the facts result in an either/or, between evolved brain stuctures, or God being the source of morality. The secular guy you spoke with that assigned morality to religion, and ethics to secular thinking, was not completely wrong. I think there is a huge middle ground that is being ignored, by both hard secularists and devout believers.

 

In watching the tape, I was put off immediately by the either/or choice for the source of morality. "Are these moral capacities from the evolved architecture of the mind, or a gift from God" or something like that.

 

First of all if I was a believer I would ask or say, "Where do you think the evolved architecture of the mind came from, if not from God." I'm not a believer, but I am an apologist for both sides. Dr. Thomson seems to be saying that a hard secularist can behave the right way, and make proper moral decisions, without the help of religion, using only his/her hardwired, pack rules of behavior. This is not the case. Obviously.

 

But that's not my point. The point is that the morality of the wolf pack, is not the morality that any one of us relies on to make our moral decisions. They are BASED on the morality of the wolf pack but there is a whole lot of civilization that has occurred in the inbetween since we were small family tribes of hunter/gatherers.

 

In the time between we were roaming the hills and now, little has changed in our wiring, but we have knowledge of Buddah and Tao, Hindu teachings, Moses, Christ, Mohammed. Codes of moral behavior and laws enforced by emperors, god/kings, priests, mullahs, popes, conquerers, imperialists and backed up by thinkers, artists, wisemen and scientists. Who here can say that Da Vinci, Newton, Plato, Aristotle, Karl Marx, Mother Teresa and John Lennon, are not mingled in your moral capacity?

 

Nature/Nurture, has always been a team. And religion is built into just about every society on the planet. Sure we can have morality, without believing in an anthropomorphic creator God. But it doesn't come from our hard wiring alone, it comes from the lessons of our history, and that history includes religion and the belief in imagined entities.

 

Regards, TAR

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i apologize for the tone of my previous post. as i read it this morning it seems like an attack on christianity rather than a question.

my question was how can religion be tied to morality when they conflict?

are there any fmri studies looking at brains having religous experiences like reading religous material or listening to religous leaders speak?

do the same regions become active as when considering a moral delimma like the fmri shown in inow's video?

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I am currently studying paganism, it's amazing how moral these people are even though they reject Christianity. I am currently exploring whether or not they are strongly influenced by the society in which they live or if they are indeed moralistically independent of out side influences. So far they claim to be independent but the similarities are hard to dismiss.

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I once suggested to an atheist that theism isnt believing that some being exists any more than darwinism is believing that darwin exists. I suggested that theism was believing that you should do what an all loving all caring all giving being who wanted only what was best for you and asked nothing in return would have you do. They said that I just wanted to reduce theism to a trivial truism that couldnt possibly be wrong. Well I wonder if its such a trivial truism that cant possibly be wrong then why do so many people not do it? if the right way leads to life and the wrong way leads to death then why then do so many people choose not to do the right thing?

 

doing what an all loving all caring all giving being who wanted only what was best for you and asked nothing in return would have you do = right = life

doing what an all loving all caring all giving being who wanted only what was best for you and asked nothing in return would have you not do = wrong = death

 

right & wrong = morality

Edited by granpa

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Granpa,

I'm not quite sure what you are saying?

Are you advocating Pascal's Wager?

 

Or that not complying with most morals will lead to a punishment within the laws humanity has set up?

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Grandpa's post is FAR off-topic anyway. Let's move on, folks.

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I'm sorry I thought we were discussing this:

"What about morality? Why do we hold morals? Where did we "get" them? What good are they?

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Grandpa,

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/22/science/22brain.htm

“I think it’s very convincing now that there are at least two systems working when we make moral judgments,” said Joshua Greene, a psychologist at Harvard who was not involved in the study. “There’s an emotional system that depends on this specific part of the brain, and another system that performs more utilitarian cost-benefit analyses which in these people is clearly intact.”

 

iNow knows we deal in right and wrong, life and death. I have learned that its the jumping to conclusions and making further conclusions based on those, that takes a thread "off topic". I have not learned it very well though. I will keep trying to do it right.

 

Thing is, the point is not to have a conclusion and attempt to have people agree with it.

 

The point is to look at the evidence and see where it logically takes us.

 

Regards, TAR

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morality doesnt require any explanation. its the normal state. the question is where does immorality come from.

 

Why did immorality evolve? why did the black plaque evolve? Its simply a disease.

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We inherently have religious tendencies, and we inherently have certain moral tendencies. Also, as far as I know, all religions are tied to morality. Coincidence?

 

My understanding is that morality and religion are concepts that arise out of 'moral' emotions such as disgust/awe/ shame - many social species have 'moral' emotion but it requires the ability to conceptualise to arrive at something as complex as morality and religion. I mean to say, morality and religion are different concepts, they need not be inherently tied. Your post seemed to suggest that they inevitably are, which doesn't seem right to me.

 

morality doesnt require any explanation. its the normal state. the question is where does immorality come from.

 

Why did immorality evolve? why did the black plaque evolve? Its simply a disease.

 

do you mean normal in the sense of 'conforming to the norm' or in the sense of 'right and proper'?

For example when a community is attacked by the black plaque you may feel it's not right and proper but it conforms to the norm from what is known about viruses.

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I mean 'normal' as in 'healthy'

I also mean 'normal' as in 'not requiring any elaborate explanation'

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I mean 'normal' as in 'healthy'

I also mean 'normal' as in 'not requiring any elaborate explanation'

That makes no sense to me. Why does something that is "normal" (by any definition) not require explanation - elaborate or otherwise?

 

What hope do we have of understanding it without an explanation. More to the point, how can we possibly understand that which is abnormal without an understanding of what's normal?

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To briefly put it, I think that morality originated from the viewpoint of being realistic and immorality originated from a unrealistic point of view.

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Does understanding morality help us stop from doing bad things?? Then why do people eat meat, when killing a sentient being is morally wrong?

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Does understanding morality help us stop from doing bad things?? Then why do people eat meat, when killing a sentient being is morally wrong?

 

Part of the issue is that the concept or definition of "morally wrong" is very subjective, and varies from person to person. While an understanding of morality may help us to be better members of society, even the idea of "bad things" is really rather meaningless until you get specific and define which actions you personally consider to be "bad."

 

I would really rather avoid getting into a "eating meat is evil" conversation since this thread is intended to explore an explanation of how morality evolved, not which particular actions a sub-set of our society deems to be immoral. I do hope you understand my request, and would greatly appreciate your compliance. Take care.

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Does understanding morality help us stop from doing bad things?? Then why do people eat meat, when killing a sentient being is morally wrong?

 

I think that morality and understanding morality helps guide us in the right direction, but we don't always listen to what is right. Just because we know the path is safer, does everyone take the path?

 

Also, not everyone believes that killing a sentient being is morally wrong. After all, many believe that animals exist for sustenance. Many also believe that if an animal is raised to be slaughtered, there's nothing wrong with killing it, as long as you do it in a merciful manner.

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I just read an interesting essay.

 

 

 

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/hauser09/hauser09_index.html

None of my comments so far are meant to be divisive with respect to the meaning and sense of community that many derive from religion. Where I intend to be divisive is with respect to the argument that religion, and moral education more generally, represent the only — or perhaps even the ultimate — source of moral reasoning. If anything, moral education is often motivated by self-interest, to do what's best for those within a moral community, preaching singularity, not plurality. Blame nurture, not nature, for our moral atrocities against humanity. And blame educated partiality more generally, as this allows us to lump into one category all those who fail to acknowledge our shared humanity and fail to use secular reasoning to practise compassion.

 

If religion is not the source of our moral insights — and moral education has the demonstrated potential to teach partiality and, therefore, morally destructive behaviour — then what other sources of inspiration are on offer?

 

One answer to this question is emerging from an unsuspected corner of academia: the mind sciences. Recent discoveries suggest that all humans, young and old, male and female, conservative and liberal, living in Sydney, San Francisco and Seoul, growing up as atheists, Buddhists, Catholics and Jews, with high school, university or professional degrees, are endowed with a gift from nature, a biological code for living a moral life.

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More evidence that morality is an old, rather than recent, trait of humans. The amygdala is an older part of the brain, linked to emotions. These people are not actively suppressing their selfish desires, rather they have an emotional dislike of unfairness.

 

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/pdf/nn.2468.pdf (pdf)

‘Social value orientation’ characterizes individual differences in anchoring attitudes toward the division of resources. Here, by contrasting people with prosocial and individualistic orientations using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we demonstrate that degree of inequity aversion in prosocials is predictable from amygdala activity and unaffected by cognitive load. This result suggests that automatic emotional processing in the amygdala lies at the core of prosocial value orientation.

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