Moral sense

From the IAmAnAtheist.com comment form and private correspondence:

I have no reason to doubt that you are a moral person. But your having a moral sense is evidence that God exists. Where else could a moral sense come from? It could not evolve because there are many things (ie. Killing rivals) that are against moral sense but would have an evolutionary advantage.

We also know that God exists because everyone who is sane (ie. Not a sociopath) has the same moral sense. Thus we know that it is not cultural.

I do try to be a moral person, however you seem to be equating being moral with obeying moral sense, and I disagree with that definition. I agree that most people have a moral sense. (Aside: I think it’s a little disingenuous to point out that all sane people have a moral sense so long as we define people without a moral sense as insane.) I disagree that everyone has the same moral sense. There are many issues where different people will have different moral-sense reactions, and there are many issues for which it is impossible to distinguish the sensations of moral repulsion and disgust. For these reasons (among others), I think that the moral sense is unreliable.

Did moral sense evolve or was it put into humanity by a creator? I’d say that since we can’t rely on it, it’s much more likely to have evolved or been instilled by society than to be the work of a perfect creator.

You’re simply wrong. It is clear that everyone has the same moral sense. Everyone agrees that murder, stealing, rape, infantacide, and things like that are wrong. You just have to think about it and you can feel in your gut that they are wrong. That is what I mean by moral sense.

Even if everyone would agree that murder, stealing, rape, and infanticide are wrong, not everyone would agree what those things are. This is what I mean when I say that not everyone has the same moral sense. For example, it seems to me that if there was a universal moral sense, then everyone would have the same gut-reaction answer to these questions:

  1. Can you shoot someone you catch robbing your house?
  2. If you’re eating at an overpriced restaurant with lousy service and the waiter forgets to charge you for desert, do you have to tell him?
  3. Can a man insist that his wife have sex with him when she doesn’t feel like it?
  4. If a baby is deformed and in constant, horrible pain, can it be given enough pain killers to send it into a fatal coma?

However, different people will answer these questions differently. That means that if there is a moral sense it is either hard to understand or incomplete. In either case, we need to base our morality on something other than moral sense.

These aren’t difficult questions. Any Christian knows the answers just from the 10 commandments.

  1. No.
  2. No.
  3. No.
  4. No.

I didn’t say the questions were difficult; I said that they would elicit different gut reactions from different people. (BTW, I’m rather surprised that you said no to #2.)

In any case, the fact that you turned to the 10 Commandments instead of telling me what your moral sense is rather highlights my point — if there is a moral sense, it is insufficient.

I meant to say yes for 2.

The 10 commandments are an embodiment of our moral sense. They are universal moral principles. It is true that some people are not in touch with their moral sense and will not understand it correctly, but that is because they are fooling themselves, are deceived or living in a fallen world.

I disagree that the 10 Commandments are universal moral principles (for example, the first two don’t apply to atheists at all). But let’s take your last sentence at face value. If there are so many reasons why people might misunderstand or not be in touch with their moral sense, then don’t we need something other than our moral sense if we are to be moral beings? Or, looking at it another way, how can you tell which people are correctly interpreting their moral sense without some other benchmark for morality?

The 10 commandments apply to everyone, even atheists.

The moral sense is a “benchmark” for reality. If you are in touch with your moral sense you can “benchmark” other people who make immoral actions. But you are wrong by implying that moral sense is different from person-to-person. There are some thing everyone who is not a sociopath has a moral sense against. Killing babies is one.

In order for someone to use their moral sense as a benchmark against which other people’s moral sense can be judged, that person must first be sure that their moral sense is correct. How do you know if your moral sense is correct?

I disagree that everyone has the same moral repulsion to killing babies. In the case of early-term abortion, for example, some people find it morally repulsive, while others don’t think it’s baby killing at all, and there is a whole range of opinions between these extremes.

As for the 10 Commandments being universal, I doubt that there are a whole lot of atheists who have a moral sense that the commandments related to God are universal moral truths. This being the case, I assume you think that atheists aren’t in touch with their moral sense. If that’s true, then your original argument — that my moral sense should prove to me that God exists — is false because my moral sense is false.

Christians know in their heart that they can feel God’s love and will. That is how I know that my moral sense is correct.

Abortion is murder. If atheists say they don’t feel that God is real then they are in denial or deceived.

And how do you know that your feeling of God’s love and will is correct? I don’t see how you can justify one set of emotions by citing another. In any case, if you are correct, then wouldn’t all Christians have the same moral sense? That does not appear to be the case.

Your final sentence is based on what appears to be multiple unproved assumptions. Do you really want to go there?

There are many people who call themselves Christians who are not really Christians. Examples are Mormons, and Catholics. You can tell they aren’t real Christians by reading the Bible. All true Christians do have the same moral sense. Everyone knows in their heart that God exists even if they deny it.

Sorry, but I’m not buying this. Even if you can show that there are certain narrowly defined issues (such as early-term abortion) that the people you define as Christians all have the same moral sense about, I find it highly unlikely that these Christians will all have the same moral-sense reaction on less polarized topics. And if they can’t answer all moral questions with their moral sense, they must have something other than moral sense to base their moral decisions on. You might say that they turn to the Bible for these things, but there are plenty of moral topics on which the Bible is either silent or ambiguous.

As for knowing in my heart that God exists — I know no such thing. But then you’ve made clear that you aren’t going to believe me if I “deny” having that feeling, so there’s apparently no point in our continuing with that subject.

All questions are answered in the Bible. It is clear to me that you are so wrapped in your own self that you are completely blind to the truth. It is a sorry world we live in where people think that whatever they decide is moral is moral and push away God in their heart so that they can avoid responsibility. Scripture is there for those who want the truth. God is there in your heart is you will only accpet him. You have convinced me that atheists think murder, stealing, rape and abortion are fine so long as you hardened your heart against them. And that is why you need salvation through our lord Jesus Christ. But you’re probably laughing happily as you kill people for their money, rape young women on the street and tell them to just get an abortion if they get pregnant. There’s no reason to change, right? I will pray for you and the poor fallen people who have fallen under the spell of your honied words. You are the epitome of why the world is falling toward destruction. I have tried to be reasonable and straightforward and you have done nothing but attack and try to catch me up in my own words.

I’m sure you have quiet a reaction ready but I’ve had the last word here. I won’t be wasting my time with you any longer. There obviously are no open minded atheists.

Posted on May 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Discussion, Evidence, Morality

8 Responses

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  1. Written by kosmofilo
    on May 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    QualiaSoup has made a great video on Open-mindedness. It debunks the last sentence in this person’s message.

  2. Written by Joakim Rosqvist
    on May 28, 2010 at 4:41 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Nice job, that is the kind of post I come to this website for!

    “Morals come form God” and “Morals are the result of evolution” are not mutuallt exclusive, so disproving one does not prove the other.

    And, of course, a hypotetical “kill your rivals”-gene would lead to lots of killings which would eliminate the “kill your rivals” gene so I’d say evolution will find a more elegant solution.

  3. Written by Ed
    on May 28, 2010 at 7:12 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I suppose the violence, slavery, incest, etc. in the bible also informs the moral code of good christians.

    The correspondent has an interesting viewpoint in that to them, proof of god is based on the way they feel inside. I don’t think any rational argument will affect that. Perhaps, they are right in a way; over time people have created gods that reflect the sort of values they believe and if those values are commonly held by large numbers of people, then the belief in that god will seem commonsense and will grow and flourish and, with time, become self-evident.

    I agree that there are some widely held societal norms, or morals, that most people hold. I believe those evolved as humans evolved into complex social creatures, but nonetheless the probably exist. Codifying those moral views into a document such as the 10 commandments, by a specific bronze age culture, does nothing to help us understand ourselves today, however. It’s unfortunate that the correspondent cannot themselves “open their mind” to the possibilities that the modern world demands a more modern approach to moral behavior, which is likely to remain true to our evolved “gut feel” sense of morality but can adapt to problems we face today, such as abortion, cloning, personal freedom vs. group security, etc.

  4. Written by Black Jeezus
    on May 28, 2010 at 10:02 am
    Reply · Permalink

    This reminds me of the comments and facebook messages I get. Except mine tend to have more spelling and grammar errors.

  5. Written by Shaina
    on June 2, 2010 at 12:14 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Oh my. That was disturbing. It’s like watching a child defend the existence of Santa. “I know he exists because I can just feel it.” Le sigh. What a good site. Glad I Stumbled on this today!

  6. Written by Monimonika
    on June 2, 2010 at 1:04 am
    Reply · Permalink

    For those saying that the 10 Commandments are the basis of all morality and whatnot, what is so “moral” about insisting that absolutely no-one work on the sabbath? Are the people working in hospitals during Saturday/Sunday immoral? If not, why are they exempt?

    I don’t think the nutjobs are going to be answering this anytime soon, but if someone knows the religious excuses given for this, please feel free to elaborate. And no, saying it’s a good “general” rule that doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone makes it a pathetic, arbitrary rule to base anything off of in the first place.

  7. Written by Zach
    on June 4, 2010 at 7:54 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Actually, Jesus violated that rule quite often. It is interesting that even Jesus clearly had his own morality outside of the 10 Commandments.

  8. Written by BG
    on June 8, 2010 at 3:46 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Anecdotal evidence: I have a very strong “moral sense” and it really hates cameras. It feels intuitively, absolutely WRONG to see someone taking a picture with people in the background who didn’t consent. Obviously that’s not something a lot of people agree with! Is this really what “not being in touch with your moral sense” looks like?

    By the way, I love the Arguing Atheist site. It was jarring to be called “a man of science” though!

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