Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Norm Gail stopped by and left a message:

First, I agree that it is quite clear that religions does not 'own' morality. They may aim at the same things, but not necessarily so.

He then corrected me on Emmanuel Kant's re-interpretation of the Golden Rule. He said:

The Categorical Imperative [of Kant] is a deontological stricture rather than a consequentialist one. The goal, for Kant, is for everyone to act rationally for its own sake and thus (because acting morally correctly is acting rationally) everyone with act rightly.

Kant doesn't want people to be morally good because 'it leads to a better society, and a better life for the individual' but because rationality demands nothing less than one act rightly. "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."

That having been said, it is still quite clear that morality relies not on religion but, at least for Kant, on rationality.

Alan Gewirth successfully challenged (in my mind anyway) the "Golden Rule", but still held that morality and ethics can be rational. His revised golden rule:

Agents must act in accord with the generic rights of others as well as their own.

For other thoughts on the Golden Rule and rationality, see this article.

Does Religion Own Morality

The following dialog is a continuation of this discussion between my rational mind and my devil's advocate, the religious straw-man, Bishop Pangloss. Hilarity ensues.

"First," I continued, "I've never quite accepted that idea that religion holds a monopoly on morals. It seems to me that the greatest cause of death is inspiration from God. From Yaweh's declarations to kill in the Jewish Bible to the insane warfare divinely revealed to the current president of the United States.

"That's utter nonsense," Pangloss interrupted, "God inspires Love and Peace, it is the devil that masquerades as the Lord that tempts men to warfare." I countered with a raised eyebrow, so he qualified his statement, "OK, there are a few statements in the Bible where the Lord requires war, but that isn't the norm. His ways are much higher than ours and so transcendent as to be completely unknowable to mere mortals."

I sat back and got ready to deliver my sermon, "Then it appears to me that we may be in need of better inspiration. Plato, in his Republic, describes his Utopian society. In it, religion is given to the masses of the people in order to keep them moral. However, they were to be ruled by philosopher kings, who wouldn't need religion, as they would adhere to something higher that philosophy would illuminate."

"I suppose you are now going to quote Nietche and how religion is the opiate for the masses," the bishop said with rolled eyes.

"Actually, it was Karl Marx who said that, and no I wasn't planning on putting religion down." I continued, "Look at it this way, a child who obeys his father for fear of punishment is a typical child. But an adult who obeys the rules and laws of his country for fear of punishment and jail is not only immature, but not very moral, for if he feels he can get away with a crime, he probably will."

"But God sees all and knows all!" the Bishop countered with a finger in the air.

"Yes, and replacing the limited knowledge of society and the state with a Santa Claus-like all seeing God, doesn't build a mature empathy that is really required for good morals."

He questioned, "I'm not following you."

I reiterated, "Philosopher's since Plato have been trying to define the ethics that would inspire men to moral behavior, and they do so based on rational conclusions, and not on the traditions written in other cultures. Even though the path is different, in many cases, they would end up on the same side of a debate with you."


"Let's expand upong Jesus' Golden Rule and expand on it slightly by saying, 'Act as you would want everyone to act that will lead to a better life for everyone.' Then people will be good, loving and peaceful because it leads to a better society, and a better life for the individual. Keep in mind that that attitude does not forbid a God, this perspective does not require God, either."

I then quoted Colin McGin, who recently said in an interview:†

† Colin McGin was interviewed by Bill Moyers in his Faith and Reason program on PBS.

I don't like to limit reason to science, as I think that science applies to morality…

I think that morality is also a rational belief system. We can justify our moral beliefs. We can have intelligent arguments about moral questions. If we are discussing capital punishment, we can have an argument about it. We can discuss that rationally. We don't just say, 'I believe that capital punishment is wrong and you don't believe it is wrong, and that is the end of it.' We can have a conversation.

We can say, 'Why do we think that capital punishment is wrong?' We might say that it deters people. Then we can make observations. Does it deter people? Turns out it doesn't really deter people. But we can have a discussion about many subjects. It is part of reason. It is part of the ability to have a rational argument where you can resolve it.

Whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established.
—Ludwig Feuerbach

The bishop slumped back in his chair for a moment-- obviously deep in thought-- before he continued, "I'll concede the idea that religion isn't necessary for morals, however, we began this discussion with the lifeless concept of a life without God."

"Oh sure," I said, getting up to poke the fire and refresh the glasses, "Let me just catch my breath. I'm not used to all this preaching."

"Really? I would think that all the hot air that escapes your lungs would warm those vocal cords," he said with a snicker at his poor attempt at humor.

"Now, your sense of humor seems to be warping into mine. Pretty soon you just may find yourself thinking like me as well." I said trying desperately to find a way to pause this conversation and continue it later.

The Bishop sat back and I could tell that he was ready to testify. "Alright, I'll grant you that you don't need God to teach you morals, however, you definitely need God to give you meaning in your life," he said with a stern resolve in his voice.

I went to my shelf, and pulled out the book that I've been writing, and pointed to him my essay entitled, Meaningless Evolution, and said, "Not really, but it's late, and you can read this when you get home, and then come back tomorrow."

My friend, Trent, just sent me the following comments:

It is interesting to contrast computer simulations of prisoner dilemna situations with human 'morality'. Not only does it give some interesting insight, but it also gives weight to the argument that god is not necessary for explaining moral behavior. It's only basis is that natural selection, success, and self-interest may be all that is necessary for a moral foundation.

The prisoner's dilemna, a simplification of a moral choice, reduces into one of two possible actions: Be "Kind" or be "Greedy".

The Golden Rule is a strategy that basically says, "Always be Kind". Unfortunately, as simulations have demonstrated, this strategy is not actually a very good strategy. It has no mechanism for discouraging Greedy behavior. Although such a strategy certainly is admirable assuming one can reach utopia where everyone is a Golden Rule child, it seems utopia can not be achieved by Golden Rule followers -- Greedy bastards are simply too successful in a population of Golden Rulers.

The solution: Tit For Tat. I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Sometimes refered to as the Silver Rule. You'll be "Kind" to anyone who was "Kind". You will punish any Greedy sinner by being Greedy to them, or communicating to others that they should be Greedy to them. However, you'll also be quick to forgive. As soon as the sinful behavior stops, you'll be quick to be Kind again to them, and invite them once again into your fold. It is uncanny how easily the analogy fits into the pattern of a religious sermon.

And, if you look at real people in real situations, it appears to be a close approximation to how we judge 'moral' behavior. People who do not follow the Tit For Tat are either bad people, or suckers and enablers.

It is also interesting that these insights were the result of computer and mathematical simulations. Tit For Tat, in the simple game arena, is well known simply because it has done so well; it has won competition after competition, and no other strategy has been able to get close (until recently..) No god needed -- the 'morality' simply falls out of the mix from being the most successful computer strategy. It gives one pause to consider that memory, facial recognition, love, fear, anger, hate, etc. provide exactly those mechanism to implement the Tit For Tat strategy in humans.

As suggested above, Tit For Tat has won every competition until recently. It lost it's crown to a 'master/slave' strategy - masters and slaves had a mechanism that they used to recognize each other. If recognition failed, both were Greedy as Heck. If recognition succeeded, slaves would be kind to the master, and the master would be Greedy as Heck. The master beat Tit For Tat -- Tit For Tat was dragged down (screaming, I presume) by the slaves, while the Master went on to rule the domain of his adoring (and suffering) fans. I wonder what insight this might have to human nature. I think it might have something to do with politics.

Yes, indeed. Darwin would say that humans are biologically inclined to be sympathetic, altruistic, and moral as this proved to be an advantage in the struggle for existence… but only part of the time. We evolved in packs or tribes of fellow-beings. There were times when being altruistic towards other members of the tribe help keep more members of the tribe living. He said:

No tribe could hold together if murder, robbery, treachery, etc., were common, consequently such crimes within the limits of the same tribe 'are branded with everlasting infamy.'

And you see this sort of tribal morality clearly taught and illustrated in the Jewish Bible. However, there are times when our own "reproduction" is better served by being self-serving. No, not that type of self-serving.

So what is the natural state of man? A confusing mix of both good and evil.

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