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DominicX's avatar

Can you say something is objectively wrong without religion?

Asked by DominicX (28762points) November 1st, 2012

This post is NOT about a specific religion. I know that many religions that claim to have objective morality don’t actually in reality, but that is not what I am talking about.

I am asking if, in order to say that one system of morality is better than another (in other words, that some things are objectively wrong or right), do you need that morality to be grounded in something metaphysical, spiritual, or religious? Otherwise, how can one human-based moral system be said to be better than another? The only way it could is if that moral system is based in something that goes beyond humanity (not that we can prove that it actually does, I am just speaking in principle).

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71 Answers

poisonedantidote's avatar

If there really was a god of some kind, whatever morality this god had, would still only amount to a subjective opinion. The morality of a genius is no more objective than the morality of a moron.

There simply is no such thing as objective morality.

fremen_warrior's avatar

There is no morality, we made it up, things just are, and stuff happens.

wonderingwhy's avatar

in order to say that one system of morality is better than another (in other words, that some things are objectively wrong or right), do you need that morality to be grounded in something metaphysical, spiritual, or religious?

No, you simply need a competing morality.*

Otherwise, how can one human-based moral system be said to be better than another?

One morality can be said to be better than another based on the goals of the society in question. If A’s goals are W&X and B’s goals are Y&Z the “better” morality is the one that best aids in the achievement of each separate set of goals relative to the societies who pursue them. Each society is capable of recognizing the others goals and objectively considering their respective moralities good and each is capable of recognizing advancements and changes in their own social morality and goals.*

*If you mean objective as in an objective fact, then no, though such a fact may appear to be objectively true in the set of circumstances experienced by the observer.

Blackberry's avatar

Of course not, and this is why people that make these claims have a difficult time defending them with logic and cogent arguments.

tom_g's avatar

@DominicX: “I am asking if, in order to say that one system of morality is better than another (in other words, that some things are objectively wrong or right), do you need that morality to be grounded in something metaphysical, spiritual, or religious?”

While our resident philosophers might (legitimately) claim that there is some issue with considering the suffering or happiness of conscious creatures is an unsupported assertion, I would argue that this is all anybody can really mean by morality. Even religious/dogmatic morality attempts to explain almost all of its claims within the context of how it hurts or benefits people or society. In religious systems, however, the explanation comes after the declaration in some old books, and generally these explanations require some mental gymnastics.

So, if we can say that slowly baking a 5-year-old girl over an open fire is less moral than baking her a cake, we can only really do so because we intuitively equate morality with suffering and well being. The fact that some questions about human suffering fit into the “gray areas” or have multiple outcomes with equal levels of suffering doesn’t mean that there aren’t a million more ways to fail at minimizing suffering in that scenario.

So, argue away that there is no necessary connection between morality and suffering/well being. In my opinion, any philosophical system that argues away real world consequences and suffering when discussing morality renders the concept meaningless. Note: I know I will get skewered for this by the more learned scholars of philosophy.

Where does that leave religion? Well, they try to justify their moral declarations as having basis in reality (“should kill is good…right? I mean, what would it be like if we all killed each other, right?”). But their good books are riddled with commandments that are merely designed to appease and praise a jealous, sociopathic god. Some religious people admit that their attempts at justification are merely to calm the modern secularists. They claim that what is moral and immoral is what is declared moral by god to be moral or immoral. If god claims it’s homosexuality is immoral, well then it is. If god had declared that closing the left eye while turning right was immoral, well then by definition, it would have to be.

This is so divorced from what modern humans intuitively think of when we think of morality. One way of looking at it could be to look at human development. As young children, right and wrong are what our parents tell us. Doing wrong means punishment, and doing right means praise. We have underdeveloped parts of the brain that manage empathy. But at some point during our development, most of us develop a sense of empathy and and more complex form of morality that is not based on the carrot and the stick. So, one way to approach this could be to think of religious/dogmatic-based moral systems are immature, and are slowly awakening to a more mature, secular moral intuition.

Edit: Just to be clear, whether or not an “objective” morality “exists” (I think this is a rather meaningless question), I believe we should be engaged – as a global species – in a massive, evolving project that seeks to perpetually evaluate our actions and principles to determine if they result in more or less suffering (and more or less happiness). Gods have no place in the conversation.

wundayatta's avatar

Religions aren’t objective, so that doesn’t help you say something is objectively wrong.

Only Wundayattism has an objective system, but that’s only because I say what is good and bad, and once I say it, it is objectively true that I said it. And that it is true for me. You may accept that truth if you wish. But I don’t recommend it.

YARNLADY's avatar

Even with religion, there is no such thing a wrong or right. There is only what works and what doesn’t as far as obtaining your goal.

marinelife's avatar

Morality exists independent of religion. So, you can say that things like murder are wrong.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@marinelife I call BS. The smaller the organism, and/or the less it looks like a human, the less hangups people seem to have have killing them. Why should morality cover only people? This only helps to stress that morality is our own invention and does not in fact exist in any form. Sure we can say we THINK something is wrong, but nothing is intrinsically wrong. The Universe does not care!

FYI, this is not offtopic, I postulate the OP’s question is irrelevant. Mu! Mu! Mu!

Mariah's avatar

No, I don’t think so, which is part of the reason why I don’t think morality is objective. But it only matters in metaphysics. In practice, social consensus is the closest thing we have to objectivity and it works well enough.

ETpro's avatar

Of course you can say that some things are objectively wrong without religion. In fact, if only religion establishes moral truth, then the exact same thing is both morally right and morally wrong in case after case. This defies logic. Some moral systems lead to a better life for us all, and some lead to a worse one.

Some moral systems, such as the king-of-the-mountain system where might makes right and the strong take from the weak, in a world with today’s weapons poised for doing the taking, lead to the destruction of the entire species rather than survival of the fittest. If we believe that survival of the species is a natural law that all life seeks to fulfill, which certainly seems to be an objective truth, then caring for the least among us actually leads to survival of the fittest, and might makes right leads to the destruction of all.

Interestingly, great masters of philosophical thought as diverse as Hammurabi, Confucius and Jesus of Nazareth all realized this. All of them, in one form or another, articulated the golden rule. Both Confucius and Jesus said that the whole of human moral law is contained therein. The sooner we recognize that truth and stop using religion to demonize certain gender choices, racial groups, or ways of worship, the sooner we will approach true morality.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Religion does not hold the answer for morality. People can be moral without religion. I agree with @ETpro about the Golden Rule, which is treating everyone the way that you wish to be treated. If we stop to think just how inter-connected we all are, now, maybe we could try helping each other, instead of trying to conquer each other ( or trying to show that “my God” is greater than “your God” ).

JLeslie's avatar

I don’t know if you can say something is objectively wrong, but you certainly can get a consesus among people regarding many things and whether they are right or wrong regardless of religion. Just saying, “it’s wrong because Jesus said so, or Buddha,” or whomever means very little to me. Explaining why logically something is wrong holds much more value to me, and so logical minds will most likely agree on several issues. Bit, certainly won’t agree on everything.

rojo's avatar

@fremen_warrior morality cover mainly people because we are the ones who are burdened with it by our own choice. I do not disagree with you about our ability to justify the slaughter of lesser creatures because it is our own invention but it is not that the Universe does not care. It is that the justification of it is expressed in our terms, not that of the Universe.

Berserker's avatar

Religion is a man made thing, and I’m willing to bet that morality as we know it helped create religious systems to begin with. :/ So my guess is that it doesn’t need to be grounded in something spiritual, or anything else that might not be real, but yet often serves as a vessel for the origin of morality

Soubresaut's avatar

Objective seems very separate, rigid, detached; morality is fluid, painfully loud, very much within a person. You’re not being moral if you simply follow a step-by-step. You’re probably, (hopefully,) being ‘good’, as observed from afar, but without the inner conscience, the inner consciousness… It’s the difference between telling a really good joke, laughing it out of your gut, and phonetically reading one aloud (maybe in a foreign tongue.)

I’ve never understood why some people think it necessary to give others a mindless system to obey, call this objective, and so superior to allowing human conscience to emerge and develop. To echo a bit of what @ETpro mentioned—“great masters of philosophical thought” have all realized morality is a simple tenant (be kind, love, don’t harm, etc) we then have to figure out how to apply. Rigidity will never be adequate to control such motion and complexity as life, much less predict all the ‘correct’ applications of morality throughout life. (Further, evolution’s solution was the sense of morality; what are we trying so hard to fix?)

Perhaps if more people realize, that more people than not are trying to do more good in the world than bad, we wouldn’t get so very caught up in the details, particularly all evil of prejudiced, ridiculous ones, and the stripping of rights.

Regimenting morality, objectifiying it, I think removes its core value. Surrounding it by institution, amputates its meaning. All it becomes then are rules to obey.
I’m told it’s wrong to kill a person. That if I kill a person, I’ll be locked up for a very long time or executed myself. I learned it’s wrong to kill from witnessing death, in real life, in stories; from seeing the pain of injury and loss; from feeling the pain of injury and loss.

I don’t believe it’s the place of any objective, systemized, process to tell people what’s right and wrong to do; protect people, protect their rights. Not to say we can’t have consensus on issues, but consensus is and should be recognized as separate from objectivity.

So yes, you can say something is objectively moral or immoral without religion. I don’t think objective morality is a religious construct as much as an instutional. (Note: religions definitely do have institutional aspects, and definitely do have focus towards morality and behavior, so the potential is there and often seized.) However, I don’t think you should; objectifying morality strikes me as a tad immoral.

rojo's avatar

Religion is a crutch that helps prop people up.. I am not denigrating religion here, if someone finds help in it I am all for it. I just dont feel like it has any impact on determining the morality of something or someone, particularly if they do not feel any great sympathy toward that particular belief structure.

cazzie's avatar

Even a dog knows to feel guilty when they have done something wrong.

ETpro's avatar

@cazzie Amazing truth. I had an incredibly intelligent Belgian Shepherd that was originality named Arwin by her previous owners, but the neighborhood kids renamed her R1 because Star Wars had just debuted and that was what they could say. I love to shoot pool, and for my birthday, my wife had bought me a cake with a pool table and single pool shark on top as a decoration. We went out for dinner, and when we returned to add the candles and enjoy the cake, the pool table and player were gone. They had been removed so cleanly that you would have thought a human had to do it with a knife and spatula. But my wife said R1 did it. I thought that was preposterous, but she called R1 into the kitchen, and pointing at the cake, she asked, “R1, did you mess with the cake?”

That dog immediately dropped her tail between her legs, hung her head down, and slunk out of the room. Guilt was written all over her.

It was years later that I learned that Belgian Shepherds are truly work dogs. They need human interaction all the time. They need be doing something. Leave them alone cosed up in an inner-city apartment, and expect the worst. The incident was as much my sin as R1’s. But there is no question in my mind that she knew she had done something wrong. Perhaps the telling thing is that with all my supposed brains it took me years to learn that I’d sinned too.

Paradox25's avatar

Treating others as you would want to be treated may be the closest we can get to objective morality. I’m a theist (nonreligious) and even I don’t believe that objective morality exists.

JenniferP's avatar

Most religion is not basing its doctrines on the Bible. Many of them are man made.

YARNLADY's avatar

@JenniferP You do realize that the Bible was written by men, right. It is just as man made as the rest.

JenniferP's avatar

@YARNLADY It was written by men but they were like the secretaries for God. The Bible is inspired of God.

YARNLADY's avatar

@JenniferP They all say that.

cazzie's avatar

LOLz @JenniferP The question is about ‘religion’ not one vs the other, anyway.

JenniferP's avatar

@cazzie True, but all religion isn’t created equal.

rojo's avatar

@JenniferP Yes, they are.
Key word here being created.

JenniferP's avatar

@rojo-I don’t know why I said “created.” I should have said just “equal.” I am inserting words that don’t belong. I had a hard day at work I guess.

phaedryx's avatar


The problem is that every person is influenced by genetics, upbringing, environment, etc. and has all kinds of biases and influences. Also, every person has a very small subset of information make moral decisions on. What is right or wrong depends on a lot of things.

To have objective morality requires a perfect being with perfect knowledge of everything.

rojo's avatar

Can you say something is objectively wrong WITH religion?
It would seem that the teachings of a religion would also color the perspective of a person thus rendering our personal version of morality subjective.
For me the question is are we born with an innate sense of morality; do we inherit it from our parents or do we learn it from them and the rest of the community we grow up in?
Is it developed over time based on observation and experimentation or does the community just reinforce something that already exists?
A person can come to reject their moral teachings. Is this indicative of a learned experience or can someone successfully cast off a genetic predisposition?

cazzie's avatar

Funny. I was brought up by a Catholic mother (she never forced me to join the church or go.) and she taught me that religion was more about forgiveness and acceptance than pointing out people’s failings and judging them or comparing one’s ‘righteousness’ with another’s.

cazzie's avatar

@JenniferP wrote: ”@cazzie True, but all religion isn’t created equal.” I completely agree. and if you want to take out the word you said you mistakenly added, your statement would read ’..... all religion isn’t equal.’ You want to start judging and comparing? ‘Judge not, lest he be judged.’ Find your need for superiority elsewhere. Don’t use Brand X Religion as if it were a better brand of washing powder.

JenniferP's avatar

@cazzie-Jesus said that all religion wasn’t equal. Do you think he thought the Pharisees and Sadducces form of worship was equal to his own? Do you think that Muslim extremists are equal to moderate Muslims? I didn’t even specifically single out any religion. I made a general statement. How am I judging? Besides, the question asked if relgion was a force for good or bad. Some is a force for good. some is a force for bad. I HAVE to distinguish some elements from others. I don’t think that I am superior by the way. Now you are judging.

rojo's avatar

@JenniferP I guess I interpreted the question differently. My reading was that it questioned whether or not something could be judged as being right or wrong without religion. I also read into it the implication that religion was the only way that it could be done and everything else was subjective. Or, in other words, only through religion could you view an act from an unbiased point of view; not whether a religion made you more likely to do the right thing.
Personally, I think that a religious upbringing would color your judgement and most definitely not allow for an objective, unbiased viewpoint.

JenniferP's avatar

@rojo I found religion at 11. Ten is the age of reasoning, so I wasn’t exactly brought up religious. Plus I lived with my mom who was opposed to my faith. My father didn’t have custody of me but he introduced me to my faith. So I wasn’t raised to believe it and in fact suffered opposition from the custodial parent. Therefore I wasn’t colored to believe any certain age. I found my beliefs at an early age though.

rojo's avatar

But @JenniferP do your present beliefs not color you judgement of right and wrong?

JenniferP's avatar

I wouldn’t say they “color” them but “influence” them.

cazzie's avatar

@JenniferP It can be argued, of course, that Jesus said nothing about anything and that is not the question. But I guess what you are saying is that your beliefs are the right ones because that is what you believe is true and anything else is wrong. So your answer is ‘No.’ that your beliefs in your religion, being the one true religion, means that there is no objectiveness and that religion alone, and specifically your religion, is the determination of what is right and wrong.

JenniferP's avatar

@cazzie-Am I not supposed to believe the religion that I am a part of? Are you in a religion of Christendom? If you are, you likely reject Muslim beliefs and think that you are right and they are wrong. Do you believe in the Trinity? If you do, you think that you are right and that I am wrong because I don’t. Are you atheist? If you are, you think that you are right and believers are wrong? I am sorry for having beliefs. Am I supposed to try to talk myself out of them so as not to offend other people? I am not pushy about my beliefs in my daily life or anything. A lot of people don’t even know of my religion at work. I bring it up here because that is what this site is for.

There can only be one truth by the way. If religions contradict each other they can’t both be right on the issues.

ETpro's avatar

@JenniferP As an atheist, I can tell you that I do not think I am right and you are wrong. All I can definitively say about that is that I do not know. I choose not to believe in things I have no evidence of. That most certainly doesn’t mean I know there is no god, no afterlife. I just know that I don’t know. Those people I have talked with who are believers in this or that religion seem to explain their reasons for believing in ways I find lacking. They use circular logic, or highly subjective personal impressions easily created by their own subconscious in order to support the belief system they have adopted. I’ve found this to be true of believers in all the religions I’ve been been fortunate enough to examine.

cazzie's avatar

@JenniferP I thought I was helping you clarify your answer, not correct you in anyway. I feel bad that you are sorry for having beliefs, but feel so strongly about them that you are sure everyone else who believes differently is wrong. This must make you feel bad, but perhaps you wrote that you were sorry for a reason other than actually feeling sorry.

I agree with @ETpro . As an atheist, I may laugh from time to take at the lack of reasoning and logic in a theists argument, but you are absolutely entitled to believe that you are right and the rest of us are wrong. For my part, I simply say, ‘meh’. I can’t tell you how to believe any more than I can tell you how you should feel about something. As my dad would say, opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one.

JenniferP's avatar

I can’t help what I believe. I don’t go around telling people “I am right and you are wrong.” Do you want me to doubt myself?

JenniferP's avatar

@ETpro That would make you agnostic. It is commendable when someone can admit that they are unsure what to believe. But it isn’t wrong after investigating different beliefs to find what you were looking for and accept it. 1 John 5:19 refers to Christians and it says “We know we originate with God but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” They were distinguishing their beliefs from the rest.

@cazzie-My use of sorry was a preface to my comment. I wasn’t really contrite. It was a figure of speech. You are atheist therefore you believe that you are right and I am wrong. You are guilty of what you accuse me of. You probably believe in evolution and when I tell you that I don’t you probably think I am wrong, Just so you guys know, I am not arguing and I have no ill feelings. I just consider this a healthy debate.

ETpro's avatar

@JenniferP There are levels of atheism. I am an agnostic atheist. Most atheist are. There are a few atheictic atheist, who definitively declare there is no god, and that they know this to be true. Wven the famous skeptic, Christopher Hitchens is not in this class. Like me, he is an agnostic atheist. This debate makes it clear who is the dogmatist and who is open to new information.

JenniferP's avatar

I am open to new info. You have just taught me something.

cazzie's avatar

@JenniferP “Do you want me to doubt myself?” Yes, I think an intellegent person should travel with world with a certain amount of self-doubt. As you said, you are open to new information. Great. However, insincere contrition is just a form of lying.

JenniferP's avatar

@cazzie-Do you doubt that the world is round? Also figures of speech are not lying.

rojo's avatar

Play nice, it is a holiday season. But regardless, you should play nice all the time.

JenniferP's avatar

I haven’t not been nice. I am just answering questions and challenges thrown at me. If you actually read everything I have written there is not one shred of sarcasm or insult. But you are right. It needs to stop at some point.

One thing to add though: I do have doubts. But they don’t pertain to my religious beliefs. I doubt myself all of the time in other areas.

Mariah's avatar

The trouble is, we have empirical proof that the world is round.

I can understand religious agnosticism just fine. That is, when the religious admit that their faith is just faith. They don’t have proof, but they choose to believe. These people generally won’t tell anyone else that they’re wrong, although they will say they disagree. Is that, perhaps, how you really feel, @JenniferP? That’s not how it’s coming across.

Gnosticism of any kind bewilders me, whether it’s a gnostic atheist saying “I know there is no god” or a religious person saying “I know there is a god.” Fact is, we don’t know.

Like @ETpro I am an agnostic atheist and I’m glad he cleared up that misunderstanding in terminology.

JenniferP's avatar

@Mariah It sounds like @ETpro thinks that there is a possiblility that I am right. He is open to different ideas. If the Bible is right (and he acknowledges it may be) then according to it, it is possible to know what truth is. It says in the Bible that the “truth shall set you free.” If there is a God, why would he want us to not know for sure if he existed?

Mariah's avatar

Based on labels alone I think my beliefs are similar to @ETpro‘s and I can say yes, I do think there is a possibility you are right. What I disagree with is any proclamation of certainty.

As for the rest of your comment, it seems like circular logic to me. If the Bible is true then the Christian God exists. If the Christian God exists then the Bible is true. In reality, we cannot be certain if either statement is true, and so we cannot draw such conclusions. If we get proof of either statement, then surely my opinion on these matters will change.

“If there is a God, why would he want us to not know for sure if he existed?”
I don’t fully understand what you are attempting to show with this. To me this sounds like an argument against god existence, but I know that’s not what you intended. We don’t have proof of god, so if you believe he would give proof if he existed, isn’t that saying you believe he doesn’t exist? Do clarify if I’m misunderstanding.

JenniferP's avatar

I have proven the Bible to myself because of its scientific and historical accuracy, as well as many other reasons. So I am going on hard evidence. Anyway, I am 100 % convinced that my beliefs are right and we could go on for days and days about this and there would be no change in my viewpoint.

You know how some people want to believe something, so they convince themselves and they ignore things that get in the way? I am absolutely not like that at all. If I didn’t like my faith and didn’t want to be a part of it, I couldn’t rationalize it away. I am firmly entrenched and I just cannot ignore logic. I can’t change my beliefs. I could change my actions and not follow my faith but I would just be a person who did whatever I wanted to do but still believed exactly as I do now.

Mariah's avatar

Are we reading the same Bible? Hehe. Well I’m guessing a religious debate is the last thing you want on Christmas so I’ll let it go. If you ever want to continue the conversation my ears are open. I am very curious about how you’ve proven the Bible to yourself. Like I said, I accept you may be right. I just might not be convinced by the same things that convince you.

Merry Christmas.

ETpro's avatar

@JenniferP Please pardon all my previous typos. I was nodding off to sleep as I replied.

Yes, I admit there is a possibility the Bible is 100% accurate. Let me explain how likely I think that is. It is also possible reindeer can fly. I can’t “prove” that they cannot. I could round up 100 of the rather cute animals, and one by one, push them off tall buildings or cliffs. Even when not a single one saved themselves by flying, I would not have proved they are incapable of flight. All I would have established conclusively is that this particular 100 did not choose to fly. Instead, the fell straight to their demise.

Mankind has worshiped more than 3,000 supreme beings in his recorded history. Most of these supreme beings were mutually exclusive. Their worshipers claimed that their particular sky daddy was the one true sky daddy, and all the others were lying impostors—full of heresy. Therefore, it is clear that at least 2,999 sky daddies really were fakes, invented by man. I find the likelihood that any 1 of the 3,000 is the real thing, but as a omnipotent, omniscient being is incapable of or unwilling to prove that to be the case to be about as likely as the proposition that reindeer really can fly.

Paradox25's avatar

This is a tricky question to answer. Not all atheists are reductionists, and many of them could have a view of morality that is similar to eastern philosophies. The Buddhist view of ‘relative’ morality is likened to conquering egocentricity and controlling one’s desires, vs following a certain set of rules. I suppose that the former version of relative morality could in itself be considered to be a form of objective morality. Even those Ten Commandments could have come from man, and objective morality can only exist if an entity is omniscient. I really don’t believe that objective morality can actually exist without considering the basic tenants of Buddhism moral relativism pertaining to eliminating egocentricity, obsessions and doing onto others as you would have them do onto you.

Sometimes I wonder that if there is a supreme Mind (deity if you will), whether it processes what is moral or not through the manifestations of everything sentient, including through us and our experiences.

@JenniferP I think it can be very dangerous to think that one’s beliefs are 100% right. I’m not even 100% certain of my own beliefs. I’ll admit that even brilliant freethinking scientists who utilize critical thinking skills can have diametrically opposite opinions from another. I’ll admit that the term evidence can be subjective itself, I think it is always wise to leave some room for doubt. You can have your beliefs, but always leave some room for doubt, even if you don’t openly admit your doubt to others.

JenniferP's avatar

@ETpro I can prove that reindeer can’t fly. They don’t have wings. That is enough evidence for me. @Paradox25 How is it dangerous for me to believe I am 100% right? JWs don’t believe in suicide bombings and acts of terrorism. We don’t even go to war. Anyway I actuallay don’t believe I am 100% right because my religion is refining and sharpening our beliefs. But I am talking about small details.

Mariah's avatar

@JenniferP Nor do blimps.

tom_g's avatar

@JenniferP: ”@ETpro I can prove that reindeer can’t fly. They don’t have wings. That is enough evidence for me.”

(I know I’m jumping in late on this one, so I apologize if all of this has been covered.)
Jennifer, in that sense, we know the bible is false. For an agnostic atheist (or skeptic, or scientist), we are really touching upon levels of certainty. Sure, on one level we can say that reindeer can’t fly. They don’t have wings, and there are not even any proposed mechanisms that would allow for reindeer flight. The same goes for the bible – from the age of the earth to virgin births to reanimation and zombies to walking on water and other absurdities, we know that it’s myth.
However, we can’t say with absolute certainty that reindeer can’t fly. In fact, part of the conditions for their flight might include a necessity of privacy. It’s possible that reindeer are flying almost every time a human eye is not observing them. In the same way, it’s entirely possible that the bible really does describe a description of true events and the (nightmarish) creator god. The complete lack of evidence to support these extraordinary claims could be part of the whole thing. We could be faced with the possibility that the christian god exists and is just as cruel and deranged as atheists believe the character is. Say he has created the perfect conditions for disbelief. In other words, he created a universe that appears completely creator-less. Then recently he created a book that is so patently absurd that a complete flushing of human reason and rationality are required to believe it. And a lack of belief is sufficient for eternal damnation.
So, what I think I’m trying to say is that many of us are completely open to the idea that it’s possible that a god exists – but in the same way that it’s possible that flying reindeer, singing bananas, or invisible pink unicorns exist.

tom_g's avatar

@JenniferP: ”@Paradox25 How is it dangerous for me to believe I am 100% right? JWs don’t believe in suicide bombings and acts of terrorism. We don’t even go to war.”

But your beliefs do influence your actions. Christians oppose civil rights in the US because of their religion. From marriage to reproductive freedom to euthanasia, attempts at progressing the human happiness and reducing suffering are often at odds with people who hold “harmless” beliefs in the christian god.
From my perspective it’s dangerous – to me and my friends and family.

JenniferP's avatar

@Mariah-Blimps are balloons which are filled with helium or whatever gases that enable them to fly. My point about reindeer is that they aren’t made in a way that would enable them to fly. They may not have wings but they are not hollow and filled with anything. The only reindeer that can fly would be a reindeer blimp or balloon.

JenniferP's avatar

@tom_g I can honestly say that my religion doesn’t meddle in politics. We don’t even vote. So you are not speaking factually.

I believe the evidence is there for the Bible. You do not. I know that I have thoroughly investigated my beliefs and the evidence. You probably think you have. You don’t know if I have and I don’t know if you have.

With what I have to go on, I don’t believe the Bible is absurd. I believe that I can counter the reasons that you believe make it absurd.

Both you and I believe we are right. You believe you are right that people can’t know that they are right. That makes you think that you are right which kind of debunks your argument right there.

That is why people’s beliefs are subjective.

tom_g's avatar

@JenniferP: ”@tom_g I can honestly say that my religion doesn’t meddle in politics. We don’t even vote. So you are not speaking factually.”

You don’t vote. That is your belief system affecting lives in the real world. Not voting for people who would push for civil rights legislation, for example, is exactly what I’m talking about.

@JenniferP: “I believe the evidence is there for the Bible. You do not. I know that I have thoroughly investigated my beliefs and the evidence. You probably think you have. You don’t know if I have and I don’t know if you have.”

Sure. I’m an ex-catholic. But that’s not the point. It’s not about us. It’s about methods that work (science) and methods that don’t (“faith” or anti-science). The jury is not out on these questions.

@JenniferP: “Both you and I believe we are right. You believe you are right that people can’t know that they are right. That makes you think that you are right which kind of debunks your argument right there.

That is why people’s beliefs are subjective.”

There isn’t a “your reality” and a “my reality”. We’re stuck on this speck of dust together. And if we’re going to figure out how to survive and flourish here together, we should dispense with the notion that everything is just subjective. I don’t know you, but I suspect that you do really believe that there is an objective reality that is not subject to your current feelings or beliefs. You type of on your computer and send information through a vast network of computers and I am able to see your words. You get in your car (presumably) and (presumably) take part in modern medicine. These are not merely working because you believe in them. They are working because we have developed an amazingly successful tool for determining what is true and what is not – science.

Anyway, you’re right – I don’t know you and I don’t want to put words and thoughts into your head. The best I can do is to speak to a fictional version of you in a very hypothetical sense. So, I apologize if I have attributed thoughts and actions to you which do not apply.

JenniferP's avatar

@tom_g I have to return from break so all I will say until later is, do you know how many non religious people don’t vote. Plus, if you do vote, what if you pick the wrong guy? That would make things worse.

tom_g's avatar

@JenniferP: ”@tom_g I have to return from break so all I will say until later is, do you know how many non religious people don’t vote. Plus, if you do vote, what if you pick the wrong guy? That would make things worse.”

Sure. There are plenty of non-religious nonvoters. The reason that you don’t vote, however, is not because you are necessarily ill-informed, apathetic, or immoral. You don’t vote specifically because of your religious belief.
And what if I “pick the wrong guy”? We’re constantly facing some pretty easy decisions at the polling booth. For example, there are politicians who specifically state that they would oppose any legislation that would allow same-sex marriage. Their opponents are often people who would welcome such legislation. The same goes for protecting reproductive freedom (or climate change, or health care, etc). There’s no real mystery here. Besides the actual words these politicians are spewing, we often have a voting record to analyze.

JenniferP's avatar

You oversimplify voting and think that the choices are so simple. If I was or wasn’t religious I would be against gay marriage. If the right person is so easy to vote for and the answers so clear cut, then why are so many people divided in who to vote for. And why do the “wrong” candidates even think the way they do? The right course is so obvious, remember?

tom_g's avatar

Out of all of my comments above, I am surprised the voting comments are sparking the most discussion.

@JenniferP: “You oversimplify voting and think that the choices are so simple. If I was or wasn’t religious I would be against gay marriage.”

I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. There are decent people who would otherwise support equality, but cannot because their religion won’t let them, or has convinced them that morality is divorced from human suffering and happiness. You could certainly cook up some nonreligious reason to oppose equality. But it would be up for discussion. And if you were a decent, rational person who was not invested in inflicting suffering, you would change your mind and actually support it.

JenniferP's avatar

I don’t inflict suffering. I don’t influence politics. Plus, we are just in a debate over who is or isn’t right. You think your opinion is right. I think mine is. It is interesting because a short time ago, people were arguing with me and saying that no one could know anything for certain. Do you think that you know for certain that homosexuality is okay? If you say yes you do, then that deflates the argument that you can’t know something 100%.

Just a little warning. I don’t mind debating and was fine with everything that has been said so far, but your words calling my decency into question have taken this debate into a different direction. When people become hurtful, then that is the end of the debate for me.

JenniferP's avatar

I found that line you said so offensive, that I have to repeat myself. How on earth do I inflict suffering? I don’t. And I am a very decent, rational person. Having an opinion is not the same as inflicting suffering on someone.

tom_g's avatar

Re-read my post. Then read it again. I don’t believe I was insulting you at all. That was not my intention. I’ve been bending over backwards to try to be gentle and descriptive of concepts that you may not be familiar with.
I can only imagine that you found my response to the “If I was or wasn’t religious I would be against gay marriage.” comment to be offensive. If this is the case, I hope you will re-consider, as I was not making a personal attack – or not attempting to. What I was attempting to describe is more eloquently put by Steven Weinberg when he stated, “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.” In other words, I was stating that you could very well be a great, decent, rational person. Now it’s quite possible that if your religion were not a hindrance in your development of a moral compass that you would still oppose marriage equality. But you seem like a nice person, and I don’t think that such ideas would last long. When you are without a morality that is based on declarations from a god, you are faced with having to base your ethics on cause and effect, and what will cause or minimize suffering. Therefore, you would be staring straight into the the same argument we dealt with not so long ago in parts of the U.S. when it came to interracial marriage.

Anyway, besides being offended, you might want to consider that some people find it offensive when people state that they will not support two consenting same-sex adults who are in love from receiving the same benefits as opposite-sex couples. Also, I’m not entirely sure where this is going…

@JenniferP: “Do you think that you know for certain that homosexuality is okay?”

This is probably a topic for another thread. But, I can’t even fathom what secular argument could be generated to argue that homosexuality is ”not okay”. I would be equally stumped at the question if you had swapped in “red hair” or “African American” for “homosexuality”.

Anyway, you do seemed to have missed the whole concept of certainty. Science doesn’t deal with certainty. Scientific knowledge is tentative – and that’s a good thing. Drop the 100% stuff. We can be pragmatic and talk in “certain” terms, as long as we are all aware that certain requires air quotes.

JLeslie's avatar

@tom_g I can’t answer for @JenniferP but sometimes people feel comfortable in a religion because they already have ideas and beliefs that line up with a particular religion. @JenniferP mentioned being worried about voting for the wrong person. This is actually a big reason why a lot of Americans don’t vote, why they don’t make it to the polls. I used to work with a reformed Jewish woman who had a gay son and she liked his bofriend very much and always accepted her son was gay, always supported him, but was against gay marriage. Hopefully she has changed her mind, this was a good 10 years ago. I have a friend raised very liberally, her parents insisted she get an abortion when she became pregnant by accident in college, and she always felt it was very very wrong. It weighs on her, I feel bad for her. She is about 50 years old now. Anyway, for years she believed she would never have children, that she did not deserve them after what she did. She eventually did get married and have two children. She joined a new church and the bible study classes she has been going to for the first time in her life makes her feel like Jesus will forgive her. She was raised a barely practicing Catholic, but now finds comfort in this Evangelical Presbyterian church. The church fits her more than she being obedient to the church.

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