Social Question

Dutchess_III's avatar

Why is this person having such a hard time wrapping his mind around the concept that there really is no such thing as right and wrong?

Asked by Dutchess_III (38417points) July 16th, 2018

He posted a (nonsense) video about how Christian values are different (better than) secular values.

One of the comments is:
“An atheist can choose not to murder, but they can’t honestly acknowledge that murder is wrong.”
I responded that ”Well, murder isn’t wrong, but it’s not nice, either, especially for those who loved the person and are left behind. I have no wish to cause someone else heartache and pain.”

I also pointed out that “right” and “wrong” are really man made concepts. The more pain something may cause a person, or others, the more “wrong” we determine it to be. That’s why murdering someone carries a much stiffer penalty than jaywalking.

I think the OP is just flabbergasted and speechless.

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60 Answers

Kropotkin's avatar

I don’t understand your argument.

You’ve defined “wrong” as the pain and harm it causes, so how can you also claim that “murder isn’t wrong” while acknowleding that murder causes pain and harm?

It just seems to me that in your attempt to refute the Christian argument, you’ve gone and contradicted yourself instead.

You could have just stuck to a standard consequentialist utilitarian arguemnt—which is what I think you’re basically defending—without claiming the stuff about murder not being wrong, and “wrong” being a man-made concept (so what if it is?)

There are ethical theories where “right” and “wrong” really are argued to not exist, but that’s not what you’ve done.

And I think a better response to the Christian would be just to invoke Euthyphro dilemma, which I think is still the best refutation of claims that “right” and “wrong” must come from the existence of a god or gods.

chyna's avatar

Murder is against the law, so it is wrong. You don’t have to be Christian to know right from wrong.

zenvelo's avatar

“No right or wrong” is one of those abstarct constructions that doesn’t work in the real world.

I doubt you would let one of your grandkids say that the next time you try to get them to behave.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I said it’s how humans define the concept of “wrong,” @Kropotkin. The more pain it causes the more “wrong” we humans have decided that it is.

Yeah, @Chyna. He hasn’t responded, but if he does I’ll ask him, “So, your God is the only reason you aren’t out there murdering and raping? That’s scary. Very scary.”

I didn’t say we don’t teach the kids what we consider right from wrong @zenvelo. My point is, I don’t do certain things, not because somebody else tells me it’s wrong, but because I don’t wish to cause anyone any unnecessary pain. And our goal in raising our kids is to graduate them from “external” control (they’ll get in trouble if they do it,) to “internal control,” (they don’t do a thing because it will hurt someone.) People who have to rely on a God, or the threat of Hell to do the right things are still depending on external control to guide them. That’s something they should have grown out of by the time they were 8 or 9.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I would move on.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, if he doesn’t answer, I shall! Until then, I think I’ll go make me a home made Egg McMuffin. It’s a lot cheaper than the identical thing from McDonalds.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@chyna Same with illegal immigrants sneaking in right?
Against the law, so it’s wrong, for everyone, not just christians.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It is not against the law to come seeking asylum.

And THAT is where Christians and atheists part company. I say let them have a chance, out of compassion. If they break the law, yeah. Deport them.
Christians just yell, “Burn ‘em!!” And, also, ignore what the Bible has to say about it.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I agree that laws (the threat of punishment) are a tricky way of defining right or wrong. We all remember when it was illegal to sell a black man a house in certain neighborhoods. But as a practical matter, if a fear of God is all that is required to prevent certain individuals from antisocial behavior, I will settle for it. Whatever works.

seawulf575's avatar

The problem with the question is that it shows an almost psychotic view of the world. If there are no right or wrongs, if there are no goods or bads, then what do you base your actions on? The argument presented in this question are basically the same ones Manson used to defend his actions. They weren’t wrong either, right?

Dutchess_III's avatar

I base my actions on empathy, @seawulf575. Empathy and compassion for other people. Kindness. Caring. What do you base your actions on?

seawulf575's avatar

@Dutchess_III and what are your empathy and compassion based on? Remember, there is no right or wrong. You truly believe that everyone should just be able to operate on how they feel? That is where you get Manson families. They just did what they felt. They wanted to start a race war because they felt that was the right thing to do.
As for me? I base my actions on law, which is supposed to be based on right and wrong. And when the law gets something wrong, there are ways to correct it. Without a foundation of what is right and what is wrong, you are left with chaos. But you are describing the liberal utopia perfectly.
As for the Christian basing his belief of right and wrong on the bible, there could be a lot worse things to do. The teachings of Christ were full of good things that much of your empathy and compassion would mirror. But those are also described as right. There are also things that are listed as being wrong. it’s called morals. Having the bible as a basis for your morals is a great thing.

Jeruba's avatar

As an atheist, I think it’s wrong for another atheist to speak for me. Atheists vary widely in their convictions about things. I don’t want anyone to say atheists do this or that without qualifying the statement. “Some atheists” is all right; better still, just speak for yourself and don’t demand the validation of a crowd.

I do believe there’s such a thing as right and wrong, and I don’t think religion and morality depend on each other. I probably know more morally upright atheists than so-called Christians, and I grew up in a community of fervent Christians.

Speaking only for myself here.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I am saying, guys, that things that are considered “wrong” in this society, may not be considered wrong in another society, and that’s why they are man made concepts.

@seawulf575 I imagine I base my concept of what is right and wrong on how my parents raised me. But beyond that, I make decisions based on how it can affect other people. I don’t need a book of rules to figure that out! I am not lost without that book either.

Jeruba's avatar

All concepts are man-made. Who else is going around making up concepts? That doesn’t necessarily invalidate them.

We need some common structures and conventions to function as a society. Different structures have evolved in different societies, and many people have erroneously attached a sense of absoluteness to them. Unqualified declarations of “right” and “wrong” can be a substitute for thought.

I belong to a small group that meets for discussion. The culture of that group is that one person speaks at a time; no back-and-forth and no free-for-all. If you want to get into it with someone on a specific topic, you do it outside the meeting. So is it wrong to speak out of turn? No, it’s not morals. It’s custom and respect for custom.

The renowned religious scholar Huston Smith wrote in The World’s Religions approximately this (paraphrasing): Whatever commandments may exist in various societies and religions over time, they have four in common, or else the societies don’t last very long because they tear themselves apart:
(1) Thou shalt not steal. You can make your own pile as big as you want, but don’t take anything off anybody else’s pile.
(2) Thou shalt not commit adultery. Nothing like some adultery to destroy your system. For one thing, it leads to breaking the next law:
(3) Thou shalt not kill. Favor life and the supporting of life, not the destruction of it.
And finally,
(4) Thou shalt not bear false witness—because only if people abjure lying do you have leverage against breaking the other three.

One could argue that morality is based on what’s best for the survival of the group, and one wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Religion packs some authority behind it, especially if that’s what defines the group, but a moral code can exist very nicely without religion. I think the “degree of pain” idea makes less sense than that.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I didn’t say anything was invalid. I said that we make up the rules.
In some cultures past, infanticide was acceptable. It wasn’t even illegal.
In some cultures past, human sacrifice was a good thing.
It’s OK to murder in battle.
It’s OK to murder someone after they’ve received the death penalty.
It all depends on context and morality can be so fluid.

And I do like that idea, that ”…morality is based on what’s best for the survival of the group…” Makes sense to me. Trouble is, something that may be best for the survival of the group would other wise be considered immoral in another context.

canidmajor's avatar

@Jeruba: if I could, I would GA you a thousand times! I pulled out my Huston Smith a few months ago for a similar discussion, I should keep it to hand at all times!
Likewise, my Bettelheim tends to get a work out as well. :-)

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The Golden Rule is enough for me to believe in right and wrong.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Me too, @Call_Me_Jay. It’s really quite simple, too.

gorillapaws's avatar

There is so much craziness in this thread.

First. Religion isn’t necessary to establish moral right/wrong. This can be done via moral theories (religions have moral theories too).

Second. Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It was illegal for Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat, but I dare someone to try to prove that her choice was morally wrong. Laws can follow morality, but they often don’t and it shouldn’t be the other way around (i.e. morality defined based on laws)...

Third. Moral relativism/subjectivism is just dumb. Proof: mutilating female genitals is wrong, it doesn’t matter what culture you’re in, it’s just wrong. Any moral system that justifies acts like that should be viewed as failures.

seawulf575's avatar

@Dutchess_III Please don’t get the idea that I am trying to convert you to Christianity. Not my job. But you have to have something that drives right and wrong. My feeling is that if you are saying there is no right and wrong and it is all up to us, that means we will have 325M versions of right and wrong in this country alone. That is chaos. Jeffrey Dahmer felt it was okay to kill and eat people. Christ felt we should love one another. Manson felt that starting a race war was the right thing for society. Buddha felt that being self-serving was bad and is one of the things you have to overcome to be happy. Right there I just gave you 4 examples of where we are if everyone decides for themselves what is right and what is wrong.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 How about John Rawls? Kant? Mill? Why does it have to be either a religious figure or a serial killer sociopath?

Dutchess_III's avatar

I am not under the impression that you’re trying to convert me, @seawulf575. I can’t be converted.
Yes, I have something that drives my concept of right from wrong and that is, pretty much, The Golden Rule as @Call_Me_Jay pointed out.
Are you saying that if you didn’t have the Bible, had never read the bible, had never had Biblical quotes read to you, then you would be just like Jeffrey Dahmer? Is that what you’re saying?

Dutchess_III's avatar

—I just looked up John Rawls. Thanks for the education @gorillapaws. But can you imagine….
“Two of his brothers died in childhood because they had contracted fatal illnesses from him…. In 1928, the seven-year-old Rawls contracted diphtheria. His brother Bobby, younger by 20 months, visited him in his room and was fatally infected. The next winter, Rawls contracted pneumonia. Another younger brother, Tommy, caught the illness from him and died.[7]”

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III “It is not against the law to come seeking asylum.
And THAT is where Christians and atheists part company. I say let them have a chance, out of compassion. If they break the law, yeah. Deport them.
Christians just yell, “Burn ‘em!!” And, also, ignore what the Bible has to say about it.”

Well we do have people here illegally and they are breaking the law. So you’ll be right alongside the Reps saying ‘Deport them!’

Got it. I’m not sure that’s the answer I’ve seen you give previously, unless I’m thinking of someone else.

seawulf575's avatar

@Dutchess_III no, not saying if you never had the bible you would be like Dahmer. What I’m saying is that when you say that there is no right or wrong and its only what we want it to be, you end up with people like Dahmer that have a whole different moral compass than a lot of people. But since there is no right or wrong, how can it be wrong? That is what you get with the idea of no right or wrong.

Dutchess_III's avatar

But, as @gorillapaws pointed out, just because it’s the law doesn’t make it morally right. It used to be against the law for black people to enter many establishments.
The law, and moral compassion, can often be at odds. IMO, moral compassion trumps the law.

So, is what you’re saying, @seawulf575, is if we are not taught the difference between right and wrong then our natural, instinctive default is depravity? Is that your natural default? I don’t believe it’s mine.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 Let’s do a quick thought experiment? Let’s pretend (for arguments sake) that we know for certain that God isn’t real, that there is no supernatural authority governing the universe. In such a world, would it be wrong to rape someone? to murder someone in cold blood (assuming no extenuating circumstances like self-defense)? to enslave someone? Why?

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@gorillapaws Or consider this a little deeper. What is stopping God from raping and murdering and going ape shit on everyone? We would be helpless. Is God an atheist or does he follow some higher rules like a super bible? I would like to read it. Few would stop a child from killing ants ,( except maybe a parent). Maybe God has rules to follow when making his universe?

Dutchess_III's avatar

God doesn’t rape because he can’t. He doesn’t have a penis. However he murders thousands daily. He also performs abortions daily. He’s the only one allowed to do that, see?

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@Dutchess_III Maybe he is into tentacle rape?

chyna's avatar

@Dutchess_III For someone that doesn’t believe in God you sure are blaming him for a lot of bad shit.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Breaking news: I was just responding to @RedDeerGuy1‘s comments with the logic that assumed there is a god, in keeping with his phrasing. I apologize if you thought I really, honestly blame an entity that doesn’t exist for anything at all.

God doesn’t even have tentacles. I don’t think. Maybe @RagingLoli will know the answer to that.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@Dutchess_III Maybe he doesn’t pitch, but rather hits? You don’t need tentacles to hit.

kritiper's avatar

Simple. He is a stanch, self-righteous fruitcake. He assumes that he knows all there is to know about any and all Atheists, as if they are all exactly the same.

Brian1946's avatar


“God doesn’t even have tentacles. I don’t think.”

Perhaps he does, for those who use the works of HP Lovecraft for their moral codes. ;-)

seawulf575's avatar

Let’s do the experiment we have seen with our own eyes. What happens when people don’t feel the law can get them? When they feel there are no consequences? Let’s take a big blackout or something else that causes social unrest. Do people act civilly? Does their behavior change from what it normally is? Take any of the riots we have seen in recent years. They went way beyond protests. Vandalism, looting, attacks…all against totally innocent parties. Why? Because there was no fear of repercussions. So what we end up with is a people acting the way they feel. Did our societal versions of right and wrong change? No. What changed was that you took away the rules and allowed people to act the way they want. So now do you want to tell me about how laws don’t control right and wrong?

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Close. It’s not the laws that keep people in line, it’s the enforcement, and type of enforcement, of said laws.

That’s why concepts like Hell were written into religions. It is the punishment (stick) for crimes, not the reward for good behavior (carrot) that steers most people.

Like most theists, you are trying to credit religion as the origin of “morality.” The concept, at least it’s framework, is far older than any organized religion.
Men created religion to control other men. It is the understanding that punishment is the ultimate motivation for people to “behave,” that was the reason why authors of religious texts inserted punishments to begin with. They needed people to not only know what is considered acceptable behavior, but also “know” that an omnipotent being was always watching, and always taking notes. Training people to think they are constantly being judged, and will be held accountable for all of their actions, makes a pretty sweet control mechanism.

Rules, don’t control anything. It’s the fear of punishment. Fear is the number one tool of all religions, and governments. The idea is identical, to control large populations, who would otherwise tend to their own needs/desires, over others’.

For whatever reason, it seems impossible for theists to understand that people are capable of acting “morally,” even without perceived consequences of “undesirable” behavior. Empathy is part of it. But we don’t need a deity, to at least know basic things about what is right, or wrong.

Such concepts, are merely tools for societal control.
“Right,” and “wrong” could be boiled down to “good for society, ” or “bad for society.” As those concepts in and of themselves are subjective, there is no universal “right, or wrong.” Concepts are not as simple as science. As in say, hot, and cold. Yes, there are levels of “hot, and cold,” but those levels can be measured and placed in a predetermined category. Up, or down. Left, or right. These are universal.

Now. Does right, or wrong matter? Only of you get caught. Some get punished without having committed the punishable offense… That’s why the concepts don’t really matter…

That is my conclusion…

Dutchess_III's avatar

No no no no. SOME people will take advantage of the fact that, at least temporarily, there is no external control being exercised, because they never matured beyond the age of 5. The VAST MAJORITY, however, operate using internal control.
Sure, there was lots of rioting by people who probably have spent time in jail since they were young, but what does that have to do with the other 99.99% who did NOT riot?

Again, I ask you, personally, @seawulf575, if it wasn’t for God and the Bible, would your default be to act like a lawless thug?

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III Just a little FYI here. be sure to not assume that everyone will do bad things every time just because there is no controller watching over them.

KNOWITALL's avatar

How is @seawulf575 supposed to know that if he was raised in faith?

TBH I know many people not raised in church or a religious household that are really good charitable, kind people. There’s also a lot that are crappy human beings, so I assume the difference is nurture and societal impact.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m not the one assuming that @kritiper, @seawulf575 is. Perhaps you might want to review my arguments.

I agree @KNOWITALL. Some of the worst people are Christians, and some of the best people are Christians. I don’t think faith has that much to do with it.

kritiper's avatar

@seawulf575 Please take note of my previous post.
@Dutchess_III Noted. But I have dealt with you before on other topics and I am not going to exempt you from my prior post.

Just sayin’...

Dutchess_III's avatar

@kritiper alright, can you show me where on earth I gave you the idea that I think people will default to doing bad things if they don’t believe in God?

seawulf575's avatar

I admit, I’m a bit pessimistic and jaded. I don’t hold that the general human condition is that of charity. There are some people that are good people and will be good people through a lot. But I truly believe that if we suddenly lost electricity to a major city for a 3 week period, there would be complete mayhem. Look at what happened in Venezuela when their economy crashed. People got violent…they didn’t sit down together and talk it out to figure the best course of action. It was every man for himself. Look at the atrocities that mankind commits upon its own almost every day. Nothing that speaks of love and tolerance. And oftentimes that is happening when times are good.
I was indeed raised in the Christian faith. I fell out of touch with that faith for a long time. I have since come back to the fold. I am happier there and find an outlet for my charity that I can believe in. But let’s be honest…if our economy crashed, I would become distrustful of people…even people I know. And please be honest…if our society looked like Venezuela, would you show charity if a gang showed up at your house? Would you exert internal control as they threatened you and your family or took everything you own?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Some of it is going to depend on family and culture. And yes, stress can cause people to act out. And atrocities are committed everyday because we can be horrible animals. But I believe there is more good than bad, and I don’t think it has anything to do with God.

I don’t have God. I’m not commuting atrocities.
If Rarebear was here he’d tell you the same. He was raised atheist so he’s never “known” the God you speak of, and he is a great guy.
So is Rocket Guy.
So are a great many people here.

gorillapaws's avatar

@seawulf575 You didn’t really address the question though: would it still be wrong to do those things if God didn’t exist? I understand that you believe people would bad things more frequently (but that’s a separate question from whether or not those actions are themselves morally wrong), after all, I’m sure we can both agree that it’s possible for people to commit actions they know to be wrong?

It seems like your conflating mortality with the law, and that’s introducing unnecessary confusion. There are some areas where morality and the law overlap (i.e. murder is wrong and illegal), there are other actions where it may be legal to do immoral things (intentionally hurting someone’s feelings), and other areas where it’s illegal to do things that might be perfectly moral (interracial marriage before 1967 in many states, peeing on a tree in the woods).

It’s not the consequence that makes something right/wrong. Things just are right and wrong, just as 2 + 2 = 4. Mathematics is a completely invented mental abstraction, but it’s useful for solving problems and understanding the world. In the same way, there are many moral theories that exist which attempt to provide frameworks for evaluating ethical decisions. There are thousands of philosophy PhDs hard at work solving ethical dilemmas and poking holes in moral theories just as there are mathematician figuring out new algebras.

kritiper's avatar

@Dutchess_III I wasn’t referring to “God” in particular, only a controller of any known or any unknown origin.

seawulf575's avatar

@Dutchess_III If you look back, I haven’t suggested that you need God to tell right from wrong. I have stated that there are good guidelines in the Bible and there are. But that is as close as I got. I HAVE stated that there is right and wrong. The original question stated that right and wrong are man-made creations. That is true to a point. But it goes deeper than that. For instance, slavery happens all the time. It has happened in our own past and is continuing at places in the world today. Right or wrong? Different people have different ideas. But my statements have been that if you don’t have right or wrong, you have chaos. I have stated that I go by the law which our societies version of what is right and what is wrong. I do have input from my Christian upbringing and current beliefs, but happily, most of the things I believe are reflected in our laws.

seawulf575's avatar

@gorillapaws I actually have answered the question…a couple times. right and wrong are based on morals. Where you get your morals is what defines right and wrong for you. For me, it is the law and my belief in God. They are the basis for my morals. And societal morals ARE the basis of the law. The law is what society has determined is morally right and morally wrong. The law does not address all morals, that is true…but morals do address all laws.
You are incorrect, however, that things are just right or wrong. You state that just as 2+2=4, some things are just right. So would it be wrong for you to cut off someone’s hand? In our society, it would be. In some Islamic societies, it is still a punishment. How about owning slaves? Again, in our society it is wrong, but in other societies it is not only right, but highly sought as a sign of prosperity. Additionally, 2+2=4 is an absolute. It has always been that way and always will be that way, barring some bizarre twist in reality. Slavery, for example, has not been always a good thing. Look at our own country as an example. It was acceptable for a long time and then wasn’t. If right was always right, slavery would still exist. If right was always right, all nations would have the same laws and views on things. Interracial marriage was forbidden in this country for many years. If right and wrong were absolutes such as 2+2=4, it would still be illegal. Right and wrong evolve with mankind.
However, when you look back and compare what is deemed right and wrong throughout history and come up with examples such as I have shown, if you compare them to what the Bible tells you is right and wrong, you see that we correct our errors as we go. The right and wrong in what Christ taught us is pretty universally accepted as right and wrong.

MrGrimm888's avatar

@seawulf575 . I’m afraid I don’t like your riot analogy. I agree with you, that if the power goes down in a city for a long period, there will be civil unrest.

I think your confusing morality, with social standings though. When looting, and rioting are going on, it’s almost entirely impoverished people doing the “bad” stuff. The wealthy/rich shelter in place. The needy take advantage of their new ability to acquire things they otherwise couldn’t. I don’t think morality is a variable to them.

Think of NO, during the fall out of Katrina. People were stealing, mainly to survive. Yes. There were some gangs taking advantage of the lack of police, but they were very much a minority.

seawulf575's avatar

@MrGrimm888 I don’t agree. Human nature is what it is. The only reason you don’t see the rich out there during rough times is because they have more on hand to get by for awhile. Or to get out of Dodge. If you stuck the rich in place long enough, they would degrade as much as the poor. Think about it. You used NO as an example. Did you see any rich people helping? And NO is kind of a weird example. Kinda hard to have mass looting and attacks on the weak when there are 130 mph winds and 3’ of water in the streets. But I found this article about an eyewitness to the happenings inside the Superdome. Remember, this is a place where these people were being given shelter and help. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than being in the flooded streets.

Rapes, murders, gangs….it all happened within 3 days and it didn’t improve as time went by. Of we all knew what was right and wrong, that would not have happened.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It bothers me that you’re taking the actions of a very, very small minority of people and using that to say, “This is how everyone behaves if they get a chance, or they don’t have God.” 200 people out of a city of how many million, rioted.

seawulf575's avatar

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it was such a small minority. If you read the article I cited, you will see that these visitors to NO were in actual danger by Day 3. Just walking to another area they were threatened and had stuff thrown at them. For no offense whatsoever. Given enough leeway, many people would follow suit. We have seen it enough in the past year and a half. Look at the Charlotte riots, look at Ferguson MO. Lawlessness happens in times of stress. There are others that deal with it better, but in time, most people will succumb to violent and/or lawless tendencies.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hey, I’ve been in a riot. And there are those who participated gleefully. There were those who actually had a great time. I didn’t, and most of the people got out of the park before the rioting started so the MAJORITY did not riot. The majority got out.
And I disagree. How does China maintain civility without a belief in God? Or India? You can only, really speak for yourself. You know, deep down, what you are capable of. You’re the only one who knows what is really in your heart.
You don’t know my heart.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Well. There are different types of rioting…

MrGrimm888's avatar


You’vegot your mad riots. Civilians angry about something, so they’re turning over police cars, and setting fires.

Then there’s your disaster riot. This is mainly looting, not destruction.

There are fight riots. This is where a fight breaks out, and turns into the whole crowd fighting…

Don’t forget “Pussy Riot.” Quiet Riot…

Lot’s of riots.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think all riots devolve in to the same kind of riot. As I noted above, there are people, mainly younger males, who get a serious testosterone rush from rioting.

MrGrimm888's avatar

To an extent, I agree. They all turn into the same fire. But they start differently.

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