Thoughts on the Source of Morality

May 4th, 2009, 08:14 am

[info]mecurtin posted part of a discussion happening elsewhere, where she argues:

Given that there are *in fact* virtuous atheists and agnostics, religious belief *must not* be required for virtue. That’s what “sine qua non” means. The existence of moral atheists disproves the thesis that religious belief is necessary for a moral compass. Rod has acknowledged the observable *fact* that moral atheists exist — you cannot go on to argue that belief in God must be necessary for moral behavior.
Given that there are *in fact* virtuous atheists and agnostics, religious belief *must not* be required for virtue. That’s what “sine qua non” means. The existence of moral atheists disproves the thesis that religious belief is necessary for a moral compass. Rod has acknowledged the observable *fact* that moral atheists exist — you cannot go on to argue that belief in God must be necessary for moral behavior.

 

I would personally argue, as I have before, that morality is trained into the individual before knowledge of a divinity is transferred to that individual.

The infant’s very first interactions with Society comes through her primary caregiver – mother, wetnurse, adoptive primary caregiver, the Giver Of Milk. Infants primarily learn at that point ask, and it shall be given unto you, although some must learn ask and demand as you will, it will do you no good: your needs will not be met on time.

Infants also learn Cry injustice and dismay, and you shall be comforted – again, with the above caveat. I shall ask you to take that as read, from here on in.

These are the very roots of moral behavior. Please note the extreme lack of an invisible deity, and the lack of fear of the caregiver which is going on here.

The next roots also occur in the absence of deity: Things still exist even when you cannot see them, and don’t hit/don’t bite.

The final two roots occur in the presence of the understanding of language, although not necessarily in the presence of the use of language: share your belongings even when you would rather not, and when you have a fight, you can go back to being friends afterward.

Those are the roots on which all other moral behavior is based. They all are trained into the human (or fail to be so trained) before language, and therefor the concept of deity, is available to her.

The book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum argues this same issue, as I understand it, although it comes in at a later point in the child’s development: behaving well is a cornerstone, a necessary foundation, to having a society in which children survive. These are things that our cousins the apes and the chimpanzees learn from their mothers and their kin-groups; and no one has yet argued that these are rooted in a religious system there.

In fact, I would argue that the thesis that a Deity is necessary to moral behavior is evidence that the one posing it does not have a sound moral compass of her or his own.

Tuppence in the change bowl.

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