Thursday, December 20, 2012

Morality, God, and Knowing What to Do

So, here you are. You believe that a god exists. You believe that objective morality is not possible without god.

How do you determine what is objectively right and wrong?

Yesterday, I wrote two stories. In one story, I wrote of a god who says "Love is love" and views homosexual love as equal to heterosexual love. The other was of a god that views reason as his greatest gift to humanity and faith as the rejecting that risk and in doing so, rejecting God.

Other people tell stories of a god that commands killing any young woman who is caught talking to a man, the slaughter of apostates, the slaughter of anybody who questions their claims about what God wants. Some say that god demands the execution of certain wrongdoers, and some say that god prohibits all killing. Some say blood transfusions are evil, others condemn cloning. Some say life begins at conception, others say the fetus as no soul until quickening.

All of these stories - in fact all similar stories that one can imagine - are consistent with, "There is a god, and objective morality would not exist without a god."

Even desirism, the moral theory I apply in these blog postings, is consistent with that view. There is a god. God is required for objective morality. Desirism accurately describes the objective morality the this god built into the world.

Now, how are you going to determine what is objectively right and wrong? How are you going to determine if your own actions are consistent with the objective morality god created, or a violation of that morality?

You could appeal to scripture.

Which scripture? There are a lot of scriptures out there. How do you know that yours is the right one.

Which interpretation of scripture? Even people who point to the same scripture disagree over what it says - what it commands. Does your interpretation capture what is really right or wrong? Or are you seeing a commandment to do that which objective morality forbids or to refrain from doing what objective morality requires?

It is the very essence of objectivity that where two people disagree, one must be wrong. There is no sense to the claim, "A person's religion gives them an objective morality." The only sensible claim to be made is, "A person's religion give them THE objective morality." However, where those "objective" moralities say different things, at least some of them must be mistaken.

We must also add the complication that, at some level of specificity, everybody's interpretation of scripture is unique. Nobody on the planet has exactly the same interpretation as anybody else.

This implies that at most one person in all of human history - at most one and almost certainly not even that - has the correct interpretation of scripture. And even this ignores the fact that a person's interpretation will change over time.

It seems quite arrogant for any person to claim, "At most one person in all of human history will have the correct interpretation of scripture, and that one person is me."

Is it objectively good to be that arrogant? Isn't a little humility a good thing?

So, where is your objective god-given morality and how do you know when you have found it?

Chances are, you have been warned about me - about the person who may temp you to question and to doubt. You have been told to ignore questions and doubt.

Are these truly virtues? Or are these vices you have been convinced to adopt by people who want your unquestioning economic, political, and social support. These religious leaders have a lot to lose if people go astray - if people quit contributing money and political and social power to them. It is only natural for them to fear the possibility of you questioning their word - questioning the claims that always end in a call to contribute money or power to them. But are they giving you a virtue? Or are they giving you a useful vice - useful to them?

Belief that there is a god, and that god is necessary for objective morality to exist, does not help a person one bit in determining what to do. It does not answer any real-world moral questions. When it comes to answering the question of what to do, the theist and the atheist are on equal ground.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Emptiness of Morality Dependent on God

"God is necessary for objective morality to exist" tells us nothing about what is objectively moral or immoral.

Many who defend the proposition of a god's necessity often jump jump from it to some desired conclusion such as, "Therefore, all homosexuals must be put to death," or "It is obligatory to kill any young woman caught talking to a man" or "The government may force the people to support - directly and indirectly - any church (and, in this way, any priest) that has the government's favor."

Yet, there is no moral conclusion that actually follows straight from the premises that a god exists and that without god there can be no objective morality.

In this, theism and atheism stand on equal grounds. The one difference is that most atheists are aware of the fact that "The proposition that a god exists is certainly or almost certainly false" says nothing about what (if anything) is objectively right or wrong. Whereas many theists make the entirely unjustified leap from, "God exists and a makes objective morality possible" to conclusions like "it is objectively obligatory to do X and objectively prohibited to do Y."

Let me illustrate this point with a story.

Let's pretend there is a god. His name is "God". God created humans, and God makes objective morality possible. In making humans he created our reproductive system. He knew that the system was one that would cause some males to acquire an attraction for other males and some females to love other females. However, God shrugged his shoulders and said, "Love is love. I don't need to fix this - it is not broken."

Yet, some humans did not share in God's unconditional love. They viewed "different" as "evil". When they encountered those who were different from themselves, they found themselves filled with hate and loathing. Driven by this passion, they sought to rid the world of those they hated. To give the devil's policy an appearance of legitimacy, they began to preach that God was on their side - that God viewed homosexuality as an abomination - and that they served God by ridding the world of this evil. It is not that they lied - they believed these things themselves. They held, "That which I loathe and hate, God must loathe and hate, because my hate certainly comes from God."

God could have corrected them. However, God said unto himself, "I have given them brains with which to reason and free will with which to decide who and what to believe. If they choose to believe that I would hate those who love, and love those who hate, then they truly sin against me. Their attitudes are not only wrong but objectively wrong, for I have made them so. I will not overrule their freedom to choose. However, when the day of judgment comes, I will give them what they deserve for what they have freely chosen to believe."

I hold that this is just a story. However, this story illustrates a point. One can believe that a god exists. One can believe that without a god there can be no objective morality. However, one still has to figure out what is objectively moral.

And how is one going to do that?

Let me add another story.

When God created humans, God gave to us the gift of reason. He considered this his greatest gift.

However, soon after creation, sin entered the world. False prophets started to mock reason and evidence. These false prophets told their followers to abandon such things - to turn their back on God's gift and hold those gifts in contempt. In its place, they elevated unreasoned faith as a virtue - belief without evidence, thought without reason. By promoting faith over reason, they found that they could claim to speak for God and to toss aside all questions. They found that they could get people to serve them, while still thinking they serve a god, because they have abandoned reason and evidence.

False beliefs flooded the world. People paid for their sins by suffering floods and famines and disease that reason could have prevented - that are prevented in those areas where reason does rule.

God could have told them of their error. However, God said to himself, "I have given them reason and the ability to figure these things out for themselves. If I tell them the answer, rather than having them reason it out for themselves, then I will be dishonoring my most valuable gift."

Now, when the faith monger dies and stands at the gates of heaven, he looks inside and sees the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawkins, Carl Sagan. Yet, he is told he may not enter. "These people put my greatest gift to work understanding the world I created. They unlocked its secrets and taught their understanding to others. And though they may have gotten some answers wrong - as mere mortals are prone to do - they always spoke honestly about the possibility of error. They spoke about how future evidence may prove them wrong - something that those who abandon evidence can never say. They honored and respected my greatest gift. Whereas you spent you life holding my greatest gift in contempt, and spreading this evil around the world with you preaching. And with it you spread disease, famine, and war. You were right to say that objective morality comes from God. But you failed to realize that promoting faith over reason is - objectively - the greatest sin."

Go ahead and believe that a god exists. Go ahead and believe that without a god there can be no objective morality. That will tell you nothing - not one solitary thing - about what is and what is not objectively right or wrong.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Morality and God: The Effect of Tribal Chauvinism

On the relationship between god and morality, I described two views consistent with the proposition that there can be no morality without god.

One could adopt the view that this is like saying, "There can be no trees without god." While somebody can believe this, the belief is consistent with the view that a person does not need to believe in a god to know the height, mass, and age of a tree. These properties are truly objective - available to anyone regardless of their beliefs about what is necessary for their existence.

However, many theists do not adopt this view. They adopt an alterntive view that holds that a belief in and acceptance of god is necessary to be properly aware of moral properties. While they do not argue about the need to convert people in order to make them aware of the height, mass, and age of trees, it is supposedly necessary to convert people to make them properly aware of the moral properties of rape, murder, and theft.

Why is there this difference?

This difference is made more questionable by the fact that it is not the case that an atheist views all arrangements of matter and energy as qualitatively identical. Atheists can feal pain. The experience of pain does not require a belief in god - just like the experience of height, mass, and age. This shows beyond any reasonable doubt that it is not the case that whatever "value" is, it is not knowable only by those who believe in a god.

Yet, in spite of these obvious facts, we are still hold that a person must be converted to a particular religion to be properly aware of moral properties - even though, at the same time, we are told that they are objective and real.

Again, what motivates people to adopt this view rather than its alternatives?

The widespread acceptance of this view is easy to explain by appeal to a common human phenomenon of tribal chauvinism - a human disposition to want to see members of one's own tribe (including oneself) as morally superior to others. It feels good to think that "we" are better than "them". What feels good is mistaken for what feels right or feels true. Logic and evidence are cast aside in favor of the feel-good belief in tribal superiority.

This is a common phenomenon. We routinely see tribes adopting beliefs in the absence of reason or evidence whereby they hold members of a competing tribe as beneath them. Slavery was justified on the cherished beliefs that blacks were a child-like species better off in the household of a paternal slave master who exchanged his care and provision for their needs for a few hours of labor in the field. It can be found in the examples of "separate but equal" where provisions for "whites" and "negroes" sat side by side - separate and definitely not equal. Women were denied the right to vote and treated as property in part by the widespread belief that they were too emotional to make rational decisions. They, too, required the care of paternalistic figures who looked after their welfare and had a right to command absolute obedience, as if they were young children.

These were not simple mistakes. They were mistakes that served a political and social end. The lack of evidence or reason to support them was ignored because they "felt true" - and they "felt true" because they supported the conclusion that the members of the tribe that adopted them were superior to the others they imposed their will upon.

It would be a mistake to think that atheists are immune to tribal chauvinism. It is a part of our human nature.

As an example, there is a popular quote among atheists from Stephen Weinberg that says:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

It ignores the very conspicuous observation that an atheist can adopt a secular philosophy - such as Ayn Rand objectivism, Marxism, or Social Darwinism - that is just as prone to cause "good people" to do bad things as any religion. It ignores the fact that nothing that we find in religion was put there by God. Everything we find in religion was put their by humans with no divine guidance at all. It represents what people are inclined to believe in the absence of evidence. There is no evil that can be put into a religion that cannot be put into a secular philosophy that makes no reference to a god, if people want to see it there.

The tribal chauvinist is not after truth supported by reason and evidence. He is after a belief that allows him to claim the moral superiority of his tribe - regardless of reason or evidence. The atheist tribe is no different.

However, the fact that this is a human problem and not a "religion" problem does not change the fact that it is a problem. It may be a part of our nature - but it is a part of our nature that is responsible for great injustices and harm. It is a part of our nature that we are well advised to battle against when it appears in the atheist community as much as when it appears in religious doctrine. That a certain type of behavior can be explained does not imply that it is behavior that can be excused.

We have here, in the widely expressed version of the view that morality requires a god, a view motivated by tribal chauvinism that allows one tribe to view itself as morally superior to - "above" - another, and thus holding greater entitlement to the opportunities and benefits of civilized society. The view is not supported by any type of reason or evidence. It's supported by the "good feeling" of prejudice and bigotry - and as such it justifies nothing.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Morality and God: The Unimportant Question - An Alternative Perspective

In this post, I am going to shine another light on the question of how morality is grounded on god is an unimportant question from another direction.

I have received comments from a few Christians who have suggested that Desirism (the moral theory I advance in this blog) is simply a statement of Christian ethics.

Desirism holds that the right act is the act that a person with good desires would perform - and good desires are those that tend to result in the fulfillment of other desires.

These Christian commentators have reported that they find this similar to the Christian slogan for a right act - by asking "What would Jesus do?" Here too, they say, the right act is the act that a person with good desires would have performed, and good desires are those that help to fulfill the desires of others. It means providing food, clothing, and medical care, and refraining from doing harm.

When we get into details, there are a lot of potentials for problems with this analogy. What happens if desirism turns out to support a moral conclusion that scripture does not support? Are we going to conclude that scripture on this matter was wrong? Will this disprove the claim that desirism and "What would Jesus do?" are two ways of saying the same thing? Or are we going to begin with the assumption that this is impossible and bend the evidence or bend the interpretation of scripture as far as is needed to get the two to be the same?

Yet, these details are not relevant to the main point. There is no necessary incoherence in principle between the claim that God created a universe with objective morality in it, and that objective morality takes the form of relationships between malleable desires that can be altered through praise and condemnation and other desires.

This type of relationship has been asserted not only for desirism, but for other moral theories as well.

Some have argued that Jesus was a Utilitarian, and that Christianity demands that one act so as to promote the greatest good for the greatest number.

There have been those who have equated Christianity with Kantian deontology - the principle that one should act in all things so as to treat others as an end, and not always as a means. Yet, Kant's defense of his theory does not require that a person be Christian to agree with it. One can be an atheist and still hold that this Kantian theory is true.

In each of these cases, the theist and the Christian (in these cases) can agree on the details of morality and on the conclusions these theories defend, while they disagree on whether these properties emerged through natural process or were built into the world as it is by a creator.

The answer to the question, "Did these properties emerge naturally or were they put into the universe by a creator" becomes the unimportant question - because "these properties" are the same properties regardless of how this question is answered. This is true in the same way that the height, mass, and age of the tree remains the same, regardless of whether the tree came about through a process of evolution or designed by a god.

When a person says, "Objective morality (e.g., the objective wrongness of rape) could not exist without God," my reaction is to shrug and say, "Fine. You also agree that trees could not exist without God. I think you're wrong. Either way, the objective wrongness of rape is as real as the height, mass, and age of a gree, and we can go from there."

The mistake is in thinking that "Objective morality could not exist without God" says something important.

However, it is a mistake with significant bad consequences - and that deserves some of our attention.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Morality and God: Phrasing the Relationship

I am altering my agenda slightly to handle a pair of alternative phrasings to the relationship between god and morality mentioned by members of the studio audience.

They concern the claim I defended that the question of whether morality is founded on God is not an important question - at least when it comes to questions of what is actually right or wrong.

I compared the question of the foundation of morality to the question of the origin of life when handling questions about the properties or a tree. The person who believes that life evolved and the person who believes that life was created can continue to disagree, but their disagreement has no relevance to the height, mass, and chemical composition of the tree. Similarly, the person who believes that morality is an emergent property of matter and the person who believes that moral value was assigned to things by a deity can continue to disagree, but their disagreement has no relevance to the wrongness of rape.

One of the two alternative phrasings brought up in discussion holds that the relationship between god and morality is important because, without God morality is subjective. Without god, one person's opinion is no better than any other. God is the only way for moral value to be objective.

There are actually two claims embedded in this assertion.

The first of these claims says that without a god, moral claims must be subjective - merely a matter of opinion.

However, this is no more true then the claim that, without a god, statements about the height, mass, and age of the tree must be subjective - that one opinion is as good as any other.

Note that to raise this objection I do not need to actually demonstrate that morality is, in fact, objective in the same way that statements about the height, mass, and age of trees are objective. I only need to demonstrate the possibility of a type of claim that can be objective even while denying the existence of a god. If somebody were to claim, "Either the sky is clear, or it is snowing," I do not need to prove that it is actually raining to prove that it their claim is false. I only need to demonstrate that there is an option other than, "clear skies" and "snow". There is the option other than "objective from god" or "subjective". Claims about the height, mass, and age of a tree are examples of this class of statements.

At this point, one might say that the relationship between god and trees/morality is important because without god there would be no trees/morality. However, this is precisely the claim we do not need to agree on to share knowledge about the height, mass, and age of a tree or the wrongness of rape.

This leads to the claim that moral statements are a different type of claim than claims about the height, mass, and age of a tree. With this claim, it is granted that we can know the height, mass, and age of the tree without referencing a god. However, we cannot know about the wrongness of rape without reference to a god.

Here is where I apply the question, "Can a person experience pain without reference to a god?" When I talk about the experience of pain I am including in this the idea that it is something awful - something the person has reason to avoid - something that directs him to act so as to avoid pain.

Clearly, it is the case that a person making no reference to god can hold that certain arrangements of matter and energy are to be avoided, and be motivated to act in ways to avoid those arrangements, without making any reference to god. In avoiding those particular arrangements of matter, they have reason to set up social institutions that will make those arrangements worth avoiding less likely. This not only includes arrangements of matter identified as "being in pain", but those that would be identified as "being murdered", "being raped", "being ripped off", "being lied to", "being enslaved", "being hungry", "being sick". It also includes having reason to prevent these things from happening to those one has an emotional attachment to, and creating a social culture filled with people who are not only adverse to doing these things, but are willing to act so as to prevent these things from happening to themselves and others.

None of this requires a reference to any type of deity.

One can believe that, without a god pain would not exist - that the horribleness of pain (or rape) was put in it be a god. However, that horribleness is there. To the person in pain, it does not really matter if its horribleness was put there by a loving deity or it is an emergent property of nature. None of that changes how badly it hurts or the motivating reasons the agent has to avoid it - and to set up institutions that will make "being in pain" less likely.

These alternative phrasings ultimately reduce to the types of phrases I have already examined. "God is necessary for trees/morality to exist" is the "unimportant question" - the claim we need not accept or reject to know the height of a tree or the wrongness of rape.

"A reference to god is necessary in order to recognize a qualitative difference between different arrangements of matter and energy" is simply false - as the capacity to feel pain - and the capacity to know which social institutions will make the experience of pain less likely - proves to be false.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Morality and God: The Importance of BELIEF in God

On this series, I am attempting to put various ideas on the relationship between morality and god in one convenient location.

I am writing this series in the backdrop of the article, The Plausibility of Grounding Moral VAlues In God

Yesterday, I wrote that, at a basic level, the relationship between morality and god does not matter. If moral properties are real - like trees and atoms are real - then the atheist and the theist can equally recognize the wrongness of rape just as they can discuss recognize and discuss the properties of trees and atoms.

However, a lot of people who hold that morality is dependent on god do not view moral properties as real in the way trees and atoms are real. One of us can believe that trees could not have come into existence without a designer and that matter could not come into existence without a first cause - while the other denies these claims - yet we can agree on the height of the tree and the chemical composition of its bark. In contrast, the view being examined here holds that one cannot be properly aware of the wrongness of rape - or have a reason to avoid any particular arrangement of matter - without a belief in god.

This is absurd.

The absurdity of holding that a belief in god is necessary to perceive that a state is worth avoiding is demonstrated by the absurdity of holding that a belief in god is necessary to feel pain.

One would think, in listening to those who hold this view, that an atheist can put his hand in a bed of hot coals without feeling any discomfort. After all, the only thing that happens when a person sticks his hand in a bed of hot coals is that the atoms in one's hand change their arrangement. Some molecular bonds are broken and new ones are formed. Some chemicals escape from the end of one neuron and attach themselves to the end of a nearby neuron. There is nothing in this for the atheist to perceive as bad or worth avoiding.

In the article cited above, this attitude is captured in:

2) Everything in the universe is fundamentally the same stuff (quarks & waves)

3) Therefore, nothing in the universe is qualitatively different from something else, and therefore does not lay claim to valuing anything more than anything else.

Everything involved in the burning of one's hand is "fundamentally the same stuff" - various arrangements of quarks and waves. Therefore, according to this argument, there is no reason for the atheist to favor the state in which his hand is not being burned in a bed of hot coals over a state in which it is being burned. The atheist should be indifferent among these two states.

Please recall that I am writing this in the context of contrasting two views of the relationship between value and a deity. There is the "it really does not matter" view where two people disagree on the origins of something but agree on its current real-world properties. This is contrasted with, "It matters because a belief in a diety is necessary to know of the badness of things" view.

The person holding the first view can say, "Yes, atheists can feel pain and recognize an interest in avoiding it - though a god is necessary to have assigned this badness to pain." This view holds that the reason to avoid pain could not have emerged in nature - but acknowledges that it is as real as trees and atoms.

It's the person who holds the second view of the relationship between value and morality - who holds that an awareness of a deity is necessary to feel pain and to have a reason to avoid putting one's hand in a bed of hot coals - who crashes into this absurdity.

Where we allow that an atheist has the capacity to feel pain and sees a reason to avoid pain, we see that atheist also has reason to organize his environment in ways that reduce the odds of being burned. Or, more generally, he has reason to arrange his environment in ways in which he is less likely to put in a state of experience pain.

For example, he has reason to see to it that his house is wired in such a way that it will not catch fire and trap him inside and he has reason - with the other members of his community who also wish to avoid being burned - to support a fire department of skilled professionals who can and will respond quickly to a report if a fire and rescue those at risk.

He also has a reason to join with his neighbors to support a culture - to support institutions and practices - that will cause people (himself and others) to be reluctant to do things that would cause pain.

Furthermore, the standards for a good electrician, a good firefighter, and a good neighbor, and good institutions and practices are not arbitrary.

It is not a matter of opinion that the electrician willing to pass a heavy current through a thin wire, or who refuses to hook up circuit breakers, is just as good as the electrician who uses thicker gauge wires and circuit breakers.

Similarly, the neighbor who enjoys setting houses on fire, or who is careless with fire on his own property such that the fire may spread, or who is careless with fire while visiting - tossing a lit cigarette behind the couch, for example - is as good a neighbor as the responsible neighbor who makes the possibility of fire less likely.

Finally, you cannot draw any odd set of institutions out of a hat and claim that they are just as good as any other. They may not, in fact, be just as good at creating an environment that reduces the chance that one avoids pain or other unpleasantries - hunger, thirst, enslavement.

Everything said here about good neighbors and institutions and the interest in avoiding pain also applies to good neighbors and the interests in avoiding murder, rape, theft, lying, fraud, enslavement. It also applies to the relationship between neighbors and institutions and the practice of charity, civil defense, community education, and the creation of a clean and healthy environment.

All of this follows from the atheist's ability to recognize that a state in which one's hand is being burned - and similar kinds of states (hunter, depravation, enslavement) - is one that the agent has a reason to avoid.

I will draw the connection between these basic interests and moral institutions more clearly in future posts. For the moment, everything I need to say is sufficiently grounded on the fact that atheists can experience pain. This demonstrates that it is possible to hold that different arrangements of atoms can be qualitatively different without believing in a god. We can disagree how this is is possible - just as we can disagree as to the origin of matter and of life. However, that these qualitative differences exist is a fact that the atheist has no trouble recognizing.

Any view that holds that atheists would be incapable of perceiving or responding to qualitative differences among the arrangement of atoms is patently false.

Yet, this easily disproved view is held by a great many people. Why is this the case?

Whenever people hold to a view that is easily demonstrated to be false, we have reason to ask what it is that blinds them to the problems with this view and makes the falsehood attractive to them. The answer to this question has a lot to say about the perceived relationship between morality and god. I will address this question tomorrow.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Morality and God: Is This an Important Question?

A member of the studio audience asked me to discuss the relationship between god and morality - specifically in the context of this article:

The Plausibility of Grounding Morality on God

There are a lot of different facets to this question. I have answers discussing many of those facets scattered through this blog. Here, I wish to bring those facets together into a more complete set (and then transfer that answer to the Desirism wiki).

The first question to ask is: "Does it matter?" There is reason to believe that whether moral value is grounded on God or not just does not matter - and we can move on to discuss what does matter.

Let me explain how the grounding of morality might not matter.

In the front lawn of my yard, there is a tree. My neighbor and I might have a fundamental disagreement about the source of trees.

On my understanding, about 3,900,000,000 years ago a bunch of atoms came together in a way that was self replicating. The molecular structure was one that attracted other atoms that bonded to it in a way that created a replica of itself that, then, disconnected and floated away.

However, this method did not create perfect copies. In almost all cases when an error occurred the new strand was unstable and broke apart. However, every once in a while, a new strand was stable enough to replicate its new structure. Some new structures were stable at higher temperatures or in saltier water, some replicated better in sunlight. Some were able to disassemble other strands it encountered and used their materials to make more copies of itself. After 4 billion years of progressively more complex strands coming into existence, a tree sits in my front yard.

My neighbor thinks that this story is utterly improbable. He holds that the complex replicating strands that make up the tree in my yard could not have emerged through natural processes. It takes the effort of a powerful intelligence to manufacture these DNA threads - knowing in advance that a particular number and ordering when planted in nature would result in trees and aiming for that result as he worked.

At one level, it does not matter which story is correct. In spite of this disagreement, we are both capable of standing in my yard and seeing the same tree. We can agree as to its height and the circumference of its trunk, how much it would weigh if it were cut down, the shape of its leaves, its chemical composition, and the effect of chopping it into pieces and puts them in a fireplace on a bed of hot coals.

Nobody - at least so far as I know - is willing to argue, Trees come from God. You do not believe in God. Therefore, you must not be able to perceive of any trees. You cannot say anything about trees unless you admit that a god exists. In fact, we cannot even trust you to drive - because you at risk of running into trees whose existence you cannot acknowledge. (This, of course, is comparable to the bigotry that holds that one cannot be trusted to hold public office unless one believes in God.)

This is an absurdity, of course.

What is true of trees can also be true of the wrongness of rape (for example). My neighbor and I can agree that the wrongness of rape is just as real as the tree in my front yard. I hold that the wrongness of rape comes from the reasons for action that exist for people generally to use the social tools of reward (including praise) and punishment (including condemnation) to promote in others an aversion to rape and a hostility to those who commit rape. My neighbor holds that its wrongness must come from God because nothing of the type can emerge in nature without the help of an intelligence. Yet, our disagreement as to the origins of rape does not imply that we must disagree about its properties or the very real reasons that people have to condemn it and punish those who commit rape.

There certainly is no justification for the conclusion, "If you do not believe in God you cannot be trusted to do the right thing," any more than "If you do not believe in God then you cannot be trusted to drive a car without running into a tree."

We see that, at this level, the question of whether morality is grounded on God or emerges as a property of natural elements organizing themselves into certain forms simply is not important. We can set it aside for casual discussion when we have nothing better to do and spend our productive time solving real problems instead.

Unfortunately, people do not leave the question at this level. They stick a bunch of other stuff to this claim that yield, in some cases, tragic results. They draw inferences that, "Because it is impossible for morality to exist without God, all homosexuals must be killed" or "Because morality depends on God those who do not believe in God must be barred from public office."

Consequently, there is more that is to be said on this issue.

In my next posting, I will address the tendency to view lack of a belief in God with immorality.