This month's topic is in two parts:
1. Can You Be Good Without God? Can morality be independent of God? Can people who don’t believe in God still be as "good" as those who do? What governs your own decisions about whether and how to act ethically? (show more . . . )
A writer for a New York Times
blog about philosophy argues that being an atheist does not mean "anything goes" — in fact, quite the opposite. What do you think?
In "Good Minus God," Louise M. Antony writes:
I gather that many people believe that atheism implies nihilism — that rejecting God means rejecting morality. A person who denies God, they reason, must be, if not actively evil, at least indifferent to considerations of right and wrong ...
It is only if morality is independent of God that we can make moral sense out of religious worship. It is only if morality is independent of God that any person can have a moral basis for adhering to God’s commands. Let me explain why. First let’s take a cold hard look at the consequences of pinning morality to the existence of God. Consider the following moral judgements — judgements that seem to me to be obviously true:
It is wrong to drive people from their homes or to kill them because you want their land.
It is wrong to enslave people.
It is wrong to torture prisoners of war.
Anyone who witnesses genocide, or enslavement, or torture, is morally required to try to stop it.
To say that morality depends on the existence of God is to say that none of these specific moral judgements is true unless God exists. That seems to me to be a remarkable claim. If God turned out not to exist — then slavery would be O.K.? There’d be nothing wrong with torture? The pain of another human being would mean nothing?
Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. It is to say that the historical connections we value, the traits of character and personality that we love — all count for nothing in themselves.
How do you feel about this after reading Ms. Antony’s post. Where does morality come from? What guides your thinking about how to act? Do you choose to act morally mostly because of the promise of reward or the threat of punishment — from God or from some other authority? Do you agree that, contrary to what some believe, living your life ethically is even more important if you are an atheist, since if you do something morally reprehensible there is no God to forgive you, and the only value your life has is the choices you make?
Here's an opposing viewpoint: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/louise-antonys-three-fallacies-about-god-and-goodness/
2. Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations? How far do you think responsibility extends for leaders like Stephen Harper or the leader of the Senate. (show more . . . )
Do they generally have a moral obligation to take action in situations that do not necessarily fall under their specific authority. Is that too high of a standard or does leadership carry with it higher responsibilities?
Do you see similarities to the sexual molestation scandals in the Roman Catholic Church? Is it wrong to choose protecting an institution’s reputation over intervening to stop wrongdoing by some of its members, or is the greater good sometimes more important?
3. For the sake of the above discussions, we use the terms morals and ethics to be essentially equivalent, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary. (show more . . . )
Comment from our Webmonkey: It is all too easy for a discussion to get sidetracked debating semantics, and often for good reason, especially among the highly intelligent. Some will argue the terms morals
refer to somewhat different concepts and are not interchangeable, but I know of no authoritative source for such a distinction. In our discussions above, we will assume the terms can be used interchangeably and refer to principles of right and wrong behaviour.
See for example:
For more details, see http://www.bcimensa.com/discussion/
(Click image to see larger image.)