Why I changed my mind


It “seems obvious.” Based on what? How are you coming to the conclusion that something is “good” or “not good”? I mean, you’ve given some specific examples of what you think is “good” or “not good,” but you have yet to say why–on what basis are you making that distinction?


Do I need to explain why saving a child from a life threatening infection is good? Ok.

It is immoral to allow fellow human beings to needlessly suffer and die when you can stop that suffering with very little cost to yourself. I thought this would be kind of obvious, but I am more than happy to describe how morality works.


No need for condescension. Take it a level deeper. Why is this immoral?

Just “saying that it is” does not make it so…

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #384

Based on reason? I am pro reason. If I propose something that is evil, lets reason about. Lets not resort to edicts written for us by ancient humans who may have been hallucinating. Maybe they didn’t realize that fasting in the desert climate for days and weeks is not necessarily a good thing for one’s health, including mental health.

Faith is the least reliable way to know whether something is true or right, because by faith, one can accept anything as true or right.

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #385

Why the double standard? If your “God” said it, it would make it so, no? Although, this God never says anything. He needs ancient humans to do his job for him, apparently.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #386

So … we have faith because we accept the authority of a significant body of people through history many of whom we think were led by God in their lives and teachings.

… but you have no faith because you have declared yourself (along with your own close cohorts) the only authority, such as it is, on what is “obviously” moral? Are you listening to yourself? Nor will you be rescued by claiming that “logic or reason or science” are your authority. None of those things get you remotely close to the moral convictions that you have rightly clung to. That will be evidenced by your continued failure to answer fmiddel’s question about how it is that you can declare other cultures or countries (like WW2 Germany) to be in the wrong. All you’ve got is that you don’t like it (which has no roots in any science or logic or reason --we’re still waiting for you to produce it to show us wrong).

I can understand – yes. But I also see that you failed to take on board the full implication of what I said because you tried to relegate it back to a literal understanding, thinking that war (with bombs and guns) is the only context for might. I’m afraid you don’t get off that easily, and my challenge to you still stands unanswered. “Might” also means cultural dominance. The strong memes that flourish and spread throughout a culture displacing less popular ones are also an example of imperialistic might. And you have yet to explain how your idea of morality is anything more than a simplistic endorsement of whatever powers there are that currently dominate (or will come to dominate) our culture.

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #387

Actually, I disagree with your assertion that I cannot declare WW2 Germany in the wrong. It is a Christian who has to have a double standard of holding their God in the highest regard when it comes to questions of morality WHILE at the same time, believing that the same God burns up many more humans throughout all history (in best case) and tortures them forever and ever and ever in the worst case!

Christian morality is basically… “X” is wrong, unless God says one should do it.

Old Testament morality is basically a modern Taliban. But you cannot call this wrong, because you believe God is the ultimate goodness. I will submit to you that our morality is essentially the same. The difference between me and you, is that you must deal with the difficulties of mental gymnastics of trying to paint atrocities of the Old Testament (and the New, such as Hell) as somehow good things. I don’t need to do so and call a spade a spade.

How can you call a mother’s actions morally wrong when she is killing her child in our day and age, because she hears God telling her to do so? IF your morality is based on the Bible, then you’d know that God himself (allegedly) did want Abram to kill his son Isaac! So the request is something he’d do!

Is it wrong for killing little kids in a war? Not if your Bible is a guide, because this is allegedly what your God ordered Israelites to do.

I can call the above actions morally wrong, but you, a morality-based-on-the-Bible follower cannot make the same judgment.


Who said anything about “edicts written for us by ancient humans”? You do know that C.S. Lewis wrote in the 20th century, right?

Everybody has faith in something (that is, an unprovable trust). Heck, you have faith in your own reason which, arguably, is the product of blind chance and natural selection. Unless, of course, you believe in God…

Um…what? Why do you persist on mischaracterizing my arguments?

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #389

Thanks for admitting your God’s morality is so bad, we need CS Lewis to the rescue. But CS Lewis is a man and what he says doesn’t make it so, just because he says so, according to you, no?

I am a firm believer that if you are criticizing someone’s position, you’d be better served you have a better alternative. Admittedly, it’s my opinion.

I prefer evidence. And there is a difference between trusting own reason, vs believing there are invisible universe creating pixies (or a variation of them, such as Gods, etc…). I’m sorry I can’t explain this even more clearly. There is one kind of a faith that believes a flight in an airplane will take me from LA to NY. It’s another kind of faith that believes stepping into a rusty old can will teleport you to a distant planet. Both are FAITH, but they are vastly different. And having faith in the former does not validate the latter.

(John Dalton) #390

Maybe I will now :slight_smile: I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about here. It’s true that perceptions of morality differ among cultures, and is a cultural construct in that sense. I still believe I have the ability to judge right and wrong however. Some issues, I might say “different cultures, different customs” (prize for identifying the movie this comes from :slight_smile: ). Some, I may well say “that’s wrong”. To an extent we’re talking about a possible basis for doing that. Language for example isn’t the same (Dutch is definitely wrong though :slight_smile: )

In this day and age of “no compromise”, it seems our brains have lost the capacity to see any nuance in the world. But our denial of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

People certainly get locked into their own cultural viewpoint, and none or few of us are exceptions I suppose. I probably have more experience in dealing with this than most, and a recognition of these realities has been helpful to me in navigating situations including a cross-cultural marriage. I’m not a relativist though; I don’t think I can be an arbiter of right and wrong, but I do believe that I can make moral assessments even about events in other cultures. Issues of harm/well-being give me pretty strong ground to stand on in making those assessments. In other areas, I am more likely to be accepting of difference.

Far be it from Anabaptist me to quibble with you on that point! But there are a lot of people (an overwhelming majority I think it’s safe to say) who do make generous allowances for when they think inflicted harm and even death may be morally warranted … self-defense / military actions, abortion, physical discipline / justice system (…even up to capital punishment), how to respond to playground bullies … probably more could be added.

Things can get complex, with a balance that has to be achieved between avoidance of harm and essential well-being. That’s the reality of our situation, and I believe many situations will prove to be morally complex no matter what your philosophy of morality is.

So culturally you may find you have little to no support for a “no harm under any circumstances” moral conviction.

Well, I’m not saying that. I don’t think such a conviction can be morally supported either. I do think harm is always to be avoided in a vacuum where no one else is being affected, as a guiding principle. Me (or you) being punched in the face for no cause is wrong, for example.

And if I follow your lead (that our wider culture is the only adjudicant for all things moral) then I would be forced to agree with them against you. Because whatever the majority says is right must be right.

I’m not saying that, definitely.

It seems you won’t acknowledge any basis for thinking otherwise. In any case, I think it’s also fair to say you could not have possibly “started” with any such conviction. You almost certainly started by importing a whole lot of other culturally/religiously-embedded premises that led you to that point before you could even think of advancing it as a sort of “moral starting ground”.

What’s the other basis? I’ve asked a couple of times but haven’t gotten a response. How does a supposed “objective morality” enable us to make moral assessments?

(GJDS) #391

This is truly fascinating; I have followed these discussions sporadically, so I am not addressing any particular point of view. I have pondered however, on distinctions in morality as such, that we may recognise between theists and atheists, and Christians in particular.

Christianity recognises (and should strive to practice) as basis for our morality from the 10 commandments and the sermon on the mount. When we delve into the Gospel, I am struck by the emphasis placed on attributes that Christians are admonished to grown into. This may be summarise as, the attributes of a Christian are synonymous with her/his actions, and these conform to the ten commandments. Our ability to live in this way is the goal of Christianity and thus our morality I think, @Mervin_Bitikofer and @John_Dalton may see as both subjective (attributes) and objectives (outcomes within a community.

From my understanding of atheists, they prefer to identify certain characteristics (eg empathy) and perhaps a combination of outcomes (eg do no harm); some may included notions of pressure/pain that are related to subjective preferences (eg homosexuality), and my impression (which I am open to correction) is that a human being may adopt any attributes he wishes - so that no authority is recognised re the human character; thus the objective/subjective distinction becomes blurred.

Perceptions within a cultural context such as that of the West become irrelevant as we are multicultural, subjected to enormous forces centred on material possession and self-worth based on such possessions, with philosophical/political outlooks that would polarise and confuse our much sought “common man”.

(John Dalton) #392

Cool, that’s an important distinction to my way of thinking.

but that’s different from saying there is (or we have access to) an “absolute answer to every such possible situation.” In fact, I would fear those who would claim such access.


That still leaves the deeper questions of why and how “harm” is a basis for universal or absolute morality… (as opposed to, "I just don’t like it). For example, is it because harm is an obvious and axiomatic negative outcome?

I think it can be a basis for making and assisting in certain moral assessments. It’s not a basis for a universal morality, but I think it is definitely a principle involved in all human moral systems, and something we’re hardwired to understand and be repelled by to an extent. It certainly can be a basis for us if we can agree on it. Don’t you? For arguments sake, if a higher universal morality could be shown not to exist, would you not see any problem with someone just up and punching someone, maybe you or me, in the face? Would the problem not be rooted in the harm the action causes?


We’re social animals and to be part of society, we have to get along with each other in many contexts. We have the ability to understand how our actions affect others to an extensive degree. With this understanding comes responsibility. I don’t think it can be avoided and it’s enough reason for me to attempt to be a moral person, and to expect the same of others.

Just to people? If I harm an animal is that okay? Is it okay if there is a legitimate reason, say, I need food?

We’re people. Other animals can’t share our understanding or bear responsibility and can’t be true members of our system. Also as you say, animals are our food to an extent–we have evolved with meat as part of our diet, and this is part of the reality of our natural world. I believe in our responsibility to treat animals humanely, but they’re not people. I guess that makes me “speciest” but there it is.

You could logically extend the concept of “harm” to the environment. I would agree that it is wrong to “harm” the environment but not to the extent that I wouldn’t live in a house in a suburb (that obviously “harms” the local environment).

Environmental problems harm people including future generations, and animals too.

Is “harm” of humans wrong because humans have innate value? That’s something I would say yes to, but it is not a given that humans have innate value. What makes that true?

I believe that human life has value. It’s a moral position for me. In natural terms, I don’t believe that the universe places any special value on us, or that there is any higher truth giving us value. The perception of our value comes from us, and it is our responsibility to maintain it–nothing else has it and nothing else is going to take it for us. That’s not exactly wonderful and even frightening, but I don’t see a way around it. I don’t blame people for finding that insufficient or believing in something more, but I don’t think that the desire for something more in itself, or even the feeling that it’s necessary, gives us insight that something more is there.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #393

There is much to agree with in your conclusion here at least. Your earlier caricatures of Christianity still leaves much to be desired, IMO; but there it is. I seem to be exchanging a lot of snark with you and I’ll take responsibility for my part in that.

I thank God that you value and exercise that ability! I have to forfeit any prize for naming the movie … I’ve got nothing there. :thinking:

Very true, that!

The basis on offer here is Christ and his teachings as written about in Scriptures and as practiced by his followers in the Spirit. But you do not accept that basis, or the basis of anything that goes by the name ‘religion’ obviously; so that would leave you without any basis at all, had you not smuggled in something through the back door and relabeled it as “anything but faith or religion”. --I think that’s kind of the point that @fmiddel and I have been hammering at. (In fairness, the ‘you’ above may be referring to @T_aquaticus or @SuperBigV – it’s a collective ‘you’ and I may be conflating your views together without sufficient nuance.)

Added edit: And also in fairness; it seems that @SuperBigV may have also shown a bit more conciliatory tone allowing that there could be some --albeit very limited-- faith. So my charge that you ‘relabel something as anything but faith’ may well be an unfair caricature now --I’ll acknowledge that; I even quoted it above first thing before I had written any of the rest of this, so I have no excuse. I had not yet fully taken it on board and was still reacting to our earlier modes of exchange.

The importance of that cannot be over-emphasized. Our western culture has much to repent of … thanks for that reminder.

Another good reminder for all of us. Well-spoken, John.

Agreed. Mindless collections of objects don’t value anything.

We’ll continue to disagree there. I hope you can understand why a lot of people are uncomfortable finding that the sole foundation for humanity’s value is only just your present opinion, as exemplary as that may be for now. Your children may come to feel differently than you do. And I see below, that you do understand this well. Not that such discomfort proves anything – I know that too.

Much agreed there! ‘Maintaining it’ is part of what you are witnessing being attempted here.

Very level-headed and conciliatory acknowledgments – thanks for your even-handed tones. We’ll disagree a bit on the last sentence as I still think our desire for such things can function at least as a pointer for us even if it falls well short of proof. So I do think the ‘insight’ may not be as non-existent as you think; but I respect your view as a skeptic about that. Thanks for keeping this conversation so civil. (Another moral value I think we all agree on here!)


I don’t know if there is a language barrier but it’s becoming clear that you are unwilling (or incapable) of actually following the conversation or train of thought.

A word of advice though…approaching the conversation with an attitude of ridicule actually says more about you than it does your target.

(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #395

If English is not your first language, then I would submit that you are doing a good job communicating.

Oh… you were saying that I’m the dummy who possibly can’t understand what you are saying? Or just doesn’t want to.

Great! Thanks for the advice about ridicule. Just a hunch, but it probably (if my English serves me right) applies to you as well. I may have a language barrier though, so who knows.

Look, if you had a moral book and if it taught us about good moral principles, perhaps then you’d have a point. But the Bible is little different from the Taliban or ISIS morality.

You want to marry a woman and she doesnt want you? Rape her and pay her father 50 shekels. She then can never divorce you.

Deut. (NASB) 22: 28 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

THIS is the morality Christians are arguing is the Universal moral truth and Atheists have nothing that universal that can be offered as an alternative. Again, if you had a better book, perhaps you’d have a strong argument then. But you have the Bible!


If you were sick and could be cured, you wouldn’t like it if someone denied you medication when it would be so easy for them to provide it. If you wouldn’t like it, then other people wouldn’t like it. That’s what makes it immoral.


I can’t speak for all atheists, but I think most atheists would view scriptures in the Judeo-Christian tradition as being the products of humans. It isn’t any surprise that human ideas of morality have made their way into those scriptures, and some of them may very well be of worth just as other writings on morality are worth reading and understanding, such as the works of Hume. For us, moral teachings are judged on their merit, not on their claimed source.

What atheists often fight against is the “the Bible says it, so that settles it” dogma. Scary things can happen in societies/cultures when people are more worried about being obedient to a list of rules than they are in engaging their own moral judgment. Rather, I think we all use our own moral judgment to determine if what is written in scriptures is moral, and atheists are using that same moral judgment. If humans can’t judge morality for themselves, then how can they say that God is moral or that what the Bible teaches is moral?

(John Dalton) #398

I agree, atheists will naturally be looking for naturalistic explanations, and various ingrained and evolved characteristics and evident and practical realities will in general be the path gone down.

some may included notions of pressure/pain that are related to subjective preferences (eg homosexuality), and my impression (which I am open to correction) is that a human being may adopt any attributes he wishes - so that no authority is recognised re the human character; thus the objective/subjective distinction becomes blurred.

I’m a little fuzzier here. I’m not sure what pressure/pain implies, or how it relates to homosexuality as an example. As for “a human can adopt any attributes he wishes”, I assume you’re talking about gender and related issues. I think opinions about that are pretty mixed, although atheists do tend to be fairly left on “culture war” issues. Certainly we don’t recognize a higher authority (some atheists may believe in a vaguer spirituality, but definitely a small minority).

I understand that, and I recognize that the basis could be a source of moral value. I think it’s really the term “objective morality” that throws me. The implication seems to be that you’ll have something to draw on which will give you the correct answer in any given moral situation. If that sounds silly, the term does get thrown at atheists a lot as if something like that was meant, and without it it would become impossible to make any moral decisions, or one may as well run around killing and looting, or what have you. If the idea is more of simply a moral grounding that you believe provides an ultimate foundation for your morality, I can understand that, but I honestly don’t think there’s a great difference between us. I don’t accept religion, true, but I that is for reasons totally unrelated to morality. Yet, I firmly believe that I have reasons to be moral. I think we’re really almost in the same boat here–we both have beliefs which provide an ultimate foundation for our morality. I’m not sure if all atheists (or religious people!) would agree with me about that statement, but I don’t really see how it’s avoidable. If you feel that your belief gives you a firmer grounding, I can appreciate that, but it’s not clear to me (as a non-believer obviously) why that would be.

This will always be a source of disagreement for many. I believe I understand your feelings. You may be wrong about my children :slight_smile: But I have no problem with what beliefs they may hold, within reason :slight_smile:

Understood as well, and thank you as well! I find the overall civil tone of conversation on this site very admirable and I would be extremely loathe to do anything to detract from it!


So…“preference” determines morality?

(GJDS) #400

My typo - it should read pleasure and pain.