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Author Topic: What Does Religion Provide?  (Read 2662 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: January 06, 2007, 02:28:16 PM »

I've been reading a few books lately which assert that humanity would get along just fine without religion. Some try to take a scientific route, others a more philosophical route. But in either case, the main point is that other institutions could either replace, or far surpass, that which religion offers. I'll be honest, I thought that was a pretty accurate answer. Not that I think Christians are idiots or "deluded," as some recent books claim, but I could see their points in spite of the hostility. However, given the recent comments of Nektarios, GIC, George, and others, I'd like to explore this further and get some Christian thoughts on this. In this particular thread, I'm curious as to what people think religion can offer? And, perhaps more importantly, what can religion offer that can't be offered elsewhere? You can, of course, say things like truth and salvation, but that probably will only be preaching to the choir (ie. it's a fine answer, but it doesn't help a nonbeliever much if they don't accept the Christian view of truth or salvation). Anyway, here are some of the things I've seen Christians mention:

1. Gives hope for getting through life
2. Gives hope for a better life after this one
3. Provides help/aid to others
4. Provides the basis/origin for morality
5. Provides a framework of morality, so that we know when something is wrong
6. Provides a social network, or sense of community, helps meet likeminded people
7. Provides a positive context in which to do things (e.g., study, play basketball, etc.)
8. Because it reveals truth
9. Because it leads to salvation/sanctification/transformation
10. Because God created us, and deserves our worship
11. Because it is interesting
12. Used to maintain cultural identity

Am I forgetting/missing any others? Which of these (or others) do you personally find to be persuasive? Do you think that any of them are irrefutable, and that the only way to deny it is to be willfully ignorant? What about others who can claim to live up to most or all of these to some extent or another, such as Islam, or even an atheistic version of buddhism? Anyway, any thoughts?
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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2007, 03:11:41 PM »

Enables some individuals to reject total responsibility for their own actions or where they "are" in their life, by saying "It is God's will" or "God will provide."

Refer to the thread on this site to my statement "God helps those who help themselves"
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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2007, 06:28:59 PM »

Community.  The early Church was a Eucharistic Community.

This is different though from what you mentioned in 6. about "social network" or "like-minded people".  I have somewhat of a social network with my skydiving friends, but they are scattered throughout the Bay Area and actually the West Coast...kinda nomadic in some sort.

Everyone at Church, while I may not have much social interest or even much in common with them, we all see each other at Church and deal with each other in "life".  I think this is a big difference.  We are in a way forced to practice love better (the New Commandment) in that we care for one another even if we may not necessarily have much in common or "like" them. 
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2007, 08:12:13 PM »

The question is fundamentally flawed.   First of all, Christianity is not a religion.  As the early Christians said, it is "the Way," that comes through a revelation of the divine to humanity.  Secondly, to ask what "religion" gives to people is beside the point.  It is looking at the whole thing from the radically individualistic stance of the current dominant culture......the whole idea of "what can this do for me."  I am Orthodox because I perceive the revelations of Orthodoxy, and the mysteries as lived through the Church, to be intensely real, more "real" than anything else.  I innately know that the resurrection of Christ changes everything in how the cosmos functions, in what the destiny of humanity is. 

Of course, I could be completely wrong.  The women and men and apostles who perceived Christ's resurrection to have changed the world could be completely wrong.  The apostles and disciples who perceived that they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost could be completely wrong.  All the saints and common people through the centuries could be wrong.  If it turns out that we're all self-deluded, so be it.  But at the moment, I know, with a knowledge more certain than anything, that this is not the case. 
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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2007, 08:20:13 PM »

1. Gives hope for getting through life
The early Church martyrs would disagree. Perhaps rather than "hope", it gives "meaning". It's amazing what human beings can choose to endure when they understand why it is better to endure it. For example, you would courageously endure an impossibly difficult and painful experience for the sake of your wife and children. How much more would you gladly endure if the object of your love were the God-Man, Christ?

2. Gives hope for a better life after this one
And fear of a worse one. This is particularly true of Christianity, since it's Founder said: "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." ..... Hardly comforting. Cheesy  Nothing less than eternal Hell is worthy of the Pinnacle of Creation that Human Beings are. A cruel and unmerciful God would simply annialate them.

3. Provides help/aid to others
Not sure I understand what you mean here. How does religion provide "help to others"?

4. Provides the basis/origin for morality
I agree, but I would go so far as to say that it provides/reveals the origin/basis of morality which can't be found elsewhere. In Christianity, there are two Absolute Laws which form the basis of all morality: Love of God, and Love of neighbour. While the latter may be attainable to some degree outside religion, the former cannot. Nor can a connection be made between the two without religion. This second Law comes from Leviticus 19:18 which says: "Thou shalt love thy neigbour as thyself, I Am the LORD" We understand what the implications of "I Am" are, therefore not only is it a "command" to love my neighbour as myself, it is also a revealation that my neighbour is my "self" in the Source of all Being. It is impossible to attain this "basis" or "origin" of morality without God.

5. Provides a framework of morality, so that we know when something is wrong
Not really. This is the role of the conscience. And you don't have to be religious to have one.

6. Provides a social network, or sense of community, helps meet likeminded people
I'm not sure this is a good assesment, especially in the case of Christianity. I think a better one is that it provides a meeting point/common ground for people of vastly different minds. The Eucharist, for example, is where the Communist and Capitalist, Nun and Adultress, Republican and Democrat, Married and Celibate, Men and Women, Sane and Insane, etc. come together to meet for a common purpose.

7. Provides a positive context in which to do things (e.g., study, play basketball, etc.)
Stumped on this one.

8. Because it reveals truth
In Christianity, religion doesn';t reveal the Truth. The Truth is the Person of it's Founder. That's Christianity 101. Wink

9. Because it leads to salvation/sanctification/transformation
Religion doesn't lead there according to Christianity. Grace does.

10. Because God created us, and deserves our worship
I'd be more inclined to word it as: "Worship is the natural/logical relationship between Creature and Creator."


11. Because it is interesting
I find the psychology of serial killers "interesting" too!

12. Used to maintain cultural identity
A tricky one, since Christianity and other religions such as Islam have  also destroyed and replaced so many cultural identities- hence the backlash against them (eg: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1767802,00.html).

Am I forgetting/missing any others?
Meaning.

Which of these (or others) do you personally find to be persuasive?
Meaning.

Do you think that any of them are irrefutable, and that the only way to deny it is to be willfully ignorant?
I think that "meaning" is kinda irrefutable. The only way to refute it is to prove the non-existence of God. Now there's a real challenge for you!

What about others who can claim to live up to most or all of these to some extent or another, such as Islam, or even an atheistic version of buddhism?
Impossible. Christianity worships a unique God (the Holy Trinity), therefore it uniquely has the Two Absolute Laws in #4 above.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2007, 08:22:21 PM by ozgeorge » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2007, 08:29:19 PM »

Tom, lol, well I guess that might be true for some, though I don't think they'd give that as a positive reason to be a part of a religion.

Elisha, a good addition. I'm sure the idea of everyone being united in the Eucharist, or united with the Church triumphant, that transcendant feeling, is also a good reason.

Bob, I think your answer is perfectly valid. Though, of course, for anyone not Christian it is also entirely irrelevant. The Jew, Pagan, and atheist can all say almost the same thing: they just know that they have it right. I would disagree with Christianity not being a religion, though I guess it depends on how you define religion. Some use such a wide definition that even atheism is a religion. To me, a religion is the belief in a supernatural entity, reality or phenomenon, and various beliefs and practices which give some content or framework for how to relate to or perceive that supernatural entity, reality, or phenomenon. In that way, while it's all the rage to say that Christianity "is not a religion, but is about a relationship," I wouldn't agree with that sentiment.

George, I appreciate your perspective, though perhaps you are protesting a bit much. I don't agree with many of the examples I gave. I actually think that many of them are bad reasons to be religious. And I'm not saying that all Christians believe them as stated. I'm just saying that they are reasons I've heard. I'll be sure to keep your alternatives/modifications in mind though. Smiley

Quote
think that "meaning" is kinda irrefutable. The only way to refute it is to prove the non-existence of God. Now there's a real challenge for you!

Not so. You can't just assume that a claim is true and then challenge others to refute it or admit that the person's assumption is right. I mean, let me try that. Zeus gives my life meaning. Prove to me that Zeus doesn't give my life meaning. Prove that he doesn't exist. If you can't prove it, then you must admit that Zeus is real and gives my life meaning.  Grin It is not my position that you can prove that there is no God. It is only my position that the evidence seems to be, IMO, against the existence of a personal God. I cannot disprove the Christian God any more than I can disprove reincarnation or that there are fairies in the forest outside. But I am under no obligation to believe in fairies or reincarnation, or a triune God, just because I can't disprove them.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2007, 08:33:21 PM by Asteriktos » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2007, 08:44:46 PM »

You've misunderstood me.
What I am saying is that the meaning provided by a particular religion is not transferrable to another- including atheism. And Atheism is a religion since it requires faith in the unprovable doctrine that there is no God.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2007, 08:50:12 PM by ozgeorge » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2007, 08:51:58 PM »

I don't think I was saying that it was Smiley Some of the concepts would be common among various religions and philosophies. They all think they have truth, for example. Some of the concepts might also be important for human beings, meaning that a philosophy or religion would have to have them if it expected to last (e.g,. the ability to build and maintain a social network--admittedly an obvious shortcoming for atheism at this point, though secular humanists are working on that). Part of what I was going for were just reasons why religions, and particularly Christianity, need exist. Atheists like Dawkins say that we would be just as well off, and probably better off, without religion. I am sort of asking Christians for reasons that that is not true; I'm asking for reasons that the world would be a worse--or meaningless--place without religion (or Christianity). The caveat, of course, is that if you give specifically Christian answers ("Jesus is the way") then you aren't really answering the question asked, but are only giving personal reasons that the person responding finds religion/Christianity beneficial or true. That's why I said what I said to Bob. I think his post is perfectly valid... from his perspective. It doesn't help me much as an atheist, though.

Quote
And Atheism is a religion since it requires faith in the unprovable doctrine that there is no God

I'm not going to argue over semantics. If you want to call me religious, that is your right. You have to go down to like the 6th or 7th meaning of the word to do so, but that's your right.  Smiley
« Last Edit: January 06, 2007, 08:53:23 PM by Asteriktos » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2007, 08:59:34 PM »

The caveat, of course, is that if you give specifically Christian answers ("Jesus is the way") then you aren't really answering the question asked, but are only giving personal reasons that the person responding finds religion/Christianity beneficial or true.
Huh Could you point out where I was not using objective facts in my response and was merely giving personal opinion?

I'm not going to argue over semantics. If you want to call me religious, that is your right. You have to go down to like the 6th or 7th meaning of the word to do so, but that's your right.  Smiley
But you're claim that Christianity is a "religion" is made on the same basis. I'm just using your own language. Wink Why else would you list Atheistic forms of Buddhism as a "religion" along with Islam?:
Am I forgetting/missing any others? Which of these (or others) do you personally find to be persuasive? Do you think that any of them are irrefutable, and that the only way to deny it is to be willfully ignorant? What about others who can claim to live up to most or all of these to some extent or another, such as Islam, or even an atheistic version of buddhism? Anyway, any thoughts?
« Last Edit: January 06, 2007, 09:49:55 PM by ozgeorge » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2007, 12:38:31 AM »

1. Gives hope for getting through life

No, if anything it gives you reason to shorten life. Unless you are religious and believe you're going to hell...but then you have psychological issues severe enought that I question your mental competence to decide one way or the other about religion.

However, perhaps 'gives life meaning' would be a good reason. Yes, I know that atheists can argue that life can have meaning without an afterlife, but the arguments are unconvincing when you live in a static enviroment, as most the world was prior to the scientific, industrial, and technological revolutions (and, from a philosophical point of view, they seem meaningless when you take into account that the universe will eventually destroy all trace of any human existance).

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2. Gives hope for a better life after this one

I think more important than hope of a 'better life' is simply hope for continued life...better or not, at least there's something there.

Quote
3. Provides help/aid to others

Probably not, humans arn't that altruistic, we only give aid because we expect to get something back (perhaps subconsciously, but it's still in our calculation)...now if you were to say 'provides help/aid to ME' then perhaps.

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4. Provides the basis/origin for morality

But it doesn't those things are part of our ontology or evolution, depending on your perspective...religion just plays on what's already there...it adds nothing, and if anything detracts.

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5. Provides a framework of morality, so that we know when something is wrong

See #4

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6. Provides a social network, or sense of community, helps meet likeminded people

This is probably it for the overwhelming majority of people, and closely related to #7 and #12.

Quote
7. Provides a positive context in which to do things (e.g., study, play basketball, etc.)

This is essentially the same as #6

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8. Because it reveals truth

Nah, it only plays on revealed truth.

Quote
9. Because it leads to salvation/sanctification/transformation

Well, as a universalist I would clearly take issue with the suggestion that religion is necessary for this Wink

But concerning salvation, yeah, I'm sure several are in it for this reason...usually scared or guilted into it for this reason. Of course, this too is linked to the cultural/social aspect, as the guilt or fear usually comes through cultural means.

Though personally I can think of no greater sin than to worship God out of fear of hell, save to worship him out of greed for heaven. Not even the great deceiver Lucifer has tried this deception of the Divine and even Judas revealed his deception prior to his death, rather than trying to storm the gates of heaven by the same.

As for transformation/sanctification or, in other, more secular, words, self-improvement, this should really be listed separately...yes, it is a reason for some, but probably not on the same scale as salvation.

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10. Because God created us, and deserves our worship

If you believe God created you, this is a pretty logical conclusion to come to.

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11. Because it is interesting

Nah, that's just why we all spend so much time on OC.net...as you should know, one can find religion interesting without being religious.

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12. Used to maintain cultural identity

This is essentially the same as #6

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Am I forgetting/missing any others? Which of these (or others) do you personally find to be persuasive?

Yeah, though I didn't expect it to be there...there are the ontological arguments (mostly neoplatonic arguments, or derivatives thereof) and then arguments about evolution (from evolutionary psychology). Essentially both could be used to argue that humans are natually religious, the former would give metaphysical reasons and the latter pragmatic ones (giving life extra meaning could have a survival advantage).

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Do you think that any of them are irrefutable, and that the only way to deny it is to be willfully ignorant?

Yes, some are irrefutable. That doesn't mean they're provable either, of course, it just means that logically then cannot be refuted. You run into the same problems as trying to prove the non-existance of God, good luck...and as a my mathematical education pounded into my head time and time again, ANY claim must be proven, regardless of whether it is in the affirmative or negative.

Perhaps the question you meant to ask is whether there are any unique reasons to be religious, that is to say reasons for which reasonable non-religious alternatives could not be found? If so, then from an empirical perspective I could only point to the discussions about religion in evolutionary psychology; of course, this is not saying that religion is absolutely necessary, only that it was a benificial element of our evolution and that we evolved as religious beings for this reason (of course, not all evolutionary psychologists would agree.

If, however, we are discussing this from the perspective of neoplatonic philosophy, I could give many reasons why religion is absolutely natural and necessary.

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What about others who can claim to live up to most or all of these to some extent or another, such as Islam, or even an atheistic version of buddhism? Anyway, any thoughts?

There is truth, as well as falsehood, to varying degrees, in all religions.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2007, 12:44:27 AM by greekischristian » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2007, 04:25:58 AM »

Religion, at least any authentic religion, provides the final reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  As a bonus, authentic religion also provides parents with reasons for not murdering their children when they turn fifteen.   Grin

In all seriousness however, Asteriktos' basic point that many societal functions can be provided through secular institutions is of course correct.  In the past religious institutions have taken on multiple roles, sometimes too many.  Therefore I think many of these roles became associated in people's minds with religion even though they were in fact tangential.  Basically, secular institutions and philosophies can and do provide most of what we need as individuals and societies.  You don't really need religion to satisfy the vast majority of needs on Maslow's hierarchy.  Even self-actualization is possible to a significant degree without any use of religion (except perhaps the very tippy-top of Maslow's pyramid, which is where I think religion really comes in).

When all is said and done, when we have stripped back the layers that surround religious traditions and systems, we find a core that is distinctly spiritual and mysterious.  A core that I cannot see how any secular institution or philosophy or science can address.  This core is within all of us at our deepest (and darkest) point of contact with existence.  When you stand upon the ground of being, and see around you a pit of nothingness, meaninglessness, and absurdity, if you cannot grasp the purpose of life, a purpose that is immutable and constant and eternal, then you are ultimately left with three very unattractive choices:  nihilism, hedonism, or death.  These choices are all characterized by lack of faith, hope, and love, but make no mistake that they are legitimate and rational answers to the foundational existential question. 

What religion provides, authentic religion, is an answer to this fundamental existential need, a purpose that is so transcendent that all absurdity is banished and replaced by meaning, and death replaced by life.  And in so providing this purpose, religion fills the existential pit of hell that yawns under each of us, always ready to pull us down as life throws us every curveball it can.  What is that purpose you say?  The purpose of each of us is to become divine.  At least that is the Orthodox answer.  Other traditions may give somewhat different answers but they all share a transcendent vision of why we are alive, and how we may become perfected or elevated beings.  To adopt that purpose in to be inspired and filled with joy.  Here 'joy' is distinct from 'happiness', which is the mere fulfillment of unspiritual needs.  True joy is not contingent on our circumstance in life.  In the midst of severe deprivation and suffering one can still feel joy, even if happiness eludes us.  Conversely, one can lead a very happy life, full of riches, and yet never have found true peace and joy.

Now to be honest one doesn't need a religion to touch this existential core and find at least some answer to the question that defines all questions.  But what all transcendent religions have done is offer their own response to the raw spiritual experience of transcendence, and then offered a real plan for how to get from point A to B.  And in so doing they hope to provide an essential service to humanity - helping human spirits become elevated.  A religion should be judged, like any institution, by how well it fulfills its mission of assisting individual souls up the ladder.  The mission of Orthodoxy is theosis, and I think that is a properly transcendent mission indeed.  Each person must judge for himself how well their own spiritual tradition is fulfilling this mission of transcendence.

Those are my thoughts, but I am painfully aware of how far I have to go.  I can say that I have been at the bottom of the existential well, and that landscape I am well familiar with.  For many years I hoped that science might provide some real answers, but the fact is that a naturalistic worldview is useful only to a point.  It provides absolutely no solid bedrock upon which to build purpose beyond the contingent.  As GiC indicated, even the idea that humanity has meaning gets swamped when you consider the universe at in a state of maximum entropy.  All secular worldviews are that way - they require you to ignore or be blind to the first leg of the journey, essentially to steal first base before going to second.  That doesn't mean they are bad - the scientific worldview, for example, works wonders once you are on first base.  But E=mc2 never provided anyone but Einstein and a handful of scientists with a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, or for not murdering their obnoxious teenage children.

Hope this answers some of your questions Asteriktos.

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Brian
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2007, 07:40:09 AM »

After going through some of my own trials & tribulations recently, I can say that 'religion' has given me no more than fellowship with people who for the most part are out for themselves, gossips, phonies and think that they own the church.  In my humble opinion, I feel that the most important thing is the personal relationship each of us has with God.  'Religion' has also caused me more confusion than I had before I was religious.  Please see my recent post at http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,10775.0.html.  It is a post from someone on another forum.  So as not to misunderstand what I am trying to say, I will never give up on God.  But I am leaning toward giving up on the 'church', not only the Orthodox church, as it is today.  Human nature has a way of getting in the way of good things.

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« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2007, 01:30:47 PM »

Religion is that fuzzy feeling I get when my chant professor chants a 20 minute Doxastikon... Wink
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« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2007, 01:50:04 PM »

Religion is that fuzzy feeling I get when my chant professor chants a 20 minute Doxastikon... Wink

So, in your case, religion=utter boredom?  Wink
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« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2007, 01:51:32 PM »

SOME people may not be able to understand the artistic ability of others, or the emotions they can evoke through their melodius and incomprehensible talents... Wink

Not mentioning any names... Wink
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« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2007, 01:57:26 PM »

SOME people may not be able to understand the artistic ability of others, or the emotions they can evoke through their melodius and incomprehensible talents... Wink


Oh, believe me, the seminary instructor providing a 20 minute Doxasticon did evoke certain emotions in me, that's for sure... Roll Eyes

But, since you weren't naming names, I'm certain you weren't thinking of me in this context, right?
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« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2007, 02:06:09 PM »

Absolutely not!  I mean...you would NEVER come to mind in those certain situations!   Grin Wink

But on to the topic,

I really do find chanting to be uplifting and it evokes the Holy Spirit many times, at least for me.  Is this something that "religion" provides, i'm not sure.  But its definately something that the church provides. 
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« Reply #17 on: January 08, 2007, 02:10:09 PM »

Besides the obvious answer that people who are theists believe that God is a Truth, and believing things that are True are always helpful, what about morality? I'm not talking about a "functional" morality, where there are laws and stuff, but an actual internal morality with a conscience. I'm not saying that athiests aren't moral, and that humanity would be depraved without religion, but really, I don't see any standard for morality at all. I mean, there's the "golden rule" (treat others like you wish to be treated), but why should I? If you can get away with something, why not? Often times I've heard people say "Well how would you like it if someone did that to you?", but the simple truth is that whatever evil you wish to do isn't happening to you. "Ya, I wouldn't like it, but that's why I'm doing it to someone else and not me." I don't think there's any concrete reply to this that doesn't appeal to something non-natural.

I'm sure without religion, morals would be established for the purpose of the common good, but there's really no explanation behind why morals should exist for you as an individual.
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« Reply #18 on: January 08, 2007, 02:16:02 PM »

Just a quick note (yes, I am reading all this Smiley )...

Quote
but there's really no explanation behind why morals should exist for you as an individual.

Some scientists are putting forward a theory that basically amounts to a biological "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine". In essence, they argue that our natural tendency to seek out ways to survive and increase our chances of procreating can themselves give rise to altruistic morals programmed into us. After all, the theory goes, if you help your neighbor, your neighbor is more likely to help you. Thus, the chances for life and reproduction are increased for everyone, including yourself. Of course, cultural and other factors can also play a major role, though that would obviously only start shaping morality once we reached a certain level of human evolution, and wouldn't account for the origin of morality.
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« Reply #19 on: January 08, 2007, 02:24:26 PM »

I can understand that, but what happens after we evolve to the point that we realize this? "Well it turns out that morality was just a biological factor for our survival, but since I now know this, I'm going to rob a bank." Assuming you have a plan that you won't get caught, what's to stop you? Will you feel bad? Maybe, but why?

What I'm trying to get at is that science only deals with the facts, the ideas of "good" and "bad" are not scientific facts. A forensic scientist can tell you whether or not someone was murdered for money, but can science ever say that the murder is "bad" or "evil"? Evil in what sense? It's bad for the person murdered, but not so for the person who did it, he has more money now, which is good.
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« Reply #20 on: January 09, 2007, 01:08:46 AM »

It's bad for the person murdered, but not so for the person who did it, he has more money now, which is good.
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« Reply #21 on: January 09, 2007, 01:19:11 AM »

I can understand that, but what happens after we evolve to the point that we realize this? "Well it turns out that morality was just a biological factor for our survival, but since I now know this, I'm going to rob a bank." Assuming you have a plan that you won't get caught, what's to stop you? Will you feel bad? Maybe, but why?

What I'm trying to get at is that science only deals with the facts, the ideas of "good" and "bad" are not scientific facts. A forensic scientist can tell you whether or not someone was murdered for money, but can science ever say that the murder is "bad" or "evil"? Evil in what sense? It's bad for the person murdered, but not so for the person who did it, he has more money now, which is good.

We are social animals and you are trying to consider the issue independent of society as a whole...society will label the murderer as 'evil', or more accurately an undesirable, because he has threatened the society and thus threatened them. Our psychology did not evolve in a vacuum independent of our surroundings.
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