Why, as an Atheist, have I been Talking so much about Buddhism?

Here is my unscripted off the cuff remarks on my interest in Buddhism


Objective Morality without God?

A typical argument for God from theists is that claim that without God there is no objective morality. The only morality, in this view, is Darwinian in nature, and some atheists actually agree. Most atheists, who I’ve heard, do not think there really is objective morality. Many people balk when they hear this. Of course, everyone wants to hear that pedophilia and murder are unequivocally wrong, and those deeds are actually wrong. The problem is using terms like “objective morality” in the first place.

I would argue that morality is more complicated than just either being objective or relative. Furthermore, I think the term “objective morality” is a little like the word “evil.” We want to call Hitler evil. We don’t want to think of him just as a bad person who did horrible things, but the term “evil” tends to evoke supernatural or other thinking that is not in the arena of reasonable thinking. Thus, I want to talk just about morality in general instead of arguing against objective morality. It’s just not a useful topic for what I’m trying to say, and I suspect discussing it is a less useful conversation than people tend to think.

What are morals? Morals, I suspect, had it’s origins in biology, but like I said before it’s more complicated than that. People are smart, and as such, inventive. Some amount of morality is certainly hardwired into us, but people are smart enough to out smart their biology. It’s too simple to say morality is objective, or morality is just an evolutionary byproduct. People can and have invented or changed what it means to be moral, as well. Slavery went on for a long time, but now it is seen, almost universally, as the terrible thing that it is.

The problem with morality now is that it still appears to be in it’s infancy. Many people disagree about morality. Many people use religion to decide what is moral. Others pick a moral philosophy, and still, others don’t even think about morality. We all have a long way to go, and I doubt we’ll ever reach perfection. However, my point is that morality is complicated. It’s more complicated than just biology. It’s as complicated as trying to figure what works best for humans individually and as a whole, which is no small task. Still, the shock people feel with atheists saying that there is no objective morality is not useful. The theist is simply shocking their audiences’ emotions, and atheists need to talk more clearly about morality.

Do Atheists get their Morals from Christianity?

I’m not one of those atheists who completely ignore theology or apologetics, but now, unless I uncover a book containing an argument that is unique, I feel like I’ve put in my time. I’ve read theology, apologetics, and watched many video lectures by the more prominent theologians. I’ve even taken a 300 level philosophy of religion course. (I am aware this doesn’t make me a theologian.) Not to mention, I’ve read the Bible several times.

Recently, a commenter recommended a book. I looked at the book on amazon, and the book’s premise was that even atheists use Christian morals. I have heard this argument before. The premise is usually a variant on the idea that people, here anyways, grow up in a largely Christian society, and this is where atheists get their morals. Thus, an atheist’s moral values originate from Christianity.

While no one can doubt that Christianity has had a large effect on many societies, I think the idea that all atheists nowadays are following and should follow Christian morality is wrong. The fact of the matter is that people know, without the Bible, that murder is wrong. Yes, the Bible points out certain things are wrong that most of agree on, but other pre-Christian ethics have done the same thing. The Code of Hammurabi predates Mosaic law with eerie similarities in some places. (Here’s a wikipedia article on it.) The Code of Hammurabi has laws on slander, theft, and more. Still, I do not claim to follow The Code of Hammurabi or the Bible. Just because some of the prohibitions are good doesn’t mean the entirety of the text should be kept, and just because we can all agree on some things, like do not kill, doesn’t mean we got that rule out of the Bible. I do not think most of us would ever be that barbaric with or without the Bible.

Now, I think most atheists keep their morality simply by contemplation. However, their is a wealth of content on morality from philosophy. Moral philosophy has been going on since the ancient Greeks, and I for one try to look at these systems of beliefs. (Although, my work is not done.) I suggest others consult moral philosophy as well. I have posted before that I think any good moral system should look at sources such as psychology, moral philosophy, sociology, and neuroscience. We can turn morality into a system that works for everybody. I think we should try our best to do this.