Entries tagged with “ethics”.

If no one can prove that God exists, then how can God can be the ultimate authority? When the occurrences that could be called “Divine Retribution” fall equally on the “evil” and the “innocent” it appears that the only authority of “God” is the fatwa, the inquisition and the burning at the stake. “Acts of God” rain indiscriminately on humans. Theologians cherry pick and memorialize the cases supporting their view and suppress the instances where the innocent are struck by brimstone or the nasty guy gets ahead.

The font of morality comes from a successful human species. What works for a society is good. What is bad for human society is in the long run, rooted out of both the genome and the society. A fixed (over tens of generations) morality is no more than a fable. The rules of acceptable behavior (morals) of the middle ages are wildly different from modern western society. Huckleberry Finn thought he would go to hell because he helped the slave Jim escape. Infanticide was the solution to deformity 100 years ago in Oceania. Jesus was crucified because he because he claimed to be the Son of God. It is no longer permissible for Catholic priests to molest children.

So much for rules: Perhaps more important, altruism is a trait which has been selected by natural selection. It does not mean that the trait is universal, but that it is prevalent in the population. Its value comes from societial benefit. Societies will usually reward altruism and shun sociopathy in its members. I know that there are scientists who argue against group selection, but there is enough evidence for it that it should be permitted as a working hypothesis

Religion and the supernatural have recorded some rules of behavior (morality) which are clearly evil. (Slavery, sexual slavery, ethnic cleansing, intent to commit filicide (human sacrifice of a son), killing of war prisoners – just in the Bible – we can find lots more in the Quran and Talmud, and that is just the Abrahamic religions).

Religion has instigated many of the worst evils on the world (9-11, the Cathars, Kosovo, Sikh pogroms, the Thirty Years War, the Crusades, Witch burning, the Inquisition, the Lebanese Civil War, the Irish Troubles etc.) all because “God told them to do it!” The fact that the Nazis and the KKK are Christian organizations has been repressed.

When a society shows children the acceptable rules of behavior for its members – that is where morals come from. Some old books serve only as props and justifications for parents and leaders who are unwilling to take the effort to search out what is important for themselves. Hewing to a tradition is easier than rational analysis. Tradition brings a stability that damps out sudden changes which may have unintended consequences. Unfortunately, religion becomes ossified – particularly when it tries to apply tribal Bronze Age morals to global Information Age life.

Religion has no guidance for morals beyond the tribe, no guidance for technologies that can wipe humankind off the globe and change the nature of what it is to be human, such as radically extended lifespan, cloning, cyborgs, gene modification, artificial life, enhanced consciousness, human actions which effect the entire world, multinational corporations, monoculture food, global climate change, WMD.

Just as important, Religion is especially blind on how to interact morally with people and sentient animals who are very different from ourselves. When the extent of a person’s actions never extended beyond ten kilometers Bronze age guidelines were OK. When the president can blow North Korea or Iran off the face of the earth with a pushbutton, we need a revision of morality – one that can be shared among all peoples. One that does not murder abortioners, stone rape victims, exterminate whales, hang homosexuals, blow up Buddhas or burn witches.

The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule

Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic Magazine and a frequent contributor to Scientific American has produced a work that explains the basis of morality and ethics on a scientific basis. The system of ethics and definition of what is good and what is evil has usually been assigned to the realm of religion. In ancient times, the likes of Aristotle and Socraties wrestled with this subject with only provisional results.

Religious folk tell us that God establishes right and wrong, and assigns punishment to those who break God’s Law. The premise is that without God establishing the rules, humanity would fall into disarray with everyone making up their own rules. Under this view, the rules are rigid and established under the authority and pronouncements of God as interpreted by the leaders of the religion.
Shermer soundly refutes this viewpoint, and makes an excellent case for his Provisional Ethics and Provisional Morality. These ideas are founded on several insights: Moral Naturalism, an Evolved Moral Society, the Nature of Moral Nature, Provisional Morality, Provisional Right and Wrong, Provisional Justice, and Ennobling Evolutionary Ethics. (more…)

CheatingThe pressure on young people to be high achievers is immense. Only the smallest fraction gain access to the keys to success in academia and sport. When a substantial proportion making “the cut” have done so through cheating, the fabric of our society is in danger.

When acceptance to the most prestigeous colleges is dependent upon test scores, and many of the applicants have subverted the process, then truly deserving exemplary performers are denied access unless they also cheat. When ethical applicants are excluded because their honest performance in testing cannot match those who have the answers, we are selecting cheaters for the leadership positions in our society.

When our popular heroes in sports regularly are caught in using steroids, packed red blood cells and other prohibited substances to enhance their performance, this sends a message to our youth that not only is it OK to cheat, but it is necessary to do so to succeed.

When our school administrators and teachers design systems to stack the deck in standardized tests as part of the No Child Left Behind program they set a standard which condones similar actions on the part of their students.