Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Evolution of Morality

Morals and Ethics! The thing that most theists believe Atheist lack. Where do we atheist get our morals from. There is obviously no divine order to keep us in check then what exactly is there that keeps us from stealing, cheating, killing, raping, marrying six year olds, asking widowed women to perform Sati, introduce slavery, burn free thinking women alive saying that they were witches, killing people who leave our religion. Are we, the non-theist, prone to committing all these acts because we don't fear a tyrant in the heavens, who would fart out stuff we should be and should not be doing? I think morality doesn’t have anything to do with religion or God.

1500 years ago women were not entitled to a share in the family fortune, thousand years ago it was moral to keep slaves, 60 years ago it was wrong for African Americans or for women to vote. Right and wrong vary across time and cultures. What was wrong a thousand years ago is right now, what was right a thousand years ago is wrong now. What is wrong in one society won’t be in another. There cannot be a single complete and comprehensive script that would serve as the moral code of conduct for all time, for all of mankind.

The reason we as humans and some other animals live in groups is to improve the chances of survivability and continuity of the specie. Ants, bees, termites, wolves, herds all have similar reasons, for becoming a part of a group that protects them and also increases the chances of finding food, shelter and the opportunity to reproduce. In such societies; rules, procedures, ethics evolve as a method of restraining individual selfishness and building more cooperative groups.

Morals and Ethics have evolved to their current state. The "evils" of the society cheating, stealing, wars and oppression taught us that these things are wrong because they hinder the establishment and progress of a cooperative and effective group. It wasn't divine intervention. It was evolution of human thought. In order for societies to function it became necessary to put in some guidelines and rules. Societies that refused to set these guidelines failed to grow ("Survival of the fittest"). Members of that society either moved to another society (immigrations/asylum) or fell victim to the law of the jungle. While the societies which were more advanced intellectually survived better than the others.

Each religion has stories of how bad were things before it came, how the region was in lawlessness and then it transformed to save mankind. And also how the people of the status quo were against the religion and changes it brought about. Each religion introduced liberal laws as compared to the times and culture of the era. But as times moved on and so did our understanding of right and wrong, we modified our understanding of right and wrong. Religion on the other hand could not. It was to be rock solid, immovable, unchangeable and uncompromising.

Religion (Islam) made it lawful to marry a minor. It also made freedom of expression (beyond a certain limit) and freedom of leaving religion as offenses. Religion (all) considered same sex marriages as immoral. Modern concepts are different, now more and more people are accepting same sex marriages, it is illegal to marry a minor, it is illegal to have slaves, freedom of expression and freedom to choose ones religion are now considered basic rights.

I never got comfortable with the idea that something is wrong because God says so. Would there be no standard of right and wrong if God didn't write it down for us? Then moral by definition is whatever God commands. Are you really comfortable with that? Do we not have any instinctive, logical thinking behind what is wrong and what is right? Once someone was explaining to me the "justice” of Islam, the "fairness" of Islam in light of the eye for an eye, hand for a hand punishment. She (yes she) was of the opinion that "it makes sense" since a person who has done the crime should feel the pain of his/her victims. Hold on right there, did you read that ... to me the most significant bit of this sentence is "it makes sense".... It makes sense! That is your basis for moral ladies, gentlemen and mullahs. The concept of justice, law and order, moral ethics, crime and punishment is put in place by each society because "it makes sense" not because of some divine doctrine.

An Atheist will do the right thing because it is the right thing. He won’t be doing it because someone told him to do so. Most average theist would be doing the same it is just that they would feel like connecting that with their God.

So am I saying are atheist more moral than theist? No. Is it the other way around? No. Statistics from prison population would indicate that Atheists are more moral and to be honest in a way that makes sense. This would be hard to really know for sure since we are smaller in number and our exact number isn't known since some of us don't identify ourselves as atheist. By my observation an average atheist is mostly better educated and intelligent than your average theist.

I hold that morality doesn't have to do anything with belief in God. It also doesn't have anything to do with the lack of belief in God. Atheists are like everyone else, we are human beings we have greed, we are intolerant at times we are irrational at times. We are still the same as you. Why are atheists seen as immoral by believers? I think it is mostly because most theists are indoctrinated to demonize atheist and hence they seldom get a chance to really get to know an atheist and see how normal she/he is. Religion does not make a person good or bad. Society, upbringing, family, personal character makes a person good or bad.


Rajiv said...

Its a well written and timely article. I guess this is one argument all so called 'Kfirs' have to face. I had my share of tiff with my father.I was silenced with 'do what you want but do not corrupt others!'I guess the only way to prove that we atheist are not rudderlessly drifting people is by practicing the good human values in our day to day life (ofcourse without the divine).I also looking forward to one book -The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris, which I feel will certainly supplement your write-up.Thankyou!

Pakistani Atheist said...

Rajiv it seems at times the guardians of morality, the guardians of organized religion, have placed a line beyond which human reason shall not pass, after which human intellect shall not develop, above which human virtue shall not aspire. Whatever is beyond those lines is considered immoral, unethical, treason and what not. Atheists generally challenge these lines.

The only thing we can do is try to make sure that common sense and reason prevails. Once someone told me the same thing "don’t corrupt others". I didn't say anything right then but an hour later when there was some news of Taliban on the TV i said "I am not the one who is corrupting people".

Andy said...

An interesting post. I'm going to follow you and keep up the good work.

Harris said...

Great Article dude, i love the moral argument these guys make and the fact that they associate Hitler, Stalin, Mao and all these goons with Atheism cracks me up as well.

LowCasteSamy said...

I am pleasantly surprised to see such thoughts coming from Pakistan!. I thought they all think the same way when it comes to Allah. The religious mullahs and political setup use religion as a tool to control and exploit masses. Masses however are unaware of the plot and continue to look at the sky loosing the grounds..

ramrajput said...

well written artical even i have exact view about the religion. well done i think world need this kind of people.

ramrajput said...

well wtitten artical!i also have same thoughts.

ramrajput said...

well wtitten artical.i also have same thoughts.

Praveen Gopinath said...

in spite of religions claiming they impart moral living in the subjects, studies show quite the opposite, like the one in american jails, which showed that atheists, being 10% of american society are only 0.25% of american jail inmates. it means atheists are more likely to be moral and ethical, and theists to be devoid of these values.

Theists consider their belief to offer them some kind of protection. in Gandhi's autobiography, his christian friends in south africa ask him, if his religion offers him any protection from his sins. For them, the religion is just a licence to freak out.

For the powerful, religion is a tool to reinforce submission and loyalty in their gullible people. they evoke religious morality, to suppress any revolting tendencies.

Kunwar Ali said...

I find it surprising. Really surprising. It-Makes-Sense is fine but you didn't bother to see where did that it-makes-sense come from?

Let me quote you an example. There is a kid who was born in some psychotic family. The parents teach him how to kill someone and they put him to practice it on animals first and then, humans. Would he feel any pain while killing a human? No, because he has been trained to do that. So I find it hard that atheists get this sense innately. They get trained by people who believe in religion or they are surrounded by people who believe in religion so that soft corner that you have for humans is biased and relative. It can't be absolute. So, the sense which you have mentioned, is the result of training that you get.

Lastly, humans used to eat 1000 years ago, they still do. Not everything changes and not every change is a positive change. We buy services of other humans but do not declare them slaves as it is a bad word. In the past, people used to have slaves and in return the slaves used to get food and shelter. Just like now, some bosses were great and some were lame in the past. Democracy is overrated so I won't comment about women right to vote.

My point is, the sense that anyone has, is the outcome of active and passive training that he gets.this sense Can be a moral one or an insane one. Depends who the trainer is!

Fatat-Al-islam said...

you can't depend on the so called common sense when it comes to morals because morality is relative! u cannot have objective morality without God! if Atheists feel that its moral to defy the One who keeps them in good health and shape day in and day out, people who recognize an absolute Creator don't think believe so.. i suggest that the Atheists out of everybody else should not try to talk about the development of human intellect if they can't even see the signs of God around them, which a child can recognize so easily.. Without being in control of even their own lives, they can hardly aspire to anything else!

Hazrat NaKhuda said...


Your comment was a general statement of your own insecurities, without backing up from any shred of logic or evidence.

"if they can't even see the signs of God around them, which a child can recognize so easily"

Can you tell me the signs of this so called God of yours.

Hazrat NaKhuda said...

@Kunwar Women rights, were not indoctrinated by a religious trainer. Abolishing Slavery was not a religious indoctrination. Rights for Gays and homosexuals was not by a religious trainer.

You gave the example of what you call modern day slavery. Well to put it simply you can choose to quit one fine day if you want and choose a different job.

Let me give you a few examples of "religious moral" indoctrination, Kill those who leave religion, It is ok to marry a 6 year old, It is ok to kill the father and brothers of a family and sleep with the daughter in the night after winning her over as war-booty. Giving her the choice either marry me or just be my slave girl.

Rizwan Qamar said...

An athiest is his own God. He can choose between right and wrong, good and evil. He commands himself. He gets smarter by experience and not by pre set rules by the unseen who never listens to but only orders.

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