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Old 01-28-2009, 08:42 PM   #106
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I don't think that the issue is whether there can be empathy/altruism or not without a belief in God. However, I don't think that there can be morality (based on something other than mere altruism) without a belief in God. Being empathetic is indeed necessary to the survival of the species. Morality tends to appeal to something greater, more objective (I know some people believe in relativism, but for morality to have any real meaning it must have some sort of appeal to the absolute). I think the problem of people thinking empathy is not necessarily figuring out what it is based on (as that can be explained by evolution), but what it is actually for. Yes, to propagate the species. But why is this a good thing? In a purely material world, everything comes to the same end. It doesn’t ultimately matter whether your species lives for 50 years or 50 000 years. If there is nothing outside this world, it doesn’t matter if you’re a murderer or a humanitarian. One might have a harder, sadder life than another, but it will end soon enough just as the person’s next to them.

Further on the distinction between morality and altruism is that, people often appeal to a standard of behavior. Having a standard of behavior indicates that this is not something that is always followed, but something that someone can choose to follow or not. Morality tells people that they ought to act in a certain way, while altruism would be simply an action someone does out of instinct. Certainly not everyone acts with empathy all the time. How is it that it is so easy for some to ignore this instinct if it is so prevalent to our survival?

i think this is an interesting post, and it prompts me to ask you a question:

for you, what is the difference between morality and ethics? is there a difference? is one preferable to the other? why?
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Old 01-28-2009, 11:21 PM   #107
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Yes, to propagate the species. But why is this a good thing? In a purely material world, everything comes to the same end. It doesn’t ultimately matter whether your species lives for 50 years or 50 000 years.
It's not a question of it being "good," it's just what happens; possessing inheritable traits which confer advantages in producing and/or raising healthy, well-protected, resilient and adaptable offspring means a greater likelihood that your line will 'live long and prosper.' While this observation doesn't help answer a question like "Why is cheating bad?", it is relevant to why we're capable of contemplating such questions in the first place.
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(I know some people believe in relativism, but for morality to have any real meaning it must have some sort of appeal to the absolute)
I think the way I would put it is that for moral systems to be effective, they must be backed by broad social and cultural consensus. No system is ever going to enjoy exhaustive consensus on all points (*coughcough* abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment *coughcough*), and anyone tracking the history of a given cultural sphere over long periods of time will notice major shifts in moral thinking; but at the same time there's tremendous incentive, almost an inevitability even, for us to persist in perceiving, analyzing and responding to our social environment roughly in accord with the general outlines of the moral worldview we were raised with. There's not really any one critical item of belief a moral system's influence depends on, without which it'd suddenly shatter into a million pieces and blow away; we depend too much on, and are ourselves shaped too much by, the guiding metaphors and narratives embedded in it and in the culture more generally for that to happen (which is why Kantian fantasies of an ethics based on 'pure practical reason' alone are ultimately just as improbable, albeit just as 'appealing', as God reaching down from the sky and handing stone tablets to Moses).
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Further on the distinction between morality and altruism is that, people often appeal to a standard of behavior. Having a standard of behavior indicates that this is not something that is always followed, but something that someone can choose to follow or not. Morality tells people that they ought to act in a certain way, while altruism would be simply an action someone does out of instinct. Certainly not everyone acts with empathy all the time. How is it that it is so easy for some to ignore this instinct if it is so prevalent to our survival?
An instinctive basis for altruism doesn't mean we'll always act altruistically, though; we have the capacity and inclination to do so, but we also have competitive, aggressive and self-protective instincts to contend with. The unique reasoning and communicative capacities humans possess allow us to articulate complex moral codes far beyond the 'proto-morality' displayed by e.g. apes, but the same altruistic and empathetic capacities that enabled our hominid ancestors to flourish through cooperation, in tandem with our reasoning capacities, provide a necessary foundation for the development and transmission of those moral systems. The rhesus monkeys I mentioned earlier wouldn't be able to articulate why 'I shouldn't hurt that other monkey merely to get a snack'; they wouldn't be able to extract a principle from that experience and ponder its applicability to other types of situations; but we can see from that experiment that at least in this particular instance the 'brakes' built into their basic survival instincts (food acquisition) look very similar to ours. If we didn't possess this same capacity, all the "How do you think your brother feels when you hit him? Would you like it if he hit you? Please don't do that; use words if you want something" in the world wouldn't amount to anything.
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Old 01-29-2009, 12:27 AM   #108
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I consider myself not necessarily atheist, but more or less apathetic. I don't care whether there is a God or not.
Site Table of Contents - Apathetic Agnostic Church
Tagline on this website reads "We don't know and we don't care."
I didn't read much else, it might be pretty funny.
Here are there articles of faith:

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1. The existence of a Supreme Being is unknown and unknowable.

To believe in the existence of a god is an act of faith. To believe in the nonexistence of a god is likewise an act of faith. There is no evidence that there is a Supreme Being nor is there evidence there is not a Supreme Being. Faith is not knowledge. We can only state with assurance that we do not know.

2. If there is a Supreme Being, then that being appears to act as if apathetic to events in our universe.

All events in our Universe, including its creation, can be explained with or without the existence of a Supreme Being. Thus, if there is indeed a God, then that god has had no more impact than no god at all. To all appearances, any purported Supreme Being is indifferent to our Universe and to its inhabitants.

3. We are apathetic to the existence or nonexistence of a Supreme Being.

If there is a God, and that God does not appear to care, then there is no reason to concern ourselves with whether or not a Supreme Being exists, nor should we have any interest in satisfying the purported needs of that Supreme Being. However, our apathy to the question of God's existence does not necessarily mean we are apathetic about promoting agnosticism.
I'd join but I don't even believe in churches.

If I were to join a church, I'd rather join the Church of the Subgenius.
Church of the SubGenius - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 01-29-2009, 07:55 AM   #109
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how many times do parents and teachers point out how a small child's actions affect others? how many times do we point out how we shouldn't do something to other people if we don't want it done to ourselves? how often do we try and draw a direct cause-and-effect lesson with a child? how often do we read books and ask outside questions, like how did what so-and-so do make so-and-so feel? is the puppy sad? why?
I hear you, but I guess when it comes to these issue, my faith comes from a "darker" philosophy of human nature. It has a lot less to do with explaining why we are good, and more to do with explaining why we are not.

The reasons to be "good"--kind, empathetic, unselfish, cooperative etc--are obvious to the reasonable, logical mind. We don't need God to tell us that. What is illogical, and irrational--at least in my mind, is why so often we do things that are deliberately destructive, to ourselves and to others.

I don't see religious faith in and of itself as inherently good. Or bad. Nations based on atheism and religion alike have failed to best each other in creating an ideal and peaceful society.
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