My answer to a Muslim about where I get my morals from:
Atheism does not discuss morality. It is simply the rejection of God.
So then where do atheists get morals from?
First of all, where do our morals come from?
We can see traces of “morality” even in animals. Rats will refuse food if know it will cause a shock to fellow rats. Male chimps have been observed giving their food to an older female even when there is no personal benefit to them. In “The Selfish Gene” Dawkins explains how altruism can arise naturally. Helping others ends up helping you. This also explains why we find incest disgusting. Because incest is harmful, ancestors who this would have been weeded out. There are certain biases that come with our evolutionary history though. For example we are more likely to feel sympathy and help individuals over larger groups. Studies have shown that we are more likely to give money to a charity that shows us an individual rather than a large group suffering.
We do not need to limit ourselves to our evolutionary morals though. I will explain
Where do my morals come from?
They come from an understanding of the effects of my actions on others. At the bottom, all that matters is consciousness. In a world of rocks and trees, there would be no morality. Human thriving is the basis of my morality. If my actions lead to the further thriving of humans then this would be considered moral under my system. If my actions lead to harmful consequences then they would be considered immoral.
Are my morals objective?
My morals are based on a subjective basis of human thriving and well being. Once we have this subjective basis, we can make objective decisions based on this. So my morals are objective based on a subjective base of human thriving. If you do not agree to this definition, then we cannot discuss any further. If morals to you is whatever God says, then according to you God can make bad things moral. Does this make sense?
If I save your son when he’s drowning and you share your excess food with me rather than letting it spoil, we all benefit. Building society this way leads to positive sum gains. A zero sum gain is when the sum of the total is equal to the parts. With a society based on human thriving, we would all benefit more than if we selfishly hoarded and let each other’s children starve.
Is something good because God said its good, or because its good by definition? Can rape be okay if God says its okay? I think not. Rape, killing, theft etc are wrong because they are wrong, not because God said so. God cannot make these things okay no matter what. This is known as the Euthrypro dilemma. It highlights the flawed idea of using God as a definition of what is good.
Are these values “stolen” from religions?
If we look at religions, we find they have a mixture of good and bad values. Love your neighbour, don’t steal, don’t kill others, and so on. But it also contains harmful teachings like slavery and having sex with your slave is okay (4:24 and others), beating your wife is okay under certain conditions (Quran 4:34), a daughter would get half the inheritance of a man (which may have made sense in a different world but no longer), men can divorce with a single word uttered over several months but women have to request a judge to nullify their marriage and may even have to return her marital gift. There are more peculiar and wierd rules that religion brings such as in Sunni Islam men cannot wear gold, people can marry their adopted sons ex-spouses, can marry their cousins, but CANNOT marry their foster-siblings (someone who breastfed from the same mother). What possible reason could there be for these arbitrary rulings? Who does it hurt if men wear gold? Tons of Muslims also suffer not being able to buy a home because of rules against interest. In a bank mortgage, the bank is able to offer a very low interest rate to the home buyer, and the home buyer is able to buy an asset that appreciates over time eventually being self-reliant. Again, what possible harm is there in a person buying a house for his family and eventually leaving it for his children rather than renting from another person who has a mortgage? I have written in detail on some of these topics on my blog but these few examples are sufficient to show the harms of religious morality and rulings.
In the Bible it says that a child that curses their parents should be killed. God allowed the Midianites to slaughter the Amalekites and keep their virgin women alive for the men. (Bible, Numbers 31:15-18) Does that sound like something God would allow? If its true, why would it be okay back then but not now? Did God change his mind? Why would he allow the companions of Muhammad to do “muta” (Temporary marriage, where you pay money to have sex with a woman for a time period – similar to prostitution) but forbid it for others? Does this make any sense? ISIS uses the Quran to justify slavery, and even modern scholars like Taqi Usmani agree that you cannot make slavery haram if Allah allowed it. Christians used to justify slavery using the Bible for many years. They said how can we condemn something that God himself allowed?
So we don’t need religion. We can take the best values we find and build a system without the harmful terrible ideas that religion packs along for the ride.
We have progressed morally throughout the ages
We have progressed as humans to no longer accept violence against women. For the equality and rights for all no matter what their race religion or sex. The universal declaration of human rights authored after World War 2 is an example of this.
The United Nations Charter “reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights, and dignity and worth of the human person” and committed all member states to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.
The lyrics for the popular beatles song “Run for your life” illustrate how violence against women was openly acceptable.
Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won’t know where I am
Movies like Matilda also illustrate this, where it was acceptable for teachers and even parents to beat children. We have learned. We have moved on.
Religious morals by definition can never adapt or change or learn from research and evidence. Decades of research have shown us that beating children does not lead to positive results. It does not change behaviour effectively.
And this is why religious morality is inferior. It’s written in stone and cannot change, even when evidence shows us otherwise. My video “Punishment for adultery in Islam” gives another example of this. Killing people for adultery is absolutely pathetic. Watch my video to see why.
And this is why secular humanism is the best system for humans to live by. It leads to human thriving and happiness.
- Read more at A Case For Secular Morality – Objective Morality Without God
- Also see How Morality Has the Objectivity that Matters—Without God on the Secular Humanism site: