A brief discussion about morality

A Muslim on Twitter, @IsmailAssenjee, asked me some questions about morality recently. So this blog post is my response. His view is that objective morals come from God/Allah, while mine is that there basically is no such thing as objective morals.

A rant about objective morality

First, Ismail tweeted me a YouTube video in which a Muslim apologist called Dawah Man rants about objective morality. Take a few minutes to watch the video.

It's easy to see Dawah Man (2014) is viewing morality through the lens of religion. He misrepresents things, such as what Richard Dawkins tweeted about child molestation. Dawkins didn't say it is okay to touch a child inappropriately; he said it is comparatively not as bad as being penetrated and raped. But the biggest problem with the video wasn't his misrepresentations, but his logic—or rather lack thereof.

Dawah Man talks about how Sam Harris views morality based on consequences. The apologist's objections to this are juvenile. He brings up silly examples, like swallowing the semen of one's own father. He says we find this wrong because God thinks it is, while there is no reason to call it immoral based on consequences. But I don't think it is objectively immoral; likewise, swallowing the semen of any man is something I don't want to do, but not something that is morally wrong.

Dawah Man also says that if one does not get morals from God, one would want to kill all elderly and disabled people because it is beneficial to society. He makes this argument because seeing morality based on consequences means one thinks that which has positive effects is moral, and he says killing all people who are a burden on society would be beneficial for society. He says secularism doesn't place any value on life, like Islam supposedly does.

Everyone’s life has an intrinsic value, as such that they think, feel, and experience; they are sentient beings.

But that is wrong. Living creatures are the point of the world; we live for the sake of living, and so secularism places an even greater value on life than Islam, hence why we can't just kill all old or disabled people. It seems Dawah Man thinks it's a good idea to kill all people who are a burden on society, but he doesn't do it only because his god doesn't want him to. Seculars don't want to kill all old people because that would hurt the old people. Everyone's life has an intrinsic value, as such that they think, feel, and experience; they are sentient beings.

Another important difference is that believers are perfectly fine with the majority of humankind burning in hell, but seculars do NOT want believers to be tortured for all eternity. Secular thinking is what gives us equality and freedom, not to mention scientific progress. Dawah Man couldn't conjure up any rational objections to it. Essentially, he's been conditioned to believe morals come from God and he is not open to any other possibility. The lens of faith distorts how one sees the world.

Is killing immoral?

The lens of faith distorts how one sees the world.

Ismail then asked if killing a human is immoral. I tweeted that it depends on the circumstances whether it is moral or immoral to kill a human being; it's not black and white. To this, he responded by asking several questions, all of which I answer below.

Ismail: Who decides what is good and evil?

Theists often say God is intrinsically good, even when he does bad things, but if one does bad things, one cannot be intrinsically good.

I don't think good and evil exist. People always have a reason for doing what they do, whether it's love, hate, compassion, greed, or religion. It's not always a good reason, but no one is inherently good or evil; we're all capable of doing good and bad things. Theists often say God is intrinsically good, even when he does bad things, but if one does bad things, one cannot be intrinsically good.

Regarding who decides what is good and evil, there is no straight answer. No one is the ultimate authority of morality. While there is a lot of common ground, what is considered right and wrong varies from person to person and culture to culture. Morality is subjective, although our intelligence and empathy form a basis for it, as we can imagine what it's like to have something happen to us.

Ismail: Is it moral for animals to kill humans? Is it moral for humans to kill humans? Is it moral for humans to kill animals? How does one decide if it is moral or immoral?

It all depends on the context. Most animals don't have our ability to place ourselves in someone else's shoes; in other words, they don't have the same level of cognition and empathy. Therefore, most animals are amoral. They only kill for very basic reasons: survival. Humans kill for a variety of reasons, not all of them reasonable (like religion, for example).

Whether it's moral for humans to kill other humans or animals depends on the context, as I've said. How sentient is the animal? Why does one kill it? Is it for survival, profit, or fun? What consequences will killing have? There are so many factors to take into account. How one decides if it is moral or immoral is by analyzing the circumstances. Who is the person who'll be killed? What has he done? What is he planning to do? What consequences will killing him have? Will killing him save lives or end tyranny? There is no easy answer; every context is different.

In response to Ismail's question how I would decide if it is moral to kill, I tweeted, "By using my brain." To this, he asked how one human's brain is different from another's. I responded that brains wire differently based on our environment and that we're not all genetically identical. I'm not sure what the point of his second question was, as he is the one arguing for objective morality, but with his question pointed out that humans make different moral decisions. He seemed to argue that all humans' brains are identical, which wouldn't explain differences in morality. In doing this, he argued against himself, for if it's not our brains that decide what we see as moral, he means it is God. But God is supposed to provide us with objective morals. Why, then, would humans be different?

Ismail: Who is the objective anchor for morality? Are you?

Our ability to be empathic is the "objective anchor for morality", if anything. No person or being, like a god, makes it so that one thing is good and another thing is bad. To give an example: homosexuality. This is considered a sin by scores of Christians and Muslims. The only reason they think so is because their god thinks so. How does that make homosexuality immoral? Whom does it hurt? What negative consequences does it have? No one and none. And why is murder bad? Is it because God thinks so? No. It's because a sentient being is hurt, permanently even. But morality is not something that is written in stone.

Ismail also asked if I am the anchor of morality, to which I roughly tweeted, "I'm just a rational human being, who doesn't see the world through the lens of religious indoctrination. My word isn't law."

I'M JUST A RATIONAL HUMAN BEING: This is a meme, created by Patrick Hall on October 25, 2014. Copyright © 2014 by Patrick Hall. All rights reserved. Feel free to spread it around.

References

Ben Afleck VS Sam Harris || Da'wah Man VS Sam Harris #AtheistLogic. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nF_9gxgr6k