Is morality based on standards set by God?

Or you could believe God has commanded you to take a piece of land from some other tribe, and to keep only the women alive for yourself, massacre the rest. And find support for that in some old texts.

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Oh, lets be clear on two points: 1) this discussion is about Atheism, as you practice it, and your notion of moral construction and application:

  1. We could discuss God if you like, but my point stands even if there isn’t a God (gods). Adherents who “believe” X God exists and has codified a moral code, will execute punishment for those who break it are FAR more trustworthy with power than the atheist, for with the zealot, you know what you got and more likely to know what you’re going to get. The atheist however, predicates his morals on his whim, which changes with the wind.

Not at all, in all moral models, outcome is relevant; the least pain for the most people, or the survival and thriving of humanity. Moreover, we are discussing the identification and assessment of “wicked”, we discussed outcomes of several real world examples where you have articulated your personal application of moral assessment; subjective preference, consensus of a given population, and resistance to any outside intrusion or limitation of the exercise of your model.

As such, X behavior believed by an individual to be “good” or “non-wicked” is as good, as authoritative as any other -including your own-, and should not be infringed, indeed should resist infringement. By your own model’s exampled application, the Democrat Slavers, the Aztec child eaters, the South African apartheid, all are perfectly as good, non-wicked, justified, reasonable as your own moral conclusions, and by your own model, they should have resisted the (dare I say “evil”) outside moral imposition, limitation, termination forced upon them, even as you do.

Oh, I fully accept Patrick’s probable objection to slavery, but to condemn them is self refuting, in that he would be condemning his own moral method. Beyond this, terminating that system by force is just as immoral, by Patrick’s model, as the Slavers; both employ “Might makes Right”. Somehow it’s wrong for others but right for you?

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And this is “wicked” in your opinion? Why should anyone believe you?

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Ahh, hello Dr Harshman,

Correct, is there an objective moral standard or not, if not then all are equally authoritative, to condemn another is to condemn oneself.

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Just so you know, I typically find your comments opaque, as with that one.

The point of Euthyphro is that your grounding of moral standards in God is incoherent. If there’s an objective standard, it can’t be that. Now I think there happens to be a sort-of objective-ish standard, but it’s grounded in humans as a social species, with innate rules and tendencies, some of them found in other monkeys too. Layered on top of that are various rules that make societies work better and people’s lives better. Eating babies is problematic from that perspective; I would modestly propose that this applies even to Irish babies.

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It might have been a culture norm for the Aztec’s to kill and ate their enemy’s children. Over time, each society develops their own cultural and societal norms. Today’s society is far different from biblical culture and norm for these to have any credence or authority in today’s world.

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Going a little crazy with the moving topics around, aren’t we?

Yes, trying to get it back in order :sweat_smile:
This is a little better, but Patrick’s one post is still off

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I am not always sure that terms like “wickedness” are very useful except as describing our emotional reaction to something, and our reactions are by nature subjective. But it’s fair to say that we generally respond to bad actions at different levels. Broadly, these are (1) mere subjective disapproval and (2) objective, active response (e.g., by way of criminal statutes and enforcement mechanisms).

Moral philosophy is always “ungrounded” in that no “ultimate” reason for it can be given, and as Harshman has pointed out, this is so whether there are any gods or not, and whether those gods have moral opinions or not. But I agree with him that it is “objective-ish” in that core components of human moral systems seem to be not just a pure social construct but seem instead to be driven by our neural make-up. We find sociopaths frightening precisely because this is what we see missing – Hannibal Lecter makes such a good villain because, among other things, it’s plain that he simply doesn’t have any interest in how his actions affect others (or, indeed, does, but enjoys it).

If you want to “explain” morality it inevitably has to be asked: what kind of explanation do you want? The explanation for “why is there such a thing as morality” is liable to lie in biology and neuroscience, while the explanation for “why do you think I shouldn’t steal this car” lies in moral reasoning. The source of it all is some mix of basic human universals, mediated and modified through human cognitive processes (which allow the insertion of such things as the relative weighings of harm, where harm is inevitable), and further mediated and modified by social interaction.

And the social interaction part of it – well, that’s where it gets particularly weird. That’s where you can wind up with “moral” standards like “women shouldn’t braid their hair.” I sometimes think that the key reason why some people so desperately want there to be a basis for some sort of “objective” morality lies in these types of propositions. It’s not hard to convince others that wild killing sprees are generally a bad thing, but when the job is to convince others that hair-braiding is evil, the only sort of system that will work is not one based in actual moral philosophy, but one based on command.

As for “dancing to our DNA,” I don’t see the problem there. We are indeed responding to internal and external causes when we act in the world. I don’t know anyone who thinks this negates moral responsibility; the difference is more often between those who think that it is irrelevant and those who think of it as mitigating moral blame (e.g., if someone has a propensity to violence because of a serious trauma to the brain, or some neural abnormality, do we respond differently than we do to someone whose violence does not appear to have such contributing causes?).


Many naturalist (and Christian philosophers) hold to a view of moral realism that posits there are brute basic moral facts, that don’t depend on God for their existence, that all other moral facts are built off of. Christians like Swinburne and atheists like Wielenberg hold to something like this. So you don’t have to call someone wicked in the context of evolution.


Why can’t I be judgmental on those who perpetrated evils in the past?

First of all it’s atheism, no reason to capitalize the A. Second, it’s not just about atheism, it’s about morality.

Cool story bro. Oh by the way, this is “wicked” in your opinion? Why should anyone believe you?

Why is that good? What is it that makes that be what is good?

Same goes for God’s opinion. It’s still just an opinion.

And yours too. All you can offer, no different than anyone else despite your pretensions otherwise, is assertions. You can just SAY what you think is good and what isn’t good, and from nothing does the truth of that follow.

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I brought of the term “wickedness” because it is the term most used in the bible to describe people and groups of people. For example, all people including children were wicked except Noah and his family.
Wickedness is used in the bible without much definition. So is sin. Contrast this with 21 century law and crime. With is illegal has to be codified before a successful prosecution and punishment can happen if places where the rule of law is in place. Contrast this with the bible, we all you had to say a group of people and their animals were wicked, all you just wipe them out in a genocide. The bible isn’t a good law book either.

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I could ask you the very same question. Your answer would not be any better than mine.

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Not to be presumptuous, but I suspect a theist might condemn this behaviour on the grounds that the Aztec’s religion did not worship a real God.

If so, then why could someone not object to your moral code on the very same grounds?

And if not, then on what grounds would a theist who subscribes to the form of Divine Command Theory you seem to be advocating here object to this behaviour

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Divine Command Theory really doesn’t even get out of the gate, from my point of view. Importantly, we don’t find it taught in the Bible. In fact we have several very clear cases in the Bible of humans challenging God even to His face, insisting that God Himself must do what is right, which obviously assumes there’s a standard of goodness to which even God must adhere.


I thought I’d share this paper by Erik Wielenberg. He’s been pretty influential
on me and how I think about morality. This papers lays out a position of objective morality that doesn’t require a theistic foundation. Now it’s fully compatible with Theism, and some Christians do hold to it. Enjoy.


Indeed not. It’s utterly nonsenscial.

But, you know, it’s interesting to see how some people see sense in it anyhow, and some just don’t. There does seem to be a pretty wide spectrum of attitudes toward authority, and these attitudes are so hard to alter that I have to wonder if there isn’t some hard-wired basis for them. One sees this in judges – some are very warm to authority, some rather cold. A person whose philosophy is democratic (small-d here) may be a constitutional democrat (“the people have the right to self-govern, but there are some things they may not do to others”) or a true majoritarian (“what the people vote for is right”). Some like extraconstitutional notions like “emergency executive powers” and some do not. Some focus on the rights of individuals, others on “rights” of agencies, collectives and groups of one kind or another.

But what is interesting about those classifications, when it comes to judges, is that they do not reliably track politics. There are hard-core authoritarians of almost any political stripe.

I found Thacker’s suggestions, earlier in this thread, that secular ethics inherently must consist of “might makes right” quite bizarre. In reality, some bullies are religious, and some are godless, and belief (and disbelief) in the virtue of mere authority crosses all kinds of political, social and religious boundaries.

Among creationists, one encounters an awful lot of majoritarianism – even a sort of epistemic majoritarianism which says that if a very large number of people believe something, it must therefore be true. One certainly encounters the idea that if a majority of people in a community wish creationism to be taught to children, it should be taught, without regard to its truth or falsity.