An Attempt at Morality

Morality is defined as, “Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad”. Now, did I really need to define morality? Probably not. I would hope that we can all think of those moments in which we chose to do the right thing regardless of who was watching or how big the ‘thank you’ might be.

A couple months ago I came across an inspiring YouTube video of people preforming selfless acts and decided to share it on my Facebook page. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1lvj1WPiH4  I’m a sucker for those types of videos. The quality of my day seems in relation to the content in my brain and watching inspiring moments and selfless acts can certainly have a positive result. As I viewed the video for the third or fourth time, I wondered, are all these people I’m watching Christians? Are they religious of any sort? I suppose I’ll never know for sure but I do know many clips within the video were from other parts of the world where it would be likely that Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam would be the primary faith of the region, if any at all.

How do people of different faiths, or no faith at all get their morality? Clearly Christianity has no claims to the origin of morality for a multitude of reasons that we will examine.

As of July 2013, the population of our planet was recorded as 7,095,217,980 and counting. (I know there’s at least one more because my grandson was born earlier this year) Of that number, 2.2 billion people subscribe to Christianity. That leaves us with 4,895,217,980 people who not only disagree with the doctrine of Christianity but must be immoral monsters as well, right? Do we imagine that Hindus do nothing but rape during the day and go home to eat their children at night? I can comfortably report that many wouldn’t hurt a fly… well, perhaps a fly, but certainly not a cow.

I’ve now viewed countless videos of those in the animal kingdom preforming selfless moral acts via YouTube. I’ve seen so many now, I can’t remember if it was a dog saving a goat from drowning in the pond or the other way around. Apes have been seen risking their lives to save a fellow primate from rushing water. There’s a video of a bear saving a bird from drowning. One of the more recent viral videos is the cat fending off a dog attacking a child. What compels these animals to put themselves in harms way to save a creature that they would normally be having for lunch in some cases?  It seems clear that in both human and animal alike, we all share a form of morality that is born and bred into us to varying degrees, depending of course, on how closely you may fall into the animal category.

I get my morality from the Bible!  Ever hear that?  Sure, I enjoy country music as well so let’s dive in and see what the good book has to say for itself. How about starting with the ten commandments. These are the only writings of the entire Bible that God felt were so important that he wrote them himself… and in stone.

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

Did you remember all of them from Sunday school? -Me neither. At least four of the ten have nothing to do with morality whatsoever and the rest seem to fall under the heading of ‘no shit’. Are we to imagine that societies and civilizations carried on for thousands of years prior to these 10 commandments without realizing the social consequences of murder and stealing? The benefits and satisfaction of honoring your family? The outcome of being a liar and bearing false witness? Did they wish harm for their newborns until told to do otherwise? Let’s take a look at a few more pearls of wisdom.

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die. Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Whosoever … hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookback, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken … He shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries. Leviticus 21:17-23 KJV

A blemish?  Both Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5 tells us we were all handcrafted by the good Lord in the womb?

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Deuteronomy 23:1 NRSV

It’s not about morality but that last ones funny.  I wonder if that includes vasectomy’s?

Well what about the golden rule? “Do unto others what you would have them do to you”. Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, right?  Not exactly. That was said by Confucius 500 years before Christ hit the scene. Actually, I believe Confucius said it better, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others”. I don’t know about you but I have a much shorter and specific list of what I don’t want done to me than what I might be able to tolerate. Also, Krishna had a version of this statement which dated over 3000 years before Jesus.

Imagine reading the Bible, as though for the first time and knowing nothing about morality going into it. How many slaughters of cities and reasons for killing your wife, neighbor and children would you have to read through to finally get to the gems of wisdom that were actually spoken by someone else centuries before they were ever borrowed by the authors of the Bible?

Are you a Christian? Have you exercised your Christian right to murder anyone who picks up a gardening trowel on a Sunday afternoon?  Exodus 35:2

Are you married? Did you consider stoning your bride to death on her fathers doorstep if she wasn’t a virgin on your wedding night?  Deuteronomy 22:21

I wonder if rapists in prison are aware that the Bible only requires you to marry your rape victim, even if she’s engaged to another, give her dad 50 shekels and problem solved .  Deuteronomy 22:29

Cursing your parents is punishable by death in the Bible Leviticus 20:9 and the list goes on, absurdity after absurdity.

Some would argue, that’s old testament stuff- Jesus did away with that. Have you read Matthew 5:17? Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”.

Also, explaining to me that we can now ignore the old testament doesn’t make the Bible true, it just makes over half of it obsolete. In short, the acrobatics required to maintain that Christianity has anything to do with our foundations of morality would be a punchline except for that over 2 billion people are bamboozled and indoctrinated into thinking it is true.

Wading through the bloodbath of your family and friends, detailed instructions on owning slaves, and several episodes of genocide and yes, the Bible does contain some moral truths beyond that.  Moral truths are also found in the Koran, a few Hardy Boy’s books and anything written by Wayne Dyer.  This does not make the books magical nor does it hold any evidence that this is where our moral foundations began.

As for where we truly get morality, or principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, let’s travel back in time to the plains of Africa approximately 200,000 years ago.  This is, in fact when and where we all originated from as genetically mapped by the Human Genome Project headed up by Francis Collins, a Christian.

At this period of time we have finally reached Homo sapien status.  Go us!  Human brain size evolved rapidly during this time of dramatic climate change which enabled our ancestors to begin interacting with one another, as well as their environment, in some new and different ways.  I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that morality had it’s evolutionary beginnings prior to this time period.  Our ancestors had began walking on two legs six million years prior to this.  They first began using stone tools 2.6 million years ago.  The first BBQ was about 800,000 years ago when our ancestors began controlling fire.  Around this time there is evidence that we early humans would gather around campfires to socialize, share food and find safety from predators.  It should begin to seem clear that leading up to these landmarks in human history, we slowly and cautiously began to recognize beneficial aspects of cooperation.  Those who preferred not to cooperate, or imagined that killing others was better than cooperation, stood no chance in carrying their genes to the next generation.  Procreation between those who learned to cooperate far outnumbered those who didn’t simply because it takes more than one person to cooperate, and the more people, the larger the orgy – or however they did it.

Let’s take a moment to be clear.  We have gone back to search for the early beginning of morality.  Morality among many other aspects of being human is both a process and a project.  It was only as recently as 1964 that segregated restrooms and drinking fountains were outlawed.  The last American public execution was as recent as 1936.  20,000 people came to watch.  C’mon down, bring the family.  Go back 500 years and we have the blood of 70,000-100,000 witches on our hands.  Witches for Christ sake!  These women weren’t the green skinned pointy hat wearing witch we have in mind today,  they were mostly the girls next door that you blamed because your crop of squash didn’t turn out so good that season.  All of which were executed by people reading from the exact same Bible text we read today and justified with the Bible verses, Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, 1 John 4:1, Acts 13: 8-10, Leviticus 19:31, and the list goes on with literally 32 different verses in both New and Old testament to back up the witch hunts.

All of the different failings of morality through our recent history were not one off atrocities.  This was the norm.  At those periods of time, the general population was operating at what they perceived as the pinnacle of their moral understanding.  This is all to say that we’ve come a long way since… not too long ago.  We still have a road to hoe but you should be able to see my point.

When Christians generally ask about morality it tends to be put forward in a context as though it was bestowed upon us the moment Moses came down from the mountain, and has remained the same ever since.  You can plainly recognize that morality has been evolving with us to this very day.

Is it such a stretch to consider that early man could recognize the benefit and satisfaction of cooperation, sharing and compassion one small step at a time?

How difficult is it to imagine that murdering lunatic neanderthals didn’t get laid as much as those who shared and cooperated with one another?

One common trait amongst most of the living is that we wish to remain that way. We’ve recognized and favored actions and attitudes to keep us that way. The more heroic, the better. The hero’s that survive enjoy more “tang”, if you will. The lunatics in the asylum tend not to get laid as much.

There is a small percentage of us that don’t seem to feel this way and we tend to successfully marginalize this small section of the population. How did this section of the population not get weeded out by now, you may ask? There’s a Facebook page I came across recently on my news feed created by “Women Who Love Their Inmates”. That’s one example. There are also still religions and cultures who abide more closely to nonsense old testament style living as described above which make women property and vessels for reproduction. Crediting the Christian Bible for our morality is not only unnecessary, it is absurd. It is no surprise we still have lunatics in our world but it should equally be no surprise why we have recognized that the benefits of cooperation, compassion and empathy within our civilization have had much stronger running legs.

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God??

I just finished reading an article my friend shared titled “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God”. It was written by Eric Metaxas and published by the Wall Street Journal. Within the article, Metaxas submits good ol’ “fine tuning” points and arguments. To say that his article is a casual cliff notes version of what science has uncovered regarding planetary discovery as well as the parameters necessary to support life, may be too generous.

I’d like to first express my disappointment in our ideas and interest in science. Firstly, it may seem to many of us, and especially the religious, that science is some large institution with a chairman at the head of the table that dogmatically enforces an anti-god philosophy. This may be an easy and safe compartment to store ones thoughts about science. I know, because I lived in the “compartment” of Christianity for over half of my life.

One of the byproducts of religious indoctrination, as I have discovered, is separating worldviews into unique little compartments. I remember going to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night to learn why our compartment is good and other compartments are bad. The truth of the matter is that in leaving the faith, there is an option to not reside in a compartment at all. One can comfortably view the whole chest of drawers and examine the good, the bad, and the ugly of all of the compartments. This is where science comes in. Again, science is not a philosophy, it is a method. True science is an unbiased process to discover the nature of reality wherever the evidence leads. True scientists publish peer-reviewed papers and journals and celebrate when they are wrong or corrected because the interest is in the truth – not the preconceived idea. It brings to mind to wonder, are the “scientists” in which you quote or listen to unbiased? I ask you to consider, how do they handle correction?

Secondly, I’m disappointed in our general interest in the sciences. This is not just the religious I’m gunning for. Our overall obsession with the Real Housewives of whatever, the dress she wore to the thing, and who he’s sleeping with now, have somehow crept to the top of our interests. They seem to be the first articles we tap on for real news. I often use the Google news app myself and if one scrolls down a few swipes, there resides news related to science. There’s a whole category for it that will provide you news from many disciplines of science. I invite you to explore, enjoy and experiment for yourself!

Now I’ll take aim at the religious. I imagine the last time those of the faith have explored a scientific article was because there was the word “God” in the headlines. I haven’t a problem with that quite yet, as I also will search for topics that I enjoy. When reading the science section I tend to be more interested in astronomy with a sprinkling of biology news articles. I don’t know why, I just seem to be more interested in those topics.  What the religious and I do with the information is quite different. I do not read these articles to shore up a preconceived idea I have about the universe. I’m simply interested in the evidence that has been uncovered and if it has any meaningful use in my daily life, I may experiment with employing it. I will sometimes search to see if the scientists quoted have published any peer-reviewed papers or if the author himself has an agenda.

This habit the faithful have of ignoring or condemning thousands of scientific articles that are devastating to the underpinnings of religious belief and their holy books, only to champion the few articles per year that might cautiously state “There may be a God…possibly not the one you’re thinking about…but somewhere out there…maybe…” -This type of article seems to satisfy and satiate those of the faith. It’s what Sam Harris describes as “Playing tennis without the net”.

As far as this Christmas day article published by religious Metaxas, he provides false information about planetary discovery from sources that aren’t necessarily as close to the subject as you’d like to believe. His quote from Peter Schenkel, In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.” Though Schenkle has written books about extraterrestrials and certainly holds an interest in space, he’s not an astronomer, he’s a retired political scientist.

Schenkle also limits his opinions about the discoveries in space in regards to SETI who’s focus is on picking up intelligent communications from the cosmos, not the discovery of habitable planets.

In an article by Alan Neuhauser from April 17, 2014, NASA’s Kepler telescope had recently discovered the Earth-like planet Kepler-186f and what’s more, NASA has discovered 1,855 planets in 1,164 planetary systems including 473 multiple planetary systems as of December 22, 2014. Around 1 in 5 sun-like stars have earth sized planets in the habitable zone. Don’t believe me, look it up.

I have nothing against Schenkle or his views on the matter, but they are clearly specific to the search for extraterrestrials and not the amount of habitable planets we’ve discovered. Nor does anything he states in his article have to do with the existence of a God. In the same paper he will go on to confirm evolution by referencing the timetable, “Though first primitive life forms on Earth, the prokaryotic bacteria, evolved relatively rapidly, only about 500 million years after the cooling off of Earth’s crust and the end of the dense bombardment of meteorites and comets, they were the only lifeforms during the first two billion years of Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history. Mammals-including apes and man-developed much later, only after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The first human-like being, the Proconsul, emerged in the Miocene Period, just about 18 million years ago. The Australopithecus, our antecessor, dates only 5 to 6 million years. In other words, it took almost 4 billion years, or more than 96 percent of the age of Earth, for intelligence to evolve-an awfully long time, even on the cosmic clock.”  

Do you creationists still want to hitch your wagon on?

Metaxas in his “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God” article seemed to enjoy throwing out large and unlikely probabilities and quoting those who stated those probabilities. I’ve got a fun one for you. What are the odds that you are who you are today? Author Ali Binazir quantifies the probability beginning with your dad meeting your mom and moving to your family lineage being unbroken to this point in history. Any guesses? It’s 1 in 10 to the 2,685,000. That’s right. 10 with 2,685,000 zeros behind it. What are you doing right now? Are you doing the impossible with 2,685,000 zeros behind it? Does it somehow mean you’re impossible? Pinch yourself- it happened.  There is an estimated 370,000 babies born each and every day in this world.  Every one of them has the same probability attached to them, 10 with 2,685,000 zeros.  We witness the seemingly impossible every day.  This is exactly what’s wrong with attaching a probability to something that has already occurred.  The numbers make it sound spooky.  Think of this the next time you hear or read someone spouting off numbers.  Ask yourself, Is this person trying to move me away from facts using numbers?

The fine tuning drum that the faithful have been beating as well as Metaxas in his article has been countered for years and gains continued strength as time goes on in favor of the non-believer. A simple trip to Wikipedia will outline both sides of the argument for you to explore yourself.

In conclusion, it should seem an attack on your intelligence that Metaxas would wheel out a dusty argument with some out of context quotes seasoned with scary probabilities to produce an article like this on Christmas day. It caters directly to the scientifically ignorant culture we’ve crafted for ourselves and even with this fragile tapestry he’s created, his best conclusion is that some intelligence may have created us. If I granted all that he wrote to be true, I’d have to follow up with the question, which God then created us? There’s nothing in the article indicating that it’s your God or a caring God or even a God that’s alive anymore, let alone a personal God who after creating us cares very deeply about what we do while naked.

I invite you to explore for yourself and consider if you’ve got a little confirmation bias on your own operating system.