I used to think morality was a distinctively human attribute but no more. To tell the complete story I really believed morality was unique to humans and divinities or spirits of some kind. This led to unresolvable problems that hurt my head, such as:
- Why does a good sleep or healthy diet have such a profound effect on moral behaviour of so many of us?
- Is not our morality supposedly a non-physical phenomenon we can control by our means of strong character? It’s because we are responsible for our actions that we punish those who do bad things, isn’t it? But what do we do with research that shows bad behaviour is related to chemical imbalances or other nasties in our bodies?
- How does God judge wicked deeds and motives if they could be avoided or change by a simple tinkering of a chemical balance in the brain?
Would a more rational list of Ten Commandments include things like
Thou shalt not eat meat sacrificed at MacDonalds. I will utterly blot out the remembrance of MacDonalds from under heaven.
Thy hoary heads shalt nap at noon for the Ancient of Days napped at noon.
We change. I no longer think our “moral nature” sets us apart from other animals at all. I’ve posted on this a few times now. One of my recent posts referred to Steve Wiggins’ review of Moral Animals on his Sects and Violence in the Ancient World blog. Love the title.
Another blog that I’ve discovered and enjoy exploring is aperi mentis. It’s Latin for “open your mind”. Another great title. Its byline:
a blog dedicated to the exploration of science, humanism & rationality (with a scattering of history and linguistics)
Lots of my favourite goodies there! He also has a post on the gospels:
I haven’t yet read it all through but I’m looking forward to doing so.
Back in June “steevmak” posted Moral Development and Religion. He begins by listing five problems with the view that our moral capacity is something God-injected.
(Recall those theological ramblings trying to tell us that being made in God’s image means being made with a moral sense. Except that that God says he “cannot sin” anyway so what sort of moral capacity is that? — Not that that’s something steevmak brings up. Just my own rambling here.)
He sets out very neatly, graphics and dilemmas to think through, Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. I’m not immediately won over by the theory (are we really hierarchical and logical when it comes to our moral sense or are we kidding ourselves with ad hoc rationalizations?) but there is a lot there to think seriously about.
Some other very interesting posts there are listed in the author archives. The include well set out articles on design in evolution, phonolinguistics —
Now linguistics, that’s what probably is the distinctive attribute of our species.
While on morality, and given Tim’s recent post on torture, here are some other web/blog finds I found worth sharing here:
Mano Singham of Freethought Blogs has Torture and the ‘ticking bomb” scenario. — of particular interest to me because he linked t a more thorough treatment covered in a 2006 article in The Progressive: The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb.
And in case we were ever wondering why it is conservative type Christians who are the most gung-ho about torture Valerie Tarico shows us the divine source of this ethic: Who, When, Why –10 Times the Bible Says Torture is OK.
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