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Monday, October 4, 2010

A Moral Obligation

Ted Talk:
Science Can Answer Moral Questions

Questions of good and evil, right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science. But Sam Harris argues that science can — and should — be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 23:07)

morality: "concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct"

Anyone that knows me in any capacity will have some idea that I'm not religious. Infact, the best way to put it is that I'm about as religious as I am not. I'm a cop out, an agnostic with a sympathsizing ear to athestic logic. One thing I definitely am, is pro-science. Being able to apply a simple logic to the way my life unfolds is comforting to me. Science is not a beliefs system. Science is NOT religion. Science is a quest for knowledge.

Now, usually, this is well and good. On any given day I am free to go about my buisness and run my life in this capacity, generally unabated. However, it has come to my attention in the past few years that the field of science is often viewed as vehemently anti-religious in an active capacity. I really don't feel like sparking any real debate on this topic, as if science and religion were two head to head ideologies. I have strong opinions on many facets of religion, and will share them if you ask me. However, for the sake of this blog I would like to make my position on morality as a dependant on religion clear.

Religion is NOT a crutch for morality. Morality Can exist without it.

Let me start with a hypothetical. Lets say I was grocery shopping, and while I was trying to walk down the isle there were little children darting every which way and impeding my progress. I easily could push that child aside - yet do not. Now I made the moral decision to myself that it was wrong to push a child.

I did NOT need religion to help me make this moral choice. Am I to believe the only reason I might not have pushed that kid was because God says it's wrong?

I do not steal because I have a base sense of what rightfully belongs to me. I don't murder because it is essentially the ultimate form of theft. Someone's life certainly does not belong to me, and I have no right to take it away.

In fact I'll put it to you to tell me how doing things only for the sake of 'religious morality' is in itself not purely selfish. Is a person of faith making the right decisions because they are concerned with where they will end up? I pity an existence where I can not contribute to this earth for the pure sake of doing it. Every nice thing I do out of a religion-based morality is actively selfish.

If God exists and is truly omnipotent, do you think he'd be more impressed with someone who makes moral choices because he told them to, or because they honeslty feel it's the right thing to do? Now begin questioning your motivations. I have met salt of the earth atheists and evil as sin born-agains, not to mention every combination inbetween.

Morality does not equal religion. Morality and religion should not go hand and hand.

I would really love feedback on this one. I would love to know your thoughts. I'm not stating my beliefs behind a wall of anonymity, and as a consequence respect and invite any opinion on the this delicate matter; good or bad.

Much love, much respect.

Peace in the east,


  1. So, first off thanks so much for writing out your thoughts and I apologize before hand if what I'm going to write doesn't make any sense. I think I'm better at expressing my thoughts in person than in writing, but nonetheless, this is a great exercise for me. So here I go...

    So I'll explain the perspective I'm coming from... I would consider myself a Follower of Jesus, different than a Christian, because I believe I am more spiritual than I am religious. I'm a follower of Jesus for the personal relationship with God, not because of the religious dogma attached to Christianity.

    I agree when you say that some people are in religion for the end goal, but I'm not. I'm a follower of Christ because I want to serve my Maker, not because I want to get to heaven, sure I'm thankful that I'm assured of that, but that's not the reason for my faith.

    The reason I work to be a moral person (I'm not perfect by any means) is because God has given me so much (family, friends, shelter, nature, learning experiences, etc.) and I want to thank Him for that. The most important thing I believe he gave for me and anyone who accepts him was Jesus Christ. He sent Jesus so that we may be free from all of our sins and evil doings. Because of Jesus, I no longer have to pay the price for my own wrong doings, I no longer have to bare the weight and guilt of everything I do wrong or do that is immoral. Yes, if I do wrong, there will still be consequences, but because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, I will be/ have been forgiven. I don't have to suffer death any longer. When I do die, it will be a glorious celebration, because I will meet God face to face. Yes, I am so excited for that day, but it is not why I try to do what is right;I look at it as an award or a bonus.

    Sean, you say that you pity a time when you cannot contribute to this earth for the pure sake of doing it. I agree. For me, it's more than to just do it, it's about gratefully contributing because of all that the maker of this earth has done.

    I also agree that everyone should check their motives for acting (including myself). I believe our motive should be selfless, out of serving others.

    And I agree we should do things for the sake of doing them and not to get a benefit from it, but how possible is that really? I mean, by doing something just because, doesn't that give you pleasure and therefore is for you, a selfish act? So I try to do right because I want to please my God.

    Sorry, my comment is so long and that my thoughts are all over. Hope you can make some sense of this. If you don't understand, I would be more than happy to explain what I'm trying to say in a different way.

    Peace and Best Wishes,

  2. Thanks again for the response Kristen - and for subscribing, I hope I write something worth reading.

    To answer simply, the only real distinction I can think of is that the positive feel of self satisfaction recieved for commiting an act without self-serviant motivation is merely a bonus. It is a benefit, but a byproduct of the behaviour.

    Religious based morality can still offer the same sense of self satisfaction in regards to positive deeds, but there is very clear punishment inherent in the system for alternative behaviour.

    I envy your faith, but am unable to mimic it. The thought of nothing after life scares me, especially as I am continually reminded of how small a window life is. However, I can't rationalize another way of thought.

    I think all I can say is hold on to what gets you through the day. I feel pretty safe in saying that your apparant want to make a difference on this planet is niether fear nor greed driven. You just really care.

    Speaking on the subjective, especially when it touches on people's beliefs is always a hot issue. I hope it's clear that I don't try to come off confrontational in this blog, merely preplexed.


  3. Sean,
    You are right about what you say about religious based morality, that there is a very clear punishment, but there is also a very clear award.

    I'm sorry that you feel as though you can't mimic my faith. I'm under the belief that if you want something bad enough and if you search for it, you'll find what you are looking for without even realizing that's what you're looking for.

    Life is so short, and it's really hard to see people go. I'm sorry if you've lost people that you are close to.

    Also, don't worry about touching my beliefs, I think conversations like this is worthwhile and are so important to participate in. It beats talks about the weather :D.

    I didn't see this post as confrontational at all, and I hope I don't come across as pushing my beliefs onto you. I'm just being honest. Also, I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do think it's so important to question. Keep on asking questions!

    peace in your perplexity :D,

  4. Sean and Kristen –

    Sorry for the delayed response but I only just read this and can't resist the urge to reply.

    Sean - once again, I find we are struggling with many of the same things. Neither of us says much about it but we both turn to the written word for support, comfort and guidance. We both feel calmer after writing and we both take advantage of the fact that paper always listens.

    I sit in very much the same spot as Sean in that I do not completely agree with any religion and yet I am drawn to the idea of them all. I think that believing in something greater than ourselves is a comfort to many. It is not a good feeling when you're faced with the idea that what you see might really be what you get, and all that you get. It makes you question yourself, your life, the lives of others and it ultimately makes me wonder what the point is. As a scientist and a graduate student I am used to busting my ass day in and day out and sometimes I can't help but wonder why. Why work like we do when in the end, we're all on our way out and we are all going to be facing the same thing when that end comes. Rich or poor, hard working or lazy, black or white or blue, we are all the same in death.

    Morality is absolutely an entity all its own. I'm no ethicist but I do strongly believe that we are moral for the sake of morality itself. That being said, I also believe that all good deeds are selfish. I will even go so far as to say that we are an inherently selfish species. We do good because it makes us feel good. We even procreate because we desire to be parents, not because we need to continue the life of our species. It can even be argued that our desire to be parents is negatively affecting other aspects of life for millions of people across the planet.

    I too am envious of people that are so sure of their faith. But at the same time I pity them. I wish I believed in something as passionately as they do, but I fear this is impossible without becoming blind to the world around me. Something I will dedicate my life to avoiding. I cannot deny the greed I feel for knowledge of all things - unfortunately, the more I learn, the less I believe in a celestial being. I've tried asking friends questions about their faiths, they are receptive at first but invariably get frustrated with being asked questions they cannot answer. Until the multitudes of questions can be answered, I cannot have faith.

    There is one other thing that has always pushed me away from religion, Christianity in particular (since the majority of religious people in Southern Ontario are Christian). I have always felt like an alien whenever I am at a church for a wedding or other event. I find there is very little acceptance of non-believers and I always wonder how that can be. Many (I will refrain from saying 'most') people with strong faith refuse to see any other possibility. I have, at different times and by different people, been told that I am going hell because I don't believe in a Christian God and that I will forever be incapable of loving or receiving love, since I do not welcome God into my home and my bedroom. These, as well as other instances remind me that maybe I don't want to be a part of that 'club' after all.

    As previously stated, I am a scientist. I understand that I am biased - but aren't we all? Science is often considered the antichrist. Many people believe that you cannot be informed of one while still believing in the other. I too wonder if it is possible to attain a balance, but I have recently began working with an incredibly intelligent man from Egypt who is a world authority on DNA and is a devout Christian. How he manages to believe in both is beyond me but I do take some comfort in the fact that he has found a way.

    This has morphed into a novel, which is not what I intended. These are simply some of my thoughts and some of the things I frequently struggle with in regards to this topic.


  5. Thanks for the post and the sub, Jenn. As it is late and I don't feel like addressing every point, I will merely touch on your point of:

    "That being said, I also believe that all good deeds are selfish."

    This is inherently true. Like all animals, when Humans make decisions there is always an underlying theme of 'what is good for me, and mine'. As you and I both know, even in nature, there is no such thing as pure altruism, but rather a genetic numbers game of whats good for your shared DNAs longevity.

    That said, we as a higher thinking species are in a position where we can stop and say: "Does there need to be anything is this for me?". And maybe if you answer no, there will be something in it for you anyways, and that is a bonus. My point is that we have the capacity to assess every decision we make to see if there are selfish gains to be had, and then make the moral choice to proceed even if there is none.

    Do you kind of see what I mean?