Saturday, August 19, 2006

Where does our moral authority come from??

One of the questions that Christians often ask we atheists is where does our moral authority come from? The Christian of course claims that the bible is the basis for moral authority. God has set down moral standards by which all judgments and laws can be determined. Now whether or not that is accurate (and I think it's not) this is the simplistic view of many Christians.

It does sound like a reasonable argument. However it fails to recognise how we actually make moral decisions. Firstly the bible does not mention every possible moral dilemma. There is no mention of stem cell research in the bible, so the believer must find a passage that they think applies. Then they extend that principle to the new situation. Not all Christians agree so discussion occurs until some general consensus is reached. So it is not the bible that decides it is the believer.

We non-believers decide what is moral based on reason and practice. We decide that murder is wrong because we don't like the idea of being murdered. Our definition includes all sorts of acts. Over time situations arise that may make us refine what we consider murder. If it is just taking human life then maybe we would want to add intention because otherwise accidental deaths would be murder. As society we refine and change our view of what is moral based on reason and experience.

This sounds a lot like our modern legal process, because it is in this fashion we decide what is moral. Does it change? Yes of course it has to. In the same way that Christians change their morality. Christians change, yes is slavery still O.K, it was a hundred and fifty years ago?

In short we all raw our moral judgments from a combination of reason and experience. These choices are made before any religious view comes into it. Even devout believers often change their mind when the moral precepts prevent them doing what they want.

Atheists then have the same moral authority as believers reason and experience and that is as good as it gets.

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