Morality by Consensus

I’ve been listening to a lot of lectures and debates recently on questions of religion. It’s quite remarkable that scholars representing the theist worldview are willing to engage in debate on scientific grounds. In other words, they argue for the existence and goodness of a supernatural being based on “evidence”, or at least their conception of what makes convincing evidence. To me, this is a losing battle, as religion and rationality just don’t mix. The fundamental concept of religion is faith, and by definition, faith is an irrational acceptance of beliefs as fact.

For that reason, I don’t find these debates very interesting, outside the fact that they inspire me to think about (at times unanswerable) questions of existence, meaning, morality, etc.

And that’s what I wanted to say in this note, as highlighted in the below video of a debate about the role of religion in fine-tuning our moral compass. The question is whether there is such a thing as objective morality, and how it comes about (creationism vs evolution). How do we know (and feel) that it’s wrong to kill? How do we account for the fact that in some cultures it is considered just to abuse women and in other cultures such abuse is fundamentally immoral?

Like many scientists, I don’t believe in the possibility objective morality: a set of absolute rules about what is good and what is evil. I’m referring to a relatively well-defined set of moral laws of the kind that most major religions provide in their holy texts. I believe our conception of what is good comes from social norms, from a kind of a democracy of ideas. We evolve slowly, together, generally in the direction of greater respect for individual rights, freedoms, etc.

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