Morality is one of the main modules within religion and their gods. See my post here on “Your Modular God“.
Morality is the agreed rules (implicit or explicit) that humans use to guide social behavior. “Morality” and “ethics” are just words we use to discuss our desires or agreements on behaviour. To add punch to the rules (and the words), religions add supernatural threats and promises while governments offer rewards and penalties. Religions and governments are social tools. Societies evolve and devolve depending on the success of her various rules in their given situations.
Many religious folks feel “morality” come from god(s) — and some go as far as to claim that good morality only come from their god(s). For those religious folks, nonbelievers are usually viewed as immoral, dirty, disgusting and need to be converted or else they are only worthy of avoidance, rejection, expulsion or murder.
So any discussion with religious folks eventually lands on morality. As a nonbeliever (though a former believer), I try to expose the artificial nature of god stories and/or show the real nature of morality so as to open the discussion on morality (our behavior preferences) to rational exploration and creative, flexible solutions.
One analogy I use to explain morality is games kids play in our backyard. I am quickly jotting out this post to get my ideas down so when discussing morality with blogging theists, I can link to this page and not clog their comment thread.
When the neighborhood kids play a game in our 3-acre backyard, they either play an established game, make up new variants or occasionally, the hardest effort, make a new game from scratch. In all cases the games have rules. We live on top of a hill and have an small orchard, a large chicken pen, an old dilapidated shed, and woods all around our property — so games at our place get pretty creative. The best games are at night while the adults site around a big campfire and the kids create their fantastic worlds.
The rules change as the kids decide what works best for them. Some rule sets end up in too many fights and those games aren’t played again because the kids don’t want to fight or get together for those sorts of encounters. This process is how games evolve.
Organisms reproduce and multiply when they have mechanisms that work. Social organisms evolve methods of relating (games) that aid that successful survival and some of those methods end up in the organism’s genes.
Morality evolved similar to games. In the kids games, you don’t have to obey the rules, but no one will play with you. Rules trump rules only if there are a big movement of followers over to another yard to play another game.
So all actions are not of equal value — they are judged by game rules. The rules don’t evolve by blind chance, they evolve through the kids’ experiences and preferences played over the long haul.
Remember, we invented the word “evil” to label behavior (rule breaking) that we detest. To then try and go out and “discover” what “evil” is shows a misunderstanding of language. See my posts here on “The limitations of Abstractions”.
Consider “rape”: Violence and rape occurs in the behavior of other primates. Chimps have fights and deaths over rape — just like humans. Humans and chimps share common ancestors. As human cultures have evolved, they have often come to agreement that outlawing rape stabilized society — made for a better game to play. That is because violence, death and suffering are obvious things organisms will try to avoid — and as an organism, we have cultural memory to help us. There will always be rule breakers for lots of reasons. And sometimes, societies become unstable as a whole and the rules are thrown to the wind as the culture tries to re-stabilize (or die).
Humans, being organisms, have natural limitations, thus there will be some natural sets of rules of engagement we see that co-evolve in otherwise unconnected cultures — rules against rape, for instance.
So we don’t “discover” evil, we label behavior as ‘evil’ that harms the type of society (games) we wish to participate in (play). We discover rules that are useful and fun.
Obstacles to discussing Morality
Even if I am wrong, I find it very difficult to explain my view of morality to people who: