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Do right and wrong exist?

I'm curious about objective right and wrong. If you believe in God, this is a no-brainer. Some things are wrong, some things are right, simply because God says so and He knows. But if you don't believe in God, can you still believe in objective morality? I personally don't think you can. I mean, what do you base it off of? How do you find out what's objectively right or wrong? (By objective I mean "existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality." from dictionary.com)
Sure, there's subjective morality. Any idea of right or wrong come up with by a human is by definition subjective. That's all well and good. Problem is that it only applies to people who believe in it and it gives them no authority to proclaim anything as "what we should be doing." Very often everybody disagrees with each other and we don't get anywhere. (Just look at Congress for an example of this.)
Maybe you disagree with me and you think there is objective morality but no God. That's fine. I would like to ask you to answer a question for me though. Let's pick an easy one. Why is rape objectively wrong? Don't misunderstand me, I can't think of a single instance where rape wouldn't be wrong. I believe very strongly that sexual abuse is one of the greatest evils in the world. Why is it evil? If you can answer me without using a God-based or subjective argument, I'll concede the point.
That point is this: Without God, there is no such thing as right and wrong, only the things we call right and wrong. And since nobody can agree on what to call what, we're all in a lot of trouble.


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      Feb 25 2013: Yes, a good talk which ruffled a lot of feathers as indicated by the comments which followed.

      Steve Pinker also does a good job here:

      I think a lot of confusion on this issue could be cleared up if the word reason was used instead of science. Pinker touches on this during the last part of his talk.

      I believe Sam spoke at this group debate as well.
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        Feb 27 2013: Good talk from Pinker. I enjoyed the first part where he argues that morality does not come from God with the "cut the middle man" argument.

        But the second part, whether science can help us tell right from wrong, begs lots of questions. First, he starts from giving RATIONAL explanations to human sacrifice and burning witches. This implies that reason CAN justify these acts as well. So, why do we use reason to justify some acts and condemn the other? Second, he says that cruel public executions deter others from crime as much as just locking the person up. This is far from being obvious. I see many rational arguments against this point. Reason is not why cruel public executions are not practiced. They are not practiced because they are, well, cruel and gruesome (as we think today). Third, he says that morality emerges from the debate between journalists, essayists, polemicists, legal scholars, and moral philosophers. He did not name scientists. Fourth, he redefines science giving it a broader sense to fit his rationalizations. He concludes saying that [for defining morality] science "is indispensable, but not enough" which seems to imply that science alone cannot determine what is moral. Which is fair.

        I agree with Hume: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." Ask a criminal and he will give you perfect reasons for committing the crime.

        I did like one part of Pinker's reasoning - where he rationalizes the Golden rule reasoning that "I am not special". This is a philosophical point rather than scientific one. I associate it with the concepts of "rejecting self" and humility which can be traced in many religions. And it is an irrational belief. Ask a 4-year old, and he will give you 20 perfectly rational reasons why he should have a cake while his brother is not allowed to.
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        Feb 27 2013: I agree, reason, and evidence, borrowing a lot from the scientific method, and the knowledge in the sciences of biology, sociology, anthropology, psychology, group dynamics etc etc.
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      Feb 27 2013: A definition of morality would be helpful?

      I mentioned earlier in this thread what is the answer to Sam's question.

      I think people are so blinded by the meme of no bias that they miss these points.
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      Feb 27 2013: Letitia, you gave one of the best and most concise definitions of scientific method in another conversation that I have ever read. Do you agree with Sam Harris that science can help us answer moral questions?
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        Feb 27 2013: Thank you. I do agree that science can help us answer moral questions. I think your use of the word "help" explains it all. Science is just a method. The answers are there in the facts whether we figure them out or not, regardless of how we figure them out. I applaud Sam Harris for recognizing that there is a barrier to overcome in the way that we see morality as being outside the influence of scientific inquiry. Science may not be able to provide an explanation for everything, but it can't hurt to try can it?
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          Feb 27 2013: Re: "Science may not be able to provide an explanation for everything, but it can't hurt to try can it?" I like this approach. I believe, morality comes from "self" - self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-reflection, etc. And science can, definitely, help us understand ourselves. E.g. neurological research can explain how our emotions work and the mechanisms which cause us to feel angry or grateful.

          However, I'm skeptical that moral rules themselves can follow from any scientific research. We cannot have a scientific experiment to determine whether an act is moral without defining what IS moral before we start the experiment. Harris argues that we "know" that a father killing his daughter because she was raped is immoral. I agree. But how do we "know" it? Not from science, but from our emotions. Harris is unable to explain how we "know" it, except reflecting upon the act, perhaps, thinking of his own daughters, and shedding a tear. That's not a scientific evidence.

          I believe, science can explain psychological and neurological mechanisms involved in moral decisions, how these mechanisms evolved, etc. I don't believe, science can or should tell us what is right.
        • Feb 28 2013: "I believe, morality comes from "self" - self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-reflection, etc"

          I read once that peer pressure is the main thing that instills morality in us & keeps it in us.

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