TED Conversations


This conversation is closed.

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.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Mar 1 2013: I go back to Socrates for this one; "There is but one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance."

    The "question" (it seems to me to be a treatise for the existence of God) assumes it was a divine gift in the first place when we have a perfectly good TED talk showing science being as good a (or better) judge for moral issues as religion (Sam Harris). So you CAN leave your god out of this and still have rape be wrong; heck even animals know right from wrong, despite a complete lack of religion (Franz de Waal's TED talk proves that point). I await a concession speech... ;)

    Mom always said you taste like the broth you were boiled in, and as Scot is from Provo, I am guessing that he is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. It is not suprising that someone raised in an environs where the church and its congregation are not just a feature of the society, but are the organizing principle of the community, where virtually everyone you meet is a believer, might come to see his God in every facet of existence. If you were raised in a sealed environment where everything was white, an argument on colors will be lost on you; it is the individual ability to see outside of one's own peculiar paradigm that is the first step to true compassion. And compassion is the root of moralistic behavior, not anyone's god.

    Big G GOD (no matter what name you taped on him), has been responsible for far more suffering than necessary. All- powerful beings that allow for the sorry plight of all species we see demonstrated around the world have a POWERFUL amount of explaining to do, especially in the good versus evil category. I live in Connecticut and we recently had a most despicable evil befall twenty kindergarteners. What benificent omnipresent being could allow twenty young lives to be snuffed out without reason? I suggest none. But yes, there remains good and evil, God or no, and it is Socrate's definition, a man who was killed for trying to leave the gods out of it all. Was that good?
    • Mar 1 2013: Just for your information, I was raised in Maryland, not Utah, although that's where I live now. Also if you'll scroll down to the post of Mark Meijer (his was one of the first posts here) he debunks Sam Harris pretty well. Don't worry, Mark's an atheist too :).
      • Mar 1 2013: Was I incorrect about the LDS too? If so, sorry; just playing the odds... if not, then my point is further made; you have moved to somewhere where your paradigm is supported sociologically as well as theologically. Right or wrong doesn't need a specific location, but socio-theological thinking is more easily supported in larger self-supporting groups; ask an Iranian Jew.

        And Mark's argument about Sam's allowance for the thin possibility of change in the paradigm negating all premise for moral behavior without divine intervention is more ontological than fact based. How many doubts dance on the head of a pin? Might as well count them as count angels.

        I don't believe his allowance disproves anything; to belabor an example already used many times this thread, gay rights were unthinkable as they were a biological abberation a century ago; science has since been providing myriad examples of "gay" behavior in animals. If it is a natural behavior (as many examples from nature would suggest), it could be neither right or wrong, simply natural. Yet we often still try to define this as a good or bad, no matter which side of the argument you fall on. Science says it is natural, religion says it is evil. It is the human condition that causes liberals to adopt natural as good, when it is neither. So both sides can be guilty... yet this failure of secular thinking is not proof of the religious thought. It is simply another failure...

        Sam Harris aside, I see no rejoinder concerning Franz de Waal's talk. If you are correct in the need of religion to bring forth "our better angels", why do animals do the right thing? Could it be...natural?
        • Mar 2 2013: Not all religions condemn homosexuality. This is changing. Religions change by changing what they emphasize and how they see things to adapt to their times. They are never carved in stone. That's just the ten commandments.
    • Mar 2 2013: Socrates was simply at that moment championing education. He didn't really believe ignorance was the only evil. If you agreed with what you thought Socrates believed, then why did you say, "compassion is the root of moralistic behavior." He was saying there that there's only one good, knowledge.

      "Socrates was not the agnostic some have made him into. In fact, it seems that Socrates was very much a religious man, who believed that his live was guided by his daemon, what we today would call a “guardian angel”. -- Philip Coppens.

      Would you deny the families of the slain children in Newtown the belief that their children are in heaven and they will see them again one day? How is that compassionate? This is earth, not heaven. We Christians believe it's far from perfect to challenge us to make it better. And that God does not pretend to try to make it a good place for us.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 2 2013: "Atheists are by no means beyond frantic religious zealotry when it comes to their own beliefs and opinions."

          Explain please.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 2 2013: But how would an atheist engage in religious zealotry? Surely he would not do so sincerely, for he could not.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 2 2013: It seems as if you're trying to redefine the word religious.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 2 2013: " the zeal with which (some) atheists defend their beliefs and opinions is no different from (some) theists"

          Yes. I've noticed that for some years now. We like to say it is just as difficult to believe there is no god as it is to believe that there is one - so why not take the leap of faith that starts one on the beginnings of a relationship with Our Father?

          In actuality, it is far more difficult to believe there is no god than to believe there is one, since, as they say, one cannot prove a negative. It also is more difficult to be an atheist than a believer because most of us in this world are believers.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 2 2013: "Might as well give up now if you can't get over that."

          Surely with that you are not suggesting that I, myself, give up. Perhaps you meant, "One may as well give up if one can't get over that."

          "When I was an atheist, I attributed my intentions as caring for those poor, delusional people...to help them realize their hope was completely ill-founded. To be honest, I also had another motive. As I challenged those who believed in God, I was deeply curious to see if they could convince me otherwise. Part of my quest was to become free from the question of God. If I could conclusively prove to believers that they were wrong, then the issue is off the table, and I would be free to go about my life." -- Marilyn Adamson
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 3 2013: Just one more thing from me on this, if you don't mind. By being an atheist, you are believing that God does not exist, and this can't be proven. Therefore Mark, you really need to start considering yourself an agnostic. I know this will be difficult for you when the urge to paint all believers as fundamentalists comes over you again and you tell yourself that you must position yourself as far away from us as you can while doing so, but please realize that for you to be anything but an agnostic is hypocritical.
      • Comment deleted

        • Mar 3 2013: Great conversation, guys. A lot of fun to read...

          Louise, I haver come to my atheism fairly and squarely from a lifelong search for God. Agnosticism was the last stop along the way before I "came out" which is truly what it is like. Anyone claiming the mantle of atheist is NOT doing this because it is the easier option, believe that...

          I statrted Christian because that was where I was born. If I had been born in Mumbai, the chance I would have been Christian at birth would be much reduced. As it would be for you also. Had either of us been born in Riyadh, it seems almost certain we would be Muslim, yes? So One True God on this planet seems more a matter of real estate than real belief...

          As I searched for the OTG, I quickly dismissed my birth religion; the historical litany was more one of crusades and inquisitions than any of the true teachings of Jesus. I still hold all religions to the same litmus test " not as I say but as I do", and most fall far short. I sorted through any religion that came to hand; Buddhism was a front runner for a long time until I found the "Woman is the root of all evil" clause; that was a non-starter. And so it went. They all seemed to have a few good bits here and there, but always with some glaring flaw that left them wanting in my eye.

          The last one I gave any sort of chance was Zoroasterianism, where a main tenet that anyone claiming to know the mind of God was a heretic, as God was unknowable, and we should take very good care of the creation we were given until he shows us what he wants done with it. The main tenet was that life must be about good acts, bringing the balance toward the good. Like Jeffeson's biography of Jesus, the deism is vaguely still there, but it becomes more about what you do with it. If they weren't always burning things I might have settled here, but there is still an off-putting, mumbo-jumbo factor; I do not crave ritual as some do...

          So I am a quasi-Zen, proto-Parsee atheist. What's in a name?
        • Mar 4 2013: Scott - I was born an existentialist. When I was 3, my father taught me how to think, you might say. He encouraged me to think for myself. He liked being able to tell his friends I could think as well as they could. Then he'd sit me down with them. He maybe gave them a good, stiff drink first to even the playing field a little. When I was 4, the neighbors decided it was time I began to realize there was more than one philosophy out there. They explained the advantages of knowing about something bigger than any person or collection of people. It all sounded pretty good. And after my insisting on it long enough, our family started going to church. I still remember how proud I felt to get baptized. It was a hard won triumph, not an accident of birth. I felt the same way when our church presented me with my first Bible. And also on the day I was finally old enough to join the choir, a whopping 6 yrs old.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.