Morals without God - A Secular System of Ethics. Ian Bryce Secular Party www.secular.org.au Ethics teacher www.primaryethics.org.au. A Secular System of Ethics. Can we have morals without a god?
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Can we have morals
without a god?
We will try to construct a system of ethics based instead on scientific principles and reason.
Because God said
Because its written in our Holy book
Because the priest said
Its good to be good (Kant)
Duty for Duty’s sake
For my own benefit (reciprocity)
For reward in the Afterlife
The Altruistic gene
To make society function
To avoid jail
It feels goodWhy practice it? Examples of reasons given
Galileo - described planetary orbits -1610 (earth no longer at the center)
Newton - gravity, laws of motion - 1687
Lavoisier - chemistry - 1877
Ampere - electric current - 1820
Darwin - 1858 - attributed species to nature not a deity
The advance of Reason in human affairs 1600-1800
Spinoza - 1660 - criticized the Bible, the mind is the body
John Locke - 1680 - consciousness, monetarism, knowledge is gained through perception
Didero - 1750
1743 “A Treatise on Human Nature”
John Stuart Mill
(and his father James Mill,
and Jeremy Bentham)
1887 On the Genealogy of Morality
1896 “English Secularism”
1927 “Why I am not a Christian”
• Religion …is the enemy of moral progress in the world
• Promoted science and reason
• A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage
• Political activist - Anti-war stance
• Sexual freedoms
1977 Animal Liberation
Ethical reasoning since primitive times
2007 “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
2007 “Infidel: my life”
~2000 many speeches
~2000 many speeches
14th Dalai Lama
Leader of Tibetan Buddhism
Popular leader of Tibet
How can belief systems which are both false and harmful be propagated for thousands of years?
Law and courts
Contraception and abortion
Right to die
Clear chain of events to:
We believe children have the right not to be lied to, in matters of origins and deities
Many forms of child abuse are outlawed already
This would impact parental behavior and “faith schools”.
Telling parents what they can tell their children would be very difficult.
Even ABC’s Rachael Kohn says parents should have the right to “bring up their children in their faith”.
Does that include “inculcating hatred in other creeds”?
Step 1: teach “Comparative religion” in all schools
Step 2: Teach “Origins” in schools
Step 3: Teach “Universal Ethics” in schools
Secular ethics, as suggested by this material should be taught in schools –
universal human values -
based on respect for all sentient beings (humans and animals).
Contraception and Abortion
A woman should be in charge of her own body
She can choose whether or not to reproduce.
The mother’s rights come first.
A foetus also has some rights, which slowly increase as it develops. Thus both mother and baby have rights, which need to be considered.
Most assuredly, no religious figure has the right to dictate what she does.
If a person has no quality of life, and no prospect of improvement, then termination should be allowed.
As long as it is in accordance with their wishes, and those of relatives, friends and doctors.
Note: The actual policies may vary depending on inputs and analysis. What we are specifying is the methodology.
Gays – Our freedoms should not be limited by choice of sexuality. There should be no stigma or laws restricting gays.
Discrimination – no discrimination on the basis of race, creed, sexuality, religion etc.
The marginalized - We should not judge unfairly those who have become marginalised in society - drug users, criminals, mentally ill. We should assist and rehabilitate them.
The origins of Behaviour
The physical influences on our behavior can broadly be split into nature and nurture, and include:
• Our parents’ two genetic codes
• Random selection from our parents’ codes
• Randomness in the laying down of the growing brain
• Nourishment from the mother
• The environment while in the womb
• Any diseases in the womb or in life
• All environmental influences during child and adult life
• All behavioural influences during child and adult life (i.e. the behaviour of others).
Thus, we need to respect al of these factors.
The Law and Courts
We identify specific objectives of the legal system:
1) To physically prevent the offender causing further harm (jail etc)
2) To improve the behavior of that person (eg rehabilitation, jail, fines, corporal punishment)
3) To act as a visible deterrent to others (length of jail term, death penalty).
The current legal system in most democracies effectively addresses these objectives in most cases.
The Law and Courts
However, these principles will allow a systematic approach, and remove some inequities:
• In terms of the Utilitarian principle, identify the affected parties.
• Describe the harm to each (a bystander being offended by seeing and act would rank lower than the welfare of the participants.)
• This will provide guidance on the relative seriousness of the matter.
• List the range of available options for the penalty.
• How do they rank, in terms of the three objectives?
• How do they rank, in terms of the cost to society?
We recognize that humans are one of many species with a right to exist on earth.
Further, the fate of humans depends critically on a healthy environment, including supplies of fresh air, water and soil.
This is a challenge to the views of Bjorn Lomborg, who in his book “The Skeptical Environmentalist” looked only at the wellbeing of one species.
His economic rather than scientific credentials led him to conclude that by his measures, humans are better off then ever, and the planet is in fine condition.
To achieve reductions, we need to urgently adopt all possible measures, which probably include:
• Reduce per capita energy usage
• Limit the population
• Expand research into renewables
• Improve the efficiency of coal and oil usage
• Increasing renewable methanol into petrol
• Introduce/expand nuclear energy
• Place a real tax on all carbon (not just derivatives trading)
The greatest threat to the planet is very clear - population growth.
All measures to improve efficiency can only delay the inevitable - if we allow continued exponential growth.
For example - 60% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2050 if we are to limit the CO2 to 0.5% (and severe climate changes).
If we retain constant population - that’s a 60% cut per person - very difficult.
If we continue to grow at the present rate, our population will double by then, so we need an 80% cut per person! Impossible.
And 30 years later, double again. Need a 90% cut!
Thus we have seen how secular principles can be applied to specific areas of social welfare and custodianship of the planet.
To read more about secular ethics:
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