Some people (both religious and not) have misconceptions about the nature of science, especially when compared to religions. This is natural because many people are not taught (or didn’t learn/remember) about the nature of science, but rather just learn facts in a specific field of science. The philosophy of what science really is are usually left to scientists, engineers and philosophers. The fundamental principle that everyone should know about science is the scientific method, which will be discussed later. Before that I will discuss two specific problems that arise when discussing science and religion:
- think non religious people don’t have morality
- think science is a religion
- To directly answer the first issue, non-religious people can have morality. In some cases, they might even be more moral than religious people.
- To answer the second issue, science is not a religion because it does not work on faith. Scientific method analyses how things work, and tries to prove it with experiments. There is a science, math, and philosophy to determine whether the experiment has shown something meaningful. All scientific progress is made through the scientific method, and since the scientific method relies on repeated experiments to show that the results are reproducible, it is subject to errors. It repeats an experiment to make sure they didn’t do anything wrong, and to make sure the results were not a mistake. Science does not make claims of absolute certainty, it tells you what is probably true given what we know. It does not ask people to blindly accept anything, it casts doubt on everything so that we can analyse everything to better understand it all. Religions depend on faith and makes claims of certain objectivity that it claims should not be doubted, science relies on doubt and makes claims of probable objectivity that it claims should never be taken as absolute.
And if a scientist disagrees with that, they’ve either discovered some form of determining objective things about reality, or they’re an idiot and a bad scientist.
Long Answer to Number 1:
For a religious person who sees their morality as justified because it comes from their god, it might be hard to understand how non religious people can even have morality, since they have no god. I have heard people say this, which is why I am writing this essay. On the other hand, it is easy for a secularly moral person to see religious morality as unjustified, arbitrary, and no different than a nation’s laws. I am not claiming that religious people are wrong or that they are in general any less moral than anyone else. There are however some religious people who can be less moral because of their faith.
Morality is a topic of philosophy, defined as the distinction between things that are good and bad. This is in the sense of good and evil more so than correct or incorrect. Religions often offer morals for their members to follow, such as Christianity’s Ten Commandments, Islam’s analogue of the Ten Commandments, Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold path, the Japanese samurai Bushido, European knight chivalry, and many others. Some religions, including the ones above, dictate morality through more than just one set of rules.
Since these religions can be quite diverse, we will consider the ones that dictate morality as objective and that should be taken on faith alone.
Ethics is defined as the philosophy and determination of morality. Secular morality is grounded in ethics, as unlike religions, they cannot simply base their morality on faith. Their morality is determined through various ways that involve reasoning or logic. This does not mean that morality is a science, and secular morality can be subjective, objective, universal, based on popular opinion or personal principles or character, or any other number of factors. The idea that morality has to come from a god to be meaningful is an opinion that misses the idea of ethics.
While some of these moral laws can be justified outside of that religion, religions don’t always need to justify what they say.
To the best of my knowledge, ethics in Abrahamic religions is simply determined by faith in the word of God. If this is true, then those who follow Abrahamic moral laws do so (in theory) simply because their God has told them to. This is not necessarily true, as some people might already have agreed with at least some of the laws of their own will and determination, but others might simply not think about it and instead accept these laws as objective and true because their are from their God. If people follow moral laws simply because their God dictated that they must do so, then they are arbitrarily following orders, not being truly moral. In a sense, such people are being technically moral, but not ethical. While there is nothing inherently wrong with following orders (arguments for free will and against faith notwithstanding), there is a clear distinction between the people who only follow morality because they are told to, and those who do so because they want to do good and avoid bad things. Morality that is followed blindly and without question is simply disciplined. They are not particularly concerned with being morally good, but rather following whatever orders they are given from their authority, making them amoral.
Both I and a religious person might think murder is immoral. The religious person might think so only because their god said so, and not think any more of it. On the other hand, I believe so because killing someone is taking their free will and ability to chose and consequentially it takes away any good they could have done, because it hurts them, and because it harms those who care for that person. For the religious person, these things might not even be an issue unless their god says so. If I killed someone I would feel regret, grief, and guilt for having done something so morally wrong. The religious person might feel bad because hey disobeyed an order, but they might not care about the person that just died. This is perhaps what allows radicalised religious extremists to kill people and think it is justified. Again, this is not necessarily how all religious people view morality, but it is a dangerous consequence that arises from blind faith.
An interesting relationship here is that of objective and subjective morality. I believe that subjective morality is not really morality at all, as the fact that it is subject makes it baseless and meaningless. It might be convenient, useful, and a personal belief of someone, but it does not really qualify as moral. Things like Bushido and chivalry are analogous to this. While they may give someone some form o structure for how to live their life, it cannot really determine what is right or wrong. The idea of right and wrong is meaningless if it is subjective because it no longer deals with facts which can be used to determine morality. Two people who both believe in subjective morality can believe and do opposite things, but this shows two contradicting ideas resulting from the same ideology. If morality is simply what you’ve been taught then it is arbitrary. This sort of dogma is perhaps even less ethically justified than religious morality.
An argument from morality is something such as this quote from C. S. Lewis “conscience reveals to us a moral law whose source cannot be found in the natural world, thus pointing to a supernatural Lawgiver”. This suggests that universal and objective morality can only exist because of a universal and objective force, such as the Abrahamic God. This is not necessarily true, as there are many possibilities that explain the idea of knowledge, math, morality, and other such concepts that apparently exist in some form independently of humanity. In this case, the idea of god could be expanded to mean nature, the universe, reality, or other things. Whether it was a sentient omnipotent being or the nature of reality, this idea shows how religious and secular morality treat objectivity.
To summarise, secular people have morality because morality and ethics are not exclusive to religions, and exist independently of the idea of a god. Ethics determines what is moral and why. This is not a science and there are many competing philosophies, but the lack of consensus does not make the field any less plausible or credible. Morality as a group of laws can be distinguished from the idea of a person being moral or not. A moral person believes that there are things that are good and things that are bad, perhaps to varying degrees. They also believe that good things are worth trying to achieve and bad things are worth avoiding. It is the understanding and agreement to pursue these things that makes someone moral, not simply the attempt to do so or the act of doing so.
A bad person can do good things without making them good, and a good person can do bad things without necessarily making them bad. An amoral person does not care about what is good or bad. While it is not sufficient to simply have good intentions, it is definitely necessary. A bad person might help you, but they cannot be trusted. A good person might make a mistake, but they will at least try to do the right thing, unlike immoral or amoral person. This good person is a moral person, and this behaviour exemplifies what morality is.
No matter what you believe in, morality is probably the most important thing humans have.