Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Religion Virus: Atheist ethics, GUEST BLOG

Today I have the pleasure of bring you a guest blogger ... my son Leo (age 20) who has also contributed some comments to this blog. You know how it is: Teach your kids to think, and they start to argue with you ... Seriously, I'm pleased to present Leo's commentary on ethics.


Morals Without God?

I intend to make a compelling argument that morals can arise without the direct intervention of God. Because I was raised with open-mindedness, I cannot prove that they did arise without God, nor can I prove that He does not exist. Those beliefs are irrelevant to this explanation.

Let’s assume you believe that the earth is approximately six thousand years old. Consider this, if you looked at Adam 10 seconds after his creation you would have seen a man old enough to procreate. If you were a scientist, you would say “the earth is at least as old as that man.” And you would be wrong. If you looked at the vultures God created on the first day of their existence, undoubtedly you would have seen a few of them eat from dead animals. A scientist would say that because there are fully grown and dead animals, the earth has been here at least a few years. And again you would be wrong.

Now if God created a world that looked as if it has been here longer than it really has, why is it blasphemy to examine the evidence that is here before us? Didn’t God give us minds? And did he not give us a scientifically consistent reality to explore and understand. There is a wealth of evidence that the earth is billions of years old, and if this contradicts your believes then you need to accept that God made it look that way for a reason. To me it would seem that God has started us in motion as one would start a movie in the middle. Perhaps this was necessary to preserve certain principals of science so that we could study the world around us better.

Simply put, it is beneficial for us as a species to have morality. This assertion says that (if you can accept the aforementioned) without God, morality could arise as a survival trait. Help thy neighbor makes it so that in a time of crisis you may have aid from thy neighbor and vice versa. Here are some hypothetical classics from the world of game theory.

There is a village of ten people, they each have ten cows. The village only has one field which can support exactly 100 fully fed cows. If you add cows, they will all be smaller due to a lack of food. If one villager was to have an extra cow (now there are 101 cows on a field that supports 100 fully fed cows) all the cows would be underfed by approximately 1%. But that one villager would have 11 cows that are underfed by 1% as opposed to 10 fully fed cows. Now that villager has approximately the weight of 10.89 cows (11 cows each missing 1%.) Whereas the other villagers have the weight of 9.9 cows (99% times 10 cows) since each of their ten are now 1% lighter.

If all the villagers were to do this, they increase the risk that there cows will die. It is therefore in each person’s best interest to grow another cow. It is also in each person’s best interest for others not to. The best behavior for the good of the village is for people to think of others, and not themselves. If a species begins to do this, they can survive situations like this one. If they do not, some of them will have to die.

Imagine if you will that we created small robots that could replicate themselves. And we also made it so that some times one would make an “accidental” change to the next robots code (just one number in binary getting changed.) The majority of these changes would be either benign or harmful. But if we did it right, made enough of them, and could hang out for a few million generations, we might see different species of robot develop along many other interesting evolutions.

You do not need to believe in “real” species evolution to see that this is possible. In this hypothetical situation, it is plain as day that a robot species would be more likely to survive if they developed code that helped them to recognize their own species and help one another. Imagine a robot is interrupted while replicating, a good evolution would be one that tries again (we could call this parenting… something that not all animals have evolved to do.) The parenting bots might evolve a trait to be able to recognize their half finished replica… this may lead them to recognize one another. They might evolve to help one another find parts so that the parent didn’t have to leave the replica.

It is my opinion that philosophy and morality created modern religion, not the other way around. It maybe in our best interest to grow another cow but we do not. Either out of instinct or the intelligence to realize that we will cause others to behave the same way we do not. Now there are countless examples to the contrary, but examples to the contrary do not indicate that something is wrong. Only that it is not always right. I believe that it is not always in our best interest to help others, and sometimes people choose not to help when they really should.

My point is this:
In a system where evolution occurs (such as robots that replicate) moral behavior can arise as an evolution and would be beneficial to its host. (If you believe in God) He made it look as if evolution has been taking place for a long time, perhaps longer than the earth has really been here.

If you believe that we are all created by God then you might consider the possibility that He created morality in a very systematic way, much like He created sunsets with the color of oxygen and love with chemicals in our brains. I certainly have no proof that He doesn't stick a soul or morals, but it is my belief that they are an evolved trait. Anyone who feels otherwise still should have some respect for a belief which they cannot prove. The difference is that my belief is based on what is before us today and is not easily contested by learned people.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Dear readers -- I am no longer blogging and after leaving these blogs open for two years have finally stopped accepting comments due to spammers. Thanks for your interest. If you'd like to write to me, click on the "Contact" link at the top. Thanks! -- CJ.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.