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Personally, I would like to thank Alex Budarin for his thought-provoking diary, Ethics without God. It stimulated a lively (and overall very civil) discussion about not only ethics and God, but about morals in general and a lot of interesting interpretations of various pieces of various scriptures. We're always on uncertain ground when dealing with these things, and I find it encouraging that so many folks are willing to engage in a serious discussion about them.

One of the subthreads that developed, of course, had to do with the Golden Rule, and by that I mean the generally more accepted "Don't do unto others ..." variations than the whimsical "Whoever has the gold ..." version. Not unexpectedly, the discussion centered around interpretations of the Old and New Testaments and a number of interesting and related topics. That was my favorite part of the discussion, to be perfectly honest.

However, it just so happens that on the same day an interesting article appeared in the New York Times Magazine, by Gretchen Reynolds entitled "Looking to Genes for the Secret to Happiness". It could just be that we're not dealing with such an arcane and abstract notion as we might often think. Maybe we're just genetically predisposed to be good.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mean that last statement anywhere near as absolute as it sounds. It's more like maybe its just to our own benefit to be helpful, generous and cooperative. Maybe.

At any rate, I found it an interesting twist on a very old tale.

Originally posted to achronon on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 12:30 AM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Atheists.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pierre9045, RiveroftheWest

    None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    by achronon on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 12:30:58 AM PDT

  •  The funny thing is that it appears we have (5+ / 0-)

    to be "good" in order to be social animals.  Therefore, if we look to the animal kingdom, we can find many parallels between what we view as "ethical" behavior being played out by other social species.  Perhaps that is why Genesis is so eager to assure humans that they are "above the animals" and "given dominion" over animals.  To this day, many local religionists continue to argue that humans are not animals and that homo sapiens are not a variety of ape since apes don't have souls (and of course are horrified that our ancestors were a monkey's uncle according to Darwin, in their view)  

  •  To me, the existence of human civilization (4+ / 0-)

    is proof that morality and being good is an integral part of what it means to be human, entirely independent from religion.

    After all, if there was no advantage to being ethical and moral, people would not have decided millions of years ago to form non-familial social groups, to cooperate and share resources, and to abide by rules and hierarchies that restrict an individual's abilities to be selfish and prey on others. We'd still be competing for resources, travelling in solitude, and basically living in the Stone Age. Primitive. And this all happened before human beings developed the imaginations needed for more complex belief structures like religion.

    •  Which ties in with my rejection (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      of the overall arch of Conservative and Libertarian and Randian views, that competition and individual selfishness are the ultimate morality.

      If human history has taught us anything, it's that it's in an individual's best interests, it serves their selfishness the most, to participate in a cooperative, socially-advanced, society. If it wasn't, why would our histories involve so many?

  •  Nothing is possible w/o genes (4+ / 0-)

    which isn't particularly profound considering that genes are "the blueprint of life"

    However, genes are not enough.  I am currently developing a hypothesis where ethics and morality are more epigenetically based than genetic in origin per se.

    And how all of this can be affected by tofu.

    •  Agreed, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy

      but I found that the starting point of what you're aiming at may lie deeper than we originally expected.

      I'm with you: they're not enough, in and of themselves, but it's a great place to start.

      None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

      by achronon on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 10:27:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe this is something like imagination (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CBrachyrhynchos, achronon

        I was once hide rated (or maybe troll rated, it was long ago) for saying that God is imaginary - but that was actually meant as a good thing in that the human mind has the ability to conjure up abstract ideas out of thin air.

        I like to think that imagination is what distinguishes humans from other animals (but I imagine that's probably wrong! - they surely have imaginations too!!).

        In any event, the genes (and their control) responsible for imagination, conscientiousness itself in fact (and ethics probably falls into this category) remain far from being unraveled.

        And since we as a country have other priorities than to fund research into stuff like this (don't look now, but there's a potential terrorist standing 27 feet behind you!!!) it might be a long time before we know.

        •  It does seem that there is some kind (0+ / 0-)

          of "more" when it comes to humans, and I agree that it is very difficult to pin it down.

          Maybe we don't have to. It could be imagination, it could be the ability to question, it could be perhaps a combination of things, and imaginary, in and of itself, is not anything judgmental (though I can see how some might take it as such).

          We've still got a whole helluva lot to learn.

          None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

          by achronon on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 01:09:43 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Indeed! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    CS Lewis, in Mere Christianty, acknowleged this innate moral/ethical code.  

    Now, Lewis went on to ask, "from whence did this code arise?," and he ultimately arrived at God.  Others can certainly ascribe it to other sources, but it's interesting to note that all parties to the discussion stipulate its existence as something of a "pre-existing condition".

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 07:25:53 AM PDT

  •  Puts on cognitive psychology hat... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Cognitive psychology is filled with examples where our perception of the world is either illusory or just plain wrong: the limits on working memory, optical illusions, the gambler's fallacy, the Monty Hall problem. If the glass is half-full in that we're hardwired to be sometimes correct in our intuitions, it's also half-empty in that our intuitions are sometimes wrong.

    It makes biological and cognitive sense that trivial crimes against our loved ones inspire the deepest grief and rage, while we disassociate from the daily torture, murder, and rape of millions that happens "out of sight, out of mind." That's not a genetic predisposition I think is morally consistent.  

  •  The problem with starting an ethics movement... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Is that centuries later people around the world will rub the bellies of little fattened statues of you for good luck...

    Shakyamuni... aka "The Buddha", being the case in point.

    Even if, as with Shakyamuni, you flat out tell them it is not a religious movement and you have no idea on the nature of any potential gods... Even as they write this quote down and publish it in their sacred books...

    If you don't insert religion into it, your followers will do it for you. :P

    1500 years from now, people will be fighting wars in the name of the scientists that proved the Higgs Boson particle, with an opposing faction being those representing Peter Higgs as the true prophet...

    I predict at least one moon in our solar system will get blown up over it.

    The roaches always win if you turn out the lights.

    by Jyotai on Mon Aug 26, 2013 at 11:17:16 AM PDT

  •  Dear achronon, (0+ / 0-)

    Thank you for your gracious response.  I was also surprised by the overall civil tone of the comments.  Long live the Codex Moulitsas!  

    I do believe that there is a genetic component to our behavior, and that these are revealed in our inclinations or "orientations"...but that these include differences.  Just as there are differences in eye color, baldness, weight and height, there can be differences in our innate authoritarianism or progressivism.  

    Please continue to write more.  With a pleasant response, such as yours, I, too, am encouraged to write more.

    •  Sorry I didn't get to this (0+ / 0-)

      sooner (had a busy weekend), but you are more than welcome.

      When we're all focused on the substance and not the appearance, it is surprising how civil discussions can be. There are always a couple of folks who let their passions get the better of them, but we are, after all, only human.

      Do continue to write. I'm always up for an interesting read.

      None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

      by achronon on Mon Sep 02, 2013 at 04:02:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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