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Religion and Morality

Terms in this set (10)

Divine Command Theory

Morality is dependent on religion because what is 'good' or 'bad' is defined by the will and commands of God.

Introductory info...
• The principle of Divine Command Theory is, in itself, deontological and theonomous.
o An action is good if the nature of the action is compatible with God's will
o There is an absolute moral standard, which has its source in the commands and will of God
• DCT is really an umbrella term that covers a wide range of ethical systems, depending on how one goes about determining what the will/commands of God are.
o The various types of ethical systems can differ significantly from each other, to the extent that some seem to move much more towards teleological and heteronomous/autonomous ethics than others.
• The model of God assumed in philosophical DCT is the God of Classical Theism - omnibenevolent, omnipotent, omniscient etc.
• This provides the philosophical justification for arguing that morality is dependent on the existence of God:
o If God is omnibenevolent and omniscient then He must know and will what is good. Not only that, but He will know and will only what is good - no being could have a greater knowledge of what is 'good' or have a better will than God
o If God is omnipotent, then He is able to reveal His 'good' will to humans
o Therefore we can and ought to base our understanding of morality on the commands and will of God

Different ways in which religious people believe Divine Command can be revealed to humans or discovered by humans...

Sacred texts (e.g. the Bible, Qur'an)
• Believed by religious believers to be the 'word of God/Allah' and therefore on some level contains direct revelation of God's commands
o Although especially in Christianity, there is a wide range of different beliefs about to what extent the words of the Bible are the direct, inerrant words of God, rather than the writings of humans in history who were 'inspired' by God
o This leads to very different views within religions on how to interpret the meaning of different passages from their sacred texts
o We can see this clearly because all the other versions of Divine Command below could be understood as examples of different interpretations of interpreting or working out God's will from sacred texts
• Focusing on the Bible (to narrow things down a bit), there are a number of places that could be used to determine God's will on morality. Some key examples:
o The 10 Commandments (Exodus 20 - Old Testament)
A summary of the Old Testament Law, believed to have been given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai
The whole OT Law was originally given by God in order for Moses to lead the people of Israel as a new society into the promised land (after they had been rescued from slavery in Egypt)
But still seen by many Christians today still follow the 10 Commandments as the 'spirit' of God's Law that has timeless significance for how to relate to God and to other people in society in a way that best fulfils our human nature and purpose
• Still forms the basis of our current legal system
o Jesus' teachings in the New Testament - e.g. the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the Parables of the Kingdom of God (synoptic gospels)
Jesus' teachings often seem to be emphasising 2 key points:
• Understanding the heart of the Old Testament Law, in terms of love for one another and love for God, which is how he famously summarises it in Matthew 7:12
• Showing people their need for salvation, by emphasising how sacrificial and radical a lifestyle is required to attempt to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself, which even people who think they are 'good' people don't actually come close to living up to
o St. Paul's teaching in the New Testament - found in St. Paul's letters to the Churches that he travelled around setting up in the Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa. Paul has a lot to say about many things, but these are some of his key emphases:
Living in light of grace - now that Christians have been forgiven through Jesus' death and resurrection, they should not feel that God's commands are a massive checklist to slavishly follow, but their whole perspective on life should have been changed so that they want to do what God wants and they want to love others as God would
Living in light of the Holy Spirit - Paul believed that Christians have received the gift of God's Holy Spirit so that they are now capable of fighting the temptation to rebel against God, and he urges them to do this
Emulating Jesus - Paul writes a lot on how Jesus' teaching could be applied more specifically to lots of issues, e.g. sex, roles of men and women, war, attitude towards government etc.
Ethics for the church community - Paul instructs the churches he has set up how they can keep going living as Christians, often in cultures where Christian values are very counter-cultural, or where there are lots of disputes amongst the Christians in these new Churches who have come together from very different backgrounds

• The writings/teachings of religious authorities which have become part of that religious tradition, and are therefore influential in forming the ethical principles of people who follow that religion.
• The purpose of dogma = to provide guidance for religious believers on how to apply the general ethical principles from primary texts to everyday and modern day issues
• Examples of dogma in Christianity:
o Roman Catholic Church - papal encyclicals (statements from the Pope confirming the official Roman Catholic stance on key ethical issues in society); Roman Catholic Catechism (statement of key beliefs)
o Protestant Church - early church creeds (e.g. Nicene Creed, Apostle's Creed); statements from Church of England Synod
o Islam - Hadiths (teachings from Muhammad and subsequent Islamic leaders on how to apply the general teachings of the Qur'an); Sharia Law

Reason and Conscience
• Many religious believers think that part of being made in "God's image" is that God has given us the ability to work out for ourselves how to live morally from day to day
• They believe that God's will can also be revealed more indirectly through the use of our reason, conscience and observation of the natural world
o See below for more detail on different religious theories about how this can be done and what is meant by the 'conscience'

Ethical theories
• Many of the philosophical ethical systems that have been proposed come from a religious worldview, and are examples of using reason to work out how to fulfil God's will and commands in different situations, time periods and cultures
• E.g. Natural Moral Law (Thomas Aquinas) = God has "written" his will for us and His ethical code into nature - by reasoning towards our purpose (telos) we can work out general principles and how to apply those to specific situations
• E.g. Situation Ethics (Joseph Fletcher) = using Jesus' principle of loving our neighbours as ourselves to create a liberal consequentialist theory that seeks to do the most loving action in each situation
The Euthyphro Dilemma
A philosophical criticism of Divine Command Theory - challenging the philosophical plausibility of something being 'good' because God commands it

Introductory info...
• The original version of the dilemma is posed in Plato's Dialogues, which are a series of written accounts of the various philosophical conversations that Socrates (Plato's tutor) supposedly had with the people of Athens
• The original setting of the Euthyphro Dialogue = Socrates is waiting outside the law courts of Athens to have his trial on whether he has been 'corrupting the youth of Athens' with his philosophical shenanigans, when he meets a young man called Euthyphro and starts chatting to him about the nature of morality (as you do)
o Certainly not very British, but actually not quite as random as it seems either...
o Socrates asks Euthyphro why he's waiting outside the court of Athens. Euthyphro says that he's taking his father to court because he believes the way his father treated his slave led to immoral manslaughter. Socrates then challenges Euthyphro about how he can be so certain of what is moral and immoral to want to go as far as taking his own dad to court. Euthyphro answers that he knows because the gods determine what is and isn't moral.
o Socrates then seizes the opportunity to quiz Euthyphro on the philosophical plausibility of basing morality on what the gods command, by posing a philosophical dilemma to Euthyphro...
Is something pious because it is loved by the gods, or is it loved by the gods because it is pious?
• Obviously the original version of the dilemma is not posed as a criticism to DCT in relation to the God of Classical Theism, but it has been adapted since as an academic challenge to the concept of the Judeo-Christian God being the ultimate source of morality and sole commander of what is 'good'

The Euthyphro Dilemma in relation to the God of Classical Theism...
We can re-phrase the essence of the Euthyphro dilemma to make it compatible with the mainstream religion and morality debate:

"Is something 'good' because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?"

This is called a philosophical dilemma, because Socrates (and philosophers who have raised a similar dilemma since) would argue that both options create problems for the claim that the gods/God is the source and commander of morality.

• Retains the idea of divine command
• BUT seems to make morality a bit more arbitrary than intuitively we think it should be
o E.g. God seems to command that things like giving to charity and honesty are good, and things like murder and stealing are wrong
But if the only thing that makes those things right and wrong is that God commands them, then it is logically conceivable that God could have commanded that charity and honesty are bad, and murder and stealing are good instead
• We might argue that there seems to be more about morality than a random set of actions or principles that happens to be favoured by God - we intuitively think there are reasons why some actions are moral and some actions aren't
• Defining morality as simply those things which God commands seems to reduce the concept and significance of morality to something arbitrary rather than rational

• Solves the problem of morality being too arbitrary, because God does have a reason behind what He commands to be good or bad
• BUT if God's commands are subject to some higher or greater standard of goodness, then this seems to reduce the concept and significance of God
o God is no longer omnibenevolent, because there is a higher moral standard than God's will
• Why worship a God who is subject to a higher moral law - why not worship the higher moral law?

So what's this got to do with the religion and morality debate?
If the Euthyphro dilemma holds us, then there seems to be a fundamental problem with equating morality to the will of God
• Either we end up with morality being reduced to something arbitrary rather than rational, or we end up reducing the nature of God to a being who is subject to a higher law or morality

BUT...many theists would argue that the Euthyphro dilemma is flawed - it presents a false dichotomy.

The modern Christian apologist William Lane-Craig puts forward quite a well-known 21st Century defence of why God being the commander of what is and isn't moral does not need to make morality arbitrary or irrational...

"God can legitimately command what is good because God IS good"
- It is part of God's nature to command what is good, so God will not arbitrarily command things
- God does not need to appeal to a higher standard of morality to know what to command, because God IS goodness itself - He is that standard of morality

Problems with Interpreting Divine Command

A practical criticism of Divine Command Theory - challenging the idea that it is possible for theists to gain accurate knowledge of God's will, or that God's will revealed through sacred texts, dogma etc. is even that 'moral'

ISSUE 1: Some morally 'questionable' commands in sacred texts - did God really say that??
e.g. Genesis 22 - Abraham commanded to sacrifice Isaac
• After finally fulfilling His promise to Abraham to give him a son, God then commands Abraham to sacrifice this son as an act of devotion to God
• Abraham is portrayed as a model of faith because he is willing to go ahead with this, even though God then provides a lamb to act as a sacrifice instead of Isaac
• BUT...hang on! What is God doing commanding Abraham to sacrifice a small boy at all??? If the Bible is supposed to be revelation of God's will and commands, what are we supposed to conclude from this story - does God regard child sacrifice as moral??
• Many religious believers and scholars of sacred texts will argue that it is important that we read and interpret each passage in light of its context
o E.g. the story of Abraham is arguably not written as a model for how to live, but as a story that sets up key themes of the Judeo-Christian story of God's relationship with his people, such as faith, promise, sacrifice etc.
• Oh, ok then. But wait! So now we're saying that we can't just simply read sacred texts and know what God's commands are - we have to do some pretty high-level interpretation. DCT is suddenly looking much more complicated than it originally sounded. (More on this issue below)

ISSUE 2: Contradictory Commands??
e.g. Holy War in the Qur'an and the Bible
• Both Christianity and Islam are meant to be understood as religions of peace - they bring fulfilment and peace to those that follow God, they promote actions like social justice and loving one's neighbour, and violence and killing are condemned as immoral in major commandments
• BUT there are also sections of both the Bible and the Qur'an that seem to suggest God/Allah approves of and even helps religious believers in wars, through the history of both religions
• Religious believers are also commanded to stand up for the truths of the religion and to spread the message of how God/Allah wants people to live, even if that brings hostility and persecution
o E.g. especially in Islam - whilst the phrase 'Jihad' has often been unhelpfully equated with terrorism in the media and general society, the Qur'an and Hadiths do still teach the concept of 'lesser Jihad', which states that it may be necessary to fight for the survival and spread of the Islamic religion.
• This seems (at least on the surface) as God/Allah giving mixed messages about what is moral and immoral
o Or if it is not contradictory, it is at least very complex to know how people are meant to follow God's will in situations of potential war and conflict

ISSUE 3: Nothing like absolutist, deontological, theonomous ethics to give us relativistic, subjective, autonomous commands!
e.g. Biblical teaching on homosexuality
• This issue has caused huge divisions and tension within different denominations and traditions of the Church, because it is a very emotive issue, and it does not seem at all clear what God's revealed will actually is on the matter...
• There are relatively few places in the Bible which actually address homosexuality, which may suggest it isn't that important...except that the places that do mention homosexual sexual acts seem to be extremely definite and condemning of it ('unnatural', a 'perversion', 'sexual immorality', 'detestable' etc.)
• It is not clear whether the texts that mention homosexuality are actually addressing the same sort of relationship as religious believers debate today (i.e. more committed 'gay marriage'-esque relationships, rather than gang-rape or dodgy sexual acts between masters and their slaves : /)
• It is not clear whether the sacred texts and associated dogma are still relevant to the 21st Century or whether they should be regarded as absolutely true and unchanging
o Depends whether a theist considers God's revelation of His will to be infallible/inerrant and direct, or indirectly inspired through people in various historical/social contexts
• It is difficult to know how to interpret the moral lesson and meaning of passages that mention homosexuality, because that requires significant knowledge of ancient languages, culture, context etc. etc.

So what's this got to do with the religion and morality debate?
The basic point with all these examples is that it sounds very simple to say that morality is dependent on religion as "what is moral is based on the will and commands of God", but in practice it is actually extremely complex and uncertain whether we can know or work out reliably what the will of God actually is.
Furthermore, even if it is possible to use the various sources of revelation above to discover God's will, looking at the general religious scene in society today, it seems that God's will is very confused, contradictory and perhaps sometimes plain wrong! (OR, we're back to square 1 and humans are actually no good at understanding God's revelation of his will...OR we're back to no squares at all and God's revelation of morality doesn't actually exist, or maybe God doesn't even exist)...aaaaaggghhhh!!
The Moral Argument

Some philosophers have tried to use reason and argument to show that morality being dependent on an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God is actually the most plausible explanation for the moral faculties and instincts that we seem to have
• Therefore these arguments are similar to the other arguments you have come across so far for God's existence (Design and Cosmo), in that they use synthetic evidence and a posteriori reasoning to argue for the probability of God's existence

General form of the moral argument...

Premise and Description:
1- Humans have a unique awareness of 'right' and 'wrong', and a unique ability to make moral decisions.
- e.g. through the conscience, reason, intuition, etc.
2- These abilities may have been given to us by a moral being, who created us in order to be moral, and who judges what is 'right' and wrong'.
3- Such a being is God
Conclusion- God exists

Specific versions of the moral argument...

Thomas Aquinas (from 'Summa Theologica')
• Thomas uses this 4th and 5th Ways as the basis for his ethical theory - Natural Moral Law
• He combines the following 2 observations:
o a) there seems to be a gradation of good in the world, and all things possess a varying level of goodness. This suggests the existence of an ultimate standard of goodness from which to measure this gradation of good, and which causes the goodness to come to exist in all the other things in the world
o b) everything in the world seems to be directed towards some 'telos' (end/purpose), which we cannot direct ourselves to. Therefore it must have been given to us by something with an ultimate understanding of the 'telos' of all things - an ultimately intelligent being.
• Thomas also says that humans seem to have the unique faculty of being able to reason about what our 'telos' is, and being aware of the moral aspect of reality and actions
• He believes there are 2 parts to this faculty, which display 2 different kinds of human reasoning:
o Synderesis = We have an innate and intuitive understanding that we ought to do 'good' and avoid 'evil'
o Phronesis = a learned and experience-based understanding that we ought to use our reason to work out the basic principles of what is 'good'/'bad' from observing our 'telos' in nature, and work out how to apply those principles to more specific life situations
• He argues that this is because we have been given this faculty by God, and therefore God must exist to have enabled us to have it

C.S. Lewis (1st 3 chapters of his apologetics book, Mere Christianity)
We can see from the way that people think and talk about ethics that they intuitively believe that there is some kind of absolute objective moral standard, to which we are all subjected to and judged by as humans
• Because Lewis' moral argument is actually part of a book which has a broader to aim to rationally defend the truth of the Christian faith against sceptics and atheistic/agnostic criticism, he attempts to back up this 1st claim by responding to popular counter-arguments that he would expect people to raise...
• E.g. counter-argument: "What about the fact that people don't seem to agree on what is right and wrong? People have ethical disagreements with each other all the time, suggesting there cannot be just one objective moral standard."
o Lewis replies: The very fact that people have moral disagreement about who was right and who was wrong in a situation suggests that we all believe there is a moral standard over which to argue about. If we didn't then we wouldn't care if people accused us of being selfish, unfair, wrong etc. because it wouldn't mean anything objective.
• E.g. counter-argument: "What about the fact that morals seem to have changed over time? For example, a few hundred years ago people used to think witch-hunting was right, whereas now we think it was abhorrent and stupid."
o Lewis replies: Apparent cultural or temporal relativism (morality being relative to a particular time or culture) is not actually the case. The reason we have different views now about what is morally right/wrong is not because our moral standards have changed, but because we have a different understanding of the facts of the situation.
E.g. with the witch-hunting example - if we still believed that there were such beings as witches who could bring evil upon people etc. then we would still hunt them and believe they should be killed; the difference now is that we don't believe such things exist, so we think it is stupid to go hunting for them unscientifically amongst human communities as people used to do
• Having established that there is some objective and absolute moral standard which we are subjected to and judged by, Lewis argues that this suggests there must exist a very moral and powerful being, which is the source of that standard and acts as an external judge of us on how well we live up to that standard
o He goes on to explain why he thinks it makes the most sense to understand that being as the God of Christianity later in his book

The Conscience

Theists believe that the conscience is an example of God giving humans a moral faculty and revelation - an example of evidence to support the moral argument.

What is the 'conscience'...?
Different theists have different explanations of what the conscience actually is, or what causes the phenomenon of us having a 'sense' of what is moral and what is not.
However, they all hold these things to be true:
• The conscience is God-given
• It is in some way God's nature within us - the unique result of being human and made in the image of God
• The conscience gives us a reliable/accurate insight into God's will, and therefore a reliable guide to what is right and wrong
• The conscience enables us to discern how to apply God's moral law to everyday situations

Different theistic accounts of the 'conscience'...

Thomas Aquinas: conscience ('conscientia') is our practical reason ('phronesis') in action
• For Thomas the conscience is not something particularly mysterious or magical - it is simply us using the reason God gave us to work out how to fulfil God's natural moral law in everyday situations (see notes on ethical theories - Natural Moral Law above)
• Thomas also argued that our 'conscientia' always makes decisions with good intentions, because we are essentially moral beings who have an innate knowledge that we are to 'do good and avoid evil' (synderesis faculty) BUT sometimes our reasoning can be faulty, and we end up violating our 'telos' and God's moral law unintentionally
o Thomas Aquinas called such occasions 'apparent goods', and he would use this idea to respond to critics who might argue that God cannot be guiding people through a conscience because people don't end up doing the same thing or making the same decisions
Butler and Newman: conscience as the intuitive and innate voice of God
• These theologians understand being made in the image of God as God giving us direct personal guidance of His moral will through the conscience
• They would argue that the reason people still do wrong things or don't agree on what God's will is in certain situations is because part of our sinful nature is that we sometimes (or often) choose to ignore the guidance from our conscience
The Bible: conscience as a bit of this and a bit of that
• There are a number of different references to something like a 'conscience' in the Bible, but the closest word to the one in our language is used by St. Paul in the New Testament
o In this case he is usually referring to a Christian having received the Holy Spirit, and therefore having a renewed sense in their mind of what God's will is and a renewed motivation to follow it
o Unlike Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul believed that human reason has become corrupt from refusing to accept God's will and even God's existence, so the only way we can truly reason towards what is right is to hear God's revelation of his moral law in the Bible, and to be saved from our sinful state of being through accepting Jesus as saviour and following his model for our lives.
Criticisms of the Moral Argument & Conscience

Many philosophers who want to see their morality very much distinct from religion (thank you very much), focus on undermining the moral argument for God's existence, and related ideas about a God-given conscience or moral sense that fuel this argument.
(This might well be because they find dealing with the issue of interpreting revelation an unwelcome minefield about which many people get very heated, or because they think that whole debate about reliable revelation has been well and truly won by the atheists/agnostics already.)

Your classic criticisms of a posteriori, inductive arguments for God's existence:
• The inevitable inductive leap: Just because we have evidence that many people in society display signs of having a conscience or innate moral faculty, does not mean we can logically support the claim that this is a universal phenomenon for the whole human race
• The moral argument does not support the existence of the God of Classical Theism
o the 'moral being' put forward in premise 2 of the argument need not be the God of any particular religion or any particular source of moral revelation
although admittedly the moral argument does do better than most of the inductive arguments for God's existence in that it requires a being who is both benevolent/personal and powerful/knowledgeable

IS there actually evidence that people have innate moral sense/faculties?
• Problem of evil - why is there evil and suffering in the world, partly caused by human relationships and actions, if God has given each of us our own innate moral guide? If not everyone has it, then why not? Do we even have reason to believe that an omnibenevolent God exists at all?
• Evidence of relativism in our 'moral sense' - if God has given us an innate insight into His absolute moral laws, then why do we have such different intuitions and reasoning about what is right/wrong across different cultures, generations, belief-systems etc.?
• Why are there some people who seem to be genetically or behaviourally predisposed to not being able to reason/react morally? Surely a loving, powerful God would give this faculty to all equally?
o Neuroscientists now claim to have discovered particular genes and parts of the brain which relate directly to our ability to empathise with others (a key requirement for reasoning morally)
o They have found people whose brain scans show a lack of brain activity in that area, or a genetic predisposition to react much more coldly, violently etc. to certain situations than most people would

A God-given conscience is NOT the most plausible explanation for our apparent moral sense/faculty:
Agnostic/atheistic philosophers, psychologists and sociologists have argued that there are much less 'metaphysically extravagant' alternative explanations for our moral intuition/faculty...

Freud (19th/20th C. Austrian Psychiatrist) - The conscience as a 'superego'
• Freud believed the human psyche was made up of 3 aspects - the ID, EGO and SUPEREGO
o Id = subconscious and innate; selfish drive for pleasure and survival; no censorship of the morality or socially appropriate nature of our actions if they are driven by the id (e.g. a baby is happy to scream and scream until it is fed because that is the product of its natural survival instinct)
o Ego = operates at all levels of consciousness; develops from early childhood; provides rational and social censorship on the desires of the id, so that we are more successful in getting our survival or pleasurable desire; tries to avoid the desires of the id leading into dangerous or non-pleasurable experiences
o Superego = operates at all levels of consciousness; develops from childhood (after the ego); morally 'censors' the desires of our id and the action-plans of our ego, to fit into the social constructs of morality that we have been given by various authority figures
• The SUPEREGO is what Freud believes we are talking about when we refer to the phenomenon of having a 'conscience'
o It runs off feelings of guilt that we produce when we receive disapproval from disobeying or failing to live up to the values and expectations of authority figures in our lives (e.g. parents, teachers, government, peers etc.)
o The guilt is a non-pleasurable experience, therefore we internalise these values from authority figures and try to follow them in order to avoid experiencing guilt in future
o Eventually these values become so ingrained in our psyche that they feel like our own 'moral compass' (core beliefs)
• Therefore Freud is very sceptical about the idea that our conscience could originate from some kind of absolute moral source, like God
o There is no actual absolute moral law/standard - morality is purely a social construct of one kind or another
Its purpose is to keep people in society working efficiently and cooperatively with each other, and to encourage people to conform to authority
o He believes people have been told to think this by religious authority figures so that we will be motivated to conform to their ideals, as we think there is some kind of divine authority and consequences behind them
o He also believes that this idea of an absolute moral standard is often misleading and unhelpful, because it can easily cause our superego to be overactive in comparison to our ego, thus producing unhelpful feelings of guilt and expectation.
Remember Freud was a psychiatrist, so he experienced 1st-hand the testimonies of people who act in very irrational ways because of an imbalance of negative thought and guilt
He thought we can be easily manipulated into following the values and orders of an authority figure because we are led to believe their rules have some kind of absolute 'correctness' underlying them, when actually they are just another social/political construct or tool

Fromm (20th C. German Psychoanalyst) - The Conscience as Authoritarian
• Fromm was heavily influenced by Freud's work, but also used psychological experimentation conducted after the atrocities of acts like the Holocaust in WW2 - a time when many moral philosophers sought to understand how such a vast number of people could have abandoned all sense of 'conscience' in the modern world
• Fromm 1st proposed a very similar theory of the conscience to Freud, (although he didn't necessarily accept the id-ego-superego account of the psyche)
o Our conscience is formed gradually over the course of our upbringing etc. through internalising the values instilled in us by the many authority figures in our lives
o We initially obey these authority figures due to fear of disapproval, punishment or rejection - eventually this pattern of obedience internalising their values as our own moral reactions/viewpoints
o Attempts to disobey only end up strengthening our submission to authority, because of the pain and guilt that follows from disobedience
• Fromm was also very influenced by the findings of psychologist Stanley Milgram, who conducted a famous experiment starting in 1961 to test the extent to which people would obey authority figures when put under pressure to do so
o This was largely motivated by the trials conducted at a similar time on Nazi war criminals from WW2, where the big question was how responsible we should hold people for following orders, when those orders are clearly violating basic human rights
o He was surprised to find that on average ~65% of subjects were willing to administer a fatal electric shock to an unknown person when instructed to, provided they were reassured that they wouldn't be held responsible for what happened
o Fromm took this as confirmation at the time that our conscience is very much shaped by the authority figures in our lives

Evolutionary Psychology - even empathy and altruism can be explained in evolutionary terms
• A common criticism raised against non-spiritual explanations of our moral faculty, is that it seems difficult to explain purely in terms of a brutal, chance-based mechanical scientific process (which is what you're left with if you take God out of the equation for explaining moral faculties and behaviour)
o Cf. Tennant's "Aesthetic Principle" from the Design Argument - the world is saturated with beauty and creativity, which does not seem necessary or economical if we seek to explain everything in mechanistic, evolutionary terms
• Atheistic/Humanist scientists like Richard Dawkins have therefore attempted to give an account of how even morality can be explained in terms of survival and evolutionary progression
• Dawkins calls it "the lust to be nice"
o Ordinarily we would think that being moral, cooperative or altruistic is not compatible with a blind force of natural selection governing the progression of species, as it often goes against our own survival or pleasure to put others 1st or look after the weaker in society
o Humans are also one of very few species that do this, or even show awareness or empathy for what other members of the species are thinking/feeling/suffering
o However, Dawkins argues that as human society has evolved into an increasingly communal existence, and therefore cooperation and altruism (acting unselfishly) have become vital for our survival as a whole
Eg. If we did not try to preserve the weaker members of society who have illnesses etc. then we would not have the motivation to research further into the workings of the human body to try to fix these weaknesses, which has enabled us to develop our intelligence and understanding of genetics way beyond any other species, and actually play nature at its own game

Potential problems with non-religious explanations of the conscience...
• Freud and Fromm's 'authoritarian' model of the conscience seems too negative and not fully supported by the evidence relating to it
o Freud's ideas are purely based on testimonial evidence from his patient's experiences. Just because his model of the id, ego and superego explains some of our feelings (e.g. guilt), does not automatically make it a correct explanation
o Just because people do not seem to follow an objective moral standard, or that often authority figures have tried to take over people's moral compass, does not in itself prove that there is no objective moral standard
The findings of the 'Milgram experiment' did not actually suggest the conscience itself is the product of authority figures; rather, Stanley Milgram concluded that people seemed willing to abandon their conscience when put under pressure by an authority figure. He never suggested that the subjects thought what they were doing was morally 'right', and the fact that it caused the subjects so much stress to follow orders implies it was going against some pre-existing moral standard within them
o Fromm himself changed his theory of the conscience later in life to a more positive account, which he called the 'humanitarian conscience'. He wanted to emphasise that it is not always a bad thing, and we are more than capable of operating our own moral autonomy when we wish to.
• Some might argue that there's more to acting morally than genetics and a 'blind' process like evolution
o Even people with genetic dispositions to find empathy a struggle not all end up being the 'immoral' people in society
o Why do they end up resisting their genetic tendencies if our behaviour is purely a biological mechanistic process?
• Scholars who seek to provide a non-religious account of the conscience have to dismiss the concept of an absolute standard of morality, because they have to maintain that our apparent 'conscience' or moral values are a social construct rather than based on objective truths
o However, these scholars still talk in terms of people acting in ways that are 'right' or 'wrong', which is not consistent with their position
o E.g. Freud talks of the superego potentially giving us 'bad'/'unhelpful' values; Dawkins talks of evolution providing us with a lust to be 'nice'
o Does this suggest it is not actually possible to speak about morality without appealing to some objective concept/standard, in which case these non-religious explanations do not seem to be able to account for that fully?

• Who do you think has the 'burden of proof' in the religion and morality debate?
o Is the burden on the theists to show why we should accept the existence of a divine source of morality?
o OR is the burden on those with non-religious explanations to show how our intuitive sense of a 'moral law' and 'moral faculty' can make sense without having a divine source?

• Whose account of our moral faculty and experiences seems to be the most probable to you?
o Remember this is an inductive debate, so we are dealing in terms of the most probable explanation of the evidence available from human nature and experience

• Do you think any of the religious-based accounts of morality sufficiently overcome the challenges raised against them?
o Remember that the religious explanations of morality are quite broad and wide-ranging, so you may well find some scholars' ideas more convincing than others
o Do you think that it is possible to provide counter-arguments to the challenges put forward to the religious accounts of morality?
E.g. do you think the Euthyphro dilemma is actually a dilemma? Do you think the more sociological or biological accounts of the conscience are actually convincing?

• Which of the explanations of morality best account for the way we use and think about morality in society?
o E.g. if a theory is very counter-intuitive (like Freud's extremely sceptical approach to the conscience), we may be less likely to accept it. This doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong, but we would at least need to have strong evidence to go against our intuition and experience
o E.g. which theory best accounts for the way in which we have moral agreements and disagreements in society? This is such a central part of the way in which we experience and use moral concepts, if the theory cannot explain that sufficiently, it may not be very strong