morality: the difference between icecream and physical violence

​Is there a difference between your opinions about icecream and your opinions about spanking (or causing harm or any other right/wrong)? (mrsmcmommy)

Groan. It’s painful having conversations about ‘morality’ with some people. You can spend hours painstakingly describing it in completely natural terms but still get a question like this thrown at you a couple of weeks later.

So, what’s the problem here? It seems that some people who believe there is an invisible creator hiding somewhere inside or outside the universe, also believe this creator god set invisible rules that help humans know how to behave. The creator god holds all the answers concerning human actions that are absolutely right or absolutely wrong.

The impartial observer will already spot several probems with this theory:
1. The very notion of absolute rights and wrongs is nonsense. Most actions cause a mixture of harmful, positive and maybe even neutral outcomes. Some actions are clearly wrong, in that the harmful outcomes hugely outweigh the positive outcomes e.g. murdering random people. Other actions are clearly harmful in some general respects but have potentially significant positive outcomes e.g. murdering Hitler. But absolute? Never.
2. If this mysterious invisible god does indeed exist, when it created our existence it gave us the tools to evaluate the outcomes of our actions on our own – no invisible signposts required. We evolved on the back of our co-operative characteristics that help us work together and form social groups. Empathy is a human characteristic that helps us see things from someone else’s point of view, and care about their experiences. We are more than capable of using our empathy and reasoning to calculate how harmful potential actions are for all involved, and make decisions based on these calculations.
3. Our opinions about icecream very rarely have significant impact on other humans, although we may well find it morally objectionable if the animals involved in the production of the icecream were mistreated in any way. Our opinions on spanking can affect how we treat our children, or how other people treat their children, which can have lasting impact on their lives and their behaviour (for more information, read my post on spanking with full discussion and links to further reading in the comments section)

It’s disturbing that some religious people have such a confused view of life without gods that they project such vapid nonsense onto atheism. Sometimes I get round to attempting to clarify these things, like now, and other times I wonder if I should just groan and turn off the computer.

(For anyone interested in following or jumping into the original discussion, you may have to head over to the Branyan blog, as mrsmcmommy isn’t a fan of leaving her safe space.)