On a recent Atheist Experience, Matt Dillahunty was talking to a caller, explaining that people can be clearly immoral, holding opinions that Matt and other atheists find reprehensible. You know, while I agree with Matt on his moral views more often than not, I have to call bullshit once again and explain that there is no such thing as objective morality and pretending that your personally preferred moral views are just inherently better than everyone else, without actually doing anything to defend your views, is just nonsense.
The simple fact is, morality is a human invention and it varies from person to person, place to place and culture to culture. What you think is moral in one place may not be moral in another, what people elsewhere consider moral, you may consider immoral and the fact is, neither of you are any more demonstrably correct than the other. Oh sure, one side might be able to construct a framework that they like better than the other person’s framework but that doesn’t mean that their framework is objectively superior, based on their preference.
I’m honestly not picking on Matt, even though he tends to spark these kinds of reactions because he often talks in absolute terms, even if, I would assume, he knows deep down that he can’t really do that. He’s just been indoctrinated, like almost everyone else, to think that the cultural norms of his native land are correct and the cultural norms of others, where they differ, are wrong. However, we have to remember that this is all a bunch of opinions. Take killing, for instance. Most people would agree that killing another person for no defensibly good reason is wrong. Some people think that killing another person is okay in self defense or times of war. Some people think that there is no conceivable reason to ever kill another person. Some people think there is no conceivable reason to ever kill any creature whatsoever. So who is right? Who is wrong? It depends on your perspective and, like it or not, none of the perspectives are demonstrably better than any other.
Beyond culture though, Matt has also bought into a political and social perspective, that being liberalism. His liberal morals, in addition to his cultural morals, differ significantly from the morals of a conservative from the same culture, or from a neo-con, or from a libertarian. Can Matt prove that his morals are any better? Can he demonstrate that the substrate upon which he bases his morals is inherently correct? No, he cannot. It’s all subjective and Matt knows that it’s all subjective, even if he rarely allows that to slip. He has said in the past that the criteria for determining morality is subjective, but once you have that criteria, it can be applied objectively, therefore his morality is objective. No, he’s just missed the subjective part, the part where he picked a criteria that appealed to his cultural and political sensitivities.
In reality, people jump to these moral beliefs, not because their set of beliefs is better, but because declaring them to be authoritative negates the need to actually defend them rationally all the time. It’s easier to just say your beliefs are true and beyond reproach than to have a ready and rational response to challenges. What I say is better than what you say because this authority figure says so, or this document says so, or because this group of people says so. None of that is rational. The only way for one position to be better than another position is for it to be demonstrably and objectively superior and usually, that’s not the case.
The fact remains, our founding fathers picked a general set of criteria for how things would operate in the United States and enshrined them in the founding documents of this nation. That doesn’t mean that those criteria are special, it certainly doesn’t mean that they’re magical, any more than the religious, who claim their morality springs from a supernatural creator, get to claim that their chosen criteria is special. It’s all just opinion and while we can argue the merits of individual or cultural opinions, we cannot state that one is inherently true and others are inherently false, no matter how much we might agree or disagree with the individual ideas.
Just because humans have this social and cultural shorthand, just because most people do it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good thing and that we shouldn’t be aware of it and correct our behavior. There is no objective morality, no inherently superior moral code, we’re all just smart animals wandering around on an insignificant planet in an insignificant solar system, adrift in an insignificant galaxy, it’s about time we started recognizing our failings and foibles and being better as a species.
And yes, that is my subjective opinion.