Does morality come from a desire to survive?

Some say morality comes from God.  I say morality comes out of a desire to survive.  Since God can’t be tested, let’s see how the desire to survive fits in with the “10 Commandments” from the Old Testament of the Bible:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me — belief-based threat, believe otherwise and you will be stoned to death
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol — belief-based threat, believe otherwise and you will be stoned to death
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God — belief-based threat, believe otherwise and you will be stoned to death
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy — don’t work yourself to death
  5. Honor your father and your mother — don’t piss off your parents, they might kill you
  6. You shall not murder — kill someone and you’ve likely put a target on your own head when their friends and relatives figure out who did it
  7. You shall not commit adultery — either your significant other will want you dead, or the significant other of the other couple will want you dead (among other more complicated scenarios resulting in someone wanting you dead)
  8. You shall not steal — the person you steal from will probably want to kill you
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor – your neighbour will want to kill you for being a super jerk
  10. You shall not covet — you’ll probably die because you’re not focused on your own needs, or those who are connected with that which you are coveting will be suspicious and possibly want you dead as a precaution

In other words, all ten commandments can be linked with some sort of risk of death.

Is it certain that these commandments came from God?  Or could they have come from understanding what would put your life at risk in society at the time?

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34 Responses to Does morality come from a desire to survive?

  1. Michael Snow says:

    Yes, it is certain that these came from God if you believe His word. But most Christians do not even know the Ten Commandments anymore. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/teaching-children-the-ten-commandments/

    • Derek says:

      I agree with you Mr. Snow.

    • jasonjshaw says:

      Of course, it takes a big “if” in order to bring a view of such certainty. But I am surprised to hear that the commandments aren’t even commonly taught in Christianity anymore, I thought it was something of great significance to the faith.

      • Howie says:

        I was always troubled by the inconsistency of saying that the old covenant was over to solve the inhumane commands in the old testament but then in the same breath to uphold the ten commandments as so important.

      • jasonjshaw says:

        It seems like the questionable relevance of the OT really is detrimental to Christianity as a whole.

      • Derek says:

        As far as commandments not being taught, I can’t say one way or the other. I know them, and I value them but I can’t speak for everyone. Obviously Christ thought they were important. I was intrigued by your comment about the OT. The OT points directly to Christ and reveals God’s character. It is certainly not detrimental to Christianity, and I would argue the opposite is true. Jesus says to his contemporaries that if they believed Moses they would believe him because Moses wrote about Jesus of course so did Isaiah among others.

      • jasonjshaw says:

        I think it comes down to how you look at it. There is plenty in the OT for Christians to connect with, but there is also plenty that Atheists are able to utilize for their questioning of it. I think Christianity focuses on the suggestion that one should have faith in exploring the Bible so that a bias is in place when understanding all that is written. An objective viewing opens up greater possibilities for questioning things.

    • Arkenaten says:

      The Pentateuch is regarded by every serious scholar and archaeologist on the planet as fiction.

      The” ten commandments” ( and there were a lot more…oh yes indeedy) can be demonstrated to have been plagiarized from earlier law codes.
      Only a misguided person would indoctrinate their child with this rubbish and claim it was ‘from god’.

      Thank the gods it is not mandatorily taught in state schools.

  2. Derek says:

    I think that comment itself is very biased. If an atheist reads the bible is he reading it objectively? Of course not, he’s reading it with the biased that it is written by man. I’d be willing to submit that Christ followers have a biased to, but you can’t say they’re the only ones. The idea that anyone can read anything without some form of bias is simply not realistic. A more valuable argument would be focused on why a particular bias is valid or not.

    In response to your attempt to explain morality though survival, I would question why everyone in these scenarios is ignoring the commandment though shalt not kill. This seems to be a very shallow explanation that doesn’t hold much water. I’m struggling to see any validity in it at all even from an atheist perspective.

    • jasonjshaw says:

      Well, the Bible is written by man. Isn’t that why the books of the Bible tend to titled after those who wrote them?

      The scenarios are working from the most extreme example of what the result of each action could potentially be. Of course, the initial action falls on one person, but the reaction falls onto the next person in the very same capacity. If everyone continued killing one another, there wouldn’t be anyone left, and that would not be very useful in furthering the existence of families, communities, or the species. The commandments (or laws in general) arise as guidance to help in preventing a cycle of death.

      • Derek says:

        Yes man obviously wrote the Bible down, but the Bible is God-inspired a claim that atheists would obviously reject. I’m not sure what you mean about a cycle of death. I think there’s more to it than that. Some of your connections of the law to death seem stretched.

      • jasonjshaw says:

        I think it’s also tough to argue that it isn’t inspired by God if you consider God one in the same as the nature of existence. It’s when it is seen as the infallible Word of God that troubles arise and some gymnastics of understanding are required.

        As for the connection with death, that is the extreme example. You could lighten it to be the law of avoiding vengeance, as a society of vengeance would tend to bring destruction to itself. You could possibly look at what happened in Iraq in recent history – they lose their leader and basically their governmental system, and things got much worse. It was a battle to survive, different groups fought for control, and it was a society that had embraced something like a cycle of death. The Americans apparently made some agreements to gain Iraqi allies which allowed for larger groups acting in a more civilized manner, but they still seem to be far from reaching agreements to allow for more stable society.

        I used this article for reference
        http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?id=156970

        Hopefully that makes some sense in connecting the cycle of death idea.

  3. Derek says:

    What kinds of gymnastics are you referring to? If the Bible is wrong about one thing, why would we trust it about anything? The Bible makes an audacious claim that it is the word of God, but I believe this claim is something we can trust. Do you have an example of a biblical contradiction or mistake you’d like to bring up?

    • jasonjshaw says:

      Ah you know, the usual points brought up on Atheist blogs about how vengeful the OT God is at times.

      Actually, one point that was brought up to me in a response to a comment of mine in another blog brought up an interesting NT issue:

      “Jason, I’ve noticed that one of the largest points of contention is what people mean by “believing in Jesus”. You could say that there is a tension between James 2:19 (“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”) and John 3:16 (“…whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”). This tends to create a tension between “works and faith” in some christian traditions.”

      This was in reply to me mentioning something along the lines of my discomfort with the idea that believing Jesus is God is all that is required to be saved, in reference to the blog post about the nasty attitudes some Christians have.

  4. Soduhson says:

    Jesus teachings in some ways implies that survival wasn’t always the intention. He oftentimes went above and beyond what the law taught: comparing lust to adultery and comparing hate to murder illustrates that.

    • jasonjshaw says:

      Lust is a first step toward adultery and hate is a first step toward murder. Jesus sought to help people recognize such paths and avoid them in order to prevent escalation to those levels. It makes logical sense to me.

      • Soduhson says:

        It comes back to the point of diverging standards existing between secular and Christian moral viewpoints. Many people would say that adultery is an artificial moral wrong as, according to them, humans aren’t meant to be monogamous.

        Sexuality in general is a perfect example of Judeo-Christianity seeking a standard beyond survival. But, I would argue, going above and beyond human nature in order to seek something higher than our carnal desires.

      • jasonjshaw says:

        Adultery is an artificial moral wrong? I have a hard time buying that. Between the significantly higher risks of creating resentment and spreading disease, there seems to be firm ground that monogamy stands on. A quick internet search brought up this study on the subject:

        “Monogamous societies have fewer social problems than polygamous ones, UC Davis researcher says”
        http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10142

  5. Derek says:

    For any of those points, is there ever a lack of a reasonable response? I’ve not seen any shattering evidence that deems the Bible even the slightest bit wrong. I would not, however, suggest the Bible puts us in a headlock of conviction extinguishing any and all doubt. I don’t see any differences at all in the God of the OT vs. Jesus of the NT or God of the OT. Maybe we could discuss some examples here.

    As far as believing in Jesus is concerned, I understand how the semantics can allow for confusion. According to Christ, we need to not simply believe he existed but put our faith in him that he can carry the burden that none of us can carry. We must believe he is the Son of God, that he lived a perfect life, and through that perfect sacrifice we can be justified before a perfect God. I love that quote from James. I think it’s helpful to remind us which side of things God has given us the opportunity to be on.

    • jasonjshaw says:

      Considering Christians have been defending their faith for 2000 years, there has been a “reasonable” response formulated for everything and anyone questioning it is told that they aren’t viewing it with the appropriate context. I know the routine. It seems like a lot of song and dance at times.

      I understand how you see the fit of the quote from James, but the trouble is, to really understanding all the ins and outs of scripture, it takes a lot of time and effort, which results in a lot of cherry-picking by Christians who are unable to devote such time to understanding it. That’s a big part of how this blog came to be – I wanted to get to the point of it all in order to help bring easier comprehension of the core concepts in order to reduce part-time Christian cherry-picking, which from my experiences seems to do more harm than good.

      • Derek says:

        You seem impossible to please. If Christians don’t have an answer on a topic you’d probably say they’re wrong, if they do have an answer it’s a “song and dance”. As far as cherry-picking is concerned, I would say you’re being a little hypocritical as most of your Biblical commentary has epitomized such shallow readings. I don’t think the scripture is as complicated as you make it. If you’re trying to make it say something it doesn’t say (nudge nudge) it does become “complex”. A famous Biblical scholar summed up the Bible with the following: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

      • jasonjshaw says:

        When it comes to accepting supernatural explanations, yes, I am about as impossible to please as it gets.

        They key points of scripture are not difficult, as I have collected in “The Simple Heart Of Christianity”. And of course, Jesus’ emphasized points of love God (the nature of existence, as I would say) and love your neighbour as yourself.

        It’s all the misunderstandings of details that people latch on to that go against the core ideas but that they justify by Biblically cherry-picking that I am bothered by. Sure, I have no problem with suggestions that I may be cherry-picking myself. I would ask who actually has a complete understanding of every nook and cranny of the Bible? As far as I see it, everyone is cherry-picking to suit their own perspective. My cherry-picking is designed to emphasize the main points that Jesus emphasized and to take a look at it from a perspective more connected to reality as we know it outside of religious books.

    • @Derek

      I’ve not seen any shattering evidence that deems the Bible even the slightest bit wrong.

      You’re not looking very <a href="http://deadwildroses.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/breaking-newsbible-rife-with-contradiction/"hard.

      I would not, however, suggest the Bible puts us in a headlock of conviction extinguishing any and all doubt.

      No, ignoring evidence does that for you quite nicely.

      I don’t see any differences at all in the God of the OT vs. Jesus of the NT or God of the OT. Maybe we could discuss some examples here.

      Yet another christian who claims biblical based “truths” without actually reading the bible. Shocking I say, shocking.

      We must believe he is the Son of God, that he lived a perfect life […]

      We have to believe in the bible because the bible says its true? Is there not a more perfect definition of fallacious circular reasoning?

      I think it’s helpful to remind us which side of things God has given us the opportunity to be on.

      Which side would that be? The one that is interring millions of people to eternal torment for non-belief? I’m sure many followers of Islam and other christian sects have already condemned you to hell… Hmmm… Nice guy that god is (yours or theirs, not much difference).

      • My apologies. The problems that happen when I don’t reread what I type a second time. Here is the link that was borked in my comment. It is to a poster that graphically represents the contradictions in the bible.

    • Arkenaten says:

      @Derek
      Archaeology has demonstrated that the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan is spurious nonsense.
      There is not a recognized serious scholar,Rabbi, archaeologist, or Egyptologist on the planet that thinks otherwise.
      Only fundamentalists and extreme Orthodox Jews believe in the inerrency of the Bible.

  6. Derek says:

    Your link does not work. It says 404 Does not exist. The irony’s not lost on me.

    What evidence am I ignoring? I spend a great deal of time trying to understand atheist arguments and anti-christian arguments. I’m very aware of “evidence”.

    “We have to believe in the bible because the bible says its true? Is there not a more perfect definition of fallacious circular reasoning?”

    What I’m suggesting is not circular. I’m not saying the Bible is true because it is true, that would be circular. I’m saying I believe the Bible to be true. I’m sure there are things you believe are true, because you believe them to be true is that circular? Of course not.

    “Which side would that be? The one that is interring millions of people to eternal torment for non-belief? I’m sure many followers of Islam and other christian sects have already condemned you to hell… Hmmm… Nice guy that god is (yours or theirs, not much difference).”

    So if a God has rules and consequences you think he’s not nice? To be sure, God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, that’s why he sent Christ. You are right when you point out that there are multiple ideas about God, but that doesn’t negate the fact that someone must be correct.

    Final thoughts: I know the Bible quite well, but apparently you think I don’t. I’ve mentioned this to Mr. Shaw as well, but I want to express this above all: I’m not here to prove you wrong and boost my intellectual ego, but I welcome your questions and arguments because there is not a more important issue worth discussing.

    • Derek says:

      @ Jason (I’m stealing this move from The Arbourist, I like it)

      “When it comes to accepting supernatural explanations, yes, I am about as impossible to please as it gets.”

      Ok.

      “They key points of scripture are not difficult, as I have collected in “The Simple Heart Of Christianity”. And of course, Jesus’ emphasized points of love God (the nature of existence, as I would say) and love your neighbour as yourself.”

      You start off saying it’s not difficult, and then you show you’ve missed it entirely! What conflict does the Bible start? Man’s sin. What is the climax? Jesus taking away the sins of the world. Does he want us to love our neighbors, and love God? Of course he does! To ignore Christ’s claim and the work He did on the cross seems to be cherry-picking relative to the context of the rest of the Bible, not to the context of an agenda.

      “It’s all the misunderstandings of details that people latch on to that go against the core ideas but that they justify by Biblically cherry-picking that I am bothered by.”

      Me too!

      As far as I see it, everyone is cherry-picking to suit their own perspective. My cherry-picking is designed to emphasize the main points that Jesus emphasized and to take a look at it from a perspective more connected to reality as we know it outside of religious books.

      So in this scenario, I disagree with you. How will we ever figure out who has the more reliable reading? We will have to go back to the text and find support for our theories. As I hope I’ve demonstrated previously, Christ dying on the cross and being resurrected was his “main point”. I’m not saying this because of some agenda, but because that’s what the text supports.

      • jasonjshaw says:

        See, that’s where we differ. You go back to the text for support where the writers believed that Jesus died on the cross for humanity’s sins, I go beyond the text to see that Jesus wanted his understandings to be remembered. Enduring a crucifixion and staging a resurrection is a great way to drive home those teachings. And it makes for a nice bit of closure to the troubles that the idea of sin brought to the society at the time.

  7. Derek says:

    @ Jason

    “I go beyond the text to see that Jesus wanted his understandings to be remembered. Enduring a crucifixion and staging a resurrection is a great way to drive home those teachings. And it makes for a nice bit of closure to the troubles that the idea of sin brought to the society at the time.”

    You have absolutely no support for your “beyond the text” notion. You can’t say “I’m extending beyond the text” because ultimately what is your source? The text! Unless you think the same authors you discredit are creditable enough to leave clues about the “truth” through their own “unreliable” accounts. If you’re pontificating on extension alone you are essentially inventing your own story and then claiming your invention is supreme to the authentic gospel.

    • jasonjshaw says:

      So what you’re saying is that if someone tells you a story based on truth but exaggerated, it is not possible to take details from the story they are telling you to understand what likely actually happened?

      My support is in investigation techniques. Gather information on points of interest that seem the most reasonable and see how they connect, and build onward from there until a more clear picture of what really happened presents itself. Of course, if you are limiting yourself by not questioning the story you’re given, then it is impossible.

      • Derek says:

        “So what you’re saying is that if someone tells you a story based on truth but exaggerated, it is not possible to take details from the story they are telling you to understand what likely actually happened?”

        1. How do you know it’s exaggerated? 2. Where do you draw the line between truth and exaggeration? It’s possible to discern the truth, but you first have to answer the first two questions.

        “Of course, if you are limiting yourself by not questioning the story you’re given, then it is impossible.”

        To be sure, I question everything. God wants us to understand his word and apply it, not nod and drool. You can definitely believe something and still question it; I would even go as far to say that’s an important part of belief. Your idea of “questioning” is to change practically everything the text says because you’re skeptical of its veracity. In what context does questioning equate to changing? I think you could use a gulp of your own medicine here when it comes to evaluating the plausibility of your theories: of course, if you are limiting yourself by not questioning the story you’re given, then it is impossible.

      • jasonjshaw says:

        Are you kidding me? I question the story I’m given whenever possible! It would be awesome if completely magical things could actually happen! But on the flip side, it is pretty amazing to gain new understanding of how seemingly magical things are actually possible, and how easily humans are fooled by illusion.

        How can you not question what physics must be involved in Jesus feeding thousands of people with a couple loaves of bread? If that’s not an exaggeration, I don’t know what is.

  8. Derek says:

    @Arkenaten

    “Archaeology has demonstrated that the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan is spurious nonsense.”

    I’m going to be utterly transparent and say that I would rather trust the accounts written in the Bible than the best archaeologists thousands of years after the fact. Archaeology also supports many events in the Bible. I don’t believe archaeology is at a level where it can claim to be comprehensive or exhaustive. I think this is common sense: we can’t know everything that happened thousands of years ago although Archaeology can and has provided support for parts of the Bible.

    “There is not a recognized serious scholar,Rabbi, archaeologist, or Egyptologist on the planet that thinks otherwise.”

    That’s fine, I understand my beliefs aren’t popular. I don’t predicate what I believe on what the masses are doing or thinking. Can you imagine what would happen to any scholar who suggested they believed the Bible to be completely true? They would be relegated from your “recognized serious scholar” list immediately.

    “Only fundamentalists and extreme Orthodox Jews believe in the inerrency of the Bible.”

    How would you believe the bible is inerrant and not be one of the above? So yes I agree, but I don’t find this point convincing. Every contradiction I’ve discovered or have been shown has a clear response. If you want to ignore the answers, or claim Christians are doing a song and dance as Jason has suggested, are you really approaching the claim that the Bible is inerrant with an open mind? Christians are put in a lose lose situation otherwise. If we defend the Bible’s claim, we’re somehow putting on a show, if we don’t defend the claim we’re wrong about the Bible. It always seems to me that people begin with not wanting to believe the Bible, and then work earnestly to validate their disbelief. This is not always the case, but it seems to be the predominant pattern among those that I speak with.

    • Arkenaten says:

      @ Derek

      I’m going to be utterly transparent and say that I would rather trust the accounts written in the Bible than the best archaeologists thousands of years after the fact.

      And this proves quite eloquently the power of indoctrination and is why when the house of cards comes crashing down around your ears you will have nowhere to run.
      The question is not whether this is truth or not – it is – but rather what will you do when it catches up with you?

      Some other things you will eventually have to deal with.
      You, and noone else, are not going to hell, you were not born a sinner and without the god crap you are probably an all right sort of bloke.

      Astounding, I realise, but there you go.

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