Monday, October 24, 2005

Good God!

I was having an email discussion that arose as an indirect result of the previous blog entry, and I am finding the debate so compelling and stimulating, that I thought I would raise it here in my blog.

The question my friend asks is, isn't the human concept of "goodness" evidence for the existence of God? Where did we get our moral and ethical structure from if there is no God to provide the pattern?

A few days ago, for example, I read that oxytocin makes you more trusting. (Via the Tangled Bank.) This seems to support the idea that even those qualities that we consider virtues are more or less dictated by chemical reactions in the brain, and raises the question of how we came to value them as "good".

I am interested in having more input on this subject and hope you will let me know what you think, either by leaving a comment here or emailing me privately, if you prefer. (No holds barred: I don't mind which -- if any -- god you want to presume, although I especially welcome followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.)


true2life said...

Much of nature is a-moral. Wasps laying eggs that eat live caterpillers etc. But for some reason few apply that same a-moral stance to human behaviour. I wonder why, and look to something 'outside' that explains it.

Good and bad may be descriptors like wet and dry, and thus even with no 'god' one can say things may still be good or bad. BUT right and wrong in my opinion fall into a different category. wet and dry describe the thing itself, good and bad even describe the thing itself, but right and wrong need some external reference against which the good/bad or whatever is judged. That to me suggests god.

kuchinskas said...

Oxytocin not only makes us more trusting, it's the hormone responsible for bonding with another person -- or a pet. But oxytocin does a lot more in our bodies: It plays a major role in the parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for calming us down and keeping blood pressure under control, as well as for regulating hydration and appetite.

When oxytocin levels are elevated, the body is in a "good" state: contented, loving, at peace. You could say that the body has its own morals, based on health and high function.

When we interact in a connected way with another person, both of our oxytocin levels may be elevated, and we are therefore helping each other achieve healthier body states. We feel "good" about each other and perceive this state as "good."

Personally, I don't think that understanding the physical basis for the feeling of trust is evidence one way or another of intelligent design. You could say God designed us this way, or that we evolved this way because trust allowed our ancestors to band together for safety.

Kevin Rosero said...

I also think of God when I think of an objective standard for right and wrong. There is the subjective aspect to consider, and in that case we often equate what is right with our own feelings: "I feel good about this," "I'm angry as hell about this injustice." Notice, the feelings can be very useful in judging things that would really be bad for our survival and therefore presumably evil in a moral sense. Subjective standards are not to be shunned. They are to be trained, since without training they can also look like this: "I must have vengeance; it's only just." Training your subjective standard, your conscience, to choose correctly, means holding yourself to another or higher standard. If that standard seems to us entirely made of human ideals, we still have to wonder why we have those ideals. Certainly everything we have, we got through evolution. But that is not the same as saying FROM evolution.

And thinking of something higher than homo sapiens as producing our ideals helps us reach higher than our own thoughts, not to be satisfied with them. Not to be satisfied with merely getting the highest possible synthesis of current human thoughts and ideals. If we think we understand what's best for our universe, we haven't come to grips with our immaturity. Some in our species think it's ideal to kill or maim or defraud or live selfishly. If we merely take the current pool of human ideals and never consider a higher standard, but simply try to outlaw current destructive ideals and live by current positive ones, the world will still not be much of a better place. That would be a start, but IMO we still have to reach for something whose thoughts are not our own.

Sorry about the length; didn't mean to preach. :-)