Originally Posted by Emu
One of the questions I get asked (well, they don't ask me, but I hear it pretty often) is "If you're an atheist, where does your morality come from?"
Originally Posted by kahljorn
Blah, blah, blah... Also, even if God existed, just like he designed natural physical law, he designed moral law; atheists can understand physical laws, so they should be able to understand moral laws.
There we go... Allright, let's walk through this, using what we've learned in this discussion, Ok?
First, since Emu asked about a position on morality from an atheistic point of view, let's discard the stuff about God existing and designing out for now, as that is off topic, though fun to talk about in another context.
What we are left with is something like "There IS physical law, and there IS moral law, and if atheists can understand physical laws, so they should be able to understand moral laws."
Now, when it comes to "physical law," Sloth made the distinction between what he called "The Real" and the imperfect language we use to describe everything and how it all does what it does, which is perfectly acceptable. "The Real" can never be completely explained or understood by us as it is entirely too complex, but by scratching at the surface of understanding it all, we can see an underlying order to the universe and try our best to experimentally predict what will happen when we mix chemicals or drop things or shoot stuff into space.
Using what we have learned so far by scratching the surface of "The Real" has and will continue to produce tangible results that we call technology, which we find useful in medicine, communication, travel, cooking and blowing things up.
As you have stated, atheists can understand and use our understanding of "physical laws," or "The Real," just as well as any religious person can, all else being equal.
You have proposed that another "The Real" exists when it comes to morality, and it seems that you agree that it has a similar relationship to what we call the study of morality as the other "The Real" has to what we call the study of physics. For us to completely understand either, we would have to know everything there is to know about every reaction between everything from the beginning of time to it's end, all at once, which is impossible.
By scratching the surface of the underlying "The Real" of right and wrong, good and bad, though, we can gain at least a limited understanding of how the decisions we make affect the people and things around us and try to assign positive or negative values to them. Just like our study of physics has produced tangible results over the years, our study of morality has given us a clearer picture of right and wrong, good and bad, positive and negative.
No belief system, religious or secular, could possibly claim to fully understand "The Real" of morality completely... no more than any scientist will ever be able to completely explain the physical universe in more than an extremely general sense. Any given atheist is as able to comprehend this as was Jesus or Buddha, but we all benefit generally from trying to apply what we have figured out so far in such a way as to get the most positives out of our day to day decision making as we can.
As BPG noted, this is just a larger view of the kind of cost-benefit method Emu didn't feel right about, but I think it's a comprehensive enough theory to put us all on the same moral ground, which is what I think he was originally after.