Fascinating article about animal behavioural origins of morality,

One way a theist can guarantee to have me grinding my teeth is by telling me that atheists, by definition, can have no 'moral compass'. This statement, apart from being mind-numbingly offensive, it just so obviously wrong I don't know where to start.

 This article looks at how (especially social) animals enforce a series of rules during play, to avoid injury while practicing necessary life-skills, and then how breaking those rules leads to social consequences. Although it concentrates on canids for examples, (it does reference research into other animals as well,) it isn't hard to extrapolate how similar ape behaviour  develops into our 'morality'.

 This quote especially jumped out at me:

 "...the vast majority of human moral behavior takes place "below the radar" of consciousness, and that rational judgment and self-reflection actually play very small roles in social interactions."

Well worth the read, with a good selection of titles for follow-up reading if interested. The big problem, of course, is that the theist who blithely proclaim atheists can have no moral compass won't read it, but what's new there?

Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff, "Moral In Tooth And Claw", The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2009
http://chronicle.com/article/Moral-in-ToothClaw/48800/

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Comment by tom sarbeck on April 28, 2015 at 11:39am

Anwyn, thanks for linking to the Moral in Tooth and Claw article. It described instances of the behavior I saw when my wife and I owned and trained two German Shepherds. It gave me more info with which to answer an xian who tells me atheism has no morality, which none has yet done.

Comment by jay H on April 27, 2015 at 5:48pm

There is a lot to be understood when we realize how much of our makup is a product of natural selection, the roots of which is visible in other animals (particularly primates). Additionally humans' alignment with dogs is especially interesting because we evolved similar cooperative societies. Wolves and humans are probably the two most efficient hunters on earth (great cats succeed because of their great individual power, whereas wolves and humans succeed by complex coordination). This probably accounts for our close co-evolution. Some suggest that domestication of canines is what enabled modern humans to out survive the bigger, stronger, Neanderthals.

Our sense of morality is somewhat flexible, but is a deeply engrained social skill. Cultures around the world have a sense of moral/non moral, and while some of the details may vary, the emotional component is similar.

Jonathan Haidt explores this in his fascinating book "The Righteous Mind--Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion"

Comment by Frankie Dapper on April 27, 2015 at 12:19am

Whether the exercise of morality/ethics occurs consciously or unconsciously, it is religion rather than its absence which causes theists to sublimate a moral compass. The dictates of Abrahamic religions are simply immoral. And so the more devout a theist is the less capable they are of being moral/ethical.

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