Friday, June 13, 2008

The Overlapping Map of Morality

Part 1.

(Please bear in mind that any personal opinions or opinions pertaining to group morals or group ethics are formulated from my personal opinion and should only be treated as a personal opinion, and not as an attempt to dictate, interpret, or impose morals or ethical instructions on others.)

I’m going to lead into my argument with my contention that the Presuppositional Apologia for Morality is flawed. In my opinion, it fails to take into account the overlapping map of morality.

A Presuppositionalist Apologetic's stated position that non-theists cannot account for objective morality without god (meaning the christian god?) starts with a number of assumptive leaps that beg for examination from the outset. Further this stated dependency on the christian god seems to discount dependencies that that moral set had on cultural influences, moral stories, and the deconstructed mythology that was contemporary to early christians, and more importantly to the members of the Council of Nicea - in which the bible (and its containing morality) were canonized. What isn’t clear is whether Clay’s stated position also depends on the accuracy of biblical history or not. This will also bear examination in order to evaluate the Presuppositional Apologia.

This post I’m going to concentrate mainly on the overlapping map of morality. (This is my own proposition to the debate, and should be treated as my own opinion only). If we examine the pillars of 21 century moral codes we will find that there are many different instruction guides for acceptable behaviour. Each major faith has a set of principals they use to instruct behaviours in their followers. Christians have the 10 C’s. Judaism has the 10 C’s (predecessor to the slightly altered Christian 10 C’s) and mosaic law. Sikh’s have 12 main Principals. Buddhism has the three guiding philosophies of Sila, Samadhi and Prajna. Islam has ~23 distinct instructions for ethical behaviour. Hindus have ~20 distinct instructions (commandments?) that are presented for ethical behaviour. Secular society has judicial guidelines for ethical behaviour (that vary somewhat from country to country). Jainism has as set of instructional principals that guide moral behaviour.

It seems that every societal grouping has an urge to develop a set of ethical instructions to guide those decisions and actions that they term to be moral behaviour. The interesting part about all of this is where the overlaps occur. Common instructions created by cultures separated geographically and temporally. Instructions for behaviour that pre-date any biblical historicity, that are not encompassed in any single culture or societal subgroup. Overlaps that have only one factor in common.

If you view the image below, you’ll see a sketch I made of the Overlapping Map of Morality. It is notably absent of specific features other than colourful overlapping blobs, and concentric decreasing divisions. This is intentional.

With this unlabelled map depicted by overlapping coloured circles and decreasing concentric rings defining areas in which these circles overlap, we are free to arrange the ‘ethical instructions’ on this map – displaying where maximum overlap is achieved (those ethical instructions that seem to be prevalent in many cultures – and displaying those in other regions where fewer or no overlap occurs (those ethical instructions that seem to come only from a single culture or cultural sub-groups).

What becomes very interesting examining those ethical instructions that have the most universality along side those ethical instructions that seem to be native only to a single or a few interconnected sub-groups.

Below we see the Overlapping Map of Morality showing the interplay between the 10 C’s (christian and jewish combined) and the ~23 Islamic Instructions. Note the similarities.

In the above comparison between christian moral imperatives and islamic moral imperatives, we see quite a few straight up overlaps in instruction. (those guiding principals in the center section, grey text)

- No other gods
- No murder
- No stealing
- No lying
- No adultery

What is interesting is that we see some islamic instructions that may not be offensive to christians. (those guiding principals in the right-hand blue section, in red text)

-No denying god
- Defend your nation
- No broken promises (which could probably be included in the no lying instruction)
- No oppression
- No scandal

(There are some fuzzy areas in the no oppression and no scandal instructions from islam – on the surface christians may not disagree with them, but there may be situations where christians practices oppression or scandal – by biblical policy. At least, there have been in the past - the moral majority stance on homosexuality coming to mind here. Similarly, there may be other cultures that do this. What may sound ok on first blush, may not work with some official policies.)

There are also some christian principals that may not be immediately objectionable to islamic folks. (those guiding principals in the left-hand red section, in blue text).

- No using gods name in vain
- remember the Sabbath (Similar to the pray 5 times a day instruction – set aside time for prayer – as a general instruction.)
- No bearing false witness

But then there are the irreconcilable differences. God vs. Allah. Prophets. Gambling. Intoxication. Eating Pork. Consuming Blood. Praying 5 times a day (specifically).

Morally speaking, these two different religions have a lot in common. (…that is, if we take these ethical instructions as representative of what these social groups actually follow as ethical guides.).

What happens if an atheist tosses secular ethics into this comparative mix?

For this exercise I’m going to use Canadian Charter of Rights as a starting point for atheist or secular ethical instructions. (Mainly because I’m familiar with it, and because it is fairly simple to translate in point form – for the main ethical instructions…)

Now that we have 3 models in play, we can really begin to see the interplay between morality models and how there is some overlap. There is global overlap in the sweet-spot (or bull’s eye) of the ringed section. There is some subjective agreement in the second ring of the section, and in the outer rims, there is non-overlapping, or non-specified quasi-agreement.

What I mean by non-specified quasi-agreement are those items in green text. While they’re not specifically outlined in each of the three sets of ethical instructions (Christianity in the red region, islam in the blue region, and (one example of) secular law in the green region, we can see similarities, or negotiation between the concepts.

No traitors (islam) probably compliments some of the secular laws of nationality.
No false witnessing (christian) is a keystone of the secular judicial system in nearly every country that I’m familiar with. (And probably falls inside the No lying (global) instruction in the bull’s eye.)
No broken promises (islam) probably compliments a lot of contractual agreement laws (secular), and No false witnessing (christian) as well as falling under the umbrella of No lying (global).
No oppression (islam) synergizes nicely with the Protection of freedoms and liberties (secular) and probably isn’t all that objectionable to judeo-christians – even though its not specifically mentioned in the 10 C’s.

Now I could build this model out further – approaching the complexity of the original unlabeled model from Part 1, using Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc…
(an exercise I probably won’t do without an invitation and funding from a research group truly interested in such an endeavor) But even without those comparisons in place showing the variety of overlap in a global moral map, we can see that Christianity neither has the monopoly on moral instructions, nor do they exclusively hold title to those ethical instructions that are found inside of a global map of morality. We also can note that there are some ethical instructions not contained within our example of the 10 C’s that may be useful for formulating a moral ethic that works globaly. Now I’m not going to attribute this incompleteness to christianity or islam - because I recognize that these models are incomplete - if not bad for a basic representation.
It simply shows that there are different ethical messages that exist outside of each of these models - and suggests that there could be moral or ethical information that exists apart from, or outside of any social sub-group that bears examination and evaluation for inclusion in the moral map.

If we adhere only to a specific guide, or specific written doctrine and do not allow ourselves the freedom and intelligence to research and evaluate (and improve where possible) then we may end up in a stagnant mode of ethical thinking.

Note: These models are greatly simplified, and do not do justice to the complexities inherent in any of the ethical models used. I know any presuppositionalist can come here and pick my tinker-toy models apart as being incomplete or merely scratching the surface of the questions of morality. All these models are intended to do is demonstrate that any single social group attempting to lay claim exclusively to some of the ingredients of the moral stew may be (and probably are) doing so erroneously.

Thus a Presuppositionalist's contention that atheists cannot describe or account for morality without god (meaning the christian god for purposes of these posts) is based on an assumption that is demonstrably self serving and not necessarily true.

I originally posted this at

I wrote it. I copied it here. Its mine.

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