Guest post on Humans, gods, and morality

Originally a comment by Marcus Ranum on Separating god from morality.

Morality is such a human concept, it’s hard to see how it would apply to a god, anyway. What does “fairness” mean to a god? Or “honesty”? Can you “steal” from a god? Could a human and a god have a meaningful conversation about morality, especially given the vast power-differential between us?

Epicurus touched on this in one of his sayings:

A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.

By the same token, I think the idea of a god loving a human (or all humans) makes about as much sense as loving your intestinal flora. Suppose I had moral expectations of my intestinal flora. What would those expectations look like, perhaps? And how could I communicate them to my intestinal flora in such a way as to transfer the moral burden of compliance to those bacteria? Let us imagine that I have a dictate I wish to make to my intestinal flora, namely that they not produce too much methane. Because, I their god, am an angry god when I fart in elevators. So, um, see the problem? I can hardly blame my intestinal flora for making methane when, after all, that’s how they work. And I didn’t really tell them “no hydrogen, either” but mostly the problem is that they are not equipped to understand the will of god so they can’t be blamed for just doing what bacteria do. Socrates let Euthyphro off lightly, really.

Atheism is a statement about morality because it discards the “sky hook” that there is a divine moral expectation or some kind of external moral code. Atheism forces us to define “morality” in terms of purely human concepts, which is why we get mired down in moral nihilism: we can’t(*) Belief in a god is often used to sweep the whole question under the carpet.

(* DIsclaimer, I am a moral nihilist, in that I am unconvinced that objective moral frameworks – other than self-referential/tautological definitions like Richard Carrier attempts – are possible or even desirable)