Ethics of the Ten Commandments

The ten commandments of Judeo-Christianity are not a guide for ethical conduct. They are laws for regulating the conduct of one Bronze Age tribe. When you read them in the context of the Bible stories from which they emanate, these are the underlying reasons and messages behind them:

1. Worship only the God who proved his power in Egypt.
2. Do not engrave or worship images of anything.
3. Do not swear by saying the word YHVH in vain.
4. Rest on the Sabbath or you will be stoned to death.
5. Honour your parents, because you will live longer.
6. Do not kill people, unless God arbitrarily allows you to.
7. Do not commit adultery, because men own their wives.
8. Do not steal things or people owned by your tribesmen.
9. Do not lie to or about members of your own tribe.
10. Do not desire things or people owned by your tribesmen.

Regardless of whether you believe this to be literal truth or literary metaphor, it is no basis upon which to build an ethical moral code. This becomes even more evident when you look at the Biblical background to each of these ten laws.

Cultural Map of the World

Religion and wealth are the two main factors that influence cultural values around the world. The influence of religion can be measured on a scale from traditional values to secular-rational values, and the influence of wealth can be measured on a scale from survival values to self-expression values.

Traditional values are highest in Africa and Latin America, and secular-rational values are highest in Japan and Protestant Europe. Survival values are highest in Africa and ex-communist countries, and self-expression values are highest in Protestant Europe and English-speaking countries.

That’s according to the World Values Surveys, which is the largest ever cross-national survey of social change. It was conducted from 1990 to 2005, in over eighty countries spanning all six inhabited continents, by a network of social scientists at leading universities around the world.

Based on these surveys, two political scientists (Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michegan and Christian Welzel of Jacobs University Bremen) have devised this Cultural Map of the World:

Social networks spread happiness

Happiness is infectious. It spreads through social networks, infecting people that you don’t even know. And it spreads more strongly than sadness does. That’s according to a recent study that examined the happiness of almost five thousand people over twenty years from 1983 to 2003.

The study was compiled by professors James Fowler of the University of California in San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of the Harvard Medical School. They examined records from a long-established heart study that included details of the emotional states of families and friends.

They found that, when you become happy, any friend of yours who lives within a mile becomes 25% more likely to also be happy. Amazingly, they also found that a friend of that friend becomes 10% more likely to happy, and a friend of that friend’s friend has a 5% increased chance of being happy.

They also found that people at the core of a local social network are more likely to be happy than people at the periphery. And they say that the reason seems to be that being at the core of the social network increases your happiness. It is not that being happy brings you to the core of the network.

Here are more details of this fascinating study:

Medieval faith vs reason Part 2

Triumph of St thomas Aquinas by Benozzo GozzoliReligious Medieval philosophers tried to use reason to do three things: to support their belief in a god, to prove their belief in a god, and to develop a unified theory of all knowledge, divine and human.

They partly succeeded in the first of these aims, and failed in the other two. To understand why, we must remember the context of Medieval times. Tradition was very important. Philosophy was considered an art (or a craft in today’s language). Philosophers were expected to first learn existing knowledge, and only then start to develop their own ideas.

Medieval Christian, Islamic and Jewish philosophers each faced different problems in trying to reconcile their faith with reason and logic. In Part 1 of this article, I described how ten of them attempted to do this. Here, I examine why they failed to do so.

Medieval faith vs reason Part 1

Triumph of St thomas Aquinas by Benozzo GozzoliMany medieval philosophers tried to reconcile their belief in a god with the logic and reason of Greek philosophy. In this article, I outline how ten of them tried to do this:

Augustine (354-430), an Algerian Christian.
Boethius (480-524), a Roman Christian.
John Scotus Eriugena (810-877), an Irish Christian.
Psuedo-Dionysius (6th Century), a Syrian Christian.
Al-Farabi / Abunaser (870-950), a Turkish Muslim.
Ibn Sina / Avicenna (980-1037), a Persian Muslim.
Anselm (1033-1109), an Italian Christian.
Ibn Rushd / Averroes (1126-1198), a Spanish Muslim.
Moses Ben Maimon / Maimonides (1135-1204), a Spanish Jew.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), an Italian Christian.

In part two of this article, I will look at how successful they were in their attempts to reconcile faith and reason. First, here is a summary of their efforts:

Atheist and humanist groups

Godless Americans March on Washington - photo by Anosmia (cc)

Most atheists and most humanists share most of the same fundamental beliefs and values. We reject the idea that gods exist and all that follows from that idea, and we usually support rational enquiry into the nature of reality, mutual empathy as the basis of ethical relations, and secular equality as the basis of civic government.

So how do Atheist groups differ from Humanist groups? In this article, I examine the aims of American Atheists, Atheist Alliance International, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and ten Atheist or Humanist groups in various countries around the world.

Specifically, I examine: What is atheism? What is humanism? How do atheism and humanism differ? What do Atheist groups want? What do Humanist groups want? How do Atheist and Humanist groups differ? And how can we best work together to promote a rational, ethical, secular society?

Did the historical Jesus exist?

Christus Statue by Midiman (cc) If Jesus existed as a human being and did so many amazing things, surely somebody at the time would have written about him? Well, actually, no. The first time Jesus is mentioned outside the Bible is sixty years after he supposedly died. By then, Paul had already spread the myth of a Jesus that he himself had never met, and the first gospels may have already been written.

After these sixty years of silence, there are five ‘early’ independent reports that Christians most often quote:

  • A discredited fourth-century attempt to insert Christian propaganda into a first-century history book.
  • A passing second-century reference to the death of Christ, which gets Pontius Pilate’s job title wrong.
  • Two uncontroversial second-century records of the existence of Christians in Rome and Asia Minor.
  • A claim, made in the ninth century, that somebody else wrote, in the third century, about somebody else writing about a solar eclipse in a lost first-century document.

There is no independent record, in all of recorded history, of any of the following: his alleged bloodline from Abraham and David, his alleged virgin birth, his parent’s alleged flight from Herod, his alleged baptism by John the Dipper, his alleged preaching to large multitudes, his alleged miracles (walking on water, reviving corpses etc), the nature of his alleged trial or death, or his alleged return from being dead to being alive again.

Here are the details of the earliest independent records of the possible existence of Jesus:

Reality is basically as it seems

Faces of the City by CW Buecheler (cc)This is the third article in a series about why I assume that reality is basically as it seems to be. In the first article, I explained why I believe nothing can be objectively known. In the second article, I described five possible theories of reality. This third article examines the patterns in the five theories of reality, and concludes that:

1. Each new scenario seems closer to the evidence of my experience.
2. Each assumes the existence of extra things that cannot be known to exist.
3. Each seems increasingly functional as a working assumption of reality.
4. These apparent patterns contain a key ‘on/off’ reason-switch.
5. This leads me to assume that reality is basically as it seems to be.

And here is the detail of how I arrive at this assumption…

Five possible theories of reality

How? by Not So Good Photography (cc)This is the second article in a series about why I assume that reality is basically as it seems to be. In the first article, I explained why I believe nothing can be objectively known. This second article deals with a sequence of five possible theories of what reality might consist of:

1. All that seems to exist, even what seem to be thoughts, may be an illusion.
2. Only independent thoughts exist. No separate being thinks them; the thoughts just exist by themselves.
3. Only one thinking being and its thoughts exist. The thoughts only exist when the being is thinking them.
4. Several thinking beings and their thoughts exist. The beings can interact with each other telepathically.
5. Real physical objects also exist, in conjunction with any of the above scenarios.

Here is an overview of each of these possibilities, and how each one fits in with my experience, my use of reason and the practicalities of living my life…

Nothing can be objectively known

The Thinker by Brian - Progressive Spin (cc)This is the first article in a series about why I assume two things about reality: (1) that nothing can be objectively known, and (2) that reality is basically as it seems to be. This article is about the first of those assumptions – that nothing can be objectively known. Here’s a summary:

1. I seem to interpret the universe, and make assumptions, using my thinking.
2. But I can never know if any of my interpretations or assumptions are correct.
3. It is possible that this assumption may itself be incorrect.
4. However, that possibility does not prove that anything can be known.

And here is the detail of each of these points: