7:30 pmto9:00 pm


The next meeting of the Hull and East Riding Humanist Group will be on Monday 24th June 2013 at 7.30pm in the back room of The Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG. All welcome.

Arne Norderhaug PhD will be giving a talk on

“What is morality and where does it come from, if not from God?”


We are constantly faced with the question: “What shall I do?”, and, with morality appearing to provide answers, it seems important to know what it says. However, we encounter 2 vexing problems: precisely what morality asks us to do is disputable, and it seems not entirely clear why one must act morally.

It has been widely thought that, considering the eternal life apparently on offer, solutions to both lie in the point that morality is what God wants us to do  –  as stated in certain old scriptures. But this becomes suspect when we begin to doubt which scriptures (if any) are genuine and we find ourselves without reliable observation of God and therefore inclined to conclude that He is merely a myth. There is also the following point (referred to by Peter Singer in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1986 and apparently made by Plato some 2500 years ago): if it is divine approval that makes an action morally good, we could not say that God approves of an act because it is good. Without an independent standard or goodness, we would be saying only that God approves of God.

Many have therefore turned to other possible sources of morality (more or less helpful in resolution of the 2 problems)  –  e. g. social evolution (usually amounting to relativism), human nature (moral intuition or conscience) and pure reason (apriorism). However, nobody seems thus to have found a morality which is entirely convincing, fully justified and generally acceptable.

Before we can consider morality sensibly, we must have a reasonably clear idea of what this word means. I therefore start with dictionary definitions before moving on to what scientists (mainly sociologists and psychologists) have observed and what philosophers have come up with  –  after all, moral philosophy (ethics) is one of the 3 or 4 major branches of philosophy.

I end up arguing that we now have a way out  –  and only one sensible such. This involves (temporarily) suspending using the notion of ‘morality’ and instead considering what rules for behaviour pertain to the most acceptable political process (which is readily done without using the word ‘moral’; and we do not need to involve words like ‘right’, ‘good’ and ‘just’ either). However, when our society has adopted those rules (which it seems sure to do, sooner or later), people seem likely to come to refer to them as their ‘moral’ rules (and to connect the other moral words to them).

These rules (many of which should be enshrined in law) will no doubt include some which facilitate the development of cooperative consciences which make people feel guilty if they do not abide by the rules decided upon in the most acceptable rule making process. Together with sanctions in support of the rules provided by law and other social mechanisms, these will give individuals reasons for abiding  –  and to abide would probably be said to be to act ‘morally’.