Paul Kurtz – Ethics for the Nonreligious

December 21, 2007

Paul Kurtz, considered by many the father of the secular humanist movement, is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As chair of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books, and as editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry Magazine, he has advanced a critical, humanistic inquiry into many of the most cherished beliefs of society for the last forty years. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and has been featured very widely in the media, on topics as diverse as reincarnation, UFO abduction, secular versus religious ethics, communication with the dead, and the historicity of Jesus.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz talks about ethics from a nonreligious perspective, how morality develops, the moral education of children, and whether or not ethics can ever be more than just self-interestedness. He also explains how the question of God’s existence should be immaterial to any discussion of human morality.

Also in this episode, Free Inquiry magazine editor Tom Flynn explores the “reason for the season” as a secular humanist.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, December 21st, 2007. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiries. The radio show, the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing science and reason and secular values and public affairs. Before we get to this week’s guest. Christmas is coming up. And here is a controversial message from our favorite anti Claus Tom Flynn. 

2007 seems to mark a truce in the so-called war on Christmas. Sure, local controversies simmer over holiday displays in scattered communities, but the right wing drumbeat to save Christmas so shrill in prior years is barely heard. Perhaps conservatives are preoccupied with the GOP presidential campaign. Or maybe their strategists have discouraged playing the Christmas card this year, lest some embarrassment distract from the quest for the White House. Me, I’m still fighting the war on Christmas. Think of me as a soldier on the side of all non Christians, both members of other faiths and those like me who have no religious faith. My goal is to break Christmases unnatural monopoly over what has become a culture of stunning religious and worldview diversity. It was 1984 when I decided to give up the holiday, just as I had earlier given up the religion of my childhood. Since then, I’ve been you will free for me. Christmas is precisely just another day. December 25th falls on a Tuesday this year, and I’ll be at the office putting in a full day’s work. What is Christmas anyway? Christian or pagan? Sacred or secular? Well, it’s all of them. And that’s the holidays paradox. On the one hand, hardly anything the churches do at Yuletide is of Christian origin. Most elements are drawn from earlier pagan sources. Of course, paganism is just an older religious tradition. One secular humanist reject as resolute Leigh as we reject Christianity. So it’s hard to see why pagan roots should make the holiday look better to us. Then again, many aspects of Christmas are clearly secular. Or are they? You can’t read much religious significance into Frosty and Rudolph unless you’re a public school student from a devout button on Judeo-Christian background. Studies show that young Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus perceive any holiday symbols in public schools, whether a manger scene or paper snowflakes, as emblems of Christianity’s power in the culture and thus as equally threatening to their faiths and identities. That’s one powerful reason why I think all symbols of the season should be excluded from public spaces, especially public schools. For this secular humanist, the holiday is most of all an imposition. Why can’t I buy stamps at the post office on December 25th? Why can’t I get a colleague or supplier on the phone? I actually don’t mind if Christians enjoy their birthday celebration. But why did they get to shut down the culture so that everyone else has to acknowledge it? If only because there’s so little else to do that day. Non Christians, religious and otherwise, need a lot more elbow room in this culture at holiday time. And that means Christmas has to take a step back. To my mind, more of us secular humanists ought to be more conspicuous in sitting Christmas out to many of us. Don’t bother. We may tell ourselves that we’re not keeping Christmas, just some alternative holiday like the winter solstice. But our neighbors just see more people trimming trees, exchanging gifts and claiming the alleged birthday of Jesus as an excuse for a day off when secular humanists seem to celebrate Christmas like everybody else. We just look like hypocrites. Worse, we disappear as a minority, a huge obstacle to defending our rights. Perhaps worst of all, we support the myth so beloved of Christian conservatives that everyone is a de facto Christian at holiday time. How can secular humanist hope to have our world view taken seriously if we keep on demonstrating that we don’t take it seriously? Secular humanist need to be more visible fighting the war on Christmas and fighting to win. Some say I go too far that I throw out the baby with the bathwater. But secular humanist throughout the bay belong time ago. The question is why we of all people cling so tenaciously to the bathwater. For point of inquiry, I’m Tom Flynn wishing you happy. Just another day. 

The world is under assault today by religious extremists to invoke their particular notion of God to try and control what others think can do. One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with analysis that cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry, the world’s leading journal of secular humanist opinion and commentary. Regular contributors include Richard Dawkins, Wendy Kaminer, Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer and Sam Harris. Their views are reasoned, thought provoking and to some, unpardonable, infuriating. Subscribe to free inquiry today. One year, six controversial issues for 1995. Call one 800 four five eight one three six six or visit us on the Web at Secular Humanism, Dawg. 

Pleased to have back in the studio Paul Kurtz, he’s founder and chair of the Center for Inquiry and a number of other organizations. He’s a fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He’s professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, now called CSI, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Also the Council for Secular Humanism and Prometheus Books. He’s editor in Chief for Free Inquiry magazine and the author or editor of over 45 books, including the recent titles Science and Religion. Are they compatible? Throughout the last 35 years, he’s been really the leading defender of science and reason against these prevailing cults of irrationality in our society. He’s been interviewed widely in the media and he joins us today on point of inquiry to talk about ethics. Paul, welcome back to a point of inquiry. Delighted to be here. 

D.J. and I’m pleased that the great reputation, that point of inquiry is receiving worldwide. We hear from people everywhere who really appreciate what you’re doing as I do. 

Right. Well, it’s it’s a lot of fun to do the show. I’ve I’ve said this many other times, but I have almost nothing to do with the show except I get to have a fun conversation once a week. Thomas Donnelly does all the rigamarole. 

He he is a great technician. And I don’t understand the first thing he’s doing, but he does it well. And you’re a great moderator. 

Paul, you’re going to maybe bristle at this characterization. But far more than being a skeptic or an atheist, you are a public moralist. You push a new morality, a secular morality. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today, ethics and the good life. 

Yes. And I want to focus on secular ethics because I think we do have secular ethics in most modern societies. And it’s not appreciated because we here on the other side that unless you’re religious, you cannot be moral. On the other hand, if you are too religions, you may not be moral. But let’s leave that aside. I think there’s an affirmative secular ethics that is humanistic in origin and that needs to be spelled out. 

I concede your point are secular ethics are rampant in society, even if people don’t name them secular ethics. You turn on the TV in the afternoon. I’m a big pop culture junkie. I watch TV a lot. And you see all these judge programs, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, all these. They never appeal to religion or scripture when they’re trying to adjudicate between tough moral questions or sometimes not so tough ones. They appeal to practical experience and case law. Of course, they have to interpret the law. Right. But but they’re applying reason to your experience. You know, they talk about fairness and justice. And was it right for you not to pay your landlord yet or not to pay your your boyfriend? Those roles, secular issues that are resolved by using your practical common sense and drawing upon experience. So I concede that point. But here’s the question. Much of that and even much of what you say when you talk about ethics without appealing to religion, don’t you think much of that is going to be lost on the majority of people who believe that you need to have faith in God? You need to believe that God is in charge of the universe to be good. 

You’re talking about the United States. I know Europe very well, going back and forth all the time. I just returned from China. 

And you have secular ethics here. You don’t have religious ethics. Now, I agree that religious ethics can be an inspiration for doing righteousness. 

And because I think both secularists and religion is draw from the same well of human experience. And I submit that ethics is rooted in who and what we are as as human beings. And so there is a natural basis to ethics as a product from a long development of evolution. 

You say ethics is natural. But for that argument to persuade. Don’t we first need to confront the other set of questions? God’s existence, our place in the universe? All that stuff? Well, you can sidestep it. 

Just like, look, I would sidestep them. They’re interesting questions, particularly in time of crisis. You ask, what’s the meaning of life? And I Traficant that goes, I’m a philosopher. But nonetheless, we make choices all the time. 

We make decisions. What are we to do? We’re confronted with tool or moral alternatives. And there we have to draw upon our are kind of practical judgment to decide. And our experience. 

And I think that the human animal not only is cognitive, he can understand the world and use reason. And he experiences that. But he constantly makes or he or she makes moral choices. And without morality, we could not live. So this is secular ethics based upon the context of choice without going outside to ancient mythological systems. Of religion. 

So let’s start at a very basic question. Why be ethical? If there is no absolute truth, if there is no God, why be good? 

Well, people who were asked said usually are very limited or selfish, guilty. They think unless a TU brute is no, because they they don’t realize that, you know, we’re forced to make decisions all the time. Should I. Should I go to work today or stay home? Should I make a contribution to this charity or keep it and spend it on myself? We constantly make these choices. Shall I sacrifice for my children? I want to go to college or should I spend it on myself and go on vacation? Those are constant choices. But the why question why be good. Well, why be good? Depends upon the context. I mean, if I borrow ten dollars from a person, why should I give it back? Well, I made a promise that I would. Why keep the promise? I mean, if I realized that it was in some sense why this philosophy went away on in some sense, but why keep the promise? 

If someone buyers of ten dollars, you promised to give it back, you have an obligation. If you don’t that that is terrible. I mean, bad consequences. He’ll never bother you again. You ruin your reputation. But there are also there’s also such a thing as a conscience and that kind of, if you will, an intuitive sense. Well, I really ought to fulfill my promises. Now, sometimes we break our promises. There are other urgent or compelling things or overcome by passion, but nonetheless keeping promises and ordinary life to ask why should I keep promises? But you’d be outside the pale of human civilization. You have to keep promises as far as you can. 

So I hear you giving two answers there. One is do do good things for what it gets you, because you don’t that you don’t want to be trusted. You don’t want to become unpopularity. You know, you don’t want people to get all Ron Lindsay or ask stands for one reason. That’s one reads. But there’s another race. A conscience. 

Yuson Conscience. Yambo Why? What do you mean by conscience? I think that we ought to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and not do evil things against them. But also there’s a sense of caring, of empathy, of altruism, and that is deeply rooted in the human breast. We often do things. We make sacrifices, though it’s against our self-interest to do so. So there are two sources to Qik sources, but many more self-interest and caring for others and caring for others is very important. If you fall in love with someone and you love that person, surely you going to care for that person. If you have children, you have to take care of them. If your parents need your help, you give help. If a friend asks you to help, should you not help? So that’s I mean, that’s important. It’s not all reducible to self-interest and ego is. 

So everything you just said makes sense. But I’m still I can imagine that the cultural competitors, people who get their hackles up about your pronouncements and your secular morality, you still have the question why? 

That’s an ultimate why. And that may be a meaningless question. It rests upon a mistake. Why should the sunrise every morning? Well, you can give explanations. But why should that happen? Give explanations. You know, there are rocks all the way to hell. And so, in other words, some questions are, if you will, inappropriate in situations. The ultimate why is inappropriate. If you and someone ask a question, should you lie or tell the truth? Well, depends on the situation, of course. But in principle, you want to tell the truth. Why? Ultimately, why? Well, because we interact in a framework of choices and decisions, obligations and responsibilities. And we see that. And anyone who doesn’t see that as a low em kill. 

Moral quotients like, yes, Rockhole Crush. Yeah, there’s an excuse that’s controversial, but I think there’s an MCU and that’s why I think that human animals are potentially moral beings. 

They have the capacity to behave decently with other people cause they can be bounders and they can break obligations and anything else. 

We know that. But still, we know it’s wrong to do so. Save in urgent situations. So. All right. So in other words, an MCU. Do you have the kind of moral intelligence where you can see what you want to do and why? 

So we’re going to sidestep the the big why question. I imagine that wouldn’t be satisfying to a lot of theological kind of people on that side of the fence. But, well, then they may have a low MCU if they’re not satisfied with fulfilling their obligations and duties to others. But so we’ll sidestep that big Y question. But you’re taught you. You’re speaking about morality in these natural terms. You’re yes. You’re say you’ve used the phrase human animal a couple times, but we are naked apes. You’re saying it’s that we got clothing and civilization, right. Nature meets culture in the form in my wardrobe. Yeah. So you’re saying that morality is natural? Yes. All right. I think we do, despite ourselves. 

OK, well, we’ll come back to your wife question. I think the roots are in evolution, and I think there’s a good deal of empirical evidence from people who have studied this. Mark has a new book on moral minds. For example, L.A., it’s sober. And others have said that over a long period of evolution that individuals depend upon a group to survive, where social animals and rules of the game evolve. 

And those groups which have rules of the game can help each other in the long run, are better able to survive that those who do not. So there’s a tendency towards moral behavior and maybe it has its roots in the mothering or fathering care for the children and the love of one person for another. So there are these passionate and emotional sources as well. So I say long range. It’s a product of evolution. Now I recognize cultural relativity, but there is a common framework in which we live, where we have caring and empathy for those closest to us. 

That is suggesting that could be evolutionarily determined. 

Yes, within the small group. Face to face interaction. But of course, the real question is how do I treat the alien in my midst? In the Old Testament, that question is asked. And they are my brothers or sisters keeper. Yes. So how do we how do we go beyond the small group outside the group? 

And again, that question not only how, but why should we for any other reason than self-interest? Well, there’s an argument. You know, hey, I care about people in other countries halfway around the world because ultimately, because of globalism, what happens over there affects us. So cell phones are so mean. Nice to them for our own sake. 

I, I have a general principle of the universe, salame morality that all individuals on the planet Earth have a kind of equality, dignity and value and that we ought to be concerned about that. And look, you begin with a small group in the tribe and there’s certain rules of the game. You have to behave and they evolve. Rippert a time raising children, defending yourself, surviving by raising crops and distributing them. But then you meet other tribes. 

Take the United States. We have the other states, a big tribe, 300 million people. We have obligations, people within this country, so we can extrapolate as includes everybody on the planet Earth with two large extrapolation. But I think altruism is deep within the human breast potentially. And there are levels of growth and development and an MQ. Someone with an MQ and I suspect, T.J., you have a pretty good MQ. No, he’s someone that an MQ develops as your potential ally. These are realize and you need to cultivate and nurture your children. So they develop an MQ. 

The developmental psychologist show that morality evolves in the individual over the course of his or her life span. So children have a different morality than adults and appropriately so. 

Well, I’ve had several children and grandchildren and it’s wonderful to see them develop intellectually. They can use language. It’s amazing. And then morally as well, there are stages of moral growth and development. 

But so you have infantile behavior, but then it becomes socialized. And what happens to children is crucial. So we need to nurture character and teach them how to behave. But at some point, you need to develop, internalize empathy. And that does happen. Character, empathy, loving and caring for others. Consideration. But then comes cognition. So you have character, caring, cognition, the three C’s, if you will, and the person who is fully developed has a moral being, tends to try to do well, though. He is self-interested. She is. And that’s part of our obligations to ourselves. But at some stage, we go beyond and make sacrifices for others. But in context, we need to use cognition, a reason to decide what we ought to do. 

Yeah. Now, you’re touching on the other big question that people have when they talk about morality in a godless context. Whose morality? Who decides? You’re suggesting that moral knowledge is in no sense different than other kinds of knowledge. It’s discoverable. You can find it out like you find out other other kinds of knowledge. 

I think what you say is most likely true. There is a kind of there are moral truths. There are truths you can discover about the world. This rock is hard. The sun is rising and shedding light. These are truths about the world empirically tested. But there are moral truths that you could test my experience. It’s it’s wrong to torture children without good priests. Maybe that’s analytic. It’s wrong to torture children and see them suffer. Well, why you say why? Why, why? Well, the milk of human kindness should develop now. 

I agree that there are sociopaths and psychopaths. And indeed, I saw a terrible movie the other day and the Kurds on the Mexican Texas border and that there’s a battle over money from drugs. And one man who wants to get the money is willing to kill anybody without compunction. He’s a sociopath, a psychopath. 

But you naturalize that, you diagnose that as kind of a brain defect, not as a spiritual disorder. 

It may be a brain defect that may also be a defect in nurturing and raising cultivation and education. And those are tragic cases. And that’s we have a legal system to protect ourselves from those individuals, though even they may have some principles of conduct by which they live, even among members of the Mafia gang. There are some rulers. Honor code. Honor code. Yes. So I’m talking I’m saying then that that God is totally irrelevant is nothing that we have to live and function. We want to be happy. We’re interested in our self-fulfillment, but we live with others. And how do we live with them? So there is certain moral principles that come to apply and we see that they work. 

The questions you’re asking, how do we how do we discover this? How do we figure that out? That moral question? The questions you’re asking a lot of other people, when they ask those questions, their answer comes from the supernatural or from ancient texts or God. Yes. Are you suggesting that they’re. I don’t want to ask a leading question. Maybe I do that these people, by appealing to the supernatural God, that they’re stunted morally, that that they’re not standing on their own two feet and wrestling with these questions themselves. They’re kind of taking the easy way out. 

Well, I think there are stages of moral growth and development. The first is infantile or a baby just reacts with any any notion of the needs or concern of others. Then you have an authoritarian model. So that’s an authoritarian obedience model where they merely obey laws or commandments from on high. I’m question, unquestionably. And and often that’s destructive and immoral. It 50 even leads to murder or killing in the name of God. 

But most religious people also have within them a sense of empathy. 

Aside from the authoritarian code that you’re saying they don’t get from the religion, they get from their humanity and it from humanity, we share the religious and the non-religious as human beings share these intrinsic qualities of morality as a product of evolution and who and what we are as human persons in spite of their religion. Now, for some people, religion stands as a kind of bad to force you to do it. Where people fall back. That’s true historically and where their quotes morally corrupt religion tries to get enforcement. But that’s for extraneous reasons. I mean, I think the human beings are moral animals, whether religious or not religious. And that we ought to recognize that. So we’re not. Creatures of original sin were not corrupt, evil, despicable by nature, though, there are some pretty awful people like Chriqui who do terrible things. Cycler, our religious. But nonetheless, there are moral standards that we come to live by and recognize. 

Let’s talk about some of those moral standards that you suggest everyone should be able to recognize. One area you concentrate on is the ethics of the individual. So it’s not it’s not this kind of planetary ethics that you talk about a lot. You cash it out in the life of the individual. 

Well, I talk about the common moral decencies, personal integrity, trustworthiness, benevolence, fairness that have been developed over long periods of time and are trans cultural. But the ethics of the individual is a recent development out of the democratic revolutions of our time. And that’s an emerging principle. So there are new emerging principles. The principles are a function of a culture in which you live. Let me say this. There are moral tendencies and potentialities. And in order to realize them, you need to be nurtured. And they need to be developed. Okay. But depending upon the society, there may be new principles. So this principle of autonomy. The right of privacy is an emergent principles. That is take in a long time to develop. We ought to allow people to make their own decisions. We ought to respect the rights of reproduction and sexual freedom and sexual relationships. And in the history of civilization, these kinds of individual rights are relatively late coming. They’re late coming. You could see it, especially in this area of euthanasia, where an individual to be allowed to die with dignity. And that has been hard won. So I think that individuality, individual freedom, autonomy, the right of privacy has been recently developed, particularly among secular secularists and humanists. 

And now they’re widely shared in democratic societies, even among religious people who want to respect the right of the individual going back to the late 60s and early 70s. You were on the vanguard of what conservatives called the new morality. They decried it. So on all these social questions, the culture war questions, euthanasia, you mentioned gay rights, feminism, sexual morality, you come up with answers, applying reason to human experience that are different than the answers. Those moralists come up with this. 

I called this in my writing, The Moral Revolution. And in one sense, it’s an ongoing moral revolution that may go back to the American Revolution, the French Revolution. 

They were truly heroic discovery of new rights. The battle against slavery, the women’s movement, the gay movement. These were all recently developed. Yes. 

So we have to be willing to change our moral, moral principles in the light of new social conditions and in the light of new evidence, better arguments, etc.. And this gets back to whose morality you although I hear you often say, hey, we have a lot in common with liberal religionists or with people of every ilk. You know, we’re all humans. So we all have the same storehouse of of moral kind of goods inside of us. But on the other hand, you emphatically disagree with the right buttons. 

Oh, they’re very great disagreements. I say the first point I wanted to make earlier, that there are certain common moral principles that we accept in the day to day interaction among human beings. Be fair, be fair and tell the truth, he promises. Be concerned with the needs of others. And they’ve been handed down and they’re part of human culture. Though there’s deviation in some cultures, but none Luz’s of fun, the moral truth. 

But now, as society changes, as we live in an urban or even post urban information world and new demands are made upon us and new principles have to be developed. Yes, very much so. And this is when I call planetary ethics global ethics. They may go beyond our own nation or state, transcend them and also transcend the ethics of the individual you were talking about at the individual level. 

I would hope that in planetary civilization that we would respect the rights of the individual to make his or her own choices. But nonetheless, there are common needs that we face. And so we move on to a new plane and trying to find new principles to govern us. For example, we want to tolerate people of other parts of the globe. But why should we order? Why? Because well, I can give a utilitarian reason that we don’t tolerate them. They will tolerate us. And this will lead to a war of all against all. All right. 

That’s utilitarian reason, but also because we discover that that person from Japan or China or Zambia or France is like us and we meet them and counter them and they’re human. And so this notion of empathy applies not only to the person next to be, but someone on the other part of the globe. Yes. And we are concerned. 

So, Paul, you’re talking about the ethics of the individual. You’ve said morality is natural. So caring for others, empathy, altruism, all of these are natural things. But they have to be developed, so they have to be developed. How does it. How do we develop? 

Well, at two senses of empathetic feeling and empathetic rationality that we want to develop first negatively. We want to reduce or mitigate the suffering of others. And yet. 

And you’re saying it could be a red herring to even ask the why question, why should we reduce the. Well, it’s just sad. 

And they learn. You give them an answer as well. You want to be helped if you’re in a similar situation. And then they develop the feelings for that. But then there’s positive not only we want to reduce her suffering if we can, but we ought to contribute benefits and happiness to others. 

But the point is some people. I think that human beings are not altruistic. They’re all self-interested, Ayn Rand and Rand and salaries claim that. But an altruistic act is carried out for the benefit of other persons at some expense or a sacrifice to myself or without any primary expectation of reward. So people do make these sacrifices and often don’t want to feel that they ought to. And particularly they have children or members of your family. You feel you ought to do it no matter what. But there is a rule of ethical rationality in general. It’s a sum that up that we ought to mitigate human suffering and sorrow and where we can increase the sum of human good and happiness. And so I come to what is called impartial, ethical rationality that should apply to all youm human beings who have equal dignity and value. Every person is a person and is entitled to such consideration. That is what altruism means in human life. And I think to develop and extend that principle is very important. 

If evolutionary psychology. Found that no one is ever good except for some self-interested reason. Does that explain away? 

No, I think both are true. I think we are self-interested, were selfish, were egoistic, and we should be to live and function because we have duties to ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves. Our bodies, our passions, our feelings are crucial. We want to be happy. But we’re not only and that’s not only self-interest, it’s selfish people we can love others, empathize with others and do altruistic acts. And so they’re both parts of human behavior and often they conflict. And what ought to prevail depends on the situation. So I think that to merely say that our impulses are always, always selfish is a distorted view. They’re often altruistic, done for the good of others. 

Yes, indeed. Paul, we’ve had, I think, a really basic conversation about morality. You know, there are people who listen to point of acquire for a good long time. And let’s say they’re on our side of the cultural divide. They’re on our side of the fence. And they say, I want to know more about morality and how we figure out how to be moral in without appealing to these ancient mythologies. What are you going to tell them? 

Well, I think there’s vast literature here that we share. We live in the same planetary civilization has emerged over and beyond being an American or a Canadian or a Nepalese or Indian that has emerged and principles emerge in that planetary situation. For example, it is widely recognized. Unless we love the planet Earth now, maybe it’s a truism to say it, unless we have some concern for the environment. Where are we? This concerns us all. I mean, that’s surely a new principle that has emerged and that we recognize. 

So you’re suggesting if people want to learn more about morality and your morality, read these books? Well, that well, that fix will fix these moral questions. 

I would read books and I would think about it. I think education is crucial on this point. If anyone suffers anywhere, we suffer in one sense. We ought to be concerned what happens in Darfor or a tsunami in the Pacific. And people are concerned about that. There is as charitable in state. Why did so many people pour forth with aid for the tsunami? 

When we sent out an appeal not mentioning God or supernatural morality, we sent out an email and raised, what, one hundred thirty thousand dollars or something more than that. 

But but charity charitable indifference go on for all parts of the globe, not only for we and others here, but for other people elsewhere. And have the sense of the kind of wonders with other members of the human species and its only other species as well, have not talked about that. 

Our obligation to Annam of the other species as well. Yes. As as Peter Singer followed up with Richard Dawkins on last week’s point of inquiry, you know what you’re talking right now about our moral obligations to people, what you’re suggesting, their moral obligations to life, to life and to other species. 

And may we seem to be destroying them with impunity. 

And I think we ought to we have an obligation to maintain the planet Earth and other species as well and not do. And be cautious in not destroying other forms of life. But that’s all a humanist morality without even worrying about whether or not God exists. And that’s very deep and very profound. And we all share and participate in that. 

Paul, you just implied a minute ago and we’ll finish up with this. You implied a minute ago that to be moral, you need to be morally educated and you need moral growth and development. And the nurture of young people is crucial. So people can’t just all a sudden snap their fingers and decide to be a moral person. It’s it’s up. It’s a process. 

It’s a process. Turn in. And it’s surprising. Even people have suffered bad childhood experience, have grown out well, a grown up. Well, I have confidence of the human being, in my view. And I may be naive. I think all people are potentially good. They’re capable of good, of good and evil. And under proper conditions, I think will realize fulfill the potentialities to do good. 

So you think it’s it behooves us to make sure everybody’s planet in the right soil so they can so they can flower into these beautiful moral beings, that that. 

Well, you know, I’m also fallible as no one is perfect, that we all are make mistakes and we have lapses and so on. 

But generally, what I consider the principal goodwill to be crucial, you ought to have a goodwill towards others and towards ourselves. We have an obligation to ourselves to realize and fulfill our talents and to lead a good life. But we have an obligation to others to do what we can, where we can to assist them. And surely not harm them. And that is a sense of moral empathy. 

And that’s the secular humanist gospel. Well, I don’t know if I’d call it gospel, though. Recommendation. Well, that sounds so. That sounds so professorial and tentative. Well, I’m are, sir. Exactly. But ethics here are our recommendations, says the moralist. And you can imagine how many people out there would don’t want a recommendation. They want to be told what’s right and wrong. It that seems more satisfying to more people. 

Well, not necessarily. I found even the ordinary person, the the carpenter or the plumber, has a kind of practical wisdom. And you don’t have to be highfalutin and listen to what professors say. I think there is a comma, common moral sense in cognition that we can develop and some people develop better than others. I think that we can depend on human beings under proper conditions to make wise choices. 

And that depends on education and development and particularly development of our intellect, but also the development of our moral capacities. And that’s the work you’ve been involved in 35 years. Yes, that’s right. And particularly today, where this great debate about whether or not God exists has seized everybody’s imagination, whether or not God exists. We have to live and we want to live well and we can live well and we can make choices, a new, more moral choice, moral choices and select values that we cherish and consider important. And that goes on in spite of that. 

In that way, you sidestepped the God question and and you say all the better, sidestepped the God question. Let’s concentrate on the ethical question. 

Let’s concentrate on the issues that we confront in everyday life that those are cycler issues and try as best we can to reason through what we ought to do. And also, this is a cognitive, but also a passionate choice. Morality involves both passion and cognition. It involves a sense of doing the best you can, recognizing that we’re fallible and we make mistakes. But nonetheless, I say I think we can ameliorate the human condition of lead the good life. And so I’m not a skeptic about that. 

Paul, I might have put words into your mouth. We will finish up with this. But a few minutes ago, you did seem to me to suggest sidestepping the God question, but you’ve spent a large part of your career as a leading religious skeptic. Surely you’re not saying that we should ignore that question and only look at the. Oh, I know. 

I think that’s an important question. And I’ve tried to critically examine the claims of religionists, and I’m a skeptic about their claims. 

But on the other hand, we do live and I think morality, economics, politics, the arts, the sciences go on in spite of religion. That’s the point I’m making, that whether or not God exists, we still live in were moral principles that we can discover. And it’s important to recognize that. That’s why I say morality is natural and it depends on the realization of our moral potentialities. 

Thanks for joining me again on point of inquiry, Paul Kurtz. Thank you, D.J., for your good philosophical questions. 

Philosophy one to one. But it was fun. Yes, indeed. 

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Thanks for listening to this episode of Points of Inquiry to get involved with an online conversation about Tom Flynn’s essay or about the conversation I had with Paul Kurtz about secular ethics. Go to our online discussion forums at Center for Inquiry dot net slash forums. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily CFI his views nor the views of its affiliated organizations like the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry or the Council for Secular Humanism. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org or by visiting our Web site. Point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Kirk’s point of inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. 

Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.