I came across this idea today on some online forum. Now I’m not surprised that some people would think the universe is morally neutral. After all for people who don’t believe in a soul, or a God – nor any kind of spirituality, it would naturally follow that the universe IS in fact morally neutral. After all – without consciousness why would the universe have a conscience?
But why would someone like that even be interested in spirituality? Or in other words – how can one combine such a negative cosmological viewpoint with spirituality? Can anyone explain that to me?
[I have my own views on this, but I think I’ll leave that for the comments]
9 thoughts on “Is the universe morally neutral?”
Why do you call disbelief in a god or the soul a “negative cosmological viewpoint?” That seems like quite an assumption.
I am interested in spirituality because I am interested in my spirit. The fact that I believe that my spirit ends when my body dies is neither here nor there. I hope to have 80 good years on this planet, during which I hope to do good work for myself and the beings around me. I believe in doing good and doing right because those things are good and right, not because I think anyone is looking over my shoulder or because I think I’ll have to come back and do them again if I don’t do well this time. I believe that my cat, my lover, my neighbor and the stranger on the street all deserve my best because they too only have a short time on this planet.
Why would I need any other reason?
I meant negative in a philosophical sense. I did not mean to imply that people who deny the place of a God or a Spirit can’t be good or even excellent people. In fact I know full well that belief in God is not necessary for either. I don’t even believe that there are more moral people who believe in Something then there are more people who are atheist or agnostic. And if you want to call the attempt to be the best you can ‘spiritual’ – be my guest.
However since the word spiritual derives from the word ‘spirit’ it is quite natural to assume that people who want to be spiritual believe in a spirit.
To come back to my first point: it’s a negative belief in the sense that you believe in the absense of something – and don’t positively affirm the existence of something (like a spirit in each human being or a God or life after death). That doesn’t mean you can’t be an excellent and even optimistic person. If there is nothing beyond this material world, all beliefs to the contrary are denied.
But from the religious perspective: to believe there is no spirit, no God, no life after death is negative at least in the sense that it offers no hope to people. It offers no reward for doing right.
I have all the reward I need here in this life, on this planet, now. If doing right is truly what it is all about, why do I need pearly gates when I can see people eat a good healthy meal, or have a home where they had none before? If one believes one’s reward comes only after death, what is to stop one from hastening toward that reward and hastening the journey of their loved ones?
And I didn’t say I don’t believe in a spirit. I simply don’t believe it will outlast my body.
Wow, that’s an opinion I hadn’t heard before. [spirit lasting only as long as the body does that is].
I’m not suggesting that caring for others should be based on wanting a lovely future in heaven – ideally it’s based on caring for people here and now. But the subject of this blogpost was how the universe works – not the basis for caring.
Your attitude is admirable. Thanks for sharing.
Broad concepts such as morality seem hard to grasp. Do we really know or agree on what is morality? If we constrict it too tightly it becomes an unjust prison; if we expand it beyond limits it becomes meaningless in this world of time and space. So to me there seem to be two qualities of morality. Fundamentally morality must be rooted in Dharma which is ultimately divine nature; then it flowers in karma the law of cause and effect. Never the less it seems to me humankind is the source of the morality which it promotes; and is thus is the creator of what it worships.
Religious morality is a quality which depends upon the judgment of conditions; cause and effect. In the east this principle expressed as karma, which determines the dharma of action. In this regard I have come to believe every moment we face comes to us neutral, or rather I prefer to say full of infinite potential. Anything may come of it. This moment perhaps it’s very quite, one might say, “How lovely”, another may say “how boring”. Look it’s raining! How wonderful! Oh no, how awful! It’s our choice how we respond. Our morality is a matter of perception and free will. Morality in the mind of personalities is a judgment of society. Is it immoral to be miserable and to act that way? In a social context I would say yes it is, because in time and space, cause and effect lead in some direction and thus produce results.
What is morality? With regard to good and bad, must there be intention or only results? If you harm some creature unintentionally is it immoral? Inquisitioners thought perhaps they were doing God’s work by burning heretics. Religionists fight others in defense of their faith. This too is a kind of morality people are willing to die for. This Universe, vast as it is, let’s say it’s infinite, may pulverize planets just like this earth every moment. Is there conscience in it, or morality?
Is the Universe “morally” neutral? Well I’m thinking how could it appear otherwise? Any moment may be cloudy or sunny, but “beyond” all is clear. Persona is the result of cause and effect. Any God with persona must be a temporal illusion like a cloud in a clear sky. There are countless clouds, but only one sky. Spirit remains clear like the sky beyond. How can spirit which is eternal be associated with persona which depends upon cause and effect? We can see a rose fades, but beauty always remains.
If there is “something” universal one might call omnipotent; why then is there suffering and evil? If some universal power is moral it must be impotent rather than omnipotent. Now there is poison and there is medicine, yet this characterization is not a moral distinction. I’ve heard it said one man’s pleasure is another mans poison. This judgment is not moral; it is merely preference. Say you meet someone and they seem fascinating; yet after awhile you find them irritating; again this judgment is not morality.
Surely to “God” all morality must seem subjective. If a person bothers you and you lash out at that person, is that immoral. If you found someone suffering and you could help change that experience and yet you did nothing that is I believe immoral. So if there is an omnipotent “God” who allows suffering then that God is not neutral but is in fact immoral. Sometimes, what seems good has a harmful outcome, or what seems bad produces a good result. Even the quality of the outcome is a product of one’s judgment. And who can know the infinite mind of God? Surely the universe is an expression of true dharma, of which mankind’s morality is only a dull shadowy reflection.
its not spirituality, i argue as an atheist [but i know i dont have the mental capacity so technically; agnostic (determinist)]
the universe is neutral and i assume that because i assume there is only physical and chemical forces at play, naturally.
bc i am a determinist there is NO distinction between those laws and biology, the difference is our brains function behind an illusion called “free-will”.
since this is my perspective, it means the universe is “neutral” and so are we. And if we are neutral why is 1 person good and another bad? where does that come from?
understanding why something is negative or positive from the human perception only isolates cause and effect.. the universe may be neutral but people are motivated (“choose” in the free-will sense) to do things that another will find reactionary. IN this sense, humans are not neutral. be it persons A actions alone or persons B involvement of the actions. (if a person commits genocide in a forest and no one is around to witness did it happen?)
so the only reason it is evil is because someone else has said so.
this fits with our present model of psychology as well.
With that in mind our sciences have convincing documentation (and results) on the behavior patterns modeled from infancy to adulthood.
so all this knowledge is a closer step to taking control of our lives as humans, to create a more just, fair, perfect, good, “godly” world.
everyone in harmony. that doesnt have to be “spirituality” but it should explain why godless people still ponder right/wrong in the universe
yes i realize this is an old blog. sorry for the bad spelling
I can understand most of what you are saying – even if I don’t agree… but it makes no sense at all to suggest that evil actions don’t exist, or good ones.
It’s obviously evil to kill another human being for no good reason for instance. It’s still obviously morally questionable to kill another human being even if you think you DO have a good reason.
Not all morality is ‘evil because someone else has said so’. And I don’t agree that’s the current state of psychology either.
Research has shown that even the smallest of children – and chimpansees too – will help someone without thinking of reward. That’s as much wired into us as our ‘survival instinct’.
[And no – I don’t mind people commenting on posts months after they were written, that’s why I allow them – despite the necessity of deleting spam every once in a while]
sociopaths lack the ability to empathize.
that would mean you must have 1) the capacity 2) the knowledge to see right/wrong when interacting with others. And 1 individuals experience is not congruent with anothers.
there was an interview, might have been This american life,, well regardless, it involved researches who studied the part of the brain that decides right and wrong.
there is a thought experiment which argues if you would pull a lever to derail a train that would kill 1 man to save 5, would you? most people will say yes bc there is a disconnect from social instincts learned over thousands of years.
asking the same question if you would push the man, and people usually answer no. i think they called it the “inner chimp” , social empathy kick in and most people cant do it
then they took the argument (to a bit that was in the MASH movie) a village being invaded and all the villagers huddled in silence in a house (or a hidden room), yet a small infant baby had a cold.
would u kill the baby to save the town from being discovered and killed?
it was a split 50/50
50% argued the baby was not worth the village
50% argued they could never live with themselves and just would never kill a baby
Functional MRI’s showed the parts of the brain that crunched these ideas.
however the biggest point here is that people have different biology and psychology around the subject
I’m not saying people are simple psychologically – or automatically good – I’m just saying that people have a moral sense. They worry about stuff like this, which is why we watch soaps (among other things): all those lovely moral dilemma’s. And yes – sociopaths are an exception. But the exception shows us what the general rule is.
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