Would an atheist believe humans have a conscience?

Conscience - an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior

If an atheist would believe humans have a conscience, where would such an atheist believe that this conscience came from? I would claim that it arose from the eating of the forbidden fruit. Perhaps the atheist would say the electrochemical reactions in our brain give rise to the conscience? Please explain.

Obviously, we have all suppressed our conscience at one time or another and done things that are wrong (either it being wrong according to our individual conscience, or it being universally and absolutely wrong).

It was brought up in a recent thread about smoking marijuana as an example and proving that this is objectively right or wrong. I would posit that for things that do not fall into the wrong in the absolute form such as murdering infants for fun, it falls to one's own conscience. For me, altering one's consciousness with marijuana is similar to drunkenness which is spoken against in the Bible. That, and that it would really not provide any positive to me, I abstain because I feel it's wrong.

The problem we run into in society is there is very much of one person or group trying to project their conscience onto another person or group and make that person or group adhere. Probably more largely than that though, is not realizing that the moral absolutes are larger than a lot of people are willing to accept because they like their sinful ways.

But I believe that humans having an innate and inherent conscience is one reason to believe in God.
 

5wize

Well-known member
Conscience - an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior

If an atheist would believe humans have a conscience, where would such an atheist believe that this conscience came from? I would claim that it arose from the eating of the forbidden fruit. Perhaps the atheist would say the electrochemical reactions in our brain give rise to the conscience? Please explain.

Obviously, we have all suppressed our conscience at one time or another and done things that are wrong (either it being wrong according to our individual conscience, or it being universally and absolutely wrong).

It was brought up in a recent thread about smoking marijuana as an example and proving that this is objectively right or wrong. I would posit that for things that do not fall into the wrong in the absolute form such as murdering infants for fun, it falls to one's own conscience. For me, altering one's consciousness with marijuana is similar to drunkenness which is spoken against in the Bible. That, and that it would really not provide any positive to me, I abstain because I feel it's wrong.

The problem we run into in society is there is very much of one person or group trying to project their conscience onto another person or group and make that person or group adhere. Probably more largely than that though, is not realizing that the moral absolutes are larger than a lot of people are willing to accept because they like their sinful ways.

But I believe that humans having an innate and inherent conscience is one reason to believe in God.
My theory, as I have put forth in many threads, is that we share common human objectives that are coded in our biology (promote/protect) and recognize them in others. One's promote cannot violate another's protect or we find ourselves in an intolerable world, even for the strong. They too seek order and comfort. As a result we find morality transactional and not one sided. We have built social strategies (cooperation) to balance those over the eons without the help of God. Only sociopaths and narcissist find comfort in one sided social interaction. We deal with them as best we can. It seems God does not. Most theology kicks that can down the road to a Kingdom to Come. An equivocation for the lack of natural justice in the world.
 
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My theory, as I have put forth in many threads, is that we share common human objectives that are coded in our biology (promote/protect) and recognize them in others. One's promote cannot violate another's protect or we find ourselves in an intolerable world, even for the strong. They too seek order and comfort. As a result we find morality transactional and not one sided. We have built social strategies to balance those over the eons without the help of God.
Could you be more specific in promote/protect being coded in our biology? I am presuming you refer to DNA. I would be interested to hear how promote/protect are encoded in DNA if that is what you refer to.

And I agree with you about narcissistic sociopaths. I was almost going to mention them in the OP.
 

5wize

Well-known member
Could you be more specific in promote/protect being coded in our biology? I am presuming you refer to DNA. I would be interested to hear how promote/protect are encoded in DNA if that is what you refer to.

And I agree with you about narcissistic sociopaths. I was almost going to mention them in the OP.
Not DNA. In the amygdala. Many scientific studies point to the amygdala for the regulation of social vs. antisocial acts. Makes sense because in it is coded fight or flight. We seem to have just gotten tired of living that way and we see what we are reduced to when safety(self protection) and promotion (eating, shelter, etc...) is threatened. We don't like to go there so we build strategies to not. Work in progress. Even Christian morality is under threat, just one disaster away from a Leningrad winter to dust off that film of social cohesion we have built up.
 
Not DNA. In the amygdala. Many scientific studies point to the amygdala for the regulation of social vs. antisocial acts. Makes sense because in it is coded fight or flight. We seem to have just gotten tired of living that way and we see what we are reduced to when safety(self protection) and promotion (eating, shelter, etc...) is threatened. We don't like to go there so we build strategies to not. Work in progress. Even Christian morality is under threat, just one disaster away from a Leningrad winter to dust off that film of social cohesion we have built up.
Here are several problems I have with this theory: 1. The amygdala and the entirety of the brain are formed from the instructions of DNA right? So I would like to hear how these sequences of amino acids somehow result in a conscience, choice between right and wrong... etc. 2. If we are formed from the DNA of our parents, and then this in turn forms our amygdala, how do we account for the staunch difference in choices between right and wrong from some parents to child?, 3. If you are attempting to say, and feel free to correct me if this is an oversimplification, that our choices between right and wrong are all boiled down to promote vs protect, fight vs flight, or transactional with another person or group, then what about if I decide not to brush my teeth today, my example of marijuana, suicide, or murdering babies for fun? It would not seem to fit.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
Conscience - an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior

If an atheist would believe humans have a conscience, where would such an atheist believe that this conscience came from?
As an atheist, I believe this thing we refer to as the conscience is a product of the human brain.

There are a couple of factors which cause my conscience to speak up. The first is empathy: recognizing how I would feel if I were part of the event I'm witnessing or learning about. The second is an awareness of whether I'm being (in)consistent with the things I believe in.

If my conscience makes me feel bad about the way I'm treating someone, it's usually because I recognize that I wouldn't want to be treated that way. If my conscience tells me that I shouldn't excuse the lies of a politician I voted for, it's probably because I recognize that I've criticized other politicians for lying.

But I believe that humans having an innate and inherent conscience is one reason to believe in God.
OK; I can't say you're wrong about that. All I can say is that I don't find the conscience to be that much of a mystery. Thanks for the thoughtful thread.
 

5wize

Well-known member
Here are several problems I have with this theory: 1. The amygdala and the entirety of the brain are formed from the instructions of DNA right? So I would like to hear how these sequences of amino acids somehow result in a conscience, choice between right and wrong... etc.
DNA makes no decisions. It just builds to its design. Functioning in an complex environment builds purposeful structures as required from those building blocks.
2. If we are formed from the DNA of our parents, and then this in turn forms our amygdala, how do we account for the staunch difference in choices between right and wrong from some parents to child?,
Social experience (transaction) and variances in the structure.
3. If you are attempting to say, and feel free to correct me if this is an oversimplification, that our choices between right and wrong are all boiled down to promote vs protect, fight vs flight, or transactional with another person or group, then what about if I decide not to brush my teeth today, my example of marijuana, suicide, or murdering babies for fun? It would not seem to fit.
It's not an over simplification, the DNA angle is an over complication. The first 3 yes, but the 4rth no. Murdering babies for fun would be transactional.
 

Gus Bovona

Active member
1. The amygdala and the entirety of the brain are formed from the instructions of DNA right? So I would like to hear how these sequences of amino acids somehow result in a conscience, choice between right and wrong... etc. 2.

DNA is the basis of living organisms, and over evolutionary time, some organisms have developed, because of the DNA they have, certain organs, like brains, that are capable of giving the organism a conscience.

But it's not like we're going to necessarily be able to point at some place in the DNA and say, this is where the conscience is encoded. There are a lot of levels or organization that have to be transversed to do that, and I don't think we know enough to be able to fill in all those gaps. And, it may well turn out that it's a bit like trying to describe, say, the motion of a rock falling by looking at each individual electron, neutron, and proton.
 
As an atheist, I believe this thing we refer to as the conscience is a product of the human brain.

There are a couple of factors which cause my conscience to speak up. The first is empathy: recognizing how I would feel if I were part of the event I'm witnessing or learning about. The second is an awareness of whether I'm being (in)consistent with the things I believe in.

If my conscience makes me feel bad about the way I'm treating someone, it's usually because I recognize that I wouldn't want to be treated that way. If my conscience tells me that I shouldn't excuse the lies of a politician I voted for, it's probably because I recognize that I've criticized other politicians for lying.


OK; I can't say you're wrong about that. All I can say is that I don't find the conscience to be that much of a mystery. Thanks for the thoughtful thread.
Why would you believe it is only a product of the human brain? Is there some evidence that leads you in this direction? I am positive that you yourself, despite feeling empathy, guilty, or inconsistent, has committed some action at some point that went against your conscience. That's not a knock on you though. I have done the same. So if it is just a product of our brain, then why do we sometimes follow it and other times not?
 
DNA makes no decisions. It just builds to its design. Functioning in an complex environment builds purposeful structures as required from those building blocks.

Social experience (transaction) and variances in the structure.

It's not an over simplification, the DNA angle is an over complication. The first 3 yes, but the 4rth no. Murdering babies for fun would be transactional.
Ok, so let me narrow my thoughts then. So social experience somehow impacts the physiologic structure or functioning of the amygdala which then produces what we know as a conscience? To me, that is a stretch and I would agree theory at best. From your end, a God-given conscience should be just as viable a theory. I believe you may have posted a link in another recent thread to a study involving the amygdala. I attempted to find it but I could not. If that was you and it would shed some light/evidence to your theory then I'd appreciate it.

And so what about suicides, sacrificing my life for the life of another, and things of those nature that go against self-protection/promotion. That argues directly against your theory.
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
Why would you believe it is only a product of the human brain? Is there some evidence that leads you in this direction?
I can "watch" myself reason through it. The conscience is almost subconscious, but that's because it appears in a flash, like a revelation or an idea springing into my head.

Take the example of voting for a politician who lies after I've criticized politicians who lie. My conscience says "Wait, what the heck are you DOING???", but at the same time my conscience/brain is asking the question, I also remember criticizing some lying politician in the past. I also remember criticizing people who claim to believe politicians should have certain qualities, but then vote for someone who contradicts those same qualities.

It's basically a bunch of related memories/ideas popping into my head, reminding me that I've had those other thoughts, and they contradict what I'm about to do.

I am positive that you yourself, despite feeling empathy, guilty, or inconsistent, has committed some action at some point that went against your conscience. That's not a knock on you though. I have done the same. So if it is just a product of our brain, then why do we sometimes follow it and other times not?
The conscience challenges things you're doing; it brings up memories which suggest your actions aren't necessarily consistent with other things you've believed or done. You can ignore those challenges (aka. "I don't care about the contradiction"), justify them (aka. "The other stuff I believe or have experienced is more important than this contradiction"), or listen to them (aka. "You're right, Me. I don't want to be a hypocrite, so I wont do this").

I've experienced all three. I've declared that I don't care what my conscience says, and I've ruled that the contradiction is acceptable, and I've taken my conscience's advice - all at different times and in different situations, of course.

My "conscience" has never seemed like a mysterious voice to me. It's (as far as I can remember) always felt like I was talking to myself.

edit: sorry for the typos/edits
 
I can "watch" myself reason through it. The conscience is almost subconscious, but that's because it appears in a flash, like a revelation or an idea springing into my head.

Take the example of voting for a politician who lies after I've criticized politicians who lie. My conscience says "Wait, what the heck are you DOING???", but at the same time my conscience/brain is asking the question, I also remember criticizing some lying politician in the past. I also remember criticizing people who claim to believe politicians should have certain qualities, but then vote for someone who contradicts those same qualities.

It's basically a bunch of related memories/ideas popping into my head, reminding me that I've had those other thoughts, and they contradict what I'm about to do.


The conscience challenges things you're doing; it brings up memories which suggest your actions aren't necessarily consistent with other things you've believed or done. You can ignore those challenges (aka. "I don't care about the contradiction"), justify them (aka. "The other stuff I believe or have experienced is more important than this contradiction"), or listen to them (aka. "You're right, Me. I don't want to be a hypocrite, so I wont do this").

I've experienced all three. I've declared that I don't care what my conscience says, and I've ruled that the contradiction is acceptable, and I've taken my conscience's advice - all at different times and in different situations, of course.

My "conscience" has never seemed like a mysterious voice to me. It's (as far as I can remember) always felt like I was talking to myself.

edit: sorry for the typos/edits
Well, if you're concerned about voting for a politician who lies, I'd suggest not ever voting. ;) That's a subject for another thread though. But what is relevant is that I am referring specifically to decisions involving right and wrong. I suppose you can consider a vote for a politician morally right or wrong, but I hardly think it boils down to a moral right vs wrong decision.

You are correct that our previous thoughts and experiences do influence our decisions but I think that despite all that we have a guiding light that let's us know if a decision is wrong or not. How much an individual listens to that voice is a different story. This is why sometime we do the right thing although we know it may cause some type of shame or other harm to ourselves.

But take a situation for which you may have no previous thoughts or experiences to assist in your decision making process such as some of the examples I have laid out like suicide, using an illicit drug, or murdering an infant for fun. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, donating money to a charity, volunteering your time to help some less fortunate people in some way, or giving up your life to save the life of another.
 
DNA is the basis of living organisms, and over evolutionary time, some organisms have developed, because of the DNA they have, certain organs, like brains, that are capable of giving the organism a conscience.

But it's not like we're going to necessarily be able to point at some place in the DNA and say, this is where the conscience is encoded. There are a lot of levels or organization that have to be transversed to do that, and I don't think we know enough to be able to fill in all those gaps. And, it may well turn out that it's a bit like trying to describe, say, the motion of a rock falling by looking at each individual electron, neutron, and proton.
And so why is it purely and only the brain that gives the conscience? I would think, in the lack of an explanation as to how the brain gives us a conscience, that it would remain theory only. And that's fine. But then, a God-given conscience should be an equally viable theory until proven otherwise.
 

5wize

Well-known member
Ok, so let me narrow my thoughts then. So social experience somehow impacts the physiologic structure or functioning of the amygdala which then produces what we know as a conscience? To me, that is a stretch and I would agree theory at best. From your end, a God-given conscience should be just as viable a theory.
No. Social experience helps to program right from wrong in social transactions based on common internal drives that are already there. Think of a black box experiment where you place either a red gumball through a hole in a box or a green one. You can't see what's in the box. You place the red one in, you get rewarded. Place the green one in, your hand gets bit. Social transactions are like that. Some may take time to come around. Some may not come around at all. We do the best we can.

That is why early Christianity created the concept of a Kingdom to Come where what they thought about regarding justice and their place in the God's world as a chosen would hopefully come to pass - somewhere if not here. They struggled mightily in the age of the prophets with that very question and the invention of the Kingdom and a messiah in the vein of a Maccabean hero was the best science they had. You are still proposing that as a basis for the resolution of morality. It doesn't work. It is an equivocation.

A God given conscious has no grounding in the empirical world resulting in absolute, objective, or any behavior at all, for that matter. It is a non transactional declaration by fiat which has zero standing as a grounded human objective. It is a completely Platonic form and an anthropomorphic projection of what we already figured out in the black box of morality. What is it even a projection onto? ... Well....nothing that I can see. It is the error of transcendent thinking effecting empirical outcomes. I don't see how that works at all.
I believe you may have posted a link in another recent thread to a study involving the amygdala. I attempted to find it but I could not. If that was you and it would shed some light/evidence to your theory then I'd appreciate it.

And so what about suicides, sacrificing my life for the life of another, and things of those nature that go against self-protection/promotion. That argues directly against your theory.
No. Sacrificing your life for another does violate another's self protection. It is an act of altruism. It may hurt those that you love and would miss you, but those transactions happen all the time without moral implications.

Wealth of articles here. And there are more specifically tying it down to social moral development. Just hover over the link and select the open link icon what it appears.
The amygdala, social behavior, and danger detection - PubMed
 
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5wize

Well-known member
And so why is it purely and only the brain that gives the conscience? I would think, in the lack of an explanation as to how the brain gives us a conscience, that it would remain theory only. And that's fine. But then, a God-given conscience should be an equally viable theory until proven otherwise.
You mean hypothesis only. Hypothesis with testable repeatable outcomes become the laws and "theories" of something. These theories are proven by brain alteration and watching all aspects of what you would call the self instantly change. When restored, the subject does not recall a grounding of soul or spirit as a "watcher and maintainer of the self" throughout these brain experiments. Gone is gone. Early Judaism did not have a concept of a soul separate from a body. It took a merger of Apocalyptical and Hellenistic influences to develop that concept. IT was never there from the creation event on. It was a result of culture, not transcendent truth.
 
No. Social experience helps to program right from wrong in social transactions based on common internal drives that are already there.
That is fair enough but you appeared to say that information is all stored in the amygdala which is just a series of electrochemical reactions and physiologic happenings and so to say that then right and wrong can be determined in such a manner seems very far fetched. You have described it as a theory so we can say we do not understand it all yet. But other animals have an amygdala and I don't believe know the difference between right and wrong. Ex. eating their own young. Are there not moral absolutes than transcend all this, such as it is never right to murder infants for fun?
No. Sacrificing your life for another does violate another's self protection. It is an act of altruism. It may hurt those that you love and would miss you, but those transactions happen all the time without moral implications.
Sacrificing your life violates your own self-protection.
Wealth of articles here. And there are more specifically tying it down to social moral development. Just hover over the link and select the open link icon what it appears.
The amygdala, social behavior, and danger detection - PubMed
Thank you for the link. Unfortunately, I see a lot of studies done in animals. That's all fine but I think we can firmly say that animals do not have a conscience as humans do.
 
You mean hypothesis only. Hypothesis with testable repeatable outcomes become the laws and "theories" of something. These theories are proven by brain alteration and watching all aspects of what you would call the self instantly change. When restored, the subject does not recall a grounding of soul or spirit as a "watcher and maintainer of the self" throughout these brain experiments. Gone is gone. Early Judaism did not have a concept of a soul separate from a body. It took a merger of Apocalyptical and Hellenistic influences to develop that concept. IT was never there from the creation event on. It was a result of culture, not transcendent truth.
Please expand on "brain alteration" and when you say the self instantly changes, do you mean that any sense of learned right and wrong is then left from the person?
 

Whateverman

Well-known member
Well, if you're concerned about voting for a politician who lies, I'd suggest not ever voting. ;) That's a subject for another thread though. But what is relevant is that I am referring specifically to decisions involving right and wrong. I suppose you can consider a vote for a politician morally right or wrong, but I hardly think it boils down to a moral right vs wrong decision.
Are you sure Christians would agree with you? It was very easy to find them talking about the morality of voting for one person over another in the 2016 election. I don't mean to ask you to address what other Christians are saying, but simply to emphasize that "moral right vs wrong" can be used to label almost every judgement we make (in which our conscience has spoken to us).

You are correct that our previous thoughts and experiences do influence our decisions but I think that despite all that we have a guiding light that let's us know if a decision is wrong or not. How much an individual listens to that voice is a different story. This is why sometime we do the right thing although we know it may cause some type of shame or other harm to ourselves.

But take a situation for which you may have no previous thoughts or experiences to assist in your decision making process such as some of the examples I have laid out like suicide, using an illicit drug, or murdering an infant for fun. Or on the opposite end of the spectrum, donating money to a charity, volunteering your time to help some less fortunate people in some way, or giving up your life to save the life of another.
Once you reach a certain (very young) age, you always have previous thoughts & experiences to reference when making judgements. I can't imagine a single example you or anyone else could raise in which I would have nothing to base my judgements on. Just because I haven't murdered an infant doesn't mean I have no reference points by which to judge such a thing.

I know murder is wrong, by definition (aka. an illegal killing). I know infants are generally the most-innocent humans in existence, which means they can't ever do things which justify being murdered. I know I wouldn't want to be murdered, and that no one I know would want it to happen to their infants (or their friends' or neighbors' or relatives'). I know that whatever an infant may be guilty of, they represent a huge human potential - for love, compassion, repentance, knowledge and many other things - so murdering one would be a senseless "waste". I know nearly all religions view the murder of an infant as immoral in the extreme.

I can literally think of no event that I would be unable to judge - in terms of having a justifiable reason for thinking it's right or wrong or whatever. My conscience has PLENTY of ammunition by which to tell me "Hey, maybe stop punching that baby?"

My judgements aren't always correct, of course. By the same token, there are times when my conscience should have spoken up about something I was doing wrong, or helped me recognize when I should have done something else. This lack (in my opinion) is due to me not remembering all the ways in which my values/experiences don't match up with my actions. Sometimes, I'm grossly ignorant of facts which, if I had known, would cause my conscience to jump up and down screaming "What the heck?!?!"

--

I hope this addresses what you were after :) And sorry for the wall of text; I usually try to avoid it...
 

5wize

Well-known member
That is fair enough but you appeared to say that information is all stored in the amygdala which is just a series of electrochemical reactions and physiologic happenings and so to say that then right and wrong can be determined in such a manner seems very far fetched.
I always claimed it was transactional, not rote. That's actually what you see in the arc of history. Us pulling ourselves out of darkness by witnessing the cause and effect of these transactions in personal, societal, and national spheres.
You have described it as a theory so we can say we do not understand it all yet. But other animals have an amygdala and I don't believe know the difference between right and wrong. Ex. eating their own young. Are there not moral absolutes than transcend all this, such as it is never right to murder infants for fun?
Correct. Animals either have, or do not have, the element of sentience that watches and learns socially. Some of nature would absolutely astound you, like circular miles of corral where the older center does not get access to the nutrients but can send out a signal to the periphery to send more nutrition in. Dolphins, dogs, monkeys... it's baffling the amount of transactional morals we can interchange with this world.
Sacrificing your life violates your own self-protection.

Thank you for the link. Unfortunately, I see a lot of studies done in animals. That's all fine but I think we can firmly say that animals do not have a conscience as humans do.
Some approach enough of one to be relevant.... see above.
 

5wize

Well-known member
Please expand on "brain alteration" and when you say the self instantly changes, do you mean that any sense of learned right and wrong is then left from the person?
Some of those links outlined human studies where people with a common social anomalies of some kind the same brain anomalies, primarily in the amygdala because that was the focus of the study..
 
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