Is murder wrong?

I could just say of course it is and it’s a ridiculous question to ask, and I fully agree, but most non-religious people have encountered a wannabe theistic philosopher who challenged you to explain how without god in your life, how can you explain that murder is wrong. First off, let’s assert what murder means. Oxford dictionary describes murder as:-

“the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.”

The important word there is premeditated which means that you’ve considered the action and decided to act on it, often involving some kind of planning. Let’s say that you’re attacked in the street from out of nowhere and you have to defend yourself and unfortunately your reaction causes the death of your assailant. Is this justified to take the life of another human being? If it means that you could potentially be a homicide victim then what choice do you have?

In Exodus 20:13 KJV it clearly states that ‘thou shall not kill’, and it clearly doesn’t define what you shouldn’t kill. The Geneva Convention of 1949 suggests that it’s unlawful to wilfully kill, especially someone who is unarmed. The U.S.A is predominantly religious nation, yet 30 out of the 50 states still have the death penalty for the most heinous crimes. How is this justifiable in the eyes of their god? Leviticus 24:20 says:-

“Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”

This suggests that whatever someone does to another should be done to them. Doesn’t this directly contradict the thou shall not kill law? What gives a human the right to take the life of another human, even if that human took the life of another? Killing that person as a result of their crime doesn’t cancel the crime and bring the deceased back to life. Take Islam as a prime example of using execution as a punishment for disobeying the religion. In countries that have adopted Sharia Law, there are a multitude of alleged sins that can result in execution to this day in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Mauritania that include; apostasy, homosexuality, rape, drug smuggling, treason, blasphemy, adultery, murder and witchcraft. I’d love a Muslim to justify how being a homosexual as an example is worthy of execution. The punishment is extremely severe and inhuman for the alleged crime.

So back to the initial question. Is murder wrong, and how can it be justified without god in your life? To take a life without justification is robbing someone of their future experiences and affects those around them who have to grieve the loss of a loved one. Religious people claim that they have the moral high ground because their god is an unequalled law-giver, and because atheists don’t have this guidance they have no justification as to why murder is wrong. Murder is inherently wrong whatever way you look at it because it causes suffering, and to cause another person suffering is amoral.

From my perspective being an atheist, murder is wrong for many reasons that include observing the golden rule which is essentially don’t do to others that you don’t want done to you. Many societies through history have loosely adopted this philosophy. If you take a life it’s irreversible. That person isn’t ever going to return and the murdered is denied any future happiness. Most societies deem murder to be wrong as it goes against the rules of a society, and if a society constantly has rules disobeyed then it breaks down and becomes a lawless state where anything goes, and no one wants that.

Would you want to be murdered? No, of course you wouldn’t, so surely the distaste of imagining being a murder victim is enough to prevent you from committing an act of murder against another, especially if you understand the emotion of empathy. Murder is perhaps the most harmful and destructive action that one can do against another human being. We all have just one life, and it’s irreplaceable. We value our own lives and the lives of our loved ones, so this logic should be applied to the rest of humanity. We have rights as a human, not only lawful rights but ethical rights and life is precious. I could argue that all life is precious but that’s an article for another day.

Science and morality

The science of morality is interpreted by empirical findings based on the senses, and is in effect linked to the scientific method in where observation and experimentation to acquire knowledge, to form an understanding of the subject is in play. Many sceptics claim that science doesn’t have the means to determine what can be moral or immoral, but observable facts are reached by using the scientific method, yet the whole concept of morality is about well-being and living a virtuous life, yet what’s good for one person could be detrimental to another.

So can science actually determine morality? Science attempts to be objective, and reach a conclusion based on reason, reality and facts gathered from evidence. Two of the biggest questions in philosophy and science are; who are we? Where did we come from? Many people of faith believe that we are here because we are made in the image of god, and were placed on Earth to rule a dominion over other life forms, and with us being in God’s image we have a morality giver. Yet this is purely speculative, without justification and is subjective to the religion a person puts their faith into. For something to be universally moral, it has to be based on facts or how else can it be agreed upon?

“Psychological and neuroscience research both tell us that morality, our mental ability to tell right from wrong in our behaviors and the behaviors of others, is a product of evolution. Morality has been passed on through the course of evolution because it helps us to live in large social groups by enhancing our ability to get along and interact with others. – Source

So using that standard, religion can not be moral. Morality is in two parts and the first part is how you act and the more empathy, compassion and humility you use, then the greater the chances are you’ll do something for the greater good that’s beneficial to others; and the second part is how your actions make you feel, and if you do something bad, you feel guilt, resentment or remorse, then it’s likely that if put in that same situation again you’ll try and change your ways for the greater good. Is having expectations supplied by a god, who doesn’t want you to worship anyone but them, being moral or is it just being obedient and following the rules? Morality is about being about to distinguish between good and bad, wrong or right. Being moral is about trying to work for the betterment of all, not just the ones who are part of your elite club..

“Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality” – Sam Harris

Very often a person’s view of morality is derived from cultural traits and expectations, and people are conditioned socially to act in a certain way that doesn’t infringe the rights of other sentient beings. Many philosophers arrive that morality is inherent from birth, and to be socially accepted into a pack, then we must adhere to standard or principles to maintain an equilibrium so we can multiply as a species. Whilst science can’t directly determine what’s moral and what’s immoral, it can certainly study empirical evidence to determine if an action is going to constitute in the well-being of others, and what can be done to reduce suffering of the majority. So science can determine what’s true, but not what’s right. Yet, by using the scientific method we can reach moral conclusions. Take murder as an example. To take another person’s life is an infringement on their rights as a human, and it causes suffering to the victim and those close to them. But if you had a choice to save 100 people and let one die, would that judgement be a moral one, as the decision was for greater good, or is it a decision that can’t have any moral implications as a choice had to be made or everyone would die.

Can you see the real me?

It’s a natural human condition to attempt to manifest yourself as a better, and more attractive person than you actually are, but what’s the benefit of creating an elaborate facade when the truth will inevitably reveal itself? This mindset of creating an altered persona, or avatar, is extremely prevalent on social media and dating apps, yet surely it’s counter productive if you’re attempting to be something you’re not if you are already known, or wanting to be known. So many people use Snapchat filters to completely alter their physical appearance, then they become unrecognisable in person. What is the thinking behind this action?

“Most users of social media have experienced catfishing (which cats hate), senseless rejection, being belittled or ignored, outright sadism, or all of the above, and worse” – Jaron Lanier

Some people take a step beyond this and create a whole different character, and this is known as catfishing. This is an extremely deceptive tactic which is often used to attempt to gain financial advantages, scams, bullying, blackmail, explore their sexuality in anonymity, or to stalk/troll their chosen victim. Whether it’s someone living out a fantasy, or portraying themselves as more desirable than they truly are, often the victim is taken in as they are enjoying the attention they are receiving. The perpetrator may just be lonely and self-conscious and by creating another persona they are getting more attention than they would in the real world, but many people have a more sinister motive with psychopathic tendencies. Most people assume that a psychopath is a violent person, but there are other signs of psychopathological behaviour, and these tend to be a lack of empathy and remorse, vindictive and self-serving, antisocial or manipulative behaviour.

The potential for anonymity loosens up social and moral codes. This means the need to be a certain way to fit into society seems distant, freeing up mental space to explore the dimmer, darker bits of our personalities without fearing stigma.” – Source

Face to face most people reach a judgement quite quickly whether someone is being genuine, and you can read people by their body language, but when you’re at the other end of an electronic device to the other person, it’s impossible to read signals and body language. If someone seems too good to be true then they probably are and you are wise to trust your instincts. If you’re with someone you have to portray your image relative to who you really are as it’s extremely difficult to pretend to be someone else, but being online behind a level of anonymity, people are able to craft themselves to be more appealing to the victim. They may empathise with you, be sympathetic, or claim to share the same interests as you in an attempt to lower your guard and persuade you to begin to trust them. You know you’re being catfished when the person is reluctant to reveal themselves in a video call, or they aren’t fond of the idea of meeting in person. Many will use reverse psychology and will over emphasise their alleged loyalty and honesty, and will play on your heart strings with a traumatic life event which has left them in financial ruin. As soon as the subject of money arises, you’re being played. Trust your intuition!