In an earlier post I said that you should only believe things for which there is evidence. Otherwise you believe any idea that pops into your head without a reliable filtering mechanism. For the most part on this blog, that I do this is obvious. But I’m sure many people would question whether that is true when I say I believe in objective morality. So I thought I’d explain the evidence. (This is one of those areas where I argue with some atheists as well.)
People, and from my experience, religious people in particular, often define morality as what we ought to do. That is a vague and easily corruptible definition. “Ought” does demand a standard. For example, the Nazis did what they ought to do according to a racist and fascist standard. Despite their actions being what they ought to have done, no one would call that moral.
Based entirely on social sciences and the way linguistics work, we can derive a more precise definition of morality: it describes how actions affect wellbeing of conscious creatures, where safeguarding wellbeing is morally good.
When people talk about morality they talk about what we ought to do according to one of two standards: God (or what they believe God would want—and unknowable and ultimately subjective standard) or wellbeing (but people are more likely to talk about making people happy and not hurting people; “wellbeing” is not a common term).
The religious standard is limited, and when you step outside of religious questions and ask moral questions about issues like animal testing you can see people immediately apply the standard of wellbeing: how sad will how many things be?; How happy will how many things be? When pushed, religious people assume God’s objective morality cannot command things like the killing of children because God could not command something so patently immoral (a strange claim given the related Books, but I’ll skip over that). So even God’s standard of morality is wellbeing.
That is the evidence for defining morality more precisely and in a way which better reflects what we mean. But to make morality objective, the standard (wellbeing) also needs to be objective. Wellbeing is empirically measurable. The tool for measuring wellbeing in any given conscious thing is an fMRI scanner. I met a girl the other day whose dad underwent a study into his fibromyalgia using an fMRI scanner. They can detect pain, stress, happiness, relaxation etc. These emotions may be immaterial, but they have a material effect in the brain and we can measure them.
I’m not suggesting that it is practical to measure everyone’s wellbeing all the time. What I am saying is that because it could, in principle, be done then changes in wellbeing are a real, objective, measurable thing.
There: secular, objective morality, with evidence.