There is a debate about if morals can be scientifically proven, are biological (bottom-up), or if morals are just subjective and based on culture (e.g. religious dogma or UN Human Rights, top-down). The debate is often strangely complex and extended. For me it is not complex at all; of course morals, like all emotions animals produce, can be objectively scientifically mapped. And, also morals “from above” (laws, rules, dogmas) are of course also rooted in biology, are from “bottom-up”. Everything is “bottom-up” concerning biology, even if an external input influences a bio system, it is reactions on micro level inside that bio system that change e.g. behaviour, it is still “bottom-up”.
Yes, all morals always boil down to wellbeing, in other words; Emotions. Emotions are coded in our DNA, sometimes experience trigger modulations, and we can study them scientifically, measure them, quantify them, collect statistics. We can measure the blood flow and heartbeat when someone get sexually aroused and we can can take blood samples to measure adrenaline when a human, or any mammal, is scared. I am sure we can scan for physical reactions when e.g. a person experience cruelty against e.g. a child, any child, and when he or she loose hard earned property by theft. It is all about pain and pleasure.
On that biological basis, that objective reality, morals are culturally formalised, traditionally through religion and civil law. Religious morals emerged from physical facts, like all culture. It is not beamed down from aliens or sacred frequencies in Cosmos collected by prophets and gurus on earth.
If a clear majority in a group do not want to be killed, or see their loved ones be killed, because it is painful and it contradict their deep survival instincts, they gather around a contract, a moral contract; murder is wrong and forbidden in this village. Yes, that contract may also benefit the individual and group survival potential, on many levels, but it is still based on emotions, it started with biology, the rest is cultural overlay.
Some morals are stupid and contra-productive, e.g. the rule that women should cover their faces, or that sex between same sex persons are forbidden, but they are still based on emotions, it is just that somewhere along the cultural development the wrong persons emotions were the basis for the rules or a minority in power invented bad rules to win something (their twisted emotions made them do that). Morals can be evil and destructive, existing morals can be immoral. It is just culture and culture can be almost anything, culture can be based on a minority emotions, it can be based on superstition and pure delusion.
How to build a moral rulebook based on most possible happiness for most possible number of individuals? Or reduce pain for most possible number of individuals? And to do that on a scientific basis? Well, it has been done and the process is going on; UN Human Rights is an example, even though it may go too far in some cases, but we discuss and develop, it is not “from above”, not divine and “set in stone”. Modern civil law is another example, it is not dogma, it is a process where science and rationality is used to reduce damage on society, many parameters are accepted in the ongoing discussion, pragmatism is not tabu. What is the less harmful compromise between individual rights and the collective? What is less bad regarding tomorrow, the future?
So, morals are based on individual wellbeing. A cultures’ morals are based on majorities emotions that can be scientifically measured. The formalisation (rules, laws, dogmas) is Culture. If the morals cause more pain than wellbeing for the majority, or are totally useless, it is bad morals and should be erased from the culture. Historically civilisations have had many bad morals, morals causing unnecessary suffering and pain, those morals are subjective morals (often an elites subjective delusions, irrationality, dubious interests, power positioning, abnormal disgust feelings, pathologies). Objective morals will reduce this problem.
Outside consciousness there is, of course, no morals. The Universe has no morals, there is no moral fundamental element or force in the Universe. It is all in our consciousnesses. A consciousness experience emotions and want wellbeing and avoid pain. Most humans wellbeing also reacts positive when other humans wellbeing rise, it is contagious, like laughter and grief. Most humans want to avoid suffering and want collective contracts for that, they also want to experience as little suffering amongst their neighbours, because others suffering lessen their own wellbeing. Those emotions can be neurologically and bodily measured and explained, it is a vital part of human existence. On this our morals can be built, objective morals.
To culturally express all this, to motivate it and advocate it to the tribe or commune, to persuade the collective, humans mix the moral rules into their mythologies. It is easier to convince people to not kill each other on a whim if a god/gods says it is wrong and that there is actually even a punishment for people who kill others on a whim, or there is some “cosmic” punishment for breaking the rules (e.g. Karma) when mythology don’t have specific personalised gods.
Then why did civilisation formalise those dogmas when we all already knew them by heart? Well, there is always a minority, in every collective, that are different (e.g. psychopaths’), and the majority has to keep them inline and protect the majority. The dogmas, rules and laws also prepares children for life as adults, children do not have the full understanding of actions consequences and the collective dynamics.
So, the religious people (today mostly in USA and some Islam countries since the world went Modern) who think that a societies morals will go bankrupt if Christianity and Islam fade away, are either lying or just low on information and understanding, or they have power interests in keeping the old mythologies as moral libraries. If my theories do not convince, take a look at facts and statistics today; Scandinavian countries are (since 50-100 years, or maybe they never went “all in Christian”) the most secularised societies in the Western world and they are all very peaceful societies, low on crime and violence, very “civilised” and “nice” and with huge systems to smooth out pain and suffering for the majority, especially “the less fortunate”. Actually, it seems that the world are getting more and more peaceful as it gets more and more secular.
So, we do not need organised religion for our morals, we already have morals, we are programmed for that and it came before organised religion, it was already inside us, we are born with morals, it is in our DNA. We only need to assembly and write down our laws, laws based on science, rationality, majority emotions and common sense. No, it is not a tea party and severe compromises has to be done, but there is no need for religion and mythology to interfere, on the contrary; that can destroy the process. That is why the last 20-30 years of “import” of religion via immigrants is worrying for many native Scandinavians. We fought and suffered for many generations to clean out our land from Christianity, which tried to suffocate our culture and people, we worked so hard trying to establish our morals on science and rationality, and we do not want to return to harmful dogmas, to evil rules made by a psychotic minority.