The second video I would like to address is ‘What makes something right or wrong?’:
Fry begins by stating:
“Some people believe that what is right or wrong never varies from situation to situation and that it can be expressed in constant and unchanging commandments. They often look to religious texts or authorities to discover what they think a God wants them to do.”
Now any student of religion will know how this is a parody of religious ethics. I am not aware of one single religion which has a complete set of ethical commands which are to be held to regardless of the situation. Take the Ten Commandments for example (which have huge importance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Most Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars do not interpret “Do not kill/murder” to be a command which should apply to absolutely every situation one could ever think of. All three of these religions have traditions of ‘Just War’ theories. It is also well accepted that many of the ‘commands’ in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are case law.  Many of them describe what should happen in a certain situation and only in that situation rather than attempting to set a single command to be applied in all situations. It is true that some commands are supposed to be taken as absolute as much as possible but many others were culture specific. Others had clear assumptions about the situation they applied to. Does a Jewish child have a duty to honour their parents if their parents abuse them? It would be tough to find a Jewish or Christian scholar who interpreted that law in any kind of absolutist fashion. Another good example in the Bible is Rahab who appears to be congratulated by the writer to the Hebrews (in Hebrews 11:31) for lying in order to keep the Hebrew spies in Jericho safe.
Then there are modern examples such as the principle of doing the lesser of two evils. This is the idea many religious ethicists propose when faced with a moral dilemma where some moral sin is likely to occur no matter what course of action one takes. A good example of this would be Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s participation in a plot to murder Hitler. Another would be the approach most Christians take to permitting abortion in certain extreme circumstances (such as the mother’s life being in danger). Some religious philosophers have even taken a very utilitarian and consequentialist approach to doing ethics (take Joseph Fletcher as one famous example of such). Or take the, so called, ‘first precept’ as found in Buddhism (you shall not harm any living creature). Even though this precept sounds deontologically absolute in practice this is not the case. Even the current Dalai Lama has expressed examples of situations under which he would consider abortion to be the right course of action (even though this appears to violate the first precept). In fact, even though a lot of precepts sound absolute in Buddhism a lot of Buddhist ethics is determined more by intention and outcome than in keeping the precept literally. So, once again, we have the BHA presenting a very childish, oversimplified account of what religious ethics are in order to make their view seem like a huge contrast to their own.
What is being confused here in the video is the difference between believing in objective morality and absolutist morality. Only a moral absolutist would suggest a moral command always applies in every and all situations. Someone who holds to the objectivity of something being wrong (that is to say, it really is wrong) is not committed to saying it must apply to all situations. This is precisely why religions, even when they take strong views on killing, often have caveats for certain extreme situations.
But, once again, the BHA does not appear interested in all of this reality. It appears the nuances of religion are of no serious concern for their propaganda campaign. Once again, as a result, we get this horribly distorted picture of what religious ethics is. Once again we get this black and white categorization. A categorization so poorly formed it would fail a GCSE paper on religion. 
Instead of this parody of religious ethics, this is what the BHA are offering:
“Humanists do not look to any God for rules but think carefully for themselves about what might be the best way to live. This approach means we have always to be empathetic and think about the effects of our choices on the happiness or suffering of the people, or sometimes other animals, concerned.”
Mmmmm. Spot the non sequitur? How does it follow from “one must think carefully for oneself about ethical choices” to “this means you ought to be empathetic”? The obvious answer is it doesn’t follow at all. If it is down to individuals to contemplate ethical decisions for themselves why does Stephen Fry now sound like an authority telling me how I ought to make my moral decisions? That is the method he just decried and yet he gives us two metaethical moral imperatives right from the start.
“We have to respect the rights and wishes of those involved. Trying to find the kindest course of action or the option which will do the least harm. We have to consider carefully the particular situation we find ourselves in and not just take any rule or commandment for granted. We have to weigh up the evidence we have available to us about what the probable consequences of our actions will be.”
Yet more authority you will notice. Notice the constant use of “we have to.” Why do ‘we’ have to? A moment ago it was declared that ethical decisions were for individuals themselves to decide upon but now Fry is telling individuals where their thinking about morality must take them. He also appears to be suggesting that an atheist ought not to be deontological in their ethics. This will come as a surprise to many atheist philosophers!
“This way of thinking about what we should do is explicitly based on reason, experience and empathy, and respect for others rather than on tradition or deference to authority.”
Sorry to make the exact same point once again but this is more authority. Not everyone agrees that those four criteria are the best criteria for making moral decisions. Among atheists there are many other options proposed so why does this set get the nod over all the others? Despite the protestations to the contrary this is simply replacing one voice of authority with another.
“Morality is not something that comes from outside of human beings, gifted to us by an external force (like a God).”
Well, in that case, why are the BHA attempting to gift me an explanation of morality?
“When we look at our closest relatives in the animal world, we see the same basic tendencies we see in ourselves; affection, cooperation, all the behaviour needed to live in groups and thrive.” 
Do atheists not read David Hume anymore? Has he become unfashionable among the popular atheism of modern times? This is one of the most blatant textbook examples of an is/ought fallacy you will ever be gifted. Hume pointed out that one cannot look at how something is and, on that basis alone, state that is how it ought to be. He pointed out you cannot get a conclusion about morality from non-moral premises. Some other evidence or argument is required.  From then until now, ‘Hume’s Law’ (as it’s sometimes called) has been considered to be a very important aspect of moral theory so to ignore it, in the way in which the BHA does, seems to be a huge error of judgement.
You might have also noticed the selective observation of other primates going on. Of course we see affection and cooperation going on in the animal kingdom but we also see killing, rape, polygamy, polyandry, defending of territory, and the killing of infants. So why did the BHA leave these behaviourisms out? They are also an integral part of life for primates. Just watch a few programmes on how chimps live their lives! This is another reason why one should not argue that just because something ‘is’ that that’s the way it ‘ought’ to be. On that basis a person could pick out all kinds of disgusting moral choices and argue for their validity simply on the basis that they occur all the time around us.
Fry then goes on to give a basic explanation of the moral progress idea. This idea is the view that over thousands of years the moral consciousness of human beings has been improving and getting better. Of course, this is just another version of the same is/ought problem as stated before. Just because morality changes does not mean it has improved necessarily. We must ask on what basis do we think one type of morality is better than another. The other problem with this view is that human beings appear to be struggling with tendencies and moral (mis)behaviour that was around from our earliest records of human history. There is still murder, wars, slavery, lying, brutality, torture, rape, and genocide (to mention just a few). Not a few historians have noted how bloody the twentieth century was and this fact appears to cause some problems for those who would hold that things are improving. But, notice, even if one concedes that there has been some moral improvement over time this does not add any weight to the proposal, being made by the BHA, that morality ought to be consequentialist and individual. A religious person can easily agree with this point and yet be consistent with their moral views.
Notice this however. Fry then states:
“Ultimately, morality comes from us, not from any God. It is to do with people with individual goodwill and social responsibility. It is about not being completely selfish, about kindness and consideration toward others. Ideas of freedom, justice happiness, equality, fairness and all the other values we may live by are human inventions and we can be proud of that as we strive to live up to them.”
But human beings also invented slavery, injustice, unhappiness, inequality, and unfairness. The key questions of morality are about how we can argue that some moral action is wrong and another right. All the BHA appear to be doing is throwing out some general words which are important in modern western (primarily liberal?) culture and taking it as a given that everyone will applaud and cheer. But this is not to be doing any serious ethics. Quite the opposite. It’s just asserting what matters but without any justification for why.
Virtually everyone agrees with notions of ‘fairness’, ‘happiness’ and even ‘justice’ but people mean very different things by these terms. Vladimir Putin is at home using words like these but what he means by them and what a member of the BHA means by them are probably very different things. So then, on what basis, is one vision of justice right and the other wrong? Take ‘freedom’ as another example. The BHA have their own atheistic and secular notions about how true freedom should look: The BHA are campaigning to abolish state-funded faith schools in the UK (which would doubtless make it less possible for those who are not rich to choose to send their children to a religious school – thereby restricting the freedoms of some groups of parents), they wish to impose regulations on such schools in terms of who they can or cannot employ, they wish to change the content of religious studies in state schools so that people have less choices about learning about religion in favour of a watered-down ethics course etc. etc. Their notion of ‘freedom’ is very different to many other people (both theists and non-theists who are not Humanists). The BHA are completely silent on what matters most since they use words which have very different meanings to different people. 
Notice the tension at the core of Humanist ethics. The BHA want to tell you that morality is an individual thing and that you can make your own moral decisions for yourself and yet, on the other hand, they are also telling you (in a very authoritative fashion) what conclusions you ought to come to. If you go to the website for the British Humanist Association you will find a large number of moral views you need to sign up to to fit in with their world view. If we ignore the pretense, the BHA are not really saying you can decide morality for yourself (they are not moral subjectivists at all) what they are saying is they have already decided what is moral and what is not and they hope you will agree with them.
The BHA have merely parodied religious accounts of morality. They have argued for independent moral reasoning but then told you you ought to come to the same conclusions they have come to. They have failed to give any kind of grounding for thinking that moral actions are objectively wrong (ignoring Hume to their peril). In doing so they have blundered their way, very clumsily, into a very difficult philosophical discussion as if they have all the answers while refusing to listen to anyone else on the matter or seriously engage with them. Not promising.
 For a brilliant discussion on different types of law in the Old Testament see C. J. H. Wright’s Old Testament Ethics for the People of God chapter 9.
 For those outside the UK, GCSEs are the exams students sit at the end of their secondary schooling at the age of 16.
 You’ve got to love that trite picture they use. If a picture communicates a thousand words in this case it communicates a thousand things about chimps the BHA don’t want you to know about them. Take a glimpse at the way in which they pack hunt other monkeys – especially the children being taken from their mothers and I’m sure the BHA would endorse large males eating first of course:
Of course, just watching a lengthy documentary on monkeys will give you numerous other examples of behaviour a little less in line with modern western liberalism!
 It’s worth noting that Hume would also have disagreed with the BHA’s placing of reason as its top criterion:
“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation,’tis necessary that it shou’d be observ’d and explain’d; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it … [I] am persuaded, that a small attention [to this point] wou’d subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceiv’d by reason.”
David Hume Treatise of Human Nature 3.1.1
 Listen to a modern day moral philosopher on this matter:
“One problem is that those who agree about this procedure [he is talking about the procedure of arriving at impartial, neutral, non-partisan visions of morality] then proceed to disagree about what precise conception of justice it is which is a result to be accounted rationally acceptable. But even before that problem arises, the question has to be asked whether, by adopting this procedure, key questions have not been begged. For it can be argued and it has been argued that this account of rationality is itself contentious in two related ways: its requirement of disinterestedness in fact covertly presupposes one particular type of account of justice, that of liberal individualism, which it is later to be used to justify, so that its apparent neutrality is no more than an appearance, while its conception of ideal rationality as consisting in the principles which a socially disembodied being would arrive at illegitimately ignores the inescapably historically and socially context-bound character which any substantive set of principles of rationality, whether theoretical or practical, is bound to have.”
Alasdair MacIntyre Whose Justice? Which Rationality? pp.3,4