Good Without God Follow Up
Here’s a follow up post on ‘Good without God’. The following is what I wrote in response to the time of our discussion together at Meetup and why all the proposed sources for moral knowledge from natualistic conception are unlivable:
Thanks again to all who came out for our ‘Good WITHOUT God’ (Part 3) Discussion. It was especially great seeing some new faces (but always good seeing old faces too!). I enjoyed the discussion and hope it got everyone thinking a bit more about the nature of morality and moral obligation and how one’s worldview shapes morality. There were a few points made that I wanted to respond to and share another book recommendation. Here’s are a few reflections:
- On Saturday, one approached offered up for a morality within a naturalistic framework was this: ‘Doing good is what makes a society last or endure.’ If I’m understanding it right, whatever leads to the flourishing/enduring of a society (as determined by the individuals of that society) is what is morally good. The implication given was ‘It is obvious the Nazi’s were immoral to gas the Jews because their society is no longer with us.’ I appreciated David’s critique of this view. What if the Nazis were still around gassing those who opposed them, would say they were right and moral to do this because it worked? If one lives out this UTILITARIAN ethic, then one could justify some really awful behaviors and call them GOOD because they helped a society endure (like killing off the old or mentally ill [a practice happening more in Scandinavian countries through euthanasia] or abandoning sick babies who might be deemed a drain of society [what the Romans did, until Christianity gained influence]). This argument also makes the classic error of conflating two entirely different concepts of good: “prudential good” and “moral good” (see Stokes book “How to Be an Atheist” pages 190-191). A “prudential good” is something which is “good FOR a thing,” in that is makes it last or be efficient (like putting oil in a machine). But a moral good is a good which is good regardless of whether it makes a thing last or flourish (like telling the truth even though it might cost you your reputation or job). The utilitarian approach makes the mistake of conflating these two concepts. But, in the end, I would argue that if there is no standard outside of human opinion informing us as to what is good or evil, then to love my neighbor or gas-chamber my neighbor would be equally good or evil, because nothing is actually good or evil, everything is subjective merely human preference. The work toward the enduring of a nation (nationalism?!) or anarchy are equally morally good or evil, they are neither good or evil. (A great example showing how this UTILITARIAN approach to morality is ugly can be found in the book/movie “The Giver,” where the society routinely kills off old people and babies it deems won’t help their people flourish, but the hero of the story goes against the morality of the society and rescues a baby anyways).
- Another approach offered was ‘FEELINGS’ can provide a morality for us. I appreciated how Robert critiqued this view. We all have FEELINGS we know we should not follow, feelings which would lead us into some really vile and repulsive and destructive behavior. (What if I punched someone every time I felt like it? Or lied whenever I felt like it?) Further, who gets to say which feelings are morally good or morally evil anyways? And why would it be more or less moral to follow my feelings? This I would say is another failed attempt to establish a morality in a naturalistic worldview. Surely in the moment, if someone was going to harm you and their feelings were rage, you would NOT say, ‘Follow your feelings,’ you would say, ‘Be kind to me even if you DON’T FEEL that way!’ But again, if there is no standard outside of human opinion, then actually following or not following your morals would be just as valid, just as good or evil, everything is subjective.
- Cheryl made a great point by recognizing that morals require some kind of AUTHORITY. For any livable morality there has to be some kind of authority informing us we OUGHT to do something or refrain from something. But, if there is no LEGITIMATE or TRUE authority outside of human beings (something which would be the case if naturalism were true), then MIGHT makes right or whoever has the LOUDEST voices, and all we have is an arbitrary authority. This can be a very scary prospect for the quiet or marginalized voices. But if there is no real standard outside of human opinion informing us as to right or wrong, ‘MIGHT MAKES RIGHT’ is neither good or bad, it just is (no matter how nice or cruel the person in power is). There is no legitimate authority outside of human opinion, there is no source of good, no one tell humans what is good or evil. We’re alone, evolved stardust here for no purpose in an impersonal universe that can neither care nor not care about us.
- Larry offered an interesting, though I think ultimately unpersuasive, approach to a morality: he said that because we should always be open to learning new things (something I totally agree with), any fixed morality would actually be constraining and lead to the best possible morality (correct me if I’m not summarizing you well Larry!). I think Larry is making a logical fallacy. A commitment to always learning new things does not mean you cannot also at the same be committed to some unchanging principles and value—even Larry’s approach is committed to the unchanging principle of always learning. One can be committed to logic and still be open-minded. One can be committed to opposing racism and still be moral and growing in morality. One can be committed to the ethical principle of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and spend a life-time learning new nuances of how to do this and how to be more consistent in it. I wouldn’t call someone immoral or not willing to learn who was absolutely committed to the unchanging principle of loving your neighbor as yourselves. In fact, I would argue that the only way to progress in morality would be have one of those true moral values (a value that is true regardless of human opinion) and seek to live it out. Otherwise it would be easy to abandon the principle when it is inconvenient or difficult. Further, I doubt Larry would live out his morality if a thief broke into his home argued that his moral code permitted him to take Larry’s stuff, because the thief’s morality had progressed past ‘you shall not steal.’ I think it’s ultimately an unlivable ethic. But if there is no standard outside of human opinion telling us what is right or wrong, this approach is neither moral or immoral. (Neither is stifling learning or promoting learning, stealing or sharing).
- There seemed to be a real inconsistency among those advocating a relativistic morality, especially in the amount of criticism against religious beliefs. But if morality is merely relativistic, the preferences of the majority, and there is no such thing as objective right or wrong way to live, then why all the criticism of those who believe other-wise, or those who believe in God or myths or myth-based morality? (For the record, I don’t believe Christianity is based on myths). Are not the moral relativists being a bit intolerant here? Further, if morals are on the same level as the preference of ice cream flavors, why harangue against those who form a morality based on belief in God or those who believe in the supernatural? Doesn’t this betray an inconsistency on the part of those say they hold to a relativistic morality? For to argue against the morality of another group requires a person to appeal to a standard above subjective opinion, but if moral relativism were true, there is no standard above human opinion. Doesn’t the criticism of belief in the supernatural being able to give us true moral knowledge also display an arrogance on the part of the moral relativists—claiming their morality is better than another’s, even though there is only human opinion and no truly better way than another to live? Finally, it felt like at times from the comments being made that some present may have even harbored a bigotry and prejudice against Christianity, while at the same time trying to say there is no standard outside of opinion to tell us what is right or wrong, only preference. But, if all we have is preference, why rail against ‘religious superstition’ or Christianity? Why does truth or falsehood matter all? If there is no standard outside of human opinion, neither believing myths or not believing myths is moral, neither hypocrisy or non-hypocrisy is moral, neither is bigotry against Christianity or non-bigotry, or racism of any kind. Also, a frequent argument on the moral relativist seemed to be: ‘Well, Christianity isn’t any better than a man-made morality!’ But this is really not a very persuasive argument (especially in light of history!), it is more of a dodge.
- In the end, I’m further persuaded the naturalistic approach to morality is a pipe-dream. It is another futile attempt to create a livable approach to reality apart from the One True God, who is the true source of goodness and beauty and truth. I am persuaded of MORAL REALISM, some things are good or evil regards of human opinion. For those of you who read all this long post, I would leave you with a book recommendation which explores the ramifications of abandoning God and objective morality: “The Abolition of Man” by C.S. Lewis. It is a hard read, but really thought provoking and insightful.
I imagine we’ll be revisiting morality in future conversations! See you all next month