This blog is a response to some questions posed by David W in my earlier blog. I drafted this response and decided I should put it up as a separate blog, because it covers an important point of how I am coming at these questions.
I think you will understand where I am coming from if we first drop the idea of God all together. My strongest reasons for believing in God come out of my understanding of morality. So you can’t really gloss over my views on morality and start asking about my reason to believe in God. So let’s just think about morality and specifically whether the moral realist’s position is true. For example is it a moral fact that what Hitler did to millions of Jews was evil regardless of what anyone thinks?
It seems the holocaust either was really wrong or it wasn’t. Now in general I think the actual “evidence” of moral realism is pretty weak. For example I think there is *no* empirical evidence that the moral realist view is correct. Sure we all might see the photos of corpses or even have seen the corpses or the families of those Hitler killed directly. Looking at this might cause us to be repulsed. That emotional response might somehow yield a strong belief that what Hitler did was morally wrong. I do not think strongly believing something (especially when it’s due to an emotional response) is itself evidence for what we believe. There is no empirical indicia of wrongness that the moral realist can see, and point out to a Nihilist.
A nihilist will look at the same pictures and there is no reason to think he does not experience the same emotional response of repugnance. His emotional response would lead to him to try to prevent that sort of thing from happening. In fact a moral nihilist might take more actions to prevent it from happening. But if the nihilist is consistent, he would not claim he is trying to prevent the holocaust because it is morally wrong. Why he would try to prevent is an interesting question that might have a variety of answers. Richard Joyce is as philosophical nihilist (although he doesn’t like the term “nihilist”) who I agree with on many issues and have allot of respect for. He has given glimpses into his views on this but never really fully explored this.
But I would say though that if I were to accept the view that no one should ever believe anything unless they have empirical evidence to support it, then there is no way I could be a moral realist. But I think rational people consider more than empirical evidence and indeed more than the probability of a belief being true when deciding whether or not to accept it. They also consider the consequences.
Let’s think this through with respect to moral realism. I have no empirical evidence that moral realism is true. But I also understand that it might still be true because it is really not the type of thing I would expect to have empirical evidence for. So what to do? Well I think there are people who would tend to say I must reject moral realism until I have evidence of it being true. Others would say they don’t know what to make of it. But some people would say they are going to believe it anyway. For me I will consider the consequences of believing or not believing.
Now moral realist’s view either corresponds with reality or it does not. I.e., it is either a true view or a false view. And let’s just say we either accept moral realism or we reject it. I.e., we either believe it or we do not believe it.
So ok that leaves 4 possibilities:
Possibility 1) We believe in moral realism but in fact it is not true. Well then I hold a false belief. But holding that false belief is not really morally wrong. Why? Because if this situation holds true then there is no real moral right or wrong. Now it might be wrong in some peoples morality that they create in their head – ie. a relativist view. But you know what? I don’t really care. That consequence has no weight for me. Not any more than whether my actions correspond with any other sort of make believe. So the consequences of my holding the false view that morality is objectively real is basically zero.
Possibility 2) What if I hold the view that moral realism is false when it really is true? Things get a bit more sticky here. Now my holding that false belief might have some real moral implications. Moreover I might be inclined to not be very concerned with what might or might not be really moral. (After all, I don’t believe in it) This might lead me to not carefully consider the different views of what is morally right and wrong or carefully consider what basis people have for giving me their moral views. In the end I might lead a life doing things I truly should not have done and not doing things I really should have done. I would have lived my life wrong in a real sense. This is basically what I am trying to avoid. And so to the extent I am trying to avoid that then rejecting a belief in moral realism seems to be a bad way to go.
Possibility 3) Now what if I correctly reject moral realism. Well then yes I would have got that one right, but it doesn’t “really” matter. Why doesn’t it really matter? Because if moral realism is false then nothing really matters. So again there is no good reason to reject moral realism despite the lack of evidence.
Possibility 4) So the final option is that I believe in moral realism and moral realism is true. I think this is really the possibility that we need to focus on. Let’s accept that there is moral realism is true.
So a pascal wager like analysis leads to the conclusion that we should believe in moral realism. But now how do we know what is really moral or not? That is our next step as a rational person right? If what I said earlier is true then we should believe in/accept moral realism. But what is really moral or not moral?
It is only at this point that God comes in. After careful consideration it seems to me that it is impossible that we can with any reliability believe what is moral or not, if we evolved without any supernatural guidance. I argue why this is here.
From that conclusion I do a similar analysis and conclude a rational person should believe in God here.