apologetics, Atheism, Christianity, logic, meta-ethics., morality, philosophy, rationality, reason, religion
A fellow blogger and sometime commentator here, Howie, asks some questions for theists.
He wonders what effect would it have on our morals if we suddenly found out God did not exist. It’s a great question and I found I could spend allot of time answering this.
In my response I indicate that “I would highly doubt any objective morality exists in reality, and if it did exist I would not believe we had any reliable way of knowing what it was.”
I have blogged extensively about the second part of that statement:
Here I want to address the first part. I want to explain why “I would I highly doubt any objective morality exists in reality” if I found out God did not exist.
But first, I want to reiterate that I do not think there is any logical inconsistency with atheism and belief in objective morality. That said I am unaware of any actual evidence that an atheist would have for believing in objective morality. That is, if we were to know there is no God then all the evidence we have for objective morality goes out the window. It’s one thing to say objective morality is logically possible, it’s another to say we have some evidence that it is true.
To understand my position let’s start with a reverse question for atheists. Let’s say you suddenly find out that the Christian God exists. What would that mean for your views on morality?
I would think most people would agree that if the Christian God exists, then it’s very likely that objective moral realism is true. God orchestrated our existence and reality so that we might be ultimately judged and this judgment will be just. Reality would have been built with this moral feature.
From that, it follows that evidence that the Christian creator God exists is also evidence that objective morality is a feature of reality. The evidence that the Christian God exists would be things like the miracles recorded in scripture. Again people can debate whether this is strong evidence or weak evidence, and what if any burden of proof there is, but it is “some evidence.” This also happens to be the only evidence that our objective reality contains moral characteristics. (I don’t mean to exclude other religions that teach of a Creator God who had a hand in creating a moral reality. So yes evidence for Islam, or Judaism would also be evidence for objective moral realism but here for simplicity sake I am just taking Christianity versus atheism.) So the logic is exhibit A suggest exhibit B. Exhibit B Suggests exhibit C. A = miracles B=Christian God exists and C = Objective moral realism is true.
Do we have other evidence that objective morals are actually a feature of reality? I really don’t think so. Again because “wrongness” cannot be detected by our 5 senses it seems impossible to have evidence of it outside of testimonial evidence from someone who is not bound by our 5 senses.
The fact that we feel strong guttural emotional responses when we see certain “good” or “bad” actions is not, to my mind, evidence that there is actually a real objective truth to moral claims. However, if something with a supernatural understanding designed us then of course we might think our emotions are properly cued to these real moral truths.
So the Christian God existing would be strong evidence that real objective morals would exist. If we were to eliminate that evidence of objective moral reality existing (Say because we “find out” no God exists) then we are hard pressed to find *any* evidence of objective moral reality. That’s not to say its logically impossible for objective moral reality to exist without God. Nonetheless, it would be a huge blow to objective moral realism’s case to lose – exhibit B – the existence of God.
Hi Joe, I appreciated your discussion here, and I tend to agree with your argument. I had one additional thought.
“because “wrongness” cannot be detected by our 5 senses it seems impossible to have evidence of it”
I agree that wrongness cannot be detected by our 5 senses, but I wouldn’t think the senses were the right detection “equipment”. The question is, do we have a moral sense, and if so, can it detect right and wrong?
I’m inclined to think we do, and it does. The problem is that we can’t verify that moral sense objectively, like on a dial or a piece of digital measuring equipment. And of course that our moral sense is impaired and we cannot fully trust it (that’s one reason that I think we need God).
I wonder what you think of that?
Hi thanks for the response.
Yes I think we have a sort of moral sense from God. But it is different in kind from our other 5 senses. Our identification of evil and good is different than our identification of certain colors or sounds. We have to take in several pieces of data to “sense” the good or evil. This includes information about actors states of mind etc.
So I like to be clear. Sometimes people like to say there is nothing really different about sensing good and evil than sensing other things. But I think it is quite different.
Yes in the end I think we have to hope we gained this sense from something beyond human capabilities.