Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Returning to an earlier-discussed matter, here is Louise Antony, in The New York Times, arguing with "those" who are alleged to argue that "[a] person who denies God . . . must be, if not actively evil, at least indifferent to considerations of right and wrong." I have never heard anyone (who is in the arguing business) actually argue this, but put that aside. She writes:
It is only if morality is independent of God that we can make moral sense out of religious worship. It is only if morality is independent of God that any person can have a moral basis for adhering to God’s commands.
Let me explain why. First let’s take a cold hard look at the consequences of pinning morality to the existence of God. Consider the following moral judgments — judgments that seem to me to be obviously true:
• It is wrong to drive people from their homes or to kill them because you want their land.
• It is wrong to enslave people.
• It is wrong to torture prisoners of war.
• Anyone who witnesses genocide, or enslavement, or torture, is morally required to try to stop it.
But, the the truth of these "moral judgments" (which are, I agree, true) is not, as I see it, actually "independent of God's existence." It is only because God exists that the universe is such that we are what we are and that these "moral judgments" are (therefore) true. The author writes:
To say that morality depends on the existence of God is to say that none of these specific moral judgments is true unless God exists. That seems to me to be a remarkable claim. If God turned out not to exist — then slavery would be O.K.? There’d be nothing wrong with torture? The pain of another human being would mean nothing?
Why is this claim "remarkable"? True, the claim makes some extremely uncomfortable, but that is because those people (i) do know that these moral judgments are true but (ii) don't know that God exists, or do believe that he does not. But this comfort does not refute the point that, absent the existence of a God who loves and sustains the world and persons, these judgments would not be "true", no matter how strongly they were believed and no matter how conscientiously those who believed them committed themselves to living in accord with them. The author writes, "Imagine telling a child: 'You are not inherently lovable. I love you only because I love your father, and it is my duty to love anything he loves.'" But, I don't think this is what I'm saying; I am saying, though, that my child is inherently lovable (and not merely that the "matter and force that seems to me -- whatever I am -- to constitute (however it does) me -- feels something strong and pleasant toward my child") because that child is loved by God.
There's a lot in the piece, and most of it is taking issue, I understand, with "Divine Command Theory", which I don't and don't mean to endorse. Still, and with apologies for being a broken record, I think there is a distinction between the obviously-not-true claim that "people who don't believe in God cannot act morally or come to correct moral judgments" and "the moral judgments which are, really, true would be no-less-true even if the universe were as Searle describes it."
Once again: Philosophers, set me straight!