Without God, What Grounds Right and Wrong?
In Finite and Infinite Goods, Robert Merrihew Adams offers an interesting variation on G. E. Moore’s famous open-question argument against ethical naturalism. In giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word in ethical inquiry, he says, ethical naturalists negate a critical stance that permits us to raise evaluative questions about any ethical judgment, no matter how well-supported empirically. But Adams’s version of the open-question argument is deeply confused. First, modern science shows that the relevant critical stance is quite compatible with giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word. Second, ethical naturalists need not treat any ethical judgments as immune to criticism. Finally, if Adams’s argument were sound, it would undermine his own case for a divine-command theory of ethics.
“One of the more dramatic debating maneuver used by Christian apologists against atheists is to argue that atheists can provide no objective reason for not raping people. This startling claim follows from the apologists’ wider claim that atheists can provide no objective moral reasons for anything. In this paper I will examine both claims in context of the debate between atheism and theism.”
This is a review of Michael Martin’s Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2002). “Michael Martin is an eminent atheist philosopher, and he gives us a hard-hitting critique of those theistic arguments which claim that all is futile in the realms of morality and meaning if there is no God. However, although Martin does well in exposing some common mistakes of theistic moral arguments, he is less convincing when he argues for objective morality in a godless world.”
Martin responds to a recent article by Paul Copan. Martin argues that a theistic ontological foundation of morality is impossible, that moral realism is possible in a godless universe, that theistic morality is subject to the accusation of arbitrariness whereas naturalistic moral realism is not, and that human beings are not “special” in the sense intended by theists. In short, Martin argues that Copan’s critique of atheistic metaethics is mistaken and his defense of a theistic moral realism is unsound.
Despite the power and influence of the Euthyphro dilemma, many apologists maintain that theism alone has the resources to account for objective moral properties. These authors dispute the commonly held view that the argument of the Euthyphro demonstrates that morality must be independent of God (especially as this argument is applied to theories that ground morality in the character of God as opposed to His commands). They argue in addition that regardless of the outcome of that debate, a nontheistic worldview is not compatible with belief in objective morality. In this paper I demonstrate that the argument that there is no viable atheistic account of the ground of morality depends upon the mistaken assumption that theism itself has the kind of moral theory that atheism allegedly lacks.
Carrier refutes Moreland’s claim that theism offers more and better reasons to live a moral life than atheism or secular humanism.
Dostoevsky Didn’t Say It: Exploring a Widely Propogated Misattribution (2000) by David E. Cortesi
One of the best-known quotes from the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky is “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” But David E. Cortesi argues that although this “sound-bite sentence” has been widely propogated in religious debate, Dostoevsky never in fact wrote it.
According to David E. Cortesi, Fyodor Dostoevsky never used the phrase “If God does not exist, everything is permitted” in his classic novel The Brothers Karamazov (1880). However, the phrase appears word for word in Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 4 of the novel. Various translations into English do differ in minor details, and it is not surprising that the original wording has been lost in double translations, as when Jean-Paul Sartre’s translation from Russian to French is in turn translated from French to English. But contra Cortesi, the phrase is not just a paraphrase of what Dostoevsky’s character Ivan Karamazov says, though the common omission of mention of a future life at least deserves an ellipsis. A more important question is whether either Dostoevsky himself or the Ivan Karamazov character unequivocally endorsed the sentiment that the phrase captures, and here there is abundant evidence from the text that they did not.
Ethical Authority Bases (1997) (Off Site) by David E. Cortesi
“In the end, it is truly pointless to demand that an ethical system be guaranteed externally. If you, personally, do not willingly subscribe to its policies and consciously affirm them, you will not adhere to them when faced with a tough existential choice.”
“In our culture,” Edwords explains, “people are so accustomed to the idea of every law having a lawmaker, every rule having an enforcer, every institution having someone in authority, and so forth, that the thought of something being otherwise has the ring of chaos to it. As a result, when one lives one’s life without reference to some ultimate authority in regard to morals, one’s values and aspirations are thought to be arbitrary…. But all of this is based on certain unchallenged assumptions of the theistic moralist—assumptions that are frequently the product of faulty analogies.”
Augustine argues that the existence of objective moral values is implausible. Response to Schick’s Morality Requires God … or Does It?
In defense of the moral argument, Craig proposes that “if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding. We might act in precisely the same ways that we do in fact act, but in the absence of God, such actions would no longer count as good (or evil), since if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Thus, we cannot truly be good without God . . .”
Vuletic examines and attempts to refute two different moral arguments for the existence of God: the metaphysical moral argument and the epistemological moral argument. (This paper replaces Vuletic’s 1997 paper “Against the Moral Argument.)
Is God Necessary for Morality? (1995) (Off Site) by Ed Buckner
The transcript of the e-mail debate between “Alcuin,” a “channel operator” on the Apologetics and Evangelism section of the Miami Christian University Virtual Library, who is a Christian theist; and two skeptics of theism, John Leckie and his mentor, Dr. Ed Buckner of the Atlanta Freethought Society.
In “Religion and the Queerness of Morality,” philosopher George Mavrodes contends that morality provides good grounds for adopting religious belief because in a world where religion fails, morality is odd or absurd. Since morality is not in fact odd or absurd in the actual world, Mavrodes argues, we do not live in a world where religion fails. In this paper Ryan Stringer examines the claim that in a world where religion fails, morality is odd or absurd, and finds it to be unsubstantiated. Moreover, Mavrodes provides no grounds for thinking that morality is not in fact odd or absurd in the actual world, and it is plausible to think that it actually is.
Why professional ethicists think that morality is not purely ‘subjective.’
Augustine’s response to Theodore Schick, Jr.’s “Is Morality a Matter of Taste?”
Vuletic argues that atheism’s foundation for morality is superior to that of Christianity.
Morality Requires God… or Does It? (1997) (Off Site) by Theodore Schick, Jr.
Fundamentalists correctly perceive that universal moral standards are required for the proper functioning of society. But they erroneously believe that God is the only possible source of such standards. Philosophers as diverse as Plato, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, George Edward Moore, and John Rawls have demonstrated that it is possible to have a universal morality without God. Contrary to what the fundamentalists would have us believe, then, what our society really needs is not more religion but a richer notion of the nature of morality.
In this response to Paul Copan (“Can Michael Martin Be A Moral Realist? Sic et Non,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 45-71) Martin revisits Copan’s defense of the ontological foundation of theistic morality. Martin also addresses the charge that ethical naturalists commit the naturalistic fallacy, delves into the argument from evil, the Euthyphro Dilemma, as well as notions of original sin and intrinsic human worth.
The foundation of the fundamentalist claim that the “Bible is necessary for people to know how to live moral lives,” Till explains, “is of course erroneous. It is even contradicted by the Bible itself.”
Is atheism compatible with objective moral facts? In this paper Richard Schoenig defends a justifiable objective moral code based on seven principles comprising two general prescriptions. Schoenig goes on to argue that this basic ethical rationalism—and by extension, objective morality—does not depend on the existence of any supernatural being and is justified by the fact that all moral agents would have a greater chance of achieving more of their plans of life if they lived in a society that followed ethical rationalism rather than one that followed any other moral code. Consequently, the moral argument for theism from ethical objectivity is shown to be unsound, for it depends on the false premise that the only way to account for ethical objectivity is to posit the existence of a supernatural being who grounds it.
Objective Morality Based on Scientific and Rational Reasoning (Off Site) [ Index ] by Eugene Khutoryansky
Khutoryansky argues for the “existence of an objective morality based entirely on rational and scientific reasoning,” i.e., that certain actions are inherently right or wrong regardless of what any society—or religion—thinks about them.
In his reply to Khutoryansky’s Objective Morality, Dr. Berggren argues against the existence of objective moral values. Along the way, he states an interesting “Moral Knowledge Argument for Atheism”.
In this hard-hitting article, Grünbaum critically evaluates the persistent claim that theism can help solve moral crises while secularism only exacerbates them. More specifically, Grünbaum considers two theistic claims: (1) theism is normatively indispensible for the acceptability of moral imperatives; and (2) theistic belief is motivationally necessary, as a matter of psychological fact, to assure such adherence to moral standards as there is in society at large.
It has become something of a leitmotif among evangelical apologetes to argue that morality can have no objective foundation if there is no God. Such is the argument of Arnhart’s book Darwinian Natural Right, which Fales carefully reviews.
In his typical accessible style, Alan Dershowitz tackles some of the most central ethical questions in Rights From Wrongs. Do we discover rights derived from either God or Nature, and if not, on what basis do we invent them? Should we pretend that there is a perfect and absolute source of rights even if we know that there is no such beast, lest everything be permitted? Arguing that such “fraud” would only invite more mischief, Dershowitz develops a secular theory of rights that he intends to ground, among other things, the free marketplace of ideas. But while appreciating the merits of Dershowitz’s attempt to derive rights from agreed-upon wrongs, Krause is skeptical of the capacity of the general public to come to any sort of reasoned agreement about what sorts of actions are morally wrong.
Robbins refutes J.P. Moreland’s claim that, so far as the meaning of life is concerned, the best way to live one’s life is in terms of Christian theism.
A summary of the 2001 debate between Paul Kurtz and William Lane Craig on ethics without God.
Jeffery Jay Lowder maintains this page.