Morality

It is pretty hard to defend absolute morals on grounds other than religious ones.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam Press, 2006), p.232

 

The Fact of Evil: Are some things just plain wrong?

I’m sure you will agree with me that the holocaust was absolutely wrong. Those faded black and white images of men, women and children arriving at Nazi death camps document the sickening evil that took place. It was not wrong because we think it was wrong but because it was and is and always will be objectively wrong. Even if everyone thought it was a good thing it would still be a bad thing. Those fighting against slavery and the holocaust were not being immoral in acting against the majority. Moral absolutes, therefore, exist.

Today the news is full of people doing unspeakable things to the innocent and vulnerable among us. While some things are simply cultural or personal opinions, others continue to press home the tangible reality of good and evil. As surely as we feel the ground beneath our feet we know that certain acts are just plain wrong. What’s more our conscience sometimes informs us that we too, have crossed the line and done something thing that is wrong.

Knowing this, we look around for the foundation of objective morality. Some argue that treating others as we would want to be treated ourselves helps propagate our genes and therefore grounds morality. It seems though that we have multiplied rather well by breaking this “golden rule” throughout our history, but even if it was generally helpful to us as a species, why should an individual be bound by it? Furthermore, is there anything special about our ethics compared to that of a chimpanzee or praying mantis? It seems to me that the weak and vulnerable have good grounds for fearing a morality based on survival of the fittest.

For me therefore, objective morality is another piece of the God puzzle and points to a being who is completely and perfectly good and just. Why a being? Well, because, inanimate objects aren’t good or bad. Why perfectly good? Because it would be itself the definition of goodness and there would exist no external standard by which to measure any deviation from it’s own perfection. Being good, this being would one day see justice done. You can’t escape objective morality. The Bible describes a God who fits this description well. Jesus is good and will one day judge each person according to what they have done.

What do you think?

  • Are right and wrong just cultural or personal preferences?
  • Why should everyone live by the golden rule?
  • Is there ultimate justice or can people get away with doing wrong?
  • Have you done anything objectively wrong yourself?

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Other quotes

  •  “No right, no wrong, no rules, I’m free” Elsa from the film Frozen
  • Dennis Prager’s says “unless there is a God, all morality is just opinion and belief”. The scarily cleaver Cosmic Atheist replies, “Um, Yeh, Yeh, you pretty much got it there”.
  • Dennis Prager says that “In the 20th Century millions of people in communist societies and under Nazism, killed about 100 million people.  And that doesn’t count a single soldier killed in war.” Cosmic Atheist replies “yeh, ok, I’m not comfortable with the idea that Stalin’s regime was only subjectively wrong, But just because we are uncomfortable with something does not mean that it is not true. This is why I am not comfortable with the moral argument presented in this form. People say ‘there has to be a God because if not these people did nothing objectively wrong.’ Well, yes, sorry, No they didn’t. We have to be adults about this… and of course I personally condemn Stalin”. me – This view is gaining traction in society. I have personally talked to some really nice people who believe this. ie That Hitler just had a different opinion. That good and evil are in the same category as your taste in music or food. Just personal preferences.  Mercifully, at the moment most people with this view would condemn Hitler and Stalin and would never murder or steel, but what does ‘condemn’ really mean? ‘Strongly dislike’? ‘Revolted by’? I am reminded of Ravi Zacharis’ quip on the debate between  Frederick Copleston and Betrand Russell: “in some cultures they love their neighbours; in other cultures they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Do you have any preference?” On this basis punishment is just one group using force to get their way. Justice is no more than the powerful hurting the weak. People are punished for opinions. I get the Cosmic Atheist’s argument that just because we are not comfortable with something does not mean it’s wrong. I am not comfortable with a lot of things I read in the bible. But it does mean we need a really good reason, a more weighty one, to override our strongly felt instinct on the matter. Just like our instinct that there is really matter and energy out there. A real world, not just an illusion.
  • “Any argument for moral scepticism will be based upon premises which are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values themselves” Louis Antony (in Debate with William Craig
  • “I set out to prove that my atheist position was correct”….“All of us as human beings have a sense that some things are right and some things are wrong. What a curious thing” Francis Collins (here)

 

Picture Credit: The scales of justice, License: Creative Commons, Source: Flickr, Author: James Cridland. . Modification: Cropped. Link:

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