An online course looking at arguments in favour of the existence of God

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Week 2 - Background Reading

Materials on the Moral Argument:

The Moral Argument: https://youtu.be/OxiAikEk2vU

Peter S. Williams, 'Faithful Guide To Philosophy 8: Moral Argument'
https://youtu.be/FTTVqS0je3o

Peter S. Williams, 'Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God?'
https://www.bethinking.org/morality/can-moral-objectivism-do-without-god



WEEK 2 THE MORAL ARGUMENT by Simon Tillotson,


Please respond at foot of page or email me direct at simon@teamvicar.org if you wish to discuss this article I have written. This is based on Peter S Williams' book "The Case for God".


Before I begin I want to make the following absolutely clear.
This talk is not saying that Christians are better people than those of other faiths. This is clearly not the case - I have met countless inspiring people of other faiths and of none.
This talk is not saying that Atheists or Agnostics cannot be good people! Far from it! They are often wonderful people and can often put Christians to shame.
This talk is not about people, it is about the concept of morality. What this talk is saying is that morality or "Good and Evil" are concepts that are either a purely human construction, or exist independently of human understanding and definition. I shall explain this further in due course.
I believe that morality exists "out there" - that it is an eternal reality, and that it therefore comes from God. Let me begin:




Swinburne said the following

From "Responsibility and Atonement" by Richard Swinburne 1989

“Our moral beliefs are beliefs that objectively certain things matter, whether or not we admit it… We who believe it wrong to torture children, believe it would still be wrong if we had been brought up to think otherwise. We who believe it is our duty to help the starving, feel the force of a moral obligation from without.”

Williams writes:“I believe that Swinburne’s analysis of objective moral values as facts “which nag at us” and are felt as a “force from without” captures something irreducibly true about goodness. Moral goodness matters. There is an emotional content to our understanding of moral values, both good and bad, but these values cannot be reduced to, or explained away as “nothing but” subjective facts about ourselves or our communities.”
Peter S Williams in a Christian philosopher and apologist. His first book "The Case for God" is now largely out of print but since then he has written many books, many of which have been very well received. See this website for more information http://www.damaris.org/cm/church/peterwilliams

IN OTHER WORDS MORALITY IS “OBJECTIVE” AS OPPOSED TO “SUBJECTIVE”


Objective in this talk means "out there", "existing beyond humanity"
Subjective means "invented or constructed by human beings" "personally defined"

A lot of atheistic philosophers don't like "Objective Morality" because it seems to suggest there might be an "Objective Moral Being or thing" beyond humanity. They like to argue that morality is a human contruction. Here are some examples.

AYER’S EMOTIVISM
A J Ayer says moral utterances merely express the attitude of the speaker and have no objective truth. In other words, morality is just a question of personal opinion according to Ayer.
Williams writes in commenting on Ayer
“Moral utterances have no propositional content, and no truth conditions. On this theory, the utterance “Murder is evil” means something like, “Murder? Yuck!”

STEVENSON’S EMOTIVISM
Charles L Stevenson says there are no external moral values but rather how “facts on the ground” are interpreted. So in a dispute between an employer and employees the issue of objective moral fairness is not an argument you can use as there is nothing called “objective fairness”. Instead….
“Perhaps the parties disagree over how much the cost of living has risen and how much the workers are suffering under the present wage scale. Or perhaps they disagree about the company’s earnings and the extent to which the company could raise wages and still operate at a profit.”
There is no moral standards "above the fray of the argument" on which to base the various truth claims.

Williams writes, in commenting on this, that “Moral judgements are seen, as best, as being the same as our subjective judgements of taste. “Apples are nice” and “Apples are horrible” appear to be contradictory statements. Not so. They are shorthand for, “I like apples” and “I don’t like apples”. They are reports of subjective facts. Similarly, so it is argued “Murder is wrong” and “Murder is right”, appears to be contradictory statements, but this is merely because we misinterpret them as assertions of objective facts when they are reports of subjective facts.”

In other words, if human beings "control" what is moral or not, it all comes down to a matter of opinion. Two different people can have different beliefs about what is right or wrong, and both people are right, or wrong, depending on the third person's point of view.

By the way, if you are thinking "hang on, what about morality set by the largest common denominator, by society"...wait a little please as I will come to that!

TO CONCLUDE OUR LOOK AT "EMOTIVISM"

EMOTIVISM GROUNDS ETHICS IN FEELINGS “Ethical judgements are mere expressions of feelings and there is no way of determining the validity of any ethical system and no sense in asking whether any such system is true.”


The Philosopher R M HARE says people can choose their moral values

BUT WHERE DO THEY GET THE BASIS OF THEIR CHOICE FROM?

A UTILARIAN MIGHT ARGUE HE OR SHE CHOOSES HIS OR HER VALUES ON THE BASIS OF UTILITARIAN VALUES - "the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people"

The problem with this is - how does the Utilitarian arrive at the decision that it is good to help people? By appealling to the OBJECTIVE moral value that it is good for all people to be helped, something that clearly was not in operation for example in Nazi Germany!

Williams writes “They cannot choose to become a utilitarian on the basis of utilitarian principles, because they have not yet adopted utilitarianism! To use utilitarian principles in making a rational choice to adopt utilitarian principles amounts to begging-the-question.”

AND IN REPLY TO R M HARE....

Williams continues: “Hare assumes that people can stand in a sort of moral vacuum while choosing their moral feelings; but if they did this, why would they bother about morality at all? There could be no moral reason for the adoption of any morality if morality must be chosen from within a “morality-free zone.””

Williams in making a valid point - maybe this is why morality in general is less "prevelant" in our society. If people can pick and choose their own morality, having a system of morality loses its potency, as who is really watching and who really cares in such a complex moral web?

ST PAUL SAYS “God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but is woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within humans that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong” (Romans 2, The Message)



ARGUMENTS USED AGAINST MORAL OBJECTIVISM
In other words, arguments used against the idea that Morality comes from God....


ARGUMENT 1 - ALL CULTURES ARE DIFFERENT AND SO SET DIFFERENT MORAL VALUES. THEREFORE MORALITY MUST BE RELATIVE, AND SET BY EACH CULTURE.

The argument firstly says that different cultures have different moral values so it is impossible to have objective morality.




Hunters from the Masaai tribe


However – lots of cultures have similar moral values

CS Lewis wrote “If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike them will be how very like they are to each other and to our own.”

Some practices differ, but there is often a morality underlying it. Even when cultures differ, we nearly always find a "good" moral argument beneath what appears to be a wildly difficult practise for us to cope with. For example, the practise of killing the elderly in one culture was because they did not want them to be in that condition in eternity. It may seem abhorrent, but there was an underlying "morality" to it that we can understand, even if we totally disagree with it.

When we study cultures we discover deep down that all cultures believe in “right” and “wrong” and have a system of morality built into them. This points to the “moral conscience” that is in humanity and that points towards the existence of God.

Of course, there are plenty of examples where cultures differ in their understanding of morality. This first point is only a starting point.....

ARGUMENT 2 - TOLERANCE AND "SUBJECTIVE MORALITY"


This argument says the world would becomes a much more tolerant place if each culture has its own system of morality and we approved of each system equally.
It states that tolerance is more likely when there is a subjective, cultural system of morality rather than a universal objective morality.

However, if tolerance is just a “subjective” ideal then it is not strong, whereas if tolerance is an "objective" (or true for all) moral ideal then it has more power.

MOST PEOPLE THINK "TOLERANCE" IS AN OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUE
- but how can it be if there is no God?
How can objective moral values exist independently of human opinion? If human opinion changes, then people no longer believe in "tolerance" and so tolerance disappears from the radar screen. We see this in some cultures today with the growth of the the far right, especially in Eastern Europe, where tolerance for people of different racial backgrounds is not as common as it is in Western Europe (at least from my limited understanding).

Tolerance is a God given value that exists independently of human contruct, in my view. So is love, compassion, sympathy, respect, forgiveness. These are not just Christian concepts, they are universal concepts which are divine in nature.

Williams writes: “In condemning intolerance, the relativist appeals to an objective, universal moral law by saying that we ought to be tolerant

He continues
“Those who advocate ethical relativism often do so on the grounds that moral relativism promotes tolerance….But this only reintroduces objective moral values, for unless some values are better than others – tolerance better than intolerance…there is no ground for praising these virtues, other than that we approve them.”



MORAL RELATIVISTS CAN BE VERY INTOLERANT
“Moral relativists are very keen to impose their view that no one should be “intolerant” by presuming to question the rights and wrongs of any value of
opinions that differ from their own.”

I studied this at University. Basically the jist is that Moral relativists pretend to be very tolerant, untill they come up against Fundamentalism, when they actually become very critical. Because there is a lot of Fundamentalism around, Moral relativists end up not being very tolerant at all.



Having said that, I totally agree that Christians can be equally intolerant and hold my head in shame when this has been the case!

ARGUMENT 3: EVOLUTION

This argument says that subjective, cultural centred morality has come through evolution, as a natural instinct that we have developed as we have evolved. It is a common belief that morality is necessary for the survival of the species.

Williams disagrees with this: “We don’t experience morality as an instinct, but as an “inner voice” telling us which instinct to follow in which situations. No instinct is always morally right, but the moral law is always right. Therefore morality is not an instinct”.

Also – can we say our society is evolving in a morally positive way? Isn't there a lot of evidence that our society is now going backwards rather than forwards in terms of moral values? I certainly believe so. Also, look how societies change so suddenly from "progressive" societies to "regressive" societies. The Germany of the twenties, contrasted to the Germany of the thirties for example.

Such a view on Evolution is now widely discounted in our Post-Modern society.


AS AN EXTENSION OF THIS
ARGUMENT 4

It fourthly argues that morality has developed in society for the self-interest of society. If morality did not exist, then society would be chaotic, so morality has evolved in the best interests of society.

Williams again disagrees with this
“That self-interest should be the foundation of morality is a contradiction in itself. It reduces and relativises right and wrong to the individual’s pragmatic “useful” or “un-useful”. It bases morality on self-interest, and therefore amounts of saying that “I will adopt the moral point of view except in those cases where it is not in my self-interest so to do.””

If we really believe in Argument 4, which is very common in today's society, then we can believe in morality for as long as it suits us. As such morality again does not exist "independently" or "out there" but is instead "temporary", and a "human made contruct".

Maybe you believe in this - I believe morality has a divine, objective origin.


WE MUST CONCLUDE THAT MORAL RELATIVISM IS NOT THE RIGHT WAY

Moral Relativism is Unliveable

Williams writes: “We cannot believe that Belsen was merely unpleasant to our sensibilities. We surely want to say that such indiscriminate slaughter is wrong in a sense that goes beyond our feelings or the feelings of our culture. As Richard Swinburne says, “One is inclined to say that the man who says there is nothing wrong in Hilter’s exterminating the Jews is saying something false.””


Moral Relativism makes the advocacy of progress in morality impossible
Williams writes: “If there is no such thing as an objectively better society, then any social alteration is mere change and never progress. If you think that a society which outlaws slavery is really and truly better than a society built upon slave labour, then you think that moral values are objective.”


ARGUMENTS FOR MORAL OBJECTIVISM

This is the belieft that moral utterances look like straightforward propositional expressions, and so probably have a truth-value.

1. Moral objectivism explains the sense of duty we associate with morality.
2. Belief that moral values are objective is common to almost all people of every era
3. Moral objectivism makes better sense of our common-sense use of language

I AM ABOUT TO ARGUE THEN THAT THERE ARE SUCH THINGS AS OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES

In other words morality must come from a source outside ourselves, which is God.

BUT WHY BRING GOD INTO IT? Cannot morality just exist objectively without a God?

Williams writes “If there is an objective moral law, telling and obliging us to do good and avoid evil, then there must be a divine “law-giver””

MORALITY ENTAILS PERSONAL OBLIGATION BY ITS VERY NATURE
MORALITY THEREFORE MUST BE TO A PERSON RATHER THAN TO AN IMPERSONAL THING

We need God to help us to be moral and to know that morality is an objective reality and not something we can change to suit ourselves. Have you seen Bruce Almighty?

Williams uses this example
“Since I cannot be morally obligated to something non-personal, I must be obligated to something personal. After all, I cannot break a promise made to a fish-bowl, because one cannot make promises to fish-bowls, only to other personal beings. “Responsibility is personal if there is a person to be responsible to. We are all bound by the “law of gravity” but we are not responsible to it. However, although I can be obligated to other people, an objective moral obligation cannot be grounded in either other people or myself. As Richard Taylor put it, the idea of a moral obligation more important and binding than those imposed upon us by other individual or by the state is only intelligible if we make reference to “some lawmaker higher …than those of the state”. Such obligations “can be understood as those that are imposed by God…But what if this higher-than human lawgiver is no longer taken into account?...the concept of moral obligation is unintelligible apart from the idea of God.”

Therefore objective moral obligation must be grounded in a transcendent personal reality to whom we are objectively obligated. Our obligations to other people must be derivative of our obligation to a transcendent personal reality to whom our primary obligation is owed.

PUT IT ANOTHER WAY - If there are moral values that exist objectively, that we have an obligation to live up to, then if it is just OURSELVES to who set these values, they will change all the time. They no longer are objective moral values.

There is a great deal more in the chapter by Williams but this is at least a help in our thinking!!!

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Introduction to course

Case for God A course looking at arguments in favour of the existence of God. Rev Simon Tillotson in conversation with Assistant Profess...