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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Wed. 07/30/08 08:10:23 PM

Atheist Morality?

John C. Wright, atheist-turned-Catholic sci-fi writer, fairly eviscerates an atheist's "argument" for morality-without-God:

In the essay below, the writer, Mr. Zindler, intends to show, not that religion theoretically is unnecessary for the support of a moral code, but that religious sentiment plays no role at all whatsoever in the formation of a moral code, which he credits entirely to instincts formed by natural selection.
It is a remarkably poor piece of reasoning, as it never overcomes these basic objections
(1) The argument indulges in the naturalistic fallacy. Merely because it happens to be a scientific fact that human beings have such-and-such an instinct or such-and-such a behavior, this creates no necessary moral obligation, in itself, to follow rather than fight that instinct. You cannot deduce an "ought" from an "is".
More to the point, even if altruistic behavior is favored by natural selection in the general case, no logical reason or pragmatic motive exists to justify acts of exceptional altruism that are called for in exceptional cases.
(2) It is a matter of common experience that there are simply opportunities to commit acts of evil that will not be detected nor punished by any human agency. Indeed, history frequently records cases where standing for the right results in painful death, whereas collaborating with the wrong will be rewarded, sometimes lavishly. There are evil men who die happily in bed.
Now, the Christians suppose there is a supernatural judge of human acts, who cannot be evaded or deceived. Whatever more abstract reasons one might have for being moral, or whatever one’s sense of personal honor, it is nonetheless true that the presence of an omnipotent and omniscient creature of perfect justice lends a powerful personal interest to resisting the temptation to commit undetectable and unpunishable crimes.
Removing fear of supernatural justice removes that powerful personal interest. Removing that powerful personal interest, we are left with a situation where only an abstract philosophical commitment or sense of personal honor prohibits a man from committing undiscoverable and unpunishable crimes.
In a purely naturalistic world-view, what is the foundation, if any, for an abstract philosophical commitment to morality or a sense of personal honor? This is the core of the argument: it is never addressed.
(3) If there is no foundation for an abstract philosophical commitment to morality or a sense of personal honor in a purely natural world view, then a purely naturalistic world view offers a pragmatic argument, based on self-interest, to be moral and just: hedonism or utilitarianism. This pragmatic argument cannot deal and does not deal with two exceptional cases. (a) Why avoid committing a crime that is undetectable and unpunishable, if, as a practical matter, the rewards outweigh the risks? (b) Contrariwise, why praise acts of self-sacrifice and heroism when, as a practical matter, self-sacrifice runs contrary to all pragmatic self-interest? The arguments never answers, or even addresses, this question.
The argument is so full of errors of fact and omissions of logic, almost one per line, that the only efficient way to rebut it, is to repeat the entire piece, and comment on each error or omission....

It's a treat!

(Thanks, Mark.)

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Wed. 07/30/08 08:10:23 PM
Categorized as Religious & Social/Cultural.


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