Sunday, December 09, 2012

Moral facts?

A recent Unbelievable radio show was addressing the question of whether it is possible to be 'Good without God'? Not whether atheists can be moral, but rather whether or not a non-theistic worldview can actually explain the origin of morality.

In other words, it was addressing the moral argument for God again.

The argument goes something like this:
  1. Objective moral facts exist
  2. If there is a God then the origin of such facts is explicable
  3. If there is no God then there is no good explanation for such facts
  4. Therefore there is a God. QED.
The two things that most annoy me about debates on the moral argument for God are:
  • That the conversation almost always stays talking in abstract terms without actually detailing what the moral facts are, or how many moral facts there are, and
  • That the Christian participant in such debates always refuses to discuss the issues around the apparent immoral actions of God in the bible.
I suspect that it is only because of these two factors that theists are generally able to claim victory in debates on this subject, because they simply do not permit the discussion to go onto those grounds where their argument falls apart.

What 'moral facts' are there? Usually the only ones that feature in these debates are variations on the theme of 'torturing children for fun' or coming back to the classic case of the Holocaust. And as everyone knows, it is almost impossible to trump the Nazi card whenever it is pulled in a debate.

These debates usually appear to be won by the Christian because he is generally defending the necessity of the 'God of the philosophers' as the source of morality. The fact that the God of the bible does not appear to be such a God is never discussed in such debates. But why?

If God is the source of morality, is that because he chose to establish the moral facts from a range of options (for example, could he have chosen to make rape permissible?), or are the moral facts simply a reflection of his character? And is God bound by those moral facts?

If it is wrong for a man to kill a child, is it also wrong for God to kill a child? If not, why not? A moral fact cannot be absolute unless it is absolute. If it is wrong to kill a child then it must be wrong for anyone - including God - to kill a child. And yet it is clear from certain passages in the Bible that God has killed children (for example, the first baby of David and Bathsheba) and has commanded others to kill children (various stories during the Joshua era).

If it is wrong for a man to kill a child, but is not wrong for God to kill a child, maybe its because God is on a different 'level' from us. But surely if it is wrong for a man to kill a child then it would still remain wrong for a God to kill his own Son? And yet it is claimed he did just that.

If moral facts do exist, and there is a moral law giver, then it is clear that it is not the God of the Old Testament, and it's fairly clear that its not the Father God of the New Testament either.

The more I think through apologetics arguments, the more I see that the moral argument is probably the strongest argument in the apologist's arsenal. It is not easily refuted. And yet I think that the moral argument for God really should be a stumbling block for Christian apologists, as it should reveal the huge chasm between the moral law giver and the God of the bible. Even if the apologist can prove that there must be a moral law giver (he can't, but even if he could), his opponent should be able to demonstrate that Yahweh is not this God. So which God is the moral law giver?

Coming back to the apologists' favourite moral fact, that 'torturing children for fun' is objectively morally wrong, why should this be? (I'm not saying that its not wrong, I'm just asking why...)

This example is a compound scenario, made of several elements:

Is torture, by itself, morally wrong?
Or is torture only morally wrong when it is inflicted on an innocent?
Or is taking pleasure in the pain of another a vital component here?
Is there any distinction between torture and inflicting pain?

A dentist could derive pleasure from doing a good job of fitting a filling in the decayed tooth of a child. Yet the process could be painful for the child. But nobody says this would be morally wrong. But perform exactly the same procedure on a perfectly healthy tooth and this becomes morally wrong? So the thing that is morally wrong is not the action, it is purely the motive.

Hmmm. Morality is never easy... which makes me wonder if there actually is a set of objective moral facts.

No comments: