I have of course been exposed to a lot of apologetic “reasoning” and would like to know what your thoughts are on a moral world without religion. Do you feel morality can’t be derived from secularism? Or is religion the only way? I look forward to your response. What about gap arguments?
Atheists have tried to address one of the most obvious weaknesses of the atheist world view, which in the question of morality. Such attempts have been an abject failure in my opinion. Now, if they are right, and only physical and measurable things are real, then the moral question is a moot point, as, obviously, morality is a meaningless word. The problem for th atheist is that anyone with real world experience knows that a world without morality is problematic, to say the least.
First of all, let me begin by changing the subject. Let me talk about ethics instead. Ethics does not have to do with “right” and “wrong” but better and worse. Ethics is a matter of measuring and evaluating cost and benefit of individual action in the light of group benefit (with the group possibly including ecosystems and nature, etc….). I believe that atheists can and ofter are as good at creating, evaluating and following ethical ways of living as believers. I am talking about committed, “believing” atheists, most of whom pay careful attention to such questions. I am not talking about the practical atheists, a great majority of whom pay little of any attention to ethics. But I digress….
In order to discuss morality in a secular context, let me give a very simple definition of morality (which, obviously, others might not agree with). To me morality has to do with questions of what is right and wrong to do and to not do. Examples of ethical questions would include how to treat criminals or how to approach questions such as the use of genetically modified crops or environmental questions. Examples of moral questions include whether it is right or wrong to have an abortion or to commit suicide or to lie or to have sex with a person you are not in a committed relationship with. There is overlap, of course. Lying is both an ethical and a moral issue. It is obviously unethical to lie (in most cases!) but it is also immoral to lie in a Christian context.
Here is the bottom line; it is quite obvious that from a purely secular/atheist perspective, morality is not definable. Morality has to do with some sort of authority. What is the basis for saying that anything is “right” or “wrong”? Without an authoritative source of moral truth, morality is not real. I have read atheist attempts to define some sort of morality, but in the end, it amounts to creating a definition of the word which is meaningless or is simply ethics dressed up to look like morality. What is the basis for saying that rape is “wrong”? How do we know that genocide is evil? Why is it “wrong” to deny humans their basic rights? The secularist is left with rhetoric or language borrowed from theists. In a purely secular world view, there is no philosophical support for calling any action evil or wrong.
I am not saying that secularists do not have a sense of morality. Of course they do. Of course they have a “conscience”. Of course they have a sense of right and wrong. If you listen to the atheist or the committed secularist, their talk is full of statements about right and wrong. It is wrong for religions to do this and that. It is wrong to destroy the environment or to deny people human rights. They reveal their inconsistent world view all the time, My view of this is that atheists and secularists have hijacked the language and idea of morality from their theistic heritage. Their rejection of slavery, of pride, arrogance, greed and selfishness is a vestige of a world view, most likely Christian, that they have formally rejected. I believe that the secularist should be as afraid as the Buddhist, Muslim or Christian of a world in which the idea of morality has been removed. We have done the experiment. Soviet Russia, Revolutionary France and Red China are experiments in cultures which more formally reject the idea of received morality.
I do not want to be too cynical or unfair with my atheist/secular friends. In the end, the kinds of morality that are created out of the minds (and they are created out of their minds, and not from any sort of moral authority) of secularists such as Dawkins have at least some overlap with Christian morality. Dawkin’s morality rejects some really important areas of right and wrong, such as honoring marriage, human life and rejection of pride and greed, but his morality will have more in common with mine than different. What I can say about that is there is no philosophical basis for such pseudo-morality. It is more opinion than true morality. One secularists has every right to tll another secularist, “It is wrong for you, but not for me”, and who is to judge? However, I am happy if atheists and secularists do manage to follow such philosophically-unsupportable moralities.
As for God-of-the-gaps arguments, I generally reject such arguments. This is why I am generally skeptical of the Intelligent Design movement. These arguments are susceptible to having the gaps filled in. I believe that there are “gaps” that a reasonable person will conclude simply cannot be filled by natural things, but such gap arguments should be embraced with great caution. I am not sure if I understand your point here. Are you thinking that the question of morality is a kind of gap issue? I have a hard time seeing it this way, but perhaps you can explain what you are thinking.
Let’s keep the discussion going.