How Do We Explain Morality?

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by Randy Alcorn

Many years ago I took a sequence of college philosophy classes from a likeable atheist. I found the ethics course most interesting. Every time it came to the question of why the professor believed something to be right or wrong, he could say only that it “seemed” to him to be best, it “seemed” to him to help the most people. In other words, it always boiled down to his personal preference. Thirty of us sat in that ethics class, all with our own personal preferences, many fluxing with the current of popular culture…

Choosing moral behaviors because they make you feel happy can make sense, in a Bertrand Russell/Sam Harris sort of way, but what if it makes you feel happy to torture animals or kill Jews or steal from your employer?

“You misunderstand,” someone says. “We atheists do not base our morality on personal preferences, but on the judgments of society as a whole, on what benefits the most people.” But how does this help the argument? What if in our class of thirty students, sixteen of us really wanted to kill the professor? Would that be good? Or what if the majority of an entire nation thought it best to liquidate one portion of that population—would that be good?…

Nor does it help to claim the authority of some group of “elites” who supposedly have a finer moral sense. History teaches us that elite groups tend to call good whatever it is they’re inclined to do.

If there is no God who created us for an eternal purpose, and no God who will judge us; if there is no God who has revealed his standards and no God who informs our consciences—then surely any morality we forge on our own will ultimately amount to a mirror image of our own subjective opinions that will change with the times.

To say that the Holocaust or child abuse is wrong is a moral judgment. But such a judgment has no meaning without a standard to measure it against. Why are the Holocaust and child abuse wrong? Because they involve suffering? Because other people have said they are wrong? Feeling it or saying it doesn’t make it so…

We have only one basis for good moral judgments: the existence of objective standards based on unchanging reference points outside ourselves. Personal opinion falls far short.

After all, Nazis and rapists have their opinions too.

To read the entire article go to:
https://www.epm.org/blog/2015/May/25/atheism-morality

How Do We Explain Moral Outrage?

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When we are angry at evil, we are acknowledging that life has purpose. We are recognizing that there is a difference between good and bad. We are affirming that bad should be punished. But what does that mean for my bad actions? And from where did my sense of justice come in the first place? If life is the result of an accident, how can life have a purpose? And if life has no purpose, why am I angry at what I think is unfair?

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My sense of oughtness is an indication that I believe in a standard of life. But what standard, an arbitrary one set by changing cultures driven by natural selection or a transcendent one that never changes even though societies might? Mankind’s sense of justice can point them to the good Judge.

— Michael C Sherrard

Who made up the rules?

c.s._lewis_372x280 copyEveryone has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: ”How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’ — ‘That’s my seat, I was there first’ — ‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’ — ‘Why should you shove in first?’ — ‘Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine’ — ‘Come on, you promised.’ People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.

Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: ‘To hell with your standard.’ Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse…..It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of Fair Play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. And they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

-~C. S. Lewis
Mere Christianity

Opinions, values, and truth

Peter A. HuffThe atheist can appeal to nothing absolute, nothing objectively true for all people, it is just mere opinion enforced by might. The Christian appeals to a standard outside himself/herself in which truth and qualitative values can be made sense of.

–Peter A. Huff

How does an atheist measure evil?

Greg Bahnsen copy 2He wants to know about the problem of evil. My answer to the problem of evil is this: There is no problem of evil in an atheist’s universe because there is no evil in an atheist’s universe. Since there is no God, there is no absolute moral standard, and nothing is wrong. The torture of little children is not wrong in an atheist’s universe. It may be painful, but it is not wrong. It is morally wrong in a theistic universe, and therefore, there is a problem of evil of perhaps the psychological or emotional sort, but philosophically the answer to the problem of evil is you don’t have an absolute standard of good by which to measure evil in an atheist’s universe. You can only have that in a theistic universe, and therefore, the very posing of the problem presupposes my world view, rather than his own. 

–Greg Bahnsen
The Great Debate: Does God Exist?

Loving your neighbors or eating them

In a landmark debate between the agnostic philosopher Bertrand Russell and the Christian philosopher Frederick Copleston, Copleston asked Russell if he believed in good and bad. Russell admitted that he did. Copleston then asked him how he differentiated between the two. Russell said that he differentiated between good and bad in the same way that he distinguished between colors. “But you distinguish between colors by seeing, don’t you? How then, do you judge between good and bad?” “On the basis of feeling, what else?” came Russell’s sharp reply.

Somebody should have told Russell that in some cultures people love their neighbors while in other cultures they eat them–both on the basis of feeling! Did Mr. Russell have a personal preference?

How can we possibly justify differentiating between good and bad merely on the basis of feeling? Whose feeling? Hitler’s or Mother Theresa’s? There must be a transcendent moral law, a standard by which to determine good and bad. Without such a point of reference, the question of evil is no longer coherent.

–Ravi Zacharias
Questioning the Question