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Morality Possible Without God? Some Muddled, Incomplete Thoughts(re-dated)
December 2, 2008, 8:27 am
Filed under: Atheism, Christian Doctrine, Philosophy | Tags: ,

(I’m talking about morality itself, not the possibility of moral behavior from those who don’t admit God.)

Consider America’s invasion of Iraq. Here are some of its properties:

Combat began in March of 2003.
The chief architect of the battle plan was General so-and-so.
Such-and-such number of troops were involved.
Such-and-such number of civilians were killed.
It was (or wasn’t) launched under false pretenses by Bush administration.
It was (or wasn’t) officially sanctioned by the UN Security council according to resolution such-and-such.

We could continue to list very very many properties of this invasion. Each of these would constitute a fact. For a thing having a property constitutes a fact. And so there are facts about the invasion.

But are there moral properties? Moral facts?

If the invasion was wrong, that would be a moral fact.
If the invasion was right, that would be a moral fact.

So long as you believe in either of these, or in something in-between perhaps, then you believe in at least one moral fact–this one.

Now there’s no doubt that, whatever your particular belief is here, it will be based upon some other beliefs. You don’t immediately intuit that the invasion was wrong. You believe it was wrong based upon other beliefs you have about it. (That America knew full well that such-and-such number of innocent civilians would be killed.)  But somewhere down the line, your belief in the rightness or wrongness of the invasion will depend on some moral beliefs not inferred from any other beliefs. They have to be moral beliefs because evidently you can’t infer a moral conclusion from premises which are entirely non-moral. Some sort of moral belief, whether implicit or explicit, must be lurking in the background.

As I see it, we arrive at these basic moral beliefs by intuition. I realize that intuition is not in good standing with most philosophers these days. But who cares, right? Most philosophers can be mistaken, right? Well I think they are mistaken.

Suppose we know that the invasion was wrong, based upon our knowledge of particular facts about it together with our basic moral knowledge. What does God have to do with this?

There are at least two ways to proceed.

(1) Say that, given all this, we need one more thing added on top for morality: God.

OR

(2) Say that we couldn’t possibly be given all this unless the world we live in is God’s world.

Each maintains that God is necessary for morality. But there are important differences.

If we take the 1st path, then we are forced to admit that, even given all the non-moral facts we know about burning babies alive, and even given our moral knowledge, if we didn’t also add God on top of it all, then burning babies alive wouldn’t be wrong. Evidently this is false. It would be wrong, and we’d know it was wrong. The key thing to notice is that this doesn’t force us to admit that God isn’t necessary for morality. Instead, we can opt for the 2nd path. (Still, you might think that being moral is useless since, if God doesn’t exist, there will be no final cosmic justice and therefore little point in being moral so long as it doesn’t directly serve our needs. But I take it that this is slightly different matter than the one at hand.)

If we take 2nd path then, since it is evident that we are indeed given all this, therefore we can be sure we live in God’s world. (Though if God doesn’t exist, then according to the 2nd path what seems to be given isn’t given. According to the 1st path, all this is given but its not enough. See the difference?)
Now you might say, in defense of the 1st path, that we couldn’t have moral knowledge, or maybe even any knowledge, unless God exists. Or maybe that moral facts couldn’t possibly obtain unless God exists. But to argue in this way is to opt for the second path. Again, we must not confuse God’s being necessary for morality with the 1st path.

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