Enervating the Normative Force of Morality

Posted: December 15, 2011 in apologetics, atheism, god, justice, philosophy, secularism

Matthew O’Brien, writing for the Witherspoon Institute:

If you are going to make a moral argument, whether in the seminar room or in the public square, people today expect you to avoid invoking God. Atheists and theists alike share this expectation, with atheists eager to show that their moral knowledge and action are uncompromised by disbelief in God’s existence, and theists eager to establish the rational credentials of their moral convictions and protect themselves against charges of fideism. This expectation is unwarranted, however, because God’s existence is directly relevant to moral knowledge and action: If appeals to God get ruled out, either by disbelief in His existence or reluctance to rely upon it, then it isn’t possible to demonstrate that there are moral absolutes. …

It is possible to demonstrate that practices such as lying, killing the innocent, and adultery are generically bad and that everyone should avoid thinking of engaging in them. And it may be that, as Peter Geach has argued, “the rational recognition that a practice is generally undesirable and that it is best for people on the whole not to think of resorting to it is thus in fact a promulgation to a man of the Divine law forbidding the practice.” But if this sort of inference to morality’s divine source gets ruled out or postponed, then I don’t see any other avenue to justifying the exceptionlessness of absolute moral prohibitions. Domesticating God by placing Him in the anthropological category of “religion,” as one good among many, enervates the normative force of morality.

Truman’s goals in ordering the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were noble: to hasten the end of the war and to avoid the terrible casualties that were predicted as the result of an Allied invasion of Japan. The means he chose for the sake of these noble goals included the murder of civilian populations, however, which Tollefsen is right to condemn as unjust. To demonstrate why such injustice must never be considered, even in wartime emergency, requires a philosophical theology of a providential legislating God.

  1. matthew says:

    We talk about God as the standard for morality when my students learn about presuppotional apologetics. He is not only the standard, but also the giver and enforcer

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