Without God, Ought is Naught

Posted: December 26, 2011 in apologetics, atheism, books, justice, philosophy

True atheism is nonsense.  If there is such a thing as beautiful, such a thing as good, or even such a thing as bad, then there is a transcendent standard that determines which is which.  An atheist can say that society prefers mothers to murderers, but he cannot say that this is as it should be.  Tell us what is, by all means.  But without God, you cannot tell us what ought to be.

– N. D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), p. 74.

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Comments
  1. “An atheist can say that society prefers mothers to murderers, but he cannot say that this is as it should be.”

    Yes I can.

    And my reason, because if we were all or mostly murderers our species and society would die off, is significantly better than the religious reason, an old book the we’re convinced was written or inspired by a deity that refuses to show evidence for itself told us so.

    • Matt Tully says:

      But do you see what you just did? You didn’t actually provide moral justification. Rather you simply described what could/would happen: the extinction of our species (though I think this claim is unfounded based in what we see in the animal world).

      To your comment I could respond: why should I care about the continuation of our species? Why is it morally insignificant that two asteroids collide on the far side of Jupiter but morally crucial that our species exist and thrive? In a purely naturalistic universe, what’s the (real) difference? You’ve set up an arbitrary standard without any justification and are now trying to impose your preferences on others (who may or may not agree with you).

      I stand by my post title: without God, ought is naught.

      • “You didn’t actually provide moral justification”

        Neither did you. You just claim that a god exists that provides justification.

        I don’t believe your god exists, so your justification fails unless you can provide evidence for it.

        “why should I care about the continuation of our species”

        Because you’re a member of this species. If you don’t want to continue, throw yourself off a cliff. If you want to harm others, then me and others who don’t want to be harmed (which is the vast majority of us) will stop you.

        “Why is it morally insignificant that two asteroids collide on the far side of Jupiter but morally crucial that our species exist and thrive?”

        Because morality only matters to us.

        “You’ve set up an arbitrary standard”

        Harm hurts. That isn’t arbitrary at all.

      • Matt Tully says:

        I wasn’t attempting to prove the existence of God in my reply. I, like millions of other humans around the world, believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that a transcendent creator exists. Go read The Reason for God by Tim Keller. However, IF a transcendent, creator God does exist, then it makes perfect sense to consider him the absolute standard for all things (including morality). If our very being is contingent upon his being, then he, by definition, “makes the rules.” I may not like that (and rebel against his authority) but, in the end, I’m still accountable to him and him alone.

        My point is that a transcendent, creator God is a much better foundation for claiming an absolute standard for morality than the arbitrary “good” of the continuation of our species. “Good” for who? Us? Why do we matter?

        You’re right that I am free to throw myself off a cliff. But I hope that you realize that in merely saying that the “vast majority” of people will stop me from harming them (correct), you are essentially claiming that right=might. Again, you aren’t actually saying anything about whether or not I should or should not try to hurt others (morality). Rather, you’re simply saying that if I do attempt to harm others, they will seek to stop me. You’re merely describing what will happen, not saying what should happen. Statements of should (or ought) presuppose some standard for morality beyond ourselves (for what makes what you say/want binding on me?).

        Is it immoral for a wolf to attack and kill another wolf? We can say that both wolves want to live. And we can say that the stronger wolf will prevail. But, it would be absurd to introduce the category of “morality” into the discussion.

        Finally, in saying that our continuation as a species is morally significant simply because “morality only matters to us,” you open up pandora’s box regarding the universally normative force of morality. What about people who don’t want the species to continue (they’re out there)? Or what about a society that thinks it’s superior to all other societies and therefore wants to wipe them all out for their own prosperity (ever heard of the Nazis)? Or what if (theoretically) we progress beyond the need for morality (i.e. our technology is so advanced as to negate our specie’s need for the vast majority of mankind)?

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