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4 comments | Friday, November 04, 2005

Previously, in Toothpaste Ethics Part 1 and Part 2, it was shown that moral relativism is bankrupt and incoherent. But what follows from this assessment if one is to concede objective morality? In generally, there are two main types of thinking—(natural and supernatural). The two positions of thought must ask these basic questions.

  1. Do objective moral laws point to a Law Giver?
  2. Or can the basis for morality be sufficiently plausible for the secular?
For Christians, God is the source and ultimate foundation for morality. On the opposing side, the secular view states that objective morality does not require a God and that rational beings can identify the difference between right and wrong. Both religionists and secularists offer a variety of answers to such questions.

The importance of a moral foundation

Concepts of moral obligation (i.e. moral right and wrong) are experienced by all people to greater or lesser degree. Because of the implications that follow, few subjects are of greater importance than morality. Just about every great thinker in history has contemplated the existence of God and the nature of morality. But can someone be good without God? The answer at first seems obvious. It would seem arrogant and ignorant to claim that those who do not share a belief in God do not often live good moral lives--indeed, embarrassingly, lives that sometimes put our own to shame.

First, it is clear that many non-Christians and atheists live good moral lives; that is not under debate. A common slander regarding ultimate morality and religion is when it is stated that religionists assert that you need the bible or other holy book in order to know the difference between right and wrong. This is not the case, and I will not argue this way. In other words, knowledge of moral principals can occur apart from scriptural reference.

Morality is significantly important. For no matter how sincerely one believes what is right and wrong and whether any action is moral or immoral, the true test is the origin of that belief.


Before we can proceed, we should identify objectivity and it’s relation to morality. What do we mean by objective morality? "Objective" morality means that morals are non–conventional. They’re not simply based upon human apprehension, but these are values that hold regardless of whether anybody believes in them or not. Similarly, objective morality is true just like 2+2=4.

If you negate objective morality then you are forced to commit to moral relativism. In this case, there is no “real” morality—just your opinion. Moral relativism was already addressed in toothpaste ethics, so I will not spend a lot of time negating the issue within this post.

The upper hand of Theism

The first thing I want to point out is that if God exists, then the foundations for morality are secure. Following this basis, Supernaturalism provides a sound foundation for morality. Naturalism, on the other hand, does not provide a sound foundation for morality. For one, by abandoning God as the foundation of morality, one will lose all bases for saying that objective right and wrong exists. All attempts to ground objective morality on a non-theistic basis fail. But even so, if there were objective moral values under naturalism (which I don’t see how), they’re irrelevant because there is no ultimate moral accountability.

Cut—Flowers Thesis

Glenn C. Graber referred to in his doctoral dissertation on The Relationship of Morality and Religion as the “cut-flowers thesis”—a notion that explains the effects on morals and ethics when they are separated from their religious moorings based on the existence of the “Supreme Governor”—God.

Discussing the cut-flowers thesis, theistic philosopher David Lipe wrote the following:

[O]n the cut-flowers thesis, those who believe morality is a valuable human institution, and those who wish to avoid moral disaster, will make every effort to preserve its connection with religion and the religious belief which forms its roots. The apologetic force of the cut-flowers thesis becomes even stronger if the religionist makes the additional claim that morality is presently in a withering stage. This claim takes on a sense of urgency when the decline in morality is identified with the muddle in which civilization now finds itself.

In essence, the cut-flowers thesis parallels the decay and withering of flowers cut and separated from their roots, to the decay and withering of morality when it’s cut and separated from “Supreme Governor”.

In Decline of Morality in Our Society, columnist Pete Fisher writes the following:

The Liberal views that took root in the 60’s have begun coming to full fruition. The Sexual Revolution as the Women’s Movement called it took hold. How they ever figured it would benefit women is beyond me, but they pushed it. Then the Gay movements arrived, and took hold in a militant form that has an agenda to have our children taught that their lifestyle is just fine, and should be explored. Reading some of those ads, it also became evident that roots had strongly taken in our society. It is quite evident that having “fun” is more important than traditional; values such as hard work and fidelity.Then the massive thrust of television and theaters that taught these same people that sex, and alternative lifestyles, marital infidelity, and divorce are all to be accepted as normal.

The violence from Hollywood has also inundated the minds of our society, and has taken root as well. And even further, is the Liberal PC movement that takes into regard many of these lifestyles and embraces them as acceptable, all the while bashing Christianity and its value system. We have allowed in this nation to have the Bible, and mention of Christian values taken from society and have allowed all these other immoral and destructive behaviors and lifestyles to become seen as normal.

Fisher expresses the trend of the decay of morality. However, any mediocre reflection can identify this trend. One only needs to flip on the television to see the envelope pushed further each day and recognize the deterioration of moral values. This is exactly what the cut-flowers thesis predicts—the withering of morality and it is seen today.

The corrosion of morals begins in microscopic proportions. The collapse of morality does not happen overnight, but gradually descends into meaningless. If moral standards cannot be measured by a standard beyond ourselves, it will only continue to wither and ultimately erode the very foundation of our lives.

Rationalizing Morality

Many atheists will ground morality on the intellect. The intellect is the exclusive informant of moral guidance. One only needs to reason about morality to determine what is right and wrong. A simple introspection can be sufficient for identifying and directing the moral action of an individual. For example, in The Immorality of Religious Morality John Nelson writes:

Every advancement we have made, and every accouterment we now enjoy has come about through the use of our reason. Faith has never moved a mountain, but human brain power and technology can. We advance through a process of intellectual accretion. Reason is, in fact, the faculty that defines us as being human. To insist that reason is 'limited' and that there are other methods (meaning faith) of acquiring knowledge is to reject the efficacy of reason simply because it does not allow us to treat flights of the imagination as tangible realities. The person advancing such a notion is not a person comfortable with reality and seeks an escape from it. In order to escape the sometimes discomforting facts of reality and contemporary living, such people must circumvent reason and introduce a non-life value in its place

When I say that something is “good”, I don't mean that it promotes life, or pleasure, or anything else. I mean simply that it is good. Goodness is a simple property like “redness” or “real” that we all understand perfectly well; but which cannot be defined on account of its simplicity. Any detailed attempt to define “good” would be incapable of avoiding a non-circular definition, or reasoning.) Goodness is something you can’t see. You can’t put goodness in a test tube and measure it. It’s a property grasped by the conscience, a property similar to logical validity which is invisible yet fully real.

An animal can't discern whether an argument is valid, nor can it determine goodness, because it lacks intellect. We have intellect; hence we are aware of many properties that cannot be seen, heard, smelt, etc. I've never realized that something is evil by staring at it under a microscope, nor have I ever used my sense of taste to determine what is evil. (Though I might use by intellect to realize that poison is evil, and use my taste to discover the something is poisoned). Any rational person can determine what is right and what is wrong. This is the point in which many get confused. Using the intellect, we assume that that it is the exclusive informant between right and wrong and the intellect, or reason is the ultimate informant of morality, but this is false.

Conscious and Intellect

Implications of moral obligation have their roots in the conscience. The conscience is what exposes right and wrong to a person. The word “conscience” derives from Middle English, from Old French, and from the Latin conscientia. It refers to the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. Secondly, it is the faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts. It is the mind’s reflexive act upon knowledge to the good of the self. If that is a little technical, then may we say that the conscience is the little voice God has given us in our heart (or head) to determine, based on what we know or have studied about he facts of a given situation, what is right and what is wrong.

However, the conscience does interact with the intellect; which allows the intellect to inform our actions. In other words, the intellect is educated of right and wrong by the conscience. During the process of education, however, the intellect has the ability to distort or confuse the message of the conscience. This explains the wide disarray of values and moral principles.

The Apostle Paul also makes this distinction in Romans 2: 14-15

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;
We experience the correlation between conscience and intellect frequently. Were constantly fighting our conscience and often submitting to temptation. For example, when one is doing their annual taxes, they might “conveniently forget” to disclose some miscellaneous income. The conscious informs the person that what their doing is wrong and deceiving. However, the intellect can rationalize the actions that were taken. One might be persuaded to think that the government already takes too much from their income, or that the money will be better off donated to a charitable organization. In other words, the conveyance of wrong by the conscience can be rationalized away.

Also, the desire for self-preservation is greater than the desire to help. However, the conscience has the ability to overpower the desire for self preservation to help another in an “ought” situation. This completely negates the supposition of the basis of ethics as causality. Which states, in essence, everything has consequences, and so do actions; actions have consequences, and our role is to find those consequences and act accordingly. This completely fails to account for “ought’s” that have harmful or detrimental causalities.

Your conscience is the voice of authority for morality.

Moral Grounding

There have been various attempts by secularists to try to ground objective morality without God. Such as previously mentioned cognitive morality though reason. Also, there are social cognition and development theories, Marxist conceptions, Utilitarianism, social contract, consequential theories and so on. However, none of these theories are adequate to ground morality; all fail.

Previously, I stated that a supernatural God can account for objective moral values. Naturalism, on the other hand, cannot ground morality to anything objective. Another observation that should be taken note of is ultimate accountability. If there is no God, then there is no ultimate accountability. How can it make a difference what kind of person you are—whether or not there’s moral accountability? The point is: it doesn’t make any difference what kind of person you are on the naturalistic view. Our end is all the same, and you ultimately do not contribute to the good of the universe or the ultimate betterment of moral value because there simply is no moral value.

On this basis, objective moral values cannot exist because the secularist cannot provide ultimate accountability. Moreover, atheism cannot provide an ontological foundation for morality because a theistic ontological foundation for morality is necessary.

In addition to morality, atheism cannot account for many things. What is love on a naturalistic view? It’s a chemical reaction in the brain, an electro–chemical impulse, and hormones traveling through bodies. For the atheist, love is removed of any sort of moral or ethical significance. Atheists have no basis for affirming that things are really right or wrong, if God does not exist.

It’s difficult to convince atheists that all things are permitted once you get rid of God. You cannot say, for example, that infanticide is simply wrong. You can only say that it is wrong for us, but it was all right for the Greeks. But you cannot affirm, on his view, that it is simply wrong. If it is, on what basis?

In order to be morally good, in order for us to have objective right and wrong, real values, which we all affirm, need to have a supernatural foundation. If God does not exist, then morality is only a human convention and is ultimately meaningless. God is the only universal and absolute origin to all morality
Evidently, naturalism just doesn’t do the trick. We must have a supernatural basis to provide an objective foundation for our moral lives, for the values that we all hold dear and firm and intuitively sense, and we need God to provide moral accountability for our lives, so that our moral choices become significant and acts of self–sacrifice are not robbed of meaning and become just empty gestures.

In the begging of this post I asked can someone be good without God. The answer is no; because without God, there is no good or evil. Without God, there is only opinion and ultimately—only demise.

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Blogger Steve said...

Atheistic morality comes from a respect for fellow human beings. No love is lost in atheism, simply because there is no God involved.

11/04/2005 11:53 AM

Blogger Beowulf said...

If you read the post carefully, you will see that I did not argue that “love is lost” in atheism. My argument is that atheism has no grounds to assert for morality (or love). Also, why should anyone respect human beings? On what grounds? Christianity has the best explanation for respecting human beings and life.

11/04/2005 12:24 PM

Blogger Andrew C. said...

Brain Fry, although you did not say that "love is lost" in atheism, I think he's referring to when you said that atheism doesn't give a good account of love any further than chemical reactions and hormones.

Anyway, awesome post! Was this a term paper by any chance?

11/04/2005 2:14 PM

Blogger Beowulf said...

This was my point. Objective moral values exits; even in the atheist’s world. However, the only sufficing explanation for this phenomenon is God. It wasn’t a term paper but it should be. I was just trying to sharpen my understanding on this subject.

11/04/2005 3:21 PM


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