Teaching: November 2006 Archives

This is the the twenty-fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why some people think theism serves as the best non-naturalistic foundation for ethics. This post now looks at an objection to seeing God as the basis of morality.

In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, he has the character of Socrates raise an objection to the idea that morality has something to do with the gods. If something is good just because the gods view it as good, the gods could command anything, and it would automatically be right. You don't have to be a polytheist for that consequence. How could God's mere choice be the basis of morality? Are good things good because God says they're good, or does God just declare them good based on seeing their goodness? If they are already good, then doesn't that mean God's choice didn't make them good?

This is the the twenty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why naturalistic foundations of ethics seem unsatisfying to many people. In this post we'll now turn to what non-naturalistic accounts of ethics can do and why some take theism to be the best account of the foundations of morality.

How does this become an argument for God? What can someone say about morality if moral truths go beyond the natural world? It doesn't immediate show that theism is true. A few possible accounts of morality remain:

A) Moral truths are beyond nature but have no explanation.
B) Moral truths are beyond nature but necessary. Their explanation lies within themselves.
C) God's nature explains moral truths.

Moral truths have no explanation:

The first view is that moral truths go beyond the natural order. Science can't tell us anything about them. However, this view doesn't have anything additional beyond nature to ground these truths. They're true on their own as abstract principles, part of the very fabric of the universe, but there isn't anything that makes them true. They're just true, although they didn't have to be true. Some see this view as having an advantage over theism because it's simpler and admits to fewer entities.

This is the the twenty-third post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished discussing the design arguments for the existence of God, and this post begins looking at moral arguments for God's existence.

[Note: These posts on the moral argument are derived in part from discussions in Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God and C. Stephen Evans, "Moral Arguments" in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro.]

According to naturalism, the natural world is all there is. There are subatomic particles, waves, fields, etc. There's no room for God, souls, magical forces, angels, demons, a world-spirit that orders all creation, or anything like that. The natural world known to us through physics (and disciplines building on physics, e.g. chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, history, etc.) is all there is, and we shouldn't postulate the existence of anything else.

How can a naturalist account for morality? Consider what you learn from science. You won't find moral truths. It's not as if there are moral facts out there in the physical world together with facts about brain chemistry or nuclear physics. It's hard to find a place to fit morality in. Many theists think an account of morality that seeks to rely only on the natural world will be inadequate, superficial, or illusory. The deep kind of morality most of us believe in requires denying naturalism in some way.

Consider some particular naturalistic accounts of morality.

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