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← Richard Dawkins - Absolute Morality

sirmailbox's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by sirmailbox

The tendency amongst believers is to demand a sort of mathematical derivation of moral principles. Starting with the notion that the "good" is that which enhances life, and that the "bad" is that which destroys it, is seen as reasonable but still needing further justification. Their entire point is that, no matter how you build up your ethical system, you still have to rely upon axioms whose validity cannot be demonstrated in terms of more basic principles. In the sense that axioms are a sort of free parameter, non-theistic morality is ultimately arbitrary.

The crucial error in this argument lies in the idea that moral statements need to be so rigorously derivable and unambiguous. Of course one can toy with the definitions of evil, harm, or of human beings, or of intention. But this hardly means the castle doesn't have a foundation. Even in the logical systems believers wish their ethics to emulate, choice exists with respect to definitions and axioms. But logic and mathematics are about as rigorous as we can imagine. Demanding that ethical propositions be even more objective than propositions in those fields seems wholly unreasonable and unnecessary.

To see that this is true, ask a Christian about stem cell research, or gun control, or freedom of speech. Unlike adultery, theft and idol worship, these subjects are not specifically addressed in scripture. You might be able to use the Bible to GUIDE your feelings on those subjects, but ultimately you have to look to other sources: reason, precedent, legal and political philosophy, and the other sources Richard mentioned in this clip. The thing to notice here is that, despite not having a direct commandment from God on these issues, Christians still have strong opinions about them. And they are apparently comfortable with that. I think this demonstrates that an ultra-objective, infinitely justifiable chain of proofs is NOT necessary to assert and believe a moral proposition--and that believers know it.

Sat, 01 May 2010 16:20:00 UTC | #464607