Friday, 12 October 2007

The Crutch of God.

I am going to argue here that theistic morality creates moral cripples, who, mistakenly, think they cannot be moral without the crutch of god.

I have been thinking about morality - codes of conduct and ethics - the study of such codes of conduct. My conclusions, which I will share over the next few days, alter nothing about the basic premise of this blog - one standard for all - in the public space. I have added to the strap line a phrase I have had for a long time, "Do not sacrifice truth on the altar of comfort" and will expand on this in future posts. But first things first.

A basic challenge - a poor and, indeed, morally questionable one, as we shall eventually see - is how can someone who is a naturalist, like myself, be moral? That is a naturalist holds that gods are most likely a fiction but, it is thought by theists, that without god, there can be no morality. I will analyse this specific myth, as indeed it is, over the next few posts.

As a first step I will say that naturalists have a wealth of moral theories, and whilst they all have some problems, these are far less than those contained in theistic moral theories such as Divine Command Theory. There probably is no moral theory that is free from problems but that does not mean they are all equal.

Now I think, whilst it is important that one is clear and has thought about morality, that the demand that one can or everyone should study moral theory, that is moral philosophy, is an unrealisable and infeasible demand. Most everyone uses computers nowadays - certainly the readers of this blog - yet very few know the wealth of theories required to bring these about. Not even monitor engineers need be familiar with Maxwell's electromagnetic equations in order to fix a broken monitor. Similarly we do not need to be moral theory experts in order to be moral - whatever that means. Still what does it mean?

In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a more reliable source I might add, when given the choice, than wikipedia, is a section on the definition of morality. It is worth a read but there is a key point from its conclusion I wish to share here. It argues that the different moral approaches all attempt to explain the same phenomena, the various theories differing on how this phenomena comes about. It then goes on to explain what this phenomena is, namely a definition of morality.
The following definition of morality incorporates all of the essential features of morality as a guide to behavior that all rational persons would put forward for governing the behavior of all moral agents. Morality is an informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, and has the lessening of evil or harm as its goal.
I am not saying that this is the best or only definition of morality, but the real point of that article is how the different theories all lead to a similar definition of morality. And it is sufficient, at least initially, for our purposes here. (I would qualify this by saying that it applies to all persons, whether rational or not, but more on that another time).

And now to the argument proper. First of all, a belief or, lack of belief, in god, is a morally empty or neutral belief. I will say that again and differently, in and of itself god beliefs say nothing about morality. It is what other beliefs are associated with such a belief that could contain a moral view. But there is no necessary connection. That is there is nothing in a god belief itself (or lack of one), that entails any moral view. There simply is no rational nor empirical basis to claim otherwise. Having laboured this point, this for sure will fall on deaf ears to such believers. How to deal with that we will start to examine now, this post being the first small step.

Now from the perspective of ethics itself, there is no grouping of theories into, say, theistic and atheistic morality. The most common theistic theory Divine Command Theory, which is really a group of theories, is just one amongst many. However in the public sphere this grouping was or is held or is becoming important again - unfortunately. Now I had thought about grouping them as just 'morality versus theistic morality' or 'secular morality versus theistic morality' but I am advocating here talking about 'atheistic morality versus theistic morality'. Given what I emphasised in the previous paragraph why would I want to do this? Well there are two key points, these being that the contrast is with theistic rather than religious morality, that is I want to emphasize the atheistic/theistic dimension in worldviews. The other point being I want to reserve secular for the idea of state neutrality, equality, justice and fairness and freedom of and from belief and so not make it an apparent moral imposition on other moralities. A significant point of secularism is it is morally neutral and this is one of its positive features. (Again more on the public sphere and public morality later). Still why emphasize this when this dimension is morally neutral?

Well there is an important difference between the two. We know that there is no necessary connection between god beliefs and morality. However theistic morality makes god belief a constitutive and critically dependent, indeed the fundamental, component of such a morality. That I take it is the definition of theistic morality I am arguing against here. Atheistic morality has no such feature, by this I mean not that it lacks a god belief but that it has no such equivalent critical dependency. Indeed should one add, for whatever reason, just a belief in god, given that such a belief is morally neutral than one's moral views need not be altered one iota. This makes, without expanding one's particular morality, as I have avoided in this post, atheistic morality in principle (if not in fact but that is another issue depending on one's particular morality) superior to theistic morality. To repeat, when considered on this dimension and this dimension alone, atheistic morality is superior to theistic morality. That is when talking on this dimension there simply is nothing else that could be considered such as the actual moral content, as whatever it is, it is a different, although obviously related topic.

This leads to my fundamental step in my argument here. A theistic morality has a fragility and instability that is non-existent in atheistic morality. Such that should one cease to believe in god then one's whole moral view collapses like a pack of cards. The fact that most theists with such a morality will have great difficulty even comprehending this argument is what actually proves the thesis here - that theistic morality creates moral cripples. These moral cripples rely on the crutch of god, and to take or, threaten to take, the crutch away and they think or fear that they will fall over and indeed might do so.

To conclude, the above paragraph, at least partly, explains why one often is asked, by a theist who discovers that you have lack a belief in god,"how can you be moral without god?". The mere fact that here is someone - you - who until that point appeared a decent person (presumably), but lacks a belief in god now becomes an immediate threat, one who threatens to take away their crutch by your mere presence there and then and, since they cannot comprehend how to be moral without this crutch - which is their moral failing not yours - they challenge you as to how you can walk freely without a crutch. The answer is more easily than with a crutch, although still not without dangers of course. What I would now say, expecting fireworks, but have yet to test is "I don't need the crutch of god to be moral, why do you need such a crutch?" with the thesis that atheistic morality is superior to theistic morality as argued here as my context. I will report back when this occurs.