Monday, April 20, 2009

Two observations about moral experience

The following is from the combox of Doug Geivett's latest post:
There are varieties of moral arguments for theism. One limitation of the argument presented in the debate is that some naturalists agree that there are objective moral “facts” and claim that these are abstract objects, and that their existence does not depend on God’s existence. These abstracta “govern” human behavior from a transcendent perspective; what it is to do the right thing is not socially determined, purely functional, or evolved through natural selection and social contracts. Now, a naturalist may have difficulty explaining the existence of such abstract entities. But they would’nt be committed to the kind of relativism that Christopher Hitchens is stuck with. Hitchens is in no position to answer Bill Craig’s argument in the way I’ve just described. If he had done so, Craig could simply have quoted from Hitchens’s book, establishing gross inconsistency between two conceptions of morality, one in the book and one during the debate. But Hitchens was vulnerable to the argument because of his fundamentally relativist view of ethics.

I prefer to make two observations about moral experience, either of which provides some evidence for theism. First, it isn’t just that some acts are morally right and others morally wrong, objectively; they are also performed with a sense of responsibility that transcends the value of community or survival. And this sense of responsibility is not caused by abstract moral facts, since abstract objects are causally inert. The existence of moral abstracta may explain what makes an action right or wrong; but their existence won’t explain why moral agents take themselves to be obligated in any deep sense to abide by the dictates of these entities.

Second, it is odd that there should be morally responsible agents in a world that is in no way causally affected by the existence of abstract moral truths or facts. These agents aren’t caused to exist and to be morally responsible agents by abstract objects. So there is this odd coincidence that there is a realm of abstract moral entities and that these apply to creatures such as ourselves, who have come to exist by utterly naturalistic or material processes. (Greg Ganssle has developed this point more fully than I have. See his excellent book Thinking about God: First Steps in Philosophy—IVP 2004.)

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