Thursday, October 07, 2010

Morality beyond God

Calls for a return to faith assume God is the only moral authority, but sympathy with human need is the bedrock of good behaviour

Mary Warnock, The Guardian, Oct 6, 2010

It is often assumed that religion is the only source of agreed, stable morality. We must therefore either return to literal faith in the existence of God, or we must accept moral “relativism”, which is another word for moral anarchy.

Such assumptions, surprisingly common even among those who practice no religion, are, in my view, mistaken; they rest on a false belief about the actual nature of the moral. But before I argue that case, I’d like to ask what recent calls for a return to faith entail. Suppose for a moment you understood Stephen Hawkings’s argument that it can be shown mathematically that there is no need to suppose a God as creator of universes; and suppose you rejected it, arguing, like creationists now and in the 18th century, that the universe we live in is such that it constitutes proof of a designer, who is God, what else could you infer about this designer?

The answer, surely, is: nothing. We cannot move from believing that God lit the blue touchpaper to assuming that he made man in his own image, or gave him dominion over other animals in the world. We cannot assume that just because a creator must exist, he must also be a loving father, interested in the wellbeing of his children, and aiming for the salvation of their immortal souls, or, on the other hand, a stern judge, condemning the sinful to eternal damnation.

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