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Good Minus God


GeorgeW
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The author of this essay, a Philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts, examines the basis of morality and argues that it is independent of God and exists whether God exists or not.

 

If interested, the link is here:

http://opinionator.b...morality&st=cse

 

She says, “We “moralistic atheists” do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket. Rather, we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.”

 

She contrasts what she calls the DCT (Divine Command Theory) with the DIT (Divine Independence Theory). DCT views what is morally good is so simply because it was commanded by God. DIT proposes that moral goodness is a feature that is independent of God willing it.

 

Although she argues morality from an atheistic point of view, it is my impression is that her argument for DIT would not preclude one also believing in God in a theistic sense.

 

What sayeth PCs?

 

George

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Hi George,

 

I think it can only be valid to suppose that morality can exist without God. However, depending on one's metaphysical understanding of reality, it can be quite difficult to establish moral categories as themselves valid. Such categories can easily break under stress of a nihilistic worldview (and many more atheists are nihilists by definition than by self-recognition).

 

You quoted the author here:

 

We “moralistic atheists” do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket. Rather, we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.

 

She also writes:

 

Accordingly, many theists, like many atheists, believe that moral value is inherent in morally valuable things. Things don’t become morally valuable because God prefers them; God prefers them because they are morally valuable.

 

First off, this was an excellent essay. I like that she endeavors not to redefine morality, but maintain it as a category in its own right, irreducible to mere amoral components. Too often we find atheists affirming morality, only to find that what they really mean by "morality" is a collection of behaviors and norms of social animals. This to me is nothing other than sleight of hand.

 

By arguing that moral categories represent something "immanent in the natural world" and that "moral value is inherent in morally valuable things", the writer seems to hint at an ontology that reaches beyond mere materialism. Of course, I don't know whether she would agree with that; I would have been happier had she made her ontology more explicit. I felt her statement that morality "[arises] from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings" a bit lacking in force; I would look more deeply and say that morality arises from the ontologically subjective. This, to me, is where meaning and morality spring forth, and a moral God would have to be in recognition of this source.

 

One thought experiment, however. If God is seen as Universal Subjectivity, then God is herself the very source and content of meaning and morality, and the Euthyphro dilemma need not apply.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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George,

 

Personally i think morality is morality and God is God; While people may choose to connect or not connect the two it seems to me that basic morality can be rationally defined, justified and accurately conceptualized with a high level of mutual agreement regardless of religious belief while God cannot..What i am saying is the connection to me seems man-made and not necessary for a moral society to exist. Does this exclude the existence of God? I would say, not in any way, because in my view that would display a very limited view of God, creation and reality.That to me, would be seeking to define a limitless and unsearchable God by mans concept of right, wrong, and morality in general and attempting to apply it to God with a lack of true relationship knowledge on who or what God is..

 

Joseph

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The author of this essay, a Philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts, examines the basis of morality and argues that it is independent of God and exists whether God exists or not.

 

If interested, the link is here:

http://opinionator.b...morality&st=cse

 

She says, “We “moralistic atheists” do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket. Rather, we find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and to respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others.”

 

She contrasts what she calls the DCT (Divine Command Theory) with the DIT (Divine Independence Theory). DCT views what is morally good is so simply because it was commanded by God. DIT proposes that moral goodness is a feature that is independent of God willing it.

 

Although she argues morality from an atheistic point of view, it is my impression is that her argument for DIT would not preclude one also believing in God in a theistic sense.

 

What sayeth PCs?

 

George

 

Well, she says exactly that in the article:

 

This view of the basis of morality is hardly incompatible with religious belief. Indeed, anyone who believes that God made human beings in His image believes something like this — that there is a moral dimension of things, and that it is in our ability to apprehend it that we resemble the divine. Accordingly, many theists, like many atheists, believe that moral value is inherent in morally valuable things. Things don’t become morally valuable because God prefers them; God prefers them because they are morally valuable. At least this is what I was taught as a girl, growing up Catholic: that we could see that God was good because of the things He commands us to do. If helping the poor were not a good thing on its own, it wouldn’t be much to God’s credit that He makes charity a duty.

 

I thought her article was one of the most reasoned and thoughtful expositions on atheism I've read in quite some time.

 

As a non-theist myself, I quite agree with her conclusions.

 

NORM

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First off, this was an excellent essay. I like that she endeavors not to redefine morality, but maintain it as a category in its own right, irreducible to mere amoral components. Too often we find atheists affirming morality, only to find that what they really mean by "morality" is a collection of behaviors and norms of social animals. This to me is nothing other than sleight of hand.

 

By arguing that moral categories represent something "immanent in the natural world" and that "moral value is inherent in morally valuable things", the writer seems to hint at an ontology that reaches beyond mere materialism. Of course, I don't know whether she would agree with that; I would have been happier had she made her ontology more explicit. I felt her statement that morality "[arises] from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings" a bit lacking in force; I would look more deeply and say that morality arises from the ontologically subjective. This, to me, is where meaning and morality spring forth, and a moral God would have to be in recognition of this source.

MIke,

 

Obviously, there is much more that can be said about morality than this one essay could possibly contain. But, I too would have liked her to be more explicit as to the basis of moral good if it is not divinely ordained. Just immanent? The result of sentience and vulnerability?

 

George

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Obviously, there is much more that can be said about morality than this one essay could possibly contain. But, I too would have liked her to be more explicit as to the basis of moral good if it is not divinely ordained. Just immanent? The result of sentience and vulnerability?

 

The notion of immanence to me can be very suggestive, potent. Just what is immanent, though? As far as "arising from the vulnerability of sentient beings" -- I think there is some definite strain here. Stated as such it is incomplete and unconvincing to me.

 

She also writes...

 

I want to close by conceding that there are things one loses in giving up God, and they are not insignificant. Most importantly, you lose the guarantee of redemption. Suppose that you do something morally terrible, something for which you cannot make amends, something, perhaps, for which no human being could ever be expected to forgive you. I imagine that the promise made by many religions, that God will forgive you if you are truly sorry, is a thought would that bring enormous comfort and relief. You cannot have that if you are an atheist. In consequence, you must live your life, and make your choices with the knowledge that every choice you make contributes, in one way or another, to the only value your life can have.

 

Her "concession" here touches but one small element of what is lost in giving up traditional metaphysics. That moral rights and wrongs have genuine significance in the way of things (i.e. that there exists value and meaning and a moral order); that it is ultimately better to be a good person than an evil one, are effectively given up here. I find the whole paragraph kind of odd. Losing a "guarantee of redemption" does not seem to be something that most people would even think about as a consequence of giving up God. The loss of moral consequences is what most people think of. It's as if she's arguing that losing God somehow makes our moral obligations more solidified, which is absurd on the face of it. "Redemption" itself becomes irrelevant; this, if anything, is an artifact, if not of a "divine protection racket", then of traditional metaphysics more or less.

 

I think there has been a certain assumption woven throughout this article that "divine command theory" exhausts the meaning of traditional metaphysics. If only it were that easy for her to get away from those "artifacts".

 

Peace,

Mike

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Mike & Jenell,

 

I think what she is saying is that a theist can commit a grievous moral transgression and psychologically achieve redemption and peace of mind where a moral atheist can only live with their wrongdoing on their conscience.

 

George

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George,

 

I think that anyone that goes by a moral system of 'right' and 'wrong' or 'good' or 'bad' whether or not they believe in God creates internal guilt unconsciously if not consciously when they violate such code of behavior. (their own law whether written or unwritten) In this case forgiveness and peace of mind will not come until that person can forgive others of that same violation. Professed belief in God or that God can forgive anything will in my experience not change this matter and bring peace of mind. If you cannot forgive another, you cannot forgive yourself. This to me is a spiritual truth whether one believes in God or not. Professed belief in God is not a pre-requisite for peace of mind. God is God whether one professes God or not.

 

That is my view and experience,

Joseph

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Joseph,

Are you suggesting that someone with a sincere (vs. "professed") belief in God cannot achieve psychological redemption through the belief that they are forgiven by God?

 

I would also point out that while we are able to forgive others of similar offenses, we cannot always get forgiveness by the victim of our wrongdoing. They may be unavailable or unwilling.

 

George

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Joseph,

Are you suggesting that someone with a sincere (vs. "professed") belief in God cannot achieve psychological redemption through the belief that they are forgiven by God?

 

I would also point out that while we are able to forgive others of similar offenses, we cannot always get forgiveness by the victim of our wrongdoing. They may be unavailable or unwilling.

 

George

George,

 

Yes, that is what i am suggesting with the qualifier of .... Not alone through that belief. Even Jesus is reported saying "that if you do not forgive others of their trespasses than neither can the Father forgive you." (God being within you and all whether one believes in God or not, is the assurance of this)

 

In my experience, It is not necessary to actually receive forgiveness of the other for our wrong-doing. We can make the effort but we cannot choose for them. We can only forgive others and thus be forgiven ourself regardless of the others choice.

 

Joseph

Edited by JosephM
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Joseph,

 

Anyone, theist or atheist, is capable of forgiving others and presumably a moral person would do so. However, the theist has an added benefit -- unavailable to an atheist -- to also get forgiveness from God.

 

George

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Joseph,

 

Anyone, theist or atheist, is capable of forgiving others and presumably a moral person would do so. However, the theist has an added benefit -- unavailable to an atheist -- to also get forgiveness from God.

 

George

 

George,

God is with both so there is no difference in my mind. Believing what is not true will not make it so... Believing one is forgiven by God without forgiveness of the other will simply not make it so. The power to forgive others is the power of God.

Joseph

 

PS Most atheists of course do not believe in the traditional God of Christianity but believe in Creation, howbeit in different terms. To me, God and Creation are One. People would like to believe they are special over others because they profess believing in 'God' but how many can really say who or what God is? I have met Christians who are loving, happy and at peace and Buddhists who are loving, happy and at peace. I have also met both who are not.

Edited by JosephM
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Mike & Jenell,

 

I think what she is saying is that a theist can commit a grievous moral transgression and psychologically achieve redemption and peace of mind where a moral atheist can only live with their wrongdoing on their conscience.

 

George

 

One would think that, if anything, absent a traditional understanding of morality, it would be easier for one to find psychological peace for past wrongdoings. For what exactly has been "transgressed" and what is the need for "redemption" -- are these notions not borrowed from another metaphysical system?

 

Peace,

Mike

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