Friday, October 15, 2010

More on Atheism, Science and Morality

A few days ago I wrote a short response to Sam Harris' presentation at TED on the topic of how science can determine moral values. Then today David B. Hart's new article at First Things is on essentially the same topic. His is a response to an article on Philosophy Now by Joel Marks in which Marks--a former Kantian ethicist--has come to terms with the obvious: that morals can't exist without God. And since he is thoroughly convinced of the nonexistence of God, he is therefore compelled to reject the existence or morality. Yet he also can't resist the urge (it seems) to continue to make moral judgments, arguments and pronunciations, so he comically tries to justify a kind of amoral morality. Anyways, Hart's response piece is excellent as usual. I think the crux of the matter is brilliantly summarized in this excerpt from Hart's piece:

I am predisposed to think that real and uncompromising atheism, whose intrinsic “metaphysics” is real and uncompromising naturalism, always requires some element of magical thinking in all three of the classical or “critical” philosophical realms: ontology, epistemology, and ethics. But even if that is an unjust assumption, it seems to me hardly debatable that no purely naturalistic approach to ethics has ever succeeded in producing anything resembling a compelling or attractive moral imperative.

Choose whichever you like—standard utilitarianism, Rawls’s theory of justice, attempts to ground moral thinking in evolutionary biology or neurophysiology—you will always find, if you subject your preferred ethical naturalism to sufficiently unflinching scrutiny, that at some primal and irreducible point it must simply presume a movement of good will, an initial moral impulse that, with a kind of ghostly Gödelian elusiveness, can never be contained within the moral system it sustains. All the polyphony of nature falls mute when asked to produce one substantial imperative, unless one believes (explicitly or tacitly) that the voice of nature has its origin and consummation in the voice of God.

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