Moral Reasoning for Theists and Atheists – 8 August 1:30 PM Eastern / 1730 GMT
4 August 2020 |
Moral Reasoning: Theistic and Atheistic
A belief I often encounter in discussions with religious believers is that God acts as the external source and guarantor of morality. This belief may be linked to the idea of cosmic justice. Simple observation shows that this world is not fair or just. Evildoers are often rewarded and the good punished in our life on earth. A belief in God, and particularly in an afterlife, is a belief that the scales of justice can be corrected, that vice unpunished and virtue unrewarded in this life will be balanced in the next. Without such belief in an afterlife, we have to come to some accommodation with the idea that the world simply is unfair.
A related claim I often hear from believers is that in the absence of such a divine external guarantor of morality, life is meaningless, good and evil are meaningless, and we may as well be absolute nihilists and hedonists who abuse others for our own pleasure. The notion that abusing others is pleasurable is a bit worrying in itself, and perhaps we can be grateful that their beliefs keep them from seeking that pleasure—OK, I’m being a little facetious.
The moral reasoning that underlies this position, though, seems to me to come from the “gaining reward/avoiding punishment” level of moral reasoning. There is the related issue of absolute versus relative morality, but the key thing seems to be the claim that, without the promise of reward for virtue and punishment for vice, morality has no other meaning. I’m not sure that’s the case
Believers sometimes claim that all morality in the world has its source in Judeo-Christian influences in law and society—that when atheists act morally it’s through social pressure or a social code, but that it was Christianity that created that kind of society in the first place. That argument might be sustainable in Western countries such as the UK and Europe and their colonies that grew out of a Christian tradition, but it’s pretty hard to sustain with a broader view of the world that includes countries such as China and India, that are not at all founded in that tradition.
My goal in this piece is not to support one or the other of these perspectives; it’s to try to help people from each perspective see how it looks from the other side. A big problem in the debates I’ve been reading is blanket statements about what theists and atheists “can’t possibly do” within their own moral reasoning, or that “in the absence of God there can be no universal moral principles,” and so on. Irrespective of whether we think people with a different perspective from us do tend to use all available levels of moral reasoning, it seems fairly clear that they can—that the opportunity exists.
Neither theism nor atheism rules out the ability to think and act in moral ways.
Dr. David Geelan is Sue’s husband and Cassie and Alexandra’s dad. He started out at Avondale College and has ended up (so far) as an Associate Professor of Science Education at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Loren Seibold, AT Executive Editor
Starting time depends on where you are. If you’re on the west coast of the United States, it’ll be 10:30 AM. On the east coast, 1:30 PM. Times around the world:
- Los Angeles: 10:30 AM
- Denver: 11:30 AM
- Chicago: 12:30 PM
- Brisbane: 3:30 AM (Sunday)
- London: 6:30 PM
- Nairobi: 8:30 PM
- New Delhi: 11:00 PM
- Oslo: 7:30 PM
- Moscow: 8:30 PM
- Manila: 1:30 AM (Sunday)
- Amsterdam: 7:30 PM
The class is intended to last about 2 hours.
How to join:
The link will be posted on Saturday morning.
Rules for our class:
- The AT Sabbath Seminar is intended to be a courteous forum. We discuss and ask questions politely. We don’t accuse, get angry, or put people down.
- Make your comments and questions short—don’t dominate.
- Keep your microphones muted unless you are called upon to make your comment or ask your question.
- Indicate your interest in speaking by raising your electronic hand, or by writing a note to the moderator in the “chat” section.
- Those who make accusations or unkind statements will be muted or removed.
We look forward to getting acquainted with you!
- Olive Hemmings