Re: basis for morality

Sun, 04 Aug 1996 17:12:07 -0700 (PDT)

A long time ago, Bill Dozier wrote:

> Steve Schaffner also replied:
> > Does the Christian view really avoid begging the question? How does
> > the fact that God is my creator make his law binding morally? Why is
> > it _right_ to obey God, rather than merely expedient, or necessary,
> > say? Suppose humans prove able, eventually, to make intelligent,
> > conscious machines. Should our wishes be morally binding on them?
> I did not and would not say that God's status as creator gives him the
> right to hold us responsible to his "wishes." What is right and wrong is
> decided by what is consistent with God's character. There can be no other
> standard, or God is not infinite. Put another way, there is no code that
> God must follow in order to be good. God just "is" good. Were there a
> standard for him to follow, then the deviser of that standard must be God
> instead.
> Absolute morality can be grounded only in God's character.

I don't see that this really answers my question. Granting for the moment
that "good" can be taken to mean "reflecting God's character", how
do you go from the statement "This action is good" to the statement
"I should carry out this action"? That is, without introducing the
additional claim "I should do things that reflect God's character",
a claim that seems to me to be as ungrounded as any in a secular
theory of ethics. How do you get from "is" to "ought"?

> Steve replied:
> > I don't think the situation is quite as simple as that. I can find
> > elements in the Bible that support both my moral beliefs and my
> > trust in science, but I can also find plenty of elements that run
> > counter to both.
> If the Bible actually teaches contrary to your moral or scientific beliefs,
> then I would humbly suggest that you consider changing them. If you mean
> something else here, then please elucidate.

I mean that what the Bible teaches is often very much in the eye of the
beholder; you don't have to look very far to find Christians who draw
wildly different conclusions about both science and ethics from the Bible.
Personally, I am capable of seeing lots of things in the Bible,
some of them mutually contradictory. To a considerable extent the
Bible expresses a world-view that is not particularly friendly to science,
and in some places it reflects ethics that I find abhorent. I don't
think God is trying to teach me either that world-view or those ethics,
but that's not a decision I make (or can make) based solely on what's
in the Bible.

> > It's not at all clear to me to what extent, in
> > reality, my moral beliefs are based on my theism. If, for example,
> > you were convinced that God was directing you to murder a child,
> > would you do it?
> I'm not quite sure what you're getting at here, so I don't know how to
> respond to this.

I mean this: when we say "God is good", we mean something more than that
God is what God is. Rather, we already have some notion of what "good"
is, and we're saying that God is (and is the source of) what we mean
by good. That is a claim, and a potentially false one in principle,
about the character of God. If, for example, I were to decide that
there is a creator, but that he delights in malice, deceit and pain,
then I would say that that god is evil, not that malice, deceit and pain
are good. That's the only way I can see to use the words "good"
and "evil" meaningfully.

Steve Schaffner