Re: [asa] Morality Without God?

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Nov 11 2009 - 16:57:18 EST

Thanks for this, John. I think Olasky does a good job of highlighting the
absurdity (not to mention hypocrisy) present in WSA's views, so I'll keep
this short. He should simply say "Fine, everything is permitted - but we can
still choose on our own what we should and shouldn't permit!"

On Wed, Nov 11, 2009 at 3:24 PM, John Walley <> wrote:

> This seems relevant to a recent thread on this topic and may be of interest
> to some.
> John
> Morality Without God?
> Marvin Olasky
> Wednesday, November 11, 2009
> Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an unlikely
> source: an Ivy League savant who says it's wrong to depend on the Bible.
> The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book Morality
> Without God by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth professor. (I'm going
> to quote him a lot, so I'll use his initials.) WSA begins by complaining
> that his students quote to him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead,
> everything is permitted." WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all
> should simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or
> disability—unless there is "adequate reason."
> Wondering if WSA is one of those exceedingly rare secular professors with
> the courage to be pro-life, I emailed him to ask. He responded that there is
> no "simple solution to this complex problem . . . the moral problem of
> abortion cannot be solved by citing religious texts or religious leaders."
> Hmm . . . How can it be solved? WSA wrote, "What matters is the present and
> future harm to the fetus and others. This does not solve the problem, but it
> tells us where to focus our discussions. I hope this helps."
> Hmm . . . It helps only if WSA can tell us how to compare "harm to the
> fetus" (death) to other harms, so I emailed him again. He responded, "The
> bottom line is that I think some moral problems are insoluble. . . . They
> are just too difficult for us to figure out. . . . The answer, 'I do not
> know,' should become common."
> Hmm . . . I asked WSA whether people could really make "I don't know" the
> default statement. He responded, "Why not? People get used to having a
> belief about everything, but they do not have to. Life can be lived like an
> experiment where you guess but do not believe until you see how it turns
> out."
> Wow. My first thought was that he was describing how liberals lived in the
> 20th century. Let's wait and see how the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and
> other Communists turns out: We don't want to assume that the preaching of
> class conflict, envy, and resentment will have any real-life effects.
> My second thought was that WSA is right. Chapter 1 of Proverbs declares
> that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Biblically, those
> who do not believe in God should truthfully say, "I don't know."
> But back to abortion. Ronald Reagan's logic was that if a hunter sees
> movement in the forest and doesn't know whether it's a deer or a person, he
> should not shoot. But WSA suggested in his book Moral Skepticisms (2006)
> that since we don't know whether abortion is morally wrong, it's unfair for
> employers to insist that health plans not pay for abortions.
> Hmm . . . Health plans should pay for an abortion even though we know
> abortion does not protect the health of the unborn child? I asked WSA, and
> he responded by saying that abortions can promote the health (physical and
> psychological) of the employee.
> So there we go. In theory, a person might say he doesn't know what's
> ethical in regard to abortion. In practice, he or she has to choose. Should
> a college cover abortion in its health plan or not? Gotta choose. A young
> man calls up and says his girlfriend is pregnant. Gotta choose. A professor
> claims to ride the fence. Gotta choose.
> Four conclusions:
> 1. In many situations facts don't speak for themselves: That's where
> presuppositions and assumptions—worldviews, in short—enter in. Colleges
> should teach students to analyze situations and learn that ideas always have
> consequences.
> 2. Christians should not talk so much about "morality," a word derived from
> mores, the beliefs of a particular tribe. Ethics, however, are based on
> ideas that are true at all times and in all cultures. The ethical problem of
> abortion can only be solved by consulting wisdom that comes from God.
> 3. Chapter 3 of Proverbs has it right: "Trust in the Lord with all your
> heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." Those are deadly words to
> those who assert that they have no need of God. Those are words of life to
> those who have learned differently.
> 4. "If God is dead, everything is permitted."
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Received on Wed Nov 11 16:57:46 2009

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