Atheism & Objective Morality

Since my story was published in Christianity Today, I’ve been getting a lot of negative feedback about the lack of evidence presented in the article. I don’t have time to write down all my thoughts, especially because I’ve been trying to write emails back to everyone who has written me so far. [A particularly trying task in light of the fact that lately I’ve been spending 8 hours a day at work looking at a computer screen.] Your letter will be put at the top of the response pile if you send it via snail mail.

One student wrote me:

You said that John Joseph Porter pointed to your inconsistency in believing in objective, universal moral categories. What do you think about consequentialist theories (i.e. preference utilitarianism) or even deontological theories (i.e. contractualism)? You seem to make a big jump; there are many moral theories that are objective but not theistic.

This depends on what you mean by “objective.” Do consequentialist theories or deontological theories work for constructing answers to our basic ethical questions? Yes. A utilitarian can give an explanation for why he chooses to push the fat man over the bridge to save the lives of five other people (I’m hoping you’ve read this example, else you’ll think I’m a weirdo, but I suppose all us philosophers are). But the utilitarian cannot explain why he values those people. In other words, he cannot answer the meta-ethical question of “why should I strive to maximize value?” So I would argue that my ethical philosophy was internally consistent but lacked sufficient meta-ethical justification.

Of course, you can ask the same questions toward Christians – why should I strive to love God? And I think the answer iles in Lewis’ response “God is goodness.” This is a bit of a Platonic resort, and I suppose I could have adopted a Platonic view of the good without believing in God. But then you’d have to wonder – what is this weird form of goodness and how did it get there? A self-caused universe didn’t seem to offer sufficient explanation on that front. (Again, not to say it’s impossible. But just that it would be rather unusual.) [Also note that here Christianity has a distinct advantage: the Trinitarian view both allows God to be personal and permits him to therefore be impersonal qualities like, for example, love!]

I would say this: when you’re choosing a worldview, you don’t have time to parse through every single possible question that might be posed nor to tease out every single possible contradiction. It’s taken centuries and the project is still unfinished! I appreciated the introduction to one of Hume’s books – “Amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.” To me, this means: you still have to go on living your life. You can’t be the philosopher pondering it all without acting. You must eat, work, live, and love. As you do so, you will approach these actions with a particular perspective and philosophy. You cannot remain agnostic forever. There is no completely neutral perspective. With that in mind, you have to plant your flag somewhere. Christianity is where I plant my flag.

I chose Christianity because I think it offers the most complete framework for approaching the world: explaining ethics and meta-ethics, showing my sin, offering not only forgiveness but also redemption.