In my recent New Covenant post Japan, and God, I made the point that within the worldview of atheism, along with a naturalistic mindset, one cannot escape the conclusion that objective morality is but a mere illusion – a category of behavior that must be reducible solely to physical properties. I referred to the resulting landscape of such a philosophy as a vacuous wasteland, and for good reason, namely – that of the resulting moral relativism.
A commenter engaged me in a discussion on the post, yet he completely ignored the point I was making, choosing to take issue with the rationality of belief in God. He also assumed, incorrectly, that I was claiming atheists are incapable of acting morally.
During our “discussion” a few issues seemed to arise regarding knowledge and morality. The commenter appeared to place a great deal of trust in the scientific method as a means of acquiring knowledge, especially with regards to how it can be used to substantiate (or negate) religious belief. Notice that the definition of knowledge, in the methodology of naturalism, can only refer to that which is natural, concrete, or material – that which can be measured and analyzed empirically. Yet, humans are well aware of the existence of the abstract, or the immaterial. Whether it be the thoughts you perceive in your mind (note, in your mind, not in your brain), or the love that you know you have for a “loved” one, you are aware of and confident in the existence of those abstract realities. Now, consider the fact that the scientific method is incapable of providing data on the abstract realities you know exist – for example, measuring the love you have for your children.
Given the mandate of naturalism, that all which exists is comprised within the natural realm, one must conclude that even the notion we describe as morality is simply an outgrowth of evolutionary processes and, as such, must be guided by natural laws. Indeed, that is what the commenter posited, that moral behavior is simply behavior, and that it was derived from evolutionary processes. While this may sound quite proper on paper, the real-world impact of such a propostion is staggering. If, in fact, what many of us consider to be abstract notions, such as morality, are nothing more than the physical interaction of genes, then objective right and wrong moral values cannot be determined.
Do you see where this leads? If a bear attacks a hiker on a trail, although we lament the tragedy of the event, we do not accuse the bear of moral indiscretion. No, we acknowledge that the bear just did what it does – because of the way its genes are sequenced. Regardless of whether or not the bear acts in manners that mimic human expressions of the abstract, naturalism mandates that such notions are the direct consequence of biology and, as a result, the bear has no objective moral code. Well guess what? If we want to be consistent with our application, then we need to do the same with the human genome. If we are nothing more than particles in motion, then the supposed moral notion “I ought” is reduced to a physical reaction and is no different than any other physical reaction, such as “I have indigestion” (HT: CS Lewis).
Thus, morality, in the world of naturalism, is no different than burping.
For further reference, check these articles by Greg Koukl, at Stand to Reason:
How to know immaterial things exist
What science can’t prove
Did morals evolve