We concluded the last post with the question, “Are there objective moral values and duties?”
There’s some potentially treacherous sailing ahead. It all seems clear to me, but when I’ve spoken to some atheist friends about this, a kind of confusion settles in that seems mysterious, surprising. I might add “obtuse” if I wasn’t worried about offending them.*
First let’s ask: Just what does “objective” mean? Simply this – that a thing does not depend on opinion for its validation. For example, 2 + 2 = 4, no matter what I think. I could throw up the wildest, most protracted, Bill Maher-ish argument possible, and still have no effect whatsoever on the fact that 2 and 2 add up to 4, even if an entire studio audience applauded my effort. Mercifully so.
“Objectivity” can be applied to empirical things, too: The law of gravity is an objective reality. No other reality has seen more protracted or violent protests as when a man is falling to the earth against his will, either from a short distance or a great one; still the reality holds. This qualifies it as objective, even if every person on earth were ready to deny it.
So: Are there objective moral values and duties?
The example quickest to mind for many – and one offered by WLC – is that of the Holocaust. In other words, the mass genocide of six million Jews was right, wrong, or of no moral significance whatsoever.
If a person accepts that objective morality exists, she is left to answer either “yes” or “no.” More on this in a moment.
If a person rejects the notion of objective morality, he is left to answer that the Holocaust was of no moral significance whatsoever, and neither is any other word, thought, or deed. One could murder millions of people or mow the lawn, and neither carries greater moral significance than the other.
Now, this latter option seems, in all other circumstances, to be obviously false; the former choice likewise has an obvious answer. You might deny, against all evidence, that the Holocaust occurred, and try to escape the question this way. But that only seems to admit that there is an objective morality, and that the Holocaust was objectively wrong – else, why avoid the reality?
I suggest that the question of morality becomes confused only when the implications of a God are introduced. Let’s look back at the argument.
Premise 2 – Objective moral values and duties do exist.
This seems obvious, especially in an extreme example. Yes, of course they exist; yes, of course the Holocaust was wrong. There is something about gathering people in a deliberate and discriminatory way, marching them through intolerable conditions along great distances, tearing families apart, forcing them to work long and hard and feeding them just enough calories to stay alive, performing acts of torture, painful medical experiments, and other humiliations on them, and finally killing them en masse and stacking their bodies like sandbags in mass graves – this strikes us as obviously and extremely wrong.
Moreover, if the Nazis has gone on to global dominance, and continued their program of mass killings, we might all have been brainwashed into thinking this was an admirable goal, one which must be supported by every good citizen of the Third Reich. Perhaps every person would eventually believe the Holocaust was a good thing. And still, we know it was not. The answer doesn’t change, not even if all the world thinks it does, no more than it does in simple arithmetic.
This gives us Premise 2. The examples could be multiplied; they are not difficult to think of.
The crux of the argument, then, rests with Premise 1, which we will look at next time.
*My tongue is in my cheek, lads.