So far, we have argued that:
1. There is such a thing as objective morality.
Objective morality is a matter of ontology, though it is often revealed by epistemology.
2. Humans have a moral sense which delivers knowledge about objective morality.
In this way, the good may be likened to light; we know that light exists because we can see it. Just so, we know the good exists because we can detect it.
3. One cannot deny objective morality then insist that we take his moral judgments seriously.
Anyone who does this is like a person who has declared there is no such thing as light, then complains that the sun is too bright.
4. The denial of objective morality requires us to accept propositions which are almost universally rejected.
Eg. That there is no difference between genocide and mowing the lawn.
It is worth saying something at this point, before we continue. While this series has been on my mind for some time, the impetus is a particular situation in which one person (she) wishes to persuade another (he) of a point about morality and God. Speaking to that situation:
Our man, so far as I know, agrees with us so far. We have not had to persuade him of anything yet.
In fact, it was our lady’s confusion on God and morality which prompted me to start!
I discovered from he that she insisted on the following: Atheists cannot be moral without God. Now, this is a (rookie) mistake, and one we can correct with the terms we have been establishing.
First, what is her claim?
She seems to be claiming that, without God, a person either cannot know or cannot do what is good (perhaps both). Now, whether a person will do the right thing is a consequence of knowing what the right thing is, and it is further dependent on the will. It is obvious that even Christians often will to do what is wrong, rather than what is right (or we wouldn’t require the forgiveness of sins).
If we leave the will out of it, then the claim truly has to do with knowing – that is, moral epistemology. Properly framed, the claim is that somehow, as a result of a lack of belief in God*, the atheist cannot know the good.
This is important, because this atheist is not denying moral objectivity. He is not denying that there is some ontology which grounds our moral knowledge. He is simply denying that moral ontology concludes with God.
Nor have we, yet, concluded with God. But we have come far enough to sort out this confusion.
After all, we are saying that there is a moral sense which delivers true moral knowledge to us. It is by this sense that we establish the existence of moral objectivity, much as we establish the objective reality of light by our sense of vision.
So the real question is – does one’s belief affect his senses? Does the atheist lose his sense of sight when he loses his faith? Is there any belief at all which would cause a person to lose any of his senses as a direct consequence of that belief?**
It is true that the atheist could deny objective morality as a result of his atheism, but that does not (directly) mean he loses the moral sense. That does not render him incapable of making moral decisions, though it does make him liable to hypocrisy.
Our “he” in question, though, is not such a hypocrite. Objective morality is real for him; things are really right and wrong, in his eyes. In this discussion, we will not trouble him by questioning his moral epistemology.
Our challenge to him concerns moral ontology.
*Or positive belief that God does not exist.
**I mean the belief itself, and not the things such a belief might lead someone to do. Remember our illustration from before: The blind man did not lose his sight when he denied the existence of light. He blinded himself, to reinforce the belief.