Rachels, Ch 4: Does Morality Depend on Religion?
- Many think religion and morality are connected
- They think morality is part of religions
- Church gives out moral rules
- Learn morality from religious upbringing
- Religious people appointed to ethics panels
- Arguments for morality being based on religion
- Religion is a worldview that gives meaning, purpose and value to the
- In contrast to a purely scientific worldview that is silent on
values and suggests that human life, all life, the earth and the
universe will eventually doomed to end.
- Seems natural that values of right and wrong (moral values)
also come from this worldview.
- God as the sanction of morality
- Fear of punishment makes people moral
- But morality requires being moral for its own sake
- God as a justification for moral rules (see below)
- Need God for right and wrong to be objective;
- They are not decided by what individuals think (subjectivism)
- Nor are they decided by what cultures think (cultural relativism)
- Both individuals and whole cultures can be mistaken
- So who decides what is right and wrong? God does. And his pronouncements are objective in the sense that human individuals and cultures have to live up to standards independent of their choices and decisions
- How would Rachels answer the "who decides question?"
- Rachels thinks morality depends on reason, not religion
- He thinks they are conceptually separate/independent
- Although one can link them by seeing reason as a God-given power
that allows us to understand what is right and wrong.
- Common-sense objections to morality being dependent on religion
- This would make atheists necessarily immoral people (and this is not
- "If there is no God, then everything is permissible" would imply that
in a world without God, driving drunk thought a school yard a recess
would not be morally wrong (but it would be)
- Divine Command Theory of Right and Wrong
- Morally right means commanded by God
- Morally wrong means forbidden by God
- The theory gives an objective basis for morality in the commandments of
God and gives a motivation for obeying them.
- Problems with the Divine Command Theory
- Two possible relations between God's commands and rightness
- Either: Conduct is right because God commands it or God
Commands conduct because it is right (already)
- One: Conduct is right because God commands it
- God's commands make things right
- Conduct right and wrong only after God commands/forbids it
- Before God commanded truthfulness it was neither right nor wrong;
only became right after God commanded it.
- This is the Divine Command Theory (DCT)
- Two unfortunate consequences of the DCT
- It makes God's commands arbitrary
- There can be no good reasons for them
- E.g., God's reason for commanding truthfulness rather than
lying can't be because truthfulness is right
- On this view it isn't right until God commands it
- Saying God is good becomes meaningless
- Why praise God if God would be equally praiseworthy if he
had done (commanded) the opposite
- In order to make sense of saying God is good, need standard of
goodness outside God
- Two: God Commands conduct because it is right (already)
- God is wise and realizes that truthfulness is better and so he
- Not arbitrary but wise choice
- This allows God's goodness to be preserved
- As goodness and morality are independent of God's commands/will
and so it makes sense to say God is good.
- Rightness exists prior to and independent of God's commands
- And is the reason for those commands
- This view gives up the "theological conception of right/wrong"
- Truthfulness is right because God commands its incomplete on
this interpretation, for we need to know why God commanded
it (his commanding it didn't make it right, but it was right so
God commanded it)
- Need to ask for the reason for truthfulness being right.
- Thus reason, not God, is the standard of right/wrong.
- Theory of Natural Law
- Dominant theory of ethics in Christian thought (not DCT)
- E.g., held by St. Thomas Aquinas
- One: World is rational order with values and purposes built into its nature
- Everything in nature has a purpose
- It makes sense to ask of everything in nature what is it for?
- We have teeth so we can chew, eyes for seeing, heart for
- Rain falls in order that plants may grow
- Word a orderly system with each thing having its own proper place
and serving its own special purpose
- Hierarchy: Rain for plants, plants for animals, animals for people; so
in final analysis, nature made all things for people
- Rachels criticizes this as "stunningly anthropocentric"
- Christian thinkers add that rain falls to help the plants because that is
what God intended and animals are for humans because that is what
God made them for.
- Two: Laws of nature describe how things are but also specify how they
ought to be
- Things are as they ought to be when serving their natural purpose
- Eyes can't see are defective
- Some ways of acting are natural and some unnatural and the second
- People naturally care for others; someone who does not and has a
malicious personality is defective
- Just as eyes that can't see are defective.
- This is true because we were created by God with a specific human
nature as part of his overall plan.
- Many religious sexual ethics condemn masturbation, oral sex and gay
sex as unnatural as it is sexual activity not connected with making
- The theory of natural law confuses is with ought, facts with values
- That something is the case does not mean it ought to be
- Theory of natural law with values packed into the world based on the
purpose of things goes against a scientific view of nature that has no
room for values, only facts
- Natural law theory says God gave us reason to figure out this natural order
and to determine what is right/wrong.
- This puts believers and nonbelievers in the same moral universe,
using their reason to figure out what is right.
Using religion to decide particular moral issues
- Are there distinctively religious (e.g., Christian) positions on major moral issues like abortion?
- Are these positions different from what one would come to on basis of reason alone?
- Some reasons to worry about finding specific moral guidance in the Scriptures
- Our problems not the same as those faced by the Jews and early Christian writers of the Bible
- The general helpful moral guidance it gives (love one's neighbor) not likely to give us definitive answers to issues of today: Rights of workers, extinction of species, funding of medical research
- Many Scriptures and church traditions are ambiguous and authorities disagree on how to interpret them
- E.g., the view that fetuses are human from the very beginning is not clear in the Scriptures or church tradition
- Rachels thinks that often when people think they are deriving their moral views from their religious commitments, what is really going on is they make up their minds about moral issues first and then interpret the Scriptures and church tradition in a way to support those conclusions
- This can involve the arrogant position that God must share one's moral views