Objective but not prescriptive?
For me, the big problem in secular ethics is accommodating objectivity without sacrificing
prescriptivity. Forms of naturalism that avoid the naturalistic fallacy either lapse into relativism
or find it difficult to give us any "reason to be moral."
Questions of moral motivation are notoriously difficult, but consider the following:
We can easily see how "if you want X, then you ought to do Y" is supposed to work (the "ought" is
hypothetical upon the desire, and so such "oughts" are agent relative). But it is much harder to see
how "you ought to do Y, no matter what you want" could work at all. How can we have reason to do what
in no way connects with our desires?
But if oughts must connect with desires, why aren't we sliding into relativism?
Steve Lovell's personal note: Contrary to the
most people's expectations, I have found Christianity and Philosophy to be not only compatible, but even
mutually supporting... at least when both are bolstered by a healthy common sense.
To illustrate this we might briefly consider the most popular argument for atheism, which contends that
(1) an all-good God would want to prevent whatever evil he could, that
(2) an all-powerful God would be able to prevent any evil he wanted, and that since
(3) not all evils are prevented,
(4) no all-good, all-powerful God exists.
There are many questions that might be raised about this argument, but here I raise just one.
Premise (3) refers to certain events as "evil", but by what standard do we judge these
events to be less than ideal?
Does not the very idea of imperfection imply an idea of perfection?
And in a Godless world, from where did we get this idea?
If the atheist's argument is to work, the universe cannot merely fail to be as I would
like it to be, it must be genuinely unjust. But - in a Godless world - from where do we get this idea of
just and unjust? It seems, in fact, that the premise at the heart of the atheists argument
(that the world contains much evil), implicitly contradicts the atheists view that the world is fundamentally
Another form that the argument takes is that if God were good and all-powerful, He would intervene to
prevent calamities on a more regular basis. While I sympathize with this, I can't help but notice that if
I point out an occasion where God does seem to have intervened, the atheist will typically either say
that the event did not happen at all, or that the correct explanation has nothing whatever to do with
God. But it is surely inconsistent to complain at God for not intervening and then go on explaining away
all alleged interventions no matter how good the evidence for these events may be.
These typical atheistic strategies suggest to me that the atheist's problem with God is not that there
is conclusive evidence against His existence, and nor is it that there is no evidence for His existence.
The problem is more likely to be that it's that the evidence is not nearly so clear as they would like.
In other words God must be sought, and not only that: we must (at least sometimes and perhaps always)
trust Him and "lean not on our own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).
A perspective from Steve Lovell.
Steven Lovell lives in Sheffield, England, with his wife. His doctoral studies in philosophy centers
upon the works of C.S. Lewis, and he aims to become a teacher of mathematics.
For more of his articles on philosophy, visit Philosophical Themes from C.S. Lewis.
A resource for learning how to read the Bible.