The other day I came across yet another claim by an atheistic philosopher that God is unnecessary to ethics, that we can ground moral duties even if there is no God.
Let us set aside the question of whether this common claim is true. For purposes of discussion, let us proceed as though it were.
Even so, it is curious that the theories of moral duty by atheists are usually much thinner than the ones developed by theists. From a theist point of view, some of the pieces are missing.
Most of the atheists I know are consequentialists. In these cases, one of the missing pieces is the concept of intrinsically evil acts – wrongs that are wrong even if they happen to bring about good results.
With only a few exceptions, even those who aren’t consequentialists tend to support abortion and euthanasia. So another common missing piece is the concept of the sacredness of human life.
There are other differences, but let’s consider these. Leaving aside psychological motivations – of which I can think of several -- what logical reasons might there be for them?
One, surely, is that if you don’t believe in God, then even if you do believe in goods and evils, you cannot believe, with the classical tradition, that human beings were made for something more than the goods of this life.
One would think that this would make the goods of this life more important. Oddly, it doesn’t. It makes them less important. At least it makes life itself less important.
A life in preparation for a greater life is infinitely more precious than a life that is all there is. A course of days that is already launched upon eternity is infinitely more momentous than an allotment of heartbeats that is already on the way to the abyss. A soul that is made in God’s image is infinitely more significant than the mechanisms that make a pathetic bag of organic chemicals think that it has a soul.
Tomorrow: Losing Our Heads