A certain ethicist, let us call him G, is among other things a proponent of abortion, but has greater ambitions too.  He argues that traditional moral principles must be replaced with a manmade morality which is “less likely to be eroded.”  The reason he thinks manmade morality more durable is that he cannot take seriously the idea of morality coming from God.  Speaking of the atrocities committed against the Bulgarians in 1876, he says a wise God would not have ordained a world “in which people are hanged after spending their last night nailed by the ear to a fence, or in which babies are cut out of their mothers’ wombs with daggers.”  A wise God would have made man good, or at least made him grow better over time.

There is a problem with this line of reasoning.  It is hard to see why one should object to a world in which babies are cut out of their mothers’ wombs with daggers, but not one in which mothers invite daggers into their wombs that their babies may be cut out.  And that is only the beginning of G’s incoherencies.  The whole meaning of morality is a rule that we ought to obey whether we like it or not.  If so, then the idea of creating a morality we like better fails to grasp what morality is.

Moreover, it would seem that until we had created our new morality, we would have no standard by which to criticize God.  Since we have not yet created one, the standard by which we judge Him must be the very standard that He gave us.  If it is good enough to judge Him by, then why do we need a new one?

Now any thinker can commit an error in logic.  Multiple, matted incoherencies, like G’s, seem to call for a different explanation.  When, despite considerable intelligence, a thinker cannot think straight, it becomes very likely that he cannot face his thoughts.  The closer to the starting point his swerve, the more likely this explanation becomes.  Somewhere in his mind lies a mystery of knowledge that he must hide from himself at all costs.  If he presupposes the old morality in the very act of denying it, the lesson is not that the old morality should be denied, but that he is in denial.  If he makes humanity God and yet cries out against God’s inhumanity, it is clear who has really been accused.

Perhaps the older thinkers were correct after all.  Perhaps the foundational moral principles really are not only right for all, but somehow known to all.

Book:  What We Can’t Not Know