Theology Just Won’t Understand Human Morality

April 30, 2013

Religious philosopher David Baggett says that he is exasperated. 

I had the pleasure of engaging him recently, at an event at the University at Buffalo.  You can watch the video here.

Baggett kept asking whether a naturalist and humanist philosopher (like me) could take morality to be objective. I kept replying “Yes,” and I kept explaining how. He never took ‘Yes’ for an answer!

After the event, he wrote about how he has “found a recent trend” among naturalists trying to explain why humanity relies on morality — we are using evolution in explanations for human sociality and morality. A recent trend? Not yet looked into Darwin, perhaps? You can read his blog at First Things.  

Baggett accuses me (and others) of encouraging the notion that morality is entirely reducible to sexual advantage or that morality amounts to whims of instinct. My explanation for morality doesn’t reduce morality to either of those things, yet Baggett was so unprepared for a complex naturalistic answer that he kept replying to a strawman of his own imagination. Watch the whole dialogue for his tiresome repetitions – at one point, lacking any original thoughts to share with me, he opens up a handy book of Nietzsche to read an irrelevant passage to the audience!

Baggett kept returning to his basic problem, “what makes a moral judgment really true?” I kept pointing to the quite obvious features of a situation, such as an innocent child urgently needing care, which makes a judgment that care ought to be given quite objectively true. Nope, not good enough, Baggett declares — a god has to exist too, before a moral obligation gets serious. Really? That sounds like a horribly inhuman answer to me. According to Baggett, until I open my eyes to god’s existence, I can’t truly know right and wrong. According to me, because Baggett needs a god to guarantee what is truly right and wrong, then he’s the one blind to the reality right in front of his eyes.   

Baggett gives away what he is really looking for. He keeps demanding moral ‘authority’ behind any obligation. Unable to see anything in the human world that tells him where his real moral obligations lie — not in our humanity, and not even in the real suffering of a child — he needs a “Decider” just to be sure.

Sounds pretty inhuman to me.