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God’s Relationship to “The” Good: An Essay on Morality, Part II

January 10, 2012

II.    The Implications of Naturalism: A Defense of Mackie

            It might sound odd for a Christian theist to defend Mackie’s basic claim for the case that objective values do not exist, but that is what I intend to do.  Actually, what I hope to do is leave only two worldviews in which to view morality from:  that of naturalism, in which case objective values do not exist, and that of theism in which case objective values do exist.

If there is no God, then nature is all that there is.  The naturalist view proposes, “the natural world is complete in itself, self-oriented and self-sufficient.  According to naturalism, everything which exists or occurs lies entirely within the domain of natural processes.”[1]  Yet, by any admission, nature is value-neutral.  Nature—consisting or combinations of particles and matter—regardless of how sophisticated, is not a source of value.  Thus, nature is morally (which is inherently value-laden) neutral as well.  A common example from the animal kingdom may clarify this position.

Take the lion (or any other predator).  Each day the lion goes out to hunt prey.  In what is often very vicious ways, the lion hunts down other weaker animals.  It matters not to the lion if the animal being hunted is an adult, a female, or a child.   The prey is merely food for the hungry lion.  Yet, never once do we consider imposing moral values onto the lion or any other participant in the natural order.  We do not say, concerning the lion, it is wrong to hunt the baby zebra and viciously kill it for food.  We simply assume that this is a reality of the natural order; it is instinct and nothing more.

I do not intend to sound facetious with such a basic example.  My aim is to point out that when we observe the natural order, from the existence of particles to the more sophisticated forms of life, we never once suggest that it is subject to a moral order.  We acknowledge that animals are no more capable of moral deliberation than are stars and thus we would never hold an animal morally responsible for any act it may commit, regardless of how vicious.  We may consider an act by an animal heinous or evil, but this would simply describe the effects of the act.  We would never consider an animal morally heinous or evil.

Yet, if naturalism is true, then is it not the case that human beings are merely sophisticated forms of animals—which are themselves merely sophisticated combinations of particles?  Certainly, for some inexplicable reason, we have developed brains that are able to reason; yet, at the bottom of things these brains are nothing more than “self-operating computers,” and that the “thoughts and other mental properties of humans are simply  properties of highly complex, highly organized physical [emphasis mine] systems.”[2]   Humans are ultimately nothing more than products of the natural order, and as such, there is nothing intrinsically special about us.  We may have developed the capacity to value certain experiences that occur in our natural existence; for instance, we may value the chemical reaction in our brain that creates an emotion that we call “love,” but this is nothing more than a subjective response on our part, which consequently is also simply a mechanical process of our physical brains.  There is nothing intrinsically valuable in the natural world, for as I have said, nature does not produce value.

At the risk of oversimplifying the case of philosophical naturalism, my point was simply to confirm Mackie’s bold statement:  there are no objective values—if nature is all that there is.  I imagine that are many who would applaud my defense of naturalism and Mackie’s claim, for this would seem so patently obvious.  However, there are also undoubtedly a great many people for whom this claim would strike the most uneasy of chords.  In fact, I would daresay that there are many people who would consider such a claim downright preposterous.  Can all of reality be reduced to pure physical matter they would ask?  Are our moral convictions nothing more than simple survival mechanisms of an evolutionary sort?  Is there really no such thing as good?  Beauty?  Love?  Evil?


[1] William Hasker, Metaphysics:  Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 1983), 108.

[2] Ibid., p. 70.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 11, 2012 12:48

    Enjoying the argument. I assume you’ll be addressing Mackie’s affirmation of subjective values (i.e. Naturalists usually do believe in values, even though they may not be objective)?

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