Ethics in Crisis. Tutor. Howard Taylor.
Tutor: Howard Taylor. Chaplain - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. Also at Heriot-Watt lectures in: `Moral & Social Philosophy’ `Philosophy of Science and Religion’. Visiting lecturer `International Christian College’. (Two modules - alternate years). Former convenor: Church of Scotland Apologetics Committee. Previously: Church of Scotland Parish Minister: St. David’s Knightswood Glasgow - 12 years. Innellan, Toward, and Inverchaolain Churches - 5 years. Worked in Malawi, Africa - 16 years. • Missionary: Minister, Theology lecturer, African Language teacher. • Maths and Physics lecturer: University of Malawi. Degrees from: Nottingham, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Author of several small books/booklets. Married with three grown up sons and two grandsons and two granddaughters.
Main Subjects for Ethics in Crisis. • Throughout there will be references to Christian thinking in the West including consideration of some Biblical passages. • Views of the human person that have shaped or are shaping our modern Western world, including: • Humanism, Human Rights, Human Bioethics, Genetics and human behaviour, Modernism, and Post Modernism, • How to overcome the meaningless of the world by the will to power. • Nietzche.
Before we move on we consider some words of Bertrand Russell in his Introduction to his History of Western Philosophy. All definite knowledge belongs to science; all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between theology and science there is a No Man's Land, .. this No Man's Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the confident answers of theologians no longer seem convincing.…(The questions are:) Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if so what is mind and what is matter?Is mind subject to matter, or is it possessed of independent powers?Has the universe any unity or purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal?Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order?Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once?Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile?If there is a way of living that is noble. In what does it consist, and how shall we achieve it?Must the good be eternal in order to deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is inexorably moving towards death? …To such questions no answer can be found in the laboratory. …. The studying of these questions, if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy.
A further look at Bertrand Russell’s questions that he says cannot be answered from science. (1) Questions in blue raise fundamental mysteries. • Is the world divided into mind and matter, or are mind and physical brain identical? • If the mind is not merely physical matter, what is it? • And what is physical matter? (Quantum mechanics and String theory expose the inherent mystery) • Science examines the rational structure of matter.What is the source of matter’s rational structure? • Electrons, for example, relate to one another and other entities in particular ways and not in other ways. (That is to say they behave according to ‘laws’ discoverable by science.) But why are there ‘laws of nature’ in the first place?)
A further look at Bertrand Russell’s questions that he says cannot be answered from science. (2) • Does nature have a purpose? • If there is a purpose, can this purpose be understood from within nature or does it imply a transcendent reality for which it exists? • Do good and evil exist as objective realities or are they just the product of the way we, as individuals or societies, have developed?For example: • Is cruelty to children evil in itself (intrinsically evil) or is it just that we don’t like it? • Are courage and kindness good in themselves (intrinsically good), or is it just that we like them?
Here is a statement attributed to Bertrand Russell: • "Whatever knowledge is attainable must be obtainable by scientific method. What science cannot discover mankind cannot know". • Think about that statement. • Why is it illegitimate to make such a statement? • Here is the answer: • The statement itself cannot be proved from science. • Therefore, if it is true we can't know that it is true! • In other words it refutes itself.
World Views: • 1. Atheistic Materialism: • There is nothing spiritual - no god, spirit or human soul. • Impersonal matter/energy/physical laws (in one form or another) are the basis of all that exist - the whole story. • They are eternal • They have developed into the universe including all its life and human life and personal human minds. • In principle the human person, including his/her appreciation of beauty, right and wrong, could, in the future, be understood entirely by physics. • A complete understanding of the human person could, in future, come from a study of impersonal physical laws/matter/energy which make up his physical body/brain and environment. See quotation from • Francis Crick on next slide.
World Views: Atheistic Materialism continued. Francis Crick: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more that the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”(The Astonishing Hypothesis page 3)
World Views: 2. Deism:God is entirely transcendent - out there, not in here. • God created the universe with its physical laws and now leaves it to run its course. • There is no continuing relation between God and the physical universe. • God is not relevant to our physical lives. 3. Pantheism `God’ is immanent - in here, not out there. • There is no Creator God distinct from the universe. • `God’ is the spiritual dimension of the physical universe. • God is impersonal. • We tune into God rather than pray to Him in a personal way. • We may pray to spirits but not to God. • All things are sacred in their own right. • The physical/spiritual universe is eternal.
World Views: 4. Theism - God is both transcendent and immanent • He is distinct from the physical world but He iswith and `in’ all things. • He alone is eternal. • He created matter/energy/laws of physics. • He holds all things in being. • He is personal Mind. • Some believe that we may know Him personally.
World Views: 5. Christian Theism. As well as the theism already outlined: • God is love. • He does not remain distant from our sin and suffering. • He stoops to the human level, and bears sin, pain and death for us. (The Cross) • He lifts us up back to where we belong, forgiving us all our sin. (The resurrection) • Although this is seen in Jesus, it is a process that occurs throughout history - that is what the Bible is about. • Judgement, new Creation and eternal life are realities. • There our true destiny is fulfilled.
Before discussing Christian Ethics we briefly consider the difference between Subjectivist and Objectivist Ethics. • Objectivist: • There is something called goodness which is independent of us - out there in the world or revealed by God. • This action is good - means it conforms to that goodness. • This action is bad - means it is in opposition to that goodness.
Subjectivist Ethics. • There is no goodness independent of us. • Our idea of goodness comes from: • Our biology. • The results of evolution. • Each individual person OR each individual society is the criterion for deciding the difference between good and evil.
. A major problem for Subjectivist Ethics: • How do you settle dispute about what is good? • There is nothing to appeal to. • In 1960, Bertrand Russell wrote: • 'I cannot see how to refute arguments for the subjectivity of moral values, but I find myself incapable of believing that all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don't like it.' (Notes on Philosophy, January 1960, Philosophy, 35, 146-147.) This problem is more graphically illustrated in the hypothetical example given in the next slide.
Hitler believed that only some human life is valuable.He ordered the killing of millions of people, believing humans of their race have no value at all. • He felt like it, believed it to be right, and so did many others. • Suppose he had won the war, brainwashed or killed those who disagreed with him, • so that the remaining human society came to believe that the genocide was right, • would that have made it right? Or is there some objective goodness - independent of a person or society’s beliefs and feelings - that says it is wrong even if every person believes it to be right? Are certain actions intrinsically right or wrong or are right and wrong merely matters of culture and public opinion?
Two problems for Objectivist Ethics. 1. How do you find out where that true goodness is? • There are religions beliefs about how and where God has told us what true goodness is. • Are there not many religions? So which religion? • However note: • Not all religions claim that God has shown us the difference between good and evil. • Those that do make that claim are closely related. 2. Even if we think God has given us commandments, how do we rank competing obligations? (Matthew Parris)
Christian Ethics. • Many people think Christian Ethics is a list of rules found in the Church or the Bible. • It is true there are commandments but that is not the basis of Christian Ethics. • True Goodness cannot be defined by lists of rules. • True goodness is deeply personal. • Personal relationships (e.g. friendship) cannot be defined by a list of rules about how we relate to one another. • Christian goodness means being `godly’ ie having the character of Christ in relationships with: • God, our fellow humans, and the natural world.
Christian Ethics. • Character of God shown not in rules but in a Person (Jesus Christ). • In Christ God self-sacrificially suffers for our sins • giving us forgiveness so as to lift us up to where we belong eternally. • That is the meaning of `love’ and it sums up true goodness. • The cross of Jesus has a better effect on us than 10,000 rules and commandments. • By the grace of God we are called to love as He loves us.
Christian Ethics. • That goodness of God shines through all of nature. • So we intuitively recognise there is something real called `goodness’ • This is so even if we don’t know where it has come from. • However we often reject that goodness and so have a bad conscience and feel guilty. • The cross of Christ brings us forgiveness and new life. • In this imperfect world we still need guidance in the form of commandments.
Is Religion Necessary For Morality? • The question is not: `Do you have to be religious to be good or to have a sense of right and wrong?’ • Nor is the question:Have religions done more good than harm or more harm than good? • Rather the question can be rephrased in these ways: • `If we say there is no God, or no spiritual reality beyond ourselves, can we understand what the basis should be for moral decision making?’ • Is belief in God necessary for our understanding of why humans have a sense of right and wrong? • Read: ‘Culture in Crisis’ article on new Pope.
C. S. Lewis’s Mere ChristianityA summary of the main points: • We have heard people quarrelling. • They say things like this: • How'd you like it if ….? • That's my seat I was in it first. • Give me a bit of your chocolate, I gave you some of mine. • Come on you promised.
The person who says these things is not just saying that he doesn't like the behaviour - rather he is appealing to a higher standard which he expects the other person to know about. • The other person seldom replies: `I don't believe in fairness, or kindness or keeping promises.' `I don't believe in standards of behaviour'. • He will try to say that there is some special reason why he did what he did. • There is another reason why he should have taken the seat, • Things were quite different when he was given the chocolate, • Something else has turned up to stop him keeping the promise.
Quarrelling shows that we try to demonstrate that the other person is in the wrong. He has offended against what is right. • So some say that everyone instinctively recognises there is a difference between right and wrong and does not need to be taught its basic principles such as fairness, honesty, kindness, courage etc. • (They do not mean that there are not some people who are completely oblivious to the difference - after all some people are colour blind and can’t tell green from blue.) • Others reply and ask: What about the differences between cultures? • However in no culture do people regard kindness as evil, or double crossing people who have been kind to one as good, or cowardice as good.
There have been, and are, moral differences between cultures - but the differences are not about whether kindness, fairness, generosity, honesty etc are good or evil, but • how these should be applied and • whether they should be applied to all or just to a privileged group.
Two Verses from the Bible which say the same thing: • Romans 2:14-15: • Indeed, when heathens, who do not have the law, (ie The 10 Commandments etc) do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.
Where did this moral sense come from? The Moral Imperative pressing upon humanity. • (1) Either it comes from physical world: • (a) Our sense of right and wrong is an instinct that has come from our biological make up or psychology - which are the results of random evolutionary processes. • (b) Our sense of right and wrong comes from social conventions we have learnt. • © A combination of (a) and (b) • (2) Or it comes from beyond the physical world • Spiritual world or God. • Even if (1) above is part of the story, can it be the whole story?
Can either of the explanations from the physical world be right? • Consider the first. • Our psychology - result of random evolutionary processes - has led us to value kindness and selflessness.. • But if the sense of goodness is just an instinct which is the result of `survival of fittest' then does it have any intrinsic value?
Is morality only the instinct to preserve the species? • If we hear of someone in danger there will be two contradictory instincts: • Herd instinct to help him - preserve the species. • The instinct to avoid danger - preserve the species. • We will also feel inside us a third thing which tells us we ought to suppress one instinct and encourage the other. • There are appropriate times for each instinct. • Morality tells us that at this time, such and such an instinct should be encouraged. • Therefore morality is not itself just a physical instinct.
Returning to C. S. Lewis’s argument: • Where does our moral sense come from? • Not as we have seen from our biology. Has it come from social conventions we have learnt? • Do we ever think that one social convention is better than another? (One society may believe in slavery another not.) • Do we think we have progressed - ie got better in our moral customs? • If we do, then we are implicitly acknowledging another greater Real Morality by which we judge one morality or social convention against another. • Universal agreement that fairness, honesty, kindness etc are good and not evil, cannot be a mere world wide social convention because different cultures believed them to be good before they had met one another.
Suppose two of us had an idea of what New York was like. • Your idea might be truer than mine because there is a real place called New York by which we can compare our ideas. • But if we simply meant `the town I am imagining in my head' (there being no real New York) then one person's idea would be no more correct than the other person’s ideas. • If there were no such thing as Real Morality - but just what evolution made people think, or just what different cultures had developed themselves - there would be no meaning to the statement that Nazi morality is inferior to any other morality
A different form of the argument that there must be more to morality than can be explained from the physical world. Can one derive an `ought' from an `is'? • Science can tell us what is the case, but can it tell us what ought to be the case? • Electrons behave as they do - that is neither morally right nor wrong - it is just the way things are - the whole story. • We behave in certain ways but that is not the whole story for we know we ought to behave in certain other ways. • Therefore there is more than one kind of reality. • The first of these realities is subject to scientific investigation and discovery - the other one isn’t.
If our moral sense is not mere biology/ psychology nor social convention then: • it must have come from beyond the physical world. • That is what religion is about. This is the basis of C. S. Lewis’s argument. --------------------------------------------------------------------
My own view: • Rather than saying there must be a ‘Moral Law’ coming from beyond us, I prefer to say: • Beauty, grandeur in the universe and the world are objective realities. • When we say: ‘The valley is beautiful’ we are not merely talking about our own feelings. • We are claiming that beauty is something that is actually there. • Beauty and grandeur are connected with goodness which is also something real. • Evil and suffering are alien intrusions. • Although we may not recognise it at first, the Spirit and Word of God (the source of creation, beauty and goodness) impinge upon us all and therefore we recognise righteousness when we see it and evil when we see it.
Consider: ‘The Gospel according to science’ by physicist Paul Davies and ponder these points: His belief is that we must turn to science to find moral values. • Does he indicate what he means by goodness? • As well as good he believes humans commit much evil. • There is an underlying assumption that the survival and future happiness of our species is the final goal of goodness and morality. • If, as he says, we do evil things, why should our survival be a `good’? • Even if it is the case that morality is about our survival and happiness, does that follow from science? If not science then what? • He wonders how science can be used to give us moral values. • Does he give any indication of how this might be possible? • If not, why do you think he fails (and is bound to fail) to find a solution to his problem? • Can we get an `ought’ from an ‘is’? See three slides back.
. ‘Michael Ruse and reductionary illusions.’ by John Byle. • Michael Ruse’s theory is that there is no real ‘good’; it is just a useful illusion that helps preserves our species by making us behave more co-operatively. (If the ‘good’ is an illusion why should it be ‘good’ that we behave co-operatively?) • He believes that morality comes from our genes that trick us into thinking that co-operation is objectively ‘good.’ • He believes, then, that understanding morality can be reduced to understanding our genes. • He has a reductionist view of morality. John Byle argues that this theory refutes itself and therefore cannot be true.
Now we note something said by Richard Dawkins (Atheist biologist). In his book: The Selfish Gene, p. 2: • "I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness.... Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals co-operate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish."
Richard Dawkins does not seem to realise that his desire that we be taught to be unselfish - against our biology - implies • that there is purpose to human existence • that something has gone wrong with our human being which should be countered by purposeful teaching.
If we think of our essence as mere accidental descent from bacteria, we can • find it depressing, as did George Bernard Shaw. (Next slide) • Also see description of society in ‘Bad and Bored’ • Or we can rejoice in the meaninglessness of life - and allow the strong to eliminate the weak as in the quote of H. G. Wells. (2 slides ahead.) • (The following GBS and HGW quotes are taken from Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Devil’s Chaplain’.) • Or we can attempt to rise above the meaninglessness of life in personal existentialism. (Satre, Camus (?)
George Bernard Shaw wrote of Darwinian evolution: • When its whole significance dawns on you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honour and aspiration.
H.G.Wells, however, revelled in the ruthlessness of nature: And how will the New Republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? . . . the yellow man? . . . the Jew? . . . those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. . . . And the ethical system of these men of the New Republic, the ethical system which will dominate the world state, will be shaped primarily to favour the procreation of what is fine and efficient and beautiful in humanity—beautiful and strong bodies, clear and powerful minds. . . . And the method that nature has followed hitherto in the shaping of the world, whereby weakness was prevented from propagating weakness . . . is death. . . . The men of the New Republic . . . will have an ideal that will make the killing worth the while. • Someone asked: ‘Why shouldn't morality be accepted as the truth and Darwinism a mere political construct?’
A Christian View of the source of our moral sense: • Our moral awareness must be something above and beyond what we actually do. • Something real that is pressing on us though we often try to forget it. • We, from the inside, know there is a moral imperative. • We cannot follow it. • God comes to us and from the inside makes us what we ought to be. • Consider: `Lord Hailsham on the Objective Validity of Morality’.
Humanism HUMANISM: "Man is the measure of all things" Said Protagoras the ancient Greek Philosopher.
These days ‘humanist’ usually means ‘atheist’. However that was not always so. Even in its modern atheist form it is only a special (optimistic) form of atheism. In its modern form it believes that we know nothing greater than ‘humans’ and therefore we should place our faith in humanity above all else. As we shall see later, other forms of atheism say that there are no grounds for putting our faith in anything at all - not even ourselves.
We now turn briefly to the ancient world. • Ancient Greek philosophers believed the ability for reason • abstract thought • universal thought • made human beings unique and superior to all other earthly living or non-living things.
Ancient Greek philosophers believed the ability for reason • abstract thought • universal thought • made human beings unique and superior to all other earthly living or non-living things.
Renaissance Humanism (15th & 16th Centuries) • Celebration of freedom of thought. • Dependence on the doctrines of the Church became less necessary • Right and wrong could be discerned from ‘the way the world is’. • Natural law. • Although knowledge became less dependent upon the Church, underpinning this humanism was faith in the goodness of the natural world and its Creator.
Post Enlightenment and Modern Humanism. • After Newton’s discoveries of the ‘laws of motion’ governing the movement of bodies (large and small), many gradually came to believe that eventually all things would be explicable by physical laws alone. Growth of a humanism without belief in God. • The Laws of Nature, eternal? • Why do the planets orbit the sun? • Not God but the law of gravity. • God of the gaps. • A mechanistic universe. • Reductionism Nevertheless humanism maintains its optimistic belief in the goodness of humanity.
EXCERPTS FROM THE BRITISH HUMANIST ASSOCIATION’S DECLARATION OF ITS MAIN CONVICTIONS (whole slide): • Humanists reject the idea of any supernatural agency intervening to help or hinder us. • Evidence shows that we have only one life, and humanists grasp the opportunity to live it to the full. • Humanists retain faith … that people can and will continue to solve problems, and that quality of life can be improved and made more equitable. Humanists are positive, gaining inspiration from a rich natural world, our lives and culture. • Humanists think that: • this world and this life are all we have; • we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves and, as part of this, make it easier for other people to do the same; • all situations and people deserve to be judged on their merits by standards of reason and humanity; • individuality and social co-operation are equally important.