god based morality

Here’s another good thought from the Cambridge Companion to Atheism. The author of this chapter is addressing the question of morality – Can you be moral without god? Amazingly, his arguments are so compelling that, by the end of the chapter, you’re left with the inverse question: Can you be at all moral if you base your morals on god? Here’s one of the more cogent arguments ,

For if voluntarism were true, then two situations could have different moral properties even if there were no natural differences between them whatsoever. One system of apartheid could be unjust, but a complete clone of that system need not be unjust – if God’s attitudes to the two tokens of the same type were different. In this conflict between supervenience and voluntarism, it is easier to accept supervenience than voluntarism. (p. 153)

In the quote, voluntarism is basically defined as “something being “good” because the god/gods say it is good”. Thus, the author argues, a god can contradict itself by simply pointing to one thing and saying it is good and pointing to a seperate, but identical thing, and saying it is bad. In short, basing your morality on god’s will is basing your morality on the whims of an unknowable deity. Not a particularly safe bet.


I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

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11 Responses

  1. Wayne says:

    Or some “good” action, may end up having an adverse effect. How can any action be deemed moral when you don’t know the actual outcome, besides the immediate one.

    So, if you have a god who has absolute control over every action, it is easy to put the outcome of every action up to his or her whimsy, relieving the actor of having to think about all the possible out comes, and taking responsibility for those outcomes.

  2. Seth R. says:

    I actually don’t disagree too much with this generally, however…

    “basing your morality on the whims of an unknowable deity. Not a particularly safe bet.”

    That assumes the deity is “unknowable.”

  3. Stephanie says:

    Seth, are you suggesting that there is a defense for the idea that deity is knowable that would stand up in a court of law? Or even a first-year philosophy class?

  4. Seth R. says:

    Stephanie, if we waited for that sort of evidence in everything in our lives, we’d never get anything done.

    I feel like I know at least a few things about God quite well for myself. Enough that I feel perfectly fine in attempting to use Him as a moral reference point.

    And honestly, I don’t care if your philosophy class or the local municipal court agree with me or not.

  5. profxm says:

    Seth, how do you “know” this deity? Is it based on the previous argument: mystical experience?

  6. Seth R. says:

    It’s an intuitive familiarity, backed up by an overwhelming sense that my life has been “looked after.”

  7. Seth R. says:

    That and I actually like what I find in scripture.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Seth, if you have established that your belief defies logic, then it doesn’t make sense to try to point out an underlying assumption in someone’s argument against your belief. If something is unknowable according to science and according to logic, then saying that it is unknowable is not really an assumption. As far as logic goes it is a pretty sound argument. You seem to be okay with this, so I don’t really understand your motivation here…

  9. Seth R. says:

    Mostly just trying to establish that the beliefs are not completely irrational.

  10. Ray Agostini says:

    Can you be moral without god?

    Another way of phrasing this:

    “Can you be moral without parents?”

    When I was about five, I walked into a neighbour’s home and saw a beautiful model of a ship. I liked it, so I took if off the shelf and took it home to play. No guilt whatsoever. Then my horrified mother asked where I got it from. From the neighbour’s home, anything wrong with that? I got my first lesson/lecture in “thou shalt not steal”. My whole moral foundation was given to me by my parents, backed up by years in Catholic schools. Maybe it’s a case of Vox populi, vox dei (The voice of the people is the voice of God).

  11. Guy Noir Private Eye says:

    ‘IF’ basic right & wrong originate with man, then they’re changeable – adaptable to men; IF their origin is of God, then they’re (more or less) constant, don’t change with fashions or times.
    Isn’t that we (all?) tried to live Religion?
    ‘O thou that changest not….’
    Mormonism is changing & has changed (other than the telling of History!)
    The GAs (specifically in my case) and lower leaders waffled on the essentials of Christian Living in favor of a TBM divorce; it was like Mercy-Compassion, Repentance & Forgiveness Didn’t Exist At ALL;
    If they’re given up for Anything, they’re given up for ALL.
    Shame on LDS, Inc for the way they write-off & exclude people with genuine (most any) questions / doubts….
    the closer one gets to something ‘sensitive’ , the more they point ‘blame’ on the one with questions; i.e. Those who want the truth.
    Turns my Stomach.

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