Presentation on theme: "Critiques of Religion and Morality A most fascinating topic and an easy ‘A’ at A2. As long as you have the Euthyphro dilemma and Dawkins sorted, you can’t."— Presentation transcript:
Critiques of Religion and Morality A most fascinating topic and an easy ‘A’ at A2. As long as you have the Euthyphro dilemma and Dawkins sorted, you can’t go wrong. Dr Guy Williams
Stating the problem It has often been claimed that there is a link between religion and morality. If we think of religion as the source of morals, then it seems difficult to live without religion. However, if the link between religion and morality is criticised, then there may be good grounds for secularism and atheism. Perhaps we don’t need God to be good.
The view that there is a link I’m the philosopher Immanuel Kant. As far as I am concerned, the very possibility of ‘moral’ actions requires the existence of God. In the ‘moral argument’ for God, we acknowledge that the greatest good (summum bonum) occurs when the greatest virtue meets with the greatest happiness. To believe that such is possible, we have to accept the existence of a benevolent and powerful God. Without the existence of God, supreme goodness would be an unrealisable dream. Divine command theory is the view that actions are right or wrong simply because God commands or prohibits them. Unless God told us not to steal, stealing would be acceptable. Only direct revelation such as Scripture can give us fixed and firm moral instruction.
Lots of traditional values seem to originate from the Bible… The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), which include the prohibition of idolatry, murder, and jealousy. Jesus’ command: “do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7) “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5) But with the decline of religion in the west in the 19 th century, some began to wonder whether moral values would also decline. Perhaps people would start doing whatever they wanted. The famous Russian author Dostoevsky considered that this might happen. Through one of his characters he makes the following statement… “If God is dead, everything is permitted”
Socrates’ Question In Plato’s dialogue, the Euthyphro, Socrates asks Euthyphro about piety and the gods. Which follows on from which? Do the gods make piety, or fit in with it? “Is what is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved?” (Euthyphro 10 A-B) Modern philosophers of religion have rephrased this as an issue in religion and morality: ‘Does God command what is good because it is good, or is the good good because God has commanded it?’ We could give a ‘God-centred’ answer and say that God is responsible for all morality. The trouble is, we can think of things which intuitively seem to be wrong (murder, rape), yet if God were to command them then they would have to be right. Surely ‘good’ has a value beyond ‘whatever God says it is’. Not even the Bible can justify what is wrong. In Deuteronomy 7, the Israelites are commanded to murder thousands and “show no mercy”. That cannot be right, can it? A purely God-centred answer is flawed.
Socrates’ Answer Doing the right thing is different from doing what the gods approve of. “What is morally right is not necessarily always pious.” Socrates gives an ethics-centred answer to his dilemma. He argues that morality is something independent of the divine and in no way reliant upon God. This makes his friend Euthyphro uncomfortable, so he makes his excuses and leaves. The view is controversial, because it seems to make little room for religion. Morality, studied by philosophers, is now superior to the teachings of religion. Basically, his argument is that we are able to think of morality without any reference to God. Socrates’ main argument in favour of his view is that the Greek gods (like Zeus) have set a bad example in stories of their rivalry. It is a critique of religion and morality. Could we say something similar of the Bible?
Responses to Plato and Socrates Socrates seems to give a pretty solid argument, but there are a number of objections we may give… Firstly, if we ignore the immorality of the Greek gods, could we not believe in a God who is perfectly good? The argument is based on stories of wrong-doing which we need not accept. Secondly, Robert Adams has given a “modified divine command theory” which seeks to defeat Socrates’ arguments. He states that “it is logically possible that God should command cruelty for its own sake… but unthinkable that God should do so.” When believers say that ‘God is good’, they mean that ‘God is kind’. Therefore, cruel actions would conflict with what believers assume about God and so for those of faith are not a genuine possibility for God.
Dawkins’ First Argument In The God Delusion and his documentary film The Root of All Evil? Richard Dawkins gives a two-pronged attack on the supposed link between religion and morality… Seriously kids, religion’s all a load of rubbish. Atheism is much better. His first argument is that religion is immoral, or less moral than is often claimed. He illustrates this point by highlighting the more “obnoxious” teachings of the Bible, describing God as “a petty unjust, unforgiving control- freak”. The Bible gives outdated morality. Most of all, Dawkins finds the indoctrination of children to be the worst aspect of religion. Children are told what to believe and forced to accept dubious religious moralities without choosing for themselves. He gives a key example in the Colorado Hell House – an institution which aims to scare children into fearing hell.
Dawkins’ Second Argument Moral behaviour need not be based on religion Dawkins’ second argument is that moral behaviour need not be based on religion. Dawkins claims that being moral because God exists amounts to “sucking up” and argues that, on the contrary, being good without God would be really good: “morality in the absence of policing is more truly moral”. In place of religious absolutism, Dawkins would like to see secular, relativist and consequentialist ethics. However, Dawkins’ main argument is that moral choices are motivated by evolution. Selfless activity and working with others happens because it has helped organisms to survive. We are moral because it allows us to be successful, survive and reproduce. We can understand morality without God.
Responding to Dawkins Just a minor character in South Park? Objections to the first argument: Dawkins picks on examples of religious extremists like the 9/11 terrorists or the Colorado Hell House to illustrate his criticisms. However, are these really representative of religious morality? What about religious charity or peace activism? Is this any less ‘religious’ than terrorism? Dawkins suggests that religious morality is flawed because the Bible and other traditional religious texts are out-dated. However, why cannot religious believers have morals which develop over time? Why cannot they be allowed to gradually re-evaluate existing ethics in light of new knowledge or understanding? Religious morality is not necessarily stuck in the past, it only is if we make it so. Melvin Tinker: each religion, denomination and faction needs to be judged on its own terms Objections to the second argument: Dawkins’ claim that religious morality amounts to ‘sucking up’ can be contested. Many believers are obedient to God because of love, loyalty and respect, not just because they want to go to heaven. Also, evolution arguably explains human morality, but it does not thereby justify it. Although evolution may tell us why we are moral, it does not demonstrate the necessity of making moral choices. Religious morality can tell people why they should not murder, but evolution only explains why people tend not to murder. Arguably, concrete moral instruction is desirable. As Dawkins himself has acknowledged in The God Delusion, his previous work on The Selfish Gene has sometimes – against his intentions – inspired personal selfishness, rather than rational morality.
So maybe religious morality is okay after all. I’ll drink to that!
Or IS it?... Further critiques of the link between religion and morality can be found in Simon Blackburn’s essay in your anthologies. You might also look at philosophers like Nietzsche and psychologists like Freud and Jung.