Does Morality Depend on Religion? James Rachels & Stuart Rachels The Presumed Connection Between Morality and Religion In popular thinking, morality and religion are inseparable. People commonly believe that morality can be understood only in the context of religion. Clergy and those considered pious are thus regarded as moral experts who will give sound moral advice. The Scientific View of the Universe When viewed from a nonreligious perspective, the universe seems to be a cold, meaningless place, devoid of value and purpose. “That all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.” (Bertrand Russell, 1902) The Divine Command Theory Behavior is considered morally right if it is commanded by God and morally wrong if it is forbidden. o This seems to solve the objectivity problem in ethics. Ethics is not merely a matter of personal feeling or social custom. It is God’s will. o The theory also provides a powerful reason for people to bother with morality. Divine punishment is not a pleasant prospect; reward, however, is very appealing. Serious Problems with DC Theory ? Socrates asked Euthyphro: Is conduct right because the gods command it, or do the gods command it because it is right? o It is right because God commands it. This conception of morality is mysterious. It makes God’s commands arbitrary. It provides the wrong reasons for moral principles. o God commands it because it is right. This leads to a different problem. We acknowledge a standard that is independent of God’s will. The rightness exists prior to God’s command and is the reason for the command. The Theory of Natural Law On this view, the world has a rational order, with values and purposes built into its very nature. o Derived from the ancient Greeks who believed that everything in nature has a purpose (telos). o There is a neat hierarchy, with humans conveniently situated atop all other life forms on the Earth. The Theory of Natural Law “If then we are right in believing that nature makes nothing without some end in view, nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man.” (Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.) The Theory of Natural Law The ‘laws of nature’ describe not only how things are but also how things ought to be. The world is in harmony when things serve their natural purposes. When they do not, or cannot, things have gone wrong. ‘Natural’ acts are morally right, and ‘unnatural’ acts are morally wrong. Serious Problems with NL Theory The idea that what’s natural is good seems open to obvious counterexamples. What about disease, for example? Serious Problems with NL Theory The theory seems to involve a confusion of is and ought. For example: Just because sex can be for reproduction, it does not follow that sex ought or ought not to be engaged in only for that purpose. Serious Problems with NL Theory The theory conflicts with modern science, where ‘natural laws’ are deemed to work blindly and without purpose. How can we determine what is right or wrong? According to natural law theory, the natural laws that specify what we should do are laws of reason, which we are able to grasp because God has given us the power to understand them. Moral judgments are ‘dictates of reason.’ This endorses the idea that the right thing to do is whatever course of conduct has the best reasons on its side. This means that the religious believer has no special access to moral truth. Believer and nonbeliever alike receive equal powers of reasoning from nature. Religion and Particular Moral Issues ? Are there distinctively religious positions on major moral issues that believers must accept? The rhetoric of the pulpit suggests so. But there is good reason to think otherwise. Religion and Particular Moral Issues It is often difficult to find specific moral guidance in the Scriptures, particularly regarding controversial issues that seem urgent to us today. Religious authorities disagree, leaving the believer to choose which interpretation to accept. Religion and Particular Moral Issues People often make up their minds about moral issues – and then interpret the Scriptures or church tradition in a way that supports the moral conclusions they have already reached. Abortion Conservatives sometimes say that, according to Christianity, fetal life is sacred. ? Is this the Christian view? o A few words are lifted from a biblical passage, and those words are then construed in a way that condemns abortion. o Other biblical passages are interpreted as pointing strongly to a liberal support of abortion. o Even if there is little scriptural basis for it, the contemporary church’s stand is strongly anti-abortion. o The church has not always taken this view, however. Conclusion Right and wrong do not have to be understood in terms of God’s will. Morality is a matter of reason and conscience, not faith. Religious considerations do not provide definitive solutions to many of the controversial ethical issues that we face today. The arguments we have considered do not assume that Christianity or any other theological system is false. They merely show that even if such a system is true, morality remains an independent issue.