As we conclude our reflections on the moral argument for God’s existence, I want to pursue the analogy of the author and see what else might be understood about moral grounding, and the moral argument. In the last post, I reflected on God as “that which is good, if anything is.” From here, we saw how morality may be seen as a sense of our relationship to God, of our closeness to Him and our momentum toward or away from Him at any given moment.
In this post, I want to explore the difficulties in positing both atheism and objective morality. We have done this in brief, of course, when considering what else could step in for author – in the context of our analogy – and be the ground of moral ontology. Here we will look at this problem in some detail.
Let us assume, then, that the story is underway – but so far as anyone can tell, either within the story or outside of it, there does not appear to be an author.*
If there is no author, where shall we begin to determine what is good? Following the pattern of the previous post, let us consider what there was “in the beginning” – for again, surely whatever existed solely and necessarily must be good, if anything is good.
What first comes to mind is what naturally came to mind to atheists up until the early to mid-20th century: The Universe is eternal. It is a brute reality, exists without explanation; even beyond the dawn of the Big Bang Theory, Carl Sagan saw fit to say that “the Cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be.”
Of course, it became clear that this is not true of our Universe – it had a beginning, before which there was nothing. (Recall that, even in the case of a multiverse, the same rule applies – it must be expanding, and any Universe with an average expansion greater than zero must have a beginning in the finite past).
And it seems true enough of any given story, as well. It is not clear that we can imagine a beginningless story, no more than we can now start one.**
So we are speaking of a story that has a definite beginning, as all stories have, though we are inclined to deny an author. But let’s allow a more modest wording – let us say the existence of the author is at least unclear, if not improbable. In any event, as we consider the ground of morality, we exclude the possibility that the pre-existing author is that ground.
Very well, what is left?
We may have something like Plato’s forms, mentioned in the footnotes last time. That is, “the Good” just exists, and we find that people act according to it, or else are otherwise animated by it. Likewise, perhaps, for “Justice.”
The first difficulty encountered is that, even if these forms are permitted, they still do not rule out the need of an author to tell the story. Sure, an author may have her themes, which in some sense exist independently from her (or do they?), but they themselves do not write the story. Yet, we have granted that a story is being told, and we have agreed to let go the idea of an author.
But this is the problem, isn’t it? Isn’t an author (some intelligence, at any rate) required to conceptualize a theme? By merely asserting the existence of a theme (or form) we don’t seem to get around the need for these forms to come from somewhere. It is not, even at face-value, any better than asserting an author. In any event, an explanation of the existence of a theme (or form) would be necessary.
Now, assuming both that there is no author and that these themes exist (we are far afield from any plausible cause for believing such a thing, but let’s chase it down one leg further), it becomes unimaginable to believe that a spontaneously arising story with spontaneously arising characters should also follow along with a theme, much less that anyone should find the confluence to be a valuable thing. After all, this incomprehensible fluke would still be a fluke – why be troubled over whatever is “Good” or “Just”? They have no greater explanation for their existence than I have!^
We have previously seen how moral ontology could not arise from evolution, so it requires no more than a passing glance – even if the characters in a spontaneously arising story did begin to develop ideas about what is “good” and “evil,” these things obviously correspond to no transcendent ground. Moreover, they must assume – without justification – that the survival of the characters (and/or their species) is an objective good, rather than a subjective one. It is hard to see how that would be the case in this particular story.
This concludes our reflection on the moral argument in particular, but the concepts here will provide a useful basis for understanding God as “all-loving.” It also marks one of the first significant weaknesses of the author analogy, though the analogy is nevertheless useful in seeing the greatness of God.
*While some thinkers grasp that atheism entails a kind of paradox like this, that is, something defying our understanding of everything else in and about the Universe, it has seemed to me that most casual atheists do not. They take the Universe for granted, and shift the burden of proof – “Now let the theist prove that God exists.”
**The burden of proof is shifted back.
^I take the perspective of both a hypothetical reader (yes, reading an authorless story) and an uncommonly self-aware character. From either of these perspectives, can there be anything valuable about the confluence of two spontaneous phenomenon? One might wonder at it, but would it make any sense to heed it, or to read into it, or to think it applies to one’s own life in any way?