Dear Doctor: Is is not Ought

Dear Doctor: Is is not Ought July 3, 2015

This post is part of a feature from Patheos called Head to Head.
This week, I’m debating the Catholic Channel’s Dr. Gregory Popcak. The question: is a deity necessary for morality?

This week’s question was inspired by Patheos Atheist writer Peter Mosley’s story on Theism’s Morality Glitch.

Dr. Greg is the sort of guy who helped save my marriage in year seven, has helped my depression, and sorted out issues for many members of my family. By contrast, as a philosopher my job is to clarify ideas, words, and sort out arguments. This has some value, but much less than healing souls.

If we are to discuss what people do, I defer to the good Doctor.

They may want you, but should they have you?
They may want you, but should they have you?

And yet I have a complaint. I am told by him (and I have no reason to doubt it) why most of us are moral. Many of us, if not most of us, are moral for some fairly shoddy reasons. I am glad that in junior high I never used slurs because my Dad would have punished me, but there was not much virtue there. Dad had the power to make sure that I did not mock people different than what I thought “normal,” but that did not keep my mind from being corrupt.

God demands that my morality be deeper than any court can demand. God loves the real me, not the mask I might wear in public. So I must plunge deep into my soul and become actually good as opposed to outwardly good. The greatest hypocrisy is personal hypocrisy: the racist who pretends to correctness while harboring hate in his heart.

The fact that “is” is not the same as “ought” is fatal to the conceited man who believes he is virtuous if he does what he wants. If he acts on his desire, there exists, always and irrefutably, the notion that perhaps he should not be doing what he wishes.

The moment the question is asked, it must be answered or he is an intellectual coward.

I am glad my local atheist derives his ethics from the culture and his own wisdom because this means his ethics will be fundamentally Christian. No Western atheist has come close to removing himself from the pervasive Christian culture that birthed him. This is good pragmatically, but should be personally embarrassing.

You can behave well for no reason or for bad reasons and for that we should be thankful, but the unexamined life is not worth living. If you examine what you do and why you do, then you will discover that having no basis for morality outside of self is both unsatisfying and irrational.

Of course, if there is no God, then we are stuck inventing our own morality and using mere power to enforce our private conceptions of the good life on everyone else. There is no scientific basis possible for morality and so we will live in a society where only those who are strong, whether a majority, an elite, or those with guns, will dominate.

The weak will have no place to stand other than in their weakness.

Fortunately, there is a God as the examination of our experience and philosophy demonstrates to any sane person. Dr. Greg and I are both thankful that we can be moral, rational, and have the promise of seeing God as He is.


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