Friday, June 10, 2005

Deep background

Eamonn posted on May 27 about the desire of many in contemporary Europe to overlook the Christian heritage out of which European civilization and culture grew. He exemplifies this overlooking in Giscard d'Estaing's omission of any mention of Christianity in the preamble to the EU constitution.

Stephen, the first commenter on the post, started thus:

Any intelligent human being does not require religion for "moral guidance". We are well able to tell the difference between right and wrong ourselves, thank you very much.

Here is my response:

This is an interesting contention. However, if you regard ethics and morals as being transcendently normative (and what meaning does normativity have if it doesn't transcend individuals and particular societies?), and if you take a strictly naturalistic (and hence Darwinian) view of human nature (and what other option is open to the consistent secularist?), then I think you will have an exceedingly difficult time arguing for this contention.

The naturalistic, materialistic worldview ultimately reduces to a mechanical determinism. Where else can it go? And Darwinism (taken as science) gives us no reason to prefer human society over that of chimpanzees. Is it the chimps' fault that they are warlike and territorial? Is it perhaps George Bush's fault, or John Ashcroft's fault? Did Nature make a mistake for which she is to be censured in permitting creatures so cruel as humans or chimps (or tapeworms, or kudzu) to come to the earth? And can you really find fault with us that we are as we are, when the way that we are is only the result of mechanistic processes sifting our genes for fitness based on criteria of survivability and reproduction, and the refraction of the light from the environment through the prisms of our genes?

Science and its findings are strictly descriptive. The only "ought" nature knows is the "ought" of proper function and not of moral obligation. A specimen whose genes express themselves in a creature adapted in an inferior way to its environment ought, as a matter of proper function, to die before reproducing. As one philosopher says, "So far as nature herself goes, isn't a fish decomposing in a hill of corn functioning just as properly, just as excellently, as one happily swimming about chasing minnows?" What spark, Mr. Secular Moralist, will you strike that will bridge the gap between the descriptive "ought" of proper function, on the one hand, and the normative "ought" of moral obligation on the other? And until you show me a solid bridge between the two, then I maintain that your moral sense is floating in midair, supported by nothing more than your wishful thinking (and by the nearly spent spiritual capital of Judeo-Christian Europe).

On a Darwinian view, any ethical sense we experience is merely the outworking of a mechanistic instrumentality aimed at furthering the survival of a particular creature's genes, or the survival of the genes of a family or a species. Any transcendence of the "ought" we experience is an illusion subservient to the drive of the genes.

So, Mr. Secular Moralist, it seems to me that you face a choice: you can either acknowledge that the morality of which you speak really isn't normative in any non-illusory sense, or you can offer some account of human nature that isn't rooted ultimately in naturalism and Darwinism. And if you can do neither, then I say that you stand condemned before God and men as a fool.