Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No That's Not "It"

Saw this today:

I don't take issue with someone proclaiming themselves to be an atheist. I do have a problem with someone saying "that's it" and with proclaiming what they happen to be like to be self-evident or rational to the exclusion of all criticism. Is it any clearer that we should be kind to people than that there is a God? Atheists seem to take some things on faith and proclaim them to be something they know to be true with some level of certainty. Yet there is not evidence that we 'should' do anything at all, really. There is no way to move from facts to value without some model of interpretation, without mechanism by which the leap is made. And that leap cannot, itself, be purely 'factual' without begging the question.

The truth is that any moral maxim can be made to look as arbitrary as most articles of religious faith. The value of human life, for instance is no more self-evident than the existence of God. That doesn't mean beliefs in such a value is groundless, or completely arbitrary, but it is far from certain. Good and solid arguments can be given against the proposition that human life is inherently good, and there have been plenty of people who seem perfectly happy without treating all people well. In fact, it is arguably easier to keep your circle of responsibility fairly tight, allowing kindness and concern to reach out to some select group (for humans do need some kind of community for a rich and happy existence) but keeping that circle clearly bounded.

Is it clear, for instance, that I should risk my life for a stranger? I think not. One could argue that my very self, all I am is tied up in those specific relationships that make up my life as a whole. I don't think it is clear that I should deprive my wife of a husband, or my niece of a source of wisdom for a stranger. Yet it seems intuitive that risking one's life for a stranger is a highly meaningful and moral act. Certainly, arguments in the other direction can be offered, but they will be no more conclusive.

There is no sure and certain ground to stand when it comes to the human experience. Mrs. Hepburn could no more 'know' that we should be kind to others and 'do what we can' for people than I can know that there is a God. These things just defy knowledge and certainty. And it is not clear that a moral commitment is any more rational than a religious commitment.

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