Saturday, February 14, 2015
Can We Be Good Without God? A Conversation About Truth, Morality, Culture, and a Few Other Things That Matter
1996, 202 pages
Interestingly, this book comes from a professor of philosophy at the beleaguered Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. TWU has had its right to establish a law school challenged by several provincial law societies because of its Christian code of conduct for students. Presumably, many lawyers do not believe Christianity should not be behind the laws of our country. Paul Chamberlain takes the debate one step farther and deeper when he examines, through an extended fictional debate among representatives of five philosophies of morality, whether we can be good without God.
When five people are invited to a series of luncheons by an unknown host, they begin discussing the basis of morality - why we believe certain behaviours are right and others are wrong. First up, Ted, the Christian philosophy professor at the center of the story, opposes the position that all morality is subjective - just a matter of our feelings. This is similar to an argument from C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, reviewed previously on this blog.This gives pause for thought to Francine, the moral relativist. In a public lecture given by Ted, he invites the other four and the rest of his audience to consider the position that morality is objective - is based on some standard outside of ourselves. He takes on various objections to objective morality, including the biggest one - that different cultures have different moral practices. Again, Lewis also deals with just how common, rather than diverse, the moral standards of the world are in an appendix to The Abolition of Man. Ted notes that what seem to be radically different moral practices are often motivated by similar moral standards in challenging circumstances.
(Think of the often-discussed and very real issue from World War II of whether to lie to the Nazis about whether you are hiding Jews. In a broken world, it can be (almost?) impossible to maintain all your values (e.g. honesty, protection of the innocent) at the same time. This is not a problem with the moral standards themselves. Ted uses an even more controversial example of how the Inuit treated their elderly. You'll have to read the book to find out how well he deals with this objection.)
In the second part of the book, the mysterious luncheons continue, and each of the remaining three diners gets a chance to propose his own objective basis for morality - atheism, humanism, and evolutionism. Ted raises significant objections to each new foundation raised, demonstrating that the explanation is inconsistent with either itself or the real world. As Ted begins to figure out who is their mystery host - someone very interested in having a clear and logical basis for objective morality - he proposes that the only remaining basis for objective morality is God Himself, and takes on objections to his proposal.
Perhaps if the provincial law societies were to read Chamberlain's book, they would not of course instantly become theists, but they would recognize that morality needs a basis and be at least open (by the grace of God) to the understanding that we can only consistently be good with God.
If you would like to see how morality needs accurate faith as its basis, you can buy this book at Amazon.