Post Author: Bill Pratt
If you are a dictator, and you have complete control over your nation, and you have good reason to believe you will remain in control, why should you not take whatever you want from whomever you want in order to bring yourself pleasure? Why would it be rational for you to be moral?
In certain cases of truth telling or repaying a debt or keeping a promise, and in those rarer cases where the performance of a duty risks death or injury, why do the moral thing? In an atheistic world, there may be instances where doing the moral thing does not advance my goals and desires for my life. In other words, doing the moral thing may not be the rational thing for me to do.
David Baggett and Jerry Walls, in their book Good God: The The Theistic Foundations of Morality, offer this choice to the atheist:
Either affirm that morality and rationality sometimes dictate different things and then either infer that we should do the moral, irrational thing anyway, or do the rational thing and ignore the dictates of morality.
How does this differ from the theist?
Notice how sharp is the contrast here between the theist who believes in ultima facie prescriptively binding moral obligations and the skeptic who rejects the existence of such duties or their rational authority. The theist affirms that there are such duties, which are in our ultimate self-interest because loving God and doing right are always in our ultimate self-interest. So it’s always rational to do such duties and acknowledge their authoritative force. The skeptic denies this, saying instead that morality seems to lack rational authority or perhaps authority altogether, for sometimes it’s just too costly.
Baggett and Walls continue:
Now, both thinkers could be said to be thinking in a way that’s rational in at least one sense. Each is thinking through the implications of their worldview in a way that is not obviously unreasonable or irrational.
What this shows, then, is that the meta-ethical question about morality and rationality is inextricably tied to ultimate questions of ontology and metaphysics. The right ultimate view of reality is plausibly the one that will be most likely to produce the right analysis of the relationship between morality and rationality. Both the atheist and the theist are predicating their approach on a fundamental axiom: that the world makes sense.
Why does it matter if the world makes sense and what does that have to do with morality?
It wouldn’t make sense if the world required us to do what isn’t in our ultimate self-interest. We think this was Kant’s insight when he suggested that the moral enterprise needs, in a deep and radical way, the postulate of a God who can, and will, make happiness correspond to virtue. Morality fails to make sense when that correspondence fails.
Does atheism guarantee that morality will correspond with ultimate happiness?
It’s the atheistic world in particular, however, that introduces the failure of this correspondence. Reality itself must be committed to morality in some deep way for morality to make sense. Morality really must be a very deep feature and fixture of reality in order for its demands to retain their authoritative force. In an atheistic world there just doesn’t seem likely to be the sort of ontological foundation to morality that renders it always rational to both believe in and do what’s morally binding. The picture is very different for a theistic world of a certain sort.
On Christian theism, is always rational to act morally. On atheism, it is sometimes rational to act morally, but in certain cases atheism can give a person no guarantee that their moral actions will ultimately lead to their happiness. Surely atheism, then, weakens the dictates of the moral law.