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Tearing Down Mr. Hume’s Wall

A Response to Moral Realism Skeptics

On Thursday October 19, 2017, I appeared on stage at California State University, Fullerton to debate professors Douglas J. Navarick and Ryan Nichols on “Solving Moral Dilemmas: How Do We Know What’s Right?” The debate was moderated by the I Doubt It podcast hosts Jesse Dollemore and Brittany Page, the latter of whom was a graduate student at CSUF under Dr. Navarick, as I was some four decades earlier. Dr. Nichols, Associate Professor of Philosophy, was largely in agreement with Dr. Navarick, although came at the topic from a different perspective. You can listen to the entire debate here ( Dr. Navarick presented his case against moral realism, based on his article published in this issue of Skeptic. What follows is the slightly expanded text of my onstage defense of moral realism, primarily based on arguments I presented in my 2015 book The Moral Arc,1 and more recently from my 2017 article in the journal Theology and Science titled “Scientific Naturalism: A Manifesto for Enlightenment Humanism,”2 available online3 and in audio format read by me,4 both free.

THANK YOU TO THE ORGANIZERS FOR INVITING ME here tonight and for taking my ideas seriously enough to hold a public event to discuss them. And thank you especially to Doug Navarick who, 40 years ago this year, accepted me into his lab and taught me to think like a scientist. I was a born-again evangelical Christian then, but by the time I left Doug’s lab I was an atheist. I’ll let you be the judge if that’s a good thing or not. Or more to the point, if I’m wrong then God can judge us both, Doug. Interestingly, this happened without anyone trying to talk me out of religion. My religious beliefs just fell away, replaced as they were by science and reason.

This process of the replacement of religious doctrines by science and reason has cut across the knowledge spectrum, from physics to biology to the social sciences, including morality, which I consider to be a branch of the social sciences, although it would be better if we didn’t have branches and that all knowledge was transdisciplinary.

For example, most people say that they get their morals from God—called Divine Command Theory— but this idea was refuted 2500 years ago by Plato, when he asked in so many words: “Is what is morally right or wrong commanded by God because it is inherently right or wrong, or is it morally right or wrong only because it is commanded by God?” If murder is wrong because God said it is wrong, for example, whatif He said it was okay? Would that make murder right? Of course not! If God commanded murder to be wrong for good reasons, what are those reasons and why can’t we base our proscription against murder on those reasons alone and skip the divine middleman? In other words, if murder is really wrong in the moral universe, then it doesn’t matter what God thinks, or if there’s a God or not, it’s still wrong.5

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About Skeptic

EVIL, THEISM, and ATHEISM Answering the Hard Question “You’re an Atheist?! How Do You Find Meaning and Morality in Life if There is No God?”; God, Heaven, and Evil: A Renewed Defense of Atheism; The Devil’s Mark: The Evaluation of Evil, the Measurement of Morality, and the Statistical Significance of Sin; Whence Cometh Evil? The Concept and Mechanics of Natural Evil; Virtuous Reality: Why Right and Wrong Seem Real: a Critique of Moral Realism; Tearing Down Mr. Hume’s Wall: A Response to Moral Realism Skeptics; Brazilian Cancer Quackery; The “Sonic Attack” on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Why the State Department’s Claims Don’t Add Up; Understanding Human Skeletal Variation; Updating the Software and Hardware in Educational Practice: A Way Forward for Science and Mathematics Education; Why Freud Matters: Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, and the Skeptical Humanist Tradition; Hope and Hype for Alzheimer’s; I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too; Junior Skeptic: The Incredible Claims of Pet Psychics…