LECTURE #12: Schaeffer & Mackie on God & Morality

I. Schaeffer on the Moral Necessity of Christian Theism

A. The data: (1) man's finitude, yet intrinsic difference from the non-human, and (2) the dilemma of man's nobility + cruelty.

B. Three possible explanations: (1) No rational answer, (2) An impersonal beginning (materialism, naturalism, "paneverythingism"), (3) A personal beginning (theism).

C. Schaeffer's critique of naturalistic ethics: with an impersonal beginning, "everything is finally equal in the area of morals," (e.g., in Hinduism, no ultimate distinction between cruelty and non-cruelty, pp. 24-5) and our moral "motions" are left with "no ultimate fulfillment in the universe."

D. A Personal Beginning:

  1. Not a divine command theory: "it is God himself and his character which is the moral absolute of the universe." (p. 32)
  2. Two sub-theories: (1) what man is now he has always intrinsically been (historical continuity), and (2) a discontinuity in space and time, separating us here and now from essential humanity (the biblical view).
  3. The superiority of the biblical view of a historical Fall:
    1. We can explain human cruelty without making God bad.
    2. We can hope for a solution to our cruelty, without abolishing our humanity.
    3. We have a real ground for opposing evil (p. 31). It is not the case that "whatever is, is right." E.g., Jesus weeping at Lazarus's tomb.
  4. A complication: some, like Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr, believe in a non-historical, existential Fall, and yet insist that sin is not essential to human beings, and even that sin is something we have voluntarily imposed upon ourselves. Niebuhr: sin is "inevitable, but not necessary" (essential).

III. Mackie on Objective Value

A. Mackie's critique of divine command theory: God's commands cannot be the basis of all moral obligation, since moral obligations can't be generated by God's commands without the prior fact that we are morally obligated to obey God (114-5). (Next time, we'll consider Adams's response to this objection.)

B. Theism would be the best explanation of the existence of objective values, if there are such things.

  1. Value-properties (objectively good/bad) "supervene" on natural properties: once we've fixed the natural properties of a situation, the evaluative aspects are also determined.
  2. This necessary connection between values and their basis in nature is mysterious. It can't be a logical, conceptual or "analytic" connection, since value properties are intrinsically action-guiding, while natural properties are not.
  3. God as a purposive agent could perhaps create and impose objective values on things -- since He is himself a purposive agent. Mackie isn't very explicit on this point, but an Aristotelian could argue that all finite things have as their intrinsic purpose the faithful imaging of God (God as the final cause of all things). Objective value could be defined as successfully bearing a resemblance to God that God intended the thing to have.
    x's F-ness is good = by being F, x bears a resemblance to God that God intended x to have.
C. Mackie argues that we have good reason to reject the existence of objective value, since we can give a simpler, more scientifically appealing explanation of humanity, including our moral motions (feelings, judgments, aspirations, etc.) in terms of ethical subjectivism. Simple naturalism is the preferred metaphysical answer.