Monday, July 10, 2006

Moral Fascination vs. Moral Exemplar

A recent interview in the Mars Hill Audio Journal with Carson Holloway piqued my curiosity regarding morality and Naturalism/Materialism. Holloway’s interview focused on the inability of Darwinistic Naturalism to support a flourishing political or cultural ethic. Holloway argued that if we remove God from our metaphysic, we eliminate everything that flows from His existence, including a robust theory of human nature and ethical grounding.

At one point in the conversation, Meyers (the host) and Holloway dealt with how Christianity and Darwinistic Naturalism might view Mother Teresa. The both argued, and I agree, that without a non-natural grounding for ethics Mother Teresa is a moral fascination and not a moral exemplar. If our material self is all we have to gauge ethical behavior, we might say that some form of an “ethical median” is normal and natural in the strictest sense of the word. Additionally, unusual moral behavior, such as Teresa’s, which is overly charitable and unnaturally beneficent, is nothing more than non-normal behavior. Her behavior can be described as “charitable” or “altruistic,” but both those terms and their synonyms lose all normative force; they are merely descriptive and not prescriptive.

In the rubric of Naturalism, a father can point to Mother Teresa and tell his son, “She is altruistic,” and it is nothing more than a description of behavior. Logically speaking, he cannot wish his son to rise to her level of morality, or hope that his own ethical shortcomings can be alleviated by her example.

If, on the other hand, as under Christian theism, there is a non-natural standard of ethical behavior, what “comes naturally” to me, or what the “ethical median” is in my particular culture, can be gauged and judged as either better or worse. Our father can point to Mother Teresa, say the same thing to his son, and mean that he wishes his son to be “as good as that.” If nature is all we have, ethical terms are descriptors; if Christian theism is true, ethical terms have normative/prescriptive weight.

All this to say that Christian theism accords with our deep intuitions about describing Mother Teresa’s behavior. Very few of us would imagine that tales of her story and lifestyle are nothing more than descriptions of a moral freak of nature; we naturally and rightly take ethical terms to have prescriptive force.

1 comment:

philippok said...

Darwin's theory of evolution was not intended to be a source of moral principles. To take it as such is to commit the naturalistic fallacy, that is, to attempt to derive an "ought" from an "is".