Against Moral Autodeterminism

This article argues that secular moral autodetermism is an equally poor option compared to secular nihilism, and therefore secularism is once again non-preferred to Christianity.

Countless somebodies and nobodies have written on Rules for Life. The trend is given new attention with Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and Chris Pratt’s equally good 9 Rules for Life. I began to think about my own rules for life. I often go back to a simple framework of “Do what’s good for your body, mind, and spirit.” While all of these can be made complex, I think the third one is the hardest to communicate.

Two of the key aspects of a spiritual life in my view are purpose and desire. Two intelligent, informed people can disagree about the optimality of a choice if they have divergent purposes or desires. That observation separates these concerns in my view from purely mental considerations. When we say some action is outside the letter of the law but within the spirit of that law, what we mean is that the action was teleologically consistent with the law. It was consistent with respect to purpose, intent, desire, etc.

I think morality is strongly related to spirituality. Morality is the set of beliefs about what should and should not be done. As earlier discussed, this is determined not purely by mental capacity or awareness of facts, but by the combination of such concerns with desire and purpose. In economics, for example, we cannot optimize utility by being aware only of the goods and services available and their prices. To determine an optimal purchase we also need to know individual preferences.

I generally think atheism is the second best religion. If someone is a Muslim and they won’t become Christian, I would still prefer they move to atheism rather than remain Muslim. I think atheism is to accounting like Christianity is to economics. I’ve previously written many articles undermining atheism in various ways. One common approach is to show that neither particular morality nor purpose follows from atheism, and it is therefore amoral, morally subjective, or nihilistic. As an amoral or morally subjective framework, in a non-compatibility sense, it would be absurd. As a nihilistic framework it would be pointless, useless, and not worth adopting even if true.

One response which I, and I think many professional academics, usually dismiss as juvenile is moral autodeterminism. That is, the secularist communicates something in the spirit of the following:

It may be that atheism doesn’t bind me to a particular moral code, but this hardly prevents me from adopting any moral code of my choosing. I can simply choose an arbitrary purpose or moral code for myself.

In the first place this is ridiculous and unwarranted. The absence of belief cannot warrant the positive assertion of some other belief, so the weak atheist has no grounds on which to say their moral choices are preferred to an objective standard like Christianity. In the second place this often works out hilariously. Consider that Richard Dawkins considers himself a cultural Christian. He has once again, as Turek would say, borrowed from the hand of God to slap him in the face.

In the third place, let me dispute moral autodeterminism more formally:

  1. A preferred moral framework obtains the maximum amount of great-making properties
  2. A moral framework is given great-making properties by its creator(s)
  3. God possesses the maximum degree of all great-making properties
  4. Therefore, God’s moral framework is at least as good as any other moral framework

A lengthier, stronger version:

  1. A preferred moral framework obtains the maximum amount of great-making properties
  2. A moral framework is given greatmaking properties by its creator(s)
  3. God possesses the maximum degree of all great-making properties
  4. Non-Gods do not possess the maximum degree of all great-making properties
  5. There is only one God
  6. Therefore, God’s moral framework is preferred to any other moral framework

Two key great-making properties here are omniscience and omnibenevolence, but others can be considered as well as established in the literature. Any person who is imperfectly informed is suspect in their ability to guarantee the correctness of any set of statements, and moral statements are a subset of statements generally. This would include not only all individual atheists, but indeed any possible collection of atheists and non-atheists. This defeats market-oriented theories of moral optimization as well.

Notice that this leaves the individual Christian on a somewhat equal footing with the individual atheist. The Christian’s goal would be to follow God’s moral code, which would make the Christian’s goal better than the secularist’s goal, but since no Christian perfectly obtains their goal it doesn’t obviously follow that the Christian is morally superior to the secularist. It does obviously follow, though, that the Christian moral framework is preferred.

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