If God is Dead, Everything is Permitted . . .

It seems that I'm constantly getting into arguments–arguments that don't even interest me that much–about whether moral behavior is even possible if people don't believe in God, or Aristotelian natural ends, or natural rights, or whatever. It's boring because, well, it's just plain as an Amish girl that you don't need to believe in anything special to do the right thing. Nevertheless, I often hear arguments that go something like this:
“If people don't believe in God, then we won't be afraid to do terrible things, and won't have any motivation to do good things, and then there'll just be CHAOS, which would be horrifying.”
To which I usually sit with a stunned and expectant look on my face. Because the next step seems perfectly obvious to me. If chaos is so terrible, isn't that reason enough for people to, you know, avoid it. No one much wants to step over corpses on the way to Starbucks, or hose the blood off the sidewalks each morning. We'll all be much better off if we constrain ourselves in certain ways, and if we exert a little extra effort in certain cases.
So isn't this all we need to believe: that being good is a net winner over baby-raping anarchy? God, natural rights, or whatever, don't seem to get you anything extra. The horribleness of immorality does a pretty good job of making morality look pretty good without any special help. So why all the insistence on overdetermination? Insurance?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

5 thoughts

  1. Hey Will. I’m a long time BHTV watcher, and today I saw your link on Fark, and I thought, Oh no, what happened. The 100 months thing is provocative and hysterical, and it makes me nervous when I see those things. I’m not a climate scientist, but I am an energy scientist (or something like that)–so while I’m not an expert, I think I’m conversant. When I see a technical topic (i.e. what is the timeline for changes in energy technology) become a matter of faith used by people to fight a political tug of war, it makes me wonder: is this a total train wreck, or is this what is supposed to happen with an important question? I am too young to have seen such a thing before.

  2. My question, Will, is while you do not deny global warming, do you still concede that the magnitude of human impact is debatable, considering 95 percent of the greenhouse effect is natural water vapor, and that the percent of CO2 responsible is .117 percent, of which 3 percent is of the man made variety. To me this certainly suggests, that while there is in fact a very real and cumulative climate change occurring (as others have in the past) leaping to the conclusion that humans bear the brunt of its source is a gross distortion of reality.

  3. I’m following up on Cool Cal’s comment: I know you know this, WW, but in the interest of placating some of the anal climate scientists, I think it’s important for people to not say “I do/don’t believe in global warming.” Of course the earth has been warming, the controversy is how much of this warming is due to GHGs from human activities.

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