The Incoherence of Secular Objective Morality

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In order for morality to be objective, it must be rooted in a form of metaphysical transcendence. In this essay, I will not be making the case for what that transcendence may be, as that is an entirely different conversation. Rather, I will be making the case that morality cannot be objective if there is no metaphysical transcendence to serve as its foundation by refuting secular arguments for objective morality, as well as discussing the severe consequences of adopting a secular moral view. Without a metaphysical moral foundation, an objective moral code can hold no authority, give humans no value, guarantee no accountability in regard to the moral decisions we make, and can only make room for nihilism.

Morality serves as the description of how we ought to live our lives. Morality itself cannot be physically measured, tested in a lab, or hold any scientific weight. As a result, morality needs a metaphysical foundation if it is to be objective. This is not to say that morality does, in fact, have metaphysical grounding, but that it is severely problematic if it does not. In the West, this metaphysical grounding is mainly referred to as God. If there is no God or any transcendent grounding for morality, how can it hold any ultimate authority?

In the grand scheme of the universe, our moral decisions are utterly inconsequential if the world described by science is all there is. Our experience on Earth will end and we will not be held accountable for our moral actions according to the secular humanist worldview. If this is true, why bear any responsibility? Why not indulge ourselves in instinctive pleasures if there is no ultimate accountability for our moral choices? Even if the secular humanist claims there to be an objective morality, such morality is meaningless without sound ground for it to stand on.

It is for this reason that I believe morality can only get its objectivity from the metaphysical and that it is only on this ground that nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless, does not become the default rational position. Now, if it became known to me that there is no God and that human beings have no transcendent value, then such knowledge would very likely result in my adoption of a nihilistic world view. This realization on a societal level could be extremely catastrophic. The ethics which are mostly agreed upon for those of Western civilization are treated as self-evident, such as the crime of murder, the sovereignty of the individual, and the entirety of individual rights that come with such sovereignty.

However, this seemingly normative ethical structure in the West is a consequence of primarily Judeo-Christian values being enforced and instilled in our societies for thousands of years. This basis for morality in the West is rooted in the objective transcendence of God, or the popular belief of a transcendent morality, at the very least. It has given, at a minimum, the illusion of a meaning of life to many, and it has served as the backbone for social order for millennia. The consequence of undermining such a deeply rooted basis for morality, which stems from widespread religious belief, is something Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher in the eighteenth-century, alluded to in his book, The Madman. Nietzsche states:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? … Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (Nietzsche).

While the initial section of this quote is popularly stated out of context with a sense of victory within atheistic circles, Nietzsche, a prominent atheist and critic of Christian traditionalism, shed light on the dark consequences of abandoning the religious and metaphysical foundation of morality through the rise of atheism. Even if the beliefs associated with the religious basis for morality in the West were completely irrational, the danger of destroying this presupposition still remains. With no belief in an objective moral code which transcends all of humanity, moral claims become unimportant and cannot be rooted in truth or meaning.

Moral claims would become as irrelevant as someone stating their preference in ice cream; it would reduce to mere opinion and baseless recommendation. A potential solution to such chaos could be to have an extremely powerful government enforce social order through harsh punishment, but such a power would surely corrupt those involved the government system, and given the some hundred million twentieth century deaths, which were the direct result of large, all-to-powerful governments, this solution would be counter-productive, assuming our goal was to survive as a species.

As convenient as it may be, you cannot simply eradicate the transcendent basis for morality in the West and keep the resultant moral codes. To draw a parallel example, it would be like wishing for continual technological advancement, but ignoring the scientific method and deeming it irrelevant. It would be ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’, only that the baby is, instead, a fish, and the water is key to its survival and to the minimization of its suffering.

Instead of having morality rooted in any form of metaphysical transcendence, many secular humanists suppose that an objective moral system can be grounded on an individual’s own self-interest. One of the more popular secular arguments put forward for morality is that of evolutionary game-theory. This is the idea that it is in our best interest to live in a moral manner and to cooperate with others as such, since living is this way aids us in our efforts to survive and prosper. For example, a secular humanist would say, “I will not murder other human beings because it is in my self-interest to not be murdered, so I will encourage others to refrain from murder and ensure that those who do commit murder are appropriately punished.”

While this Kantian approach seems to be logically coherent on initial observation, it assumes that man’s life is somehow worth preserving. Such an assumption may seem self-evident, but in the realm of philosophy, nothing can be treated as such. If human life has no transcendent value and we are all nothing more than an animated collection of particles and organic molecules, as a secularist would believe, then such an attribution of objective value to human life, which would offer morality a significant level of authority, would serve as a great logical leap no man could make without abandoning their intellectual honesty or competency. Furthermore, evolutionary game-theory is predicated on the idea that there is a social impact for every moral decision that we make. Allow me to offer an example.

Suppose I found myself alone on a road trip until I came across another traveling man who happened to carry a large sum of money and resources. Upon realizing this, I decide to murder the man and take his resources, acting in my own self-interest. I walk away unharmed and in the possession of more resources, without any worry that I will be held legally accountable given the severe lack of witnesses. Game-theory cannot account for such actions and is therefore problematic in governing our moral choices. Further, since the secular humanist approaches morality with a sense of purist rationale, I fail to see how acting on one’s self-interest at the expense of others is somehow irrational, especially if such a way of life can result in success and prosperity.

Morality, then, must have transcendent grounding in order for it be objective. Despite their effort, the secular humanist cannot properly account for the value of human life or the potential objectivity to morality. A lack of a metaphysical basis can only break morality down into a set of subjective, irrelevant, inconsequential recommendations of how we ought to live our lives, of which we would have absolutely no completely justifiable reason to follow. As a result, secular objective morality becomes nothing more than a foolish attempt of man to rule over themselves. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, if God does not exist, everything is permitted. I have yet to see any other possibility. Morality must be inherently metaphysical if it is to be rooted in objective truth.

Cite this paper

The Incoherence of Secular Objective Morality. (2021, Mar 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-incoherence-of-secular-objective-morality/

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