Battlepanda: Q: What does Santa Claus, God and Moral Absolutism have in common?


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Q: What does Santa Claus, God and Moral Absolutism have in common?

A: Just because we want them to exist doesn't mean that they do.

Man, it seems like I am destined to have this conversation at least once every couple of months, ever since I finally decided there ain't no such thing as God, all those years ago. Being precocious in this aspect at least, my peers were quite appalled. How can I find meaning in life without God, they asked. Isn't it a terrible thing to believe that when we die we cease to exist. Then what is the point of being alive in the first place? They raised a lot of good reasons why we need God, but they did not convinced me that a divine, omnipotent being can be willed into existence just because it would be convenient to have him provide us with a raison d'etre and a cushy place to go to when we kick the ol' bucket.

Now I have gotten to the point where none of my friends really question my atheism anymore. Yet I find myself still having the same old conversation...this time about the existence of absolute morality. Matt Yglesias et al delves deep into the moral relativism arguments, introducing complex nomenclature and musings on the nature of reality, eventually coming up with the conclusion that even though a morality might be ultimately unknowable, it simply must exist and that moral relativism is untenable as a position. Velleman even goes as far as to deny that very many moral relativist exist. Well, if you're reading this, you're looking at one, fella.

Now, I don't know whether those guys believe in God or not, but from their writings it seems like their worldview is fairly secular. So it's interesting that they cling to the idea of an absolute set of values (however nebulous and undefined) even though they reject an absolute authority (God) who can impose such a value system on us. Don't try and pass off bromides such as "life is precious" and "be kind to one another" as universal truths, because they can be interpreted in a hundred different ways and we all follow and break those dictums every day depending on our culture and values. As for Velleman's contention that we can break our beliefs down into morals (really important stuff. Not allowed to be relative) and cultural norms (relativize ahead), that just adds yet another layer of arbitrariness into an already arbitrary argument. Where does he draw the line between morals and norms? I suppose it is yet another distinct, inviolable difference that is absolute yet conveniently unknowable.