Ethics on the Plane — The City Online

Ethics on the Plane

by John Mark Reynolds on May 16, 2012

Listening in on conversations is not good, but sometimes it cannot be avoided.

Ahead of me on a plane, one man bellowed the problem with America. “Too many irrational people.” he mooed.

Irrationality, like the plague, is universally to be avoided, so I was interested to see how to avoid the problem.

“People just do what their religion says,” he spat.

That was it. I listened to him for what felt like hours, because it was hours and he never got much beyond that one point. He wanted ethics based on reason, science, and evidence, not on religion. I hear this sort of thing often, but I don’t understand it.

Why isn’t religion a good basis for ethics?

“Reason” is very good, but a way of thinking, not a thought. One can build a house with a hammer, but not, generally, of hammers. Reason is a tool to apply to good thoughts, but there is no reason religion cannot provide some of those thoughts.

Science is very good at tellings us what “is,” but “is” famously doesn’t equal “ought.” Com-box Atheists are always worried about magical thinking, but it is hard to see anything more magical than pulling an ought from any amount of is. Science can tell us the way the world is, but one simply Kant, sorry for the pun, get science to say the way things “ought’ to be.

The minute it does philosophical or ethical assumptions have been smuggled into the discussion.

Ethical evidence is good, but religion seems perfectly capable of producing it.

If not careful Americans will end up with ethics drawn from entertainment, at least as dubious as any source one can imagine. Christianity, by contrast, claims to be a word from the Almighty and All Knowing, who might be thought to understand how His creation ought to be. Older religions like Christianity have spent centuries with very bright people working out the implications of this revelation.

Surely adopting such a package would be better for most of us, than trying to be a local Aquinas and creating a world view for ourselves.

The problem was plain. The man on the plane did not think religion contained knowledge, but this assertion is hard to justify. Is it true God exist? If so, and we assert it with reason, then we know it and are feee to act on it. Is the Bible the Word of God? If so, then when we know this, we should act on what it says. This all may be wrong, but it seems, at least on the surface, more promising than the list I heard on the plane.

Next time you hear: “only very religious people oppose x” you might think: only the people who are part of a worked out worldview they don’t abandon to suit the whims of the times. Religion may not contain knowledge, or a given religion may contain none, but in forming our ethics, Christian religion has a better claim than most fields at being helpful.

 

 

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