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Christianity and
Contemporary Thought.
Howard Taylor.
Tutor: Howard Taylor.
Chaplain - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
Also at Heriot-Watt lectures in:
`Moral & Social Philosophy’
`Philosophy of Science and Religion’.
Visiting lecturer `International Christian College’. (Two modules alternate years).
Convenor: Church of Scotland Apologetics Committee.
Church of Scotland Parish Minister:
St. David’s Knightswood Glasgow - 12 years.
Innellan, Toward, and Inverchaolain Churches - 5 years.
Worked in Malawi, Africa - 16 years.
• Missionary: Minister, Theology lecturer, African Language teacher.
• Maths and Physics lecturer: University of Malawi.
Degrees from: Nottingham, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Author of several small books/booklets.
Married with three grown up sons and two grandsons and one granddaughter..
Main Subjects for B313
• .Background to Christian thinking in the West including
analysis of some Biblical passages.
• Ideologies and views of the human person that have shaped
or are shaping our modern Western world, including:
– Humanism, Positivism, Scientism, Genetics and human behaviour,
Human Rights.
• Supposed political solutions to the human condition
– Marxism.
– Differing views on Religion’s relation to Politics.
• Alternative spiritual solutions to humanity’s problems:
– Eastern religions,
– Green spirituality and especially New Age thought;
• The collapse of ideology
– Existentialism, Nihilism and Post Modernism.
• The ‘problem of evil’ for various worldviews.
The mystery of existence.
• Why do matter and energy exist? - where did they come from?
• Scientific theories about the origin of the universe have to assume
the initial existence of some kind of energy/law of nature. (Eg:
Wave function of the Universe - Stephen Hawking’s phrase)
– leading to matter/space-time/laws of physics in the big bang.
• But scientific theories cannot explain how the initial energy/laws
of nature came to exist or why they exist or did exist.
• If God exists why does He exist? Was He created?
• Whether or not God exists we are face to face with the
mystery:Why does anything exist at all?
– Stephen Hawking:`Why does the universe go to all the bother of
– JJC Smart (atheist philosopher): Why should anything exist at
all? - it is for me a matter of the deepest awe.
World Views:
• 1. Atheistic Materialism:
– There is nothing spiritual - no god, spirit or human soul.
– Impersonal matter/energy/physical laws (in one form or
another) are the basis of all that exist - the whole story.
• They are eternal
• They have developed into the universe including all its life
and human life and personal human minds.
– In principle the human person, including his/her appreciation
of beauty, right and wrong, could, in the future, be understood
entirely by physics.
• A complete understanding of the human person could, in
future, come from a study of impersonal physical
laws/matter/energy which make up his physical body/brain
and environment. See quotation from
• Francis Crick on next slide.
World Views: Atheistic Materialism
Francis Crick: “You, your joys and your
sorrows, your memories and your
ambitions, your sense of personal identity
and free will, are in fact no more that the
behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells
and their associated molecules.” (The
Astonishing Hypothesis page 3)
World Views:
2. Deism: God is entirely transcendent - out there, not in here.
– God created the universe with its physical laws and now leaves
it to run its course.
– There is no continuing relation between God and the physical
– God is not relevant to our physical lives.
3. Pantheism `God’ is immanent - in here, not out there.
– There is no Creator God distinct from the universe.
– `God’ is the spiritual dimension of the physical universe.
– God is impersonal.
• We tune into God rather than pray to Him in a personal way.
• We may pray to spirits but not to God.
– All things are sacred in their own right.
– The physical/spiritual universe is eternal.
World Views:
4. Theism - God is both transcendent and
– He is distinct from the physical world
but He is with and `in’ all things.
– He alone is eternal.
– He created matter/energy/laws of
– He holds all things in being.
– He is personal Mind.
– Some believe that we may know Him
World Views:
5. Christian Theism. As well as the theism already
• God is love.
• He does not remain distant from our sin and
• He stoops to the human level, and bears sin, pain and
death for us. (The Cross)
• He lifts us up back to where we belong, forgiving us
all our sin. (The resurrection)
• Although this is seen in Jesus, it is a process that
occurs throughout history - that is what the Bible is
• Judgement, new Creation and eternal life are realities.
• There our true destiny is fulfilled.
Before discussing Christian Ethics we briefly
consider the difference between Subjectivist
and Objectivist Ethics.
– Objectivist:
• There is something called goodness
which is independent of us - out there
in the world or revealed by God.
–This action is good - means it
conforms to that goodness.
–This action is bad - means it is in
opposition to that goodness.
• Subjectivist Ethics.
– There is no goodness independent of
– Our idea of goodness comes from:
• Our biology.
• The results of evolution.
– Each individual person OR each
individual society is the criterion for
deciding the difference between good
and evil.
A major problem for Subjectivist Ethics:
– How do you settle dispute about what is good?
– There is nothing to appeal to.
• In 1960, Bertrand Russell wrote:
• 'I cannot see how to refute arguments for the
subjectivity of moral values, but I find myself
incapable of believing that all that is wrong with
wanton cruelty is that I don't like it.'
Quoted by Mary Warnock in her article: Foundations of Morality, published by The
Royal Institute of Philosophy.
This problem is more graphically illustrated in
the hypothetical example given in the next
Hitler believed that only some human life is valuable.
He ordered the killing of millions of people,
believing humans of their race have no value at all.
– He felt like it, believed it to be right, and so did
many others.
– Suppose he had won the war, brainwashed or killed
those who disagreed with him,
– so that the remaining human society came to
believe that the genocide was right,
• would that have made it right?
Or is there some objective goodness - independent of a person
or society’s beliefs and feelings - that says it is wrong even
if every person believes it to be right?
Are certain actions intrinsically right or wrong or are right
and wrong merely matters of public opinion?
• Two problems for Objectivist Ethics.
1. How do you find out where that true goodness is?
– There are religions beliefs about how and where God has told
us what true goodness is.
• Are there not many religions? So which religion?
• However note:
– Not all religions claim that God has shown us the
difference between good and evil.
– Those that do make that claim are closely related.
2. Even if we think God has given us commandments, how
do we rank competing obligations?
• This problem is used by Matthew Parris in his
criticism of Christian Ethics. See handout:
– Excerpts from, and responses to, an article by Matthew
Parris criticising Christian Ethics. Times - April 1995
Christian Ethics.
• Many people think Christian Ethics is a list of
rules found in the Church or the Bible.
– It is true there are commandments but that is not
the basis of Christian Ethics.
– True Goodness cannot be defined by lists of rules.
– True goodness is deeply personal.
• Personal relationships (e.g. friendship) cannot be
defined by a list of rules about how we relate to one
• Christian goodness means being `godly’ ie having
the character of Christ in relationships with:
– God, our fellow humans, and the natural world.
Christian Ethics.
• Character of God shown not in rules but in a Person
(Jesus Christ).
• In Christ God self-sacrificially suffers for our sins
– giving us forgiveness so as to lift us up to
where we belong eternally.
– That is the meaning of `love’ and it sums
up true goodness.
– The cross of Jesus has a better effect on
us than 10,000 rules and commandments.
– By the grace of God we are called to love
as He loves us.
Christian Ethics.
• That goodness of God shines through all of nature.
• So we intuitively recognise there is something real
called `goodness’
• This is so even if we don’t know where it has come
• However we often reject that goodness and so have
a bad conscience and feel guilty.
• The cross of Christ brings us forgiveness and new
• In this imperfect world we still need guidance in
the form of commandments.
Christian Ethics
• Here (taken from the Bible) is a good
example of such guidance:
“What does the LORD require of you but to do
justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your
Is Religion Necessary For Morality?
• The question is not: `Do you have to be religious to
be good or to have a sense of right and
• Nor is the question: Have religions done more good
than harm or more harm than good?
• Rather the question can be rephrased in these ways:
– `If we say there is no God, or no spiritual
reality beyond ourselves, can we understand
what the basis should be for moral decision
– Is belief in God necessary for our
understanding of why humans have a sense
of right and wrong?
What about Genetic engineering and human identity? See handout - A Godless world finds identity in
biology. (Times 20th January 2004).
We briefly refer to the book:
‘Our Posthuman Future’ by Francis Fukuyama.
The book’s subject is the biotechnology revolution its promises and dangers.
With developing techniques for genetic engineering
and perhaps designer babies, we face the questions:
•What is it to be human?
•How do we differentiate between right and wrong?
Fukuyama considers the following approaches to
the answers:
a. religion (we learn from God our true nature),
b. natural law (what we discern from nature),
c. positivism (customs and rules of society made by us).
He dismisses positivism, skirts round religion
and so chooses natural law.
Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Our Posthuman Future’ continued.
From nature Fukuyama believes we can discern a ‘factor X’
that uniquely is the essence of humanity:
It consists of a combination of: language, emotions, and
the ability for abstract reasoning.
He concludes that any biotechnology must not interfere
with these characteristics of our species. If they do they
will have produced a ‘non-human’ being.
Even if he is right that these qualities do constitute true
humanity, he does not say why they should be valued. Why
should humanity be valued?
As philosophers since Hume realised one cannot get an
‘ought’ from an ‘is’ or ‘are’.
The statement: ‘This is what people ought to be’ does not
follow from the statement: ‘this is what people are’.
C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity
A summary of the main points:
• We have heard people quarrelling.
• They say things like this:
 How'd you like it if ….?
 That's my seat I was in it first.
 Give me a bit of your chocolate, I gave
you some of mine.
 Come on you promised.
• The person who says these things is not just saying that
he doesn't like the behaviour - rather he is appealing to a
higher standard which he expects the other person to
know about.
• The other person seldom replies: `I don't believe in
fairness, or kindness or keeping promises.' `I don't
believe in standards of behaviour'.
• He will try to say that there is some special reason why
he did what he did.
 There is another reason why he should have taken the
 Things were quite different when he was given the
 Something else has turned up to stop him keeping the
• Quarrelling shows that we try to demonstrate
that the other person is in the wrong. He has
offended against what is right.
• So some say that everyone instinctively recognises
there is a difference between right and wrong and does
not need to be taught its basic principles such as
fairness, honesty, kindness, courage etc.
– (They do not mean that there are not some people
who are completely oblivious to the difference after all some people are colour blind and can’t tell
green from blue.)
• Others reply and ask: What about the differences
between cultures?
– However in no culture do people regard kindness as
evil, or double crossing people who have been kind
to one as good, or cowardice as good.
• There have been, and are, moral differences
between cultures - but the differences are
not about whether kindness, fairness,
generosity, honesty etc are good or evil, but
– how these should be applied and
– whether they should be applied to all or just to a
privileged group.
Two Verses from the Bible which
say the same thing:
• Romans 2:14-15:
• Indeed, when heathens, who do not have
the law, (ie The 10 Commandments etc) do by
nature things required by the law, they are
a law for themselves, even though they do
not have the law, since they show that the
requirements of the law are written on
their hearts, their consciences also
bearing witness, and their thoughts now
accusing, now even defending them.
The Moral Imperative pressing upon humanity.
• (1) Either it comes from physical world:
 (a) Our sense of right and wrong is an instinct that
has come from our biological make up or
psychology - which are the results of random
evolutionary processes.
 (b) Our sense of right and wrong comes from
social conventions we have learnt.
 © A combination of (a) and (b)
• (2) Or it comes from beyond the physical world
– Spiritual world or God.
• Even if (1) above is part of the story, can it be the
whole story?
Can either of the explanations
from the physical world be right?
• Consider the first.
 Our psychology - result of random
evolutionary processes - has led us to
value kindness and selflessness..
• But if the sense of goodness is just an
instinct which is the result of `survival of
fittest' then does it have any intrinsic
Is morality only the instinct to
preserve the species?
• If we hear of someone in danger there will be two
contradictory instincts:
– Herd instinct to help him - preserve the species.
– The instinct to avoid danger - preserve the species.
• We will also feel inside us a third thing which tells us
we ought to suppress one instinct and encourage the
• There are appropriate times for each instinct.
• Morality tells us that at this time, such and such an
instinct should be encouraged.
• Therefore morality is not itself just a physical instinct.
Leaving C. S. Lewis’s argument for this slide and the
next, we note something said by Richard Dawkins
(Atheist biologist). In his book: The Selfish Gene, p. 2:
• "I shall argue that a predominant quality to
be expected in a successful gene is ruthless
selfishness.... Be warned that if you wish, as
I do, to build a society in which individuals
co-operate generously and unselfishly
towards a common good, you can expect
little help from biological nature. Let us try
to teach generosity and altruism, because
we are born selfish."
• Richard Dawkins does not seem to
realise that his desire that we be
taught to be unselfish - against
our biology - implies
– that there is purpose to human
– that something has gone wrong with
our human being which should be
countered by purposeful teaching.
Returning to C. S. Lewis’s argument:
• Where does our moral sense come from?
– Not as we have seen from our biology.
Has it come from social conventions we have learnt?
• Do we ever think that one social convention is better than
another? (One society may believe in slavery another not.)
• Do we think we have progressed - ie got better in our
moral customs?
• If we do, then we are implicitly acknowledging another
greater Real Morality by which we judge one morality or
social convention against another.
• Universal agreement that fairness, honesty, kindness etc
are good and not evil, cannot be a mere world wide social
convention because different cultures believed them to be
good before they had met one another.
• Suppose two of us had an idea of what New York was
• Your idea might be truer than mine because there is a
real place called New York by which we can compare
our ideas.
• But if we simply meant `the town I am imagining in my
head' (there being no real New York) then one person's
idea would be no more correct than the other person’s
• If there were no such thing as Real Morality - but just
what evolution made people think, or just what
different cultures had developed themselves - there
would be no meaning to the statement that Nazi
morality is inferior to any other morality
A different form of the argument that there must be more
to morality than can be explained from the physical
Can one derive an `ought' from an `is'?
• Science can tell us what is the case, but can it tell us
what ought to be the case?
– Electrons behave as they do - that is neither morally
right nor wrong - it is just the way things are - the
whole story.
– We behave in certain ways but that is not the whole
story for we know we ought to behave in certain other
– Therefore there is more than one kind of reality.
• The first of these realities is subject to scientific
investigation and discovery - the other one isn’t.
• If our moral sense is not mere biology/ psychology
nor social convention then:
– it must have come from beyond the physical world.
• That is what religion is about.
This is the basis of C. S. Lewis’s argument.
My own view:
• Rather than saying there must be a ‘Moral Law’
coming from beyond us, I prefer to say:
– Beauty, grandeur in the universe and the world are
objective realities.
• When we say: ‘The valley is beautiful’ we are not
merely talking about our own feelings.
• We are claiming that beauty is something that is
actually there.
– Beauty and grandeur are connected with goodness which
is also something real.
• Evil and suffering are alien intrusions.
– Although we may not recognise it at first, the Spirit and
Word of God (the source of creation, beauty and
goodness) impinge upon us all and therefore we recognise
righteousness when we see it and evil when we see it.
Read handout: ‘The Gospel according to science’ by
physicist Paul Davies and ponder these points:
His belief is that we must turn to science to find moral
• Does he indicate what he means by goodness?
• As well as good he believes humans commit much evil.
• There is an underlying assumption that the survival and
future happiness of our species is the final goal of goodness
and morality.
– If, as he says, we do evil things, why should our survival be a `good’?
– Even if it is the case that morality is about our survival and happiness,
does that follow from science? If not science then what?
• He wonders how science can be used to give us moral values.
– Does he give any indication of how this might be possible?
– If not, why do you think he fails (and is bound to fail) to find a solution
to his problem?
• Can we get an `ought’ from an ‘is’? See three slides back.
Read handout: ‘Michael Ruse and reductionary
illusions.’ by John Byle.
• Michael Ruse’s theory is that there is no real ‘good’;
it is just a useful illusion that helps preserves our
species by making us behave more co-operatively.
(If the ‘good’ is an illusion why should it be ‘good’ that we
behave co-operatively?)
– He believes that morality comes from our genes that trick
us into thinking that co-operation is objectively ‘good.’
– He believes, then, that understanding morality can be
reduced to understanding our genes.
– He has a reductionist view of morality.
John Byle argues that this theory refutes itself and therefore
cannot be true.
A Christian View of the source of our moral sense:
 Our moral awareness must be something
above and beyond what we actually do.
 Something real that is pressing on us though we
often try to forget it.
• We, from the inside, know there is a moral
– We cannot follow it.
– God comes to us and from the inside makes us
what we ought to be.
• Read and study handout: `Lord Hailsham on
the Objective Validity of Morality’.
 Ideas.
How to improve the world or how to
behave in the world.
What is wrong with the world.
How it should be put right.
Systematic – written explanations
Actions – justified by the ideology
Own morality.
"Man is the measure of all things"
Said Protagoras the ancient Greek Philosopher.
Read handout entitled: Humanism.
• Humanism is an optimistic form
of atheism/agnosticism which
believes we have good reason to
have faith in humanity.
• We will see later that there are
deeply pessimistic forms of
atheism which explicitly reject
• Ancient Greek philosophers believed the
ability for reason
• abstract thought
• universal thought
– made human beings unique and superior
to all other earthly living or non-living
• Everywhere they looked in nature they saw
‘order’ and therefore ‘mindedness’.
– Somehow, then, they believed that
• mind pervades nature.
• human beings share in that universal mind.
• They had no belief in a Creator or Creation (although Aristotle believed in a Prime
Mover), so nature has to be as it is by logical
– Therefore they believed the mysteries of the
universe can be understood by reason, logic and
mathematics alone - without the need for
Renaissance Humanism (15th & 16th Centuries)
• Celebration of freedom of thought.
– Dependence on the doctrines of the Church
became less necessary
– Right and wrong could be discerned from ‘the
way the world is’.
– Natural law.
• Although knowledge became less dependent
upon the Church, underpinning this humanism
was faith in the goodness of the natural world
and its Creator.
Post Enlightenment and Modern Humanism.
• After Newton’s discoveries of the ‘laws of motion’
governing the movement of bodies (large and small),
many gradually came to believe that eventually all
things would be explicable by physical laws alone.
Growth of a humanism without belief in God.
The Laws of Nature, eternal?
 Why do the planets orbit the sun?
 Not God but the law of gravity.
God of the gaps.
A mechanistic universe.
Nevertheless humanism maintains its optimistic belief in the
goodness of humanity.
• Humanists reject the idea of any supernatural agency intervening
to help or hinder us.
• Evidence shows that we have only one life, and humanists grasp
the opportunity to live it to the full.
• Humanists retain faith … that people can and will continue to
solve problems, and that quality of life can be improved and made
more equitable. Humanists are positive, gaining inspiration from
a rich natural world, our lives and culture.
• Humanists think that:
 this world and this life are all we have;
 we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves and, as
part of this, make it easier for other people to do the same;
 all situations and people deserve to be judged on their
merits by standards of reason and humanity;
 individuality and social co-operation are equally important.
Questions & Problems for Modern Humanism 1
God does not exist Can there be any evidence for this
as an objective
 It claims knowledge about all of reality.
Humanity (not
How do you measure goodness?
 Is that possible?
God) is the correct  By our feelings as to the difference between
object of faith. We
should do what is
natural - we are
basically good
right and wrong?
 Are not our feelings often contradictory?
 If Hitler had won the war and then
brainwashed everyone to believe that
genocide was good, would that have made
it good?
Questions & Problems for Modern Humanism 2
• We must promote human happiness.
 Yes but, how do we know what is good for the
promotion of human happiness in the long term?
 Does not human happiness come from a sense of
purpose, which is being fulfilled?
 What is this purpose?
 Is humanity's purpose in life to be happy?
 If that is the case, all that is being said is that in
order for humanity to be happy it must be happy!
 The first question above has not been answered.
Questions and Problems for Modern Humanism 3
• God is now unnecessary because education has
meant that humans have 'come of age'.
• Are not some educated people criminals?
• Is there evidence from our behaviour that we have
grown up and can now safely guide ourselves?
• Mankind is potentially capable of achieving
great progress in terms, of technology and social
• Can we be sure that the way we have used the
progress in technology has brought more good than
Questions & Problems for Modern Humanism 4
• Mankind is also free to act and
achieve his aims if he so chooses there are no supernatural bonds to tie
him down.
• If we are nothing but bundles of matter
and physical laws can there be real
Questions & Problems for Modern
Humanism 5
• “Evidence shows that we have only one
life ….”
What evidence?
Human Society - its Source of Goodness and Righteousness.
Goodness is the character of God shown, not primarily in a
list of rules, but in His deeply personal dealings with us.
– the Bible is the account of this.
– It is focussed in the Person Jesus Christ in whom
God comes face to face with us.
– In Christ God self-sacrificially suffers for our sins.
• giving us forgiveness lifting us up in His resurrection and
ascension,to where we belong eternally.
• That is the meaning of `love’ and it sums up true
• We are called to love as He loves us.
• From this comes our duties of respect for justice and
the dignity of our fellow human beings and all creation.
In our yet imperfect world God knows we still need laws so, by
His grace, He gives them to us. (10 Commandments etc).
The Source of Goodness - Old and New.
God - His goodness and
The Concept of Human
Rights replaces God.
• Laws of the State as far as • As in a religion people are
possible are in harmony
reluctant to challenge this
with that goodness and
new ‘god’.
Law of God
– Government legislation is
– State legislation gives
certain rights in certain
• E.g. the ‘right’ of way at
a crossroads.
• But such a ‘right’ is not
a fundamental human
always subject to ‘Human
– Where there is conflict
between the Court of
Human Rights and
Government legislation Human Rights has the
final say.
Can the concepts of Human Rights and
Equality be a basis for moral decision making?
Background to the modern revival of the concept
of Human Rights.
– Some governments treat their citizens terribly:
– Dictatorships - fear of losing control
• Imprisonment without trial, torture, killings,
disappearances, genocide.
– 1961 ‘Amnesty International’ was founded to
campaign for the release of prisoners of conscience.
• i.e. prisoners who had committed no crime, nor
advocated violence but were in prison for their
political or religious beliefs.
• it was not until the rise and fall of Nazi Germany
that the idea of rights--human rights--came truly into
its own.
– The laws authorising the dispossession and extermination
of Jews and other minorities, the laws permitting
arbitrary police search and seizure, the laws condoning
imprisonment, torture, and execution without public trial-these and similar obscenities brought home the
realisation that certain actions are wrong, no matter what;
human beings are entitled to simple respect at least.
(Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)
A few milestones in the recent history of Human Rights
• The Charter of the United Nations (1945) begins by reaffirming a
"faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the
human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of
nations large and small."
• In 1950, the Council of Europe agreed to the European
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms. This led to the creation of the European Commission of
Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
• The European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR) was
incorporated into British Law in the year 2000.
NB Students are not required to have a detailed knowledge of the
history of these conventions, charters - etc. The above is for
background information only. What matters for the this module is an
understanding of the questions that arise from the concept of
Narrow & Broad Interpretations of Human Rights.
• Narrow: Human Rights are relevant only to such things as
`imprisonment without trial’, a ‘fair trial’, government
sponsored torture, persecution on the grounds of beliefs etc.
• An example of a Broad Interpretation of ‘Rights’:
Christmas period 2000. Some Perthshire parents demanded
their children’s ‘right’ to privacy and successfully asked the
Council to forbid the taking of photos during school nativity
plays. Other parents who wanted the ‘right’ to photograph a
significant event in their child’s life were disappointed.
– Does the concept of human rights give any help in settling
disputes such as this?
– Does the concept of Human Rights mean ‘human desires’?
• No, but people will try to say that their desires are their rights!
• How will the courts decide?
– This is one of the main problems of the concept.
Further back in history (in America):
Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of USA) asserted that his
countrymen were a:
"free people claiming their rights as derived from the
laws of nature and not as the gift of their Chief
This gave poetic eloquence to the plain prose of the 17th
century in the Declaration of Independence proclaimed
by the 13 American Colonies on July 4, 1776:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
The idea of human rights as natural rights was not
without its detractors.
Because they were conceived in essentially absolutist-"inalienable," "unalterable," "eternal"--terms, natural
rights were found increasingly to come into conflict
with one another.
(what if my supposed ‘right’ to do something impinges on your
Also the doctrine of natural rights came under powerful
philosophical attack.
For example, David Hume (18th C sceptical philosopher)
said the concept belonged to metaphysics - ie could not
be verified by science and therefore was invalid.
(Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)
• Some of the most basic questions have yet to receive
conclusive answers.
• Whether human rights are to be validated by intuition, or
custom, or a particular sociological theory.
• whether they are to be understood as irrevocable or
partially revocable;
• whether they are to be broad or limited in number and
– these and related issues are matters of ongoing
– Most assertions of human rights are qualified by the
limitation that the rights of any particular individual
or group are restricted as much as is necessary to
secure the comparable rights of others.
(Taken from an Encyclopaedia Britannica article)
Some Complications and difficulties:
• What is the difference between a human desire and a
human right?
• Do we have a right to do what we like with our bodies in
– Does what I do in private affect society at large - now or in the
future? Some theories of human society say it does.
• Abortion - whose right - mother's or the unborn?
• When does the right to freedom of speech:
– breach the right of someone to be protected from what he
regards as offensive?
– propagate evil and harm society.
• Can a list of things, such as rights, describe the dignity of
a person, or does a list of things not depersonalise us?
These dilemmas are faced in the following articles
from the Times and Sunday Times:
• Handout `Fundamentalism and Human Rights.
• Handout: Cleaning up in court: the flood of
legal action set to engulf Britain.
• Handout: Human rights - by Cardinal Basil
• Handout: Church & Nation Committee 1999
Criticism of the concept of Human Rights by Leslie
Newbigin in his : ‘Foolishness to the Greeks’ especially:
The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
• But what is true happiness ?
– If we can’t ask the Question:
• “What is the chief purpose of man’s existence?”
• then happiness is whatever each person defines it as.
– Without belief in heaven or hell the pursuit of
happiness is carried out in the few short uncertain
years before death.
– Hectic search for happiness leading to great anxiety
Criticism, (continued) of the concept of Human Rights by
Leslie Newbigin especially:
The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
• If everyone claims the right to life, liberty & happiness
– who is under obligation to honour this claim ?
• Middle Ages - there were reciprocal rights & duties.
– Rights & duties went hand in hand and both were finite.
• But quest for happiness is infinite (we are always
wanting more from life)
who has the infinite duty to honour the infinite claims?
The answer is perceived to be the nation state.
Demands on the state are without limit.
Nation state has taken the place of God as the source to
which many look for happiness.
Criticism (continued) of the concept of Human Rights by
Leslie Newbigin especially:
The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
 Should I claim my ‘wants’ as ‘rights’? Or should it be my
‘needs’ that are my `rights’?
 My wants may be (and often are) irrational;
 I can (and often do) want things that would not in the end bring me
lasting happiness.
 My real needs - what I need to reach my true end - may be different
from the wants I feel.
 The political left usually desire to provide for our needs,
whereas the political right want to allow us to make up our
own minds and therefore be governed by our wants.
 The argument of the political left assumes that need creates a
right that has priority over the wants of those who wish to
Criticism of the concept of Human Rights by Leslie
Newbigin especially:
The Right to … the pursuit of happiness.
• Difficulties immediately appear:
– ‘Needs’ can be accorded priority over ‘wants’ only if
there is some socially accepted view of the goal of
human existence.
 in other words, a socially accepted
doctrine of the nature and destiny of the
human being.
 Such a socially accepted doctrine is
excluded by the dogma of pluralism that
controls post-Enlightenment society.
Lesslie Newbigin on Equality
 We are all equal in our basic need for survival; this is the
need we share with the animals.
 But to be human means to need other things -respect,
honour, love.
 These needs, social rather than merely biological, call
precisely for differentiation rather than for equality.
 There are different kinds of respect, & love we owe to wife,
husband, teachers, colleagues, parents, friends, children.
 It is this kind of differentiated respect, honour, and love that
makes life human.
 An undifferentiated acknowledgement of the basic biological
needs of a human being does not.
 And these things - respect, honour, and love - cannot be
claimed as rights.
Is the word `rights' the right word? If `yes' address the problems
and answer them. If `no' provide another way of expressing the
belief in correct treatment of one-another.
• Alternative way of expressing the belief in correct treatment
of one-another
 Duty. We have duties to one another:
 What God values and loves I must value and love.
 Whereas each person demanding ‘rights’ tends to separate us into rival
isolated individuals; each person having a ‘duty’ to others unites us in
 The concept of human rights has been useful in challenging
cruel governments about their behaviour but can it really be
the basis of:
moral decision making?
Government policy making?
A Christian Alternative:
For our sake God Himself surrendered His rights and
entered our suffering and death so as to forgive us and
lift us up to Him.
Christ did not count His equality with God something
to hold on to but He surrendered it for us:
Phil 2:3-11 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in
humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should
look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being
in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to
be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a
servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in
appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to
death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the
highest place and gave him the name that is above every name …
Rights and Equality - the Bible.
 Sometimes we are called to surrender our rights and make
sacrifices in order that we might help one another.
 The Biblical injunction is not to claim equality but to count
others as deserving of greater honour than ourselves.
 However the kind of honour and love we give is different
for different people.
 A good society is one where we honour one another in ways
appropriate to our relationships of being.
 I give a different love and a different honour to different persons
depending on whether the person is my parent, child, teacher, pupil,
colleague, employer, employee, spouse, or friend.
 In these relationships we find our true human destiny and
Now to some thoughts from various other writers
and speakers:
John Witte
The modern cultivation of human rights in the West began in
Jnr is
earnest in the 1940's when both Christianity and the
Enlightenment seemed incapable of delivering on their
for In the middle of the twentieth century, there was no
second coming of Christ promised by Christians, no heavenly
city of reason promised by enlightened libertarians, no
withering away of the state promised by enlightened socialists.
of there was world war, gulags, and the Holocaust - a vile
and evil at
fascism and irrationalism to which Christianity and the
Enlightenment seemed to have no cogent response or effective
•The modern
human rights movement was thus born out of
desperation in the aftermath of World War II. It was an attempt
to find a world faith to fill a spiritual void. It was an attempt to
harvest from the traditions of Christianity and the
Enlightenment the rudimentary elements of a new faith and a
new law that would unite a badly broken world order.
•John Witte, Jr*, The Spirit of the Laws, the Laws of the Spirit, in Stackhouse &
Browning (eds), God and Globalization, Vol.2
Oliver O'Donovan
is Professor of
effect does this
and Pastoral
Oxford It dissolves its
… have upon the conception of
unity and coherence by replacing
it with a plurality of 'rights'. The language of subjective
rights (i.e. rights which adhere to a particular subject)
has, of course, a perfectly appropriate and necessary
place within a discourse founded on law… What is
distinctive about the modern conception of rights,
however, is that subjective rights are taken to be
original, not derived. The fundamental reality is a
plurality of competing, unreconciled rights, and the task
of law is to harmonise them… The right is a primitive
endowment of power with which the subject first
engages in society, not an enhancement which accrues
to the subject from an ordered and politically formed
•Oliver O'Donovan*, The Desire of the Nations
The Judge was Jeremy
Summary of a Christian Judge’s view*:
Cooke at the Sept 2002
Oxford Conference on
• Our sense of morality should give rise to legislation
enacted by
Human Rights.
governments. E.g. our sense that it is wrong to steal will give
rise to laws forbidding various forms of stealing.
• Laws also regulate how we should behave in certain contexts
so as to preserve an ordered society. Such legislation will give
certain people rights in certain contexts.
– For example at a crossroads law gives someone the right of way.
– However this is not a fundamental human right which gives rise to
a law. It is the result of a law for that particular situation.
• Rights should occur in the context of the law of the land but not
be considered as the source of morality itself.
• However the British (and other European) governments have
reversed this and given the European Convention on Human
Rights preference over the legislation of individual parliaments.
world found nothing sacred in the abstract
of being human. And in view of
American political conditions, it is hard to say how
the concepts of man upon which human rights are
based - that he is created in the image of God (in
the American formula), or that he is the
representative of mankind, or that he harbors
within himself the sacred demands of natural law
(in the French formula) - could have helped to find
a solution to the problem. The survivors of the
extermination camps …. could see… that the
abstract nakedness of being nothing but human
was their greatest danger.
•Hannah Arendt*, The Origins of Totalitarianism
• Human dignity is the foundation for nurturing
and protecting human rights. It is rooted in the
vision of the 'fullness of life' promised in the
incarnation of Jesus Christ and his identification
with all humankind. We must be reminded that
human dignity is something persons have, not
something they must earn or be granted. Dignity
is not a quality bestowed on others by the family,
by society, or by a government. Rather, dignity is
a reality as a consequence of God's good creation
and never-ending love. This reality requires
acknowledgement and respect.
• Robert A. Evans, Human Rights in a Global Context
Contemporary moral experience …. has a paradoxical character. For each of us
is taught to see himself or herself as an autonomous moral agent; but each of
us also becomes engaged by … manipulative relationships with others.
Seeking to protect the autonomy that we have learned to prize, we aspire
ourselves not to be manipulated by others; ... we find no way open to us to do
so except by directing towards others those very manipulative modes of
relationship which each of us aspires to resist in our own case. The
incoherence of our attitudes arises from the incoherent conceptual scheme
which we have inherited. Once we have understood this, it is possible to
understand also the key place that the concept of rights has in the distinctively
modern moral scheme…
…the culture of bureaucratic individualism results in ... political debates being
between individualism which makes its claims in terms of rights and forms
of bureaucratic organisation which make their claims in terms of utility.
But if the concept of rights and that of utility are a matching pair of
incommensurable fictions, it will be the case that the moral idiom employed
can at best provide a semblance of rationality for the modern political process,
but not its reality. The mock rationality of the debate conceals the arbitrariness
of the will and power at work in its resolution.
Alister MacIntyre, After Virtue
What would it mean to come to a genuine, unforced international
consensus on human rights? I suppose it would be something like what
Rawls describes in his Political Liberalism as an 'overlapping
consensus'. That is, different groups, countries, religious
communities, civilizations, while holding incompatible
fundamental views on theology, metaphysics, human nature, etc.,
would come to an agreement on certain norms that ought to
govern human behaviour. Each would have its own way of
justifying this from out of its profound background conception. We
would agree on the norms, while disagreeing on why they were the
right norms. And we would be content to live in this consensus,
undisturbed by the differences of profound underlying belief….
Is this kind of consensus possible? Perhaps because of my optimistic
nature, I believe that it is. But we have to confess at the outset that it
is not entirely clear around what the consensus would form, and
we are only beginning to discern the obstacles we would have to
overcome on the way there.
Charles Taylor, Conditions of an Unforced Consensus on Human Rights
More reading from the Press
• Handout: Bishop of Rochester’s warning
and Telegraph editorial.
• Handout: Human Rights and Justice Roger Scruton.
Some Important Existentialists.
• Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55)
– father of existentialism
– Christian
• Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)
– Atheist.
• Jean Paul Satre (1905-1980)
– Atheist
• Albert Camus (1913 - 60)
– Atheist.
• John McQuarrie
– Christian.
Essence and Existence.
• Essence
• Is God our Creator
and Judge?
• Who are we?
• Is there life after
• What is the good
• What is right?
• How can we
improve the world?
• What is the purpose
• Existence
• Decisions
• Commitments
• Passions
It has many forms but there is a common thread:
• Existence precedes essence.
 You are not born with a fixed nature.
 You cannot, by thinking, find life’s meaning.
 Don’t ponder the essence of your life and then act.
 Rather choose and commit yourself to something.
 From your choice you will make and find your own
 You cannot avoid choices. (Choosing not to choose
is a choice)
 This involves a frightening responsibility.
 Death mocks everything in the end. (Atheistic form
of existentialism only)
To Be or Not to Be?
- that is the Question.
• Albert Camus (Atheist existentialist who
eventually died in a car crash) said:
– “death is philosophy's only problem.”
– How does one make sense of life when haunted
by this spectre?
• Existentialists say:
– `We must answer `To Be’ and put everything
into our lives.’
Background to Existentialism.
• German Philosopher - Hegel. (1770 - 1831)
– Not an existentialist!
– Dialectic
• Socrates:
• Ideas in conflict with other ideas lead to advance in
– Hegel’s Dialectic:
• Nation in conflict with nation leads to advance in
the progress of history.
• This progress is guided by Great Spirit - immanent
in World
Kierkegaard’s themes
• Rejected Hegel’s philosophy as unrelated to
• Tumultuous life marked by indecision re
marriage and ordination.
• We cannot find truth by reflection and reason.
• I must do what God wants me to do and then I
will find truth.
• Don’t go in for proofs.
• The less the evidence the better.
• Decision - leap in dark - pain.
Kierkegaard’s book titles give a
clue to his thinking:
Fear and Trembling
Philosophical Fragments
Concluding Unscientific Postscript.
The Concept of Dread
Kierkegaard’s main themes (Cont)
• Stake your life on something even if, at first,
there is no reason to do so.
• Don’t live a second or third hand life, choose
for yourself.
• Subjectivity not objectivity is key to truth.
• Enlightenment must come from beyond one’s
• One must desire enlightenment for its own
Kierkegaard’s parable.
• King (God or Truth or Enlightenment) wants to marry
peasant girl.
– She must love him not for his wealth or power
• He can’t dazzle her with wealth and entice her.
• He can’t force her to marry her.
• So he conceals himself.
• God concealed Himself from us in Christ.
– We must desire enlightenment and truth for its own sake
and not be enticed by its benefits.
• Then God is able to miraculously reveal true purpose
of life to us.
• Kierkegaard was converted during Holy Week
Subject - Object relationship
• My comments:
Objective truth does exist.
Thinking and experiment are necessary.
Thinking alone is not enough.
Revelation is necessary especially in knowledge
of persons.
We cannot be detached observers
Understand a little, commit a little, understand
more, commit more.
Truth does change us.
Personal commitment and passion is part of the
quest for objective truth.
For a summary of Michael Polanyi’s view see
handout: Polanyi-short.doc.
Kierkegaard Quotations
* Faith
* Faith is the highest passion in a human being.
Many in every generation may not come that far,
but none comes further.
* Life and Living
* Life has its own hidden forces which you can only
discover by living.
* Mystics and Mysticism
• Just as in earthly life lovers long for the moment
when they are able to breathe forth their love for
each other, to let their souls blend in a soft whisper,
so the mystic longs for the moment when in prayer
he can, as it were, creep into God.
Soren Kierkegaard - quotations (2)
– Personality
• Personality is only ripe when a man has made
the truth his own.
– Saints
• God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you
say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still
more wonderful: he makes saints out of
– Tyranny
• The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr
dies and his rule begins.
• `God is Dead’
– Thus Spake Zarathustra begins with
pronouncement by Zarathustra that God is dead
• See Article - Independent Newspaper
Because God is Dead (said Nietzsche)
• It follows that:
– the physical world with its laws is all that there is
– there is no real `I' independent of my body/brain.
(See quote in next slide)
– no such thing as free thought
– no such thing as reasoning and knowledge
– science as knowledge of the real universe is an
Quotation from `Beyond Good and Evil’:
As for the superstitions of the logicians, I shall
never tire of underlining a concise little fact
which these superstitious people are loath to
admit - namely that a thought comes when it
wants, not when `I' want; so that it is a
falsification of the facts to say: the subject `I' is
the condition of the predicate `think'
By ‘logicians’ Nietzsche means scientists and others
who believe genuine thought is possible.
He is saying that `thinking’, as we normally consider
it, is not possible.
The Irony
• In an age of dramatic scientific discoveries
we decide that we know nothing
– To the obvious question: `How can it be true
that there is no truth?' he provides no answer.
He cannot.
– Nietzsche enjoys the irony that the rationality
that made science possible has been destroyed
by science.
Nietzsche’s existentialism in blue
Science alone provides the given
This has made our normal understanding of truth
There is no objective purpose to life - no good
and evil.
We must now seize the moment, say yes to life,
and impose our will on the world around us.
We must be strong willed.
Truth is not discovered it is created.
Truth is the will to power.
Just one example of Nietzsche’s
rejection of objective morality:
"Who can attain to anything great if he does not
feel in himself the force and will to inflict great
pain ? The ability to suffer is a small matter: in
that line, weak women and even slaves often
maintain masterliness.
But not to perish from internal distress and doubt
when one inflicts great suffering and hears the
cry to it - that is great, that belongs to greatness.”
Friedrich Nietzche, 'The Joyful Wisdom', trans. by Thomas Common
(New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1964), p.25.
Nietzsche’s Contradictory & Tragic Life(1)
• Son of a Protestant minister
• Father died young.
• He always loved and honoured his father’s
• On his father’s grave stone he put the
words from the New Testament:
– Love abides forever.
• He had little money, poor health and was
Nietzsche’s Contradictory & Tragic Life(2)
• Yet he hated teaching of Jesus such as:
– Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.
– Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the
– Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled.
– Blessed are those who are persecuted because of
righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of
– But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you.
Nietzsche’s Contradictory & Tragic Life(3)
• He believed such teaching went against
his conviction that we must assert
ourselves in the face of adversity.
• He believed Jesus encouraged weakness.
• A Question:
– Could the contradictions in his intellectual
and spiritual life have contributed to his
eventual insanity? (He died at 56 after
spending years in a psychiatric hospital)
Richard Rorty*, Human Rights, Rationality and Sentimentality:
•Wheniscontemporary admirers of Plato claim that all featherless bipeds Professor
of and childlike, even the women, even the sodomized - have
even the stupid
the same inalienable rights, admirers of Nietzsche reply that the very idea of
Literaturehuman rights is, like the idea of a special added ingredient, a
laughably feeble attempt by the weaker members of the species to fend off
I see it, one important intellectual advance made in our century is the
steady decline of interest in the quarrel between Plato and Nietzsche. There
of willingness to neglect the question 'What is our nature?'
is a growing
and to substitute the question 'What can we make of ourselves?'… We
Postare coming to think of ourselves as the flexible, protean, self-shaping
animal rather than as the rational animal or the cruel animal.
•One of the shapes we have recently assumed is that of a human rights
culture… We should stop trying to get behind or beneath this fact, stop
trying to detect and defend its so-called 'philosophical
presuppositions'… Philosophers like myself… see our task as a matter of
making our own culture - the human rights culture - more self-conscious
and more powerful, rather than of demonstrating its superiority to other
cultures by an appeal to something trans-cultural.
Read handout:
–Some books by Jean Paul Sartre
 Nausea
 Being and Nothingness
 The Wall
 No Exit
 The Room
Jean Paul Satre - Quotations 1:
• "Atheistic existentialism...states that if God does
not exist, there is at least one being in whom
existence precedes essence, a being who exists
before he can be defined by any concept and that
this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human
reality. What is meant here by saying that
existence precedes essence? It means that, first of
all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene,
and, only afterwards, defines himself."
Jean Paul Satre - Quotations 2:
"The existentialist is strongly opposed to a certain
kind of secular ethics which would like to abolish
God with the least possible expense."
All human actions are equivalent... and all are on
principle doomed to failure.
The poor don't know that their function in life is to
exercise our generosity.
Every existing thing is born without reason,
prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by
Jean Paul Satre - Quotations 3:
• Things are entirely what they appear to be
and behind them . . . there is nothing.
• Hell is other people.,
• My thought is me: that's why I can't stop. I
exist because I think. . . and I can't stop
myself from thinking.
Jean Paul Satre - Quotations 4:
• There are two kinds of existentialists; first, those
who are Christian...and on the other hand the
atheistic existentialists, among whom...I class
myself. What they have in common is that they think
that existence precedes essence, or, if you prefer,
that subjectivity must be the turning point.
• We must act out passions before we can feel them.
• Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown
into the world, he is responsible for everything he
Albert Camus - Most famous book - ‘The
Outsider’. Summary given in class.
• Quotations from Albert Camus 1:
– Ideology
• Whoever today speaks of human existence in terms of
power, efficiency, and "historical tasks" is an actual or
potential assassin.
– Injustice
• Children will still die unjustly even in a perfect society.
Even by his greatest effort, man can only propose to
diminish, arithmetically, the sufferings of the world.
– Life and Living
• If, after all, men cannot always make history have
meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have
Quotations from Albert Camus 2:
– Optimism
• If Christianity is pessimistic as to man, it is optimistic as to
human destiny. Well, I can say that, pessimistic as to human
destiny, I am optimistic as to man.
– Self-knowledge
• To know oneself, one should assert oneself. Psychology is
action, not thinking about oneself. We continue to shape our
personality all our life. If we knew ourselves perfectly, we
should die.
– Suffering
• In default of inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering
would at least give us a destiny. But we do not even have
that consolation, and our worst agonies come to an end one
Karl Marx (1818 - 1883)
The Two Main Writings:
Das Capital
The Communist Party Manifesto.
But first the background to Marxist
The Dialectic.
• Process.
Thesis against Antithesis leads to Synthesis.
This new thesis has its own antithesis.
So a new synthesis emerges
And so on …
• Dialectic in Socrates and Plato.
• Method of argumentation using `contrary case’ to
elicit more truth.
• One opinion has a counter opinion.
• The clash of the two leads to advance in
understanding in a synthesis - and so on …
Hegel(1770-1831)& the Dialectic
Absolute Spirit (Mind) guides dialectic
• A) Process in history of universe
– Material universe - Low level consciousness - higher
consciousness - self-awareness - human reason.
– The Mind of the Universe now expresses itself in
human reasoning.
• B) Process in history of nations.
– Nation against nation leads to new nation
incorporating best of both in a new synthesis.
– This new nation conflicts with another nation and
another nation appears.
– So on until the perfect society is reached.
Feuerbach (1804 - 1872)
• He denied the existence of the Absolute
Mind or Spirit.
• Reality can be understood by material
processes alone.
Marx’s Dialectical Materialism
• The Dialectic is not the conflict of nations
but classes.
– The Class Struggle.
• The Dialectic is an inevitable process but
is not moved forward by Absolute Spirit or
Mind - there is no God or Eternal Mind.
– It can be understood by material and economic
processes alone.
– A Question for Marxists:
• How do we know that blind material processes
alone will follow the path Marx believed in?
Some of the main phases of Marx’s dialectic:
1. Feudalism, 2. Capitalism, 3. Socialism, 4. Communism.
– Each change is revolutionary not gradual nor
– The process needs each of these in order.
• A people cannot jump from Feudalism to Socialism (say).
• For example Marx believed capitalism was needed to give
socialism a prosperous foundation.
– However, after Marx’s time, the main communist
nations (Russia and China) did try to jump from
rural semi-feudal economies to socialism, missing out
industrial capitalism!
• Landowner and Tenants.
– Tenants have no right to buy land or significant
– Permanent serfdom.
• Clash between serfs and landowners leads
to Capitalism.
Capitalism leads to Socialist revolution.
– Every person can own land and/or capital.
Some are successful and start businesses.
They employ workers.
Competition between businesses lowers prices.
Low prices means low wages paid to workers.
Worker is paid less than the `value’ he puts into
the product.
• The difference is the `surplace value’
• Worker becomes alienated from the product.
– Workers rise against owners of capital.
• Workers take over government and seize all
property for the people.
– `Dictatorship of the proletariat’ (socialism) begins.
Socialism to Communist Utopia.
The power of the state withers away
Nations and governments disappear.
A community of common ownership emerges.
This communist community would then fulfil
Marx’s famous words:
`From each according to his ability to each
according to his need’.
– It was this statement that inspired many Western
Christian people to sympathise with Communist
ideology - at least until the realities of life under
Stalin (USSR) and Mao (China) became apparent.
– This final `communist’ phase was never reached.
The reality was the opposite of Utopia.
• Even excluding those killed in war or civil war,
in the 20th Century more than 100 million
people perished under so-called Marxist
governments - many more than all those who
perished under all other systems of government
put together.
• Why did this happen?
• Three things, at least, contributed:
– Absence of the rule of law.
– The concentration of all political and economic
power in the hands of a political elite.
– The explicit materialist conviction that human
beings are not finally accountable to God.
Marxist Morality and a Paradox
• An act which encourages the forward
movement of the revolutionary process is
• An act (say generosity to the poor) that
delays the revolution is bad.
• The revolutionary process is inevitable
and cannot be stopped by anyone.
– Nevertheless we must struggle and fight to
promote the revolution.
Problems with Marx’s Theory
• Competition does not necessarily lead to lower wages.
– It may instead lead to advances in technology and
business techniques and eventually higher wages.
– Workers in Western Countries are much better off
than they were one hundred years ago.
• The market value of something is determined by supply
and demand not by the labour used to make it.
• The abolition of Free Enterprise stifled creativity and
the creation of wealth thus increasing, not diminishing,
• It was grossly unrealistic to believe that in the last
phase (socialism to communism) the holders of socialist
state power would give up that power and let
government wither away.
• Can we really imagine a society without government?
Genetic Determinism and
• Before we consider these topics we consider the more
general metaphysical theory: Scientism.
• Read Handout entitled: `What is Scientism?’
– Especially note the consequences for moral thinking which
come from the quotations from Bertrand Russell and the
Los Angeles judge.
• Turning to Genetic Determinism and Sociobiology,
our question is not: `Do Genes affect our behaviour?’ Of course they do! The question is rather: `Could
genes and other physical factors provide the complete
explanation of why we behave as we do or is there, in
addition, genuine free will?
Read Handout: `Moral credit where it is due’ by Janet
Daley in the Daily Telegraph.
– If genes entirely determine our bad behaviour, do they also
• our good behaviour?
• our opinions about what is good and what is bad?
– (How could we tell that my genes produce better behaviour
than your genes? What standard could we use to determine
what `better’ means?)
• the decisions that law makers make?
• the decisions law enforcers make about other people?
– Think about of the case of the alcoholic lawyer John Baker
who embezzled his client’s money. What genetic or racial
factors did the judge take into consideration? Was the
judge right? After the case was over, Baker gave up
alcohol. So had his alcoholism really been the inevitable
result of his genetic and racial make up?
• A relatively new theory which states that genetics and
evolution is the main factor responsible, not only our
existence, but also for our behaviour and sense of right
and wrong.
– One of its main proponents is Edward Wilson in his
book Consilience and other writings.
• See my critical review (published in the journal: Philosophia
Christi). The review is also on my web pages.
• Sometimes supporters of Sociobiology say we actually
exist for the benefit and propagation of our genes.
– (Eg: Richard Dawkins’ book: The Selfish Gene.)
• Critics say Sociobiology:
– threatens our motivation to change the world for
the better.
– turns genes into new kinds of ‘gods’ for whose
purpose we live!
• See handout:
– A New Religion - by philosopher David Stove.
• A longer article available on request is:
– Against Sociobiology - by Tom Bethell
(Senior Editor of the American Spectator)
Read handout: ALL IN THE GENES ? by
physics professor Russell Stannard.
• The theory of evolution and survival of the fittest
possibly could be used to explain some forms of
altruism - in humans and animals.
• However there are other kinds of altruism that could not
have come from `survival of the fittest.’
• How can the altruism, that has no physical survival
value, be explained?
• My question:
• Suppose our sense of morality could, one day, be explained
completely by our biological make up, does that mean that there
is no such thing as intrinsic good and intrinsic evil, so that
cruelty (say) is not in itself evil - its just that we don’t like it?
Post Modernism.
First what is meant by Modernism?
It had/has many differing forms mainly
expressing beliefs about science and/or
politics and the meaning of human
• It was/is the quest for certainty without
reference to religion. (Many ‘modern’ people
remained religious but used religion for their
private lives and kept it out of the public
What is Modernism - continued.
• From science:
– Truth is built on logic applied to self-evident truths
(rationalism) and/or experimental data.
– Objective scientific method applied across the board
in the soft sciences (eg: sociology, psychology)
– Naturalism and scientism: The physical universe is
all there is.
• From history and politics:
– Hegel’s Universal Spirit and the Dialectic.
– Marxism was one political example of modernism.
The Meta-narratives of Modernism broke down:
• Problems with Modernism.
– Political Theories broke down.
– Science’s advance reveals more and more mystery.
• It can’t answer the ultimate questions after all.
– Doubts about science’s ability to be really objective.
– Depersonalising influence of modernism
• wars, pollution,
• it cannot explain our personal self-awareness and
spiritual longings.
– Its optimistic belief in progress has been
undermined by recent human history.
Post Modernism reacts against Modernism.
• If the Meta narratives of Modernism fail should we return to the
big stories or Meta narratives of religion?
• Jean-Francois Lyotard (French Canadian), in 1979, defined Post
Modernism as `incredulity towards (all) Meta-narratives’.
– Neither science nor politics nor religion give us universal truth.
– There is no `big story’ - there is no universal truth.
• Don’t worry - just pick and mix what makes you feel good.
• Don’t consider the big questions. Just enjoy your own little world.
• Mix together ancient and modern images, sayings and teachings.
– Don’t ask yourself what they mean - meaning does not matter - there is no
universal meaning.
• If possible enjoy both religious services and speeches by atheists.
– If they appear to contradict one another - don’t worry - its how they make
you feel that matters.
• Just don’t get bored.
Post Modernism is a ‘care-free’ attitude to life coming
from the conviction that there are no universal truths.
•But can that conviction remain care-free?
– As we have seen the conviction also has its inevitable
darker despairing side - Nietzsche (19th C German
philosopher) and his Nihilism.
– Nietzsche and Nihilism are considered in MSP3 under the
heading of Existentialism.
The Intellectual Problem for Post Modernism
•‘There is no absolute truth’ is itself a statement that claims to be
absolutely true!
•Post Modernism therefore refutes itself!
-----------------------------------------------Handouts dealing with Postmodernism.
•1. Post Modernism and 2. Students and Truth’
Post-Modernism and language
• Structural linguists regard language as a
system in which meaning is conveyed by
– each word is a ‘signifier’ and the object it
refers to is the ‘signified’.
– Therefore words can convey meaning because
of the link between them and what they refer
– Postmodern linguists however, argue that
words can only refer to other words, so there
is no external meaning, only what is
contained within the language – which itself
is given meaning by society.
Post-Modernism and language - cont
•Deconstructionists deny the distinction
between the signifier and the signified.
– They agree that meaning is a ‘social construct’,
– but because societies are constantly changing
assume that ‘meaning is slippery and changeable’.
•The result is that they believe language does
not reveal meaning
– The text is thereby ‘deconstructed’, leaving no
objective meaning, so ‘it becomes what each
reader makes of it’.
This summary of decontructionism is taken from Gavin McFadyen’s
Before we move on to consider Positivism we consider some words of
Bertrand Russell in his Introduction to his History of Western Philosophy.
All definite knowledge belongs to science; all dogma as to what
surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. But between
theology and science there is a No Man's Land, .. this No Man's
Land is philosophy. Almost all the questions of most interest to
speculative minds are such as science cannot answer, and the
confident answers of theologians no longer seem convincing.
…(The questions are:) Is the world divided into mind and matter, and, if
so what is mind and what is matter? Is mind subject to matter, or is it
possessed of independent powers? Has the universe any unity or
purpose? Is it evolving towards some goal? Are there really laws of
nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order?
Is man what he seems to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon
and water impotently crawling on a small unimportant planet? Or is he
what he appears to Hamlet? Is he perhaps both at once? Is there a way of
living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living
merely futile? If there is a way of living that is noble. In what does it
consist, and how shall we achieve it? Must the good be eternal in order to
deserve to be valued, or is it worth seeking even if the universe is
inexorably moving towards death? … To such questions no answer can
be found in the laboratory. …. The studying of these questions,
if not the answering of them, is the business of philosophy.
A further look at Bertrand Russell’s questions that
he says cannot be answered from science. (1)
Questions in blue raise fundamental mysteries.
• Is the world divided into mind and matter, or are
mind and physical brain identical?
– If the mind is not merely physical matter, what is it?
– And what is physical matter? (Quantum mechanics and
String theory expose the inherent mystery)
• Science examines the rational structure of matter.
What is the source of matter’s rational structure?
– Electrons, for example, relate to one another and other
entities in particular ways and not in other ways. (That is
to say they behave according to ‘laws’ discoverable by
But why are there ‘laws of nature’ in the first place?)
A further look at Bertrand Russell’s questions that
he says cannot be answered from science. (2)
• Does nature have a purpose?
– If there is a purpose, can this purpose be understood
from within nature or does it imply a transcendent
reality for which it exists?
• Do good and evil exist as objective realities or are
they just the product of the way we, as individuals
or societies, have developed? For example:
– Is cruelty to children evil in itself (intrinsically evil) or is
it just that we don’t like it?
– Are courage and kindness good in themselves
(intrinsically good), or is it just that we like them?
Here is a statement attributed to Bertrand
– "Whatever knowledge is attainable must be
obtainable by scientific method. What science
cannot discover mankind cannot know".
– Think about that statement.
– Why is it illegitimate to make such a
– Here is the answer:
– The statement itself cannot be proved from
• Therefore, if it is true we can't know that it is true!
• In other words it refutes itself.
Positivism and Logical Positivism
First what is meant by ‘Positivism’?
Francis Bacon (17th C) and Comte (19th C)
• We shouldn't ask metaphysical questions re First Causes, etc
– The original `matter’ from which the universe is formed is
inexplicable. We will never find an explanation for its
• We should assume that the ultimate matter of the universe is
`positive’ ie:
– Its origin and purpose are not susceptible to philosophy and
reason so the universe must simply be accepted and
scientifically examined as it is.
• Metaphysical enquiries asking such questions as `Why is there
matter and energy? or What is the purpose of it all? are beyond us,
– Therefore we should only think about what science can reveal
by experiment..
The mystery of existence and Positivism.
• Why do matter and energy exist? - where did they come from?
– Scientific theories about the origin of the universe have to assume the initial
existence of some kind of energy/law of nature. (Eg: Wave function of the
Universe - Stephen Hawking’s phrase)
– But scientific theories cannot explain how the initial energy/laws of nature
came to exist or why they exist or did exist.
• If God exists why does He exist? Was He created?
– Whether or not God exists we are face to face with the mystery:Why does
anything exist at all?
• Positivism says: Don’t Even bother to ask. These things are beyond
us. Just accept things as they are and let science get on with its job.
– However can we really avoid these questions that science
cannot answer? Scientists and philosophers can’t help thinking
about these things:
· Stephen Hawking:`Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?’
· JJC Smart (atheist philosopher): Why should anything exist at all? - it is for
me a matter of the deepest awe.
Logical Positivism: Early 20th C.
• First we mention David Hume - 18th Century.
– Only two forms of knowledge:
• Knowledge from Logic/Mathematics
• Knowledge from Sense Experience eg scientific experiment.
– Everything else meaningless.
• Early 20th Century: Vienna Circle and British Atheist
philosopher A.J. Ayer (author of the book Language
Truth and Logic).
– revived and developed Hume’s views.
– Logical Positivism (a form of atheism) was the result.
– It is based on its Verification Principle which says that:
If we cannot imagine an experiment to verify or falsify a
statement then that statement is meaningless.
Logical Positivism continued
• From the Verification Principle it follows that:
– Statements about morality are not false they are
• The statement: ‘Stealing is morally wrong’ has no
objective meaning - it is just expresses how I feel.
• This leads to:
– Emotivism: Moral propositions are really expressions
of one's own likes and dislikes.
• `X is right' only reveals something about the
person who utters the statement - the state of his
emotions - he approves of X. ‘X is right’ is a claim
about the psychology of the speaker not about the
real moral value of X.
Logical Positivism continued
• `The jug is red', or `The door squeaks or
`the pig is smelly' or `the man is clever', all these statements can be verified or
falsified by experiment and therefore have
• `The painting is good' cannot be verified or
falsified by experiment, neither can
`Stealing is evil'
– Therefore both are meaningless statements.
Logical Positivism continued.
• Problems with Logical Positivism.
– Does this verification principle make sense?
• If an insane person feels right about committing
a murder does that mean that there was nothing
wrong with it?
• Or if someone committed a murder so that no
one knew there had been a murder so that the
only person to have any feeling about the murder
was the murderer himself - does that meant that
there was nothing wrong with the murder?
Logical Positivism concluded.
• The main problem with Logical Positivism:
– It refutes itself.
• The Verification Principle itself cannot be verified
or falsified by scientific experiment.
• Therefore if it is true it is meaningless - which is
– Thus almost all philosophers now recognise that
Logical Positivism (which had a major influence on
20th C philosophy) cannot be right.
– Even A. J. Ayer himself came to realise that.
The Problem of Evil for all world views.
• Two kinds of evil:
– 1. Moral Evil.
• Why do people behave badly?
• Is God to blame for creating us with the capacity
for evil?
• Why does He not stop us doing evil?
– 2. Natural evil.
• Why are there natural disasters - such as
earthquakes etc which surely cannot be blamed on
• Intellectual problems for all world views.
– For the theist:
– If God is good and powerful why evil and suffering?
– For the pantheist:
– If the natural world (which contains evil) is part of
God, does not that mean that God is partly evil?
– If the natural world is eternal, does not that mean
that evil is eternal and there is no salvation?
– Does it make sense to say we should try to escape the
cycle of re-incarnation and suffering when we have
already had an infinite time?
• In response pantheism often denies the existence of evil:
– saying that the way things are is the way `things are
meant to be´,
– and giving us advice on how to cope with suffering in
ourselves and others.
Response to Evil in Pantheistic systems.
• For more on the problem of evil for Hinduism and
Buddhism see handout entitled:
Response to the Problem of Evil in the main
Pantheistic or Panentheistic Religions –
Hinduism and Buddhism
• For a comparison of monotheistic and pantheistic
responses to suffering see handout taken from the
Daily Telegraph and written in response to the Glen
Hoddle controversy. (Glen Hoddle had said that
disabled people were bearing the consequences of bad
behaviour in a previous incarnation.) The Handout’s
title (using the Daily Telegraph’s own title) is:
– `The true purpose of suffering.´
The Problem of Evil for the atheist.
• Intellectual problems for all world views (cont).
– For the atheist:
• If the atheist challenges the theist saying ´Why does evil
exist?, is he not acknowledging the existence of good?
• How does he distinguish between good and evil?
• If he does distinguish good from evil does not that imply
the existence of an objective goodness?
– an objective goodness which is independent of our private
opinions and biology?
• Here is his problem: Atheism cannot allow for an objective
goodness which exists beyond our humanity.
• His only option seems to be to deny that evil exists as an
objective reality.
– Only a very few atheists are prepared to go that far but, as we have seen, some are.
Christian responses to the problem of
Suffering and Evil.
 Evil is a necessary by-product of nature.
 All things, including evil finally contribute to the
goodness of the whole.
 Eg: Our love and courage are strengthened.
 God is not indifferent to suffering:
 In all our affliction He too is afflicted.
 The Cross focuses God’s suffering with & for us.
 The resurrection of Christ is God’s final answer to
evil, suffering and death.
 Evil is temporary.
 Eternity, where justice, love and truth prevail, is a
Christian responses to the problem of
Suffering and Evil -cont.
• For a previous Lord Chancellor’s comment
on Innocent Suffering see next slide:
– Lord Hailsham’s Comment on Innocent
.`(The Door Wherin I Went' page 70)
What does shock us, is that the innocent suffer so often as the
result of the wrongdoing of the guilty. But this is not as
paradoxical as it sounds. As the Devil pointed out to the Almighty
in the book of Job, if God was always seen to reward the
righteous in this world for doing right, it would be seen, and very
soon said, that the righteous were only doing right for what they
could get out of it. But God does not desire this kind of
obedience. He is set on creating beings with a free will, in a world
in which they themselves are responsible for the consequences of
their own choices and desires the free obedience of intelligent and
reasoning creatures. Only when Job begins to suffer unjustly and
still will not curse God is it seen that he does not serve God for
what he can get out of it. The suffering of Job, like the
Crucifixion and Passion of Christ, is seen to be the consequence,
not of Job's own guilt, but of the presence of evil in the world, and
the need for it to be seen that good must be pursued for its own
sake, even occasionally, at personal sacrifice
Christian responses to the problem of Suffering
and Evil -cont.
• God purpose was to create and redeem human beings so that
they would do good for the sake of goodness rather than just
for the sake of a reward.
– So in this world, pain and happiness exist side by side.
1 Pain exists but is defeated in the end.
2 Good people as well as bad´suffer but the good are
eternally rewarded in another world that they cannot
yet see.
3 God shares all our suffering and ultimately triumphs
over it.
4. Ultimately goodness, love and mercy reach fulfilment in
the context of evil and pain.
A famous book on this subject is:
CS Lewis's `The Problem of Pain´.