September 14, 2010
Belief in God Compared to Ethical Beliefs
I'll have to apologize for this post taking longer than it should have as I was facing a number of problems. My internet has been his and miss, with more misses than hits over the past few days and I've been busy doing a few other things. Anyway, I'm sure this post will be enough to remedy those in need of a good skeptical healing.
Previously, I compared the belief in God to personal taste and concluded that the two beliefs weren't alike, but it got me to thinking that perhaps belief in God arises like a belief in what is ethical. I got this idea through contemplating David Hume's understanding of morality.
To give brief outline of Hume's Ethics I'll quote a few lines from A Treatise of Human Nature.
"For before reason can perceive this turpitude, the turpitude must exist; and consequently is independent of the decisions of our reason, and is their object more properly than their effect." Hume then uses this to show that if reason isn't a part of morality and it is something natural. Than it is present in the actions of animals and they should be held in account to the same moral standard as people. Hume does this through saying, "Their want of sufficient degree of reason may hinder them from perceiving the duties and obligations of morality, but can never hinder the duties from existing; since they must exist in order to their being perceiv'd."
Then comes Hume second part, which is more applicable to the notion of God. His idea is that morality doesn't exist in actions or acts, but in the viewers mind.
Hume states that, "Take any action allow'd to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions, and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. the vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You can never find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards the action."
No matter where you look for he moral part of an action, it can never be found, and it is only when you look internally at yourself that morality begins to appear.
"So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar'd to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind."
Morality then is a perception of the mind, which Hume will call a sentiment.
"It maintains that morality is determined by sentiment. It defines virtue to be whatever mental actions or qualities fives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of approbation; and vice the contrary."
This is more like how people understand God. They look at different complexities and come to an understanding that is based on sentiment and exists solely in the view of the spectator. So when a person looks at the sky, stars, or ocean and get a feeling that God did this, it is based on personal sentiment.
While this is all hearsay because I can't demonstrate that this is how people come to an understanding of how God works, it works functionally. Just as Hume showed with morals, God can't be found in any individual thing. A person instead needs to look inside themselves to finally understand where God is.
Take, for instance, someone who looks at the the ocean and sees God in it. In what part of the ocean are they seeing the god part? Where is god among the ocean is God? God is only found in the minds perception of the ocean.
So while God didn't create and cannot be found in the ocean, the mind of the person can still none-the-less attribute it's occurrence as proof of God's handiwork. This in no way proves that God created the ocean. It is as much proof as someone having the perception that homosexuality is wrong proves that homosexuality is actually wrong. It is a completely circular understanding. It is so far removed from proof or even evidence that it doesn't even impact how plausible God is.
This analogy works in another way as well, it shows the black and white nature of both decisions. When someone finds an action to be moral or immoral in their mind, there is no room for any gray area; An action is either viewed as immoral or moral. This is the same with the view of God. No one expresses the view that there is a 50% chance that god is responsible for the creation of the earth. There is a great confidence in the answer when it is given.
So there you have it, the best analogy for the belief in God is comparing it to Hume's description of Ethics.
Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic