Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong

I was watching an interview with Colin McGinn yesterday where he was being asked about the concept that there can’t be a reason to be moral without God.

His argument was along the lines that if God commands us to do something that doesn’t make that intrinsically right and he gave the following example:

God commands us not to kill. Since we know that killing is wrong we don’t need his command to tell us that it is.

Put another way, if God commanded us to kill, we know that killing is wrong, so God’s command doesn’t change the intrinsic concept that killing is wrong.

So, since killing is wrong, no matter if God commands it or not, then we don’t need God to tell us that killing is wrong. It follows from this that the rightness or wrongness of something is independent of God’s commands or wishes therefore morality is intrinsic to its self and needs no outside authority to validate it.

I’m not a philosopher so I am sure my argument is not very detailed or complete, but that’s the basic gist I came away from the interview with.

In the bible, God tells us that we should not kill, as if this is an absolute, but if you read the bible carefully you will find many numerous passages where God commands his followers to kill. In many cases the killing is done not as punishment for any sin or crime, but simply because he had promised the land of Canna to the Israelites and in order for them to posses it, they had to destroy the people who were living there. These poor tribes in most cases had done the Israelites no wrong, they were just in the way.
This contradiction in the commands of God completely undermines the idea that morality exist only through God.

I’ve written here, here and here before of the many cases of what I would call immorality that is commanded by God in the bible, so I won’t go into it again here. What I really want to impress on you is that morality exists inherently independent of any authority.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t believe in God? No, because that is a personal choice. What it does mean is that we can be moral just because it is right to do so without having to look to some higher authority for guidance.


2 thoughts on “Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong

  1. Would you assume that I believe, inherently, that killing is wrong?

    There are some people (a minority) that would not agree with you. Indeed, if you had a list of 100 moral decisions, then you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of decisions on which 90% of the world’s population would agree.

    And, while we may be able to declare each individual “moral” (they make decisions based on some internal rubric), the resultant society would be significantly amoral (without a rubric or internal law).

    The biggest evidence for this is in the vast many things we abstain from doing (false business dealings, excessive speeding, petty theft) merely because it is “against the law.”

    Like you said, this isn’t an issue that deals directly with belief in God; but it does point to the “inherent” need for a law that transcends the individual.

    The concept of an absolute law exists somewhere on (or just outside?) the spectrum from the simple social contract (ie I’ll meet you at 6) to International Law to the Physical Laws of the Universe.

    • This whole issue of morality is a complicated one which can be, and have been, argued about for thousands of years and probably will be until the last human ceases to exist. I agree that laws do help keep most people in line, but those laws were created from an innate sense of right and wrong that most of us believe in. The making of laws is our way as a society of codifying those things that the majority of us agree are wrong. We attach punishments to them as a way of keeping our society running as smoothly as is humanly possible. But those laws mostly spring from the innate values we all share.

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