Does monotheism entail normative skepticism?

The somewhat intimidating title of this post was taken from a Reddit post of the same title, which presented the argument made in a paper by Sharon Street. I won’t reproduce those arguments here, the Reddit post does a good job of explaining them. I’ve been unable to find a publically accessible mirror of the paper, but I am happy to update this if I do find one. The main idea here is this: If everything happens for a reason, then we have no idea what reasons are.

I think pretty clearly that we must take the agent-relative horn. There are some things that God does that are only right for God to do, and not for us to do. Many of God’s reasons for actions are agent-relative, they are not the kinds of reasons we should have.

In that case, we must answer how we know what is moral and what is not. Seems to me that the Christian can give several avenues of knowledge here. We have moral facts revealed in scripture, we have moral facts as testified to us by our conscience, we even perhaps have moral facts that we have deduced via a secular moral system such as Kantianism. That last statement may be controversial to some Christians, but I think it is reasonable to say that we can use our God-given reasoning abilities to determine what is right and wrong. It’s not like those moral facts are not still grounded in God, as He grounds reasoning itself and indeed all facts.

So with regards to “secular” moral reasoning, the argument is that one of the main “selling points” of religion is that it gives us some advantage in moral reasoning, and if we are forced to appeal to “secular” moral reasoning then religion becomes weaker. But I am not sure this is a very significant problem for the Christian since we are already told in scripture that the “secular” use of the conscience is appropriate, because God gives that to us. Presumably, God gives us reason as well, and so using reason to arrive at moral conclusions is valid. Hence the scare quotes around “secular”: for the Christian, nothing is ever really secular. It is all grounded in God.

But let’s suppose that we do not take this route, and instead, we rely on what we might call a “sacred” moral reasoning. Perhaps this can be written revelation, or a God-given conscience, some kind of innate moral intuition. And now the sceptic launches into another argument: this revelation given by God should be clear and unmistakable. And since the sceptic doesn’t think it is clear and unmistakable, we cannot believe that any such revelation has been given.

I do not agree with the premise that any revelation from God should be clear and unmistakable. I instead would believe this premise: revelation would be clear and unmistakable to a reasonable person. But I also believe (as Romans 1 teaches) that the heart of every foolish man has been darkened so that they suppress knowledge of God, and so the revelation that ought to be clear and unmistakable is now no longer.

I might be willing to accept that God ought to give moral revelation (again, including a conscience and scripture) that should be clear and unmistakable to a reasonable person. But I don’t see any reason to think He ought to give one that would be so to an unreasonable person. Certainly, He could, just like He reaches in and regenerates someone before they repent of their sin and before they know Him, so that they can do those things. But I don’t think He has any obligation to.

But I might even go a step further and say that the conscience that God has given us is pretty clear and unmistakable. I think the vast majority of people have a pretty accurate innate sense of right and wrong. It can get a bit messy in weird edge cases (like trolley problems) but that’s not a big deal. I think the vast majority of us if we are honest, will say that in the vast majority of the time we know what is right and what is wrong. We might still do wrong, but we know it’s wrong. And for the rare person with a defective conscience (which normally happens because a person has essentially starved it by ignoring it) the fact that everyone else has one is good enough evidence of right and wrong.

This all together seems like a sufficient response to the argument that monotheism entails normative scepticism.

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