This post is going be rather short since my objective here is to stimulate debate rather than provide analysis.
The late American philosopher Arthur Danto rejected Hume’s fact/value dichotomy by persuasively arguing that a society’s morals beliefs were indeed predicated on their factual beliefs. He articulated this view in the broader context of Asian cultures being largely incompatible with Western culture. He argued that the moral beliefs of the Orient and Occident were grounded upon a series of factual beliefs that were mutually exclusive to each other and hence Asian cultures wouldn’t be accessible to Westerners.
Consider the following values enshrined in the Declaration :
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…
A lot of this is straight out of John Locke’s book. This part: “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is basically a variation of Locke’s natural rights. But the aforementioned values are predicated on a single factual belief: the existence of God. The Creator is not only the source of life, but also liberty. The classical liberal philosophers believed that freedom wasn’t merely doing what one desired, but it was also freedom from intrusive government. They believed that there was an inverse relationship between government power and individual autonomy (unless I’ve read them incorrectly).
If the value of Liberty is based on the existence of God, what happens when society loses it’s belief in God? What then sustains this value? If He doesn’t exist, why does freedom matter? We might argue that freedom is good, but why? I’ve discussed this matter with Bay Area Guy and while both of us are non religious, we both nevertheless believe that the idea of God is a force for good in society. If we remove God, morality dies along with Him. As Dostoyevsky said: “If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” Atheism leads to one dead end: Social Darwinism.
If God is dead, why bother being moral? Why not let nature take its course and let the big fish dominate all the smaller fish? Furthermore, if liberty is based on the existence of God, and as God is gradually killed off by post-modern society, could this then explain the disturbing erosion of our freedoms? Is this why NSA surveillance is on the rise? Is the State destined to replace God as the omnipresent apparition of observation and judgement?
Do any of you agree with my assessments or do you think I’ve grossly misread Atheism and just about everything? You’re comments are welcome and greatly appreciated as always.