Erik J. Wielenberg on Ethics on Christianity and on Naturalism


My purpose here is not to argue for the truth of naturalism, but rather to examine some of the consequences for ethics of naturalism being true — and not just being true but being known to be true.

What sort of character one ought to strive to inculcate in oneself and others depends in part on what one knows about the nature of the universe. Being an ethically good person is, in part, a matter of being properly oriented toward the universe. A trait that would be a virtue in one kind of universe might well be a vice in another, and vice versa. In this chapter I try to describe some virtues in a universe in which naturalism is known to be true.

The Christian universe is a hierarchical one with a distinct pecking dominion over “the fish of the sea
cattle. God at the top, down theorught the various orders of angels, human beings, and animals. Each being has a particular station and role to play. God has dominion over all other beings; humans have dominion over “the fish of the sea … the birds of the air … the cattle … and all the wild animals of the earth.” After the Fall, at any rate, husbands are to rule over their wives. The Christian Bible is, in part, an account of the role assigned to human beings by God, together with the perils of deviating from this assigned role. In this scheme, it is extremely important both that human beings recognize their assigned stations and roles in the universe and that they not attempt to rise above them.

The Fall of Man resulted from just such an attempt.

That account of the fall is a mere myth. There is no God whom we ought to obey; there is no place in a hierarchy to which we have divinely assigned. In a naturalistic universe, Christian humility and obedience have no place. What, if anything, takes their place?