The clear facts of consciously valued experience and of freely chosen purpose, the intelligibility and elegance of the deep structure of the physical world, the visions of transcendent value in art, the categorical demands of duty and of the search for truth, and the testimony of so many to a felt power making for goodness and uniting the mind to a higher selfless reality of wisdom and bliss — all these things the materialist has to consign to illusion. May it not be that it is the materialist who is refusing to see what is there?
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?
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.