Wednesday 11 May 2022

Christianity needs to emphasize cosmology more urgently than morality

Nearly all of Christian discourse seems to be focused on morality - indeed, before I was a Christian that was all I could perceive of it. Yet - as I then realized - to discuss morality in isolation is all-but meaningless; and especially when the prevalent 'cosmology' is entirely materialist and scientistic. 

In other words; Christian morality makes no rational sense if the universe operates and life evolved on the basis described in mainstream science - and assumed to be The Whole Truth (in some kind of crude form) by the entirety of influential public discourse in all developed nations. 

What is needed is to relate Christian morality to our understanding of the nature of reality. 

(A better - because more general - word for what I mean is metaphysics; but I am focusing here on the cosmological aspect - on how the universe happened, and - in particular - how life and mankind happened.) 

An anecdote may help clarify: Whenever (as an atheist) I thought about some aspect of Christian morality - such the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or any distinctive Christian church teaching in conflict with the mainstream - I would be faced by the incompatability of this with the way the universe worked. 

By what possible mechanism - I thought - could we get specific moral teachings, relating - for example - to sex and sexuality - from a universe that had formed on the basis of physics, and a life that had evolved by natural selection? 

Where could any real, objective, true morality possibly have come-from - given these materialistic ingredients for he world and everything on it?  

In sum - you can't get morality from the ultimate explanations of physical reality - such as quantum theory, relativity or whatever; neither can you get morality from natural selection properly understood (at most, natural selection can yield a delusion of morality).  

By failing to tackle and express Christian cosmology; Christianity relegates its morality to the level of an arbitrary construct - merely a matter of opinion or expediency. 

If not - then what? What ought Christians to do instead? 

In the first place - Christians need to start at the beginning, and emphasize that this is a created universe; and that God is The Creator

Only in such a context can we discuss any real, objective, universal morality. 

And lacking such a context All morality will be arbitrary and expedient - as indeed mainstream, modern, secular-left morality explicitly acknowledges itself to be - when compelled to answer the question*. 

But secular morality has the vast proximate 'advantage' over Christian morality of being backed by most of the world's power, propaganda and money...

The only expedient reason, therefore, for accepting Christian rather than secular-left morality is that Christianity is true, and that truth matters

And that is a matter of ultimates: including of cosmology.  

*Note: If the universe (and life) originated and is sustained by 'science explanations'; then reality has neither purpose nor meaning. Without purpose and meaning, there can be no real morality; but only arbitrary human constructs. There can then be no coherent discussion of morality at all. Attempts to construct a morality based on pleasure-pain probabilities (e.g. utilitarianism) are equally arbitrary; since there are no grounds for saying either than pleasure is better than pain, or that the happiness of the community is more important than that of an individual - and no grounds for arguing against short-termist selfishness and unconstrained manipulation and exploitation. All possible values hinge on this question of whether reality is created, or 'just happened'.  


ben said...

Was very important to my conversion. The whole Mormon theology situation and the Gospel of John/Lazarus stuff. To think it all through as a system. That we existed before incarnation, that bodies are better because concentrated and thereby autonomous, that Heaven is about meaning and not eternal rest (more rich and 'human' rather than less), Jesus marrying and this being one of the purposes of His incarnation. etc etc

It all really works! Who would've thought.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ben - Well, that works for me too.

But the Christian cosmology does not *need* to go down to that level of detail in order to make sense of morality.

It really only requires God as loving creator, we as God's children - and the goal of following Jesus to eternal resurrected Heavenly life as divinized 'Children of God'- and *that* can be found in all metaphysical variants of Christianity.

Francis Berger said...

Spot on! It really does come down to the matter of putting first things first.

Ann K. said...

“Christianity” in the West is legalistic, indeed! But the true, original Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, does not.

We say that Christ didn’t become incarnate to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

Iain M said...

On the matter of divine creation, there is some increasingly supportive scientific research. Been reading Stephen Meyer's book 'Darwin's Doubt' subtitled 'The Explosive Origins of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design'. Professor Meyer is himself a Christian so the usual caveats with corrupted modern science may not apply. Dense reading for someone with a non-science background (such as myself). I suspect that may be less of an issue, however, for you Dr Charlton!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ann K - I intended to join an Eastern Orthodox church at one time (ie. I became a catechumen in 2010) - but I felt compelled to acknowledge that Eastern Orthodoxy in the West is something qualitatively different than it is in the East - and lesser.

Also, that EO itself was decisively and permanently damaged by the Russian Revolution and the murder of the Tsar; which broke unselfconscious and immersive tradition to become a tool of atheist-communism (and this was not fully or explicitly repented). So that now the EO must consciously discern and choose just like all other kinds of Christian.

(I got this analysis from Fr Seraphim Rose - who deeply regretted but accepted the fact that the authoritative and trustworthy spiritual Father to uncritically-obedient spiritual Son lineage had been broken.)

The corruption of the Orthodox Churches is very evident since 2020; when they officially allied with the demonic totalitarian globalists over the birdemic.

In other words, Eastern Orthodoxy is, for the Westerner, a denomination that (like the others) needs to be evaluated on a practical and local basis, asking something-like: Does this particular church and priest (etc) help with my current Christian life - or hinder it?

And the adherent to EO must maintain alert discernment wrt his church, because what (overall) helps now, may harm us next year; and no church can now be trusted on a permanent basis and all (of any size) are currently on a trend towards corruption.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Iain - The science is irrelevant when it is based on an incoherent, hence false, metaphysics; and this applies to all current high-status science.

This aside from the fact that all mainstream and professional science is now thoroughly corrupted - bought and sold, and converged with The Establishment.

So - as of 2022; 'the science' is just a red herring to the serious Christian, I'm afraid.

Iain M said...

@ Dr Charlton: 'So - as of 2022; 'the science' is just a red herring to the serious Christian, I'm afraid.'

I take your point and was not intending to imply that the reality of divine creation was/is capable of being established only as scientific fact. I agree with your comment regarding establishment science in general. Indeed, I accept that the existence is not only not determinable by science but is intended not to be. However, if divine creation is a real fact, which I regard it to be, then I would expect evidence (in this case observable fossil evidence) to support it. And it does. This is not 'proof' but it is consistent evidence, according to Meyer.

Lady Mermaid said...

Excellent post! While morality is important, it stems from a proper understanding of metaphysics. The Victorian era tried to emphasize Christian morality w/o paying attention to cosmology. Even today, I've heard of atheist/agnostics who want a Christian education for their children in order to make them good people. However, it's quite clear that "cultural Christianity" is a dead end. That is a big problem w/ many of the populist movements today. They admire Europe's Christian heritage but don't understand the underlying spirituality behind it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LM - Agreed.

It seems clear that being a Christian doesn't make a person or a society 'good'; but on the other hand, as of 2022, it is rare for a Westerner even to *want* to be genuinely-good unless they are Christian.

Because the definition of 'good' is just expediency and 'niceness' - and what counts as expedient and nice *today* can be and is changed at will by bureaucratic-media propaganda.

In such circumstances 'good people' merely means obedient to, and hard-working in service of, the evolving cutting edge leftist ideology.

Jeffrey Cantrell said...

For me, a more compelling approach was that advanced by CS Lewis in his book Mere Christianity. His approach was to start by noting that all human societies have a somewhat common moral underpinning that are based upon a "natural law." This is the yardstick which is used to evaluate actions and is something separate from the actions themselves. (This sprang from the concept that no society believes that it is preferable to be treacherous, a liar, etc.) By extending this logical argument over several chapters, Lewis arrives at a demonstration of God and Jesus Christ. I realize this is an argument that resonates with me and perhaps not anyone else, but the power of this argument is compelling and demonstrates conclusively that Christianity is correct and does so through moral analysis rather than cosmological analysis. (Or spiritual etiology rather than physical etiology.) With the moral analysis established, everything else follows. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jeffrey - I don't think that works anymore, because of official and widespread value-inversion.

I think most modern (young) people would say that 'all human societies' (of an historical or traditionally-religious kind) were 'evil' - with respect to the post-60s Left agenda (sexual revolution, antiracism, etc); and therefore Lewis's 'natural law' (or 'the Tao') fails to achieve a common moral underpinning, and the argument is turned-against itself.

More fundamentally, how can any secure common moral agreement be achieved on *anything* in a Godless, purposeless, meaningless universe?

Alexeyprofi said...

Reality seeks to maximize it's utility. Humans as a part of reality have inner impulse to do so. Since there is no reality outside of reality, maximisation of utility is the final imperative.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A Yes but what is the nature of your 'reality'? Unless it is God created, there can me no 'utility'.