If Morality Isn’t From God, Then What Is It?

Q: Dear Dr. Hurd, I have been reading your columns for awhile now. I understand that you oppose the idea that morality is supernatural, derived from God, or in any way religious. What you do seem to be saying is that morality is secular and rational in nature. By this do you mean to say that competence, efficacy and focus on one’s goals are the definition of morality?

A: Actually, you’re close — but fatally mistaken, unfortunately. The idea that the definition of morality is practical competence would have to mean that evildoers who accomplish effective but awful things are moral. Consider the examples, on a dramatic scale, of Communist Russia, Nazi Germany and the perpetrators of 9/11. In each of these cases, evildoers used their brains and acted with practical efficacy, competence and long-range focus. In fact, that’s what makes these evildoers so horrifying and repulsive — repulsive, that is, by the rational standard of goodness. Usually evildoers are reckless, impulsive and mindless. In these cases, the evildoers used talent, foresight and planning to successfully complete unspeakably evil and irrational goals.

People who initiate force against others, especially in twisted ways that involve clever techniques and planning, are nevertheless still evil because they are irrational, because their goal is anti-human life and against the moral rights of individuals to live freely and be left alone. Yes, morality is secular in nature and does involve the competent and efficacious use of one’s mind. But before something can be considered good and right, it must also be objectively rational — i.e. life-oriented and life-respecting, life-enhancing — in nature.