Veritas Slipping into Irrelevance: A preview of the Veritas Forum 2012
January 7, 2012
The Veritas Forum is quickly becoming irrelevant. I say this not as an attack on the fine work done by the students involved, who consistently present a professional well organized lecture series with fine presenters, something that is no small task in and of itself. Know that I do not intend to disparage the effort they put into the event or the quality of their character. I also do not say this as an attack upon their widespread success which they should be commended for. Rather, the reason I say this is because, like everything else to come out of the accomodationalist and apologetic movements, the questions, let alone the arguments in favor of particular answers to those questions, have long since lost relevance. This years theme, “Good without god?” is a particularly strong example of this.
The answer to this question, from an ethical and sociological perspective is obvious. Numerous studies, have shown that the non-religious live moral lives. Some such studies found that the non-religious end up in prison at lower rates than their religious neighbors and at a disproportionate rate compared to their percentage of society as a whole. That is not, of course, to say that religion makes people commit crimes, which is just as nonsensical as saying that non-religion keeps people from committing crimes, but rather to highlight that whatever it is that makes us moral, it is not exclusive to the religious. Indeed, the biology of morality is the subject of much ongoing research, both from the perspective of neuroscience and evolution to a search for a direct biochemical source. Research in these areas, of course, may not be able to provide the complexity of the answers required for consideration of major ethical problems, but an underlying realization has been that whatever gives rise to morality is ubiquitous. Moral reasoning exists in the minds of all human beings, regardless of race, creed or religion.
Perhaps more important than the sociology and biology of moral behavior is the ethical study of what morality is and where it originates from. Here Veritas is particularly behind the times, as the field of ethics moved beyond religious or “bible based” ethics quite literally centuries ago. Socrates discussion with Euthyphro more than 2000 years ago dealt what is, in many ways, a crippling blow to what can broadly be termed divine command theory. Arguments from more recent philosophers strangle whatever may be salvaged from Socrates assault on religious ethics. Perhaps these arguments are nonsensical, however. That is a possibility that any thinking person ought admit. Even then, religious ethics has a mountain to climb towards respectability, having to overcome the numerous theories of secular ethics.
The point is, whatever may be true of ethics, the questions worth addressing stray nowhere near whether or not one can be good without god. It simply is not a serious intellectual problem in the face of the deep problems with the idea of god based morality. Beyond that, practical ethics can and does exist without god, with millions of people being good without god everyday.
Maybe Veritas 2012 will regain its relevance, but the slide into intellectual irrelevance is pronounced and most certainly continued. The talks will likely be interesting exercises in rhetoric and stage presence, as they have in the past, but I have little hope for relevant, stimulating, Intellectually honest discussion.