CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

A naturalistic worldview has no place for objective moral value, yet most naturalists express optimism concerning the prospects for a naturalistic morality. The basis for this optimism is human beings' shared capacity to recognize and respond to the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and non-human. Louise Antony, for example, in a recent post in the NY Times, claims that atheists "find moral value to be immanent in the natural world, arising from the vulnerabilities of sentient beings and from the capacities of rational beings to recognize and respond to those vulnerabilities and capacities in others." Later on she has harsh words for those who think that "another being's pain is not in itself a reason to give aid." I recall Peter Singer giving a similar account during a debate with Dinesh D'Souza.

It is undeniably true that human beings and other sentient creatures suffer. It is also undeniably true that (many) human beings in (some) situations feel some measure of empathy for the suffering of others, and are often moved to act upon that feeling. But this is merely a descriptive observation. What is lacking in the naturalistic ethical account is the moral significance of suffering and our response to it. How exactly does the capacity to suffer confer moral worth on sentient beings, such that being in pain is a sufficient reason to extend aid? Given that we often feel empathy when faced with the suffering of others, what is the objective grounding of this feeling? I recoil at the sight and smell of Brussels sprouts, but I know that there is no objective basis for my dislike: some people like Brussels sprouts, some people don't, and that's all there is to it. But our response to the suffering of others must go deeper than that if we are to have genuine morality. The only possible rational validation for our feelings of empathy is the realization that the suffering creature has genuine moral worth, which must be based on more than simply its capacity to suffer, and be aware of that suffering. Without an account of moral value, we may still feel empathy for the suffering of others and act upon it, but those feelings and actions will have no more significance than my aversion to Brussels sprouts. We would also be faced with the chilling realization that, since not all human beings respond with empathy to sentient suffering, we could never be in a position to denounce the lack of empathy, any more than we could denounce an aversion to Brussels sprouts.

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at