How well do young people reason about morality?

First, let’s take a look at this post by an atheist philosopher who explains his view on morality. (H/T Reason to Stand)

Here’s his conclusion:

I conclude that morality is largely superfluous in daily life, so its removal – once the initial shock had subsided – would at worst make no difference in the world. (I happen to believe – or just hope? – that its removal would make the world a better place, that is, more to our individual and collective liking. That would constitute an argument for amorality that has more going for it than simply conceptual housekeeping. But the thesis – call it ‘The Joy of Amorality’ – is an empirical one, so I would rely on more than just philosophy to defend it.)

A helpful analogy, at least for the atheist, is sin. Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God and hence the whole religious superstructure that would include such categories as sin and evil. Just so, I now maintain, nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality. Yet, as with the non-existence of God, we human beings can still discover plenty of completely-naturally-explainable internal resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus, enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molesting of children, and would likely continue to be so if fully informed, to put it on the books as prohibited and punishable by our society.

Now what would happen if the entire education system were secularized by people like that philosopher?

Consider this post from secular-leftist evolutionist David Brooks in the New York Times. (H/T Uncommon Descent)


During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth.

Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.

[…]The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot.

“Not many of them have previously given much or any thought to many of the kinds of questions about morality that we asked,” Smith and his co-authors write. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

Recognize that view? Yes, that’s moral relativism – that’s the atheist view of morality. That is the system of morality that is rationally grounded by the worldview of atheism.

Who said this?

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, or any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference… DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

Richard Dawkins said it. That’s the morality of atheists.

Hey – let’s be clear. If the universe is an accident like Dawkins says it is, there’s no objective way we ought to act. That’s it. Right and wrong are just personal preferences for atheists – do whatever makes you feel good. And you know what? Evil makes some people feel very good. A christian theist has the worldview to say that slavery is wrong. All an atheist can say is “slavery is wrong for me. Or an atheist can say “slavery is wrong for them in that period and in that place. And why would they say that? The only reason an atheist can give for expressing preferences is because it makes them feel good. That’s atheist “morality”.

3 thoughts on “How well do young people reason about morality?”

  1. This is going to alarm some, but I make the following illustration for pure illustration…I don’t want any harm to come to Richard Dawkins at all.

    This question might already be answered somewhere, but I wonder if Dawkins would remember his quote and stick to that kind of “morality” if a person had a sword to his throat. Would he still think, “Hey, killing must bring pleasure to this individual so I have no reason to label his action as wrong since right and wrong are subjective preferences,” or would he think the individual holding a sword to his throat was just “blind, pitiless, indifference…”

    What do you think WK?


    1. Well I am not in charge of his rewards and punishments, that’s up to God. Whatever he thinks is best is fine with me! I would hope that if something bad happened to him it would be something like this, where he is betrayed by a close friend and he doesn’t have to suffer physically:

      This might cause him to realize that there really is a right and wrong, but without hurting him personally. Like a worldview spanking.


    2. Ugh, embarrassing. I meant to put “Would he still think, “Hey, killing must bring pleasure to this individual so I have no reason to label his action as wrong since right and wrong are subjective preferences,” OR would he suddenly see that there is objective good and evil?

      Anyway, a worldview spanking would be good.

      The story about Dawkins’ atheist charity suing former disciple fraud was very interesting and so was the comment feed (typical responses from persons not following moral relativism to its logical conclusion). *sigh*


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