Micah Redding — faith in humanity's future

The Morality of The Rational, and How We Shape Meaning from The Void

I was recently talking to someone about how uncertain everything is. There are different opinions on everything - from what’s really happening in politics to the healthiest diet to follow. With so many different opinions, we could easily become overwhelmed, and decide that since we can never really know, we should just stop trying.

But of course, life is lived in spite of uncertainty. We trust science until it changes, we trust people until they prove themselves untrustworthy. Things change all the time, but that doesn’t stop us from plunging ahead, making our best guesses in the face of the unknown.

All of life is an exercise in creating confidence out of uncertainty, distilling meaning from the void.

But that means that we human beings have a massive responsibility. We can quite literally make the world mean anything we want it to. In a special sense, we are like gods, writing the world as we see it.

That does not mean, however, that we should simply craft whatever meaning we want. Some people have taken the uncertainty, and their awareness of their own power, and have written bizarre and horrific interpretations. Others have decided that since there is a void, that they too will become little voids, embracing nihilism, using their power to create only more nothingness.

I see things differently. To me, our power is a chance to exercise a morality of truth. We can choose to exercise self-control and integrity as we create meaning.

I don’t mean simply that we weigh the consequences, for instance, of believing that the holocaust never happened. That’s a morality, but a morality about the effects of our beliefs. I’m talking about a morality that pertains to how we believe, and how we come to conclusions.

The scientific method is a particularly strong type of such morality. It maintains a very definite understanding of what sorts of things may be said, and to what degrees of certainty. It doesn’t allow us to simply say anything we want; it requires us to be very precise, and to only say things that could be verified by others. It is a certain sort of universal equality - an assertion that the truths that matter are discernible from any vantage point.

The principles of rational thought are another such morality. There are many more.

What all of these have in common is that they require us to sacrifice something. Many people will get into arguments about meaning and truth, and hold onto their positions no matter what. This means that at a certain point, when it suits their purposes, they will abandon rationality.

A person of character, in contrast - someone exercising a personal morality of meaning and belief - won’t use just any argument that comes to them. Instead, they will constrain themselves, putting forward their beliefs and assertions with integrity, in a humble manner. And when they can’t say something within their principles of rationality or science or whatever else, they will not say it. They will allow others to be right, they will allow themselves to be wrong.

We certainly don’t have to act this way. We can absolve ourselves of any constraints on our choices of meaning. We can be right every single time. But to exercise character, responsibility, consideration for others - this is what it is to act like an adult when it comes to interpreting the world.


Megyn @MinimalistMommi:

You've expressed here the exact reason why I feel so strongly about the purpose and usefulness of the scientific method. Thank you for writing the words I could never quite parse together :)


Are you saying Atheists and Agnostics have no morality?


Answer: No. I'm curious what led you to think that. Could you elaborate?

Stephen Wheeley:

Of course aetheists and agnostics can have a type of morality and even act very morally towards others. But I believe they cannot really explain the basis for their morality, other than such statements as "its for the common good of all ". But morality must be personally grounded to be valid and to have a real impact on society, since society is composed of individuals. Without a belief in a reality greater, purer and wiser than ourselves, one that establishes absolute moral standards that supercede our personal desires or even at times our personal welfare, there can be no binding, universal explanation for why man should not just be a being that is concerned only with what is best for himself rather than what might be best for others. Many will argue that a self-sacrificial morality that places the good of the whole above the good of the individual can be based on things such as evolution : if you place the good of all above your own good your species survives. But that is not morality, that is biology, that is just survival of the fittest as a group, and could just as easily be based on wiping out the competition as sacrificing yourself for the group. A true morality must be grounded in placing the good of others above your own good for only one reason : love, a love based on knowing that we are all equally valuable because of our very being, our uniqueness, our essence as beings that belong to one greater than ourselves as individuals or as a species.( and by the realization that we are all connected to each other at a level far beyond the physical world ) Our uniqueness can only derive from one source : our Creator, who made us in His image as spiritual, eternal beings, for nothing that is not eternal can be said to have true , absolute value. For unless we are eternal beings, which means our actions have eternal consequences and ramifications both for ourselves and others, then there can be no rational reason to value the good of another over your own good. What you do in this life would have no real meaning, other than living your own life to the fullest self-interest, because once you die there will be no consequences for you. Whether you lived like Christ or like Hitler would not matter to you because you would be beyond either reward or punishment, beyond praise or hatred. Of course aetheists and agnostics would deny this, they will argue we should do what is "right" just because it is "right". And actually this is basically correct. But what they do not know and will in fact deny is that every good instinct man has, every impulse to "do the right thing" is in fact due to our spiritual nature, which exists in every human being alive solely because we are "made in God's image". Of course this spirit is very weak in many people, suppressed completely in some due to either an organic defect, psychological defect or the influence of evil. (Which also exists, the state of the world proves this to all but the most blind or stubborn ) But then this spirit shines forth brightly in others, both the "unsung heros" of everyday life and those who make a lasting mark on the world such as Ghandi or others who make great public sacrifices for the good of all. Morality must be based on seeing the commanality in every human, both the good and the bad, the saint and the sinner, by seeing our common spiritual, eternal ancestry : by knowing we all are brothers & sisters to one another. Then we can see ourselves as God sees us, and know what God knows: what we do to another literally becomes what is done to us, whether in this life or in the next, all our actions have eternal consequences. Good produces good and evil produces evil. This is why we must love others as we love ourselves, for at an absolute level others are ourselves. Thus morality must be based on understanding absolute truths, not relativism, as so may modern thinkers say. I hope this all makes sense, its a hard concept to grasp, especially for one such as an aetheist who denies there is anything besides this temporal existence. That is why their explanantions for why we should "act morally" are so either specious or convoluted, they lack the knowledge of basic reality, which is spiritual and eternal, not physical and temporary.

Megyn @MinimalistMommi:

How do you then explain the morality animals have? If you look at animal behavior, wild animals live a much more honorable lifestyle than we (humans) do. In truth, sociobiology has fantastic theories behind why we (humans) behave the way we do. Truthfully, the existence of a higher power/creator is an explanation for some, but using an evolutionary perspective at least has a lot more science behind it (well I should say, actually has science behind it lol).


Thanks for the comments here. You guys have made me ask a different question: Why are humans evil? My [latest post](http://micahredding.com/blog/2012/03/06/why-are-humans-evil) is about that.

Lincoln Cannon:

Micah, I enjoyed this post, and I agree that we have a moral obligation to engage in the creation of meaning responsibly and reverently. Truth, in the only way we'll ever have access to it, is to communities as knowledge is to individuals. It's not a negation of subjectivity, but rather an abstraction across or sharing of subjectivity. Science is a moral obligation, or a demonstration of charity, in which we engage to share meaning. I call it the epistemic atonement. There is also an ethic atonement and an esthetic atonement, in which we engage, seeking unity of faith, consoling and healing, following the example and invitation of Jesus.