Confirmation of biblical wisdom came earlier this fall from an unlikely source: an Ivy League savant who says it's wrong to depend on the Bible.
The prestigious Oxford University Press sent me the new book Morality Without God by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a Dartmouth professor. (I'm going to quote him a lot, so I'll use his initials.) WSA begins by complaining that his students quote to him Dostoevsky's favorite line, "If God is dead, everything is permitted." WSA then argues that we don't need God: We all should simply agree not to harm others—cause death, pain, or disability—unless there is "adequate reason."
Wondering if WSA is one of those exceedingly rare secular professors with the courage to be pro-life, I emailed him to ask. He responded that there is no "simple solution to this complex problem . . . the moral problem of abortion cannot be solved by citing religious texts or religious leaders."
Hmm . . . How can it be solved? WSA wrote, "What matters is the present and future harm to the fetus and others. This does not solve the problem, but it tells us where to focus our discussions. I hope this helps."
Hmm . . . It helps only if WSA can tell us how to compare "harm to the fetus" (death) to other harms, so I emailed him again. He responded, "The bottom line is that I think some moral problems are insoluble. . . . They are just too difficult for us to figure out. . . . The answer, 'I do not know,' should become common."
Hmm . . . I asked WSA whether people could really make "I don't know" the default statement. He responded, "Why not? People get used to having a belief about everything, but they do not have to. Life can be lived like an experiment where you guess but do not believe until you see how it turns out."
Wow. My first thought was that he was describing how liberals lived in the 20th century. Let's wait and see how the rule of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and other Communists turns out: We don't want to assume that the preaching of class conflict, envy, and resentment will have any real-life effects.
My second thought was that WSA is right. Chapter 1 of Proverbs declares that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." Biblically, those who do not believe in God should truthfully say, "I don't know."
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