I read with great interest, your very thought provoking paper on the existence of a universal moral code and the implications that this fact has on the question of the existence of God.
I agree with you about the existance of such a moral code in humans in both the ways that you detailed in your article, firstly, with cross-cultural evidence and secondly by the more personal every-day experience of individuals, myself included. I too feel the connection with something more important than myself the times I am able to adhere to the dictates of my own values and I too feel a nagging sense of failure when I do what I know is " wrong". I have these feelings like you and I sometimes think there is a God because of their existence too.
May I suggest further evidence to reinforce your argument and that is evidence from cross-species studies. In studies of great apes, it has been found that certain expectations for social behavoir exist. I hesitate to call them "morals" but non-the-less, apes, chimps for example, do have expactatons of fairness of each other in regards to food distribution and non-aggression within their clan unit.
Here is where my agreement with you becomes strained. Intellectually, I tend to agree with Dave Stark when he suggests that the development of morals is largley evolutionary - a system of co-operation to ensure the survival of relatively intelligent, relatively defenseless species such as man and the great apes. As well I wonder if the existance of an innate moral code actually does prove that God exists - it does only if you want it to. Humans have similar traits because we are humans; for example we all have noses and we all have the same emotional response to a beautiful flower or to the sight of a big yellow moon coming over the horizon. You didn't mention these similar traits nor the multitude of other similar traits that we humans share as proof of the existence of God - only morality.
The trait of being moral is peculiar, I will admit. To be moral does imply that occasionally a human will make a decision that tends to favour another individual in preferance to the self. Such decisions would appear to be counter to the evolutionary idea of " the survival of the fittest" until you think of evolution in terms of survival of groups of individuals whose primary strength lies in problem solving and co-operation as in the case of human beings.
I think we must be careful when we look to " more intimate" proofs or proofs that are " written in your hearts" to establish anything. Your supposition, I understand it, is that God placed a moral code in our hearts and that is a proof that God exists. Perhaps, but consider for a moment exactly how did that code got into your heart. Didn't it have something to do with the very intimate emotional bond that exists between mother and baby? Did you not get very loving supportive instruction from her on what is "right " and " wrong" and then did you not get, still at a very early age, further instructions in your formative years from school teachers? Did you not also learn from early experiences of behaving badly and seeing the hurt that inconsiderate actions can cause others? All of these very early experiences were necessary for your development for none of us are born with a fully mature moral sense- it has to be learned. Because these experiences are so early, I think they can have the aura of being innate or even God given. People who lack a loving supportive environment in their formative years do experience difficulties in their adult life and one kind of problem that they exibit is often difficulties destinguishing right from wrong.
Besides all that what is right and wrong anyway? Suppose that we are the ONLY life on the universe - all the plants and animals on this planet are IT. Then is there right and wrong anywhere else in the universe except here? Is there evil on the moon? A comet hits the moon- who does it harm? what evil has resulted? Now suppose that this planet Earth is smashed to dust by an asteroid. Since Earth was the only preserve of life, the only place in the universe that had occupents with a consciousness that was capable of making a judgment about right and wrong... then where are morals? where is Good and Evil? Good and Evil do not exist of themselves, they are concepts inside of our minds - judgments that we make. We have the tendency to make these judgments and because they feel true to us, we project them onto the Universe.
Like Carl (Sagan), I wish I could think differently too.
Can I begin by questioning your final statement? Does it sincerely express your feelings or are you saying that because you consider that belief in God is wishful thinking? The latter has become a cliché in our culture--you constantly hear it in programs and articles about religion. If it were true, it would effectively discredit any religious conviction. I have tried to show that it is equally arguable that belief in naturalism has irrational causes.
Phil, I only mention this because I am convinced it is necessary to get beyond red herrings in order to honestly examine the evidence. I get the impression from your letter that you do want to do that. You poignantly describe your own struggle with the moral law. I ask you to not abandon that struggle.
I just finished an interesting article on this topic and I would like to quote a paragraph:
All of that is imminently logical. However, as you indicate, we human beings are not so logical in practice. A "moral atheist" like Sagan first exposes the irrational basis of morality, then appeals to it. He asks people to make real sacrifices to preserve the planet, fund scientific research, save endangered species, etc. He sounds like a man who is convinced those things are genuine "goods," not just personal preferences. I don't think he is not being hypocritical. On some level deeper than his own philosophy, he knows that there is such a thing as right and wrong, good and bad. The question is still where they come from.
I am sure you know I am not offering this as proof for God's existence. What I am trying to do is remove some obstacles to believing in him. Faith can only come from God reaching down to us.
Fr. Phil Bloom
P.S. I agree with you that in one way the moral law must be learned--even tho it is innate. In a separate article I take up the issue of Conscience and Conscience Formation. The best book I know on the topic is C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man.