2016: Terry Eagleton, Distinguished Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University, delivers the ninth annual Theos lecture
From Goodness to God: Why Religion Makes Sense of our Moral Commitments
20th November 2012
Many people think religious convictions should be kept out of the public square, arguing (among other things) that religion is irrational. Religious people might do some good (it is conceded) but religious belief cannot be reconciled with serious moral reasoning.
Not only is this wrong, argues Angus Ritchie, it is the very opposite of the truth. Belief in God, as he contends in From Goodness to God, provides a better foundation for moral reasoning than atheism.
Based on his Oxford monograph, From Morality to Metaphysics, the essay begins by defending moral realism – the idea that there is a ‘truth of the matter’ about morality that our moral reasoning is trying to get right.
Ritchie goes beyond this, however, arguing that atheist understandings of human evolution cannot explain how we know right from wrong. By contrast, a Christian understanding of reality, which sees evolution as a mechanism put in place by a loving God, can account for our capacity for reasoning which tracks an objective moral truth.
Far from being uniquely irrational, Ritchie concludes, theism is uniquely capable of explaining why humans can grasp moral reasons at all.
“A brief but powerful statement of a reasoned case for a theistic basis for morality. It is a philosophically acute and convincing response to some extreme atheistic claims that religious morality is harmful or superfluous.” Keith Ward, Professorial Research Fellow, Heythrop College, London
“The challenge to secular worldviews to make sense of the possibility of moral knowledge is, to my mind, a formidable one, and it is a challenge that Ritchie articulates with considerable force and clarity.” John Hawthorne, Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy, Oxford University
“In this crystal-clear and level-headed essay, Angus Ritchie explains why it is religious belief that is best able to supply a rational account of our ethical inclinations and why such belief is essential to the sustaining and deepening of those inclinations. He offers a serious alternative to the shrill irrationalism of both the new atheists and of religious fundamentalists. It is to be hoped that his words of wisdom will be widely heeded in the realm of public debate.” John Milbank, Professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics at the University of Nottingham