So I've just been having this extended debate (as typical on GH's site) with several other people on the nature of morality and how we ought to go about ascertaining correct action. So the typical theist's assertion is that only God has the authority to determine what is moral and what is not - human-based reason is subjective and without authority.
Now the fact is that I believe in an objective morality because otherwise there's no point in discussing morality. If it's all subjective then everyone does what they wants and nobody has any authority to tell others what to do. So if you're going to meaningfully discuss morality then you need to presume that there is an objective morality to which we ought to conform our behavior. Whether this objective morality involves God in some way is really not the issue here. I'm inclined to say 'yes' - assuming God is involved in all things, but I'm not prepared to say that God wrote a list and told it to any particular group of humans. I believe we can make a kind of science of ethics and determine correct action as best we can through applying the tools of reason and logic, as well as relying to a certain degree on intuition, historical study, and whatever else may be relevant. This science is objective and ought to be compelling in argument - so it has some authority.
Now the difference between the orthodox religious person and I is that they believe in a whole theology through which they claim to know God's moral will. Revelation. They don't claim to use reason or logic - they have divine revelation telling them what's right and what's wrong. Wow. I mean that semi-seriously too because it would be really convenient to have a perfect being telling me what's what. A lot of that pesky moral uncertainty would vanish and it has a boatload of authority. But an issue arises - the same one as always - how do they know this revelation is true?
If they say that they rely on faith - then seriously WTF? The Halachic system proposes things like killing people for lighting matches on the Sabbath - how can you dare to condemn a man to death (even theoretically) for something which you have zero rational reason to suggest is true? Those who rely on faith are ontologically unsophisticated and and ethically negligent. How can they be any different from any other religious nut who claims - based on faith - to have God's backing for any kind of evil you could imagine?!
But suppose the religious person believes they have reasonable arguments for their belief system. Ok, so maybe they aren't as negligent. They may be entirely wrong and thereby supporting bad ethics, but at least they're trying to dutifully ascertain righteousness. But you see the issue already don't you? If they are relying on _reason_ to help them out ontologically how is that intrisically different from my system of ethics which relies on _reason_ to determine morality? They both rely on human reason, which is subjective and without authority as far as the theist is concerned.
So I asked one of the theists on GH's blog, would you be willing (assuming he lived in a time and place where it were possible) to execute a man for lighting a match on the Sabbath? And he, after extensive digressions and diversions, finally admitted that he would! He claimed to have reasonable circumstantial evidence for believing in Orthodoxy and was then prepared to accept the Halachic system as-is. But, wait a second - he's relying on circumstantial evidence to promote a system where he executes a man for ritual offenses? He'd kill based solely on circumstantial evidence! Wow! As per Halacha, a Jewish court certainly needs more than that in order to convict and execute.
My point here is that in order to support a revelation-based moral system that can execute for ritual offenses you need to be as certain as a capital-offense jury verdict that the whole system is valid before you can possibly be willing to execute a man based on it. We're talking 99++% certainty here. Could you convince a jury of your peers of your religious beliefs? If you aren't that certain then you are deep in moral turpitude to be willing (even theoretically) to execute people based on it.
Who among the Jbloggers are so certain? RJM? Bueller?
Now I willingly admit that my methodology of asertaining correct action is limited. Human reason is not perfect and so I believe we ought to take a conservative approach to ethics and not get too bowled over by the rhetoric of guys like Peter Singer who suggest that infanticide is justifiable. Yet at the same time, it must be noted that it is the best tool we've got. This is in wild contradistinction to the likes of religious ethics which are as reasonably based as the Hamas manifesto. An Orthodox Jew cannot convince the Hamas guy that his actions are irrational or wrong because it's just a matter of dogma vs dogma. They both believe in their moral system based on a claimed revelation. They are on precisely equal playing fields and the debate becomes a tawdry argument over theology. But if we could inject a little reason into the discussion and make people justify their actions on reasonable grounds then maybe some progress could be made.