Suppose, for a moment, that I claimed to disbelieve in gravity and insisted on being given a good reason why I should believe in it. You, being in a generous mood, agree that we should have reasons for what we believe and precede to point out that gravity explains a number of things in our everyday experience quite nicely.
I counter with the idea that we can’t really trust our everyday experience. The senses can deceive us, the rigorous measurements taken by scientists simply assume that their eyes are working correctly when they read instrument panels, and that their ears are reliable when getting a second opinion from their colleagues. And, anyway, what kind of person needs to believe in gravity to know that things fall in the first place. That’s just obvious. Not everything in the universe gets sucked toward the Earth, I say, so that just shows how silly your concept of gravity actually is.
At this point, part of you might be tempted to ask me if I were taking heavy medication or suffered a blow to the head recently.
But this weird rant about gravity isn’t fundamentally different from a very common reaction to moral arguments for God’s existence. Many think it is enough to simply deny moral experience without giving any reason to deny this experience while trusting sensory experience.
All this usually climaxes with a one-liner to the effect that only a terrible person would need the Bible to tell her that murder is wrong. No amount of pointing out that God is being proposed to explain the fact that murder is wrong; the whole argument is intended for people who already agree that it is. To throw out this silly meme is to get the point precisely backward.
The same goes for those who insist that theists’ concept of morality is all about rewards and punishments issued by God. This is nothing at all like what the moral argument concludes. In fact, the only thing this argument says about rewards and punishments is that they are sometimes correct, and sometimes wrong.
I suspect that these kinds of reactions pass for reasonable responses, in a way that my gravity example does not, for essentially this reason:
Modern, western, post-enlightenment culture is simultaneously enamored with what it calls “openess” and “relativism” and perfectly willing to be horribly judgmental toward those cultures which don’t preach these same values.
The one who insists that there is a real, underlying reality to moral truth can be dismissed or mocked, but not answered. It is taken for granted that this person simply does not understand that moral intuitions can be explained in terms of socio-biological evolution.
In reality, whether they can or not has nothing to do with the argument.
This would, really be no different than explaining gravity in terms of theories about mass hallucination. Even if they were, they don’t answer the question “does gravity actually exist?”, they simply attempt to discredit the evidence while equally undermining the evidence for any other view.
But philosophy should explain our basic experience in life, not to dismiss it as an illusion. To do the latter is simply to throw out evidence when it doesn’t fit the theory. To do the former, however, leads us well away from the materialism that has become an unquestionable dogma for far too many.