Posts Tagged ‘In Search of Moral Knowledge’

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/30/2014: R. Scott Smith

August 28, 2014

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Morality. Most of us do agree that there is such a thing, although a growing number are increasingly saying that they don’t, which is quite frightening. We know that there is a good and there is an evil and we have a good idea about what it is we are to do. This is a phenomenon of reality that needs to be explained. How do we do it? To find out about this, I’m having R. Scott Smith come on the Deeper Waters Podcast. 

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Who is he?

Professor of Ethics & Christian Apologetics in the MA Christian Apologetics program, Biola University (starting my 15th year)

MA, Philosophy of Religion & Ethics, Talbot; PhD, Religion & Social Ethics, USC

Author of 4 books: In Search of Moral Knowledge (IVP, 2014), Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality (Ashgate, 2012), Truth and the New Kind of Christian: The Emerging Effects of Postmodernism in the Church (Crossway, 2005), and Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge (Ashgate, 2003).

Contributor to several books, journals, and other magazines/websites

What we will be talking about is the latest book of his, In Search of Moral Knowledge. 

Smith’s book is a fascinating one that takes you through a tour of ancient philosophy, biblical theology and ethics, the medieval period, and then modern theories, including naturalistic theories, that attempt to give a grounding for the morality that we all seem to share. What theory best accounts for it? In the end, he decides that the Christian worldview is the best worldview for explaining morality.

We will be asking a lot of questions along the way of course. Since the book starts off with looking at the early Greek philosophers, one question that can come to mind is “Why should we care?” After all, if we are Christians, don’t we have the Bible to tell us right from wrong? Why should Christians bother studying the ideas of Plato and Aristotle since this isn’t part of inspired literature? Can it really help us to understand morality?

When it comes to biblical ethics, at this point, it is the atheist who will have a rejoinder. “Yes. Let’s talk about biblical ethics. Let’s talk about slavery and genocide and all of that stuff. Remember, all of this is what shows up in the ‘Good Book.’ Why should I take the Bible as a relevant source on morality when it contains so much that is immoral?”

As we go through the medieval period, we can ask what we have really gained from all of this. Most of us today do still have a good idea of right and wrong. Did the medieval period really contribute in any significant way to what we know about reality? Does it really help us to understand what people like Aquinas thought about morality?

Finally, we will be looking at modern ideas from Christians and non-Christians and seeing how they add up and asking if morality can really be explained in an atheistic worldview? If it can’t be, then why is it that we should think that the Christian worldview is the best explanation for morality?

If you’re interested in the moral argument for God’s existence, then I urge you to please subscribe to the Deeper Waters Podcast on ITunes and be watching your feed for this latest episode! You won’t want to miss it!

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: In Search of Moral Knowledge

June 25, 2014

What do I think of R. Scott Smith’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I wish to thank IVP for providing a copy of this book for a review first off. I find the moral argument to be a highly interesting argument. Now my own variation of it is that I prefer to use the fourth way of Aquinas and have it be the argument from goodness of which morality is a subsection of that. Yet insofar as it goes, the moral argument works fine and Smith has given an impressive tour de force on this.

Smith starts off with the history of how we got to this point in understanding morality today. He starts with the Bible and what is found in both testaments. He then goes on to look at the work of Plato and Aristotle and takes us through the medieval period and then through many of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment period and beyond and even goes up to interacting with postmodern looks at morality. At this point, there can be no doubt that Smith has done his research and done it well.

Smith also seeks to be as fair as he can with those whom he is dialoguing with. He admits that he has made errors in understanding past opponents at times and tries to read their works in light of all that they are saying. Smith indeed shows impressive scholarship in the field. At this point, I do think it’s important to let the reader know that I think he will need more than a layman’s understanding of the field to get the most out of this book.

Smith in the end concludes that naturalistic theories not only do not account for moral knowledge, but that they do not account for any knowledge whatsoever. This is true in whatever case he looks at as each position begs certain questions. There is also the problem that many of them deny essences and for Smith, a physicalist explanation of the nature of man is just incapable of being able to provide knowledge. We have to have essences of some sort.

Smith then roots the knowledge that we have in God. The book ends in the last chapter with a more apologetic approach looking at various issues such as the case for the resurrection of Jesus and the problem of evil. No doubt, each of these is brief and I would have liked to have seen even more in some areas at least in terms of other works that were cited since these would be out of the field that Smith is normally writing in which is fine. There were a few points on each section that I would disagree with, but they do not detract overall as Smith does provide excellent sources still in each case, though as I said I would have liked still more.

One main problem I would have liked to have addressed that rarely is is that I do not often see a definition of good given. It is as if we assume when we get together and debate what is good and what is evil that we all know what these terms really mean. In fact, this is the first question I usually raise when I debate moral issues with someone. I agree with Smith of course that love and justice are good and that murder, rape, and torturing babies for fun is wrong. Yet when I say “X is good” what do I mean?

Still, in the end, I think Smith’s work is an excellent one that will certainly leave much food for thought. For anyone who is wanting to deal with the moral argument, mark this down as essential reading.

In Christ,
Nick Peters