Can Moral Education Be Grounded On Naturalism? -- By: Gordon H. Clark

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 001:4 (Fall 1958)
Article: Can Moral Education Be Grounded On Naturalism?
Author: Gordon H. Clark


Can Moral Education Be Grounded On Naturalism?

Gordon H. Clark

Butler University

Among moral prescriptions common opinion would include the sixth, seventh, and eighth of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, and thou shalt not steal, have usually been regarded as important moral laws. An orthodox Christian or an orthodox Jew can sincerely and consistently inculcate these laws because he believes them to be the laws of God. They are right because God has commanded them. And they are laws because God imposes penalties for their transgression. Thus moral education can consistently be grounded on Biblical religion.

Humanism, naturalism, or atheism obviously does not have this ground for morality, nor does it uniformly accept these laws. Professor Edwin A. Burtt, himself a humanist, in both editions of his Types of Religious Philosophy, indicates the repudiation of Biblical morality by reporting that the more radical humanists regard “sex as an essentially harmless pleasure which should be regulated only by personal taste and preference.” Similarly the political radicalism of many naturalists in attacking private property and advocating confiscatory taxation and the redistribution of wealth is a thinly disguised defense of legalized theft. And it is not difficult to identify godless governments which make constant use of murder. Naturalism therefore seems to be consistent with a repudiation of, the Ten Commandments.

No doubt many humanists in America disapprove of the brutality and murder inherent in communism. Some may even have a kind word for private property. And some would not condone adultery. But the problem that naturalism must face is this: Can an empirical philosophy, a philosophy that repudiates revelation, an instrumentalist or descriptive philosophy provide a ground — I do not say for the Ten Commandments — but for any moral prescriptions whatever? Or do the humanists’ arguments that place sexual relations in the sphere of purely personal preference also imply that all the choices of life are equally a matter of private taste ?

The empirical method in axiology can only begin with the discovery in experience of so-called values. Art and friendship, health and material comfort, are frequently so identified. The precise identification, however, is not the crucial point. These so-called values are all descriptive facts. Burtt discovers in his experience a preference for art and friendship. Someone else may not value art at all. Similarly, personal preference varies between monogamy and adultery. And Stalin shows a preference for murder. As Gardner Williams of the University of Toledo, in his volume, Humanistic Ethics (p. 6), says, “Selfish ambition, or the will to pow...

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