Our task and the natural standards are from God our maker.
I have already affirmed that intention and a sense of obligation are real. But why is this so?
"There is no more ludicrous incongruity than for agnostics to proclaim with one breath that the substance of things is unknowable, and with the next that the thought of it should inspire us with admiration of its glory, reverence, and a willingness to add our cooperative push in the direction towards which its manifestations seem to be drifting. The unknowable may be unfathomed, but if it make such distinct demands upon our activity, we surely are not ignorant of its essential quality."
William James, Rationality, Activity, and Faith (Princeton Review, July 1882), quoted in his Principles of Psychology (1990), chapter 21.
Most thinkers have always regarded transcendent goodwill as an assumption without which our mind and task would make no sense.
In much of the world they still believe this, but for modern Global Westerners such a belief now seems eccentric, and the idea has spread that humans (and any task they adopt) have arisen by sheer chance.
This idea arises from a change of approach, not from increased knowledge: folk are intoxicated with recent technical progress and eager to dismiss the beliefs of their ancestors as superstition or prejudice. But the topic here is the merits of the new idea, not the causes of the new approach (for which see under the cogniframe called "Humanism").
I will explore this by examining three claims that I find implausible.
Note: The first two are not about specifics. That is, they are neither about why we intend or acknowledge this or that, nor about what the proper aims and standards are, but about why we intend and acknowledge at all.
*1. "The fact that we have intentions has arisen by chance."
Have there always been intentions, or did they arise only at a certain time (such as when man came to be)? If they arose at a certain time, the world until that time must have consisted of accidents. How then did the first intention occur? Assuming that things do not just "pop up", I infer that there is some kind of explanation.
The only plausible explanation I can think of is that it was intended.
And where there is intention there is an agent, in this case a creator.
*2. "The fact that we acknowledge obligations has arisen by chance."
Explore the consequences. Here is one possible train of thought.
When you commend a man, what do you mean?
I mean that he has done well.
"Done well" by what standards?
By his own standards.
So you commend mass-murderers if they are successful?
Not his then; my standards.
So you just mean that you personally would do likewise; you are not making any judgment.
My standards are decent ones. I only commend him if I judge that what he does is good.
"Good" by what standard?
The standard of humanity as a whole.
So whatever you think at the moment, if in future humanity as a whole approves something, you will approve it too.
But that will not arise because there are some things humanity will never approve.
How do you know that?
Because humanity as a whole is good.
"Good" by what standard?
The above dialogue can be continued indefinitely, and is constantly being repeated in various forms. l hope the absurdity and circularity of the humanist view, trying desperately to hold on to a sense of real obligation while denying its obvious source, is clear enough.
To regard the human mind as the source of the distinction between right and wrong would be absurd. The only plausible explanation I can think of is that obligation has been imposed on us. And where there is imposition there is an imposer, in this case a legislator.
*3. "Our having intentions and our accepting obligations have different causes."
Having postulated that our intentionality and our sense of obligation are both given, the question arises of whether they are the same. The most plausible answer is that they are.
To regard creator or legislator or both as fiction is common enough, but to regard them as two different realities is extremely rare. I have treated the two points separately for the sake of clarity, but most accept the Psalmist's terse logic:
It is he that has made us, and we are his.
The identification makes more sense of both. To regard any ordinary will as the source of the distinction between right and wrong would be absurd, but the creator is not just a will, he is more than a will but not less, so any useful description must include personality. So I will now conform to the convention of calling our creator God.
God wants us to pursue our task. Does he want this because it is right, or is it right because he wants it? Not exactly either, rather that his wanting it, and its being right, are different aspects of the same truth. With a created being this would be absurd, but God is not a being but the source of being; not a moral agent, but the source of moral agency.
(Feminism, Thealogy) "He? What about she"?
In relation to the cosmos God is, on balance, more like a male than a female. Of course he is not an organism so he cannot be male, but he is masculine, that is, he is best regarded as having the general characteristics of the masculine, similar to what the Chinese call yang though without the implication that the corresponding yin is equally primordial. His relationship with the cosmos is ultimately a creating rather than a preserving one. Certainly we can say that he "has a feminine side", but it is subordinate.
Denials of the Creator
(Nihilism) "I see no need to explain things. The world makes no sense. All events are accidental, and all things, our own minds included, just random arrangements of particles or waves or whatever the world consists of."
"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
If you are right, then any possible answer to questions like "How shall I live? What goals shall I pursue? How can I find out what is right and true" has nothing either in its favour or against it, and we are left acting at random. Since you clearly do not act at random, we can assume that you do not take your own objection seriously, that you also sense its implausibility, however much you may, for whatever other reasons, reject this insight.
"Most things have explanations, but human intention has none. It just popped up for no reason."
Why suppose such an exception when an explanation is available? A rather drastic explanation perhaps, but that is no reason to reject it when it is the only explanation.
"When the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Arthur Conan Doyle, in at least one Sherlock Holmes story. (I think Holmes would count "it just popped up for no reason" as "impossible".)
"There is another explanation but we haven't discovered it."
This refuses to accept the current best theory in the blind hope of finding a better one, against the usual rules of reasoning.
But the hope is worse than blind. We not only lack knowledge of what the explanation is, there seems to be no kind of explanation it could be. Every explanation tells us either what caused something, or who intended it. In this case the explanation could do neither because both possibilities have been ruled out.
(Evolutionism) "Darwin's <The Origin of Species by Natural Selection> shows that we are here by accident."
Many think this, but it is not true. For details, see Natural Selection.
"But if we were created, who created our creator, and so on? The above reasoning applies to them also, and the same reasoning leads to the idea of an endless series of higher and higher creators. This seems implausible."
If we think of our creator only as a superior mind, but there is an alternative. We know that everything in the cosmos, ourselves included, had a beginning, is not self-sufficient, invites explanation. But this need not apply to the creator, who may be self-sufficient. Not just transcendent but self-intended and self-originating (or rather unoriginated, neither accidental nor intended). This seems the most plausible view. Logically this allows for a hierarchy of creators, in which case, "cutting out the middle man" as it were, it is the supreme, transcendent creator we need to focus on, and henceforward that is who I mean when I refer to "the Creator". (I think there is no such hierarchy of intermediate creators, but that is not important here.)
(Pantheism) "Why treat whatever intended us as if it were a conscious individual? It may be a diffuse life-force from which we emerge by a spontaneous process, or something like that."
The supreme creator is very different from anything else, but some analogies are better than others. The creator is a designer, so the human mind is the nearest analogy, and we should accept the implications of that. Of course we must not jump to conclusions about this supermind, which is more than mind, without being less, but for most purposes it is appropriate to see it as a mind. Thinking in terms of a force is just a way to evade the conclusions of our previous reasoning and get back to the comfort zone of supposing that we are an accident.
Denials of the Legislator
(Plato, Whitehead) "The Creator is subject to the Standard, and complies with it. Maybe, as in Plato, the Architect is inspired by his vision of the Idea of Goodness. Or maybe, as in Whitehead, God acts in accord with the Ultimate which is Creativity."
(Promethianism or Titanism) "Or the Creator is subject to the Standard but has deviated from it. The myth of Prometheus, who defied Zeus by teaching forbidden skills to men, can be interpreted as expressing this thought."
Either way, the supreme is not the Creator but an Idea, or "creativity", or whatever inspires Prometheus, and we are back to the old dilemma: is the supreme more than personal, or less? So this is not a genuine objection at this point.
(Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism) "The Creator is alien to the Standard. He neither creates it nor is subject to it. If his creative acts relate to any standard, it is one of which we know nothing."
If the Creator is alien to the Standard that binds us, he is potentially antagonistic to it and to us. This approach introduces a dualism which violates our sense of the unity of things, and logically leads to contempt for the world. As far as I know this view always goes with a belief that the Standard is given us by a good being who is the enemy of the Creator.
"If God were good, history would not be such a series of disasters."
The disasters arise from what man has done, not from what God has done, as explained in the next Section of my Creed.