There seems to be an almost universal agreement that things are not as they should be. We all have this innate sense that many things in the world need correction. We look at people and ideas and say things like, “That’s just wrong”. Is there anyone who can say that they believe the world is as it ought to be and that we need not correct anything? I’ve not met any.
Now, in considering God, the skeptic will say that, since the world is not as it ought to be, then either God can't fix it, or doesn't want to fix it, or He is evil and this is the way He wants it. Since those don't fit what we read of God in the Bible, then the more likely conclusion is that there simply is no God. The logical conclusion of no God, then, is that there also no such thing as an “ought”, not really, anyway.
We all feel, the skeptic will say, that we desire things to be such that we would have less pain and more pleasure but, in essence, reality simply is what it is. This is the logical conclusion of philosophical naturalism: There is no other state of existence that has any intrinsic value over what already exists. Therefore, what exists as a current state of affairs is not any better or worse than what has been or what will be, or even what could be, even if we have the sensation that it is.
In other words, if there have always, and only, been naturalistic causes for every thing that makes up our current reality, you may be able to say that a future or other reality would be better, but that would be an illusion or a false belief. You can only truthfully say it will be different. What IS, is neither good nor bad. At first, that sounds odd, but it seems to me that there is nothing incoherent in this idea if , in fact, there are only natural and unguided causes to explain our reality. But the question still looms: Why do we all wish that the world was not as it is? We don’t simply wish for something to be different; that is, we don’t wish for things to return to any prior state, or to just any other state. Instead, we talk about striving to make things better.
The fact is, we know unquestionably that what IS is not what OUGHT to be, and we believe that what OUGHT to be is better than what IS. We know that the current state of reality does not provide for the health, safety, comfort, pleasure, and general thriving of all people. We can simply look around and, even if our immediate world is doing pretty well, we need only read the world news for a few days to see the truth: People are being brutally murdered, killed in natural disasters, dying needlessly of horrific diseases, and often well “before their time”.
Yet there are some assumptions there. Did you catch them? Most of my readers would not argue with that description of life, and so it shows that they accept certain value statements about reality. I used words like brutal, disaster, horrific, etc. These are value descriptors. They make the assumption that these states of affairs are not good, and are actually quite far from good. But if reality just IS, then by what standard do we claim that reality has a value affixed to it. The reason that we call what we see "tragedy" and "languishing" assume that there actually exists some better state of affairs then our current reality.
So which is it? Do you believe that the world just is what it is, or is it what it ought not be? It is an admission of cognitive dissonance to say that what you believe is not true. Think about it. It is absurd to say, "I believe that there is no ought, but I also believe that I am believing something that I know is actually false".
For the skeptic, the problem with saying that it ought not be as it is, is that you have to assume there is some way that the world actually ought to be. And there can only be a better way that things ought to be if there is some purpose, some ideal, some undeniable standard that is true no matter what anyone thinks. It is not a consensus idea, not an evolutionary acquired belief, but a recognizable fact. And yet, this is a flat contradiction of what we should expect in a God-less universe which has simply evolved by directionless forces.
If there is no God, then there is no logical basis by which we can say that things are not as they ought to be. You can't refuse your pie and lambast it too.
So, how do we explain the undeniable fact that there is something wrong with the world, and the even more undeniable fact that we all know this to be true? We know that there is something else the world ought to be, because we have an internal knowledge of that perfection. We have, within us, some vestigial trace of the Divine, having been originally created in the Image of God, before we became what we ought not be. Our longing for something better is our longing to be reunited with our Perfect God; it is our desire to be restored to what we were originally intended to be. We have failed God in our duties to be his representatives on earth, and it is only God that can and will eventually restore both us, and the world, to what it ought to be.
But questions such as this remain: Why did God make a world which He knew would be broken? [See here]. Why does He not come and fix it now? Why allow so much heartache and brutality? We will begin that conversation in another post.