We think to determine three things: whether something is true, whether something should be done, and whether something commands our appreciation. In other words, we think to know truth, goodness, and beauty.
I suppose it must be theoretically possible to create an ethic without God or a god, but historically in the west it's been a problem.
The great argument of the "new atheism," as of most atheisms of the old stripe, seems to be that "you can't prove the existence of God."
In other words, using the tools of science, you can't prove the existence of something that transcends science.
The absence of God is evident in many ways in our culture. For example, we are not a praying culture and in fact our government is formally opposed to identifying with any particular groups prayers. We take the wisdom of this for granted, but a historical sense shows how unnervingly rarely we find parallel states.
One place I find the absence of God a little surprising, though, is in modern translations of the Bible. Let me give an example.
In Luke 1:41, we read in the older versions something like this:
Like everybody else, I love words. I love the way I can have a vague sense of something I want to say or think about and as soon as I attach a word that fits the thought comes alive and starts to run around on me.
I love the way another person can possess an amazing insight in his own soul and, by embodying it in a collection of sound-signs (what we call words), he can give me eyes to see the same thing: at least, if I am ready.
First Things has published an amazing and wonderful essay by Alan Jacbos called "Auden and the Limits of Poetry" which, being limited, discovers its immense value.
Auden uses poetry to remind us of what poetry can never give us. But, in the end, this assigns poetry a genuine and important role, as it points always beyond itself in a strangely mute witness to that of which it is unable definitively to speak. As Auden wrote in one of his later poem,
This article from Ed Week fascinates me. It contains quite a few good ideas, expressed very generally, and then ends with the whole implementation problem.
Here's an excerpt:
During the night I tweaked my back a little, so when I woke up this morning I was particularly stiff and out of line. To loosen it a little, I went out for a short walk.
The high will be 63, so the air carried that early morning anticipation that fills a spring dawn. Carolina blue was developed for today. March birds were tweeting each other and squirrels were laughing at each other.
The Meno by Plato begins with the direct and forthright question, "Can virtue be taught?"
It ends with the conclusion, stated by Socrates, that it is a gift from the gods. Which, if he is right, is a wise thing to say. And if he just spent a whole dialogue guiding Meno to that conclusion, then he has just led him along the path to wisdom.
Not that Meno has arrived (or that Socrates thought he had), but that he has progressed. He has, if he has a willing soul, moved in the direction of becoming wiser.