Last Note from the Tilt-A-Whirl!


Nathan Wilson quotes Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, then he invents an instructive dialogue between two students evaluating it:

Kant’s categorical imperative: Act only according to maxims which you can desire to be universal.

Student One: That doesn’t make sense. It’s a cheapened golden rule. Without a creating God imposing it, it’s entirely arbitrary. Logic can’t give you goodness, just validity. And if it could, how would a “rational” law achieve any actual authority in an accidental world?

Student Two rebuts: Think about bicycle theft. What if everyone stole bicycles?

Student One: We’d all have someone else’s bicycle.

—N. D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.


  1. Todd Jones on October 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    And would you/Wilson connect people’s willingness to accept Kant’s CI without a Creator to impose it (is this really the “Good Without God” argument?) to the moral argument for God?

  2. Mark L Ward Jr on October 26, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    I would, definitely—if I understand you correctly!

    The secular materialist worldview gives no sufficient accounting for the human moral impulse. Christianity does. We can explain—to borrow from Lewis—why we all somehow feel like we ought to help a drowning child even at risk to ourselves, and even why we feel slighted when someone else grabbed more orange than we got.

    We can explain why we feel life has significance. A secular materialist acts as if life has meaning, but denies that it does.

  3. Todd Jones on October 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    I believe you do. I could have made that more clear by not taking the “even” out of “even without a Creator.” That’s where Student Two seemed to be: arguing for the propriety of the Categ. Impv. while denying the existence of a Creator.

    Your leading sentence of your 2d paragraph (along with its Lewis follow-up) is exactly where that dialogue took me. Godless people may attempt morality on the basis, for example, of the CI. But they have no explanation for it.

    Thinking of Romans 7 (yesterday’s SS lesson) and of fleshly law-keeping in unbelievers and believers alike…

Leave a Reply