I sent these reviews to my friend Dr. Van Swaay. Here are his comments:
About the Wielenberg discussion:
Obviously I have not (yet) read Wielenberg's book. But from what he writes in the discussion one can get a taste of how he thinks. From that I get the impression that he thinks cogently.
But few of the commenters seem to think cogently; most seem to be unaware that a given belief that answers life's unanswerables - for one person, or maybe for a group sharing that belief - cannot be brought as argument that all other beliefs must be wrong. Those who believe that ethics pre-exists, before religion, cannot thereby claim that religion cannot exist, or be accepted as bedrock. And those who speak from some religious conviction cannot claim that their religion must preclude ethics as bedrock for all others.
I get the impression that Wielenberg does recognize all that.
Moreover, I get the impression that he does not present his insight
(belief?) as unchallenged and unchallengeable truth. I did not read him saying anything beyond the observation that he has not found an argument to disprove his belief. He does raise some nontrivial questions about the difficulty of reconciling an all-powerful god with both imperfect people and observably indispensable moral precepts.
I don't think the argument of imperfection and imperfect respect for ethical precepts can serve to disprove the existence of god in some form. After all, the very notion of 'god' grew from the need to construct a model of what cannot be constructed from logic.
I would say that one could argue for ethical precepts, maybe not as absolute pre-existing axiom, but as absolutely necessary to make human (sympathetic) life possible. Given that logically one cannot start an argument without a starting point, then I would say that taking the existence of sympathetic humanity as the starting point is not all that different from taking a necessary precondition of such existence as starting point.
Maybe that is the ultimate chicken-and-egg question. No matter which way one might answer that question, there remains the bedrock
- logically unanswerable - question how humanity came to be human.
Ultimately, I would argue that all faith (and religion) develops as a construction of man, as a way to make peace with life's unanswerables. And that construction has to answer why humanity is sympathetic. That would lead to the proposition that 'ethics comes before religion', though maybe not before faith. But it does not lead to any argument that would speak against the possibility - and reality - that ethics and religion can and do co-exist, and that they can and do support each other.
I find the hard part in all this the challenge of capturing in words what may well be beyond words. Maybe that will serve as the last word ....