Opening speeches from the Flannagan-Bradley debate on morality

Details of the debate.

Raymond Bradley and Matthew Flannagan will debate the topic “Is God the Source of Morality? Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?”

Bradley is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy with areas of specialty in Philosophical Logic, Metaphysics, Logical Atomism; he has previously debated William Lane Craig, Edward Blaiklock and many other Christian scholars and describes himself as an older generation “new atheist”.

Matthew FlannaganFlannagan is an Auckland based Philosopher and Theologian with areas of specialty in Philosophy of Religion, Ethics and Theology; he has previously debated Bill Cooke, Zoe During and, of course, writes for this blog.

Matt posted both opening speeches on the MandM blog.

Opening speech by Ray Bradley.


I’m going to indict God on four categories of charges. Each category has scores, if not hundreds or thousands of instances. If God is guilty of even one of these instances, that alone would be grounds for his conviction. Drawing upon evidence provided by God himself in his so-called Holy Scriptures, I hold that he’s guilty of them all.

  • Crimes against Humanity
  • War Crimes
  • Licensing Moral Mayhem and Murder
  • Crimes of Torture

Matt went second and responded to this argument.

Opening speech by Matthew Flannagan.

Matt defends a divine command theory of morality and he has 3 responses to Ray:

  • The theist can deny that the Biblical record of what God did is infallible
  • God’s moral duties are for humans, they are not necessarily binding on God
  • Ray misinterprets the meaning and applicability of the Bible stories he cites

I recommend reading the two opening speeches now so you’re ready for when the full video comes out. Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 tells me that he has asked for the video and it should be posted soon. I will link to the video when it comes out.

Flannagan is awesome and you need to start to get familiar with him even though he is in New Zealand. He’s basically the William Lane Craig of New Zealand, and probably that whole area of the world. I don’t know any Australian scholars who are as capable as Matt. I must mention though that I do disagree with him on annihilationism, the view he articulates in this debate.

UPDATE: The audio has now been posted. (H/T Jason from Thinking Matters NZ)

Further study

And here is a blog post on Ray Bradley written by another New Zealander, theistic philosopher Glenn Peoples. Glenn’s post is short and to the point – he excerpts the main argument from a post by Bradley against the moral argument and shows why it has no force.

And you can read more about William Lane Craig’s debate with Ray Bradley on Hell, too.

17 thoughts on “Opening speeches from the Flannagan-Bradley debate on morality”

  1. “Even though he is in New Zealand?” As in, out-of-the-world-as-we-know-it? One day airplanes and the internet will be invented, O WK, and all this will change! One day, Flannagan may even step on America’s shores — it could happen!!

    “He’s basically the William Lane Craig of New Zealand”.

    New Zealanders may prefer to think that WLC is the Flannagan of America!

    New Zealand and Australia appear distant to us, but remember — when it’s still “today” here, it’s already “tomorrow” there!

    Thanks for the post.


  2. Yeah I suspect that is true, but my point in the debate was to point out how Ray did not engage in a critical reading of the text. I suspect you do.


  3. Reading this again I don’t think those who disagree with me do old a more “literal” interpretation of hell. Annhilationists for example take literally the numerous references to destruction, eternal destruction etc in the epistles and the psalms and traditionalists tend to take this less literally. I quoted a passage from Thessalonian s in the debate for example which I took quite literally.

    I think the real issue is how imagery in Revelation and some of Jesus’s parables is interpreted, and I don’t think either side takes this literally. Craig for example grants its metaphor he simply disagrees with annhilationists over what the metaphor is a metaphor of.

    (on the side : my comments about capital punishment in the Torah were supported by a literal reading of Numbers 35 and the implicit assumptions such a reading made, and a good deal of support for my stuff on the Canaanite s relies on taking latter passages in Joshua a judges literally)


  4. I just listened to the debate and also thought Matt did a good job, though I do have maybe a couple of criticism I hope he’ll take as friendly.

    I think you may give too much ground away when speaking about the OT texts, though I do get that you are trying to show that inerrancy is irrelevant to whether God is the source of morality. However, I wish you had maybe mentioned that if God is the soucrce of morality, and justice is a moral element, then God must also dispense judgment. So when God punishes the Canaanites, for instance, it isn’t capricious or evil, but it is justice being dispensed.


  5. Hi guys, thanks for the feedback I am presenting on some of this in November in Atlanta so it’s helpful.

    I agree that I probably should have taken a harder line on some issues, for example in the question on Numbers 15 I should have noted (a) the text deals with a single case where God explicitly commands capital punishment for that case (b) the context shows this was a case of outright defiance and (c) any objections to this are based on intuitions to the effect that outright defiant and intention violation of Gods law is never serious enough to warrant death and then challenged the idea that peoples intuitions about this sort of think are reliable. I think there is a tendency for contemporary skeptics to assume that if God commanded anything his commands would never be in conflict with their own liberal secular judgments on the matter. Exposing this puts them in an interesting paradox, to assume this they have to maintain quite dogmatically that their moral judgments are infallible, beyond question, so that an infallible being would never disagree. I think showing a so called skeptic is doing this makes a for powerful irony. I had intended to make this latter point at some stage in the debate but things got away on me.

    As to the Canaanites my response is in fact two fold. First, the text is hyperbolic and hagiographic (Wolterstorff’s position)so the mass killing of thousands of women children etc is a misinterpretation and Second, when one looks at what the text actually says God was justly evicting the Canaanites by force.

    Unfortunately in a debate you have issues of time and can’t say it all. I thought the first point was more important than the second. The reason is that if you make the second in isolation without dealing with the first the answer is implausible, God could justly drive a nation out forcibly if they were engaging in the kinds of practices scripture refers to but its not obvious it would be just to genocide all the population including non combatants for this reason, and the obvious rejoinder would be “your justifying genocide” I also thought it was important not to address everything in the debate, because obvious objections are likely to come up in the rebuttals, its better to not address every obvious objection so your opponent will use some of his time to bring up issues you have already prepared an answer to.


    1. Matt, you are a billion times smarter than I am. Don’t worry too much about my disagreement. I was not debating and I’m not qualified to be in a debate on that scale. It’s easy for an amateur to criticize from an armchair in an obscure darkened room after the fact. You obviously put a lot more thought into the specific points that Bradley brought up and I am not even qualified to comment on that.

      For my part, if I met Bradley privately, I would ask him to explain how he helps himself to notions like good and evil. If his notions are objective, then how are they grounded ontologically in his atheistic worldview? If subjective or culturally relative, then why should I care what he thinks about God’s actions? But that was not the topic of the debate. I just disagree with him bringing God before a moral yardstick when such a yardstick has no place in an atheistic universe.

      I’m making plans to be at the conference in Atlanta, too.


  6. Actually Wintery Knight it is important for me to know how the layman ( for want of a better term)respond to what I say, debates like this are in part for the benefit of lay people.

    I believe that there are scholars like Plantinga who are heads down better scholars than Craig ( who would probably agree) yet Craig is able to take the high level of scholarship that he has and make it accesible to a lay audience in a way Plantinga cannot, I suspect Craig wins many debates not just because of his intellectual ability, which is considerable, but because of his communication skills.


  7. Matt, thanks for your response. I can’t imagine what a debate is like on the nerves (though I’d like to some day, Lord willing) and am amazed at how you guys are able to present your points so quickly and succinctly.

    I personally have found it helpful in my own thoughts on this to remember the gravity of our sin. When we sin, it is against a perfectly holy God. If I slapped my sister, I might get in some trouble, but if I slapped the president, I would get in a lot of trouble. When we “slap” God, there’s infinite trouble; if that makes sense.

    God bless you, Matt. It was a pleasure to converse with you a bit. Keep up the great work.


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