William Lane Craig answers a question.
You need moral accountability for morality to be rational, otherwise the only reason for being moral would be to have happy feelings and to avoid unhappy feelings – which is not prescriptive morality at all, but just self-interest. But that is only one of the things that you need for a person to have a rational basis for acting morally.
Here’s the full list:
1) Objective moral values
There needs to be a way to distinguish what is good from what is bad. For example, the moral standard might specify that being kind to children is good, but torturing them for fun is bad. If the standard is purely subjective, then people could believe anything and each person would be justified in doing right in their own eyes. Even a “social contract” is just based on people’s opinions. So we need a standard that applies regardless of what people’s individual and collective opinions are.
2) Objective moral duties
Moral duties (moral obligations) refer to the actions that are obligatory based on the moral values defined in 1). Suppose we spot you 1) as an atheist. Why are you obligated to do the good thing, rather than the bad thing? To whom is this obligation owed? Why is rational for you to limit your actions based upon this obligation when it is against your self-interest? Why let other people’s expectations decide what is good for you, especially if you can avoid the consequences of their disapproval?
3) Moral accountability
Suppose we spot you 1) and 2) as an atheist. What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever? Is there any reward or punishment for your choice to do right or do wrong? What’s in it for you?
4) Free will
In order for agents to make free moral choices, they must be able to act or abstain from acting by exercising their free will. If there is no free will, then moral choices are impossible. If there are no moral choices, then no one can be held responsible for anything they do. If there is no moral responsibility, then there can be no praise and blame. But then it becomes impossible to praise any action as good or evil.
5) Ultimate significance
Finally, beyond the concept of reward and punishment in 3), we can also ask the question “what does it matter?”. Suppose you do live a good life and you get a reward: 1000 chocolate sundaes. And when you’ve finished eating them, you die for real and that’s the end. In other words, the reward is satisfying, but not really meaningful, ultimately. It’s hard to see how moral actions can be meaningful, ultimately, unless their consequences last on into the future.
If you don’t have a rational basis for acting morally, then you will only do it when you want to feel happy, and avoid feeling unhappy. You’ll do it if you feel like it, if people are watching, etc. But you won’t do the right thing if it gets in the way of your selfishness.
For a really good debate on whether morality is real on Christianity and/or atheism, listen to this debate with Glenn Peoples against Cambridge philosopher Arif Ahmed.
If you would like to hear another good debate on whether Christianity and/or atheism can ground some of these requirements, then click here. This one features Sean McDowell.
And here’s a debate that I did with one of our best atheist commenters, Moo.
More about atheistic concepts of morality
- The link between Darwinism, nihilism and public school shootings
- Science czar advocated forced abortions, mass sterilizations and totalitarianism
- Science czar says trees should be able to sue and born babies are not human beings
- Psychology Today features atheists who think that they are moral
- Does prominent atheist Michael Ruse think that morality is real or illusory?
- Is there such a thing as genuine libertarian free will if naturalism is true?
- How do leading atheists understand morality on atheism?
- Is prescriptive morality rationally grounded on atheism?
- Can atheists be moral? (A series explaining the grounding of morality)
Some debates on God and morality
- From the Unbelievable radio show: Glenn Peoples vs Arif Ahmed on the moral argument
- Sean McDowell debates James Corbett on whether morality is grounded by atheism
- From Christianity Today, a written debate: Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens
- From the University of Western Ontario, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen
- From Schenectady College, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor
- From Franklin & Marshall College, William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)
- From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (part1, part2)
- A debate from the Unbelievable radio show between a Christian pastor and a lay atheist
- Transcript of debate between Greg Koukl and Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer