Debate summary: Is God necessary for morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan

Debate summary

This is a summary of a debate on the rational justification for moral values, moral duties and moral accountability on atheism. The question of free will and determinism also comes up. Note that this is not a debate to see who wins. The commie wusses at the Veritas Forum made Craig promise not to press for a victory, as he reports here:

I did respond briefly to Prof. Kagan’s view… but I didn’t press the point because our hosts with the Veritas Forum had made it very clear to me that they were not interested in having a knock-down debate but a friendly dialogue that would foster a warm and inviting atmosphere for non-believing students at Columbia. The goal was simply to get the issues out on the table in a congenial, welcoming environment, which I think we did.

The debate was held in February, 2009 at Columbia University between Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan and William Lane Craig.

Video and audio are here:

Shelly Kagan – opening speech

Framing the debate:

  • The question is not whether people need God in order to act morally, because atheists are able act morally and immorally just as well as theists
  • The questions is whether we need to God in order to be the ground for morality. Do right and wrong really exist if there is not God?
  • He will defend objective morality on atheism

One possible explanation for morality without God is:

  • right is what helps others and doesn’t hurt them
  • wrong is what hurts people and doesn’t help them

And the standard rules of moral behavior emerge from these 2 principles.

What are the objections to this help/hurt theory

1) Are these really wrong, or is this standard just a matter of opinion?

No, these moral standards are not a matter of opinion, they are facts.

2) What makes these rules apply to everyone and prescribe behaviors

Possible answers:
– moral rules are just brute facts
– contractarianism: (social contract) the moral rules should be chosen by reflecting on a hypothetical discussion between ideal reasoners
– something else

3) Morality involves commandments, so who is the commander?

Possible answers:
– moral commandments don’t require a commander
– for example, logical rules like the law of non-contradiction don’t need a lawgiver, and moral rules could be just like that
– or, perhaps the commander is society itself, which fits with the contractarian theory

William Lane Craig – opening speech

Framing the debate:

  • not debating whether belief in God is necessary to act morally
  • the question is whether god is a necessary ground for morality to be meaningful

Is God necessary for morality? It depends on what morality means:
– is morality just an arbitrary pattern of social behavior?
– if so, then God isn’t needed to ground humans to act according to a pattern of social behavior

But if morality is objective, (true whether anyone believes it or not):
– then god is necessary to ground objective morality
– because objective moral standards exists independently of human standards of personal preference or cultural fashion

Non-objective morality is illusion/convention
– pattern has no objective moral significance, it’s just an arbitrary fashion that varies by time and place

God is necessary for morality in 3 ways
1) God grounds objective moral values, i.e. – what counts as good and what counts as evil
2) God grounds objective moral duties, i.e. – what we ought to do and ought not to do
3) God grounds moral accountability, i.e. – our ultimate fate depends on how we act morally

1) Moral values
– whether some action is good or evil, independent of whether anyone thinks it is or not
– individual and social opinions do not decide these standards of good and evil
– god is necessary to ground moral standards that exist independent of human opinions
– the moral values are set by god’s unchanging nature

Human value:
– why think that humans have value, such that they should be treated a particular way
– on atheism, humans are just animals
– evolution means that moral values are the product of the struggle for survival
– the “herd” moral standard is arbitrary, it is not really a true standard
– on atheism, moral values do not exist independently, they are merely descriptions of behaviors that are the product of biological and cultural evolution
– in other animal species, many things that we think of as wrong are practiced, like stealing and rape
– so why think that our practices are objectively true, instead of just customs and fashions of our species?

Free will:
– moral choices require a non-physical mind distinct from the physical brain in order to make free moral choices
– on (biological) determinism, no choices are morally significant – just actions of puppets on strings
– no moral responsibility for a puppet’s determined actions

2) Moral duties
– whether some action is right or wrong
– whether humans are morally obligated to perform certain actions, independent of whether we think that we do or not
– the commands flow from god’s unchanging moral nature
– they become duties for us, his creatures

on atheism
– on atheism, humans are animals, and animals don’t have real moral obligations
– where would moral duties come from on atheism, to whom is the duty owed?
– on atheism, it is just a subjective impression ingrained into us by social and biological pressures
– on atheism, there is no standard of what we ought to do
– on atheism, breaking the social contract is the same as belching loudly at the dinner table, it’s just being unfashionable – not doing what the rest of the heard has decided is customary

3) moral accountability
– on theism, the moral choices we make affect where we end up in the afterlife
– god balances the scales of justice in the end

on atheism:
– it is irrelevant how you act, you end up in the same place (dead) regardless of how you live

why be moral on atheism?
– why shouldn’t a person pursue self interest instead of following the moral conventions of the social contract
– it’s not always the case that doing the right thing is also doing the thing that gives you selfish pleasure
– a very powerful person would not need to be moral, since they can escape the social sanctions that result from their breaking the social contract
– why would a very powerful do the right thing when it is against their self-interest, on atheism, since the social contract is just arbitrary fashion?

acts of self-sacrifice are irrational on atheism
– the result is that no one will be moral when it is hard to do the right thing
– because in the long run, it doesn’t matter what you do, on atheism
– compassion and self-sacrifice are not pleasurable, and are therefore pointless on atheism

Conclusion:

questions atheists must answer:
what is the basis of objective moral values?
what is the basis of human value on atheism?
why ought we to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing?
what is the basis for moral accountability

Continue reading Debate summary: Is God necessary for morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan

Michelle Malkin takes on Nancy Pelosi’s dismissal of tea party protests

The Weekly Standard, citing Roll Call, reports on Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s explanation for the 800+ Tax Day protests.

Excerpt from the Roll Call article: (H/T Gateway Pundit)

But in an interview on Fox TV in San Francisco, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chalked up the GOP grass-roots effort as “AstroTurf.”

“This initiative is funded by the high end; we call it AstroTurf, it’s not really a grass-roots movement. It’s AstroTurf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class,” Pelosi said.

Other House Democratic leaders took a different tack: One senior aide has been circulating a document to the media that debunks the effort as one driven by corporate lobbyists and attended by neo-Nazis…

In addition, the tea parties are “not really all about average citizens,” the document continues, saying neo-Nazis, militias, secessionists and racists are attending them. The tea parties are also not peaceful, since reporters in Cincinnati had to seek “police protection” during one of the events, it states.

The Weekly Standard responds to Pelosi:

The suggestions that these tea parties are driven by DC-based groups is laughable; Liz Mair takes a critical look and concludes the charge is baseless. Besides the points that Mair makes, it’s worth noting that while there have been dozens of tea parties, few have featured conservative candidates or representatives of DC think tanks and lobbying groups.

As far as the charge that these rallies are composed of Nazis and terrorists, that’s hard to reconcile with the pictures of participants. There are too many young children and grandparents. Further, even a strong Obama supporter like Susan Roesgen didn’t turn up any violent types at the Chicago Tea Party, despite her best attempt to provoke a strong reaction.

And then they ask about the groups and sponsors of left-wing rallies:

If this is a conversation they want to have, however, perhaps Ms. Pelosi can explain the role of Marxists and North Korean sympathizers in the U.S. anti-war movement, or discuss how George Soros bought such influence in the Democratic party. It’s not a debate that would help Democrats, since it’s relatively easy to show the role of fringe extremists in the Democratic grassroots.

That’s all well and good, but commentary is better when Michelle Malkin is the commenter:

And Michelle has a lot more photos and videos from the various protests, too.

Upcoming panel debate featuring Tony Costa and Michael Coren

For my Canadian readers, if you are in Toronto, you might want to consider attending this upcoming debate on morality in an atheistic worldview. Is it possible? Is it rational? The official topic is “Evolution of ethics: Science vs Faith”. It is being organized by non-Christians, which explains the title, and the apparent 3-2 advantage the non-theists will enjoy.

Excerpt from the Humanist Canada web site:

Are ethics divinely-inspired or man-made? Are there absolute morals? Although scientists and philosophers have debated the nature of ethics for hundreds of years, developments in genetic research have unleashed a firestorm of issues concerning human control of creation and its impact on our future. Given that society ideals change over time, how can we determine what is morally right or wrong?

Join Humanist Canada for a lively and thought-provoking debate on the nature of ethics. Five prominent speakers, from both the Christian and Humanist communities, will discuss and debate some of the hottest topics today including abortion, gender, homosexuality, and biotechnology. Our panel of speakers includes: Christopher diCarlo (celebrated professor of Philosophy of Science and Bioethics; founder of “We Are All African” Campaign); Michael Coren (outspoken Christian writer; radio and TV host); George Dvorsky (popular transhumanist; animal rights activist); Tony Costa (recognized public speaker for Campus for Christ); and Jean Saindon (award-winning professor of Natural Science and Technology).

Time and place: Saturday April 18 @ 6:30 pm, Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave, Toronto

Tickets: $15 Humanist Canada members; $25 general admission; $10 students (with school ID). Appetizers, desserts and drinks included. Purchase tickets by April 15 for best seats. Click HERE for the printable registration form or click on ticket choices below.

DiCarlo debated Bill Craig before and really, really disappointed me.

If you know of an upcoming debate or discussion event related to the topics on this blog, be sure and send me an e-mail. If you know of any additional materials related to this topic, please leave a comment.

Other debates on atheism and morality

Here are some prior debates on the rationality of morality on atheism.

  1. From Christianity Today, a written debate: Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens
  2. From the University of Western Ontario, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen
  3. From Schenectady College, a transcript of a public debate:William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor
  4. From Franklin & Marshall College, William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)
  5. From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

Further study

A good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here. My previous posts on this blog on this topic are here and here. The first one is about whether atheists can use a made-up standard to judge God for his perceived moral failures, the second one is on whether meaningful morality is rational on atheism.

How government regulations can cost us our jobs

Good post on the effects of government regulation, over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Open Market blog.

Excerpt:

A story in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis St. Paul shows how adverse effects of such needlessly onerous standard can spill over into other areas. In this case, a meat plant had to shut its doors, putting 200 people out of work because their water exceeded EPA’s standard by 8 parts per billion. EPA can’t show that the Clinton era its standard won’t save a soul, but we do know that economic hard times hurt many.

Here’s an excerpt from the Strib piece:

More than 200 workers in a small town 90 minutes west of Minneapolis have lost their jobs after a beef slaughtering plant was forced to shut down because its water contained excessive levels of arsenic, a condition the plant owner said he couldn’t afford to fix in time to avoid federal penalties.

“I’m done,” said William Gilger, owner of North Star Beef Inc. in Buffalo Lake, Minn.

The Heritage Foundation has a good post on how the EPA intends to expand their control of the economy in order to save us from global cooling warming.

In essence, the endangerment finding says that global warming and climate change pose a serious threat to public health and safety and thus almost anything that emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The endangerment finding is the first step in a long regulatory process that could lead to EPA requiring different regulations and units of emissions requirements for each gadget that emits carbon dioxide. The first target would be automobiles, but the EPA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) suggested regulations of almost everything that moves, including new regulations smaller items such lawnmowers and forklifts. The ANPR also suggests putting speed limiters on large trucks on the table as a means of reducing carbon dioxide and even suggested sharkskin boats oozing bubbles to reduce emissions from the shipping industry.

…Beyond things that move, the agency could go after things that stand still. More than a million energy using businesses, buildings, and farms could also be hit with crushing administrative burdens and costly controls. And even if EPA decides not to go that far, they will almost certainly be sued into doing so.

And they have a forecast of the potential costs of this regulation:

However, the economic damage would be similar to any carbon capping bill passed by Congress and perhaps even worse. Dr. David Kreutzer and Dr. Karen Campbell of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis found the economic costs of EPA regulations to be:

• Cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) losses are nearly $7 trillion by 2029 (in inflation adjusted 2008 dollars)
• Single-year GDP losses exceed $600 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars).
• Annual job losses exceed 800,000 for several years.
• Some industries will see job losses that exceed 50 percent.

If you tax or regulate something, you get less of it. If you cut taxes and remove regulations, you get more of it. The best protection a worker has is not onerous taxes and regulations on their employer. The best protection a worker has is a choice among a huge number of employers. If you want a choice of employers, try creating conditions that employers actually want.

Republicans care about creating conditions that allow businesses to create jobs. We want this because we believe that people should not dependent on the government for their livelihood. Your ability to choose your employer is part of your liberty. Democrats care about inventing a faked crisis using junk science in order to justify government-coerced redistribution of wealth.

The eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ women followers supports the empty tomb

I wanted to go over this article by William Lane Craig which includes a discussion of the empty tomb, along with the other minimal facts that support the resurrection. The entire paper was also presented orally to the students and faculty at California State University, Fresno in 2005, and a full recording is available here. The paper covers all of Craig’s preferred set of minimal facts, which he uses in debates.

The word resurrection means bodily resurrection

The concept of resurrection in use among the first converts to Christianity was a Jewish concept of resurrection. And that concept of resurrection is unequivocally in favor of a bodily resurrection. The body (soma) that went into the grave is the body (soma) that came out.

Craig explains what this means with respect to the fast start of Christian belief:

For a first century Jew the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb was simply a contradiction in terms. In the words of E. E. Ellis, “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.”

And:

Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it is doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as the body was interred in the tomb, a Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been an impossible folly.

It’s significant that the belief in the resurrection started off in the city where the tomb was located. Anyone, such as the Romans or Jewish high priests, who wanted to nip the movement in the bud could easily have produced the body to end it all. They did not do so, because they could not do so, although they had every reason to do so.

More on this from N.T. Wright, here.

There are multiple early, eyewitness sources for the empty tomb

Paul’s early creed from 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, dated to within 5 years of the crucifixion, implies the empty tomb.

Craig writes:

In the formula cited by Paul the expression “he was raised” following the phrase “he was buried” implies the empty tomb. A first century Jew could not think otherwise. As E. L. Bode observes, the notion of the occurrence of a spiritual resurrection while the body remained in the tomb is a peculiarity of modern theology. For the Jews it was the remains of the man in the tomb which were raised; hence, they carefully preserved the bones of the dead in ossuaries until the eschatological resurrection. There can be no doubt that both Paul and the early Christian formula he cites pre-suppose the existence of the empty tomb.

The dating of the resurrection as having occurred “on the third day” implies the empty tomb. The date specified for the resurrection would have been the date that the tomb was discovered to be empty.

The phrase “on the third day” probably points to the discovery of the empty tomb. Very briefly summarized, the point is that since no one actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, how did Christians come to date it “on the third day?” The most probable answer is that they did so because this was the day of the discovery of the empty tomb by Jesus’ women followers. Hence, the resurrection itself came to be dated on that day. Thus, in the old Christian formula quoted by Paul we have extremely early evidence for the existence of Jesus’ empty tomb.

The early pre-Markan burial narrative mentions the empty tomb. This source pre-dates Mark, the earliest gospel. The source has been dated by some scholars to the 40s.

The empty tomb story is part of the pre-Markan passion story and is therefore very old. The empty tomb story was probably the end of Mark’s passion source. As Mark is the earliest of our gospels, this source is therefore itself quite old. In fact the commentator R. Pesch contends that it is an incredibly early source. He produces two lines of evidence for this conclusion:

(a) Paul’s account of the Last Supper in 1 Cor. 11:23-5 presupposes the Markan account. Since Paul’s own traditions are themselves very old, the Markan source must be yet older.

(b) The pre-Markan passion story never refers to the high priest by name. It is as when I say “The President is hosting a dinner at the White House” and everyone knows whom I am speaking of because it is the man currently in office. Similarly the pre-Markan passion story refers to the “high priest” as if he were still in power. Since Caiaphas held office from AD 18-37, this means at the latest the pre-Markan source must come from within seven years after Jesus’ death. This source thus goes back to within the first few years of the Jerusalem fellowship and is therefore an ancient and reliable source of historical information.

Lack of legendary embellishments

The empty tomb narrative in the gospels lacks legendary embellishments, unlike later 2nd century forgeries that originated outside of Jerusalem.

The eyewitness testimony of the women

This is the evidence that has been the most convincing to skeptics, and to me as well.

The tomb was probably discovered empty by women. To understand this point one has to recall two facts about the role of women in Jewish society.

(a) Woman occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. This is evident in such rabbinic expressions as “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women” and “Happy is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.”

(b) The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they were not even permitted to serve as legal witnesses in a court of law. In light of these facts, how remarkable must it seem that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legend would certainly have made the male disciples to discover the empty tomb. The fact that women, whose testimony was worthless, rather than men, are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly accounted for by the fact that, like it or not, they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the gospels accurately record this.

The earliest response from the Jewish high priests assumes the empty tomb

This report from Matthew 28 fulfills the criteria of enemy attestation, although Matthew is not the earliest source we have. Oh, well.

In Matthew 28, we find the Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. That polemic asserted that the disciples stole away the body. The Christians responded to this by reciting the story of the guard at the tomb, and the polemic in turn charged that the guard fell asleep. Now the noteworthy feature of this whole dispute is not the historicity of the guards but rather the presupposition of both parties that the body was missing. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb.

Note how careful Craig is not to imply that the guard tradition is historical, because we can’t prove the guard as a “minimal fact“, since it doesn’t pass the standard historical criteria.

Critical responses to the empty tomb

Richard Carrier tried to argue that the testimony of women was accepted, in his debate with Craig, but Craig showed that this was only possible in two cases: 1) if they were testifying about their status as widows, or 2) if no male witnesses were available, e.g. – they had all been killed. Audio of the debate is here. Carrier’s admission of defeat is here, on his blog. Craig’s post-debate response to Carrier is here and here.

Further study

To see a debate betwen Craig and the well-known skeptic Bart Ehrman, click here for the 12 part playlist. The first two parts are embedded below, containing Craig’s entire 20 minute opening speech. The full transcript of the debate is here, so you can follow along.

To hear a related lecture by Craig on the topic of “Who did Jesus think he was?”, click here. The video is here. This lecture was delivered in February, 2009 at Columbia University, probably the most secular leftist university in the United States. Yes, the same university that invited Ahmadinejad to speak.

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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