Can atheists rationally ground objective moral values and duties?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Here’s Dr. William Lane Craig explaining why atheists can’t help themselves to objective morality, given a worldview of atheism:

He presents 3 reasons why in the video, all of which are also discussed in his Defenders class:

The mention of Plato brings to mind another possible atheistic response to the first premise of the moral argument that if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Plato thought that the Good just exists as a sort of self-subsistent idea, as an entity in and of itself. Indeed, it is the most real thing in reality. The Good simply exists. If you find this difficult to grasp, join the company! Nevertheless, that is what Plato believed. Later Christian thinkers, like Augustine, equated Plato’s Good with the nature of God. God’s nature is the Good, and so it was anchored in a concrete object, namely, God. But for Plato, at least, the Good just sort of existed on its own as a kind of self-existent idea.

Some atheists might say that moral values, like Justice, Mercy, Love, and Forbearance, just exist all on their own as sort of abstract moral objects. They have no other foundation; they just exist. We can call this view Atheistic Moral Platonism. According to this view, moral values are not grounded in God. They just exist all on their own.

Unintelligibility of Atheistic Moral Platonism

What might we say by way of response to Atheistic Moral Platonism? Let me make three responses. First, it seems to me that this view is just unintelligible. I simply don’t understand what it means. What does it mean, for example, to say that the moral value Justice just exists? I understand what it means to say that a person is just or that some action is just, but what does it even mean to say that in the absence of any persons or any objects at all, that Justice just exists? It is hard to understand even what this means. Moral values seem to be properties of persons, and so it is hard to understand how Justice can just exist as a sort of abstraction.

Lack of Moral Obligation on Atheistic Moral Platonism

Secondly, a major weakness of this view is that it provides no basis for objective moral duties. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that moral values like Justice, Love, Forbearance, and Tolerance just exist on their own. Why would that lay any sort of moral obligation upon me? Why would the existence of this realm of ideas make it my duty to be, say, merciful or loving? Who or what lays such an obligation upon me? Why would I have the moral duty to be merciful or loving? Notice that on this view moral vices like Greed, Hatred, and Selfishness presumably also exist as abstractions. In the absence of any moral law giver, what obligates me to align my life with one set of these abstract ideas rather than with some other set of abstract ideas? There just doesn’t seem to be any basis at all for moral duty in this view. In the absence of a moral law giver, Atheistic Moral Platonism lacks any basis for moral obligation.

Improbability of Atheistic Moral Platonism

Finally, thirdly, it is fantastically improbable that the blind evolutionary process should spit forth exactly those kinds of creatures that align with the existence of this realm of abstract values.1 Remember that they have no relationship with each other at all. The natural realm and this abstract moral realm are completely separate. And yet, lo and behold, the natural realm has by chance alone evolved exactly those kind of creatures whose lives align with these moral duties and values. This seems to be an incredible coincidence when you think about it. It is almost as if the moral realm knew that we were coming! I think it is a far more plausible view to say that both the natural realm and the moral realm are under the sovereignty of a divine being, who is both the creator of natural laws that govern the physical universe and whose commands constitute the moral laws that govern our ethical duties. This is a more coherent view of reality. Theism is a more coherent view because these two realms of reality don’t fall apart in this disjointed way. They are both under the sovereignty of a single natural and moral law giver.

For those three reasons, Atheistic Moral Platonism is a less plausible view than theistic based ethics such as I have been defending.

And now, I must be mean to the atheists, because I think this me too nonsense is just ridiculous, desperate intellectual dishonesty.

I remember having a conversation with one of my IT project managers who was an atheist, and she asked me what I thought would happen to dogs when they died. I said “well on your view of atheism, they don’t have an afterlife, so they just rot away when we bury them and they get eaten by worms”. She was aghast and said “no they don’t, they go to Heaven”. That was just her wishful thinking, there. And that’s what morality on atheism is: wishful thinking. It’s just an appearance package that gets bolted onto absolute meaninglessness and hedonism. And even if the atheist tries to make traditional decisions in their own lives, they typically push for full-on dismantling of Judeo-Christian values, especially in the sexual realm. And that spills over into abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage and government restraints on free speech, conscience and religious liberty.

Dear atheists: you cannot duct tape morality onto nihilism and have it be rational. We know you’re doing it to feel good about yourselves and to appear normal instead of wearing your nihilism openly. But your faked morality is not even close to the morality of theists, and especially not of Christian theists. Christians go against their self-interest because we imitate the self-sacrificial love of Christ, who gave himself as a ransom to save others. That makes no sense on an atheistic worldview, since this life is all you have, and there is no afterlife where your actions are in the context of a relationship with that self-sacrificial Son of God. In any case, free will doesn’t exist on atheism, so that means no moral choices regardless. These are the common sense implications of atheist first principles, and in fact that’s what you hear expressed from the finest atheist scholars: no free will, no right and wrong, no life after death.

If you want to see what atheists really think about morality, then take a look at this post featuring Matt Dillahunty, where he is asked to condemn the Holocaust as objectively wrong, and he refuses to do it. That’s intellectually consistent atheist morality right there. If the universe is an accident, and human beings evolved by accident, then there is way things ought to be, and no way we ought to act. And no one is there is no ongoing two-way relationship for our conduct to be part of, anyway. On atheism, human beings will die out individually and collectively in the heat death of the universe. Once the heat death of the universe arrives, there will be no one left to care how we lived after we’re dead – there is no one waiting for us who cares how we act towards him and towards others. Atheists can arbitrarily put any limits they want on their actions, based on what makes them feel good, and what makes people like them, perhaps taking account the arbitrary customs and conventions of the time and place they find themselves in. But it’s delusional and irrational make-believe for atheists to claim that morality is rational on their worldview.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

William Lane Craig debates Walter Sinnott-Armstrong: evil, suffering and God

Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!
Two bears fight it out, and may the best bear win!

This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates).

Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it!

There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.

The debaters:

The format:

  • WSA: 15 minutes
  • WLC: 15 minutes
  • Debaters discussion: 6 minutes
  • Moderated discussion: 10 minutes
  • Audience Q&A: 18 minutes
  • WSA: 5 minutes
  • WLC: 5 minutes

SUMMARY:

WSA opening speech:

Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)

God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)

He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically

Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God

His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument

Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines

The inductive argument from evil:

  1.  If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  2.  There is evil in the world.
  3.  Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
  4. Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

Defining terms:

  • Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
  • Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling

God could prevent tooth decay with no pain

God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer

Responses by Christians:

  • Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
  • Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
  • Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
  • Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
  • Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
  • God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
  • We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
  • Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good

WLC opening speech:

Summarizing Walter’s argument

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. Gratuitous evil exists.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.

Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.

The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.

Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.

  1. the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
  2. Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
  3. Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous

Christian doctrines from 2.:

  • The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
  • Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
  • For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives

Arguing for God in 3.

  1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
  2. God exists
  3. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):

  • the kalam cosmological argument
  • the fine-tuning argument
  • the moral argument
  • the argument from evil

North Korean soldier shot by other North Korean soldiers as he defects to South Korea

Call this North Korean wall the "Bernie Sanders" wall
Call this North Korean wall the “Bernie Sanders” socialism wall

I keep meeting young evangelicals who tell me how wonderful life would be if the government ran health care, and if the government regulated energy development and consumption. Well, there are countries where the government runs everything – like Venezuela and North Korea. What’s it like to live there?

The radically-leftist New York Times has an interesting story about what it’s like to live in a socialist country, where the government owns everything.

Excerpt:

North Korean troops fired on a fellow soldier who was defecting to South Korea on Monday across the heavily armed border dividing the countries, South Korean officials said, amid heightened tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The soldier was shot but succeeded in reaching the South, its military said in a statement.

The North Korean soldier defected through Panmunjom, a village that straddles the border between the two Koreas. Alerted by gunshots, South Korean guards found the North Korean soldier about 55 yards south of the border line that bisects Panmunjom. He was taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds to an elbow and shoulder, South Korean officials said.

[…]The defector drove a vehicle toward the border line inside Panmunjom, and then left the vehicle, running south while he was fired upon by other North Korean soldiers, according to the American-led United Nations Command, which oversees the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War.

He took cover near a building on the southern side of the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom before South Korean and American troops came to his aid and took him to a hospital, the command said in a statement.

The Joint Security Area, which is 35 miles north of Seoul, the capital, was established after North Korea and its Communist ally China signed the armistice with the United Nations Command, which fought on South Korea’s behalf.

The area is the only place along the border where troops from North and South Korea face off, separated from each other by only a few feet.

A North Korean soldier last defected at the heavily guarded location in 2007.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since a widespread famine hit the impoverished North in the late 1990s. Nearly all of them have traveled through China. But a few North Korean soldiers and civilians have defected by crossing the 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone, which is guarded by minefields, sentry posts and tall fences topped with barbed wire, some electrified.

In 2012, a North Korean soldier scaled three barbed-wire fences to defect to the South. That same year, another North Korean soldier fled across the border after killing his platoon and squadron leaders. In 2015, after walking across the border, a North Korean soldier told South Korean investigators that he was fleeing widespread beatings and other abuse within his military barracks.

[…]In 1984, a gunfight erupted at Panmunjom when a citizen from what was then the Soviet Union dashed across the border to defect to the West. North Korean troops opened fire to stop him, and South Korean border guards fired back. One South Korean soldier and three North Korean border guards were killed.

My editors told me not to turn this post into another negative screed against stupid millennials, but to instead offer some encouraging words of advice on how they can educate themselves.

The first thing to realize is that all of your public school teachers are idiots – especially the ones who teach non-STEM classes. Education school degrees are the easiest degrees to get at college. They have the lowest entrance requirements, and the ed school students learn material that is fit for high school English classes. It’s a great degree for low-IQ people who dropped out of math in high school. So you can’t trust your public school teachers to teach you anything about civics or economics. If you were indoctrinated by your teachers to hate the free enterprise system, then you were lied to and indoctrinated. You will have to teach yourself, on your own.

For history, a good one-volume book is “A Patriot’s History of the United States” by Larry Schweikhart.

For economics, anything by Thomas Sowell is worth reading, but you might be better off starting out with “The Vision of the Anointed“, “Basic Economics“. “Economic Facts and Fallacies” and “Intellectuals and Society“. The nice thing about Thomas Sowell is that he does studies of economic policies that have been tried in different countries during different time periods, so you learn a lot about history as well.

Finally, the reason that there is a North and South Korea, and not just a North Korea, is because American, British and Australian forces beat back an unprovoked invasion by the North Koreans in 1950. This was probably the most moral war that the United States has ever engaged in, in the history of the United States. We shed our blood and spent our treasure to protect South Korea from becoming one large concentration camp – which is what North Korea is. If you’d like to read a good book about the Korean War, I highly recommend “The Frozen Hours“, a historical novel by Jeff Shaara.

Canadian province blocks Christian couple from adopting children

Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau
Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau

This is from the less liberal of Canada’s two national newspapers, the National Post.

Excerpt:

An evangelical Christian couple have filed a court application alleging the province discriminated against them based on their religious beliefs by rejecting their application to adopt a child.

The Edmonton couple — whose are identified only by initials in court documents — allege an initial recommendation they be allowed to adopt was revoked after “interference” by the Ministry of Children’s Services, and that they were told their religious beliefs related to gender and sexuality were contrary to the “official position of the Alberta government.”

“If we did not change our religious beliefs regarding sexuality, to conform to the beliefs of Child and Family Services, we would not be approved for adoption,” said the woman in an affidavit filed Nov. 1 with Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton.

The couple’s identities have been redacted from the documents filed in court, but a copy of a Safe Home Study Report completed in February 2017 describes them as employed, owning their own home and having happy and healthy family and community networks. They indicated they hoped to adopt a child, or up to three siblings, between the ages of seven and 17. The Catholic Social Services worker who prepared the report said in an email she was “pleased” to recommend them for adoption.

However, the report recommended a “homosexual child” not be placed with the couple because of an assessment that though they said would unconditionally love a child questioning or exploring their sexuality, they would not support the “lifestyle,” which could mean a child may not feel accepted.

Then, in mid-March, the worker contacted the couple again and said Child and Family services had received the report and had additional questions about their views on sexuality.

The worker and the couple sent emails back and forth. In one, the woman wrote she believes homosexuality is a choice.

During subsequent meetings with Catholic Social Services and Child and Family Services, the couple said they made it clear they would seek counselling and support if their child was questioning their sexuality, but they could not encourage a lifestyle that “we knew caused a higher proportion of anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts than other lifestyles,” according to the affidavit.

On May 3, the couple’s adoption application was officially rejected, according to court documents.

What’s interesting to remember is that the salaries of the government workers at Child and Family Services is paid for by taxpayers – taxpayers just like this evangelical Christian couple that’s being discriminated against. They’re good enough to pay for government, not good enough to avoid discrimination by government.

Whenever the government  discriminates against Christians, it’s important to remember that many Christians actually vote for secular government at election time. The problem with many Christians today is that they think that government redistributing wealth is the same as people giving away money directly to people or organizations they know. The Bible doesn’t endorse giving money to a secular government in order to alleviate poverty. The government is there to enforce laws and protect the public from evildoers. Still, in Canada, lots of Christians vote for bigger government. And then things like this happen, and you wonder why they do. When people vote for big government, they may not like what they voted for. Just ask the people in Venezuela how big government is working for them.

Michael Strauss lectures on scientific evidence for a Creator at UT Dallas

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

The lecture: (from 2013)

Note: there is a period of 19 minutes of Q&A at the end of the lecture.

About the speaker:

His full biography is here.

Summary:

  • It used to be true that most of the great scientists were believers in God
  • But now science has advanced and we have better instruments – is it still true?
  • Today, many people believe that science has shows that the universe and Earth are not special
  • We used to believe that the Earth was the center of the universe, and Darwin showed we are not designed
  • The problem with this view is that it is based on old science, not modern science
  • Three topics: origin of the universe, fine-tuning of the universe, the Rare Earth hypothesis

Experimental evidence for the origin of the universe:

  • #1: Hubble discovered that the universe expands because of redshifting of light from distant galaxies
  • #2: Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation show the universe had a beginnning
  • #3: Measurements of the light element (hydrogen and helium) abundances confirm an origin of the universe
  • The best explanation for an absolute origin of space, time, matter and energy is a supernatural cause

Experimental evidence for the design of the universe:

  • #1: The amount of matter: a bit less = no stars and galaxies, a bit more = universe recollapses
  • #2: The strong force: a bit more = only hydrogen, a bit more = little or no hydrogen
  • #3: Carbon resonance level: a bit higher = no carbon, a bit lower = no carbon

Experimental evidence for galactic, stellar and planetary habitability:

  • #1: Galaxy: produces high number of heavy elements and low radiation
  • #2: Star: long stable lifetime, burns bright, bachelor star, third generation star (10 billion years must elapsed),
  • #3: Planet: mass of planet, stable orbit, liquid water, tectonic activity, tilt, moon

Naturalistic explanations:

  • Humans evolve to the point where they reach back in time and create finely-tuned universe
  • Eternally existing multiverse

Hawking and Mlodinow response to Rare Earth:

  • There are lots of planets so one must support life
  • Odds of a planet that supports life are low even with 10^22 planets

Hawking and Mlodinow proposal of M-theory multiverse:

  • There is no experimental evidence for M-theory being true
  • M-theory is not testable now and is not likely to be testable in the future
  • But science is about making testable predictions, not about blind speculation

Hawking and Mlodinow no-boundary proposal:

  • This theory requires the laws of physics to exist prior to the universe
  • But where do you get laws of physics before there is any physical world?
  • There is no experimental evidence for no-boundary proposal
  • All the evidence we have now (redshift, CMBR, H-He abundances) is for Big Bang

What science has revealed provide abundant evidence for a transcendent Creator and Designer.

Related posts

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

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