Can atheists on the Richard Dawkins forum justify morality on atheism?

Check out this thread where I am debating atheists on whether moral rules, moral choices, moral accountability, human dignity, human rights, and ultimate significance of moral actions are rationally grounded on the atheist worldview.Warning, the thread contains swearing!

Here is the original starting post for the thread:

I noticed that a tension between two positions taken by certain atheists. First, they say that morality is an illusion fobbed on us by our genes. Second, they say that the God of the Bible is immoral, or that the Christian church is immoral.

I have a question about this, and maybe you can help me to understand the apparent contradiction. If moral behavior evolved over time, then it seems to me that it varies by time and place. This means that the standards we have today in the place where we live now are not really better or worse than at any other time and any other place. The evolved moral standards are just arbitrary conventions.

If this is true, then in what sense can atheists consistently press the problem of evil, the immoral behavior of God, and the immorality of Christian church in history?

Here is what I have come up with so far:
1. The atheist is expressing his personal preferences (I wouldn’t do it that way)
2. The atheist is using the arbitrary standard of his time and place to judge God and the church (we in this time and place wouldn’t do it that way)

Here is one of their comments, which I thought was about as good as an atheist can do on atheism:

The morality we all appeal to when we make moral judgments is at least 90% the result of the social conditioning we have all received. Where that conditioning contains a strong religious component (most places throughout history), religious values will have a high place. In the modern West, the religious component is weaker, and we now condemn slavery, crusades, inquisitions, and wars between Catholics and Protestants, all of which were once firmly believed to be sanctified by God. (There is a whole thread on this subject just now under “Faith and Religion” above. So far only the person who started the thread and I have posted on it.)

The other 10% consists of personal views arrived at by reflective people on the kind of world they’d like to live in. That portion of it is personal preference. It differs from a personal preference for chocolate over broccoli in only two ways: (1) Its object involves the behavior of other people and their interactions rather than that of the individual alone; (2) when two people have different preferences, they cannot both have their way, and so they are in conflict.

If you want to learn about these issues at a deeper level, there is also 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 post 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.

William Lane Craig’s March 2009 speaking engagements

For some reason, Bill’s March newsletter has not been posted on the RF web site yet. As one of his financial supporters, I get an early version of the newsletter e-mailed to me. So, I think I will share some of that early newsletter with you all.

During March two events stand out as especially challenging: on March 16 at Westminster College in Missouri I have a dialogue on the kalam cosmological argument with Dr. Wes Morriston, a philosopher who has published several articles critical of the kalam argument. Then two days later I have a debate at Northwestern Missouri State with the self-described “internet infidel” Dr. Richard Carrier on the resurrection of Jesus.

…I’ll also be doing some teaching for Impact 360, a high school ministry, and will be speaking several times at the Christian Book Exposition in Dallas. I round out the month with a Veritas Forum at Florida State.

I already blogged about the panel discussion he is doing with Lee Strobel and Christopher Hitchens at the Christian Book Expo here. And here is a bit more on his recent speaking engagement at Columbia University in March:

On the first evening I debated professor Shelly Kagan of Yale University on the question “Is God Necessary for Morality?” Actually, this was not a debate but a dialogue. After we each gave our opening statements, we had a very substantive discussion. Kagan has Christian colleagues at Yale, like Robert Adams and John Hare, who defend moral values and duties based in God, and I was struck by the respect with which he treated the view.

He surprised me by not arguing for his own view of ethics, which is a radical consequentialism. He holds that if torturing a little girl to death would somehow result in greater overall good as a consequence, then that is what we should do! Instead he defended a social contract view of morality, according to which our moral duties are whatever rules perfectly rational people would agree to as a way of governing society. I responded that this makes morality a human convention, rather than objective.

Kagan also affirmed in our dialogue that he is a physicalist and determinist. I charged that determinism strips our actions of any moral significance. We also disagreed over the importance of moral accountability. I claimed that the absence of moral accountability on atheism makes morality collide with self-interest and robs our choices of significance, but Kagan maintained that we don’t need a sort of cosmic significance in order for our moral choices to be significant. All in all, we had an affable and substantive exchange which fairly presented the alternatives.

One feature of our dialogue that pleased and surprised me was how clearly the Gospel emerged in the course of our conversation. Talking about moral values and accountability led naturally to the subject of our failure to fulfill our moral duties and how to deal with that. I was able to explain our need of God’s forgiveness, moral cleansing, and rehabilitation.

Kagan then asked me how Jesus fits into the picture. That gave me the chance to expound on Christ’s atoning death and the fulfillment of God’s justice in Christ’s bearing the penalty for our sin. I was gratified that the Gospel could be shared so clearly and naturally with the students present.

I hope I will be able to purchase all 3 of these debates (Morriston, Carrier and Kagan) from the Biola Web Store later, as I love to lend these out to my non-Christian friends. I would encourage you to support the ministry of the most able public defender of Christianity operating today. Bill is the St. Paul of our day.

If you have not seen any of his debates, go here right now and listen to his debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Dartmouth College, on the problem of evil and suffering. The book version of that debate, (and another debate), was later published by Oxford University Press and you can purchase it here. This is a great book to put on your desk at work to show people that God is not a matter of blind faith.

In case you missed the previous updates, check out the details from Bill’s Ontario speaking tour, his appearance on the Michael Coren TV show, and his Quebec speaking tour, as well.

Fred Thompson broadcasting in Bill O’Reilly’s old spot

Thompson was my pick in the 2008 primaries, since Jindal and Sanford weren’t running.

Story here.

Former Tennessee senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson will launch his nationwide radio talk show on March 2, opening with 125 stations, according to the Westwood One syndicate.

The show will air from noon-2 p.m. Monday through Friday opposite Rush Limbaugh, though some stations may delay the broadcast to later in the day. The only Tennessee station signed up thus far is WWTN 99.7 FM in Nashville.

Thompson gave up his role as the district attorney on television’s Law & Order in order to run for president.

This is a great move for Teh Fred, provided that the Broadcast Freedom Act passes. Kate at SDA notes that you can listen here. You can probably find more streaming stations here once he gets started in earnest.

(Source: Small Dead Animals)

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