Tag Archives: Apologetics

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

William Lane Craig explains how to structure a conversation with an atheist

Man teaching a woman how to shoot a firearm accurately
Man teaching a woman how to shoot a firearm accurately

It’s from his latest question and answer on the newly redesigned Reasonable Faith website.

Here’s the question in brief:

I must say I feel completely defeated and I could use your help and insight. I had a discussion over God’s existence tonight and totally botched it!! I feel I did a dis-service to the reasonableness of the Christian worldview.

I’ve been studying apologetics for quite some time. I felt I knew the material pretty well. Now I’m not so sure. Dr. Craig, I know you’re one of the great Christian debaters. When you were younger, did you ever feel you completely botched a debate and felt like a failure? That is how I feel right now!!

Dr. Craig’s response, in part:

So right at the beginning of the conversation, when he says that he is an atheist, it would be important to understand exactly what he means by that. Is he just agnostic or does he claim to know that God does not exist? If the latter, what justification does he have for so radical a position? You might comment on how difficult it is to prove that God does not exist and so express your interest in hearing his arguments against the existence of God. If he just says that “there’s no real evidence for the existence of God,” that’s a perfect opening for you to say, “Wait a minute! You’re a criminal analyst, right? As a criminologist, you must know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I want to hear your evidence against God.”

Or again, when he makes a claim like “there’s no way to know if there’s absolute truth,” you ought to be ready for such an assertion. Take out a pen and write his claim on a paper: “There’s no way to know if there’s absolute truth.” Then show it to him and ask, “Is that absolutely true?” If not, then is it just his opinion? If it is absolutely true, then how does he know it? Isn’t his position self-refuting? Be nice about it. Say, “I’m really trying to understand how your position isn’t self-referentially incoherent.”

When he says, “not knowing is okay and we should be more willing to accept uncertainty,” you should respond, “Have I ever claimed to know with certainty that God exists? I’m just saying that on balance God’s existence is more probable than not.” Ask him if he wouldn’t agree with that. If not, why not?

If he demands evidence of God’s existence, then you should be ready and waiting. I don’t get the impression, Marshall, that you have memorized any arguments and their respective premises. If you have them memorized, that’s the best antidote for becoming tongue-tied. You need to have memorized: “Why, I can think of at least five arguments for God’s existence!” When he says, “Yeah, like what?”, then you recite your list of arguments that you’ve memorized:

1. God is the best explanation for why anything at all exists rather than nothing.

2. God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe.

3. God is the best explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life.

4. God is the best explanation of objective moral values and duties.

5. The very possibility of God’s existence implies that God exists.

For the average unbeliever to hear even a list such as this is overwhelming. If he then wants to talk about one of them, recite from memory the premises of that argument, e.g.,

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore God exists.

You may even want to write the premises out on a piece of paper for him to look at.

If anyone ever responds to your arguments by attacking or blaming you personally, like saying you “must live with a lot of guilt and that’s why [you] probably feel the need for God,” just smile and say, “Are you not familiar with the logical fallacy of argument ad hominem?” (It’s evident by this point that you’re dealing with a really snarky person and therefore can afford to be more confrontational.) “Even if what you said were true—which it isn’t—, it has no relevance to the soundness of my argument. If you want to deny the conclusion of my argument, then you must think that one of its premises is false. So I want you to tell me which premise you think is false and why.” If you have these sentences memorized, you won’t feel tongue-tied when he makes his accusations.

In my opinion, Dr. Craig left out a very important point, which is that you need to structure the conversation so that you major in the majors and purposefully set aside any discussion of minor issues. If your atheist wants to discuss whether she is going to Hell, you respond by explaining that Hell is only a problem if the New Testament is an accurate description of God, which depends on whether God exists at all. So we start with God’s existence, and Dr. Craig’s 5 arguments. And, as Dr. Craig says, we focus the atheist on the discussion of whether God exists, and what evidence he has against God’s existence.

I would also say that you need to be ready to discuss the scientific evidence related to the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, habitability, etc. You need to be able to retrace the histories of the discoveries that lead the majority of scientists to accept this data, and name the scientists. That way, when your atheist denies your evidence, you can ask them why they hate science. This is the most powerful argument for theism, in my opinion – the opposition to mainstream science that atheists must necessarily commit to in order to be atheists.

Also, you need to know the minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus, which doesn’t even assume that the Bible is inerrant or inspired or even generally reliable. And finally, you’ll need to know how to spot a self-refuting claim and how to respond to philosophical objections to God’s existence: the problem of evil, the hiddenness of God, physicalist conceptions of mind, etc. But the main point is that you are always on the topic of whether God exists, where your evidence is strongest, until you get that as a solid admission. Never move off that until you get that admission. The Bible should not be cited until you get a solid admission from your opponent on the existence of God.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

William Lane Craig lectures on the moral argument at Georgia Tech

Making sense of the meaning of atheism
Making sense of the meaning of atheism

This video has 3 parts, as well as questions and answers in individual clips.

For those who cannot watch the video, you can read this essay by Dr. Craig which covers exactly the same ground as the video. The essay is for Christians already familiar with basic apologetics.

Part 1 of 3:

Part 2 of 3:

Part 2 of 3:

Here’s a quick couple of quotes from the essay for those who cannot watch:

If there is no God, then any ground for regarding the herd morality evolved by homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. After all, what is so special about human beings? They are just accidental by-products of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust lost somewhere in a hostile and mindless universe and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. Some action, say, incest, may not be biologically or socially advantageous and so in the course of human evolution has become taboo; but there is on the atheistic view nothing really wrong about committing incest. If, as Kurtz states, “The moral principles that govern our behavior are rooted in habit and custom, feeling and fashion,”5 then the non-conformist who chooses to flout the herd morality is doing nothing more serious than acting unfashionably.

The objective worthlessness of human beings on a naturalistic world view is underscored by two implications of that world view: materialism and determinism. Naturalists are typically materialists or physicalists, who regard man as a purely animal organism. But if man has no immaterial aspect to his being (call it soul or mind or what have you), then he is not qualitatively different from other animal species. For him to regard human morality as objective is to fall into the trap of specie-ism. On a materialistic anthropology there is no reason to think that human beings are objectively more valuable than rats. Secondly, if there is no mind distinct from the brain, then everything we think and do is determined by the input of our five senses and our genetic make-up. There is no personal agent who freely decides to do something. But without freedom, none of our choices is morally significant. They are like the jerks of a puppet’s limbs, controlled by the strings of sensory input and physical constitution. And what moral value does a puppet or its movements have?

[…]Moreover, if atheism is true, there is no moral accountability for one’s actions. Even if there were objective moral values and duties under naturalism, they are irrelevant because there is no moral accountability. If life ends at the grave, it makes no difference whether one lives as a Stalin or as a saint. As the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky rightly said: “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.”

If you want a much shorter, slicker version of this argument to share, Reasonable Faith has produced this nice 5-minute video that you can tweet or share on your Facebook page or whatever:

The moral argument is the easiest argument in the world to discuss with non-Christians, as everyone has to have an answer to questions like “what makes humans valuable?” and “why should I do the right thing when it goes against my self-interest?” and “will evildoers who escape justice in this life be punished when they die?” and “do humans have free will to make moral choices?” These are interesting questions, and people can just give their opinion and then think about it as they discuss it.

If you want to show this lecture and Q&A to your apologetics group, you can find the DVD here.

You can also read a debate transcript where Dr. Craig puts his ideas to the test, against Dr. Richard Taylor. I found this debate very helpful for answering the question that everyone should be able to answer: “why should I be moral?”

Is cohabitation a better way to prepare for marriage than courting?

Painting: "Courtship", by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)
Painting: “Courtship”, by Edmund Blair Leighton (1888)

Consider this assessment of cohabitation from the radically-leftist New York Times.

Excerpt:

AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.

When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

That’s a nice idea – wanting protection against divorce. But I think these hopeful attitudes that young people have about cohabitation and the utility / harmlessness of premarital sex, is so much whistling past the graveyard. The fact is that cohabitation does not improve marital stability.

The New York Times author assesses the evidence about cohabitation:

Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”

“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

Cohabitation is associated with higher risks of divorce because it works to undermine the need for quality communication during courting and the need for commitment that is based on discipline, instead of pleasure. People slide into something that looks like marriage because the sex pulls them in. But they’ve never taken the time to talk about what the relationship is really about, and whether they are intending to commit to the other person for life, and on what terms, and for what reason. Young people find these conversations difficult and scary for a reason – they are not capable of discussing relationships in terms of self-sacrifice, self-control, and self-denial.

The focus on early sex is caused by a focus on wanting to get to pleasure right away. They want relationships to be like a consumer good, where they get their needs met without having to talk about suitability for roles, and acceptance of responsibilities and obligations. In my experience, young people are terrified of the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of a real commitment. They want relationships to be free,easy and fun – where they just get to do whatever they feel like, moment by moment. And somehow, it’s all supposed to work out, without anyone talking seriously about roles and responsibilities and commitment.

But of course that doesn’t work as well as keeping your distance and getting to know each other first. It’s not just compatibility that is important, though – it’s that both people need to prepare for the roles and responsibilities they will have in a marriage, and demonstrate to each other that each is capable of performing those roles.

What’s the answer?

Research has shown that pre-marital chastity produces more stable and higher quality marriages. And that’s because chastity helps people to focus on conversations and obligations instead of the recreational sex which clouds the judgment and glosses over the seriousness of marriage. Premarital sex rushes the relationship to the point where it is harder to break it off because of the sunk costs of sex and the pain of the break-up. Courtship is the time to discuss the things that break up marriages, like finances and division of labor. It is the time to demonstrate self-control and fidelity. Courting doesn’t allow either person to get control of the relationship through sex, so that they can get their needs met without having to care about the other person. When sex is ruled off the table, the only way to have the relationship go on is by serving the other person and showing them that you have what it takes to do the marriage role you’re assigned. That’s hard work, but young people need to accept that and get on with preparing for and practicing their marriage responsibilities.

Why not go back to courting?

If you asked me, I would tell you that courting is protection against a painful break-up as well as protection against a bad marriage. And the aim of courting is to interview the other person so that you can see whether they understand the demands of the marriage and whether they can perform their duties to their spouse and children. In particular, men should investigate whether the woman has prepared (or is willing to prepare now) to perform her roles as wife and mother, and women should investigate whether the man has prepared to perform his roles as protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader (or is willing to prepare now). Courting is not designed to be fun, although it can be fun. It is not meant to make people feel happy, it is mean to prepare them for marriage. And this is because you cannot translate fun and happy into marriage, because marriage is about well-defined roles, self-sacrifice and commitment. Marriage is about following through for the other person, whether you get what you want or not. You’d be surprised how often people give up on courting and show that their real goal for a relationship is not lifelong self-sacrificial love at all, but just using other people for their own happiness while they keep their distance from the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of the marriage covenant.

And that’s why I encourage men to very gently and subtly guide the relationship in a way that will allow both the woman and the man to practice their expected marital duties, see how they feel about their duties and get better at being able to perform them. Men have the most to lose from the divorce courts, if things go south. That’s why it is the man’s the responsibility to detect and reject women who are only interested in fun and thrills.