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
– 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?
– 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
– 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?
– 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, 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
– 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
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