Here is a civil debate between a Christian and myself (the atheist) arguing morality, and the discussion that follows. I actually highly respect the apologetic I was debating with, so please refrain from any insults toward his good nature, in allowing me to post this.
I would like to point out that this intention here is not to show a clear winner, but to open dialogue for two world views: Objective VS Subjective morality. One rooted in Christianity, and the other rooted in a form of secular humanity.
At this point in the discussion I have asserted that morality is subjective and asked for his comments. He has asserted his morality is objective in the sense that the bible is a guideline, but God is an objective standard. At some points I quote an earlier dialogue that we had, so where you see quotes, I am pulling text from an earlier conversation. Some spelling errors and formatting have been corrected.
Please feel free to point out any erroneous assertions made and point out your own view. Any Christians obviously welcome to help out if you feel something was missed.
THEIST: Any specifics you would like me to respond to?
ME: Ok, you asserted to me that your faith is not "It is not about being told to do the good thing". To me this speaks volumes. Christianity has always been about objective morality: it's moral because God says so, and Christians claim to get their morals from God. To me you are suggesting your faith is "faith is in Christ and that His message was that God has grace for us. So I try to show grace to other people as well. And when I am really not in the mood to do good to anybody, I pray for strength..."
To me you are subjective, you pray for guidance but not to be told what to do. You want to be good not because it is the law and you adhere strict unthinking obedience to the law, but because you "feel" it is right to be good.
Here is a major difference between you and Christians who claim to get their morals from the bible. If God came down and demonstrated to you and a Baptist, that he was 100% God, and commanded you to kill your son, or partner, then a Baptist would. Like Abraham he would take the path of killing Isaac. Why? Because God commanded him to do so. What God commands is perfect and moral.
You are already dissatisfied with this. You would not do this without question, you might disobey God.
Why would you do this? Is it because you are immoral, or because you realise that you do good things because of your empathy towards others as a social creature. Do you ignore the bible on laws of condemning those who commit the "crime" of premarital sex, and treat them no differently because you don't feel they are criminals?
It is important to understand, because if you agree that morality comes not from the bible, but yourself, then your eyes are opened to the victimisation done in the name of God. You will flinch when a relative belittles minority groups (e.g.: homosexuals), or wince when a parent condemns someone to eternal hell and torture for a different set of beliefs.
Once you realise you would do good, even if you never opened the bible again, then your entire focus of morals shifts from an introverted reading of a book, to an extroverted assessment of your actions on others.
This says nothing about if a God exists or not, but forces you to define what God actually is. Are those that worship a God Christian, or is true Christianity a Jesuit view that "God is love, everything else is a distraction"?
THEIST: I cannot imagine a situation where God would do such a thing. Things were much different so many thousand years ago. I believe God knew that Abraham would obey and it was a reminder to him not to love the gifts from God more than God Himself. Abraham needed to realise that he would have to put his full faith in God in a time where life was more uncertain than it is today. I think with all that we have accomplished, scientifically, medically, philosophically etc., that people have more trust in themselves and it is clear that many think there is no need for a God. So I still put my trust in God and will definitely do so with any money and opportunities I am given. I will give some money to the church I attend, because I know where their money goes, but I will also invest in organisations for the needy in our country.
Regarding premarital sex and divorce and such, I will not condemn anybody because it is not my law to be enforced and I am not appointed as God's judge. I believe there are good reasons why there are such commands and guidelines; many of the brokenness in the world would be better if people could show more commitment. I truly believe God knows what is best for us, both as individuals and a nation. I trust Him with His guidelines. He became a person too and knows what we feel like. Victimisation and condemnation are terrible and I am blessed to have grown up in a home where such things did not occur. I don't condone homosexuality, but I believe there are definitely many cases where it is inborn and therefore I cannot condemn anyone; I would have been the same if it were in my genes.
I don't see the Bible as a book that has been written so I can refer to it to know what is moral or not. The point of the Bible is to reveal the heart of my Father and his Son. Yes, Jesus did display and teach good morals, but his attitude was both that of a leader and a servant and that is what I mould my life to. Each day I open the Bible and pray before I read, there is something to be found in God's word, it really is a living thing. It teaches me not only about God and Jesus, but also about myself, others and the human condition. After studying it a bit, my eyes are so open to others the rest of the day. I want to reflect the Light of the world to each person I come into contact with.
I also don't cherry pick; I read it all, even the harsh battles and laws and deeds. I cannot claim to understand everything I read yet, but I wait patiently for the day where my eyes are opened to those verses.
True Christianity is placing one's faith in God, admitting one needs a Saviour and living in thankfulness that He has provided one. He frees us of bondage, both of sin and of trying too hard. Faith is meant to be and has always been a simple thing, but many have complicated it.
Sorry if I am being vague, feel free to ask me more.
ME: I'm not sure if you use the bible as a guideline to morality, or as an absolute law or command. There is a big difference between the two. One way you are free, the other a slave to law even if you disagree. Regarding your opening. If things changed (i.e. it's no longer moral to do the Abraham/Isaac) then you are saying God changes or his Morals change over time.
THEIST: Yes, it is a guideline, but one I take seriously. I believe God talks through His word, so I always read with an open mind and heart to search for relevance on a specific day or time of my life.
It is not God who changes, but He uses appropriate ways to work with humans who change
THEIST: God gave laws to the Israelites to keep. Jesus came to fulfil the law, summing it up as love for God and all people. If you do this, you are living as someone that is saved and acknowledge that by being righteous, no one deserves eternal life, but through Christ we have
Jesus did not say the law of God has become void, but has given us a guideline for how to do God's will, as people focus on the law and become all pious and forget the bit where everything should be an act of love. The Pharisees kept the law and were very vocal about it and thought themselves as distinguished and deserving of God's love. When thinking about the law, one also needs to think of the reasons therefore.
ME: You realise you are arguing for subjective morality, and not objective morality? If you read through our conversation history here, you make a good case for it.
THEIST: It would seem that way if you do not believe in God. I believe God endowed us with objective morality, not in the Bible, but in our souls, being human. Whether you act morally or not, you have a feeling of what is moral and what is not. Without a God it is definitely subjective and would seem that way, with God it is objective as it is His gift
ME: You’re dodging now. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that to lie is objectively immoral. Do you agree a lie can never be moral or not?
THEIST: First tell me why you think it tells us that to lie is objectively immoral?
ME: God is perfect and his moral standard prohibits lying.
If certain virtues of a God are unalterable, and He is perfect, then it follows that not lying is moral, and as it cannot alter, an objective morality is not lying.
THEIST: True. With that I will concede that lying is objectively immoral. If I had to lie to protect someone's life, I would do it. I would feel a bit guilty, but not overwhelmingly so, because I would feel overjoyed at saving someone's life. It is because I do not and cannot adhere to this objective morality that I cannot enter heaven apart from Christ. God is the one who will act according to his morality and will not lie. I, however, due to my circumstances, cannot adhere to objectiveness and become subjective in the process. But, even saving my or someone else's ass by lying, I feel guilty
ME: You are honestly telling me that if you we're hiding a Jew during WW2 and a bunch of Nazis show up and you lied that there was no Jew at your home, you would feel guilty for saving his life??? Come on be honest with me at least.
THEIST: Not guilty for the consequences of my lie, merely for the lie in itself.
ME: Here is the problem:
Firstly I don't believe you would feel guilty at all, I can’t see how possible to feel guilty for protecting someone who would be killed for no good reason other than his race by a group committing obvious genocide. The second issue here is that you agree that what you would do is the opposite of what your God would do, based on your own subjective definition of morals. By default you are conceding that either you acted in an immoral fashion by lying, or God is immoral for demanding a standard by which it is not possible to actually be moral. Why not just abandon the bible or gods morals and instead be moral by rationally assessing your actions and those around you to see what causes the least harm, and the most good?
THEIST: Okay, I have mulled over the WW2 scenario some more and you are right that I probably will not feel guilty. Sorry for saying otherwise without really putting thought into it. What I am getting out of your point of view is that God is rather black or white-minded, with no in-between spectrum. This is because you don't believe in Him and you see Him as a being without emotions that I think exists. However, when the Bible indicates that we are made in the image of God, I get the feeling that emotions are one of those things. And the Bible is filled with emotions, both by God (which is anger a lot of the time in the Old Testament) and Jesus (which is mostly compassion, also anger at the money-makers in the temple, and fear in the garden of Gethsemane.
I don't just know what the best option is in every situation in life; sometimes it feels like one has to do the lesser of two evils, other times it just isn't as clear cut what the right thing would be to do. Then we go on feeling, which is subjective and based on how we were brought up and where. Now I understand why you say I make a good argument for subjective morality.
As I have said, I still have a lot to figure out in life. This is one of those things. Maybe I would differ from WLC. He is a philosopher that debates/makes arguments for the existence of God. Sometimes it seems as though simple faith is rather elusive between all the terms thrown around. My faith, however, is not in WLC but in God. So maybe I would say that my subjective morality is a gift from God as are my family, friends and circumstances. This rests solely on faith, because I know you believe that everything that exists is there without a caring God. Faith is something that cannot be argued in itself, though the reasons therefore can. I will try to find some time and write down some of what I believe and why and send it to you, if you would like to read.
Sorry for "flip-flopping" on you.
I would like to hear more of faith and religion in your upbringing and when/how/why you left it behind. I have heard you say it is because of reading the Bible, would you give more detail?
Thanks for reasoning with me, I won't leave it here
ME: Yes that's a good idea. Here is the truth from my POV:
It doesn't matter to me if you believe in God or not. What matters is if you are agree in a subjective moral reality. This frees you from the bonds of the bible or even God. You are now your own moral compass. I don't actually know if a God exists or not. I know that it's irrelevant for our ability to do good. If you go no further and continue to believe in God but reject objective morality at this point, then you have done all that is expected of you in terms of your own humanity, and well-being towards others. Remember, I'm not actually against god, only religion. I don't really care if a god exists or not, I find that less important than being a humanist towards others. I would be happy to read more of your faith and answer any questions you have, but for me morality is the biggest question. Not god.
THEIST: Okay, thanks a lot, I will keep this in mind as I delve further
ME: I was a Roman Catholic. This is why it's a big deal to me. I woke up one day and realised I had been lied to for 30 years. I have not been able to reconcile morality with the bible ever since.
THEIST: Btw, have you ever tried to submit a question to Dr Craig? I guess so if you say you have not had the opportunity to come into contact with him. I would very much like to see a question of yours on objective morality and whether it exists, and what his answer is. Not because I expect him to have the right answer, but because he also thinks about things.
I have obviously not been raised RC, though I know a few. There are many things that the RC church integrate into their beliefs that is extraneous to the Bible, which I don't understand. I realise that your problems are in the Bible too, though.
ME: No, I have not submitted one to professor WLC. He argues for objective morality, so his view is opposite to mine. He would ask "How can an atheist know it’s wrong to rape or murder if morality is subjective?". I ask "How can you be moral if objective morality is the opposite of what is actually right or wrong?" - the dialogue would actually have to be a debate to try and convince each other their current world view is wrong, and I don’t know of a way to engage him on that level, but if you find out let me know
The RC church as it stands today is (unbelievably) an attempt to be more liberal rather than verbatim when it comes to the bible. Today there are even more liberal views and everything in between. I no longer can assess how any of them can be true, or can I postulate a reason for a God who wants me to go to heaven, to make it so complicated for me to actually know what is true. To me God should just provide me evidence of his existence, otherwise he is purposefully sending me to hell. How could a perfect being do that, or why would he? How can he provide me no method for distinguishing truth from a Baptist, compared to truth from a Methodist, compared to a Catholic? If you figure that one out let me know.
THEIST: I will really try my best
ME: No worries interesting discussion so far. Can I post some of the conversation on here on news 24 with names removed and your permission to open up more dialogue with people out there? There are undoubtedly bits we both missed either side and I am interested in finding the Truth. With that in mind I would like to be challenged on anything I asserted in error.
THEIST: Yes, you may, let’s see what others contribute
ME: Thanks, I will send you a link if it makes it up.