Is God the Best Explanation for Moral Values? The McDowell-Corbett Debate

On February 26 at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, Sean McDowell and Jim Corbett squared off to debate the role of God in morality. McDowell is the son of Josh McDowell and a Christian author in his own right, while Corbett is a Capistrano Valley High School instructor.

McDowell defended two contentions on the night:

1. If God does not exist, we do not have a solid foundation for moral values.
2. If God does exist, we do have a solid foundation for moral values.

He also argued that in order for a moral system to be adequate, it must satisfy three criteria:

1. Any adequate moral system must have a transcendent standard beyond human nature.
2. Any adequate moral system must account for free will.
3. Any adequate moral system must account for what makes humans special.

Here is the video from the debate:

Part 1:

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/9858218[/vimeo]

Part 2:

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/9859446[/vimeo]

Or if you prefer the audio, Brian at Apologetics315 has posted the mp3.

There’s been several reactions to the debate online. Luke of  Common Sense Atheism says:  “When will atheists stop embarrassing themselves in debate? This shows the problem with atheists believing they are, by default, more rational than believers. Atheists don’t think they need to study the relevant subjects, or pay attention to the logic of the Christian’s position. Instead, they just wander in and spout some irrelevant points about the Crusades and religious disagreement. Meanwhile, the Christian can put forth whatever argument he wants – whether it’s a good argument or not – because the Christian will clearly explain why the atheist’s arguments fail, but the atheist will not clearly explain why the Christian position fails. Thus the audience leaves believing the Christian has won. And basically, he has.”

Here’s a few other links to further commentary:

Wintery Knight: Sean McDowell debates James Corbett on whether morality is grounded by atheism.

Incipit Vita Nova: Morality in the Absence of Religion

Sean McDowell: Reflections on My Recent Debate

(H/T: Apologetic Junkie)

1 reply
  1. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    In my book at http://www.suprarational.org I wrote a chapter about morality and conscience, called “Duel of the Dual.” Here is an excerpt:

    “Conscience” is a misused and misunderstood word. “Have you no conscience?,” ask people of a person who does something which seems to them to be so obviously wrong. Each person has a dual conscience and, occasionally, these two sides do engage in a duel.

    The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines conscience as “a reasonably coherent set of internalized moral principals that provides evaluations of right and wrong with regard to acts either performed or contemplated. Historically, theistic views aligned conscience with the voice of God and hence regarded it as innate. The contemporary view is that the prohibitions and obligations of conscience are learned…” Individual moral development is based on both.

    Socrates said that conscience was the inner warning voice of God. Among Stoics it was a divine spark in man. Throughout the Middle Ages, conscience, synderesis in Greek, was universally binding rules of conduct. Religious interpretations later changed in psychiatry.

    Sigmund Freud had coined a new term for conscience; he called it “superego.” This was self-imposed standards of behavior we learned from parents and our community, rather than from a divine source. People who transgressed those rules felt guilt. Carl Jung, Freud’s famous contemporary, said that conscience was an archetype of a “collective unconscious”; content from society is learned later. Most religions still view conscience as the foundation of morality.

    Sri Aurobindo said “…true original Conscience in us [is] deeper than constructed and conventional conscience of the moralist, for it is this which points always towards Truth and Right and Beauty, towards Love and Harmony and all that is a divine possibility in us.” Perhaps conscience can be viewed as a double-pane window, with the self in between. On one side, it looks toward ego and free will to obey
    community’s laws. On the other side, it is toward the soul and divine will to follow universal law. They often converge to dictate the same, or a similar, course of conduct…and sometimes not.

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