Morality needs God

Ron Smith vs Matthew Flannagan | “Morality Does Not Need God” | Waikato University

Hello readers, today we have uploaded the the debate with Dr Ron Smith and Dr Matthew Flannagan to YouTube, though some of you may have noticed it floating around Facebook. It was a well-attended debate, in total 200 people came along and participated.

This sort of event is what we like to see at Thinking Matters, people from both sides of the “God” debate coming together and engaging in a civil and intelligent conversation. You will be able to tell that Matthew and Ron disagreed with each other, yet they disagreed with “reverence and respect”, showing that disagreements over religion do not necessarily divide. In addition, the questions that were asked of the interlocutors, were penetrating but at the same time, cordial. No one got offended and everyone was calm.

In his opening remarks Dr Frank Scrimgeour, the moderator commented:

“It is an important occasion, and an important topic that befits a university, particularly a contemporary university that seeks to place more moral claims on its students, more than was the case when I was an undergraduate student … I trust that it will be a fun evening and I look forward to crowd response, but I request that it will be done with dignity and good nature. I am sure that enhances the quality of the conversation … I am not interested in moderating a debate where people cannot hear the participants. So I guess the more you disagree with someone, I challenge you to listen harder and be ready to ask the insightful question at the appropriate time … Think hard and enjoy yourselves.”

Ron echoed this sentiment saying:

“I was an easy target for the invitation to speak in this because I have become increasingly concerned, to be frank, about the extent to which the university has attached itself, and areas within it, to particular ideological views, and really shutdown discussion in a variety of areas … where discussion is inhibited. Now if there is anywhere in the community where discussion ought to proceed without persons needing to be protected against the possibility that arguments don’t sit well, it’s a university. The university has failed to live up to its obligation, so this is the test of the principle.”

Both of these men understand how important debates on the existence and nature of God are, and have identified that a university ought be a perfect place for such a discussion to go ahead. One of the key reasons why the debate was a true victory, was because it showed that people can disagree about the most important things in life and still part on good terms. Matthew defended the Christian conception of God and Morality in the true spirit of 1 Peter 3:15-16, where St Peter commands:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

May this also be something we never forget.

Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape, challenged

This is my response to the Moral Landscape Challenge, an essay competition with a 1,000-word limit.

Hey Sam; thanks for the opportunity to interact with your views. If I understand The Moral Landscape correctly, your central thesis is that moral truth exists and can be scientifically understood. This seems to cash out in two critical claims:

I. Moral goodness, broadly speaking, just is whatever supports or increases the well-being of conscious minds;
II. Science, in principle if not always in practice, can discover facts around, make predictions about, and ultimately guide the process of promoting this collective well-being.

I know you’ve already faced a lot of criticism about (I) in particular, so I hope I won’t be beating a dead horse. I’m going to assume (I) for the sake of argument and agree with you: a person who denies that morality is about promoting well-being simply isn’t making sense. I hope to persuade you that your own moral beliefs actually reveal the opposite: it is the person who thinks that morality is about promoting well-being who isn’t making sense.

Read more

Video: Panel Discussion on Ethics and God

Earlier this year, we were involved in hosting a panel discussion on the relationship between religion and morality. The video is now up on YouTube:

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Moderated by Dr Matthew Flannagan, the panel included Prof John Hare from Yale Divinity School, Prof Mark Murphy from Georgetown University, and Dr Glenn Pettigrove from the University of Auckland. Each speaker addressed a different area of discussion, with John Hare addressing three moral arguments for God’s existence, Mark Murphy examining God and the nature of moral authority, and Glenn Pettigrove considering forgiveness with and without God.

Special thanks to Stuart for editing the video and both the Flannagans and the Auckland University Philosophy Department for their work in organizing the event.

Further Commentary on the Craig vs Harris Debate

There has been some good analysis of the recent debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris and I thought it might be useful to collect some of that commentary here into one post. Read more

Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? Watch Craig v Harris Live

Just a reminder that today’s debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris at the University of Notre Dame will be streamed live at 7pm local time (11am for those of us in New Zealand).

You will be able to watch the feed here.

UPDATE: Brian Auten at Apologetics315 has posted the audio from the debate.

UPDATE: The video of debate is up on YouTube. Read more

Auckland Event: The New Atheism, Science, and Morality

Thinking Matters is pleased to announce that we’ll be hosting Dr Glenn Peoples at Auckland University next month. Glenn will be speaking on morality and the New Atheist’s endeavour to anchor morality outside of God.

If you’ve read Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins, one thing you’ll notice is that they take pains to point out that they are not relativists. They believe quite strongly that there are objective moral truths. Indeed, many of their most colourful arguments against religion and Christianity depend on this. But if they disagree with the tradition of other atheists, such as Nietzsche (who argued that morality “stands or falls with faith in God”1), how do they account for moral realism, in a naturalistic universe? Despite Richard Dawkins admission that science has no methods for deciding what is ethical, Sam Harris has recently contended that we should think of moral facts as being scientific facts. With neuroscience opening up the world of the human brain to us, Harris suggests we can now understand moral facts in terms of facts that describe the human brain and its experience of happiness and suffering.

In his talk, Glenn will examine the arguments for this view, explore their success, and show why the New Atheists are unable to preserve genuine moral truths in a world without God.

If you’re interested in the topic of morality and New Atheism, this will be a great event for you. It will also be a great opportunity for those who might have read Glenn’s blog and listened to his podcast to finally meet him!

Here are the full details:

New Atheism, Science, and Morality: Is there a naturalistic basis of moral truth?

TIME: Monday, September 6 · 7:00pm – 9:00pm

LOCATION: The University of Auckland, Library Basement Room 15, 5 Alfred St, Auckland

COST: Free

Can the natural world tell us what is right and wrong, without need for God? Can moral facts be grounded scientifically? Thinking Matters, in association with the Evangelical Union, is proud to host Christian philosopher Dr Glenn Peoples at the University of Auckland this September. Dr Peoples will be examining the arguments of popular atheist and best-selling author, Sam Harris, and argue that the attempt to ground morality outside of God ultimately fails.

Dr Glenn Peoples is a graduate in theology (BD) from the Bible College of NZ and has a Masters degree (MTHeol) and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Otago. For over ten years he has been writing and speaking, both in New Zealand and abroad, on intellectual issues that Christians face, including the place of faith in the public square, justice and human rights, and the reasons for Christian belief. He lives in Dunedin with his wife Ruth and their four children.

The Facebook page for the event is here.

1. Nietzsche, F. (1968) Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ. New York. Penguin Books.

Audio from the Bradley v Flannagan Debate: Is God the Source of Morality?

This last Monday we were pleased to have a great crowd of over 400 at the debate between atheist philosopher, Raymond Bradley, and Christian philosopher and blogger, Matt Flannagan.

If you weren’t able to make it but are interested in listening to the exchange, the audio is now available:

to stream the audio – click here,

to download the file – click here (it is about 45 mb).

You can also read the opening statements on Matt’s blog (Ray’s opening statement is here and Matt’s is here).

We’re hoping to get video from the debate up on YouTube within the next few weeks but until then, be sure to let us know what you think of the debate in the comments.

Dallas Willard On the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge

The Evangelical Philosophical Society blog has a posted video from a lecture by Dallas Willard at the Psychiatry and Spirituality Forum at UC-Irvine. In the talk, entitled “On the Disappearance of Moral Knowledge: How it Happened and What it Means”, Willard explores the possibility of moral knowledge in a world that elevates the intellect over the affective faculties and that is much more skeptical about non-empirical claims.

Dallas Willard is a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He has written in the areas of epistemology, the philosophy of mind and of logic, and on the philosophy of Edmund Husserl. This lecture is based on themes from Willard’s forthcoming book, The Disappearance of Moral Knowledge.



A bridge to nowhere: Wilson on New Atheism and morality

Douglas Wilson, pastor at Christ Church in Idaho and a senior fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College, reflects on his recent debate tour with Christopher Hitchens (the documentary of the tour, Collision, is now available on DVD) and the problem of morality for atheists:

“Can I be good without God? Sure. Knock yourself out. May I be good without God? Again, sure, but here is where the question starts to cut both ways. The question is double-bladed because it is here that we realize that we are alone by ourselves, and we are not really asking anybody for anything. I may be good without God for the same reason that I may be evil without Him or, as it suits me, indifferent without Him. There is no one here to get permission from. For anything. Mom doesn’t care if I go play ball, and she doesn’t care if I shoot my sister. She doesn’t care because she doesn’t exist. Turns out I have been asking questions of a deaf and indifferent universe.

Near the end of our film, Christopher [Hitchens] admirably acknowledges that you can be a fascist and an atheist, a communist and an atheist, a sado-masochist and an atheist, and so on, and you can do it all without contradicting anything within the tenets of atheism. Christopher does not think of this as a concession to my central point, but I do want to press it. He wants to go on to insist that atheism does not commit you to the “absurd belief” that if you are an atheist then you “have no morality.”

If we piece all this together, the only thing he can possibly mean is that every atheist has the authority to generate his own code of morals, and that these morals do not need to conform to the tenets promulgated by the International Society of Nice Atheists, and that they further do not need to conform to the code of morals being generated in the fevered brain of the fellow next to me. But notice what this does. It makes all morality a matter of radical personal choice.

But once we do this, how can we come back in later to restrict or limit the choices? Once the individual generates his code, he certainly may seek out other like-minded people in order to form what sociologists call a plausibility structure. But there is no such thing as an overarching moral code, independent of the individual, one that is authoritative over him. There is no ultimate reason why he cannot decide to defy his societal norms (his plausibility structure), or move to northwest Pakistan to join up with another plausibility structure–one with more excitement and explosions.

Once we have gotten to this point, we may certainly fight with those who have made different choices. But we may not appeal to a standard that overarches both of us, which they are disobeying and which we are not. They have as much right to generate their code as we do ours. We may fight with them, but we have lost the ability to reason with them.

Centuries ago, David Hume pointed out how deep and broad the chasm was between is and ought. The new atheists, for all their vaunted skill in engineering, have not been able to build a bridge.”

Read the whole article at On Faith.

Portrait of an Intellectually Honest Atheist

Dinesh D’Souza, author of What’s So Great About Christianity, has written an interesting article in Christianity Today about bioethicist Peter Singer and particularly Singer’s honest embrace of the ethical implications of atheism. Here are the final paragraphs:

Singer resolutely takes up a Nietzschean call for a “transvaluation of values,” with a full awareness of the radical implications. He argues that we are not creations of God but rather mere Darwinian primates. We exist on an unbroken continuum with animals. Christianity, he says, arbitrarily separated man and animal, placing human life on a pedestal and consigning the animals to the status of tools for human well-being. Now, Singer says, we must remove Homo sapiens from this privileged position and restore the natural order. This translates into more rights for animals and less special treatment for human beings. There is a grim consistency in Singer’s call to extend rights to the apes while removing traditional protections for unwanted children, people with mental disabilities, and the noncontributing elderly.

Some of Singer’s critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler’s schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn’t want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.

Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven’t considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.

Source: JT