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do we need a god to provide society with morals?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/11/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 446 times Debate No: 96028
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do we need a god to provide society with morals?

I have often heard theists ask atheists where atheists get their morals from. Often this question is posed in order to demonstrate the inconsistency of the atheist’s beliefs and actions. “If atheists believe that humans came to be as a cosmic accident via natural processes like evolution, where do atheist’s morals come from and why are they worth following.”.

This question is problematic, because it assumes that the theist has a more consistent basis for their moral values. There is no reason to believe this, which is why I have begun this debate. The official debate question is “do religiously grounded morals provide a better framework for morality than secular morals”. What is meant by “a better framework for morality” is the question of which viewpoint provides an explanation for where our morals come from, that give us reason to believe our morals have a basis somewhere other than our imaginations, and gives us reason to follow them. For this debate I am using the definition of “morality” that popped up on a quick Google search which is “a person's standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do”.

One proposed source of morals other than god is evolution. For example, ancient peoples working in groups had a much better chance of surviving than loners. In order to work together people had to trust that the people they depended onwould do what was best for the group and not for themselves. This is the secular explanation for our morals, that I have chosen to use for this debate. This explanation is more consistent with the actions of societies and societal attitude towards morality.

If our morals have been instilled in us by a god, you would expect that they would then be unchanging, rigid and consistent from person to person. Instead we find that over time morals have changed. In the past marrying prepubescent girls was deemed okay, today the same thing would be seen as out right immoral. Second our morals are different from person to person, even in a very small sample. It is very easy to find people with different views of right and wrong. There are people who believe that killing people for not believing in the same god is acceptable. Yes, these people are few and far between, but this does not disprove the fact that different people have different morals. Finally our morals are not as rigid as we think. A common demonstration of how hazy our morals are is as follows: If there was a doctor who had eight patients, each of which needed some specific organ in order to survive, and the doctor also had one single patient who had just the right types of organs to save the other patients, would it be morally justifiable for the doctor to kill the patient and harvest the organs for the eight others? Most people would probably say no. But if instead the question were: If there were five people standing on a subway track ignorant of a train barreling towards them, and a bystander realized he/she had the power to flip a switch and divert the train onto another track where it would only kill one person, which would be the right course of action? I’ve personally heard the answer that flipping the switch is morally justifiable. What exactly is the difference between these questions? This shows that our morals are not as rigid and consistent as one would expect, especially if they came from one mind, particularly one that is as powerful and intelligent as that of a god. Also, there is no reason for this difference under religious morality, while secular morality provides a reason for the distention which I will discuss in an moment.

Another source of morality that I have heard from theists give for their morality is their holy book. They cite their chosen holy book at the direct source for their morals, for example, the Bible, Torah, Qur’an and so on. Each of these texts have passages that instruct us in what is right and wrong in god’s eyes. However, currently, most people do not follow quite a few of these passages and thus all of God’s morals. If we choose to follow some passages, but not others, than those judgments made are coming from somewhere outside whichever holy book is being referenced. Another issue I see with this argument is that assuming our morals come from religious texts, we are warned against murder equally as strongly as adultery. Baring external influences how do we decide which one is worse? If a husband cheated on his wife and than she murdered him, most people would probably think that she was the worse of the two of them, but under this argument they would be equal in their wrongdoing.

The evolution explanation on the other hand, can supply us with an explanation that fits with what we see in the world of human morality. This explanation also gives us reason to believe that morality is relatively unwavering, as it’s purpose is unwavering. Since evolution is a very slow process the underlying base of our morals are not changing. Guy marriage may go from being seen as immoral to moral, but the underlying idea that people should do what best for society will not change. This secular explanation can explain why it is morally okay to flip the switch in the subway, but not okay for the doctor to kill his patient. Even though the doctor would save more lives then he ended, the net effect to society would be negative, because it would mean that we have to constantly be on the look out to avoid situations in which it would be acceptable to kill us. Flipping the switch on the subway is in an extraordinary circumstance so you flipping the switch will not cause society to start breaking down.

If you have any issue with any of the definition or the thesis question, feel free to explain why you feel they are unfair, I will be more than happy to discuss them.



Do we need a god to provide society with morals? Yes

Let me make it clear that I am playing devil's advocate here and can see both sides of the issue.

Your argument really begins after some preliminary rhetorical positing with your statement that maintains: "what is meant by a 'better framework for morality' is the question of which viewpoint provides an [better] explanation for where our morals come from, that give us reason to believe our morals have a basis other than our imaginations, and gives us reason to follow them." A somewhat convoluted statement, but important in the context of your argument.

Because you presuppose that a framework for morality is a method of trying to explain how we already have morality. So you're skipping over something, which is whether we even have morality or not.

That's relevant because I'll say, I don't think most Christians believe that human beings possess morality innately, in fact quite the opposite.

Common trinitarian versions of Christianity fall on a conventional interpretation of Genesis which I'll paraphrase as saying that human beings are originally sinned. Much of being a Christian involves accepting one's sinful nature and trying to become more like God the father and Jesus, who represents the highest sacrificial morality.

So you should be able to see from this that Christians dont believe that morality is innate. This is why they think their religion is so important because it instills the morality which we inherently lack.

The rest of your argument is difficult then because you then focus on whether evolution or a one-time act of God to make us moral is more consistent with how people actually behave. And that's interesting, but I think beside the point.

Now I'll return to the question and answer it: do we need a god to provide society with morals? I believe yes.

Fallibility vs. Omniscience

The problem with a code of conduct invented by humans is that it is fallible. Humans are limited in their nonperfect and biased ways to rely on their rationality and science, which only creates theories and not absolute truths. Only an absolute and perfect God can conceive moral laws from omniscient understanding that can be known and relied upon for all time as good. Human beings will always be limited by their ability to observe causes an effects in a finite time, they do not know the beginning, end, and the totality of occurences in the way an omniscient god does that gives him an ultimate authority that cannot be questioned.


Once we begin to decide that human beings can set their own standards of conduct, doesn't that mean we can all decide for ourselves what is right and wrong? And since there is no absolute knowledge to contradict them, can't we condone everyone a right to believe their own actions good? That would be moral relativism. That one action could be right in a circumstance and wrong in another. This is a non-absolute morality, which is no morality at all. Why? Because it means that, for instance, say an Amazonian tribe deep in Brazil believes sacrificing children born with a cleft palate is a necessary act to appease the god of rain, that sacrificing a child ritually is right. If morality is relative, have we any right to discipline this tribe for their behavior? They are human, we are human, they have their reasons, we have ours, there is no higher authority, so everything is permissable. This is the heart of error in relative morality which makes a higher divine authority necessary to tell us that things are right and wrong beyond our own limited interpretations.

How this leaves us in the end, a human world without a set of divine set of instructions of how to act, is to be free to decide what is right and wrong for ourselves. In summary, I believe we do need a God to make morality legitimate because our means of rationality based on our limited knowledge and experience, and the problems that come with allow human beings to decide on their own leave us with a relative morality are both reasons that make any humanistic morality non-absolute and insufficiently binding to keep us truly moral.
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Debate Round No. 4
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by mirandamaes2016 1 year ago
The 10 Commandments were made simple an uncomplicated so ignorant people like you can't get around them, because they are what they are. There is no 'weight' on what is more valuable to follow. Sin is sin to God. All sin is awfully equal in His eyes. You are so far off to believe the only thing God wrote was the 10 Commandments. Throughout time, God used prophets to write down His words for Him. You were right about one thing: He is all-powerful. He doesn't *have* to do anything for us because He created us and sent His only perfect Son to die on the cross for EVERYONE, whether they choose to believe in Him or not. God's purpose for us is to love Him and to have faith in what He does for us or what He could do if we don't hold back from Him. He will not force anyone to love Him, or we would all be robots without emotions or control of our own thoughts.

I at least know that I have a purpose for my life and for being on this earth. At least, opposed to those who believe they come from monkeys who come from fish who come from amoebas which came from nothing. THAT'S pathetic.
Posted by HGA 1 year ago
@Surgeon Not sure how that applies to my main point, but whatever.
Posted by xvyz 1 year ago
Is the proposition that humans can act in a way which may be described as moral without god, or that god is a necessary foundation for objective reality?
Posted by vi_spex 1 year ago
laws exist to limit religion
Posted by Surgeon 1 year ago

The 10 commandments seem awfully petty, tribal and all too human to be from a god. We are talking about someone or something who is perfect and brilliant enough to create (and tend) to a universe with a 100 million galaxies, each with a 100 million stars (just so we can exist). Why would a god place a higher moral price on "being jealous of someones donkey", as opposed to say "child abuse", "slavery", "equal rights for races", "equal rights for the sexes" etc? Every single one of us can improve the 10 commandments in some way, at a stroke. But its worse than that. According to the stories you want to believe in, this was the ONLY time a god intervened to personally write part of the bible himself. Everything else was written by an intermediary and peddled as revealed truth. In other words the dangers of "donkey envy" were amongst one of the 10 most important messages this super-being thought worthy of spending his personal time communicating. I guess if you believe that, you are advertising a willingness to believe the rest of the abject nonsense of Christianity, its precursors and successors.
Posted by HGA 1 year ago
I believe God set up roots for morals with His son and the Ten Commandments, but I also feel that society has been developing their own morals based on their role models. It may be like a child growing up, being taught what is right and wrong, but then eventually making choices for itself.
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