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Moral Values and Duties Cannot Be Objective if Atheism is True

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/30/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,914 times Debate No: 53744
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (37)
Votes (2)




Round 1 is acceptance only.
Round 2 is opening statements.
Round 3 is first rebuttals.
Round 4 is second rebuttals/closing statements.

Atheism: belief in the proposition "God does not exist"
Objective: independent of any human opinion, i.e. something is *objectively* true if it is true regardless of what any particular person or group thinks.
Moral Values: standards by which we judge right and wrong, i.e. "selfishness is wrong" might be a moral value.
Moral Duties: that which we ought or ought not to do, i.e. "we should not enslave any human being" might be a moral duty.

I focus on being civil and on-point. I try to call out red herrings and stick to the meat of an issue while avoiding ad hominem attacks and irrelevant arguments myself. I view debates as a learning opportunity, not just a competition. All the same, I will put my opponent's arguments to the test as well as I can!


Thank you for initiating this wonderful debate on the topic!

I'm very interested in your position on the motion you have put forward!

I accept this debate with the hope that the ideas we share will benefit us both!

This should be a great conversation!

Definition of Atheism:

Not that this will become of any great consequence to our conversation - but I would like the definition of atheism to be further defined before we start. This conversation is very much a philosophical conversation and my worry is that the definition put forward might be too limited in scope to allow for a meaning conversation to take place.

Allow me to explain:

Atheism - rather than a belief position - is also non belief or lack of belief in a god or gods.

There are cultures that do not posit a "god concept" entirely. In these cultures, God or gods are not even a thought. More aptly put, concepts of a god or gods are completely devoid from these cultures altogether. These people and cultures would be considered atheist/atheistic by definition - but not because they hold a belief position.

Some cultures and histories, in the Far East for example, never posited a god or gods at all to begin with - thus they would not hold a position of belief either way. For them its a non-issue. Modern atheist point this out regularly.

And of course, one may in fact also hold a belief that there is no God or that gods do not exist - which is a belief position that is described as disbelief - but this is different than a lack of belief.

I think that it is incredibly important to our conversation to distinguish this difference among atheist precisely because there are people in the world who are completely devoid of any conceptual notions of a god or gods (would be considered atheist) and nevertheless engage in behavior in which morality can still be discussed.

I do not want to argue semantics during our debate so I want to make the category definition issues clear first as we set the table to have a meaningful conversation.

Thanks again and I look forward to a stimulating debate on a very perplexing topic!

Debate Round No. 1


Hi Philosurfer! Thanks for accepting, and for your thoughtful notes.

On Atheism: Discussing the definition of atheism might be a fun discussion in its own right - I also hope it does not sidetrack us. I am aware of the diversity of definitions for atheism, but I chose this particular definition purposefully. In my proposition I intend for atheism to equate to God not existing. I can restate the proposition this way: "Moral Values and Duties Cannot Be Objective if God Does Not Exist". If I were to accept a definition of atheism which includes mere lack of belief with no positive truth claim, then "Atheism" would have no truth value and the ending clause in my proposition "if Atheism is True" would not make any sense.

For that reason, I ask you to accept my definition of atheism, which I think is a mainstream, reasonable definition, for the specific purpose of this debate, though I recognize the diversity of definitions of atheism out there. I will use the rephrased proposition in my arguments if that helps. Hopefully we are on the same page!

OK: my case for the proposition "Moral Values and Duties Cannot Be Objective if God Does Not Exist".


Moral values are objectively true if they are true regardless of whether anyone actually believes in them - this restates the stipulated definition. You could also say that it is the fact of the matter that [objective moral value X] is true, and persons or groups are either correct or incorrect in their belief in this fact.

What makes a moral value or duty objective? I contend that a transcendent, supernatural, personal foundation of morality is needed, and that such a foundation is impossible if God does not exist.

In the following explorations, I will be assuming the position that God does not exist, to see if any foundation for objective moral values and duties can be found without appeal to God.

Let's consider a serious, widely-agreed-upon example. Rape is bad. Is it objectively bad or subjectively bad? I would want to say it is objectively bad, because I would want to reject a rapist's attempt to claim that this value does not apply to him. I would want to say it applies to him regardless of what he thinks because it's objectively wrong. Suppose I was faced with an entire community of people - perhaps even an entire culture - who claimed that rape is morally permissible. I would still want to say that value transcends their cultural beliefs, insisting that rape is still wrong despite what they think. What if that pro-rape culture succeeded in somehow killing or brain-washing everyone else on earth, such that the only remaining people now believed that rape was ok? I would still want to say that rape is wrong even though everyone on earth in this awful scenario believes differently. To do this I would need to appeal to a standard that sits above and beyond the beliefs of any particular person, group, or culture, and does not depend upon consensus or social convention.

In short, consensus, or majority opinion, does not establish objectivity - we need a transcendent foundation.

If I still want to establish the value "rape is bad" as objective, rather than subjective, I need to establish a foundation for it's objective truth elsewhere. Can I do this by grounding it in nature?

Can I look to our shared evolved social instincts for grounding the objectivity of morals? Evolution certainly seems to have provided to many species like baboons and dolphins different levels of innate cooperation, and even altruism. They take on varying degrees of self-sacrifice for the group. Dolphins even seem willing to help other species, as when they help drowning humans to shore. We, as advanced primates, may just have a highly-developed set of social instincts upon which we build our moral structure. Natural selection indicates that these altruistic instincts evolved because they conferred survival advantages upon those species, like any other evolved trait. However, random mutation and natural selection are not aimed at developing true ideas in the brains of creatures, they are aimed at culling traits with low survival value and preserving traits with high survival value. For this reason, creatures can evolve instinctual ideas that actually run counter to the truth about certain states of affairs, if they are useful for survival. A human in the savannah may mistake an antelope in the grass to be a lion and run away. Instinct led to a false but useful idea. It's safer to run from any noise in the brush than to risk death.

If evolution is not aimed at truth but rather survivability, how can an evolved moral value be objective? If we rewound the tape of human evolution and ran it again, a creature with different moral instincts may very well have developed. Darwin said "If . . . men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering." How, then, can we judge any of our own evolved moral instincts to be somehow objectively true? They might well have been different.

Evolution of social instincts cannot establish objectivity.

Can we look anywhere else in the natural world for the foundation? I think not. There are many facts to be observed in the natural world - much to learn about how things work via science - but what we learn from science is a wealth of description of what IS. Not whether it's GOOD or BAD. Nature simply is, and does not itself comment on what OUGHT to be.

Nature cannot establish the objectivity of morality, thus we need a supernatural foundation.


Moral duties are prescriptions for how we ought to live, applying moral values to us by way of requirements and prohibitions. Moral duties are objective if they are binding upon us regardless of what we think. Moral values without accompanying moral duties might not have any impact on us. Duties are crucial to our normal sense of morality.

Moral duties need to be somehow imposed upon us, such that we ought to do X, and ought not to do Y. But who or what imposes moral duties upon us? Why should we think we "ought" to do anything? Some familiar possibilities pop up.

Can society ground moral duties? Societies certainly make it their business to enforce standards of conduct, built upon philosophies of right and wrong behavior. But are any of the enforced duties objective? It seems that the authority of a society to impose moral duties depends upon popular assent, and/or compelling power. This does nothing to establish objectivity.

How about nature? Well, behavior patterns in nature seem to be devoid of any moral aspect. As William Lane Craig often points out, when a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra, but it doesn't murder the zebra. There's no moral dimension to actions in nature because there are no moral agents. How are our actions any different?

Much as we need a transcendent, supernatural foundation for moral values, we need the same for moral duties. In addition, I contend we need that foundation to be personal as well.

Something which serves to impose moral duties upon us must be able to measure all possible behaviors against an objective standard, and output the "shoulds" and "should nots" of morality, which implies intelligence or at least unimaginable computational power. That something would also need to, in some sense, care about moral behavior, must will that moral duties be imposed - in sum, must have volition, or else the imposition of moral duties is inexplicable. Something that has volition and intelligence is inherently personal.

Thus to establish objective moral values and duties we need a transcendent, supernatural, personal foundation. God uniquely fits this description, and nothing else does. That is why I believe moral values and duties cannot be objective if God does not exist.


Fair enough.

The amended motion: "Moral Values and Duties Cannot be Objective if God Does Not Exist," is acceptable.

Just as I feared; I was hoping that you weren't proposing a classic William Lane Craig - Christian Apologetic kind of argument!

This is why I was deliberate in pointing out that your definition of Atheism was incomplete as it didn't include the fact of people in the world and throughout history who have been completely without any conceptual notion of a god or gods within their cultures and nevertheless engage in behavior in which ethics and morality can still be evaluated. This is still the case even with the amended motion!

If there are people completely devoid of God within their culture and still nevertheless behave and navigate the world with a moral compass - then clearly inserting a god or gods to create a foundation for moral values is not requisite.

Moral and Objective philosophy is tricky.. but I don't think it wise to simply insert, say, the God of Abraham (an Iron Aged god of war) into the moral clockwork as an invisible arbiter of moral truth (Which is curious because in other moods the God of Abraham is also particularly fond of genocide, slavery and human sacrifice) [3].

I'm chomping at the bit here with rebuttals - but out of fear of violating the debate format and breaking the rules, I will stop here and give my opening statement and make a case for morality apart from theology.

Natural Morality

We can find examples of genuine moral behavior in animals, and we can use it as an example of moral behavior that does not require a belief in God [1].

Michael Schermer describes some animal behavior as premoral sentiments - behavior in animals that is shared by humans which include: attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group [2].

Animals such as Capuchin monkeys and dogs also display an understanding of fairness, refusing to co-operate when presented unequal rewards for the same behaviors [4][5].

We find examples of genuine morality among animals especially in a group setting. What we find is a system where members of the group use praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to alter the dispositions of other members of the group.

More importantly, they provide a model for creating human communities in which moral behavior can be promoted and immoral behavior inhibited without a belief in God. Specifically, one uses social tools such as praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment to create in community members desires that produce behavior helpful to others, and aversions that reduce behaviors harmful to others.

We observe animals like Koko the Gorilla, who has been taught to communicate through Sign Language, express and clearly understand emotions like laughter and sadness and explain that these experiences are "bad" and "sad" or "good" and "happy". These behaviors are indeed premoral behaviors shared within Human experience (See Koko cry when her cat is killed, attached video).

Sam Harris, probably one the top working philosophers and neuroscientist in America, argues that our moral compass is predicated on Human well-being and concern for minimizing suffering. He contends that humanity has reached a point in time when science can have an impact on the well-being of others.

Sam goes on to to explain how science can answer moral questions and be a basis for understanding moral normatives (See Sam's TEDTalk, attached video).

Sam's work, The Moral Landscape, provides a working thesis as a scaffolding to build an understanding of moral values and duties derived out of a scientific understanding.

If morality and natural Human empathy are predicated on a concern for well-being and minimizing suffering then this allows a basis to understand morality and ethics objectively. Moral values can be reduced to facts [6].

Issues with Objectivity:

This idea will become more relevant in the later rounds but I would like to mention it now in order the the reader understands that this is an on going area of study within philosopher apart from religious philosophical ideas about morality.

Simply put, in General, I'm unaware of anything that is truly "objective" but that isn't still also filtered through our own subjectivity. This includes science! This isn't to say there aren't purely objective facts. Rather, this is to say that humans cannot escape their subjectivity. Even when we take a scientific measurement we still have to use our brains to interpret the data!

So it is very odd to posit a religious notion - of a god - and use this to establish an "objective" foundation. It really doesn't establish objectivity nor does it bypass human subjectivity.

I will get back to this when we allow for rebuttals in the next rounds.

Cited Source References:

[1] The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins (1976)
[2] The Science of Good and Evil, Michael Shermer (2004)
[3] Sam Harris quote
[6] The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris (2010)

Debate Round No. 2


Just as I feared; I was hoping that you weren't...
[Cue disappointment music] lol. No shame in being influenced by Craig and Plantinga! I’ll just say I feel similarly about Sam Harris, and we’ll call it even :)

This is why I was deliberate in pointing out...
Sure, as I said I’m aware of those other definitions; but I’m not talking about a mere lack of belief in my proposition, I’m talking about the implications of God really not existing.

If there are people completely devoid of God...
No problem here. I don’t deny that people can have moral systems without belief in God. My argument is that if God does not exist, whatever moral values and duties people believe in are subjective, rather than objective.

...I don't think it wise to simply insert, say...
No worries, my argument doesn't insert Yahweh or Allah or any specific religion’s God. My argument seeks to establish some of the necessary attributes of a foundation for objective moral values and duties, and then show how those attributes are best filled by a generic theistic God, and that there aren’t really any other viable alternatives.

We can find examples of genuine moral...
I am cool with all this - you've elaborated upon the evolved social instincts that I mentioned in my opening statement. However you describe the behavior of animals as “genuine” moral behavior, which I assume is a way of saying that their moral values and duties are objective? Correct me if I am wrong. Whatever you meant by that you did not explain or establish it so much as just assert it. Do you have any argument for why any of these instincts/behaviors would be founded upon objective moral values and duties?

You quote Michael Shermer’s book “The Science of Good and Evil". I'll point out that in this book he admits that, assuming no God, ethical systems can be at best a pretty good fit. In his introduction he says,

"Chapter 6. How We Are Moral, reviews the various absolute and relative ethical systems that have been developed throughout human history, showing the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and concluding that because of the complexity of human society and culture, no single ethical system can be all encompassing or thoroughly consistent; this chapter also presents a science of provisional ethics that is neither absolute nor relative, arguing that moral principles can be applicable to most people, in most circumstances, most of the time."

You also quote Richard Dawkins. I think he, along with Shermer, would actually agree with me that evolved behaviors do not ground any kind of objective moral values or duties. Dawkins says in "River Out Of Eden",

"In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” [emphasis added]

Sam Harris...argues that our moral compass is predicated on Human well-being...
There is so much to say, darn this word limit! I will just focus on problems in Harris’ very first step which render his moral landscape untenable. Sam builds his naturalistic moral landscape upon one initial assumption, which is this: he asks us to agree that the "worst possible misery for everyone" is “bad”. If we agree to that, then he claims we have redefined moral good and moral bad in terms of well-being, and can make objective statements about how best to maximize well-being.

Behold, Four Fatal Flaws in the Initial Assumption of Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape

1. He uses the words “bad” and “good” equivocally.
2. He falls into the is/ought fallacy.
3. His denial of free will renders moral agency impossible.
4. He smuggles in pre-existing, ungrounded moral values.

1. Sam says that by equating "worst possible misery for everyone" (hereafter called ‘wpmfe’) with “bad”, we have now successfully redefined moral good and evil in terms of well-being, and we can make moral decisions on the basis of avoiding the “wpmfe”. I think virtually everyone would agree the "wpmfe" is “bad”, but that's because it's clearly an example of something bad, as in yucky, terrible. But would we so easily agree that it's an adequate, comprehensive definition of “morally bad”?

He's pulled a bait and switch. We use the word “bad" sometimes to mean “awful” and sometimes to mean “wrong”, but those two uses are not equivalent in meaning. Harris is sliding between the two senses of the word.

2. A state of affairs does not have the property of moral rightness or wrongness. It may suck unimaginably, but that sucky state of affairs is not itself morally wrong. This is called the Is/Ought Fallacy, usually credited to David Hume. We cannot derive what ought to be from a description of what is without some other justification. However, Harris presents his theoretical state of affairs ‘wpmfe’ as a foundation for what ought not to be. He tries to derive an ought directly from a state of affairs, which is just a description of what is.

Does he have a justification to bridge the is/ought gap? Perhaps he'd say that one ought to act one way rather than another so as to achieve a certain goal - this would be practical though, not necessarily moral. Besides which, in Harris' deterministic universe, there's no free will and thus no possibility of goal-oriented behavior.

Harris has nothing but plea for us to agree that if “bad" applies anywhere, it applies to the ‘wpmfe’. As we have seen though, he uses the word “bad” equivocally!

3. The self-destructive implications of Harris’ determinism continue. Sam’s initial assumption that the ‘wpmfe’ is morally bad assumes the possibility of moral action. As we have seen, a state of affairs is not morally good/morally bad in it’s own right - yet we might say something like “the Holocaust was morally bad/wrong” becasue we feel it ought never to have happened - meaning the actors involved ought never to have committed those horrific crimes. We assume the presence of moral agents , which are necessary for any situation to have a moral dimension. But moral agents don't exist if there is no free will, and Harris does not believe in free will. In what sense, then can anyone be morally responsible for anything? He can't say it's wrong to move toward the ‘wpmfe’ if there are no moral agents.

4. When Sam argues that to move in the direction of the ‘wpmfe' is morally wrong, we may agree, but why do we agree? It's not because he has explained the objective wrongness of moving toward the ‘wpmfe’, it is because we bring our preexisting moral sensibilities to the question. He depends upon us, then, to import from elsewhere the moral values/duties he claims to establish. No objectivity there!

I'm unaware of anything that is truly "objective"...
So you don't deny that objective facts can exist, but you are skeptical of our ability to ascertain them because everything we consider passes through our personal filters of subjectivity, right? I agree we don't ever fully escape our box, but are you implying that our attempts to consider possible foundations for objective morality are entirely futile? If that's what you think, then it's equally as damaging for your arguments as mine.

So it is very odd to posit a religious notion...
It’s not clear to me how you jumped from our being trapped in subjectivity to this claim about God being particularly problematic as a ground for moral objectivity - what are the steps in your thinking here? Again, if you are skeptical of the entire conversation because we can never fully escape our subjective filters, then your naturalistic arguments fall under the same knife.

More importantly - this side discussion has veered off into moral epistemology - that is, how we come to know what is right and wrong, but our topic of debate is moral ontology - what is the basis in reality for objective moral values and duties.


Salutations & Compliments:

I enjoyed reading your clever retorts! I like the format & cadence; it made for any easy read to follow! I'm enjoying the conversation more than the debate!

Rebuttals [cue Darth Vader's "Imperial March" music]

Moral Values, Objectivity, Subjectivity & God:

1) Its conceivable that something can be true and still escape our current modes of securing objectivity (the whole history & methodology of science is important in this way philosophically).

We have no way of empirically establishing an external world outside of our own subjectivity, nor can our objective tools tell us about our own interpersonal subjectivity.

Much of Thomas Nagel's work is on this point.

And even if something can be established objectively - this doesn't automatically mean that it is better.

"..equally as damaging for your arguments as mine."

This can go both ways - BUT - this doesn't mean we can safely postulate or insert anything we want equally either! It's not anything goes. Rather, we are to follow wherever the evidence leads! Notice this is a very different approach than what your argument suggests.

2) Your argument uses ideals which are NOT objective to try and secure objectivity (in fact use of the words transcendent & supernatural both denote & connote this).

Postulating a need for something transcendent & supernatural takes poor advantage of real work that is still going on in Moral philosophy - exploiting that we (philosophers) are honest about the possibilities in order to avoid the arrogance of certainty.

So, I find something terribly parasitic about these kinds of Christian Apologetic arguments which are then inserted in the crevasses, ironically, of honest work. I think the assumption that morality has to be rooted (objectively) in something transcendent & supernatural is an unfounded assumption to start - with backward motivations to secure a religious predilection.

As I pointed out, this is a far different exercise from following wherever the evidence leads.

"..are you implying our attempts to consider possible foundations for objective morality are entirely futile?"

Its not merely a black & white issue; there could be a third, forth or fifth + option(s). Perhaps moral values are true and not yet provable objectively - (irrespective of the existence of a theistic entity). Perhaps moral values are only [ought] and cannot be [is] - suggesting morality is ultimately illusory but manifests as true or real in our experiences as we all agree to these values - which have evolutionary underpinnings. The Dawkins quote is framed in this context.

Again, this doesn't mean anything goes and we can insert whatever ideas we want.

If these other options are viable, postulating a need for a transcendent, supernatural foundation then becomes a huge grotesque categorization mistake - which could be very harmful!

What political party does your tuna-fish sandwich identify with? What is the marital status of the number Five? Its not that these are hard questions; its that these are not proper postulations & questions to begin with.

" jumped from subjectivity to this claim about God being particularly problematic.."

3) By definition, something supernatural is outside of the natural - obfuscating objective empiricism - therefore, supernatural claims are always relegated to intuition, dream like states, hallucinations, etc., which can only be classified as subjective. We can say the fact of the hallucination is objective but never the meaning of the experience or the experience itself (This is what much of Modern & Post-modern philosophy was about).

And if something is truly supernatural, how can we know that we even have access to it? As soon as we have access or data for something that was proposed to be supernatural - it becomes firmly fixed in the natural!

So, then, it would be fair to ask you to demonstrate that your "foundation" (God) is also objective first before assigning responsibility & causation of value judgements and then claiming objectivity! Which, in your case, conveniently reverts back to something that is supernatural, transcendent, etc., which doesn't help make a case for securing objectivity.

4) "God uniquely fits this description.." - Correlation is not Causation - nor does this secure objectivity.

Which God or Gods?!

Further - God or gods are derived out of specific religious traditions (a theistic God especially!). But when pushed on the subject of which God or gods we should then use or insert as the actual foundation - you completely side-step this and conveniently offer a generic theistic God! HA!

At the very least, let me just say your aren't being very intellectually honest about which God or gods. You are effectively trying to divorce a theistic god from any of the traditions the concept was derived out of.

I am unaware of any theistic God who doesn't come with a history of violating the moral standards of today. This is completely and totally devastating to your case, which is why it is completely avoided. You would then be stuck trying to explain why God(s) allowed slavery or killed first born children, etc., while trying to say this is an objective foundation for morality.

Ontology v. Epistemology:

Epistemological concerns & ontological worries often overlap - as we endeavor in epistemology to establish ontology - and the ontological status of something is secured in epistemology. Both are required for your claim - worse you skirt both with transcendence & supernatural.

A Useful Comparison & Natural Morality:

I find this debate eerily similar to the Creation v. Evolution debate in that we can observe natural origins and beginnings without any sign of a god or gods.

Again, If there are people and other animals - completely devoid of God - who still navigate the world with a moral compass - then this would indicate that postulating a god or gods to create a foundation for moral values is not requisite.

We observe morality without God.

"..I assume is a way of saying that their moral values and duties are objective?"

No, it is to say we recognize moral behavior - in humans & animals alike.

"..when a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra, but it doesn't murder the zebra"

When humans go hunting they kill food, but they don't murder their food.. ha ha so silly. I think this highlights much in this kind of debate!

Are slaughter houses morally wrong? Or would not being able to feed everyone be worse? What's the difference between slaughter houses & hunting morally? Why do we speak of treating animals humanely (hyphenate the word: human-ely)? Why do we care about animals and start orgs. like Animal Protective Services, etc.? (rhetorical questions)

My guess is because of natural empathy and a concern for suffering - which can be explained naturally. Sam Harris is on to something if values can be reduced to data.

Sam Harris:

I like that you took the time to find the critiques of Sam's Work. I'm glad you were respectful enough to take his ideas seriously. But I think you wasted a great deal of time on this rather than securing your own case.

I mentioned Sam's work because it's one of the more popular examples of Moral philosophy today. Consider many dozen other moral philosophers could be mentioned who don't posit God in their work.

The motion of the debate is: Moral Values and Duties Cannot be Objective if Atheism is True [amended to] If God Does Not Exist. Not morals are objective because of God if Sam is wrong.

Both Sides of the Fence:

You use Dawkins to suggest morals vacuous - then you used the Shermer quote - which endorses relativism. Sam Harris would completely disagree with relativism. But then you use atheist philosophers' criticisms of Sam's work - which would be hypocritical of a true Christian Apologetic's position. So it seems like you are willing to take any position to undermine another.
Debate Round No. 3


vankipp forfeited this round.


Thank you for an interesting debate.

Again, I enjoyed the conversation much more than the debate.

If you choose, we can continue the conversation further in the comments.
Debate Round No. 4
37 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by philosurfer 7 years ago
No comment on the Dawkins clip discussing Antony Flew ..?
Posted by vankipp 7 years ago
Hi Philosurfer,

Just wanted to pipe up and make sure you weren't waiting on me to comment before you finish your rebuttals/closing arguments. I didn't want to chime in again until you were done, but when you have finished your closing argument, I'd be happy to dig further into these issues - there is so much to discuss on each of our rebuttal points.

Looking forward to the rest of your comments!
Posted by philosurfer 7 years ago
Sam Harris:
"..I spent time demonstrating the fatal flaws in his moral theory.."

You found and used the current critiques of Sam's work, yes, but these are the critiques from atheist and agnostic philosophers in these respective fields like Pat Churchland and Peter Singer " who use Hume and Kant to help decipher Sam's work in a way that a Christian Apologetic couldn't without intellectually plagiarizing!

You have used the work of atheist philosophers who engage in moral philosophy " but to prop up a case for moral objectivity predicated on God. Let that sink in for a minute.. Yet, I don"t these folks would support your case on the motion ...and you know it.

This renders you a Cherry Picker! HA! There is a saying out in Texas; "You know, you really ought-ta cowboy up.." - which is a way of saying make a firm decision..

"..I'm not towing a party line.." - Yes, you are Pro of the motion.

(I will continue my rebuttals in further comments as I didn't exceed the maximum characters or rounds, but feel free to reply).
Posted by philosurfer 7 years ago
Your argument starts off with the preconceived notion that morals need to be tied down (objectively) to escape relativism & nihilism. And then you go on to posit something "supernatural" to do this " inciting actual dilemmas in Moral philosophy (taking advantage) " as to say, "You guys can't figure it out yet or have an answer, therefore, I'm right & God is the ONLY way."

Again, this [IS] inserting anything you want willy-nilly. This is not following wherever the evidence leads.

What would be the difference if, instead of inserting God, I inserted a civilization of meta-dimensional beings, say, aliens from outside of our natural universe and reality (thus supernatural)?! And I made the case that, "..meta-dimensional beings 'uniquely' fit this description.."

Or what if I inserted the Devil even? But I danced around this and said, "Any generic Devil will do.." Or, let's say that you point out that the Devil is usually the opposite of God and I say, "People have believed in a personal devil(s) through the ages - so I don't need to be specific about which devil.. any sort of heathen devil will suffice.." Then you point out that it would be a good idea to make sure the Devil is real and responsible first " but then I was all, "Due to my refutations of your preceding comments, this demand falls flat."

You can then see how silly your argument becomes. It's hard to argue meaningfully with someone who argues like this.
Posted by philosurfer 7 years ago
"..My argument presents evidence.."

No, your argument recommends and suggests a "supernatural" or "transcendent" variable be directly inserted a priori.

This highlights one of your problems: Something supernatural is outside of the Natural and, therefore, cannot have evidence " or be objective!

Did it ever bother you that Casper the Friendly Ghost could float through walls - but then would throw a ball up in the air and catch it? Why doesn't the ball fall through his hand if he floats through walls? Think about this seriously.

Then you go on to make this worse by saying, "We don"t need access to it! All we need is to realize that a foundation for objective morals must be "outside of the natural"

Well how can we realize it without access to it?! Be honest about this. (Hyphenate the word: real-ize).

This [IS] inserting anything you want willy-nilly my friend.

Something supernatural cannot be objective. That's the point!

I think you have these ideas a little mixed up - and why its turned into a muddled categorization mistake.

"..only real, honest work in moral philosophy is being done by non-theists?"

That's not what I said or what was implied.

There is something suspect about arguments where a position is decided first and then reason and logic is used to help preserve that position. This is what you're doing as Pro of the motion at hand.

Again, we are to follow wherever the evidence leads. This is the keynote characteristic of being a Truth seeker and what the Enlightenment tradition is all about.

If an idea is a bad idea, you should want to know - so it is eliminated. You should care or want to know if you hold a falsehood. Or, at the very least be prepared and able to say and admit, "I don't know."
Posted by vankipp 7 years ago
[continued rebuttals]

"Both Sides of the Fence:"
Using evidence and good rational argument from both theists and non-theists is a strength, not a weakness! I'm not towing a party line.

And Now My Closing Remarks.

I defend the truth of the proposition "Objective Moral Values and Duties Cannot Exist if God Does Not Exist". My argument establishes 3 necessary attributes of a foundation for objective moral values and duties, and God alone fits the description. Ergo, if God does not exist, then moral values and duties cannot be objective.

In sum:
1) For moral values and duties to be objective, they need a transcendent foundation. It must transcend culture and human opinion on every scale, otherwise we are stuck in relativism.

2) For moral values and duties to be objective, they also need a supernatural foundation. It must be above and apart from nature. Nothing in nature, on any scale, comments on what OUGHT to be - nature simply IS, and science tells us what IS or probably IS. No OUGHT can be derived directly from an IS.

3) For moral duties to be objective, they need a foundation that is also personal. Moral duties are what we ought or ought not to do. If they are to be objective they must somehow be imposed upon all of us. Any foundation which can produce and impose moral duties must have intelligence and volition, making it inherently personal.

What possibilities do we have for a transcendent, supernatural, personal foundation for moral values and duties? These attributes add up to the generic theist concept of God, so God certainly fulfills the requirements. But what other options are there? I see none. Any other entity that is transcendent, supernatural, and personal is really indistinguishable from God. Therefore if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Con hasn't deeply engaged with these arguments, and hasn't offered any plausible foundation for objective moral values and duties apart from God.

Thanks, &
Posted by vankipp 7 years ago
[continued rebuttals]

"Which God or Gods?!" (continued)
The generic theist God of someone like Antony Flew is all my arguments call for. You are wrong that the concept of God is dependent upon specific religious traditions. God is a perfectly coherent, self-supporting concept and has been discussed as such for millennia. So even if every existing religion is flawed and wrong, it does not affect my arguments.

"Ontology v. Epistemology:"
Your complaints either blow up the entire conversation, or they wander into the irrelevance of how we ascertain objective morals, but they do not address the proposition under debate. Regardless of whether or not we can successfully apprehend objective moral values and duties, we can still discuss necessary attributes of a foundation for the objectivity of them.

'Transcendent' and 'supernatural' don't skirt epistemology and ontology - these are properties that have been discussed, analyzed, and deployed by philosophers in rational argument for ages.

"A Useful Comparison & Natural Morality:"
The fact that we can observe moral behavior taking place does nothing to establish the objectivity of moral values and duties - this debate is about the ontological foundation of objective moral values and duties.

"No, it is to say we recognize moral behavior - in humans & animals alike."
So if you are NOT saying animal morality is objective, then your discussion of it did nothing to establish how morality can be objective if God does not exist.

"When humans go hunting...reduced to data"
You misunderstand the lion illustration. It reflects the lack of moral culpability in animal behavior. You point out how different we are - I agree. Ultimately, what elevates evolved instincts into objective morals?

"Sam Harris:"
I'm glad I spent time demonstrating the fatal flaws in his moral theory, because it was the only argument you have presented to try to show how morals can be objective without God!
Posted by vankipp 7 years ago
[continued rebuttals]

"...Perhaps moral values are true and not yet provable objectively..."
I"m not attempting to prove any objective moral values - I"m discussing necessary conditions for the existence of any truly objective morals.

"...suggesting morality is ultimately illusory..."
If morality is ultimately illusory, but we all decide to agree to certain values with evolutionary underpinnings, that is equivalent to saying that morality is not objective but is instead subjective"you are helping my case!

"...doesn't mean anything goes..."
Correct, we cannot insert any old thing willy-nilly.

"...becomes a huge grotesque categorization mistake..."
You have not demonstrated any category error here.

"3) By definition, something supernatural..."
I am not talking about experiences or claims when I say "supernatural". I am saying that a foundation for objective morals must have the quality of being supernatural, and I mean it the same way you do - "outside of the natural". That"s it, nothing here depends upon experiences or claims.

" can we know that we even have access to it?"
We don"t need access to it! All we need is to realize that a foundation for objective morals must be "outside of the natural".

"...ask you to demonstrate that your "foundation" (God) is also objective.."
Due to my refutations of your preceding comments, this demand falls flat.

"... - Correlation is not Causation.."
I"m not equating correlation with causation. I"m showing that God (if such a being exists) and God alone exhibits the necessary properties for a foundation for objective morals. If God doesn't exist, then nothing exhibits the necessary properties, so in that case objective moral values and duties cannot exist.

"Which God or Gods?!"
That's a further question, irrelevent to the proposition! Any sort of theist, Aristotelian, Jewish, etc. can embrace my arguments. Show me where my arguments rely upon a particular religious tradition....they don't! (
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by WhizKid 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Conduct seemed equal even though it looked like Pro did forfeit the last round. Spelling and grammar about the same. Pro had a more difficult position. But after reading the debate and some of the comments I don't think Pro's case is true for the reasons that Con explained. I'm no philosopher but I was able to follow how the terms were being used. Seemed like Con used terms and words to his favor but did not want his arguments to be subjected to the same way the terms were being used. I liked the alien idea Con used to show why Pro's argument was reaching. I was thinking about an idea like that. Con was cool for continuing debate in comments.
Vote Placed by MasterOfTheUniverse 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I was pretty open to be convinced before the reading debate. I agreed with Con after the debate only because I felt enough holes were punched in Pro's arguments and ideas. Con seemed to a better handle on the last round but then Pro didn't respond so conduct also goes to Con. Con had a few more spelling errors, but didn't make obvious the sources as where Con did. I thought Pro was winning the debate until the last round.

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