What follows is part three of an actual conversation I had with an atheist friend. While my friend’s name has been changed and some details have been modified, the conversation presented below faithfully represents the arguments and points of reason that were made during the course of this exchange.
Part two ended with me making the point that even if morality could be objectively derived, it still would not provide any reason to follow it since there would be no moral law giver.
Hal: “I understand what you are saying. I am not arguing that an objective moral code exists. What I’m arguing is that one can be rationally derived from objective facts and that this is superior to taking the alleged word of someone who claims he speaks to invisible omniscient deities.”
At this point, Hal seemed to be getting annoyed with me.
Me: “The position you’re promoting is called atheistic moral Platonism, meaning that moral values just exist without any grounding. Therefore, we “derive” that mercy, justice, generosity, love, etc., exist and they are good. Fine, so they exist. Just because they exist, why does that mean I have any obligation to follow them? In an atheistic scenario, there is no lawgiver. Therefore, I am in no way obligated to believe in a way consistent with these values. Belief in God is not necessary for objective morality, God is necessary for objective morality.”
Hal responded with an increasing shrillness.
Hal: “What I’m saying is that the actual facts of nature are the foundation for morals and a better one than a reliance on someone who claims he communicates with imaginary omniscient deities!”
Me: “But again, that provides no warrant for behaving in a moral way. There are no moral duties without a lawgiver. It’s a philosophy built on quicksand. We kind of have the cart before the horse here anyway. We really have to first answer the question as to whether it is more probable that a theistic god exists or more probable that a theistic god doesn’t exist. “
Hal: “Look, neither moral nor legal duties require a lawgiver. In law, a legal positivist would make that claim. A natural lawyer would not. Neither did Thomas Jefferson as the Declaration of Independence illustrates. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that men are created equal…’”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing with this response.
Me: “…that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Hal: “Yes, exactly. The Declaration uses Creator, Nature, and Nature’s God. Jefferson was not a theist.”
I was again amazed at this response. Was I missing something or was Hal just blind to where he was heading with this?
Me: “Yes, of course. He was a deist. He believed in the same creator as the theists but he differed in thinking that the Creator stopped interacting with His creation once it was finished. He still believed that the Creator provided the foundation for moral values and duties. Jefferson wrote to Thomas Law in 1814: ‘How necessary was the care of the Creator in making the moral principle so much a part of our Constitution as that no errors of REASONING or of speculation might lead us astray from its observance in practice.’”
Hal: “In any case, I don’t see how a legal argument applies to a moral claim or philosophical claim. It can illustrate them, illuminate them, or demonstrate their consequences, but it can’t in and of itself justify them. The Declaration of Independence has no more moral or philosophical authority than the Bible, which is to say nil. The same goes for the Constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Gettysburg Address, encyclicals by the Pope, or the Tao te Ching, among others.”
I mulled over Hal’s last comments. It became clear that no matter how air tight an argument I made for the necessity of God for objective moral values, Hal was just not going to comprehend and embrace it. There was much more that could be said. There many more points he made that I could refute, but I reached the point of “Why bother?”
This question of the source of our morality is a monumental one for our society today. Do moral values naturally rise out of the material and physical properties of the universe like Hal promotes? Or, are they grounded in a perfectly moral being that exists outside of time, space, and matter/energy? The answer we as a society choose will determine out fate.
History tells a grim tale of what a materially grounded worldview leads to. The mass murdering of tens of millions of people in Europe and Asia during the twentieth century by governments dictating their own twisted view of morality can happen again. No, I would say, will happen again unless we come to recognize that morality comes from a source outside physical existence. Without God, anything becomes possible, indeed probable.