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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

Looking forward to a tight topic at God Debate II

The upcoming God Debate II between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig has me even more excited than I was last year. The title "Is Good from God?" already has something that last year's debate was lacking: a tight topic.

Here's why I think this debate will be interesting and original: "Is Good from God?" presumes the concept of "good." So often, we pit atheists and Christians in a battle of moral relativism versus moral absolutism, and the dialogue is entirely unproductive. The two worldviews hold such absolutely different premises — one that thinks that judgments of good and bad have consequence, and another that thinks that only evolutionary progress and regress run the show. Not only are these two camps speaking different languages, but they're speaking about different universes with entirely different rules.

Now, someone correct me if I speak too boldly, but I think that the vast majority of us recognize intuitively the general goodness or badness of an action. We may explain it in any number of ways, but when we shove a man in front of a train, we intuit that there must have been a better course of action (even if he was going for our turkey sandwich).

William Lane Craig has spoken on the relationship of morality and religion dozens of times. His 2005 article, "The Indispensability of Theological meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality," lays out his argument succinctly. He writes that "objective morality" is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commands which constitute our moral duties or obligations. Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from His moral nature.

Sam Harris is also well-practiced in this debate topic. In his 2010 book, "The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values," Harris writes that "values reduce to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures" and "given that there are facts — real facts — to be known about how conscious creatures can experience the worst possible misery and the greatest possible well-being, it is objectively true to say that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, whether or not we can always answer these questions in practice."

Notice that in this debate, Sam Harris and William Lane Craig begin with this same premise — that actions can be objectively good or bad!

I think it's a starting point with extraordinary potential. As an atheist, I am tired of being typecast as the moral relativist who thinks that mankind is delusional and progress is illusory. On the contrary, I think it is quite dangerous to believe that no individual is ever responsible for how he defines the rules of conduct! I think ethics is a perfectly natural system that can be reasoned out as soon as two parties realize that they are interdependent. With constant confrontation and collaboration, we can reason out ethical standards that work properly for all occasions. My Christian classmates also find the "good" to be reasonable and right, though they see these moral values as having necessary origins in God.

This is a far more interesting debate than the open-ended "Is there God?" It takes a particular case study which we mostly agree upon "goodness and badness" and makes it an issue for unpacking that more complicated question.

Mary Buechler


Lewis Hall

Mar. 24

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.