Does Morality require God? Conversation with Christopher Colegrove.

I received this comment in the thread under my post Debunking Myself: What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been. I am answering it here in a new post because that comment stream is getting long and the topic deserves its own thread. The post consists of five questions:

1 – Is there an absolute truth, absolute morals? Is it wrong, what happens in school or mass shootings? Was Hitler wrong to practice genocide? Is stealing wrong?

Of course truth is “absolute” in the sense that A is A and not “not A”. But that’s trivial. The word “absolute” doesn’t add any meaning as far as I can tell. What is the difference between “truth” and “absolute truth”?

Truth is, of course, relative to context. For example, it is absolutely true that 1 + 1 = 2 in the infinite field of Natural Numbers N, but that same equation is absolutely false in the finite prime field of order 2, GF(2). You can read all about it here.

As you can see, the word “absolute” adds nothing to the concept of truth. The statement “A is A” is absolute no matter what “A” may represent.

Likewise, the word “absolute” adds nothing to the meaning of morality. What is the difference between something that is actually wrong vs. absolutely wrong?

Your question indicates that you have never really thought about the philosophy of morality at all. Things are right or wrong depending on how they affect self and others. It has absolutely nothing to do with any god, real or imagined. Your question is like asking if arithmetic would become false if there were not a god. I explain my position in this article Morality is Objective, Like a Pair of Scales: Another Fatal Flaw in Dr. Craig’s Moral Argument for God.

2 – If so, why? What is the source of that morality? If it is absolute, where does it come from?

It comes from the meaning of the words “just” and “fair” and “objective” as I explain in the link above.

Majority opinion? That can change. Perhaps it was the majority who allowed Hitler to do the things he did. Perhaps the majority opinion on right and wrong can be changed by propoganda and manipulation. Does that mean now stealing is just? I would say no.

It doesn’t come from an “opinion” any more than 1 + 1 = 2 is an “opinion.” Morality is based fundamentally on the concept of “objectivity” which itself is the foundation of concepts like “fair” and “just.” It’s so simple we teach it to children by merely asking if they would like to be treated the way they treat others. This immediately awakens their moral intuitions which are based on empathy, reason, fairness, justice, and objectivity. You can read more about this in my article The Golden Rule and the Foundation of Objective Morality.

If you would say ‘no’ also, why and where does your moral standard come from?

Morality is based on things like love, empathy, reason, fairness, justice, and objectivity. The judgments are based on objective logic and motivated by love, which has both subjective and objective elements. I explain my moral theory in this article The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality.

The objective aspect of love is based on the objective property of integrity which is both a moral and an ontological term, as explained in this article: On Integrity as the Highest Value.

Conscience? What if one person’s conscience tells him it is okay to steal a car and punch some one, and another says it is not. Is one right, one wrong, or are they both right? How can they both be right if they hold two conflicting standards. Is 1 + 1 = 2 for me and 1 + 1 = 5 for so and so, and both be right?

A person’s “conscience” as such is not an objective standard. It can be influenced by all sorts of subjective likes and dislikes, biases, cultural prejudices, and so forth. Conscience is nothing like 1 + 1 = 2 which is based on logic, just like morality.

Anyone with a supposed “standard” like “1 + 1 = 5″ is demonstrably deluded and so their judgement cannot be trusted. Such a “standard” is demonstrably false and so would be rejected by all rational people.

Morality is like 1 + 1 = 2 in the infinite field of natural numbers, and 1 + 1 = 0 in the finite field GP(2). The statements look contradictory, but bother are absolutely true when you take into account the context that defines the set to which they apply.

What basis for societal law is there? If murder is illegal because the majority believe it is wrong, but my neighbor believes it is right, does that allow him to murder? No. But if there is no basis for right and wrong, even if he is arrested, he would still be right in his own eyes. My point here is, without God and an absolute standard or morality, there is no basis for any truth and life would really be meaningless, but because we live in an ordered universe, there are scientific laws, and thus a law-giver.

Your question is based on a false premise. God does not supply an “absolute standard.” He could not change the truth if he wanted to, so he is not required to determine or establish the truth. William Lane Craig attempts to avoid this fact by saying that “God’s nature” defines what is good, just, kind, and fair, but that is utterly absurd because those words have definitions that are completely independent of any god, real or imagined. I explain this in detail in my article Morality is Objective, like a Pair of Scales: Another Fatal Flaw in Dr. Craig’s Moral Argument for God

So how do we know that murder is wrong? Because it violates the principles that define morality! Nothing could be simpler or more obvious. All moral principles must be symmetric with respect to an interchange of the actors. In other words, if I do something to you that would be wrong if you did it to me (everything else being equal), the action cannot be moral when I do it.

3 – Assuming for a moment there is an absolute standard. Have you (me or anyone) kept it? Have you stolen, lied, killed, committed adultery? Jesus said whosoever looks with lust at a women commits adultery with her already, in his heart. Showing we are all guilty.

So what? That truth remains whether or not your religion tells you that god has forgiven you! If we are all equally guilty and cannot save ourselves, why then does God save some but not others? The gospel is irrational, unjust, and unkind. It is irrational because it let’s the guilty go free while punishing good people for the “crime” of not believing a story. It is unjust because if god could save one sinner he could save all. Why would he choose to torment some forever when there is absolutely nothing anyone could do about it? It is unkind because it condemns people to eternal torment for the “crime” of being born.

4 – If God is just how should he handle law-breakers? Yes, he is also merciful, but has to be also just by nature. He is merciful not by just saying ‘whatever, I’ll forget about it’ , but by sending His Son to die for the sins of all men who were given to Him by the Father. That is God’s love. That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. So the real question is… not what codes can we find in Scripture, but what does Scripture say, right there, no hidden meanings?…

According to you, everyone was born ungodly so Christ must have died for everyone. Why then are some still condemned? The gospel makes no sense.

5 – Repent of our sins, cry out “God be merciful to me a sinner!” and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, trust to God’s mercy, and embark on walking in the Spirit, putting to death the works of the flesh.

Sorry, but I’ve been there and done that as much as any believer I’ve ever seen. If it didn’t work before, how could it work now? Let me remind you of what I believed when I was a Christian for nearly two decades:

Since I began this website back in 2001, and during most of the decade that followed, I identified myself as a “Bible-believing Christian” in no uncertain terms. For example, here is how I described myself in my old FAQ (which remains on the old version of my site for historical purposes):

Are you a Christian? Protestant? Catholic?
Praise God, I am a man saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesian 2:8). I am a non-denominational blood-bought Bible-believing Trinitarian Christian. I believe that the true “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is well stated in the early creeds of the church that Christ founded.

Likewise, here is my testimony about the purpose of my website on the old homepage:

To this end I labour, to glorify the Triune God; to glorify the Father Almighty, Creator of all, to glorify His Son Jesus Christ my Saviour and Hope, and to glorify the Giver of all divine gifts, my Comforter, Guide, Teacher and Friend, God the Holy Spirit. To You be the glory, thrice holy blessed God of Eternity! To You be the glory, now and forevermore. Amen. Amen. Amen.

And here are the thanks I gave to Christ on my old About page:

I remain eternally grateful to my Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, for shedding His Light upon me and guiding my path – usually without my knowledge – and giving me both the burning desire and the ability to proclaim the neverending wonders of His Holy Word. Oh! The wonders of His Grace! Had He left me to myself, doubtless I’d be dead or wandering aimless and lost through this dark world. Thank you, my Lord!

So, that’s what I believed when I was a Christian. You are telling me to do what I’ve already done, quite sincerely, I might add. I see no reason to think it would change anything if I did it again. I was a believer and I wanted it to be true but finally came to realize it was not. Simple as that.

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  1. Dorothy Aitken
    Posted November 16, 2016 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    Last week I watched the recent documentary Weiner, on the ex-US Congressman Anthony Weiner with the sexting problem. There’s a scene where Weiner has a meltdown getting into an argument with a man in a delicatessen. Later in the movie, we see Weiner watching news clips of the argument, and we see him smiling to himself with a smug self-satisfied grin. It’s a compelling moment: Weiner obviously is very impressed with the way he handled the situation, whilst his long suffering wife Huma, and the audience, collectively roll their eyes at what a complete dick Weiner was actually making of himself.

    I was reminded of this scene when I read the above post. It is easy to picture Mr McGough sitting back and re-reading his words with the same sense of personal pleasure and pride at having delivered such a devastating argument. Meanwhile, the rest of the audience are rolling their eyes.

    Because, let’s face it, that post is laughable. For two reasons. The first is that it completely misrepresents the entire history of attempts by Darwinists and atheists to grapple with the problem of morality. For many of these thinkers, the answer is that the appearance of morality, like “design”, is nothing but an illusion. There is survival of the fittest, and that’s it. It’s a cold purposeless world. Get over it. So for example:

    “In a 1994 debate with Phillip Johnson, a leading figure in the intelligent design movement, the late evolutionary biologist William Provine insisted: “No ultimate foundations for ethics exist, no ultimate meaning in life exists, and free will is merely a human myth. These are all conclusions to which Darwin came quite clearly.”

    “Duke University philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg shows the same inconsistency. He co-authored an article in 2003, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life,” in which he dismissed morality as an illusion. However, Rosenberg assured us that we have nothing to fear, because nihilism has no effect on our behavior, since “Most of us just couldn’t persistently be mean, even if we tried.”

    “More or less the problem in moral realism is the attempt to get around the problem SharonStreet calls ‘The Darwinian dilemma:’ because our cognitive functions have been heavilyinfluenced by evolution, which seeks survival, but does not necessarily track the truth, itbecomes problematic to claim that our moral evaluations are true in any objective andabsolute sense.

    “Note the analogy to Darwinism. It used to be a standard argument for God’s existence that the obvious and abundant design of the universe, as manifested particularly in the elegant fit of organisms to their environments, indicated the existence of a divine designer. Now we know that biological evolution can account for this fit perfectly without recourse to God. Hence, no Designer, no Design; there is only the appearance of design in nature (excepting such artifacts as beaver dams, bird nests, and architects’ blueprints). Just so, there are no moral commands but only the appearance of them, which can be explained by selection (by the natural environment, culture, family, etc.) of behavior and motives (“moral intuitions” or “conscience”) that best promote survival of the organism. There need be no recourse to Morality any more than to God to account for these phenomena.”

    “The notion that evolution undermines any objective morality is widespread in academic circles. Darwin taught this in The Descent of Man, and many contemporary evolutionists agree. Last summer I attended a conference on “The Evolution of Morality and the Morality of Evolution” at Oxford University. One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Michael Ruse, one of the most prominent philosophers of science today. He famously wrote in a 1985 article co-authored with E. O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology: “Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate.” Ruse has reaffirmed this position many times since then.

    “Duke University philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg shows the same inconsistency. He co-authored an article in 2003, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life,” in which he dismissed morality as an illusion.”

    Now, my point here is not to take a side in this debate, but simply to point out that it has sides. For McGough to claim that his fanciful notion of objective morality is “obvious” is to fly in the face of centuries of arguments from folks on his own side. Plenty of people on the atheist/Darwin side of the debate disagree. So for McGough to put forward that there is no debate, no dilemma, is to completely misrepresent the conversation.

    Yet McGough wants to slam his interlocutor for failing to have done the background reading! Hmmm. Pots and kettles….

    Speaking of which, McGough then takes it further, and here’s where it gets hilarious. His notion of objective morality is based on the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Very noble, to be sure. But does McGough follow his own golden rule? Most assuredly he does not. Anyone can scan the pages of this blog and see the same thing over and over. McGough has a very sharp tongue indeed, and hands out insults, name-calling, putdowns and rudeness pretty much to anyone who disagrees with him. This was the case throughout his time as a Christian, and nothing has changed since he abandoned his religion. Is this, perhaps, how he wants to be treated? Not at all! When someone dares to offer an impolite remark, McGough jumps straight on it, and extracts maximum offense.

    This is the guy who lectures us all on the Golden Rule!

    As I say, hilarious.

    Then he puffs out his chest and reminds us of what a great Christian he was. Blood-bought this, trinitarian that. Very impressive to be sure. Yet Christ himself gave a different definition. To be a christian is to love your enemies. After all, everyone loves their friends, even the heathen. But to love your enemies, that is a mark of the man who follows Christ. On this test, McGough falls flat. Never once on this blog in twenty years has he ever “loved his enemies’. If you disagree with him, you can expect to be treated with verbal contempt. No, McGough was never actually a Christian. He was an atheist-in-waiting the whole time.

    By the end of the movie, Anthony Weiner wasn’t smiling so much with that smug grin. But the audience are loving it, and the kid at the end, in the last scene, is beside himself with hilarity. I guess some things are just objectively funny, but not everyone gets the same jokes. Anyway, cue the outraged response, cutting remarks, putdowns and angry rejoinders….5,4,3,2,1….action:

  2. MichaelFree
    Posted November 18, 2016 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    See Richard, you weren’t loving correctly, or enough, or the right way. Jesus is the teacher of love didn’t you know? His followers have no problem judging other human beings on their relationship with love. Jesus wants you to worship his name or he will torture you forever in fire. He wants your children to believe in demons, to condemn the Jews and the non-believers to eternal violence, and to be fearful of God.

  3. Posted November 18, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    See Richard, you weren’t loving correctly, or enough, or the right way. Jesus is the teacher of love didn’t you know? His followers have no problem judging other human beings on their relationship with love. Jesus wants you to worship his name or he will torture you forever in fire. He wants your children to believe in demons, to condemn the Jews and the non-believers to eternal violence, and to be fearful of God.

    You got that right Michael. We are so blessed to have such an intelligent, generous, and loving soul like Dorothy to show us how to love and respect others. LOL

    I’ll be answering her comment in detail as time permits. It’s been a busy week at work. Should get to it this weekend.

  4. MichaelFree
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Morality between human beings does not even exist in the world unless there are two or more human beings in the world. Why does it require two or more human beings to exist in the world for it to exist in the world? It’s because morality is ‘agreement’ between two or more human beings, which is ‘peace’. So of course morality doesn’t require God to tell you how to speak and how to do your deeds, because nature created morality by having two or more human beings living together in agreement in nature.

    Now if someone says that the existent of human beings and everything else in nature requires a Creator God and therefore morality requires God, then I might understand the argument, otherwise saying that morality requires the Bible is absurd.

    Obviously atheists and religious people are similar in their behavior in the world, it’s the extremes of both ideologies that one should avoid. Reality is not in the extremes where on one side “life has no meaning” or the other side “the Bible is written by God”.

  5. MIchaelFree
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    The threat of eternal damnation in the Bible, the carrot on a stick, is not a threat about how you do your deeds in life, it is a threat about your beliefs in life. To pretend that religious people have some monopoly on morality, on right and good behavior, is ridiculous, as it’s not based on fact, of course, but rather it’s based on belief.

    Only one human being on Earth = morality between human beings does not exist

    More than one human being on Earth = morality between human beings does exist (perhaps, at least if two or more people actually get along in life).

    Where does morality come from? It comes from human beings. It took the second one of us to bring morality into the world. Where do human beings come from. Nature. Where does nature come from. Some say more nature and some say God.

  6. MichaelFree
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    I should point out that I believe some parts of the Bible are indeed written by a supernatural being. That’s my belief anyway. I don’t have to justify my beliefs that harm no one.

  7. MichaelFree
    Posted November 24, 2016 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    My previous comment should say:

    I should point out that I believe some parts of the Bible might be written by a supernatural being. That’s my belief anyway. I don’t have to justify my beliefs that harm no one.

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