Moral Without Belief in God? Sure! But God Still Makes All the Difference

By Tom Gilson Published on October 20, 2017

A new report out of Pew Research Center says that more Americans than ever agree you don’t have to believe in God to “be moral or have good values.” Agreement is rising even among evangelicals, Black Protestants and Catholics. The rise in these numbers tracks closely with increasing numbers of “nones” — people who don’t affiliate with any religion.

Not the Best Question

I’m surprised they asked the question that way. Every researcher knows not to ask “double-barreled questions” with two parts that a respondent might answer in two different ways. Vaguely worded terms are no help, either. Was the question about knowing what’s moral or about living that way? If it’s the latter, then how moral does a person need to be to qualify for a “yes” answer?

This is ambiguous, so it’s hard to know what to make of the survey.

Godless Morality is a Christian Belief

One way to answer is, of course a person can be moral without believing in God. That’s straight out of the Bible. In Romans 2:14-15, Paul writes, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts.”

Even Atheists know it’s wrong to torture children for the fun of it.

Of course people vary. Some unbelievers (like believers) are more ethical, some are less. And there are some moral truths that no one can even approach as an unbeliever. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Pretty hard to do if you don’t believe in Him.

It Still Takes God to Explain What It Means To Be Moral

But looking it it that way, and assuming that’s what Pew had in mind when they asked it, that’s a simple answer to a fairly simple question. What if they’d narrowed it down to a harder one, like, “What does it take to be moral?”

What does it mean to be right, and how do we know it’s right?

The first answer, I suppose, would be, “Doing what’s right.” But that leads to two more questions: “What does it mean to be right, and how do we know it’s right?”

The Christian answer would be this: Being morally right is a matter of doing what fits with the character of God and with what He intended of us when He designed us. We know a great deal of it through the design He’s imprinted on us by nature, and even more through the Bible.

It Isn’t Just About Human Well Being

What’s the unbeliever’s answer? Atheist author Sam Harris, in The Moral Landscape, says that morality has to do with promoting human well being. Taken by itself, though — which is what he intended — that opens up questions he can’t answer. Not from his own perspective, anyway.

First, it doesn’t answer a lot of tough moral questions — gay marriage, for example. Does same-sex “marriage” promote human well being? Gay men and lesbian women say so. But does sexual activity between persons of the same sex really benefit them? What about the effect of same-sex marriage on marriage culture overall? What of its effect on communities?

LGBT activists scoff at these questions — which is to say, they haven’t answered them. They don’t know whether gay marriage promotes well being in these ways or not. (My answer, for the record, is no.)

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And what about children in same-sex households? Research on this is mixed. Both sides say the other side’s work on it is methodologically flawed. I see far worse flaws on the pro-gay marriage side, myself. Honestly, though, even if some of these studies were perfect, none of them could give more than a preliminary answer at best. Final results will require tracking these children through their adulthood, and into the next generation as well. That will take decades. We don’t yet have that data.

All Sam Harris has going for him on the hottest moral issue of the day is feelings and guesswork.

Which means that Sam Harris’s standard for morality leaves us with no answer to the hottest question of the day. All he has going for him there is feelings and guesswork — which doesn’t lead to much of a moral imperative. Yet you can be sure he thinks he has an answer anyway.

Of course we know that health is better than sickness, love than hate, safety than danger. But that leaves too many questions unanswered, especially with regard to humans’ ultimate good. Does human well being ultimately mean having the “freedom” to do what one wants, above all? Or does it mean having a well-developed character, wisdom and self-giving love above all?

Those aren’t the only options, but consider two people who take those two positions. They may agree the other has a piece of the truth, but they disagree on which is correct “above all.” Now what? If the standard is well being, and if well being can mean different things to different people, who or what decides which one’s right? Unless we know humans’ true purpose, there’s no way to know. There’s no way to turn anyone’s answers to these hard questions into moral imperatives.

It Takes God To Explain Why We Should Be Moral

Speaking of which, what makes morality imperative in the first place? Why are we supposed to be moral? Believers know it’s because of the holy sovereignty of our Creator. Unbelievers I’ve talked with, on the other hand, have no real answer. They know we’re supposed to be moral, but they have no explanation for why.

Some say, “You just know it’s the right thing to do,” which is a great answer unless you’re asking what makes it right, or what makes it our duty to do what’s “right.” Which was the question, after all.

Others say, “Natural selection put human cooperativeness in our genes. It aids the survival of our species.” I say, “So what?” That explanation works if humanity matters in and of itself; but evolution can’t make it so.

Let’s suppose the standard account of evolution were true; that it really explained all of life, with no help from God. On that view, evolution is said to be able to produce humans like us who think and talk with words like, “We matter.” What it could never do is produce the reality that has to exist behind those words in order for them actually to mean anything.

After all, evolution lets species go extinct all the time, or so we’re told. It wouldn’t mind a bit if homo sapiens went away someday, too. No version of evolutionary theory, apart from God, holds that evolution can make any species matter at all — even if it could make a species talk and act as if they matter.

Unbelief and Morality: You Can Do It, But You Can’t Explain What It Is

So one may be moral to a certain degree without believing in God, because God created us all with knowledge of right and wrong. Most of us do try to live moral lives, more or less. Without belief in God, though, there’s no clear foundation for morality. God still makes all the difference to morality.

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  • Tom Rath

    …”…to a certain degree…”….

    You’re a hoot, Tom. Can’t stand the fact that actual morality is rooted in the real, observable (even in other species) property of empathy more so than in any flavor of mythology.

    “Want to be a good person? Steve’s good. Be like Steve. Follow Steve’s example.”

    “But what about all the people who don’t and will never know Steve?”

    “Well, they can be good, too……to a certain degree.”

    *snort*

    They say integrity is doing the right thing when nobody’s watching. But mythologists believe that’s never the case.

    I’ll take the integrity of the rational good, who do the right thing *without* being coerced by the delusion they’re being watched by an imaginary overseer.

    • “Can’t stand the fact”? Where did I imply that? I was talking about what is, not what I prefer.

      No, what you missed is that on a naturalistic evolutionary view, evolution can produce organisms and behaviors. Not values, not duties, not obligations, not worth, not purpose. So even though various species seem to demonstrate empathy, naturalistic evolution still doesn’t explain how that behavior translates into a moral value or duty. Read (atheist) philosopher Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality. You might think he’s a hoot, too, if you’re willing to rush to judgment without considering his arguments.

      • Tom Rath

        No, Tom, it was *your* implication that, absent not just mythology but YOUR favorite mythology, a person can only be ‘so ‘ moral.

        Superstition is not and has never been a prerequisite for morality. In fact, the birth of cognition, reason, and communal behaviors ABSENT of superstition and supernaturalism has been a better incubator for morality than the con artistry of the shaman.

        • JP

          Ok. What moral laws come out of atheism? How does atheism tell anyone what evil is?

          • GPS Daddy

            Excellent question.

          • Tom Rath

            Secular moral codes predate those of the supernaturalist.

          • JP

            Those secular moral codes are not based on atheism.

          • Tom Gilson

            You’ve got to be kidding me.

        • You should be understanding “only ‘so’ moral” as a direct reference to the fact that unbelievers can be moral on a human plane but not toward God. That’s the limitation I described in the article, and it’s a limitation you really shouldn’t find so offensive.

          I’m not in favor of superstition, con artistry or shamanism myself. Neither am I fond of straw man argumentation.

          The birth of cognition, reason and communal behaviors goes back to prehistory, so it’s hard to point to it as the differentiating cause of moral progress.

          • Tom Rath

            You’re not in favor of superstition, although all the various forms of prayer in aggregate are the most commonly-exercised form of superstitious activity practiced by humans? Really? I mean, knocking on wood and crossing fingers undoubtedly trail by wide margins.

            Just because an act of superstition is practiced in accordance with one’s particular religion does not exempt it from the definition.

          • Tom Gilson

            As I said, I’m not fond of straw man arguments. Plus, you’re going off on a tangent. I’m going to stick with the topic at hand.

    • I’ve been thinking about writing an article about this idea that Christian morality is influenced by our awareness of God, which supposedly makes it less than moral. I’ll put it higher on the list now. I don’t think a short comment would be sufficient to answer it.

    • GPS Daddy

      Tom,

      If all that exists is the physical realm then all we are is matter in motion. Matter in motion has no good or evil. If all you accept is that the physical realm is the totality of existence then you have to borrow from God to have good and evil, right and wrong, morally good behavior.

      • Tom Rath

        Horse excrement.

        • GPS Daddy

          Excellent example of a designed process.

      • TBP100

        Unless God doesn’t exist. He doesn’t exist just because you want him to, or even because it would be good if he did (and I for one am perfectly happy the vengeful, capricious, and cruel god of the Bible doesn’t exist).

        And even if there is a god, how do you know it’s the one you believe in? Billions of people beg to differ.

        • GPS Daddy

          Lets go over the logic again:

          1. The material world is all that exists.
          2. Life is nothing more than matter-in-motion
          3. Matter-in-motion is neither good or evil.
          Conclusion: Good and evil do not exit.

          However,
          1. Good and evil do exist.
          2. Therefor there is more to life than the material world. The spiritual world does exist.

          • TBP100

            It depends on what you mean by “good and evil.” There is no evidence that these have some sort of independent, objective existence, let alone that they are determined by a deity. Indeed the idea that morality is objective and/or absolute is strongly counterindicated by the vastly different views of what constitutes good and evil. The Aztecs were perfectly fine with mass religious slaughter. So was the Roman Catholic Church for much of its existence, for that matter, it not on quite as grand a scale.

            And how do you know that matter in motion is neither good nor evil?

            And even assuming there is a spiritual world, how do you know it isn’t that of the Aztec pantheon and if we don’t start offering hearts up to Huitzilopochtli again pretty soon we’re all gonna be in big trouble?

            On a more serious note, I don’t believe in objective morality. I think we are making it up as we go along, and we do the best we can with the information we have. We’re constantly refining our definitions of good and evil, and we’re never going to completely agree, any more than we ever have. This doesn’t necessarily make me happy, although as I said above I’m quite glad the truly awful god of the Bible doesn’t exist, but it is what it is, to quote the cliche.

    • Nobody Specific

      Nothing true can be entirely rooted in a feeling besides statements about the feeling itself. If morality is rooted in empathy, than morality is conditional. Clearly for example the top Nazis who sat around dreaming up things like the final solution felt no empathy for the Jewish population. Did that make their mass execution moral? Was it okay for them to do it but not okay for you or I because we have different feelings about it?

      Either you don’t really believe empathy defines morality or are not thinking about the problem very hard.

    • Mo

      @ Tom Rath

      “You’re a hoot, Tom. Can’t stand the fact that actual morality is rooted in the real, observable (even in other species) property of empathy more so than in any flavor of mythology.”

      You are not “a hoot”. You’re insufferably arrogant, like many Christ-haters are.

      Show me where in this article he’s talking about any “mythology.” Point it out. You made the claim. now BACK IT UP with evidence.

      Can’t stand the fact that according to YOUR own worldview, “morality” as a term is utterly meaningless? Because it is.

      And you know it. You KNOW it.

  • Altruism is not exclusive to human beings. Even animals of different species are observed to assist one another. Do they hope for heavenly reward in doing so? Of course not.

    • Do they consider their actions from a moral perspective?

      Did I say that human morality is tied to a heavenly reward? (Yes, it is, but that’s not its primary distinguishing feature.)

    • GPS Daddy

      Chuck,

      Its clear that man is of a different nature than the rest of the animal kingdom. Starting from a different foundation is intellectually dishonest. Clearly man is set apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

      • Just because we are intellectually more advanced than elephants or whales or gorillas doesn’t mean we are not animals. At what point in our evolution do you think we were magically “set apart” from the rest of the animal kingdom?

        • Tim Pan

          Yes we were magically set apart form the rest of the animal kingdom. By the way are we permitted to use the sexist term kingdom?

          • Do you think the term “kingdom” is sexist? You should take it up with Carl Linnaeus, not me.

          • Tim Pan

            I was yanking your chain.

        • We’re animals but we’re different, too. That’s empirically obvious. You need not introduce loaded terms like “magic” to notice that’s true.

          Do animals engage in moral reflection? No. We do. QED.

          • “Moral reflection” is certainly a lofty term, but the question remains: At what point in our evolution did this ability set us apart from other primates? Or was it a gradual process?

          • Tom Gilson

            The question is complex and it doesn’t matter in this context. Answering it would take us a tangent. What matters is that we are not the same as the other animals.

          • But we ARE indeed animals. And while I’m sure our ancestors a million years ago did not REFLECT as deeply as we do, I’m sure their was something akin to “morality” in their societies. So this IS relevant.

            Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Chuang Tzu said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”

            Hui Tzu said, “You’re not a fish – how do you know what fish enjoy?”

            Chuang Tzu said, “You’re not I, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”

            Hui Tzu said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish ‑ so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!”

            Chuang Tzu said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy ‑ so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”

          • Tom Gilson

            Why do you keep insisting we are indeed animals? We agree on that. Please re-read.

          • Andrew Mason

            Your argument is predicated on the notion that we are indeed evolved animals. This is far from a universal position, and many Christians would argue directly conflicts with the Biblical view of Creation – other groups would have other views .

            As for your Hao River example, which basically asks how can we know what we think we know, we can take the doubt further. While Hui Tzu and Chunag Tzu appear to be communicating, are they having a meaningful dialogue or do they only appear to be? Perhaps Hui Tzu thinks fish have wings and dart through the air. And while Chuang Tzu says that Hui Tzu clearly knows that he knows what fish enjoy because he asked the question, that presumes the question has a shared meaning – something far from guaranteed. It also raises the issue of differing interpretations – Chuang Tzu claims that standing next to the River Hao is sufficient for him to know that minnows enjoy darting around, and yet Hui Tzu clearly does not see the same thing. Worse, perhaps deep beneath the surface, and unobserved by either, there is a large predator fish lurking, in which case Chuang Tzu’s certain knowledge is mistaken assumption.

          • “Your argument is predicated on the notion that we are indeed evolved animals. This is far from a universal position, and many Christians would argue directly conflicts with the Biblical view of Creation.”

            It’s futile for me to contradict folklore. Your argument is with science.

          • Andrew Mason

            If you want to call scientism folklore that’s fine. The evolutionists will doubtless squawk at that particular classification, but it is an interesting concept.

          • TBP100

            “This is far from a universal position,” It is the all-but-universal position among actual scientists in the relevant disciplines. And it is a position supported by numerous lines of evidence in multiple disciplines, with absolutely no contradicting evidence.

        • GPS Daddy

          Human language has not evolved. It has been in its full form as far back as we can trace human language. Yet, humans have the ability to learn new languages that are totally different from each other. Take for example the Chinese verses English. Very different ways of communicating. But humans have even taken this further. We have invented languages that are unlike any other language that has ever exists (well, almost). Take the language of computers. Computers think in ‘1’ and ‘0’. They add, subtract, multiply and divide in binary… Well, actually they really don’t do binary at the circuit level they actually have high and low states of electrical energy that then represents ‘1’s ans ‘0’s. Yet, these high and low states of energy is allowing me to type these letters in the English language. These high and low energy states are then organized into patterns that represent higher level languages. When I press the “post” button this stream of high and low energy states will be transmitted from the memory of my computer to the server. Thats another interesting process for we engage in yet another method of translation of sending information over a network.

          Point being: to communicate in the English language via this method the following languages are used: The high and low states of electrical energy; the ‘1’s and ‘0’s that they represent that are grouped into patters to represent letters in a language; the multiple computer programming languages like assembly, java, C, C++, C#, javascript, html, css, etc… that are used to make all this happen…

          So what does all this have to do with the discussion: This is very abstract stuff. Animals are not capable of such abstraction. Humans have always been capable of this kind of abstraction because human language has been in full form as far back as we can trace it. I’ve not even touched on mathematics. The language of science.

          This along shows that humans are set apart form the animal kingdom. But this is clearly obvious. It does not take a PhD or a computer expert, etc. to know this. Grandpa and Grandma who did not finish 3rd grade education knows this.

          • Andrew Mason

            I would suggest that language has devolved. The original Indo-European tongue, largely only theorised these days, would have been a highly complex tongue with genders and suffixes and things that English simply doesn’t use. Or consider written Chinese. Traditional Chinese is a complex meaningful language, but the simplified version used on the mainland strops out much of the meaning in an effort to make it simpler to write.

          • GPS Daddy

            Kinda goes against the idea of evolution. If language has gotten simpler over the millenniums and we have no trace of it ever evolving, then that kinda is a defeater to evolution.

          • TBP100

            “Simpler” doesn’t automatically mean “worse.”

          • GPS Daddy

            In the case of evolution, evolution must add specified complex information, and it must do this blindly. For there is no direction or purpose in evolution. If language comes on the stage in full form and then becomes simpler of time it totally breaks the evolution paradigm.

          • TBP100

            There’s no actual evidence that language came on the stage in full form. Does any linguist actually claim that? That the human species couldn’t talk one day, and that the next we were all speaking a complex language?

            We see evidence of language evolution all the time. Look at how many languages were begotten by Latin, just for one obvious example.

          • GPS Daddy

            The earliest languages are full-form languages. There is not any evidence that any language evolved.

          • TBP100

            The earliest languages that we know of. The very earliest languages were doubtless extinct by the time writing came around.

          • GPS Daddy

            Hmm, thats an assumed position. It presupposes Darwinian evolution.

          • TBP100

            Well, since biological evolution is absolutely the scientific consensus, well supported by numerous lines of evidence, I think can assume it until there is reason not to. I don’t bother questioning the boiling point of pure water at sea level or the inverse square law, either.

          • GPS Daddy

            >>since biological evolution is absolutely the scientific consensus

            First the word “absolute” is an overstatement. Second that is changing. Within 20 years, maybe 40, Darwin will be a word that science students will need to look up in history books.

    • Becky

      Animals weren’t given God’s commandments to love and obey. Humans were.

    • Mo

      We are not talking about animals. We do not (or, at least, should not!) base our behavior on what animals do or don’t do. Animals do all sorts of things that we would not wish to emulate. (i.e. relieving themselves in public, mating with anything that walks by, killing – sometimes for sport, killing their own young, even cannibalism!)

    • TMJack

      To say altruism is not exclusive to human beings is irrelevant. The question is on what basis could we claim altruism is “better” on an atheistic worldview? There simply is no foundation for this claim if God does not exist.

  • Please don’t forget that if there’s any dispute here, it shouldn’t be over whether atheists can be moral. I affirmed that — other than the morality that relates to loving God.

    No, if there’s any debate here, it really ought to be over the main question I raised and (I think) answered, in very brief form: What does morality mean in the first place?

    • Tim Pan

      “What does morality mean in the first place?” Adherence to God’s divine law.

      • Tom Gilson

        True, though for thoroughness I’d also add conformity to God’s character and God’s intended. design for our lives

        • Tim Pan

          Yes, but how can we comprehend the incomprehensible? As God reminded Job, God can not be defined only experienced. Much like a leaf on a tree experiences the sun, rain and the wind.

        • Tim Pan

          I need to add this thought. Today must Christians foolishly believe they can hold God in the palm of their hand. That He is the clay and they are the potters. Such an absurdity is hardly imaginable but sadly it is the state of Christianity today.

      • TBP100

        Assuming facts not in evidence.

        • Tim Pan

          As in God does not exist?

    • Tim Pan

      Tom correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t each moral solution based solely on a divine principle? Isn’t it a believers duty to ascertain the appropriate principle to unscramble the moral dilemma?

    • TBP100

      Get back to me when any two theists agree on what morality means.

  • Vince

    “It isn’t just about human well-being.”

    Quite right. “Well-being” is not objective at all. When people say “I want to make the world a better place,” we all nod our heads, until you realize that humans have never agreed on what a “better place” is. For some people, legalized prostitution (even of children) would make the world better. I know some vegans who believe that outlawing the eating of meat would make the world better. In the 1920s, a lot of Americans believed outlawing alcohol would make the world better. Some people would outlaw all abortions, some would legalize them up through the 9th month – or even after birth.

    It’s 2017, and in the US there is major disagreement over what a “moral person” is or what a “better world” would be like, so the question of whether you can have morality without religion is moot. We can’t even agree on what morality is any more.

  • Mo

    Why don’t these anti-theists get it through their heads that the issue is not that they can’t do good actions. Of course they can. The point is that according to their own belief system/worldview (and yeah, it IS a belief system and a worldview, no matter how much they scream otherwise) the very terms, “good” and “evil” don’t have any meaning to them? Why don’t they grasp that simple fact? It does not seem that complicated to me! I have lost track of how many times I have explained it. I bet it’s going to be the same thing in this thread. I’m sick and tired of it. I don’t know if they really are that obtuse, or just pretend to be.

    • TBP100

      Even if what you say were true, and it isn’t, it wouldn’t actually provide any evidence for the existence of any god or gods.

      • It would if one thinks it’s true that real, objective moral values and duties exist. That is, if it is true what Mo said (and what I have also said), that of there is no God, there is no explanation for objective morality, then the existence of objective morality is tring evidence for God.

        Of course you’ve noticed I skipped a step there: The argument only obtains if objective morality exists. Virtually everyone agrees, though, that there are some things that are more truly right and more truly wrong than others in themselves and regardless of changing human opinion. There will never be a culture in which torturing innocent 3-year-olds strictly for the sake of watching them suffer is the right thing to do.

        If you disagree, and if you think that could somehow be right somewhere, then this argument may not be persuasive to you. Otherwise, however, the lack of any naturalistic foundation for moral duties and values actually is evidence least God.

        • TBP100

          While the example you give might come at least close to having universal application, there are VERY few other examples you could cite. The Aztecs considered mass slaughter of prisoners perfectly moral, in that it was required for the sun to keep coming up. The RCC thought torture was fine when applied to heretics. The Bible is down with slavery. Some people oppose capital punishment while others don’t. Some think it’s perfectly OK to discriminate against certain groups on racial or religious grounds. Is there consensus on abortion? I could go on and on. The fact is, there just isn’t much that people agree on in any significant numbers concerning morality.

          I think objective morality, especially if implanted by an omnipotent lawgiver, would be just a tad more agreed-upon. Indeed, I think that if there were such a being and had a law he really thought was important, it would be universal, but instead there is every indicator that we just try to figure it out as we go along. As with most human endeavors, we will probably never get it perfectly right, or come to perfect agreement, but there it is.

          But let’s assume there is a moral lawgiver. How do you know it’s the one you believe in? Whatever religion you espouse, the majority of the world disagrees with you, and so presumably on many of the beliefs you have about morality.

          As I said above, I really think you are engaging in the fallacy of consequence. God exists, or doesn’t exist, completely independently of whether or not his existence would be a good thing. My bank account either has a million dollars or doesn’t, regardless of whether or not that would be a good thing.

          • Aztecs and etc. aside, if you think there are no real moral duties and values, then this argument will have no purchase on you. I’ve agreed to that.

            As for universal laws from a lawgiver, the fact that humans disagree on many aspects of morality only means that humans disagree. Not that there is no universal law, but that humans either misunderstand or distort it. I don’t think that’s a very surprising observation, nor is it inconsistent with the argument I’m making.

            This argument doesn’t by itself identify all characteristics of the lawgiver.

            It’s still not the fallacy of consequence. That fallacy obtains (often, not necessarily, depending on the argument) where the conclusion to some set of premises is something we don’t like or want. The argument I’m making is that the premises lead to a conclusion most people believe to be false. There’s a difference.

          • TBP100

            How can the creation of an omnipotent, omniscient being possibly disagree with or misunderstand the perfect, objective, universal law given by said creator? Either he’s not really omnipotent and omniscient, or the law isn’t perfect, objective and universal.

            And the mere fact that people disagree about it means it’s not universal, by definition.

          • TBP100, are you really interested in knowing? If these are genuine questions asked from a real desire to know, I’ll be glad to answer. But you’re phrasing them as if they have some force as objections, which they do not; as if they should cause people to doubt the truth of theistic morality, which they should not because the answers to them are quite simple.

            I’ll answer if they’re real questions. If you think you have an argument, though, I’ll bow out so as not to communicate any impression that you actually do.

          • TBP100

            Well, they are questions I have asked before many times. Usually I don’t get an answer at all, and I can’t say I have found any of the few answers I have gotten to be persuasive. But they are real questions and I am willing to give honest consideration to any honest response. I’m not promising that I will agree with you, though.

          • The answer to your main question two comments ago, then, is this: You’ve made some claims that seem in your mind to represent problems for Christian belief, but I don’t see any reason to think they do.

            How is your supposed problem a problem? Why would it be difficult for an omnipotent God to create beings who don’t agree with Him on everything? Why would any law He creates have to be universally known and agreed upon in order to be His law? Why is any of this problematical; why does it even need an answer?

          • TBP100

            It wouldn’t be difficult, I suppose, but why would he? If his law is perfect, why wouldn’t he want it to be followed universally? Why wouldn’t he want it to be known and agreed upon? If we are to be held accountable to some code, shouldn’t that code be spelled out clearly and agreed upon? We at least strive for that in human law. Being human, we never achieve it perfectly, but God apparently doesn’t even try.

            One a somewhat different tangent, none of this is problematic if you assume a deity who is not all-knowing and all-powerful, but once you posit that there are all kinds of problems. Why would a deity create his own nemesis? Why would he deliberately set up his main creation to fail? Why would he torture people forever for being the way he made them, knowingly and on purpose?

            I believe, in fact, that the writers of the Bible, especially the OT, did not believe that their deity was all-powerful and all-knowing, just like the Greeks and Romans and other early cultures. He is certainly very powerful, but not perfectly so, and has very human weaknesses. He doesn’t appear to have foreknowledge, certainly not perfect foreknowledge. There is no indication he foresaw the fall. When he asks questions there is no indication that they are rhetorical. What is the point of the story of Abraham and Isaac since, presumably, he knows the outcome? What is the point of the bet with Satan in Job if both he and Satan know how Job will act? He apparently is helpless against chariots of iron. The list goes on.

          • Tom Gilson

            You’ve admitted you have no reason to think this is impossible of God. You don’t know why He would, but that is no argument.

            I think I’m done here.

          • TBP100

            When did I say anything would be impossible for an omnipotent being? My questions have to do with WHY such a being would do things so apparently irrational and harmful, and also the lack of evidence for any such thing as objective, absolute, universal morality.

          • Tom Gilson

            It was implied in your comments 4 days ago.

            But really, I think we’ve gone as far here as would be fruitful. If you’re stuck on wondering why God wouldn’t do it the way you would if you were God, I’ll leave that for you to work out.

            And I don’t think you would even know way evidence for universal objective moral values and duties would look like if it existed. You say there is none. I say you are being rather too secure in your dogmatic position there.

            And I’ve learned through long experience that this marks the point of diminishing returns for these kinds of conversations. Let’s pick it up again some other time, in some other thread.

  • TBP100

    You have skipped some steps. Roughly in order:

    •Demonstrate the existence of a deity
    •Demonstrate that the deity that exists is the one you worship, and not any of other tens of thousands of deities worshipped by humans, both now and in the past
    •Demonstrate that your interpretation of his/her will is the correct one

    • mbabbitt

      No, Tom did not miss some steps. That is not the point of his discussion. You need a Moral Lawgiver who provides an objective basis for moral laws, obligations and duties so that morality is beyond subjective likes or dislikes. Tom is giving the Christian response (which speaks of the God he is arguing for – “The Christian answer would be this:”) Why he believes in the Christian God instead of the other is for another discussion. However, God must exist in some manner outside of our human limitations.My impression is that you just just want to throw mud but this is my (first and last) response. Have a nice day.

      • TBP100

        “You need a Moral Lawgiver who provides an objective basis for moral laws, obligations and duties so that morality is beyond subjective likes or dislikes”

        Why? And even if true, how does his imply that such a being exists? And if such a being exists, I think it’s rather important to know which one, given all the gods that have been postulated in human history.

        You are falling into the logical fallacy often called the “fallacy of consequences.” One basic formulation is essentially: If A is true, bad things will happen, therefore A is false. Even if the premise is true (If A is true, bad things will happen), the conclusion isn’t justified. A is true or false regardless of the whether it’s good or bad (or neutral) if it’s true. Bad things happen all the time. Maybe morality actually isn’t “beyond subjective likes and dislikes,” and we are left to just figure it out as we along, as best we can.

        I would argue that’s exactly what we do anyway, given that no two religions, nor even denominations within the same basic faith, indeed hardly any two individuals, agree on what this divine, objective moral law actually consists of. Worshippers of Huitzilopochtli had a very different idea about mass slaughter than do, say, Jains, to cite an extreme example. And yet adherents of both religions would assert the divine in defense of their actions.

        • It’s not the fallacy of consequences, TBP100. What you wrote here could be, but what yo write bears little relation to what I wrote.

          • TBP100

            I think your argument boils down to:

            If God doesn’t exist, bad things will happen (objective morality will be possible), there God does exist.

            If you don’t think that’s a reasonable interpretation of “You need a Moral Lawgiver who provides an objective basis for moral laws, obligations and duties so that morality is beyond subjective likes or dislikes,” I’m certainly open to discussion.

          • Tom Gilson

            You think wrong about what my argument boils down to. It’s one possible interpretation of that one sentence out of context, but that one sentence is not the argument.

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