This is a slightly paraphrased transcript of a friendly conversation that took place between Frank Turek and an atheist (see 6-minute video linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynJwvv7wlFc ). This is very similar to what any Christian or atheist could expect in an actual discussion (and very closely mirrors actual discussions I have had...minus the conclusion) about morality and whether morality implies or “needs” a God.
Why would a person be an atheist if they ‘might possibly know’ that God exists?
-The fact that there are so many terrible things in the Bible, like when God condones/approves the torturing of slaves, even with no reason given for the ill treatment of them. Why would anyone want to follow such a God if He ‘might possibly exist’? Why would you follow such a God?
Okay, let’s not even look at the context of the passage you are referring to. Let’s assume what you just said is 100% true.
As an atheist, why is that wrong?
-Morally, one would think that each and every human being is the same, with equal dignity and rights, wants and needs. We should all be treated the same, given the same moral treatment. Especially with a God, we should expect that He would have a higher standard for this.
Okay, but you seem to be assuming that there are certain things that are really “right” and that people have certain rights, even if there is no God. How do you justify that? What’s your standard of “rightness”?
-My standard of “rightness” would be a fair society.
What do you mean by “fair”?
-By “fair” I mean everything is equal. For example, I find nothing wrong with a communistic state. I don’t think it’s something to be afraid of. All people should be the same, treated with equal dignity, rights, etc.
Okay, so that’s your thought of fairness. What if Hitler has a different idea of fairness? Is Hitler wrong?
-Hitler isn’t “wrong” in his opinion. We should take a utilitarian point of view and go with a “what is best for the majority of us” ideal.
Okay, but what do you mean by “best”?
-By “best” I mean the greatest positives for the most amount of people.
Okay, but you’re assuming there is a “best” out there. You are assuming a moral law. Where does that moral law come from, if there is no God?
-I think humans beings should be able to make up their own laws. People throughout history/time have found their own moral laws and they become better and better over time.
Yeah, but you wouldn’t even know what “better” was unless you knew what “best” was. So what is your standard of “best”, to say that certain people are closer to the “best” or better than others. What’s the standard? Is it just your opinion, or is there something beyond your opinion which says “this is good”?
-Well, we’ve all heard about utopias and a perfect society, which would be great. Huxley’s book, “Brave New World” describes this. In the perfect world there would be no war, no murder, etc.
Okay, but the question is, what’s wrong with murder/war if there is no God? Why shouldn’t I kill others to get what I want, if there is no God?
-Because it doesn’t help society.
But why do I care about society if there is no God?
-Because as a group, we should worry/care about society and making a betterment of ourselves.
But you’re importing a moral law into a frame that has no moral law. As an atheist, you’re trying to say “there is no God”, which means there is no standard of rightness out there. [In defining a morality], this is saying, “here is my personal standard of rightness”. Which means that someone else can come along like Hitler or Stalin and say, “if there’s no standard beyond you or me, then I can do whatever I want, including killing you to get what you have”.
-That’s a good point. I can see where you are coming from. But I don’t think that God is needed in the sense of humans working together and knowing how to treat one another to better society. I don’t see the need for a “perfect identity up above” in order to know right from wrong.
Okay. I’m not saying an atheist can’t be a good person and know right from wrong. The point is, it seems difficult to justify what “rightness” is, if everything is reduced to human opinion. Which human gets to decide what is best? It’s just subjective. If there’s not an external reference to say “this is good, or this is evil”, then we’re all just here fending for ourselves.
A lot of people will say “we all need to cooperate to get along”. But that’s not true. Take someone like Stalin, for example. He cooperated with very few people, just his henchmen, and he killed 20 million people to get what he wanted. And then he died on his deathbed at the age of 74 shaking his fist at God one last time. He never paid for his sins in this life.
You and I and everyone else in the world can know what is right and wrong; and we don’t need to believe in God in order to know that. We just need there to be a God to justify it.
I can know what a book says, and deny there’s an author. But there would be no book to read unless there was an author. The same is true for morality. You can know what the right thing to do is, and deny there is a God; but there would be no “right thing to do” unless there was a God. Does that make sense?
-Yes, I guess I can see your point.