Appearance on Road to Reason

I appeared on episode 38 of  Road to Reason — a public access weekly television program broadcasting throughout Fairfax County in Virginia — to discuss my August 31 “Does the Christian god exist?” debate with Reverend Michael Brewster which had taken place within Mount Zion Baptist Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA (watch video, listen to audio of the debate).

I appear at the 32 minute mark of the Road to Reason episode embedded below. Consider watching the entire video.

Enjoy and, as always, feel free to comment.

More on moral argument, “we can’t understand God”

Earlier this week, I authored a piece elaborating on my response to a variation of a moral argument for God’s existence Reverend Brewster presented in our August 31 “Does the Christian god exist?” debate (watch video footage or listen to an audio-only recording for more context). Since the debate and my piece, Reverend Brewster has engaged in discussion on my Facebook page responding to challenges positing that the Christian god may not be all-loving because of atrocities in the Bible such as God sending she-bears to kill 42 young boys.

Reverend Brewster, in response to Bible passages suggesting the character of God is not all-loving, states that we can’t comprehend morality in its “fullest sense because we are unable to see the end of things.” He also suggests that what we might believe to be immoral now may actually not be immoral in the long-run under God’s plan.

Brewster — rather than relinquishing belief in an all-loving god when presented with evidence to the contrary — implies that God, for all we know, may have some undetectable and incomprehensible reasons for sending she-bears to kill young boys. The ‘mind of God’ is just too big to understand for us humans, Brewster implies.

This position renders theistic belief irrational because any given challenge to God’s existence may be easily ‘excused away.’ Nothing, under this ‘we cannot understand the mind of God’ position, can render belief in God false. Lacking a situation in which God may not exist, the theist is utterly close-minded and unwilling to reconsider their belief; no evidence can serve as reason to disbelieve.

One wonders, under this position, why theists would not be agnostic about the moral character of God because, if, for all we know, there may be undetectable reasons for God committing atrocities — even though he is said to be all-powerful and all-knowing which would allow him to achieve certain ends without sending she-bears to kill children — and atrocities may actually not be so bad after all, we should also be forced to admit that good actions God may command, for all we know, may not be good and are instead part of an evil or not-so-good master plan. The razor must cut both ways.

Worse yet, the ‘we cannot know the mind of God position’ ought to force us to a position of moral skepticism although all of our moral intuitions dictate otherwise. An Indian Ocean tsunami which kills thousands of people may, for all we know, under Brewster’s view, be part of God’s plan to achieve some unknown goal – thus the tsunami is actually a good thing and helping survivors by donating to the Red Cross is interfering with God’s plan. Perhaps those who were harmed should not be pitied and helped, but rather are blessed and should be left to suffer?

If we are going to fail to acknowledge actions are immoral because we may lack understanding although our moral intuitions point to acts being immoral, why stop at God’s plan? Why not say that, for all we know, Hitler may have had really good reasons for ordering extermination of Jews and that we can’t say this is a bad thing because we’re unable to see “the end of things” and can’t comprehend morality in “its fullest sense?” Why would the theist — willing to admit that God may have undetectable reasons for committing atrocities — not also extend this to humans? After all, we may lack information that other humans are privy to just as we — under the theistic view — lack information God is privy to.

Rather than excusing away evidence against the Christian god with an unlimited supply of ‘we just cannot know the mind of God,’ we should relinquish belief in God when contrary evidence is presented.

Response to Reverend Brewster’s moral argument

Reverend Brewster and I pose following our August 31 debate.
Reverend Brewster and I pose following our August 31 debate.

During the August 31 “Does the Christian god exist?” debate within Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania’s Mount Zion Baptist Church I participated in alongside Reverend Michael Brewster, I responded to a variation of the moral argument for God’s existence. I would like to address some of his points following the debate. Watch a video of the debate and listen to an audio-only version of the debate to better understand this piece.

Reverend Brewster advanced various problematic assertions in his opening statement and throughout the debate in his attempt to demonstrate the existence of the Christian god: (1) if the laws of morality are not revealed by a transcendent mind, morality is relative, (2) God reveals the laws of morality through reason and logic, (3) without absolute morality we cannot have laws, and (4) God is the source of morality.

As presented, I do not find Reverend Brewster’s argument to be valid (premises properly leading to a conclusion) or sound (having true premises). Before examining the strength of the presented premises, Brewster’s argument begs the question; he assumes what he is trying to demonstrate when he states God reveals morality inside his argument attempting to show God exists.

A reformulation of Brewster’s argument, as follows, may be more helpful:
(1) If the laws of morality are not revealed by a transcendent mind, morality is relative.
(2) Morality is not relative; objective moral values exist.
(3) A transcendent mind exists.

Brewster’s argument, at best, leads to the conclusion that a transcendent mind exists, but through the argument we do not know the characteristics of such a transcendent mind – namely those which constitute the Christian god. In his opening statement, Brewster said that the Christian god is a transcendent, intelligent, infinite, and all-powerful being from which all things move and exist. Also consider the fact that most Christians, including Brewster, although he did not mention this in his opening statement, believe that God sent his only son Jesus to earth in order to die on a cross for a redemption of sins. The moral argument cannot possibly demonstrate all of this.Debate Newspaper Ad
Before arriving at the conclusion and assuming the argument is sound — having true premises — it’s worth examining the strength of the premises.

Premise one, as I indicated in the debate, poses only two choices when more exist: either morality is relative or objective/absolute. I did not hear support for this premise during the debate other than assertions that humans, when left to their own devices, may disagree with others concerning right and wrong. It was not my responsibility, as I noted several times in the debate, to give an ‘atheist-friendly’ accounting for morality; since Brewster brought the argument forth, he needs to show that his premises are true.

Besides, the history of philosophy and moral thought has contained many approaches to establishing moral truths such as virtue ethics, deontogy, consequentialism, utilitarianism…and divine command theory. Divine command theory — an ethical approach asserting that morality is that revealed by a deity or deities — is one of the most failed ethical approaches in philosophy, yet this is the moral approach Brewster advocates.

Divine command theory faces a serious challenge known as the Euthyphro Dilemma: is that which is moral moral because God commands it or because it is endorsed by God? If morality is established as a result of a divine command, morality is arbitrary because God could command slaughter of innocents and other moral atrocities (as he does in the Bible, as I noted in the debate). If we can know something is moral because it is endorsed by God, there must be some external standard by which something is deemed moral.

Additionally, if we could rule out the Christian god as being a candidate for establishing objective or absolute morality, moral arguments fail to establish that the Christian god exists. I also fail to see how the moral argument leads to the Christian god existing instead of, for instance, an all-evil God who — through establishing that which is evil and good — may exist.

Finally, Reverend Brewster needs to demonstrate that objective moral values exist in order to properly advance his argument. Statements such as ‘we just know what is right and wrong,’ as I heard in the debate is not sufficient.

Reverend Brewster’s moral argument — riddled with multiple problems — fails to establish the existence of the Christian god.

As always, feel free to comment below. Consider watching a video of the debate and listening to an audio-only recording of the debate. Stay tuned for more post-debate thoughts.