Let me summarize the issues in the debate as I understand them thus far. Dr. Nielsen has argued that we can make sense of our lives without appeal to God. Now I certainly agree that we can develop ethical modes of behavior without reference to God. I agree that we can recognize objective moral values without reference to God. I agree that atheists can live moral lives and donít need God for that. But what I do not see is that in the absence of God, human beings are the source or the locus of objective moral value. On the atheistic view, they are simply complex, evolutionary vomit that will eventually be swallowed up by the same cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place. And I donít see any reason to think that this species is the source of objective moral values in the universe.
Now, when I demanded the basis for this, I really didnít see anything that Dr. Nielsen had given. He just starts with these moral truisms. In a sense what he is saying is that you just take them by faith; you just believe in these things by faith, but you donít ask why they are objectively true. But thatís what I want to do. I want to ask the meta-ethical question: whatís the basis for these? I gave the example of the extraterrestrials to show that somebody could not regard us as the objective source of value. He would say, "But why isnít it bad for human beings to suffer?" Well, they just might think of us as unimportant evolutionary by-products--the same way we do of insects or something of that sort. Iím not suggesting that their values would be objective either. I mean, in a sense, a higher race might regard them also as not valuable. The whole thing grows into ethical chaos and moral relativism.
Dr. Nielsen says, "Think of how degrading rape is." Yes, for humans but remember weíre speculating on a race that doesnít regard this as degrading and would therefore think this is morally permissible.
I then argued with regard to Dr. Nielsenís moral truisms that you can have different coherent systems of morality that are mutually exclusive. And on his view there is no way to adjudicate between those different coherent systems. I think weíve yet to hear a refutation of that point.
Secondly, I said that thereís no reason to adopt the moral point of view whatsoever, and here he says his appeal is to self-interest. I do understand his point, I beg your pardon! I understand heís giving a non-moral reason, a pragmatic reason. But what Iím suggesting is that for a sufficiently powerful person that pragmatic reason holds no water whatsoever. For a Papa Doc Duvalier, self-interest doesnít motivate him to adopt the moral point of view. Heís powerful enough to live for an egoistical point of view. So he can spurn these moral truisms if he wants to.
Then I said that on Nielsenís view, his materialism, determinism, and nominalism all make it evident that human beings are not the source of objective moral value. He reiterates that he doesnít believe in abstract objects called values. Neither do I. I donít believe in Platonic values. But if you reject those and moral values arenít physical things either, then what are they? I donít see that they exist on the atheistic worldview.
Then we talked about immortality, and I said there are two reasons why immortality undermines ethical living. First, thereís no reason to adopt the moral point of view; youíre all going to end up the same. Secondly, there is no basis for self-sacrifice. He says, "But we live here and now, and we should adopt moral values because of the way we live here and now." But my point was thereís no reason to adopt that moral point of view if itís not in your self-interest to do so. If you can get away with it, there is no moral sanction. Your ultimate fate, on his view, is unrelated to whether you do right or wrong.
As for self-sacrifice, I think itís evident that those sorts of acts are folly on an atheistic point of view.
What, then, about the problem of evil? I suggested weíre not in a good position to judge whether God has morally sufficient reasons because of our limitations. I didnít see a comeback on that in the last speech.
And then I said that Christian doctrines increase the probability of God and evil. He says God could have made better laws of nature than the ones that donít involve suffering. Well, how do we know? How do we know this wasnít the world in which it allowed for the maximum latitude for human freedom rather than God perhaps intervening all the time to prevent evils or some such thing? We know that in the afterlife, according to Christianity, God will more than recompense anyone for what heís had to suffer here. All God is morally obligated to do is to create a good world, not the best world. And this is, on balance, a good world (or everyone would commit suicide). So it seems to me that thereís no real problem of evil that counteracts theism. On the contrary, I think weíve seen on the basis of our intuition of objective moral values in the world, especially made evident by evil, that it follows that God does exist.