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Is the Basis of Morality Natural or Supernatural? The Craig-Taylor Debate

October 1993

William Lane Craig vs. Richard Taylor

Union College, Schenectady, New York, United States - October 8, 1993

Opening Statement - Dr. Taylor

I was given two questions. The first is, "Can we be good without God?" This question answers itself. Over the past thirty or forty years, I’ve associated with many, many people, and still do, on a daily basis. None of these has an active belief in God as a lawgiver. I can think of only one who might believe in God as a lawgiver. This does not mean they’re not decent people. It doesn’t mean they don’t go to church. Some of them do. Not one of them, so far as I know, thinks that he would not know the difference between right and wrong if that were not given him by God. These people know, as you and I do, that there are reasons for not stealing, there are reasons for not assaulting, there are reasons for not lying. These things hurt people. We teach our children that this is not the way to behave. We know that this is not the way to behave. We do not need a God to tell us this. That question, therefore, I cannot really take very seriously, namely: Can we be good without God? The people I know somehow manage to do this, as do I. I have children. I do not teach them about God. When I read stories to them and we come to the word "God", they do not know what it means. I’ve explained, I even one day took them to church so they would see what this is all about. They do not need God in order to learn to live decent lives. They are taught daily certain things you may not do, certain things they must do, and certain things they may do. I did not get this from theology, nor will they.

The second question is more serious. It’s supposed to be the same question, but you will see that it isn’t. This question is, as it was put to me: Is the basis for morality natural or supernatural? It is neither. The basis for morality is conventional, which means the rules of morality were fabricated by human beings over many generations. These rules are: to abstain from injury, to abstain from lying, theft, assault, killing, and so forth. These rules were not the invention of God. No one in this room imagines that if there were not a God to tell us these things, we would not know any better. No one in this room thinks that if God had not told us this, if God had not delivered these rules to Moses, then we would not see anything wrong with my stealing, assaulting, and killing. The Greeks assumed that human morality is based on convention. So much did they do this that the greatest [tape unintelligible] right and wrong. He [Aristotle] talks about virtues. He assumed that people know the difference between right and wrong, and they derived this from experience and convention. You can search this book for any reference to moral right and wrong, and you will not find it, because it is not needed. The role of religion and ethics has been to reinforce this conventional morality. To say that morality is conventional is not to debase it. Conventional morality is obviously important, so important I hardly need to tell you what it is, though I will in a moment.

But first I wish to say this: Religion has served to underpin this conventional morality. In any church you walk into, you’ll find near the altar an American flag. It has no place there. It has no place in the Christian religion. It is there to tell you that the church upholds the conventions of our society. In a Christian school wherein some send their children, the way to get the teacher’s attention is to hold up an American flag. What has that to do with religion? Nothing. It is a symbol of conventional ethics.

This is made so patently clear by the way even theologians think about these things. Religious people are sometimes brought up short by the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was the conversion of water to wine. The drinking of wine, along with spirituous beverages, is, to some religious people, thought to be wrong. So what are we going to do with this? It says very clearly there that Jesus converted water to, of all things, wine. The are two ways that people have tried to get around this. One is to say, "Well, he didn’t really mean wine. He must have been talking about grape juice." Joseph Fletcher once told me a story about a conference he once attended, of theologians, religious Protestant theologians, clergymen, who had painfully addressed this question. And after many hours of discussion, they finally arrived at this conclusion: that this otherwise perfect man was wrong at this point. He should not have converted water to wine. But what is happening here? [tape unintelligible] What they have done is taken conventional morality, conventional morality [tape unintelligible] culture, [tape unintelligible] indeed, the actions of the divine being.

Now I want to go back to what I said under question (1). Can we be good without God? I pointed out that a number of people somehow managed to. I manage to. The Reverend Mr. Craig may say, "Ah, yes, but these rules that you were talking about here [tape unintelligible] were after all [tape unintelligible] derived from the Christian religion." I think they were not. They were derived from human experience. You don’t have to be religious to realize that for human beings to live in peace and happiness, they must not assault each other. I may want to assault, but I do not want to be assaulted. If I’m tempted to theft, still I do not want to be stolen from. If I’m tempted to murder, I do not want to be murdered. The rule thus emerges: Let no one do these things. Then we can live in peace. Then we can realize the human goods we need. Now if anyone thinks that we wouldn’t know that if God had not come down and given these laws to Moses on Mount Sinai, if anyone thinks we wouldn’t know that otherwise, that person must believe in the tooth fairy. There is no plausible [tape unintelligible], there is every reason for having these rules. There’s every reason why human beings should have evolved these rules without having to be told by God that they are valid.

Now I noted that somehow people managed to be decent without this theological underpinning of their decency. Now let’s look at the other side. I cannot but be impressed that those who resort constantly to the theological basis for ethics have not [tape unintelligible] themselves. Recently we have [tape unintelligible] guilty of abusing children. It has become a scandal in the church. It is a priesthood, which bases its morality ostensibly on God. What could [tape unintelligible]. We have a Pope, John Paul, who, with no experience whatever of marriage, of human sexuality, certainly not of female sexuality, presumes to write encyclicals in which he [tape unintelligible] upon all these matters with no knowledge whatsoever about them, no arguments. He simply says, "This is the law." Where did it come from? He says, "From God." You don’t believe that, I don’t believe that. It came from the Church. When it is pointed out that his own priesthood is engaged in scandal, that the law requires that the abuse of any minor be reported, the law requires that any suspicion of child sexual abuse be reported, the priesthood has not done it. Instead, the bishop approaches the parents of these children and pays them to be silent, to disobey the law, to cover it up. And the Pope himself, instead of defrocking these priests, appoints a commission, and then, on his latest visit to this country, blames, not the priesthood, but the American culture. There is far less wrong with the American culture and with American cultural values than there is with the values expressed in that attitude.

We look to the men and women of God, and we ask, "What do we do?" We see Jim Bakker—now in prison—not only for bilking millions of dollars from his followers over television, but for seducing his secretary, and then five minutes later going radiantly on television beaming with [tape unintelligible]. This is the man that derives his ethics from God? This is the man who will tell you that there is no foundation of ethics independent of God? Do you believe that? Jimmy Swaggart, a man who made his livelihood and his reputation by appealing to God and the necessity to believe in God as the moral foundation of your lives, is found whoring in motels; then goes weepily [sic] before the television cameras to say, "I have sinned!" Indeed, he has. But now where is he? Where is this basis of morality supposed to depend upon God? Oral Roberts, selfproclaimed defender of God and morality—I haven’t heard from him in quite a while. The last time I heard from him, he had retreated to his prayer tower and threatened that he would die if they didn’t send several million dollars to his school. We are told, it is suggested, the basis of morality rests on God. It doesn’t.

The Greeks distinguished between nature and convention. They said some things are by nature, some things are by convention. Ethics is by convention, but it has a natural basis—not natural law, not some law written in your heart, not some law written in Scripture. The natural basis of ethics is human need. There are certain things which all of us hate. We hate to bleed, we hate to be wounded, we hate to be killed, we hate to be stolen from, and we make our laws according to this. The natural basis is certain universal needs: the need for security, for safety, for love, the need to bring up our families in security, to teach our children to fulfill our own potentials as we can, and having these needs, we have rules. We have rules, and they are important. Everyone sees them, I see them, you see them. Ask yourself, then, the next time you think of one of these rules, ask yourself, "Would I have no respect for human life, would I have no respect for truth, would I have no respect for human happiness, if God had not somehow disclosed these things to Moses on Mount Sinai?" You don’t need that. All you need is to be human, to be a human being, to have the needs you have, and to have some human intelligence.

Opening Statement - Dr. Craig

Over the years I have had many occasions to quote and comment on Prof. Taylor’s work in my own writing, and it’s a distinct honor to be sharing the platform tonight with him.

Now I want to say at the outset that I agree thoroughly with him that the question is not whether we can be good without God. I don’t think that’s a disputed issue tonight. Rather, the important question is the subissue: Is the basis for morality natural or supernatural? And I’m going to defend two basic contentions in tonight’s debate: (I) that supernaturalism provides a sound basis for morality, and (II) that naturalism does not provide a sound basis for morality.

Look with me at that first basic contention, that supernaturalism provides a sound basis for morality. In support of this contention I’d like to make two points:

(1) If God exists, then objective right and wrong exist. God’s own holy and perfectly good nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. His commands flow necessarily from His own moral nature and constitute for us our moral duties. In the JudeoChristian tradition, the whole moral duty of man can be summed up in the two great commandments: first, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind," and second, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On this foundation, we can affirm the objective goodness of love, generosity, selfsacrifice, and equality, and condemn as objectively evil selfishness, hatred, abuse, discrimination, and oppression.

(2) Because, according to supernaturalism, man’s life does not end at the grave, all persons are held morally accountable for their actions. Evil and wrong will be banished, righteousness will be vindicated. Good ultimately triumphs over evil, and we shall see that we do live in a moral universe after all. In the end, the scales of God’s justice will be balanced. Thus, the moral choices that we make in this life are infused with an eternal significance. We can, with consistency, make moral choices which run contrary to our selfinterest and even undertake acts of extreme selfsacrifice, knowing that such decisions are not just empty and meaningless gestures. Rather, our moral lives have a paramount significance.

It’s noteworthy that Professor Taylor, in his writings, agrees that supernaturalism provides a perfectly coherent and sound basis for morality. In his most recent book, Ethics, Faith, and Reason, he writes, "The idea of moral…obligation is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher…than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations…can be understood as those imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations…." [1] Unfortunately, Professor Taylor seems not to believe in God, and so he shuns a supernatural foundation for morality. Nevertheless, he admits that if God exists, then the foundations for morality are secure. Thus I think that we can agree that supernaturalism provides a sound foundation for morality.

What a contrast that—when we turn to naturalism and look at my second major contention—naturalism does not provide a sound foundation for morality. Naturalism does not match supernaturalism in supplying the necessary conditions for successful moral foundations.

(1) If naturalism is true, objective right and wrong do not exist. Again in his writings Professor Taylor agrees with me on this score. He argues that when modern man abandoned God as the foundation of morality, he lost all basis for saying that objective right and wrong exist. Taylor writes,

"The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.... Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things as war...or the violation of human rights, are ‘morally wrong,’ and they imagine that they have said something true and significant. Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion." [2]

He concludes, "Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning." [3]

I couldn’t agree more. Without God, there is no objective right and wrong. As Professor Taylor says, it’s just conventional. Thus if naturalism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as morally wrong. Some action, say, incest, may not be biologically or socially advantageous, and so in the course of human evolution it has become taboo. But there is nothing really wrong about raping someone. If, as Professor Taylor states, moral rules are, "nothing but the customs…that this or that culture adopts over the course of time," [4] then the nonconformist who chooses to flout the herd morality is doing nothing more morally wrong than being uncultured. Nor, by the same token, can one praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. It really doesn’t matter what values you choose, for there is no right and wrong. Moral good and evil do not exist.

(2) If naturalism is true, there is no moral accountability for one’s actions. Even if there were objective moral values under naturalism, they’re irrelevant because there is no moral accountability. If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint. As the Russian writer Dostoyevsky rightly said, " If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted." [5]Given the finality of death, it really doesn’t matter how you live. So what do you say to someone that concludes that we may as well just live for selfinterest, live just as we please, for pleasure? Perhaps Professor Taylor would say to him that it’s in his best selfinterest to adopt a moral lifestyle. But clearly that’s not always true. We all know of situations in which morality runs smack in the face of selfinterest. That’s called temptation, right? Moreover, if one is sufficiently powerful, like a Ferdinand Marcos, or a Papa Doc Duvalier, or even a Donald Trump, one can pretty much ignore the dictates of conscience and live in pure selfindulgence. Acts of selfsacrifice become particularly inept in a naturalistic worldview. [tape unintelligible] but pure selfinterest. Sacrifice for another person would just be stupid. Thus the absence of moral accountability in the philosophy of naturalism makes the virtues of compassion and selfsacrifice hollow abstractions. Naturalism therefore fails to match supernaturalism in supplying the elements necessary for any sound moral foundation.

Now Professor Taylor says that we don’t really need [tape unintelligible] right and wrong, moral accountability, to have sound moral foundations. He says each person should just try to develop his virtues in order to be happy. But is this really adequate for sound moral foundations? I don’t think so, and so consider with me three objections specifically to Taylor’s view.

(1) Taylor’s socalled virtues are really completely amoral. We have a tendency, when Professor Taylor talks about virtues, to think that he’s talking about moral virtues, but in fact he’s not. As he says in his book, what he means by a virtue is really just a skill. A virtuous person is someone who can do something exceptionally well. But this raises two problems:

(i) A person can be very skillful at cruel and hurtful practices. For example, on Taylor’s view, it makes sense to talk about a virtuous torturer. Dostoyevsky once wrote, "People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beast. A beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel." [6] There are people who are exceptionally skilled at torturing their victims, who invent creative, fiendish ways of inflicting pain, of keeping their victims lingering in pain as long as possible, rather than granting them the release of death. On Taylor’s view, such a person is a virtuous individual. He is exercising his creative intelligence. And as Taylor reminds us in his book, creative intelligence can be exhibited in "virtually any activity." [7] He says that "any activity can be done badly or well, and are always done best when not done by rule, rote, or imitation, but with successful originality." [8] Upon reading these words, I was reminded of a statement by Richard Wurmbrandt, who was tortured in communist prisons. He wrote,

The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do whatever we wish.’ I have heard one torturer even say, ‘I thank God in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners. [9]

Most of us would say that such a person is morally evil, but on Taylor’s amoral view of virtue, he is actually a virtuous man, which is absurd.

(ii) Because Taylor’s virtues are amoral, no one is morally obliged to become virtuous. Because we naturally tend to think of virtues as moral virtues, we tend to think that this is how we should become. We should be loving, generous, kind, and so forth. Even Professor Taylor lapses into language of moral duty. On page 50 of his book, for example, he speaks of one’s obligation to oneself to become virtuous. But that’s selfcontradictory. On his view, you have no moral obligations to yourself or anybody else. The decision to be loving, creative, and interesting, rather than selfish, lazy, and boorish, is utterly arbitrary. The decision to become a Mother Teresa rather than an Adolph Hitler is rather like the decision to go to McDonald’s rather than Burger King. [10] It’s just arbitrary. But I think that most of us recognize that we should be virtuous rather than unvirtuous, and that’s precisely what Professor Taylor's philosophy does not allow us to say.

(2) Christianity offers us a better virtue ethics than Professor Taylor’s. Virtue ethics are part and parcel of moral philosophy, but I think that the Christian version is better than Professor Taylor’s in two ways.

(i) Christianity affirms the reality of moral virtues. On Taylor’s view, remember, virtues are amoral, rather like a skill. But the Christian view is that virtues are qualities that we should acquire. For example, Augustine defined virtue as rightly ordered love—that is to say, valuing things according to their true worth in the right order of priority. [11] Similarly, Aquinas defines virtue as a habit, acquired by the mind, to live rightly. [12] Notice how both of them connected virtue with moral duty. To live rightly, to fulfill your moral obligations, you must be virtuous, and thus one should become a virtuous person—something Professor Taylor’s philosophy does not allow us to say.

(ii) Christianity recognizes the reality of religious virtues. Taylor says that because man is distinctively rational, virtue lies in maximizing his rationality. But what this overlooks is that man is just as religious as he is rational. In his Eudemian Ethics Aristotle describes the ideal life as "the worship and contemplation of God." [13] Taylor simply passes over in silence the religious dimension of Aristotle’s ethics. But Aquinas picked it up and recognized that in addition to the traditional moral virtues, there are religious virtues like faith, hope, and love. Taylor’s version of virtue ethics is based on a truncated view of man and ignores the religious dimension of life; and so, I think, is tragically incomplete.

(3) Taylor’s virtue ethics are morally repugnant. I’m sorry to have to say this, but I think it needs to be said. You wouldn’t tell this from his opening speech, but Taylor’s vision of the virtuous man is one who is proud, intelligent, and selfcentered. Just listen to what he writes: "Genuinely proud people perceive themselves as better than others, and their pride is justified because their perceptions are correct." [14] "By and large, most people are rather ignorant, stupid, insensitive—in a word, ‘weak’—that is, inferior.[15] He says that "the weak, seeing that the superior want to rule, invent restraints upon them in the form of moral rules. The very first principle of this morality is that all people are equal." [16] Professor Taylor disagrees. He writes, "A proud person does not pretend to an insincere equality with others who are inferior, that is, who are meek, foolish, or silly." [17] "Some people really are better than others, and therefore count for more." [18] "A person is not worthy of esteem just by the fact of being a person, but rather by the fact of being a person of outstanding worth, which is something quite rare." [19]

Well, how does this tiny minority of superior people relate to others? Taylor says, "The proud person creates his own morality." [20] He knows that [tape unintelligible] a superior person will be generous to a friend not because he cares for the friend, but so that the friend will be in his debt and thus obliged to return the favor. In the index of his book, Professor Taylor speaks of Aristotle’s justified contempt for inferior persons. For example, Aristotle described a slave as "a living tool." [21] Similarly, in describing Stoic ethics, Taylor says, "You help the suffering, not for their sake, but because [it]…is essential to a noble life." [22] He says you’re "not trying to do something for the other person, except incidentally."[23] Instead, you’re really trying to improve yourself. Taylor specifically contrasts this with Jesus’s story about the good Samaritan, which was meant to illustrate the principle You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Taylor ridicules the teachings of Jesus, as holding that the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the stupid are the most important people on Earth and most favored by God. [24] Of course, what Christianity really holds is that because all persons are created in the image of God and are loved by God and are persons for whom Christ died, all are equally precious in God’s sight. A person’s worth doesn’t lie in his talents or accomplishments or skills, but on God’s unconditional love for him. This principle came to be embodied in the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s immortal words, "We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Professor Taylor’s denial of this principle lies at the root of racism, chauvinism, Nazism, and a host of other social ills. As one reviewer put it, Taylor’s ethics of elitism is "profoundly objectionable, and even sinister in its implications." [25]

Thus I think Taylor’s virtue ethics are incapable of rescuing naturalism from its fatal flaws, and therefore I think we can conclude my two contentions: (I) supernaturalism does provide a sound foundation for morality, and (II) naturalism does not provide a sound foundation for morality.

First Rebuttal - Dr. Taylor

I had not met the Reverend Mr. Craig until a couple of hours ago, and I must say right off I am pleased by his eloquence. I am more than flattered by the fact that he has read my book—and with some care. As I listened, however, I couldn’t help thinking of a remark that someone made—and I don’t want this to be taken in the wrong way—that the devil can quote Scripture to his own ends. I’m not comparing my distinguished opponent to the devil, but I am suggesting that as he combed through my book, he did pick out those things that he could use to his own ends and left out the positive elements which I think are there. However, the book hasn’t had a great sale. I’m not going to get rich by it, and I’m glad that one person has read it with care. Reverend Mr. Craig did not address himself to the points that I made, understandably, because he hadn’t heard them until a moment ago. So I don’t hold that against him. My points, I think, do stand.

Early on, he said God’s holy nature provides us with standards of something or other—I wasn’t able to get the rest of the sentence. I don’t think that means much. Even if you grant God’s holy nature—and it does sound indeed good, and it’s what one hears in church—God’s holy standards, and people nod, and you might find this in a hymn. I submit it doesn’t really tell you much, if you’re faced with a decision like whether to get a divorce, whether to tell your boss off, how to treat your children. This doesn’t tell you much. What would tell you something is the sort of kindness, the sort of warmth—human warmth—that you have derived from a civilized culture over many generations.

Somewhere in his comments I think he attributed to me a thesis of atheism, and this is—I must set the record straight—not true. I am not an atheist; I believe in God. Once when I was giving a public lecture, one of the members of the audience said, "Do you believe in God?" It had nothing to do with what I was talking about, but he wanted to know the answer, and I replied quite truthfully, "It’s the only thing I believe in." But I do not believe anything that the Reverend Mr. Craig just said.

He used the expression "just convention." Well, let’s not minimize our human nature. "Just convention, just human" doesn’t mean therefore "contemptible." I have an enormous regard for human beings, and perhaps you got it from some of the quotations from my books, from the book that the Reverend quoted. I have an enormous regard for people who think, who are brave, who are courageous, who face problems, who wrestle with them, who keep their chins high, who have a sense of nobility, and who deal with them. And don’t prattle about the weak and humble and how they are no better than these others. That sounds nice to the weak and the humble, but it isn’t true. Don’t minimize our human capacities. "Just conventions!" The conventions that have come down to us from the Greeks, yes, from the JudeoChristian tradition, from the long experience of our American democracy, our free society—these conventions are not contemptible. And if the Reverend Mr. Craig says, as he did, that if life ends at the grave, it makes no difference whether you live as a saint or as a devil—yes, it does make a difference. It’s makes a difference to what kind of a person you are.

Now you can do two things: you can say, "I want to look good to my fellow human beings." That’s not too bad. You can say, "I want to look good in God’s eyes," and then slavishly concoct some notion of God’s holy nature [tape unintelligible]. Or you can say, "I want to look good as a human being," and that is not a bad ideal. That is not a bad ideal for a teacher, for a parent, for a husband, for a wife, for anybody: to look good to myself as a human being. No. He will say, "But where is your standard?" He submits, as a standard, God’s holy nature. Do you need that? I don’t need it, you don’t need it. It doesn’t tell me anything. Where will we find God’s holy nature? By listening to clergymen? The clergyman, you learn, is sleeping with the women in his choir! How are you going to see him? You listen to the selfproclaimed Vicar of Christ? But will he tell you God’s holy nature who condemns anything having to do with sex, someone who knows nothing about human sexuality from any experience he could have possibly have ever had?. This is God’s holy nature? Where does it come from? Enunciations from some, I have to say, selfproclaimed voice!

Now I noticed that my distinguished opponent did not address himself to the first question: can we be moral without God? The question seems sophomoric. It answers itself, as I said. It is an empirical question. You don’t have to be a philosopher. Look around you! Look at the people you respect for their decency, for their honesty, for their loyalty, for the way they raise their children, for their service to human beings. They don’t all believe in God. Some have no such belief at all. Most of the people I know do not. The question answers itself. No, you do not. Look around to those who claim this standard. Look at those who most clearly claim this standard. Ask yourself first: Do they do any better than the rest of us? Don’t seem to! Those who proclaim it most loudly, who are elevated for their preaching, on the whole, do it least well.

Mr. Craig said it doesn’t matter what values you choose: If there’s not an objective right and wrong, it doesn’t matter what values you choose. There is an objective good and evil. Human beings are all capable of suffering. Human beings are capable of fear, of insecurity. They’re also capable of love. They’re capable of being hurt. From this fact, which is objective—I mean, no one would deny that, no one would dream of it—from this arise certain rules, which human beings are perfectly capable of discerning, which virtually everyone in this room has discerned, by himself, with the guidance of his parents and the guidance of his culture, not with the guidance of any God.

Just one more point: The Greeks, whom I admire, from whose ethics I drew my own life’s ideals, had no priesthood. They had gods, but their gods laid down no moral laws. There were defects in Greek culture. It was an ancient culture; but there were also glories in Greek culture, and our own culture is derived from it. Virtually everything that is good is derived from it. They didn’t need a lawgiving God to achieve their great purpose. And that is [tape unintelligible].

First Rebuttal - Dr. Craig

Let’s review those two contentions that I set forth:

(I) Supernaturalism provides a sound foundation for morality.

(1) I argued (and quoted Professor Taylor to the effect) that if God exists, then objective right and wrong exist. Professor Taylor responds—well, he doesn’t really disagree with the point; but he just complains that God’s holy nature just doesn’t tell me too much. Tonight, however, this is not a debate about applied ethics. It’s a debate about metaethics, about the foundations for morality. In specific situations, obviously you’re going to have to make application of general moral truths to specific instances. And just think of what kind of a world it would be if we had a world in which everyone followed, say, the injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount! It’s hard to imagine what a beautiful place this world would be if everyone followed the ethical teachings, for example, of Jesus. Those don’t cover every specific situation, but they give us enough general principles that we can apply them in specific situations. Professor Taylor complains, "But look at all the religious hypocrites!" In fact, he spent a lot of time talking about that. But notice that on Professor Taylor’s view, there’s nothing wrong with religious hypocrisy because there is no objective right and wrong. You see, the very condemnation of religious hypocrisy and the things that the church has done presupposes an objective standard of right and wrong by which to condemn those things. And that is why I think we need to have an objective foundation for morality: because we intuitively recognize that things like the Crusades and the Inquisition and priests’ abusing children are morally wrong—something that Professor Taylor cannot say on his view.

Now, what is the sense, then, in which we need to answer the question, "Can we be good without God?" When I first saw this question, I thought, "Oh, that’s the wrong question. Of course, we can be good without God." But then, as I reflected on it, I thought, "Wait, there’s a more subtle meaning of that question." You see, on Taylor’s view, you can’t really be good without God, because there is no objective moral good. There is no objective right and wrong. So the question is actually much deeper than it appears at first. On his view, you can have a skill, you can be talented, or rational, but you can’t really be good in the moral sense, because there is no objective right and wrong on his view. And that’s what I’m defending tonight, that in order to be morally good, in order for us to have objective right and wrong, real values, which we all like to affirm, we need to have a supernatural foundation.

(2) I argued that moral accountability also exists under the supernaturalist view, and Professor Taylor didn’t deny the point.

(II) What about my critique, then, of naturalism? I said that naturalism doesn’t provide a sound foundation for morality, and here I made two points:

(1) On the naturalist view, objective right and wrong do not exist. Again, Professor Taylor doesn’t deny this point; he just says, "Well, to say that they’re conventional doesn’t mean they’re contemptible." Well, granted; but it does mean they’re arbitrary, they’re nonobjective. There’s no more difference between moral right and wrong than driving on the righthand side of the road versus the lefthand side of the road. It’s simply a societal convention. And the modern evolutionist thinks these conventions are just based in sociobiological evolution. According to Michael Ruse, a professor of the philosophy of science,

"The position of the modern that humans have an awareness of morality...because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation, no less than are hands and feet and teeth.... Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, [ethics] is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Nevertheless…such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and…any deeper meaning is illusory..." [26]

This is essentially the same view as Professor Taylor’s. Moral values are simply rooted in sociobiological evolution, that have passed down as certain taboos and certain commands, but they have no objective validity in terms of their moral rightness or wrongness. Professor Taylor says, "But I have a high regard for people who are truly moral and decent." I don’t deny that. Of course he does! But the point is that in his ethics, in his philosophy, he has no basis for that affirmation. What I bring is not a new set of values—I think we pretty much hold those in common—but I’m offering a secure foundation for those values that we all want to hold dear.

You see, on Professor Taylor’s view, there really isn’t any objective morality. I think every one of us here tonight would agree that it’s wrong to kill babies and that the holocaust was morally wrong. But in his book Professor Taylor says, "The infanticide practiced by the Greeks of antiquity did not violate their customs. If we say it was nevertheless wrong, we are only saying that it is forbidden by our ethical and legal rules. And the abominations practiced by the Nazis…are forbidden by our rules, and not, obviously, by theirs." [27] I submit that that is simply a patently false view of moral values and that naturalism, therefore, can’t provide any objective basis for right and wrong.

(2) I also said it does not provide an objective basis for moral accountability, that death robs our moral choices of significance, and that acts of selfsacrifice are particularly inept. Professor Taylor responds: "But it makes a difference what kind of person you are—whether or not there’s moral accountability." But the point is: it doesn’t make any difference what kind of person you are on the naturalistic view. Our end is all the same, and you ultimately do not contribute to the good of the universe or the ultimate betterment of moral value because there simply is no moral value. All is ultimately extinguished in death and in the heat death of the universe. It simply makes no difference what kind of person you become. And so, as I said, what do you say to someone who concludes he should just live for selfinterest? Why should acts of selfsacrifice and compassion be undertaken on a naturalistic worldview? Why adopt the moral point of view? I can’t see any basis for this in naturalism, where there is no moral accountability.

And finally, you remember, I offered a critique of Professor Taylor’s virtue ethics.

(1) His virtues are amoral. They’re just like a skill, and therefore it makes sense to talk about virtuous torturers, for example, and there’s no obligation to become virtuous. Professor Taylor likes what he calls virtuous people, but on his view we’re not morally obliged to become virtuous because there aren’t any moral obligations.

(2) Christian virtue ethics are better than Professor Taylor’s. We can adopt virtue ethics if we want to, but in Christianity we affirm that there are moral virtues, things that we should do—we should be generous, we should be loving, we should be kind—things that Professor Taylor can’t affirm. And then also don’t forget the notion of religious virtues. Professor Taylor has, I think, a truncated view of human beings. He leaves out that religious dimension of life. I’m gratified to hear that he’s a theist, but I think that this needs to be applied now to the area of ethics as well and that he recognize that there are certain religious virtues.

And finally, (3) I argued that his virtue ethics are morally repugnant. All I invite you to do here is read his book. I assure you that the quotations that I’ve given you are not at all misrepresentative of what he says there. On Taylor’s view, the proud, the selfish, the superior are better than people that he describes as inferior and weak and so forth. He lacks that equality of all people before God, and he’s left with a view in which there is a superiority among some and inferiority among the masses, a view which I said, especially in light of the political consequences in this century, has led to enormous social ills and evils, and therefore, I think, needs to be repudiated.

So for these reasons, then, I think that naturalism simply can’t provide a sound foundation for morality. And I think it’s been agreed on both sides that supernaturalism does provide a sound metaethical basis for morality. Therefore I think that it’s incumbent upon us to choose supernaturalism as a basis for ordering our lives.

Counter Rebuttal - Dr. Taylor

I feel tonight like two ships passing in the night. We seem to be on totally different courses. However, I did hear my opponent say one thing with which I heartily agree. He said you should all read my book. You'll see how outrageous it is, and I’m happy to say that it’s for sale. Mr. Paul Copan, who arranged this debate, asked me to bring some books. I, of course, very reluctantly did so.

I don’t recognize myself in what I hear. I hear my opinions cited, and then all kinds of things said about them which I have never dreamt, and I do not recognize my opinions. I hear myself quoted—yes, I did say that—but it shouldn’t mean what this is being interpreted. I hear myself being told that I believe that nothing is wrong, that nothing is objectively wrong or right. This is a straw man. I believe that my moral conduct, my principles, the things that I live by, the things that are important to me, are every bit as good as his, every bit as good as anyone’s in this room. Please don’t say that I have no moral standards that nothing’s right or wrong. This is a straw man.

Now it is said, "Ah, but you don’t believe in objective morality!" What does that mean? What does that mean? I teach my children. I have two small children, 7 and 5. I teach them that you shouldn’t lie. But what do I do? Do I say, "You mustn’t lie because God said not to?" If a child tells me the truth, he is never punished. I tell them, "Please don’t ever lie to me. If I ask you a question, you don’t need to answer it, but don’t answer it falsely because that would hurt me very deeply." This works. If I were to tell him, "Don’t lie. God, watching on high, will smite you if you do," he wouldn’t. He would know better. He would. He would lie and find that he wasn’t smitten, and there would go his belief in that. What do we mean by objective morality? Do we mean we take these things seriously? I take them as seriously as he. I take them as seriously as any clergyman. I take them a lot more seriously than many I have seen. "No objective validity." No objective validity—what does that mean? Does that mean that it doesn’t matter how you treat people? It doesn’t matter whether you betray somebody? I don’t believe that! If anyone says this is my position, don’t listen to him. [tape unintelligible] At one point Mr. Craig quoted something in my book which I didn’t say. The Greeks practiced infanticide, which we condemn. There was outside Athens a field where babies could be deposited, and they would perish. This was not a crime. We look with horror on this. All I said was, it violates our rules; it did not violate theirs. And that is true. I didn’t say, therefore, it’s a fine thing to do, and it would be a fine thing for us to do that. I didn’t say that these things make no difference. I would, indeed, be a miserable man, if I found that I fit the description which I hear coming from the Reverend Mr. Craig’s mouth.

At one point he said that we should be loving, kind, and so forth. Now I’m going to ask you this very simple question: I think that the remarks I’ve made make it clear that I do believe that. I believe wholeheartedly that we should be loving, kind, and so forth. He said I can’t even affirm that. I just did, and I didn’t do it with hypocrisy. I profoundly believe we should be loving, kind, and the other virtues he enumerated. In order to say that, do you need, do I need, to think that God is watching? Does any of us need to think that we are going to be punished if we are not loving, kind? Do we not see something worthwhile in being loving, kind, treating people in certain ways, and so forth, which doesn’t require us to talk about "objective standards," doesn’t require us to refer to Scripture, refer to any sermon that anyone’s ever heard? We can see this. We can see this because human beings are born with the capacity for this and are quite capable of seeing its propriety. No one would suggest that I have no reason for being loving, kind to those who are dear to me and, indeed, to my enemies. We can see this without God telling us that. We can see this without clergymen telling us this. We can see it because it is an inheritance of a wise culture, and it is the declaration of a refined mind, heart, and sensibility.

Counter Rebuttal - Dr. Craig

As I look over my notes, it seems to me that that first contention that I made has basically gone undisputed in the debate. Supernaturalism, if true, does provide a sound foundation for morality.

[Tape unintelligible] products of evolution. Professor Taylor announces, "Well, what does ‘objective’ mean? Does it mean that we just take them seriously?" And he affirms he takes them seriously. No, that’s not what "objective" means. "Objective" means that these are nonconventional. They’re not simply based upon human apprehension, but these are values that hold regardless of whether anybody believes in them or not. For example, if the Nazis had conquered the world in the Second World War and had eliminated everybody who disagreed with their antiSemitism, I maintain that antiSemitism would still be wrong. It would still be immoral whether anybody agreed to it or not. That’s an objective wrong. On Taylor’s view, however, there are no such things as moral obligations or objective right and wrong. For example, Professor Taylor imagines in his book a race of people living in a state of nature, where there are no customs or laws because, you see, he thinks values are rooted in just customs and laws. He says, suppose one person kills another one and takes his goods. He writes,

"Such actions, though injurious to their victims, are no more...unjust or immoral than they would be if done by one animal to another. A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it, for none of these things is forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining." [28]

In other words, as Dostoyevsky said, all things are permitted once you get rid of God. And therefore I simply see no basis on Taylor’s philosophy for the affirmation of objective right and wrong. You cannot say, for example, that infanticide is simply wrong. You can only say that it is wrong for us, but it was all right for the Greeks. But you cannot affirm, on his view, that it is simply wrong.

I also argued that on his view there is no moral accountability, and he did not respond to the point in the last speech.

Then I offered a critique of his virtue ethics:

(1) His virtues are amoral in character. And therefore you can have a virtuous torturer. There’s no obligation to become virtuous. He affirmed, "I affirm we should be kind." Well, that’s simply inconsistent with his philosophy. Listen to what he writes in his book. He says,

"The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough... Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawgiver higher...than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations understood as those that are imposed by God.... But what if this higherthanhuman lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of moral obligation...still make sense? ...The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone." [29]

And I think that’s exactly the case in the last speech. We heard the words, but the meaning is gone. There is no obligation to acquire these virtues, on his view.

By contrast, I say (2) Christian virtues are better because you’re obligated to acquire these virtues. It’s your duty to become virtuous, and also there are religious virtues.

And finally, I argued that (3) Taylor’s virtue ethics are morally repugnant. And here he simply said, "I fail to recognize myself in the description that you’ve given from the book." All I can say here is that sometimes we are inconsistent with what we really believe and affirm. I have no doubt that Professor Taylor is a good and decent man; but these are the things that he’s written, and these are the implications of the ethical view that he holds to. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. I already quoted in my opening speech a reviewer who was concerned about the sinister implications of his ethics. Let me quote from Professor Christlieb of Syracuse University. In his review of Taylor’s book, he says, "Taylor’s elitism, which calls us to deny the worth of most of humanity, is a singularly unattractive ethics, especially in light of the political experiences of our own century." [30] Professor Christlieb goes on to say Taylor’s ethics are "built on a series of claims about religion, ethics, and historical development that are either unsubstantiated, misleading, or false." [31] And I would have to simply concur. I think it’s evident that his ethics are wrong, that thinking that certain people are better than others, and that some are inferior to superior people, and that the mass of humanity is inferior to those who are philosophers is just morally repugnant and therefore tragically mistaken. The fundamental worth of human beings, to repeat, lies in the unconditional love of God for all persons and in the fact that Christ died for all persons. Therefore each person is regarded by God as having infinite worth in His sight, regardless of his skills or accomplishments or talents. I think that’s a far more intuitively plausible and acceptable ethic than Professor Taylor’s virtue ethics.

So, for all of these reasons, I simply have to reject his view. I don’t deny that he’s a good and moral man, but I offer him a better foundation for the common values that we both hold dear.

Closing Statement - Dr. Taylor

I will be surprised if this will take five minutes. I wrote a book in which I deliberately tried to be provocative. The reason I did is: My method of teaching is Socratic. When I’m before a class, I goad them. I try to say things which I can defend, but which are somewhat outrageous in order to stir them to think. This is what I did in my book, Virtue Ethics. I did not do this with insincerity. I believe everything that’s in that book, but I nevertheless made it provocative. What the Reverend Mr. Craig has done is to go through and pick out in isolation the most provocative things and throw them at you and say, "Isn’t this dreadful?" That was not the purpose of the book, to be simply a source of quotations that can be used to whatever purpose or hustle a reader may wish to use them. The last thing he said just now, the fundamental worth of a person lies in his love for Christ, or words to it—that is not true. I have a fundamental worth, my children have a fundamental worth, my wife is precious [tape unintelligible]. That is not mentioned [tape unintelligible].

I’m going to change the subject now because we can just go around in circles. I can sit here and hear myself castigated by quotations taken out of context with no effort taken whatsoever to see what the philosophical basis of those things is. The arguments that lead up to these conclusions totally ignored, the statement plucked out of context and thrown at you, with the implication, "Isn’t this a dreadful thing to say?" See what went before, and see whether there might be something in favor of saying that, then reject it if you reject what went before.

In the couple of minutes I have left, I want to say something about a man I greatly admired and loved who died a couple of years ago, and this was Joseph Fletcher, the author of Situation Ethics, a man who was much abused, as warm and good a man as I ever knew, an Episcopal clergyman. Situation Ethics drew immediate attention because people read the title and said, "Ah, situation ethics, that means values are not objective. Good and evil are not objective. That’s all we need to know." Yes, he did say that. What was he saying? He got this expression from his work in hospitals, and whenever a problem arose in hospitals—and this is where severe moral dilemmas arise—the people led to consider it would always ask this question. They say, "What is the patient’s situation?" So it seemed clear to him that the rule of life is to love, to love your fellow human beings, and this love for your human beings can be expressed in different ways, depending on their situation. We’re not always to be treated in the same way. The dead and the dying are not necessarily to be treated in the same way the healthy are to be treated. Their wishes are to be taken into account. In every single situation, ask, "What is the situation?" Then you can ask, "What would be an act of love in this situation?"

Now I say that because, as I stood here, I thought, "What more can I say? We’re just going back and forth. I’m being quoted as saying things in a [tape unintelligible] because I don’t think it fits me." So what shall I say? Well, I’ve taken this defense of Joseph Fletcher’s point of view. The love of your human beings is, indeed—you don’t have to be told by God, you don’t have to be told, "Love your God and love your neighbor." You know that it is desirable, right, moral, and good to love your neighbor, to love anybody who needs your love without anyone telling you so.

Closing Statement - Dr. Craig

Before I look at those two contentions that I’ve defended tonight, let me just be very clear. I did not say that the worth of people lies in their love of Christ. I said it lies in Christ’s love for them, that God loves each one of us enough that He would send His son to die for us, even those of us who do not believe in Him and repudiate Him. That is what I said, and I think that’s important to understand.

(I) I argued that supernaturalism provides a sound foundation for morality, and I think that’s become very clear in tonight’s debate. (1) If you affirm that there is a God, a divine lawgiver, then there is objective right and wrong according to His commands, which flow from His own good, just, loving, and holy nature. Moreover, (2) moral accountability exists because God holds us accountable for what we do.

(II) Does naturalism provide a sound foundation for morality? I argue that it doesn’t.

(1) On the naturalistic view, objective right and wrong do not exist. Professor Taylor, in his last speech, tried to confuse the issue by drawing in Fletcher’s situation ethics. Fletcher’s situation ethics were neither conventionalistic, nor were they naturalistic. His ethics were guided by an objective value, the objective value of love. Now how that’s applied in different situations may vary, and will vary from situation to situation; but I agree with that. But the point is that Fletcher’s is an objectivist ethic, not a conventionalist ethic. Love is an absolute moral principle for him. Moreover, Fletcher was a theist, as far as I know. He was a clergyman, so that this is not a naturalistic ethic. What is love on a naturalistic view? It’s a chemical reaction in the brain, an electrochemical impulse, hormones coursing through bodies. Love is denuded of any sort of moral or ethical significance on a naturalistic worldview. And so I don’t think we’ve seen any basis for affirming that things are really right or wrong, if God does not exist.

(2) I argued that there’s no moral accountability on a naturalistic worldview, and I think that that’s been demonstrated in tonight’s debate.

Then I offered a threepoint critique of Taylor’s virtue ethics:

(1) His virtues are just amoral. He doesn’t deny it, but now he says, "Well, I was just trying to provoke people to think, and the quotations are taken out of context." Well, yes, they are out of context in the sense that I expected Professor Taylor to first present his view in his opening speech, so that my criticisms would apply to it. My criticisms are entirely just and entirely correct philosophically, but they appear somewhat out of context because he didn’t give his view first for me to attack. Also, with regard to stirring people to think, I think as philosophers we have to be responsible in what we say and write because we will affect what students say and do. Nietzsche also wrote a book called Beyond Good and Evil, and that book was read by people like Hitler and Stalin and caused some of the gross atrocities of the twentieth century because Nietzsche affirmed that there is no good and evil. And as I read what Professor Taylor said about the superior person, the proud man, I thought of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, the superman. The echoes of Nietzsche ran through that book and troubled me deeply.

(2) I argued that Christian ethics are better than Professor Taylor’s virtue ethics [tape unintelligible] on that point.

And finally, (3) I said Taylor’s virtue ethics are morally repugnant. Notice that he’s never really denied any of the allegations that I’ve made tonight.

So I think it’s evident that naturalism just doesn’t do the trick. We need to have a supernatural basis to provide an objective foundation for our moral lives, for the values that we all hold dear and firm and intuitively sense, and we need God to provide moral accountability for our lives, so that our moral choices become significant and acts of selfsacrifice are not robbed of meaning and become just empty gestures.

Therefore, I’d like to close just with a challenge to you. If you have been seeking for a foundation for your ethical life, for what’s right and wrong in life, I’d want to encourage you to look into the Christian world and life view. Pick up a New Testament and read the Sermon on the Mount, read the ethics of Jesus, and ask yourself if this couldn’t really be true. I found that this is a principle upon which I can order and guide my life, and I believe you can find this as well, if you look at it with an open mind.

Moderated Dialogue - Q&A

First Questioner: Hello, I’m directing my question to Professor Taylor. My question is, you mentioned you believe in God, and I think it would help me get a better understanding if you’d tell me why you believe in God?

Dr. Taylor: I could answer your question, but it won’t help you. The answer is: because I can’t help it! David Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, said at one point, "When you look at these things, when you think on these things, doesn’t the idea of God flow in upon you like a sensation?" That’s part of what—I am overwhelmed by the mystery of life, I am overwhelmed by the mystery of the world. The heart of religious attitude is a sense of mystery. That is what I—in the mere fact that it is mysterious is why I said maybe you can’t answer the question. If I said, "Look, this is why I believe in God: (1), (2), (3)," that would be equivalent to saying I didn’t believe in God, just as Kierkegaard said. As soon as you say, "Ah! Now it’s been shown, hasn’t it? It’s very probable, yes!" Kierkegaard aptly said at that point you cease to believe. It is totally irrational. But I can’t help it. I believe it. When I said to that student, "It’s the only thing I really believe," that was true.

First Questioner: Thank you very much. It did help.

Second Questioner: My question is for Dr. Craig. I have a very slight preface to make my question clear. In saying ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself," this has its origins in conventional morality because what I’d like to be done unto me comes from my culture. And so I believe the Bible’s also interpreted from conventional morality, and I don’t think you will find that our conventional moral interpretation of the Bible on the subject of women’s equality is radically different from earlier time periods. And therefore I conclude from this that our morality is based on the culture. I’m wondering what your opinion is on the subject of culturally changing biblical interpretation.

Dr. Craig: O.K., could you repeat that part of the question and explain why you thought it was culturally relative? I didn’t get that part.

Second Questioner: Because right now our interpretations of the Bible, such as on women’s equality, are radically different from earlier time periods in which the Bible has been used as a basis of seeing why men are superior to women.

Dr. Craig: I’m not sure I understand the question, but it sounds to me like it’s more a question of biblical interpretation than a question of ethical values. I mean, if people in the past have misinterpreted what the Bible says, and now they interpret it more accurately, that’s just a matter of gaining better interpretive principles. Or conversely, if perhaps people in the past interpreted it correctly, and we, under the pressure of the spirit of our times, have misinterpreted it today, then that’s just again a failure of interpretation. I don’t see that that affects the objective validity of what the original author had to say. You want to follow that up?

Second Questioner: Yes. I would state that our interpretation and past interpretations always have come from a culture, so that there therefore is no objective interpretation of the Bible, and it is always culturally interpreted.

Dr. CraigAll right, I can say something about that. This really is not a question about moral values. It’s more a question of historicism really, about how you interpret a document, and your subjectivist point of view is held by certain radical literary critics and historians who say that a text has no meaning, except that which the reader imposes on it. And I just disagree very fundamentally with that philosophy of hermeneutics or interpretation. It seems to me that the meaning of a text is the meaning that the author gives to the text and that we have to use the best of our abilities to get at the original meaning the author intended. Now, of course, all of us are involved in what is called "the hermeneutical circle," that is to say, we come to the text with all the baggage and presuppositions of our culture and time and so forth, and none of us are neutral observers. That was the mistake of the great historicist philosophers like Leopold von Ranke of the last century, who claimed that he wanted to learn about the past as it happened and thought he was a neutral observer. None of us are perfectly neutral, of course, but the goal is to try to make clear the presuppositions and the attitudes we bring to a text, as best we can, and then to try to strive together to achieve objectivity. I don’t think that we should just throw up our hands and wallow in a sea of subjectivity. Otherwise, literature, in a sense, becomes meaningless. When I read in a newspaper, say, that the Toronto Blue Jays won the game yesterday 3 to 1, that does not mean, say, that the Golden Gate Bridge fell into the San Francisco Bay. You know, words have meaning….

Moderator: Dr. Craig, I believe the questioner was asking, if in fact this text is subject to multiple cultural interpretations, how can it be authoritative if we don’t know which cultural interpretation is correct? Is that the question?

Second Questioner: Yes.

Dr. Craig: Well, I would just say that that isn’t the case and that we’re not lost in subjectivity and that we can use historical, grammatical, exegetical tools and interpretive principles to get at the original meaning, and that is the authoritative meaning, the author’s intent.

Second Questioner: Thank you very much.

Third Questioner: I would like to address Dr. Taylor, please. The first questioner took my question that I was going to ask, so I may be out of line here, Mr. Moderator. So feel free to correct me here. Dr. Taylor, you had mentioned that morality is determined by human need. You had mentioned that at some point in your discourse. You also stated that, and I quote, "I believe in God. It’s the only thing I believe in," which seems to indicate to me that belief in God is determined in your case by human need. Therefore, it seems to necessarily follow that you need God for morality.

Dr. Taylor: No, belief in God is not an opinion. It’s not a philosophical opinion. If it is, then it has no religious significance whatever. In the Psalms somewhere, it says, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth showeth forth His handiwork." Now I sometimes quote that, and philosophers say, "Oh, then you accept the argument from design." No, I do not. I don’t accept any philosophical argument for anything. I just say, do you see it or don’t you? And someone says, "Yeah, I see it. O. K." "No, I don’t see it. O. K." My wife happens to have none of the sense of mystery whatsoever. She doesn’t see it. I would not dream of trying to persuade her. There is no basis in that remark for anything I have to say about ethics, nothing at all. It’s a very comforting thing to say, "There’s a lawgiving God, He’s given you these laws, Jesus loves you, and [tape unintelligible] and so forth, comforting you know, but it will not enable you to get anywhere. When you talk about objective moral standards, as was done here tonight, it doesn’t help, does no good at all. It helps you not at all, in deciding ethics. Have I missed the point of your question?

Third Questioner: Well, yeah, again, I’m not really asking, it’s not really a matter of opinion, rather it seems to me, and I could put it in the form of a question: Why would you even need God, if in fact you did say morality is determined by human need?

Dr. Taylor: I don’t know whether I need God or not. The question really never occurred to me, frankly. I have no idea what the answer to that is. I rather suspect I don’t.

Third Questioner: O. K., thank you.

Fourth Questioner: I would like to address Dr. Craig. Dr. Craig, you stated that the meaning of a text is the meaning the author gave it. And we must interpret that correctly in order to gather that meaning. I submit to you that the only time human beings were in possession of the true Word of God was at its delivery on Mount Sinai. Since then, it has been subject to many human interpretations, and, as humans by nature are fundamentally imperfect, therefore we need to be led by a God who is perfect in His morality. I ask you: How can we base our morality upon the interpretation of a fundamentally flawed document in itself?

Dr. Craig: Well, I don’t think the document is fundamentally flawed. If you agree that it was clear in its original writing or its original rescension, we have copies, manuscripts of the Old Testament and the New Testament in a wealth of attestation; so that I hear you thinking that somehow the text has become corrupted. That’s simply false. Again, we mustn’t allow ourselves to wallow in this subjectivism. Think of the example I gave of reading an article in the newspaper and completely misinterpreting it. That would be wrong. When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you’d be crazy if you read the Sermon on the Mount and said, "My interpretation of this is that it’s the playbyplay of a game between the Phillies and the Cardinals." That’s not what the text says. So, of course, there are nuances of interpretation, and I agree that none of us are utterly neutral observers, but still, there is an objectivity we can get out of it that belongs to the text, which the original author intended. And if that were not possible, you could never read a medicine label on a package of medicine. You wouldn’t know whether it was rat poison or whether it was Sudafed. We all assume when we read a medicine label that objective interpretation is possible. And I don’t see why it’s not possible with the Bible.

Fourth Questioner: Thank you.

Fifth Questioner: I have a question for Dr. Taylor. If there is no objective morality and it is subjective, that would seem to me a kind of an ethical Darwinism, or a moral Darwinism; then whose ethics will determine what ethics we should follow? Is it the political party of power? Is it the person who is most powerful who determines the ethics for our land and our world?

Dr. Taylor: I didn’t say ethics is subjective. I have difficulty understanding what someone says when he says there is an objective morality. It sounds good. I suppose what it means is: that judgements containing the words "right" and "wrong" are either true or they are false. I think that’s naive. I don’t think it’s entirely to be rejected, but I think that to let it go at that is naive. A lot more analysis and thought needs to be given than just tossing that out. Yeah, I think there are things that are objective, and I think you will agree human suffering is something that is objective. The detestation of suffering is objective. That is a fact. You don’t like your bones broken. You don’t want to bleed. You don’t want to be assaulted. You don’t want to be stolen from. Nobody does. That is objective. And from those objective facts, we are perfectly capable of devising rules. Now these rules are objective in the sense that they are based upon certain natural facts, the ones I just enunciated. They are not objective in the sense that they admit of no exception. There are situations in which what would be a normal, a perfectly valid rule, no longer works. Those who say it is objective, seem, most often, to want to deny that. They want to say, "This is the rule. Apply it, no matter what, even if it advances human suffering." That’s not where the rule came from. It didn’t come from God. It came from human suffering and human needs. And those are objective. They are facts.

Fifth Questioner: If there is that competition among the description of morality, then, who is going to make the decision in the case of a disagreement?

Dr. Taylor: Well, alas, when you have a decision, you are going to have to make it. Now if you want comfort, you can say, "I will make it on the basis of this rule which I got from my pastor, my priest, or what not. This the rule. I apply it. People will suffer, people will die. That’s the rule." It’s one way to make it. Another way is to wrestle with yourself. It won’t be easy. Sometimes there is no answer. Sometimes when you are in a position of making a decision, no matter what you do, people are going to hurt, no matter what you do. Now the easy way out is to resort to some rule and have someone tell you, "This is God’s rule." That’s the easy way out. It is not, I think, even a wise or moral way out.

Sixth Questioner: Dr. Taylor, you alluded to lives of people that we see around us, that we should try to copy, the beneficial things we see, and we see many of these people, and they do have fine lives of moral rectitude, and we see many qualities we should copy, I grant you. However, how can you differentiate whether the lives of these people are the result of objective morality, or whether there is a lingering Christian metaphysic still permeating society? I don’t see how you can sort these things out because of the eclectic nature of human lives. I don’t see how you can differentiate those two things.

Dr. Taylor: Yeah, I don’t remember saying, in fact, I don’t really believe that we should model our conduct by imitating others. If I said something like that, I didn’t mean it the way it’s been interpreted. I don’t mean that we should look around and see the way people are acting and then copy them. I don’t believe that. I think that we can, without any theological help, differentiate between people who are fools and those who are wise, and those who are selfish and those who are not, those who are greedy and those who are not. And I think that we can have principles by which we are able to determine which qualities are and which are not admirable. But I would never say, "Let’s look at these people and see how they’re acting, and then imitate certain ones of those," because, as you’re suggesting, how are we going to pick them out? I also must agree with something you said, that we certainly do have a rich inheritance of Christian ethics in our culture. I certainly don’t deny that. I think, what is too bad, we also have an even richer inheritance of pagan ethics which, I think, goes unappreciated.

Seventh Questioner: Dr. Craig, what is the purpose or goal of your ethics? And I also would like, if you would let me address the question to you, would you also comment on a quote. It says: "Ethics is an objective metaphysical necessity of man’s survival, not by the grace of the supernatural, nor of your neighbors or your whims, but by the grace of reality and the nature of life." And it also goes on to continue, "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good, all that which destroys it is evil." The quote is by...

Dr. Taylor: Who is the author? Who are you quoting?

Seventh Questioner: Ayn Rand.

Dr. Taylor: Oh.

Craig: Ayn Rand?

Seventh Questioner: Yes.

Dr. Craig: See, hers is that selfinterest ethics, and it seems to me that that is just patently false. Many times selfinterest and morality go in different directions, particularly when it comes to acts of selfsacrifice and compassion. It seems to me, too, that what she said about something that betters the lot of mankind (or something to that effect) is good, and what doesn’t is evil—that’s purely arbitrary. I would like to pose to her the question: Why human beings? Isn’t that just a form of specieism? Why do you seem to like human beings among all the species that have evolved, to define moral good and evil? That’s arbitrary, on a naturalistic worldview. On a theistic worldview, I have a basis for that, and that answers the first part of the question: namely, that human beings are persons, they are created in the image of God and are therefore intrinsically valuable. And our goal in ethics is to conform ourselves to the moral nature of God, to become like Him. That’s the purpose of ethics as I see them.

Dr. Taylor: What’s so interesting about the quotation is: The philosophy from which you’re quoting is called objectivism. And my opponent seems to represent the Christian religion, the Sermon on the Mount, and so forth, as somehow more objective, as if somehow this were a stable word that has no relativism to it. When I read passages like that, from Ayn Rand, and I’m no devoted student of her, but I have read these things, and I am sometimes, as you apparently are, thrilled with what I read, because she is saying "Look to yourself, your own nobility." This is a standard, and it is. You can condemn it as selfcentered, arbitrary. It is not. It is selfcentered; it’s certainly not arbitrary, and I don’t think anyone is in a position to say, "Look, if you want something that’s not arbitrary, turn to the Christian religion."

Eighth Questioner: I’d like to address Professor Taylor. For the last 30 years, the JudeoChristian ethic has been removed from our schools, infiltrating our society with relativism and values based on individual choice. Don’t you feel that this absence of absolute truth has caused the social ills and deterioration of our society today? And if you don’t believe that, what has caused this absence of value of life?

Dr. Taylor: Well, I’d like to say, first of all, the reason for removing these religious teachings from our public schools is constitutional. And the [tape unintelligible] is that government has no business meddling in religion. We have many religious points of view in this country, and the only safe rule is to respect them all. We cannot have public teaching this, that, and the other religion to the exclusion of others, and we cannot teach them all, and it is not the proper business of government to get into this area. With that, I should think the most religious person would agree. The person who is genuinely religious does not need the help of governmental bureaucrats composing prayers for students, telling them what they should believe, and so forth. This is the realm of religion, and that’s where it belongs, and a religious person, a church, should say to the government, "Keep your hands off. Stay out."

Now, with respect to the other part of your question: "Isn’t this the root of all our social ills?" I simply think that’s naive. The social ills run much deeper than that and are much clearer than that. Many of our social ills are due to the breakdown of family. Now someone’s going to say, "Ah, yes, but if we all adhere to Christian principles and we all adhere to family values..." I don’t believe that either.

Ninth Questioner: It’s pretty much of a question about your opinion about your own God. Is your God going to judge you or intervene in any way simply because you don’t follow your moral life out of a fear or drive from that God?

Dr. Taylor: The question bothers me. You referred to my opinion.

Ninth Questioner: I’m not asking your opinion. I’m just asking....

Dr. Taylor: I don’t have any opinions on God or religion, and you [tape unintelligible] on my God, which I find difficulty with. I am not, from day to day, hour to hour, wondering whether God approves of what I’m doing. I have long since been prepared to meet my Maker. I am no longer young. I am well aware of my mortality. I am quite prepared to meet my Maker. I do not worry that I am going to be judged this way or that. I don’t presume to know these things. Religion is, as I said, a mystery. It is a huge mystery. Life is a mystery. The world is a mystery. Much of this is encapsulated in religion, and that is the attitude with which I go through life. But as soon as you reduce it to such questions as, you know, you talk about God. Is this a name for something that I have in mind? No. No, I think that as soon as someone starts talking and thinking that way, then he has really quite lost the whole spirit of religion.

Ninth Questioner: Does this God intervene at all in the world?

Dr. Taylor: Intervene? You mean miracles and so forth?

Ninth Questioner: Whatever.

Dr. Taylor: There’s not the slightest reason to think so, unless you treat, as I do, the whole of human existence, the whole world as a miracle. I think you cannot see a child born and develop without being overwhelmed by the sense of the miraculous and the mysterious. But, no, miracle, in the sense in which preachers use that term, certainly not!

Moderator: I’d like to thank, first of all, you as an audience. This has been a very dicey, sensitive subject. America in recent years has not been good about public discourse on dicey, sensitive subjects. You’ve been extraordinarily civil. You obeyed our conventional rules, you’ve been goodhumored, and asked your questions civilly, so I think you ought to give yourselves a round of applause. I hope you’ll also applaud both speakers, who I think gave thoughtful answers to each other’s questions and to yours. I’d like to thank you for coming on behalf of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Department of Philosophy. I’d like to point out that on your way out, there is a book table, and some of the books that are so scandalous will be for sale. Thank you again!

  • [1]

    Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1985), pp. 8384.

  • [2]

    Ibid., pp. 23.

  • [3]

    Ibid., p. 7.

  • [4]

    Ibid., p. 57.

  • [5]

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. C. Garnett (New York: Signet Classics, 1957), bk. II, chap. 6; bk. V, chap. 5; bk. XI, chap. 8.

  • [6]

    Ibid., p. 220.

  • [7]

    Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason, p. 118.

  • [8]

    Ibid., p. 119.

  • [9]

    Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1967), p. 34.

  • [10]

    A point made effectively by J. P. Moreland in Does God Exist? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990), p. 124.

  • [11]

    Augustine City of God 15.22.

  • [12]

    Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1a. 2ae. 55.

  • [13]

    Aristotle Eudemian Ethics 1249b 20.

  • [14]

    Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason, p. 100.

  • [15]

    Ibid., p. 43.

  • [16]


  • [17]

    Ibid., p. 104.

  • [18]

    Ibid., p. 65.

  • [19]

    Ibid., p. 104.

  • [20]

    Ibid., p. 105.

  • [21]

    Ibid., p. 66.

  • [22]

    Ibid., p. 50.

  • [23]


  • [24]

    Ibid., pp. 2324.

  • [25]

    Michael Durrant, review of Ethics, Faith, and Reason, in Philosophical Books 27 (1986): 60.

  • [26]

    Michael Ruse, "Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics," in The Darwinian Paradigm (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 262, 26869.

  • [27]

    Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : PrenticeHall, 1985), p. 10.

  • [28]

    Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: PrenticeHall, 1985), p. 14.

  • [29]

    Ibid., pp. 8384.

  • [30]

    T. J. Christlieb, review of Ethics, Faith, and Reason, in Faith and Philosophy 5 (1988): 325.

  • [31]

    Ibid. His actual wording is "either false, misleading, or unsubstantiated."