Learn About/Subscribe:
Christian Union
October 4, 2013

Debate at Columbia University Features Apologist and Atheist

Belief in a supreme deity provides a solid foundation for embracing morality.

Atheists, however, are only left with matter, energy, and the space-time continuum. Such elements are simply not enough to explain the existence of morality – or provide a basis for divine skeptics to claim atheism is compatible with the principles of objective morals.

Those were some of the key points from David Wood when the Christian apologist debated atheist Kile Jones May 6 at Columbia University. The debate was entitled, "Good without God: Is God Necessary for Morality?"

Columbia Faith and Action sponsored the event featuring Wood, who is pursuing a doctorate in the philosophy of religion at Fordham University, and Jones, the founder of Clarement Journal of Religion who is pursuing a doctorate in religion at Clarement Lincoln University. A leadership development ministry, Columbia Faith and Action is supported and resourced by Christian Union.

Wood highlighted the improbability of firm morality, ultimately, arising in a vast universe merely birthed from a dense, hot expansion that resulted in subatomic particles.

As such, he rhetorically questioned how atheists can believe that humans are little more than the byproduct of randomly connected molecules, but also claim compatibility with the belief in fixed moral truths.

"On the surface of Earth are these little lumps of cells called human beings who are only here because their ancestors managed to transmit DNA better than other lumps of cells," Wood said. "These little lumps of cells are now convinced that they have incredible worth and dignity, that what they do really, really matters, and that their value is something so precious to them..."

Ironically, "how can we think of ourselves as morally responsible if that's how we view the world?" Wood asked. Moral absolutes point to a moral lawgiver and are not party to relativism and subjectivism.

Nonetheless, Jones stood adamant in his assertion that the existence of God is unnecessary for morality.

"I don't think God exists. It doesn't help me, in any way, explain the way things are. All it does is add something to the equation," he said. "The idea that we would need a God, a supreme leader, a supreme cosmic authority, to ground morality or any other thing sounds rather Orwellian, to say the least."

Jones insisted morality simply results from human progress, social advancement, and civility. "We have innate in each of us a desire to survive and thrive. That's where ethics and morality come from," he said. "There's no need for any other explanation."

Likewise, Jones sarcastically compared the concept of attributing morality to God to the prospect of offering "42" as a viable explanation behind the existence of morals. "I can equally say the answer is '42,' a reference to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," he said.

In the sci-fi bestseller, the computer Deep Thought delivers "42" as the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. "Forty-two makes no difference to the explanation," he said. "God is like the invisible, undetectable tiger in the garden. It genuinely doesn't help when we invoke God."

Nonetheless, Wood countered that removing God from the framework of reality eliminates a viable rationale for the existence of objective moral values, duties, and responsibilities. "As an atheist, all is permissible," he said.

Essentially, atheists want to have their cake and eat it, too, Woods suggested. He pointed to the so-called skeptics' dilemma, noting atheists reject valid arguments for the existence of God, but postulate flimsy ones to explain the presence and reasonableness of firm moral precepts.

In more colorful terms, Woods said atheists set their "skeptometers" high to dismiss arguments for the belief in God, but they significantly lower their levels of skepticism to accept rationales for moral practices.

"It's not good methodology, and it's not consistent," Wood said. "You don't have objective moral values without God."

Nonetheless, Jones responded how God is an undetectable entity, but morality is a sense all humans experience.

In response, Wood asked how many students in the audience had experienced God and how many had experienced morality. About half responded positively to the first query and virtually all to the latter.

"You must be all delusional, right?" Wood asked rhetorically.

As well, Wood highlighted how nature within the animal kingdom does not point to the prevalence of moral practices. "Nature harms all kinds of things," he said.

As for Wood, his belief in a supreme deity plays a key role in his belief humans should be governed by a moral framework that takes the concerns of other people into consideration.

Ultimately, "I obey God because there is right and wrong," he said. "I do right because I love God. I have moral obligations."