Ahh, another debate and another experience. I was pleased to notice my latest debate “are morals without God a delusion?” attracted a majority non Muslim audience. At times, I felt like I wasn’t just debating my opponent Andrew Copson (a true gentlemen I might add) but the public also. I’ve debated many different topics, but this one seems to always rattle the atheist cage. If our encounter could be described as a pantomime, then Andrew was the charming prince and I was the villain. (Luckily noone shouted out, “He’s behind you.) Historically atheists have been on the attack and theists on the back foot, accused of believing in ideas that have no rational grounding and as a result, have taken their assumptions for granted. But here the tables were turned. For a change, it was a theist holding an atheist to intellectual account. What basis did they have to claim morality without God? Was Nietzsche right all along?
In this debate, my argument was that there is no sound foundation of objective morality without God, hence morality becomes unbinding, invalid and illusory. So in the spirit of a good theatrical scene, Andrew had two fights on his hands in order to win the hand of morality. On one side, he had the theist who maintains that morality is grounded in God and on the other, the Nihilist , who maintains that morality has no grounding what so ever and is completely meaningless without God ( a position championed by Nietzsche). As I pointed out in the debate, Andrew did not have the default position, so he had to provide positive arguments to argue for Humanism, the idea that morality is grounded in human beings independently of God.
Andrew, rather than address my points in his opening speech, went on the offensive and attacked the notion of morality grounded in God. He presented the atheists secret weapon, the theist’s kryptonite, Plato’s dilemma, also known as Euthyphro dilemma. Sadly for Andrew, I was expecting this argument and I had an apt answer waiting for him, which he never managed to rebut. Having said that, even had he been successful in showing a logical flaw in morality grounded in God, at best all he would have demonstrated was that the theist was wrong, but that would in no way have shown that humanism was true !
Surprisingly, in his defence Andrew adopted the brave position that morality is relative to society and culture. I think most people would agree with me that there are some things that are good and evil that transcends culture, time and society. But when I asked Andrew “was the holocaust objectively morally wrong?” He astonishingly could not simply say “yes”, whilst staying consistent with his stance of relativism. He desperately tried to cling onto a degree of moral high ground, despite the fact his claim is clearly beyond relativism. The more I pressed on with the question the weaker Andrew’s answers got. At one stage in the debate, judging by the expressions on peoples faces, they were somewhat at a loss as to where Andrew was going with his argument.
If the debate was to be decided on charm and eloquence then I would say that Andrew put up a great fight, however he failed to provided any real substance or rigour in the debate. I think his assumption that humanism was the default position was clear and was his misgiving in his presentation. He lacked positive arguments for Humanism to convince us that morals without god are actually real.
Click to watch debate