I had a three part debate with an atheist who goes by the name Club Schadenfreude (clubschadenfreude). The main topics debated were atheism and subjective morality as well as the Bible and slavery.
Part one: “Does atheism entail nihilism?”
Part two: “Village atheist du jour: clubschadenfreude”
Part three: “A censured Bible for slaves”
[Atheist questioner:] You accuse the second question, I believe, of caricaturing Christians, and I believe that you’ve committed the same crime towards atheists. From your presentation, it seems that you’re making us all out to be a bunch of nihilists. Kind of like the guys from The Big Lebowski. And in the end I would be forced to say that a lot of our morals are not based on this idea of, sort of, you know, humanity being insignificant in the end. And this accusation of speciesism is, you know, I don’t really think that such a concept necessarily has to exist. My question to you is based on, you know, my beliefs that, you know, our morals are informed, are based on our feelings, our relationships to the people around us, our empathy for our fellow human beings. How is that less valid somehow than some belief in an absolute moral system posed by God?
[William Lane Craig:] Alright, it seems to me that the view you just expressed is the view that you said I was caricaturing atheists with. Namely that our moral values are based in our feelings, our relationships with other people, things of that [nature]. I don’t think I caricatured atheists.
In fact, what I’m arguing is that atheists should be nihilists, not that they are nihilists. As I said to the previous questioner, I don’t think anybody can really live like a nihilist. Even Nietzsche couldn’t. But I think that the atheist should be a nihilist given his worldview.
Why? Well, because if morality is just based in feelings, and relationships with other people, and the way we were raised, you know, by our parents in society, then it’s all relative. Someone who has different feelings, who was raised in a different society, might have a vastly different set of values and moral duties. Therefore, it’s not objective; it’s purely subjective. And really, it’s just the result of human sociobiological conditioning.
So it seems to me that the view you expressed is exactly the view that I’m saying atheists ought to hold to.
[Atheist questioner:] In light of that, my question is more along the lines of, why is that such an unacceptable thing? In one of your YouTube videos, you were talking about a position, I think, that was the difference between something being intellectually defensible and emotionally defensible. If these values and all provide us with the complete fulfillment that maybe the acceptance of absolute morals would provide a religious person, then why are these so indefensible, so unacceptable?
[William Lane Craig:] Well, I think I would say two things there as to why I think it’s unacceptable. First, it would be because it’s false. That is to say, I’m convinced that there really are objective moral duties and values. That is, that the Holocaust is not just something that is wrong relative to Western democratic standards, but right for the Nazis. So that if the Nazis had won WW2, and everybody believed the Holocaust was good, on that atheistic view, then it really would have been good. That to me is morally unconscionable. I think that’s just false. I think there are objective moral values and duties. So that’s the first reason I would say this is unacceptable: it’s just false.
The second reason is because it leads to a worldview which is, I think, unlivable. It’s incapable of being lived consistently and happily. You cannot live consistently and happily as though moral values and duties are just the results of feelings and subjective impressions. You’re going to want to say, for example, that apartheid was really wrong. That the killing fields of Cambodia were really wrong. And you can’t do that if it’s just based in feelings.
So those would be the two reasons, I think, that it’s unacceptable: because it’s false, that’s fundamental, and then the second one would be it’s unlivable.