Theme: Ratio Christi of UNCG (represented by Adam Tucker and Bill Pratt, hereafter noted as "RC") and the UNCG Atheists Agnostics and Skeptics (represented by Joshua Deaton and Robert Eldredge, hereafter noted as "UNCG AAS") debated whether the Christian or an atheistic worldview better accounts for morality and which worldview offers a superior understanding of how morality works in the world.
Location & Time: The event was held in the Elliot University Center (EUC) in the EUC auditorium from @ 7-9 p.m.
Format: This was a debate structured as a panel discussion with each side giving a 16 minute opening statement, then each side lead a question and discussion session with the other for 17 minutes respectively. Both sides then offered 5 minute closing statements, followed by a 10 minute break and 30 minute Q&A period where the panelists answered written audience questions.
- The accommodations were comfortable, the panelists were easily heard, and the lighting was sufficient for the audience to take notes.
- We were pleasantly greeted upon entering the lobby of the auditorium by representatives from both sides and received literature from them as well as an explanation of how to use our note-cards and poll cards. The warm greeting and instructions was a nice touch!
- We had the opportunity to turn in a poll card at the end of the debate indicating whether we had changed our position regarding our general metaphysical orientation as well as our views concerning the thesis of the debate.
- At one point during RC's opening statement, there was so much scoffing going on behind us from a detractor(s), that I couldn't make out parts of what Mr. Tucker was saying. Of course this was a violation of audience conduct rules read by the moderator before the debate. The detractor(s) was several rows behind us and still loud enough to hear intelligibly. However, no one near the front of the audience turned around so I doubt the moderator could even hear it to correct it. Such is the case with a larger venue.
- In my opinion, the moderator seemed slightly biased towards the UNCG AAS. He allowed Joshua Deaton to take too long to ask his first question and make other off-hand comments that were not germane to certain portions of the discussion. Also, I'm not sure if I heard this correctly (I'll have to go back and examine the audio-video when it becomes available), but I thought that Robert Eldredge at one point blasphemed and said, "Oh Jesus!" I realize that emotions can run high in a debate, but a moderator should work hard to keep such emotional outbursts to a minimum and focus on maintaining socially acceptable behavior, which does not include blasphemy or off-hand comments that are not germane to the discussion at hand.
- The RC panelists willingly ditched the Bible from the start. This is a typical strategy for those holding to the classical apologetic methodology. The classical apologist does this because he wants to show that you can ground moral realism by invoking a general theism since he believes that (1) it cannot be philosophically demonstrated that the Christian God alone is the necessary grounds for moral realism, and (2) so as to avoid alienating a secular audience and perhaps provoking interest in a general theism so as to provide a framework for later demonstrating the existence of the Christian God via various evidential and rational-philosophical arguments supporting both the reliability of the Bible and the historicity of the resurrection of Christ. However, giving up the Bible in a religious debate clearly contradicts 2 Corinthians 10:5, which states, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5 NAU). We are commanded to defend the faith once for all handed down to the saints, not a deistic god via philosophical argumentation that is detached from Scripture (Jude 3; Col. 2:3-8). Romans 1:19-21 tells the Christian that the unbeliever already knows that the Creator exists, regardless of their degree of truth suppression. None of the apostles ever defended the faith without appealing directly to Scripture or at least alluding to its teachings. My view is that for a professing Christian to give up the Bible in a debate involving God is sinful. It's like a soldier who willingly enters the battlefield and lays down his weapon and boastfully says to his opponent, "I don't need my sword, I can beat you without it even though I'm ordered by my commanding officer to use it at all times."
- RC asserted that you don't have to believe in God to be moral, but only to ground morality. I understand this argument, but Biblically speaking, it simply isn't true that one can be reckoned moral without faith in Christ. According to God, there are no good people regardless of how well you walk society's moral line (Romans 3:12). This is why we need an imputed righteousness from Christ (Romans 4:4-5; Philippians 3:9). Also, unbelief itself is sin, and final unbelief will land all unrepentant sinners in Hell (Revelation 21:8). Thus, the completely antithesis of what it means to be moral according to God's standards. Thus, no unbeliever can be good according to God. I realize that telling an unbeliever in an academic debate that he can't be moral whatsoever unless he repents and places his faith in Christ isn't the best way to earn respect with the academy, get more debate opportunities, or win the crowd, but it's better to be Biblically correct rather than politically correct regardless of the circumstances. To the wind with academic respectability!
- Mr. Pratt replied to one of Mr. Deaton's questions with this response: "Christians aren't any more morally certain than atheists." What? (!) You mean that believers can't be sure that adultery, fornication, murder, abortion, or pedophilia is wicked? Regardless of the context or the specific question that was asked of Mr. Pratt, this statement is wrong any way you slice it.
- In response to a question related to the six days of creation, Mr. Pratt affirmed old earth creationism and stated that it's not a matter of orthodoxy. I agree that a person can be saved and affirm old earth creationism, but Jesus said that the creation of Adam and Eve was from the beginning of the creation, not at the relative end of history, 3.5 billion years after the earth came into existence (Mark 10:6). Affirming old earth creationism also undermines the Adam-Christ parallels in the New Testament (Romans 5/1 Corinthians 15) by denying that animal death entered the world through the fall. It also denies not only the historical interpretation of Genesis 1-11 adopted by the majority of scholars throughout church history pre-19th century, but it also defies a consistent grammatico-historical hermeneutic so as to maintain consistency with secular paradigms regarding the age of the earth.
- RC did an excellent job pressing the UNCG AAS panelists with the problem of the "Naturalistic Fallacy", i.e., getting an "ought" from an "is". This is one of the fundamental problems for atheism's attempt to justify moral realism and it is one of the major reasons why many philosophically astute atheists are moral relativists. For those not familiar with this classic philosophical problem as expounded by skeptic David Hume, the idea is that what is the case doesn't necessarily tell us what should be the case. In other words, just because people behave a certain way doesn't necessarily mean that they ought to behave that way. On atheism, all you ultimately have are statistical averages as it pertains to moral habits. But statistical averages don't tell us what should be happening, they only tell us what is happening. This is the problem of trying to derive any moral standards whatsoever from science, Sam Harris' views notwithstanding.
- RC revealed the hypocrisy of the UNCG AAS by showing that while they have no problem accusing the Christian God of being immoral by regulating slavery in the Old and New Testaments, yet they dogmatically affirmed that moral standards are determined by society, biology, and individual reason. But given the atheist's standards for determining ethics, perhaps Bronze age Hebrews lived in a society where slavery was a given, hadn't experienced as much "cultural evolution", and had "reasoned" that slavery was the best option for many who didn't have modern welfare-state conveniences like prison and refugee camps, Medicaid, HUD-housing, and food stamps. Thus, on the atheist's standards, slavery would have been morally obligatory in certain circumstances in ancient Hebrew or Greco-Roman culture.
- RC also did a good job showing the inconsistency of the UNCG AAS holding to both naturalistic materialism and moral culpability since naturalism implies biochemical predestination and moral culpability implies that people are free moral agents; ideas which are obviously incompatible with one another.
- RC did a fair job of explaining how Israelite slavery was the result of the effects of sin operating in a bronze age, warrior-class society. However, where they waffled a bit was on the subject of whether slavery was absolutely sinful under both Old and New Covenant eras and the question of why God couldn't have legislated against it in light of the fact that He easily created the universe in six days. I appreciated Mr. Pratt's brief explanation of Hebrew slavery being likened to indentured servitude, for this was indeed the case for Hebrew slaves (Ex. 21:2-11; Lev. 25:39-43); but this didn't apply for Gentile slaves acquired through conquest (Lev. 25:44-46) and both were still considered as "property" of their master, whether Hebrew or not (Ex. 21:20). The Biblical presentation is that if slavery was practiced in accordance with the laws associated with the particular covenant administration that a believer was under (i.e., Mosaic Law = O.T.; Law of Christ = N.T.), then slavery wasn't sinful in and of itself. What was sinful, was the abuse of the system that God regulated (cf. Ex. 21:1-10; 20-21; Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-4:1). However, just as biblical divorce wasn't ideal but was permitted and regulated under both covenants (Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:1-12; 1 Cor. 7:15), neither was slavery ideal but was permitted and regulated. The Biblical ideal regarding slavery is found in 1 Corinthians 7:21 and Philemon 15-17. It would also have been helpful to point out that the existence of literal slavery in a fallen world points to the fact that everyone is a spiritual slave, whether to Satan or Christ.
- Mr. Deaton's first question during the discussion time was too long and convoluted. It seemed as though the question was purposefully convoluted so as to trip up the RC panelists, though I can't be sure of such. I panned the crowd after Mr. Deaton asked his first question, and while I initially understood the question, I observed many confused faces in the audience who obviously didn't.
- The UNCG AAS' explanation of how objective moral norms develop (social standards, biology, individual reason) was easily shown to be self-referentially incoherent when they tried to argue against the supposed immorality of the Bible (i.e., slavery, Midianite war-brides of Numbers 31:18ff).
- The UNCG AAS panelists denied moral relativism but then affirmed the same. Their rationale for moral norms was essentially based upon their own personal preference. Thus, they denied moral subjectivism with their mouths but ended up affirming it when pressed to give a non-subjective grounding for ethical standards.
- When pressed by the RC as to what constitutes the grounds for determining whether an action is moral or immoral, the UNCG AAS said "whatever promotes peace and happiness." But this is obviously wrong prima facie, for what makes one person happy may sadden or infuriate another. What brings pain may bring pleasure to another. Consider the worn out argument of Nazi Germany; what made the German people happy via the Third Reich's propaganda campaign was determined by social conditioning, reasoning, and supposed biological evolution (social Darwinism) and that amounted to the slaughter of 6 million Jews and 6 million non-Jews. It made the Nazi's happy, it angered, saddened, and infuriated much of the rest of Western culture. What brings peace, welfare, and happiness to some, may kill others.
- Eutyphro's Dilemma - This is an old, worn-out atheistic canard that refuses to die. As Mr. Pratt already answered in a blog article, what constitutes good for God proceeds from God's nature is not above it, under it, or external to it. God's standard is not external to Him (voluntarism), nor arbitrary (Divine command theory), but internal to Him. Morality is thus grounded in the internal, immutable character of God. So, while some of God's laws may change as He changes His dealings with men through various covenants and eras of redemptive history (Heb. 7:12), God's internal character does not change and cannot change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), thus guaranteeing an objective, transcendent grounding for many moral norms (Matt. 22:37-40, Rom. 13:8-10). The atheists' objection showed that they simply didn't understand the solution or didn't want to understand it.
- Numbers 31:18-20 - Mr. Deaton referred to this text in an attempt to argue that God commanded the rape of Midianite female captives. A few things need to be noted: (1) These were war-brides, not rape victims (Deut. 21:10-14). The word rape is found nowhere in Numbers 31. The punishment for raping a married or betrothed woman in the Old Testament was the death penalty (Deut. 22:25-27). Mr. Deaton made up the idea of Midianite women being raped and then imputed such wickedness to God in an effort to slander the word of God, discredit RC, and to justify his atheism. (2) War-brides were provided for with a home, food, shelter, clothing, etc., all fulfilling God's requirements for holy war when Israel took vengeance on His enemies (Deut. 20:14-15; 21:10-14). Carrying off virgin women from conquered lands as booty to provide war-brides was a much better alternative than leaving them in their conquered lands without a husband to provide for their needs. Again, this was the best option considering that these people lived in a warrior-class culture that didn't have our modern welfare-state conveniences like prison and refugee camps, Medicaid, HUD-housing, and food stamps.
- The UNCG AAS arguments boiled down to this: If our morality makes us and other people in our society happy, then it's good; if not, then it's evil. However, they fail to notice that while they rail against the Bible for slavery, war-brides, etc., the selfsame standards that they used to shroud their moral relativism actually justifies the very morality that they hate in the Bible.