Last Saturday, I was recruited to live-debate Ray Comfort on Facebook. That’s right. The banana man himself. Warlock to Kirk Cameron’s imp. Mr. “Everyone Is an Adulterer” (including Mother Theresa and that unborn fetus over there). Topic? “Can there be true moral standards without God?” It was a typed thread, timed to one hour. I’ve extracted the entire exchange and reproduced it below for everyone to read, because the original debate was run in Atheists vs Christians Debate Central, a private group of limited capacity. But we may do more of these debates in future, so if you want to join, check it out. And the original thread is here (a Q&A did continue there after the debate, which ranged wildly, too chaotically to reproduce here; I stuck around another 45 minutes to field a few questions). In this edition I corrected any typos I caught.
Here’s the transcript:
★★★ OFFICIAL DEBATE THREAD ★★★
Moderators: Welcome Dr. Richard Carrier and Evangelist Ray Comfort and welcome group members. The following debate will begin @ 4pmPT and will last 1 hour. View the current time here. This is a one-on-one debate between Dr. Carrier and Mr. Comfort on the topic:
“Can there be true moral standards without God?”
☛ Please no other comments during the debate ☚ (“likes” are ok)
After the debate has concluded, group members may join the discussion.
Thank you and we hope you enjoy the debate!
James Williford (Group Admin): Richard Carrier & Ray Comfort let me know when you are here.
Richard Carrier: I’m here.
Ray Comfort: Richard. It’s nice to meet you, albeit, online. I appreciate this opportunity to share my thoughts, and look forward to hearing the rebuttals that you will no doubt have. These are the main points I will be covering:
- An atheist worldview cannot say that anything is morally wrong.
- Atheism cannot explain the existence of the human conscience.
- Morality itself cannot exist without God.
- There is empirical scientific evidence for the existence of God, and for His moral requirements.
- God did not commit immoral acts in the Old Testament, as many atheists claim.
- Nor is religion responsible for more wars than anything else in history.
For the sake of expediency, I have pre-written a number of my arguments. However, I will do my best to quickly address any questions and objections you may have, trusting that you’ll be forgiving of any typos that may get though (jk).
James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Dr. Carrier, you may post your opening statement whenever you are ready.
Ray Comfort: James Williford. May I comment while we are waiting for Richard (besides this comment)?
James Williford (Group Admin): Let’s wait for His opening statement first, please.
Ray Comfort: Will do.
Ray Comfort: Although I’m 68 and can’t wait too long…
Richard Carrier: In formulating my opening statement, I shall keep this to what we came to debate: can there be moral facts if there is no God. Consciousness is a different question. The existence of God is a different question. Etc. We may get into the other things as we discuss our opening statements. So please start with your opening only on the one question: Why you think there can’t be moral facts, if there is no God.
James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Mr. Comfort you may begin the discussion on, “Can there be true moral standards without God?”
Ray Comfort: No there can’t. This is why. He who denies the existence of God (has no beliefs in any gods), paints himself into dilemma-corner. This is because he is confined to the worldview in which there is no objective and unchanging moral standard.
For example, my question to you is, “Is rape wrong?” If you are an atheist, you are forced to say that it is wrong, because the alternative opens a can of ugly worms. You would never seriously say that rape is right. Just saying that could have your neighbors calling the police, because you would be a potential sexual predator.
My next question to you would be, “WHY is it wrong?” The usual response, is to say that it’s wrong because it causes somebody harm. That’s the general atheist criteria for morality. If something doesn’t hurt someone, then you (If you’re an atheist), believe it is morally okay.
There is, therefore, a plausible scenario in which you would consider child pornography to be morally okay.
This is the scenario: A photographer offers you $75,000 cash to photograph your two toddlers without their clothes on. It will take no more than ten minutes, and he will be behind a one-way mirror. The children won’t be harmed, because they won’t know about it. In fact, they will be benefited, because the $75,000 will be set aside for their private education.
This, therefore, is morally okay with you because no one is harmed? Be careful how you answer, because earlier this week a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor received a 60-year prison sentence just for having child pornography on his computer. U.S. Federal law states:
“Images of child pornography are not protected under First Amendment rights, and are illegal contraband under federal law. Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer-generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor, and images created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict an identifiable, actual minor. Undeveloped film, undeveloped videotape, and electronically stored data that can be converted into a visual image of child pornography are also deemed illegal visual depictions under federal law.
“Notably, the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity. A picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive. Additionally, the age of consent for sexual activity in a given state is irrelevant; any depiction of a minor under 18 years of age engaging in sexually explicit conduct is illegal.” [LINK]
If you publicly advocate child porn, even in this scenario, you may have the police on your doorstep quicker than fleas jump on the back of a mangy dog.
So, the atheist is in a moral dilemma. For him, nothing can be morally wrong. That includes pedophilia, rape, murder, lying, stealing, genocide, and even torture. If he protests that these practices are wrong, I ask, “Who says?”
Richard Carrier: I’ll reply to Comfort’s opening shortly. But first my own opening…
Richard Carrier: Moral Facts Defined : Moral facts come from one thing: what all sane human beings value, when they have true beliefs about themselves, and reason from them without fallacy. Because anything based on false beliefs, or arrived at fallaciously, is false. So only what is based on true beliefs, and arrived at without fallacy, is true. So to find true moral facts, you must eliminate all false beliefs, survey all true beliefs, and deduce what logically follows from those true beliefs, regarding how we ought to behave. Which is why when people argue someone should adopt a certain moral conclusion, they always do so by appealing to some value they think the person they want to persuade already has, or to some false beliefs they think they have, or to some error in logic they believe they are making from their beliefs.
Ontology of Moral Facts : Moral facts are facts about social-cognitive systems, those behaviors that conduce to the most fulfilled state available to the deciding agent, in the context of an interactive social system, and their own cognition of themselves and the world. Value only comes from us; we decide what we want from ourselves and the world. This would be true even if there were a God: we ourselves still have to choose to value anything that God says. Values come from our nature. And God or not, we are cognitive and social beings. If we wish to live as fulfilled as possible, we must cultivate empathy to share the joys of others, else we lose a whole dimension of happiness; and we must cooperate and get along with each other as much as reasonable, so we can manifest by that cooperation a functioning social system, that we all benefit from. Only moral systems that create rather than destroy human happiness have any value to us, and as such, only they are “true,” in the sense that we have sufficient reason to obey them. Accordingly, we as humans have decided to label evil everything conducive to our misery; and good, everything conducive to our happiness. And moral good and evil, as a subset of all, is that which derives from human decisions, which can be changed through reason, persuasion, education, and self-reflection. This standard comes from nothing outside of us. It comes from us. Moral facts are facts about us, about what will most likely lead us each to a better life.
James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you for your opening statements. Richard Carrier you may now respond to Ray’s last comment.
Richard Carrier: Rape is wrong because any rational would-be rapist who acquired full and correct information about how raped women feel, and what sort of person he becomes if he ignores a person’s feelings and welfare, and all of the actual consequences of such behavior to himself and his society, then he would agree that raping such a woman is wrong. Because it actually makes the world he must live in worse even for him, and makes his own self-image worse even for him. It’s impossible to be self-satisfied and not self-horrified and at the same time have only true beliefs about the actual effects of rape on the victim and the perpetrator. Likewise exploiting people without their consent is wrong because it entails creating a world we would constantly live in fear, horror, and loathing of; it therefore cannot be conducive to anyone’s happiness. Except by adopting false beliefs or ignoring true facts. But no true moral facts can follow from false beliefs or ignoring of true facts.
Richard Carrier: Mr. Comfort, my opening combined with that last point constitute a complete rebuttal to your opening.
Ray Comfort: James Williford. May I respond?
James Williford (Group Admin): Yes, you can go back and forth now.
Ray Comfort: Richard, I respectfully disagree, sir. You said, “Accordingly, we as humans have decided to label evil everything conducive to our misery; and good, everything conducive to our happiness.” Does that mean that if I find a way into the vault of a wealthy bank, and steal thousands of dollars without them even knowing it (contributing to my happiness), it’s morally okay? Of course not. Any judge would throw me in prison. Your definition is commonly called “moral relativism.”
We can see the subjective nature that often shapes personal moral convictions, by asking if adult pornography is morally acceptable. You say, like most of the modern world, that it is. It’s not only moral. It’s natural, and it’s legal.
We have already concluded that you think child pornography is wrong, but at what age does it cross the boundary from being immoral (child porn) to being moral (adult porn)?
Is it when the child turns 15? Or would it become moral when she is a shapely 18 year-old? Could it be that your personal pleasure is your influencing factor when it comes to judging when pornography becomes moral? The pleasure of eyes crush the conscience into silence.
While it may be legal to lust after someone who is 18 and older under man’s law, it is not sanctioned under God’s Law. And it’s by that unchanging perfect standard of righteousness that we will be judged on the Day of Judgment. What a fearful thing for those who are not trusting the Savior, no matter what they believe. It is for this reason I’m debating with you. I’m not here to win an argument (i would rather be with my beautiful wife). I’m here because I believe with all of my being that you are in terrible danger and care about you.
Richard Carrier: “Does that mean that if I find a way into the vault of a wealthy bank, and steal thousands of dollars without them even knowing it (contributing to my happiness), it’s morally okay?” You can’t. So it’s a moot point. Unless the bank is owned by a tyrant, like say the King of England in 1776, and you are an American Revolutionary. But then, that wasn’t immoral, was it?
Richard Carrier: Also, if moral relativism is true, then true moral facts still exist. Facts can differ from person to person, and still be true.
Richard Carrier: As to age of consent, that’s a question for cognitive science.
Richard Carrier: When does a person acquire the skill and understanding sufficient to make decisions for themselves is a scientific question.
Richard Carrier: God never said 18 was the age of consent. Um, the Talmud, said it was 12.
Richard Carrier: Personal pleasure is impossible when combined with true beliefs about the horror you are inflicting. Which is why heaven is impossible. All compassionate people will be eternally in horrific misery knowing the unjust miseries eternally inflicted below on countless many including their own loved ones.
Ray Comfort: Back to the subject at hand. Morality. Another dilemma for the atheist is the origin of his conscience–his moral guide. Why does every sane human being have an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong? “Intuitive,” because it’s something we instinctively possess from our infancy. Some would, however, disagree, and say that right and wrong aren’t intuitive, that it is given to them by their parents.
But if a child is left without a father figure (with no moral instruction whatsoever), and finds himself in court for multiple murders, could he be taken seriously if his plea was, “I didn’t know that what I was doing was wrong, your Honor.” Of course not. This is because of a principle in law known as “mens rea.” It is the standard common law test of criminal liability, meaning that “the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.” In other words where there is a conscience, there is guilt. And every sane person has a society-shaped, albeit, God-given conscience, leaving us all guilty of criminal acts (violation of the moral Law–the Ten Commandments) in the eyes of God.
Yet the voice of our conscience is rarely welcomed, because we find pleasure in doing that which is morally wrong. It is an unwanted and heavy wet blanket that falls onto the joy of sexual lust.
We love the darkness and hate the light, but to dull the voice of conscience is about as intelligent as removing the batteries from your smoke detector, because its alarm annoys you.
A tender conscience will act like an impartial judge on the courtroom of our mind, accusing us of actions that violate God‘s moral Law (the Ten Commandments). For example, the first time we look at pornography, fornicate, commit adultery, lie or steal, or even kill, our conscience will call us out. The next time, its voice may speak with less volume. But the third time, it will merely whisper, and when its voice is completely gone, we will find ourselves in a fire of immorality, with no consciousness of our danger. The Bible calls such a state a “reprobate mind.”
Richard Carrier: Conscience is well studied by cognitive science. It’s the product of our metacognition, essential to consciousness: the ability to model other minds, and mirror emotional states in connection with that. It’s essential to the fulfilled functioning of any social species with social cognition. Yes, bad child rearing can produce people with false beliefs. But true moral facts can’t follow from false beliefs. Thus, moral facts can be not known, yet still true, owing to someone still being trapped in false beliefs or ignorance about themselves or the world or the effects of their decisions on both.
Ray Comfort: Can you give me an example of “true moral facts?”
Richard Carrier: We just covered several. Rape is factually wrong because it is factually anti-conducive to an otherwise available state of life satisfaction of the moral agent. So too disrupting good societies with bank robberies; whereas robbing tyrants is conducive to a better world, and if living under the tyrant is bad enough, the risks involved may entail a greater available life-satisfaction than acquiescing to tyranny.
Ray Comfort: You said “Rape is factually wrong because it is factually anti-conducive to an otherwise available state of life satisfaction of the moral agent.” Not true. A male-dominant society may rape whom they will and produce many children. That would be conducive to their society. The fit survive. But back to today’s subject: “Can there be true moral standards without God?” That can’t be answered without a definition of “moral.” How high do I have to jump to qualify as a high-jumper—over a two-foot bar? The term “high-jump” needs a definition or it is senseless. There’s nothing high about two feet, unless you’re an ant.
What is the definition of “moral?” Atheists don’t have one. The theistic world does, but if it’s not the same as God’s definition, it is illegitimate. His is absolute perfection in thought, word, and deed. That means we are to love the God who gave us life with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor (everyone else) as much as we love ourselves. And that means we never lie to him, steal from him, hate him, or gossip about him, or even lust after his gorgeous wife.
To sin even once in thought, disqualifies you. If you hit a mirror with a hammer in only one place, you shatter the whole thing.
Richard Carrier: I said conducive to life satisfaction. Overpopulated brutal societies are not conducive to anyone’s life satisfaction. You are confusing genes with people. We’re people. In case you didn’t notice.
Richard Carrier: The moral is that which you ought to do above all else. It is simply the set of true imperatives that supersede all others.
Richard Carrier: And imperatives are those actions that obtain what we want (which will be a true fact of those actions). And supreme imperatives are those actions that obtain what we most want. And what all humans most want is the greatest fulfillment available to them. And what obtains that without false beliefs, is truly the supreme imperative. And therefore a moral fact.
Ray Comfort: << I said conducive to life satisfaction.>> Are you saying that their is no pleasure/satisfaction or fulfilment in rape? Why then to men rape women? Of course there is peasure in rape and other illegalities. There’s a sense of excitment in theft. Morality should never be reduced to does it make me happy or sad? But is it right or wrong, and atheists have no measuring rod. But there is more bad news for atheists. Morality can’t even exist without God. Our eyes and ears, our brains, the air we breathe, the sun that shines, the birds, and the atoms were created by Him. And the emotion of love, and “morality” itself would not exist without Him, because both love and morality are His very being.
He revealed Himself in the Scriptures as being the “Habitation of Justice,” and showed us His standard through the Law He gave to Moses. The full extent of what the Law demands is seen in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus expounded the Ten Commandments to include intent. Among other things, He said,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
I have asked thousands of people if they think they’re moral, and every one of them believed that they were. But on closer examination, under the light of the Ten Commandments, it becomes clear why they think they are good. Their standard of morality is very low. They consider themselves to be an Olympic high-jumper, when their feet don’t even leave the ground.
The reason we are even looking at this subject, is because we are moral creatures. We’ve been made with a yearning for justice. No other creature in nature sets up court systems and spends billions of dollars each year in search of equity. The biblical explanation for this, is that man’s Creator made him with a knowledge of right and wrong, through the presence of his God-given and society-shaped conscience.
Richard Carrier: You are saying the same thing, BTW. You think satisfying God’s commands will lead to the most fulfilling life available to you. You’re just factually wrong about that (or about some of that anyway; insofar as your morals are excessive; they’ve become less so because you’ve been secretly following secular metaethical reasoning for a couple hundred years, and not actually Biblical reasoning, e.g. you don’t keep slaves or execute apostates as God orders).
Richard Carrier: Ray Comfort, true facts don’t follow from false beliefs. So describing people with false beliefs is not a relevant counter-example. For example, “pleasure/satisfaction or fulfilment in rape” only follows from false beliefs. If you have true beliefs, about what you are causing in the world, and what sort of person you are becoming in the act, you would be in horror, not pleasure.
Richard Carrier: And yes, we yearn for less awful worlds. Because we don’t like awful worlds. If we liked them, we wouldn’t yearn for better ones. The fact of the world is simply that: what we do and don’t like. And the truth of what we should seek, is what world we want after we deduce what follows from all relevant true beliefs and not false.
James Williford (Group Admin): 🕛 Time 🕛
James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Mr. Comfort, you may post a closing comment whenever you are ready.
Ray Comfort: Thank you. I would like to say a special (and sincere) thank you to atheists. Our YouTube channel has over 50,000,000 views. Many of those who watch them are atheists, so I would like to take a moment to say how much I appreciate that. However, they do see me as a train-wreck and can’t look away. In 2018, we have a new train-wreck-film coming out called “Banana Man” featuring Richard Dawkins Lawrence Krauss, Penn Jillette, as well as brief appearances of Ricky Gervais, PZ Myers, Ron Barrier, Steve Shrines, Thunderfoot, Jaclyn Glenn, Hemant Mehta, Matt Dillahunty, Aaron Ra and others. I’d love to come back and talk about it when it’s released on YouTube.
One other thing. I mention that I would give scientific proof that God exists. I think it is relevant to the topic, because if there’s no God, nothing really matters.
There was no way any sane person could believe that a book, with coherent sentences, sequential page numbers, and with binding and graphics, could make itself. It is without the realm of possibility.
DNA is filled with coherent information. It is complex instructions on how to make your blood, your bones, skin, brain, eyes and ears, your height and your personality. All that information was in your DNA from the moment you were conceived. To say that one book made itself would be insane. So how much more insane is it to believe that DNA created itself. But that’s what an atheist believes. It is the epitome of foolishness. But atheists believe that, and then crown themselves intelligent for that insane belief, hiding behind the skirts of science.
Thank you for allowing me to be here. Best wishes.
James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you Mr. Ray Comfort it has been an honor to have you in our group and thank you for your participation in this debate.
James Williford (Group Admin): ➽ Dr. Carrier, you may post a closing comment whenever you are ready.
Richard Carrier: On the present subject, no evidence was presented that moral facts can’t exist in the absence of a God, and ample evidence was presented that there can. So I consider that settled. For further reading I recommend to everyone my articles: How Can Morals Be Both Invented and True? And: Moral Ontology.
On the closing God thing, evolutionary algorithms increase the accumulation of coherent information at a rate of dozens of bits per replication; so if that’s where it came from, we should expect it would have to have taken several billion years to accumulate the amount we observe on earth. Lo and behold, it took billions of years. An intelligent engineer works faster than that. We intelligently design organisms now ourselves in a matter of mere weeks. And we’re just pathetic humans with limited funding. The conclusion as to whether God exists on that point, is self-evident.
James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you Dr. Richard Carrier it has been an honor to have you in our group and thank you for your participation in this debate.
James Williford (Group Admin): Thank you Dr Richard Carrier and Mr. Ray Comfort this has truly been an honor to have you both in our group and this has been a very interesting debate.
Janice Morris: Thank you Richard and Ray for your time.
James Williford (Group Admin): Group members may now join the discussion if they wish.
Richard Carrier: It’s been great. I appreciate everyone’s taking the time and attention, including Ray Comfort. A pleasure. I’ll hang around for some informal discussion for a little while.