Letís talk again about whether objective values exist if God does not exist. I donít think Professor Nielsen answered my responses adequately.
I first suggested that the distinction "purpose of life/purpose in life" provides no basis to assess the moral worth of the purpose in life that we choose. It becomes purely arbitrary. And I did not see any response to that point.
I then said it leads to moral relativism and gave the examples of extraterrestrials and rape. His response is that weíre only concerned with morality for human beings. But obviously the illustration of the extraterrestrials is meant to show that this is purely relative, that there is no necessity of an objective affirmation of moral value for human beings. The extraterrestrials are simply a hypothesis to reveal that relativism. He said he could convince them of objective values by saying, "Do you regard human"--and then he caught himself and said, "Do you regard degradation as a bad thing?" That was an important slip because these extraterrestrials might well say, "No, we donít regard human degradation or suffering as a bad thing," any more than we regard mosquito suffering as a bad thing. The point is that I canít see any objective moral basis on which these extraterrestrials should be concerned about how they behave toward human beings. And Dr. Nielsen then more or less admits it. He says, "You canít reason with them. You canít prove it to them." And thatís exactly my point. There is no objective basis for human morality on an atheistic worldview. They would not regard rape as degrading, so that it wouldnít help to convince them that degradation is wrong because in their moral system itís not degrading.
Dr. Nielsen says, "But what about divine commands?" And I said that these were based on Godís nature. He doesnít come back on that point.
I said he confused the order of knowing with the order of being. He doesnít really defend his point there, but he says, "I have a reason why we should be moral." He says, "Itís in our self-interest to be moral." I was really surprised to hear that coming from him. That sort of purely self-interested motivation for morality is, I think, fatal to the atheistic position because for someone who is sufficiently powerful not to be worried about what others do, self-interest can only lead to a sort of self-aggrandizing hedonism. It leads to the kind of life of a Marcos, a Papa Doc Duvalier, a Mbbutu, and so forth. Self-interest will never be able to justify an ethic of compassion. And so I think that was a fatal admission on Dr. Nielsenís part for the atheistic worldview.
He says, "But if there were no God, wouldnít suffering still be evil?" No, I donít see why it would. Why would human suffering be evil any more than the suffering of mice or insects is evil? Without God as the absolute standard, I donít see that human values are any different than these other biological adaptations.
He suggested that we just start with moral truisms. I said that you can have different, conflicting patterns, and I did not see a response to that. I also said thereís no reason to adopt the moral point of view at all, to which we get this fatal self-interest response.
Let me just say in addition to this that there are a couple of elements of Nielsenís philosophy that are especially incompatible with human beingsí having objective moral value. First would be his materialism. On Dr. Nielsenís view, there is no distinction between body and soul, or mind and body. Human beings are not essentially different than just animals, so that there isnít anything in them other than chemicals. Weíre just bags of water on skeletons, in essence,--very complex, but there is nothing distinct from the material body. When a bomb destroys a human being, it simply rearranges the atoms that once were a little girl.
Second would be Nielsenís determinism. Flowing out of his materialism is his denial of free will. But in order to be morally significant, choices have to be free. If our moral choices are simply the result of stimuli we receive through the five senses, then our moral choices are no more significant than a treeís growing a limb.
Last is his nominalism. He denies that there is any objective, sort of Platonic realm of moral values. But moral values clearly arenít physical things; so I donít see where in the world he gets objective moral values into his metaphysics.
So on those three grounds--his materialism, his determinism, and his nominalism, it seems to me that there is simply no reason to think that without God there is objective moral value.
Remember the points about immortality as well. I said thereís no reason to adopt the moral point of view because we all die and end up the same way. And, secondly, there is no basis for self-sacrifice on the atheistic point of view, and he hasnít responded to that yet.
He did say some things about the problem of evil. Let me just respond to these--first, with regard to the probabilistic problem of evil. The question here is not whether God is mysterious. That was a misunderstanding. My point was that, because of our limitations in space and history, we may not see Godís purposes emerge in our lifetime. Therefore weíre not in a good position to assess the probabilities of why He permitted a certain evil. But I see no basis on the atheistic view for thinking that itís improbable that God could have morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur.
Why does so much evil occur? Again, I would write this off to human free will. As for animal suffering, this is probably due simply to the laws of nature--geological, meteorological sorts of laws that God has put into action. But remember that when humans suffer from these sorts of natural disasters, they will be recompensed in the afterlife.
My time is up, but I donít think that the debate here is focused on the problem of evil. It seems to me to be focusing in on this area of objective moral values without God. And I see no hope for an objective moral basis for the affirmation of human values apart from God himself.