CraigĖTaylor Debate:
Is the Basis for Morality Natural or Supernatural?

Audience Question & Answer Time

First Questioner: Hello, Iím directing my question to Professor Taylor. My question is, you mentioned you believe in God, and I think it would help me get a better understanding if youíd tell me why you believe in God?

Taylor: I could answer your question, but it wonít help you. The answer is: because I canít help it! David Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, said at one point, "When you look at these things, when you think on these things, doesnít the idea of God flow in upon you like a sensation?" Thatís part of whatóI am overwhelmed by the mystery of life, I am overwhelmed by the mystery of the world. The heart of religious attitude is a sense of mystery. That is what Ióin the mere fact that it is mysterious is why I said maybe you canít answer the question. If I said, "Look, this is why I believe in God: (1), (2), (3)," that would be equivalent to saying I didnít believe in God, just as Kierkegaard said. As soon as you say, "Ah! Now itís been shown, hasnít it? Itís very probable, yes!" Kierkegaard aptly said at that point you cease to believe. It is totally irrational. But I canít help it. I believe it. When I said to that student, "Itís the only thing I really believe," that was true.

First Questioner: Thank you very much. It did help.

Second Questioner: My question is for Dr. Craig. I have a very slight preface to make my question clear. In saying ĎLove thy neighbor as thyself," this has its origins in conventional morality because what Iíd like to be done unto me comes from my culture. And so I believe the Bibleís also interpreted from conventional morality, and I donít think you will find that our conventional moral interpretation of the Bible on the subject of womenís equality is radically different from earlier time periods. And therefore I conclude from this that our morality is based on the culture. Iím wondering what your opinion is on the subject of culturally changing biblical interpretation.

Craig: O.K., could you repeat that part of the question and explain why you thought it was culturally relative? I didnít get that part.

Second Questioner: Because right now our interpretations of the Bible, such as on womenís equality, are radically different from earlier time periods in which the Bible has been used as a basis of seeing why men are superior to women.

Craig: Iím not sure I understand the question, but it sounds to me like itís more a question of biblical interpretation than a question of ethical values. I mean, if people in the past have misinterpreted what the Bible says, and now they interpret it more accurately, thatís just a matter of gaining better interpretive principles. Or conversely, if perhaps people in the past interpreted it correctly, and we, under the pressure of the spirit of our times, have misinterpreted it today, then thatís just again a failure of interpretation. I donít see that that affects the objective validity of what the original author had to say. You want to follow that up?

Second Questioner: Yes. I would state that our interpretation and past interpretations always have come from a culture, so that there therefore is no objective interpretation of the Bible, and it is always culturally interpreted.

Craig: All right, I can say something about that. This really is not a question about moral values. Itís more a question of historicism really, about how you interpret a document, and your subjectivist point of view is held by certain radical literary critics and historians who say that a text has no meaning, except that which the reader imposes on it. And I just disagree very fundamentally with that philosophy of hermeneutics or interpretation. It seems to me that the meaning of a text is the meaning that the author gives to the text and that we have to use the best of our abilities to get at the original meaning the author intended. Now, of course, all of us are involved in what is called "the hermeneutical circle," that is to say, we come to the text with all the baggage and presuppositions of our culture and time and so forth, and none of us are neutral observers. That was the mistake of the great historicist philosophers like Leopold von Ranke of the last century, who claimed that he wanted to learn about the past as it happened and thought he was a neutral observer. None of us are perfectly neutral, of course, but the goal is to try to make clear the presuppositions and the attitudes we bring to a text, as best we can, and then to try to strive together to achieve objectivity. I donít think that we should just throw up our hands and wallow in a sea of subjectivity. Otherwise, literature, in a sense, becomes meaningless. When I read in a newspaper, say, that the Toronto Blue Jays won the game yesterday 3 to 1, that does not mean, say, that the Golden Gate Bridge fell into the San Francisco Bay. You know, words have meaningÖ.

Moderator: Dr. Craig, I believe the questioner was asking, if in fact this text is subject to multiple cultural interpretations, how can it be authoritative if we donít know which cultural interpretation is correct? Is that the question?

Second Questioner: Yes.

Craig: Well, I would just say that that isnít the case and that weíre not lost in subjectivity and that we can use historical, grammatical, exegetical tools and interpretive principles to get at the original meaning, and that is the authoritative meaning, the authorís intent.

Second Questioner: Thank you very much.

Third Questioner: I would like to address Dr. Taylor, please. The first questioner took my question that I was going to ask, so I may be out of line here, Mr. Moderator. So feel free to correct me here. Dr. Taylor, you had mentioned that morality is determined by human need. You had mentioned that at some point in your discourse. You also stated that, and I quote, "I believe in God. Itís the only thing I believe in," which seems to indicate to me that belief in God is determined in your case by human need. Therefore, it seems to necessarily follow that you need God for morality.

Taylor: No, belief in God is not an opinion. Itís not a philosophical opinion. If it is, then it has no religious significance whatever. In the Psalms somewhere, it says, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth showeth forth His handiwork." Now I sometimes quote that, and philosophers say, "Oh, then you accept the argument from design." No, I do not. I donít accept any philosophical argument for anything. I just say, do you see it or donít you? And someone says, "Yeah, I see it. O. K." "No, I donít see it. O. K." My wife happens to have none of the sense of mystery whatsoever. She doesnít see it. I would not dream of trying to persuade her. There is no basis in that remark for anything I have to say about ethics, nothing at all. Itís a very comforting thing to say, "Thereís a lawĖgiving God, Heís given you these laws, Jesus loves you, and [tape unintelligible] and so forth, comforting you know, but it will not enable you to get anywhere. When you talk about objective moral standards, as was done here tonight, it doesnít help, does no good at all. It helps you not at all, in deciding ethics. Have I missed the point of your question?

Third Questioner: Well, yeah, again, Iím not really asking, itís not really a matter of opinion, rather it seems to me, and I could put it in the form of a question: Why would you even need God, if in fact you did say morality is determined by human need?

Taylor: I donít know whether I need God or not. The question really never occurred to me, frankly. I have no idea what the answer to that is. I rather suspect I donít.

Third Questioner: O. K., thank you.

Fourth Questioner: I would like to address Dr. Craig. Dr. Craig, you stated that the meaning of a text is the meaning the author gave it. And we must interpret that correctly in order to gather that meaning. I submit to you that the only time human beings were in possession of the true Word of God was at its delivery on Mount Sinai. Since then, it has been subject to many human interpretations, and, as humans by nature are fundamentally imperfect, therefore we need to be led by a God who is perfect in His morality. I ask you: How can we base our morality upon the interpretation of a fundamentally flawed document in itself?

Craig: Well, I donít think the document is fundamentally flawed. If you agree that it was clear in its original writing or its original rescension, we have copies, manuscripts of the Old Testament and the New Testament in a wealth of attestation; so that I hear you thinking that somehow the text has become corrupted. Thatís simply false. Again, we mustnít allow ourselves to wallow in this subjectivism. Think of the example I gave of reading an article in the newspaper and completely misinterpreting it. That would be wrong. When you read the Sermon on the Mount, youíd be crazy if you read the Sermon on the Mount and said, "My interpretation of this is that itís the playĖbyĖplay of a game between the Phillies and the Cardinals." Thatís not what the text says. So, of course, there are nuances of interpretation, and I agree that none of us are utterly neutral observers, but still, there is an objectivity we can get out of it that belongs to the text, which the original author intended. And if that were not possible, you could never read a medicine label on a package of medicine. You wouldnít know whether it was rat poison or whether it was Sudafed. We all assume when we read a medicine label that objective interpretation is possible. And I donít see why itís not possible with the Bible.

Fourth Questioner: Thank you.

Fifth Questioner: I have a question for Dr. Taylor. If there is no objective morality and it is subjective, that would seem to me a kind of an ethical Darwinism, or a moral Darwinism; then whose ethics will determine what ethics we should follow? Is it the political party of power? Is it the person who is most powerful who determines the ethics for our land and our world?

Taylor: I didnít say ethics is subjective. I have difficulty understanding what someone says when he says there is an objective morality. It sounds good. I suppose what it means is: that judgements containing the words "right" and "wrong" are either true or they are false. I think thatís naive. I donít think itís entirely to be rejected, but I think that to let it go at that is naive. A lot more analysis and thought needs to be given than just tossing that out. Yeah, I think there are things that are objective, and I think you will agree human suffering is something that is objective. The detestation of suffering is objective. That is a fact. You donít like your bones broken. You donít want to bleed. You donít want to be assaulted. You donít want to be stolen from. Nobody does. That is objective. And from those objective facts, we are perfectly capable of devising rules. Now these rules are objective in the sense that they are based upon certain natural facts, the ones I just enunciated. They are not objective in the sense that they admit of no exception. There are situations in which what would be a normal, a perfectly valid rule, no longer works. Those who say it is objective, seem, most often, to want to deny that. They want to say, "This is the rule. Apply it, no matter what, even if it advances human suffering." Thatís not where the rule came from. It didnít come from God. It came from human suffering and human needs. And those are objective. They are facts.

Fifth Questioner: If there is that competition among the description of morality, then, who is going to make the decision in the case of a disagreement?

Taylor: Well, alas, when you have a decision, you are going to have to make it. Now if you want comfort, you can say, "I will make it on the basis of this rule which I got from my pastor, my priest, or what not. This the rule. I apply it. People will suffer, people will die. Thatís the rule." Itís one way to make it. Another way is to wrestle with yourself. It wonít be easy. Sometimes there is no answer. Sometimes when you are in a position of making a decision, no matter what you do, people are going to hurt, no matter what you do. Now the easy way out is to resort to some rule and have someone tell you, "This is Godís rule." Thatís the easy way out. It is not, I think, even a wise or moral way out.

Sixth Questioner: Dr. Taylor, you alluded to lives of people that we see around us, that we should try to copy, the beneficial things we see, and we see many of these people, and they do have fine lives of moral rectitude, and we see many qualities we should copy, I grant you. However, how can you differentiate whether the lives of these people are the result of objective morality, or whether there is a lingering Christian metaphysic still permeating society? I donít see how you can sort these things out because of the eclectic nature of human lives. I donít see how you can differentiate those two things.

Taylor: Yeah, I donít remember saying, in fact, I donít really believe that we should model our conduct by imitating others. If I said something like that, I didnít mean it the way itís been interpreted. I donít mean that we should look around and see the way people are acting and then copy them. I donít believe that. I think that we can, without any theological help, differentiate between people who are fools and those who are wise, and those who are selfish and those who are not, those who are greedy and those who are not. And I think that we can have principles by which we are able to determine which qualities are and which are not admirable. But I would never say, "Letís look at these people and see how theyíre acting, and then imitate certain ones of those," because, as youíre suggesting, how are we going to pick them out? I also must agree with something you said, that we certainly do have a rich inheritance of Christian ethics in our culture. I certainly donít deny that. I think, what is too bad, we also have an even richer inheritance of pagan ethics which, I think, goes unappreciated.

Seventh Questioner: Dr. Craig, what is the purpose or goal of your ethics? And I also would like, if you would let me address the question to you, would you also comment on a quote. It says: "Ethics is an objective metaphysical necessity of manís survival, not by the grace of the supernatural, nor of your neighbors or your whims, but by the grace of reality and the nature of life." And it also goes on to continue, "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good, all that which destroys it is evil." The quote is by...

Taylor: Who is the author? Who are you quoting?

Seventh Questioner: Ayn Rand.

Taylor: Oh.

Craig: Ayn Rand?

Seventh Questioner: Yes.

Craig: See, hers is that selfĖinterest ethics, and it seems to me that that is just patently false. Many times selfĖinterest and morality go in different directions, particularly when it comes to acts of selfĖsacrifice and compassion. It seems to me, too, that what she said about something that betters the lot of mankind (or something to that effect) is good, and what doesnít is evilóthatís purely arbitrary. I would like to pose to her the question: Why human beings? Isnít that just a form of specieĖism? Why do you seem to like human beings among all the species that have evolved, to define moral good and evil? Thatís arbitrary, on a naturalistic worldview. On a theistic worldview, I have a basis for that, and that answers the first part of the question: namely, that human beings are persons, they are created in the image of God and are therefore intrinsically valuable. And our goal in ethics is to conform ourselves to the moral nature of God, to become like Him. Thatís the purpose of ethics as I see them.

Taylor: Whatís so interesting about the quotation is: The philosophy from which youíre quoting is called objectivism. And my opponent seems to represent the Christian religion, the Sermon on the Mount, and so forth, as somehow more objective, as if somehow this were a stable word that has no relativism to it. When I read passages like that, from Ayn Rand, and Iím no devoted student of her, but I have read these things, and I am sometimes, as you apparently are, thrilled with what I read, because she is saying "Look to yourself, your own nobility." This is a standard, and it is. You can condemn it as selfĖcentered, arbitrary. It is not. It is selfĖcentered; itís certainly not arbitrary, and I donít think anyone is in a position to say, "Look, if you want something thatís not arbitrary, turn to the Christian religion."

Eighth Questioner: Iíd like to address Professor Taylor. For the last 30 years, the JudeoĖChristian ethic has been removed from our schools, infiltrating our society with relativism and values based on individual choice. Donít you feel that this absence of absolute truth has caused the social ills and deterioration of our society today? And if you donít believe that, what has caused this absence of value of life?

Taylor: Well, Iíd like to say, first of all, the reason for removing these religious teachings from our public schools is constitutional. And the [tape unintelligible] is that government has no business meddling in religion. We have many religious points of view in this country, and the only safe rule is to respect them all. We cannot have public teaching this, that, and the other religion to the exclusion of others, and we cannot teach them all, and it is not the proper business of government to get into this area. With that, I should think the most religious person would agree. The person who is genuinely religious does not need the help of governmental bureaucrats composing prayers for students, telling them what they should believe, and so forth. This is the realm of religion, and thatís where it belongs, and a religious person, a church, should say to the government, "Keep your hands off. Stay out."

Now, with respect to the other part of your question: "Isnít this the root of all our social ills?" I simply think thatís naive. The social ills run much deeper than that and are much clearer than that. Many of our social ills are due to the breakdown of family. Now someoneís going to say, "Ah, yes, but if we all adhere to Christian principles and we all adhere to family values..." I donít believe that either.

Ninth Questioner: Itís pretty much of a question about your opinion about your own God. Is your God going to judge you or intervene in any way simply because you donít follow your moral life out of a fear or drive from that God?

Taylor: The question bothers me. You referred to my opinion.

Ninth Questioner: Iím not asking your opinion. Iím just asking....

Taylor: I donít have any opinions on God or religion, and you [tape unintelligible] on my God, which I find difficulty with. I am not, from day to day, hour to hour, wondering whether God approves of what Iím doing. I have long since been prepared to meet my Maker. I am no longer young. I am well aware of my mortality. I am quite prepared to meet my Maker. I do not worry that I am going to be judged this way or that. I donít presume to know these things. Religion is, as I said, a mystery. It is a huge mystery. Life is a mystery. The world is a mystery. Much of this is encapsulated in religion, and that is the attitude with which I go through life. But as soon as you reduce it to such questions as, you know, you talk about God. Is this a name for something that I have in mind? No. No, I think that as soon as someone starts talking and thinking that way, then he has really quite lost the whole spirit of religion.

Ninth Questioner: Does this God intervene at all in the world?

Taylor: Intervene? You mean miracles and so forth?

Ninth Questioner: Whatever.

Taylor: Thereís not the slightest reason to think so, unless you treat, as I do, the whole of human existence, the whole world as a miracle. I think you cannot see a child born and develop without being overwhelmed by the sense of the miraculous and the mysterious. But, no, miracle, in the sense in which preachers use that term, certainly not!

Moderator: Iíd like to thank, first of all, you as an audience. This has been a very dicey, sensitive subject. America in recent years has not been good about public discourse on dicey, sensitive subjects. Youíve been extraordinarily civil. You obeyed our conventional rules, youíve been goodĖhumored, and asked your questions civilly, so I think you ought to give yourselves a round of applause. I hope youíll also applaud both speakers, who I think gave thoughtful answers to each otherís questions and to yours. Iíd like to thank you for coming on behalf of the InterĖVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Department of Philosophy. Iíd like to point out that on your way out, there is a book table, and some of the books that are so scandalous will be for sale. Thank you again!

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