The Terrible Truth of Relative Morality

William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris: Is Good from God?

For some time now I have been interested in the question of whether or not God can exercise a choice to commit an evil act. Arguably this question has a direct impact on the question of how one goes about establishing what is objective moral truth, and if objective moral truth can be established sans God.

Recently I have been listening to a podcast of a relatively older debate between Dr. William Lane Craig, highly regarded Christian apologist, and Dr. Sam Harris, highly regarded atheist, on the subject of whether or not objective moral truth can exist in the absence of God.

As one might imagine Dr. Craig argued that objective moral truth cannot exist without the existence of God, as God is essentially good, thus God is the basis by which all objective moral truth is measured. Certainly Dr. Harris took the opposing view attempting to leverage science to explain that objective moral truth was not dependent on divinity, as objective moral truth is founded on the universal understanding of sentient beings that collective well being is the basis by which “good” is measured.

As one might assume the Craig-Harris debate went on for some time with well thought out arguments presented by each side. The short version is that Dr. Harris, in this case, did not have a proverbial leg to stand on. Regardless of how Dr. Harris use shocking examples to attempt to support his viewpoint Harris did nothing more than repeatedly provide examples of relative goodness based on the well being of sentient creatures. Working in quality control in a food manufacturing environment I am used to referencing regulatory agencies, and audit standards as an authoritative basis on which to make decisions. When a question arises, which sparks a debate over a particular requirement I cannot simply phone a friend for the final answer. I require a reference from an authoritative source by which to judge the situation, and determine precisely if the product is compliant or noncompliant. Without that reference point from a recognized authority I would have no other option, but to compare the situation to a similar situation that has occurred in the past. Even then the best I can do is conclude that the product in question is either compliant or noncompliant relative to the situation to which I am comparing.

Thus, without God as the ultimate authoritative reference of goodness, morality, compassion, and so forth, we are left with subpar references by which we can hope to do no better than to determine subjectivemoral truths relative to experience, or societal norms, or similar situations. Certainly I can see the appeal here, as I would have no problem whatsoever being morally “good” when compared to a murderer, child abuser, or [insert emotion-triggering imagery here]. Nonetheless, I am convinced God not only exists, but it the very definition of goodness and morality. Following that logic, I cannot in good conscience measure the level of “goodness” or “morality” I have achieved by relative comparison with individuals as inferior as I am. I must strive for something more, and that something more requires the dedication and devotion of my life to Christ. Compared to Charles Manson I am saintly. Compared to Jesus Christ I am closer to Charles Manson. Regardless, through the compassion of God I am given an unimaginable gift of reprieve. By striving to live more like Jesus I can have confidence that I am coming closer to being a “good” person, not by comparison to other sinful creatures, but through actively seeking the objective moral truths of Jesus Christ.

God is good.