I checked with Reg before posting this, but if any mods feel it's contrary to house rules, I understand if it needs to be deleted.

I've been a member here for more than a year, though I don't post often. I mostly read the "Sunday School" links, but I've appreciated the thoughtful and civil conversation the few times I've jumped into a thread with a Christian perspective. I'm a part-time Christian blogger and podcaster, and I've wanted for some time to do a debate/discussion video series with folks coming from different perspectives. Sort of a "2am at college"-style informal debate where both sides can respectfully discuss disagreements. I finally have time to put something like that together and TA came to mind because of the quality of discussion here.

I want to invite anyone who is interested to join me in a recorded debate/discussion via Skype which I would then post to YouTube. I'd also post the link here for discussion, if anyone wanted. Ideally, the video would include a split-screen webcam view of both of us, since that's more interesting to watch, but it's fine if you would rather stay anonymous.

The format I have in mind is that we pick a general topic and each come up with a couple questions to get the conversation started. We share the questions ahead of time so it's not gotcha stuff. Then we schedule a Skype call and talk about your questions and then mine, or vice versa. Some topics might work better with a different format -- I'm not wedded to that exact approach. 

Here's my YouTube channel, though it doesn't have much there at this point. If you are interested in this, let me know at david@davidvogel.net. My blog is at davidvogel.net. (I share it for informational rather than self-promotional purposes, as I'm pretty sure none of you will be interested in becoming regular readers. :-) [Though I do welcome constructive criticism.])

Possible topic ideas:

* Christian vs. atheist understanding of morality
* Evidence for God's existence
* Historicity of the Bible
* Possibility of miracles
* Anything else you want to talk about

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Reg, as far as I'm concerned, "right and wrong" and "good or bad" mean the same thing. Could you clarify the distinction you're drawing? Sorry if I'm being obtuse. 

There is nothing stopping me from committing rape or murder. There is no absolute moral code that tells me I can’t. It is just that I do not have any desire to. I never did. The ideas never took hold in my mind. My ethical standards do not have to enforce not engaging in those acts as a rule to follow.  I can explain why I don’t through my understanding of Evolution and enlightened and considered secular thinking that is absolutely religion and dogma free.

But some people obviously do feel a desire to rape and murder, as a casual glance at any police blotter will reveal. Is there any reason they shouldn't? 

But some people obviously do feel a desire to rape and murder, as a casual glance at any police blotter will reveal. Is there any reason they shouldn't?

Yes, and they carry out those actions irrespective of any religious or non-religious convictions. People do not justify their actions on a lack of belief in any god but the opposite is often true. An example is the murder of doctors at abortion clinics or jihadist bombings.

Actions being “good or bad” or “good or evil” are usually what the effects of actions are considered to be by religious people. They use the terms in relation to the level of offence or praise that they assume their God would judge them on. How pleasing or not to Him it is.

Atheists would describe an action in terms of what is right or wrong according to our (objectively relative) standards of behavior. It is the “right” thing to do or it was the “wrong” thing to do and how it affects others.

I debate a lot of Christians and Muslims. Both will sincerely ask me about how I can be moral without god and generally use the “Why not kill if you don’t believe” argument (if that is what it is). I would hear it several times a month. If I ask them about “Sparing the rod and spoiling the child” I will usually be told that they consider it ok to use physical punishment to discipline children. This is totally against my moral code. I find it unacceptable to do so.

Then I will ask them to explain the meaning of the “Baldilocks and the 2 she-bears” to me :-). Often I am told that is not even in the Bible! (2 Kings 2:23-24)

I do not claim dominion over all creatures. I do not covet my neighbors oxen or automobile or anything else. They are of no importance to me. I do not need a rule to guide me.

Hi Reg, I don't feel like you really answered my question. It sounds like you're responding to the question of whether atheism or Christianity make people behave better, which is a relevant question and one worth discussing, but it's not the point I'm trying (perhaps poorly) to make. My question is more theoretical. I don't see how you can even define "right" in a meaningful way, consistent with an atheistic worldview.

As I asked above, if someone does feel a desire to rape or murder, upon what grounds would you say they should not? What makes "right" right and "wrong" wrong? Generally, atheists seem to ground their ethics in either evolutionary development or social consensus, and as I suggested above, I don't see why either of those should carry any prescriptive weight. 

Who decides what makes “Right” Right and “Wrong” Wrong is society? Those values are relative to that society. They are their not universal absolutes. Let’s try a few examples.

Over the years I have at times campaigned against Capital Punishment. I find that those opposed to my stance are almost always Christians and use the “eye for an eye” argument to support their reasons. They never seem to waver from this biblically inspired position.

At one point in my life I tended to agree with them but upon reflection and from conversations dedicated to the topic within the secular community, I came to realise that my reasons were really just emotive. They were built on the notion that my understanding of the desire people had for revenge was a desire for justice.

I came to understand that revenge is not a form of justice. The death penalty is not a deterrent. A poorly educated 17 year old caught up in a robbery where he did not know a firearm would be produced to kill someone is given the death penalty. Most Christians will look me in the eye and tell me “he deserved what he gets with some silly line about living and dying by the sword” or “he did not have to get into that car” or “he had the freewill not to rob the store”. That seems to be the level of the debate that they are happy to base their decision about the death penalty upon.  It does not need to run any deeper for them.

I have had similar debates with Muslims who agree with chopping of limbs as a punishment and even one who actually preached that stoning people to death or beheading them with a sword was the same as “our” hanging or electrocution procedures. I have even had a Christian tell me, with no sense of irony, that stoning was barbaric and that they should at least hang them as “it is quicker”.

My standards are different. I find the death penalty, in whatever form presented, to be a barbaric act. I find that States that promote it and those that condone it are, for the most part, religious. I am happy to observe that as nations become more secular they too tend to see it is barbaric and undo those laws, or at least they tend to commute the sentence.

It was never a “good” thing to do to balance out a “bad” act. It is wrong for the State to kill its citizens.

Over the next few years we will hear much about “End of Life” decision making. I am already hearing Christians tell me that “only God” can take life (except in cases of Capital Punishment!!) and that it can never be our decision to make.

I profoundly disagree with that view. I have a fundamental human right over the control of any decisions made about my medical care. If I get a terminal illness that will leave me incapacitated I will be happy to end my own life. However as I will most likely need “assisted dying” help, I do not want that person to have to face any legal consequences. I have full autonomy over my own body, just as any woman has over hers. I do not really consider any moral rules here. At most I see it as a discussion about ethical issues.

The religious objections to changes to these laws are having a detrimental effect on the lives of many people who are not religious. One important point here is that when people are given the assurance of being able to avail of assisted dying solutions is that their quality of life, their mental outlook, vastly improves. This is because they know they have the option, even if they do not eventually take it.

I consider this to be a much more ethical approach than that of the Christian approach to leaving it in the hands of a God I do not believe exists.

Two years ago, while I was being threatened with arrest in my local polling station, I was accused of being a Muslim (as if that was a crime) by the station supervisor. I had refused to leave the station because I could not get an adequate answer as to why Bibles were on display on the tables within the polling station. I said it was discrimination against Muslims citizens because the Quran was not also on display. I was told that it was in our Irish Constitution that a Bible be on display in case someone forgot their polling card. When I pointed out that this was untrue an attempt to forcibly remove me was made with the words “This is still a Christian Nation” shouted at me. I was (unfortunately) not arrested as I wanted the press coverage to highlight religious discrimination in politics and at the very heart of the democratic process.

However my real “agenda” was to start a campaign to get the Bible removed from public display in polling stations. This is because I knew that the following year we were going to have a referendum on Marriage Equality. Over the next year I heard Christians on TV, public debates and on the radio talk show all cite verses from the Bible to call for a “No” vote while calling LGBT people immoral. I find that sort of morality to be “wrong”. It leads to injustice and helps to spread violence. It is not “Right”.

I made my case in national newspapers and with the relevant government departments but to no avail. So I scaled up my efforts.

The evening before the vote I went to my local police station to let them know the sort of person that they would be called to arrest in the morning. It is illegal (in Ireland) to try to influence anyone’s decision on voting day. We do not even allow politicians to canvas on the day. Within the first hour I was getting reports that the Bible was on display nationwide. I had people ringing their local police and media outlets to protest that Christians were trying to influence undecided voters by displaying a book that called for a “No” vote and was therefore illegal to have on display. By midday reports on the nation news network were covering the story. When I went to vote that evening there were no longer any Bibles on display. I thanked the Christian from the previous year for removing them, I told him it was the “Right” thing to do. He got very angry. He said it would make no difference because it was still a Christian country and that the “No” vote would win.


"The death penalty is not a deterrent. A poorly educated 17 year old caught up in a robbery where he did not know a firearm would be produced to kill someone is given the death penalty."

If the "someone" killed was someone I cared about, I would personally end the life of all those involved.

Reg, thank you for the examples. To me, those feel like describing a phenomenon without explaining it. I still don't see how you can determine that mercy for an accused criminal (for example) is actually a good thing. There must be something there which you are recognizing as "right," but I don't see how you would identify it. You recognize it, as do I, but it seems like you should ask HOW you recognize it. What makes it right?

But at this point we may just be repeating ourselves. I don't want to beat a dead horse, so I'll probably bow out unless you have an additional question or whatever. Thanks for engaging me on this.

(I think convicted, not accused was meant.) Anyways...

I still don't see how you can determine that mercy for an accused criminal (for example) is actually a good thing. There must be something there which you are recognizing as "right," but I don't see how you would identify it.

I don't want to gang up and push this on you, but I'm with Reg for at least two reasons.

  1. Innocent people have been convicted, so the system's not fair enough to start with. If there's a foolproof fix for the system, let's implement it before further executions... even if finding a real fix is unlikely.
  2. It costs much much more to execute someone than to keep him for life. Obviously the appeal process is also imperfect, leading to extraordinary delays and legal/judicial costs.

Adding to the unlikelyhood of perfecting the system, those two processes are also at odds with each other.

So this imo, based on what I perceive to be reality and the most reasonable compromise for an imperfectable system, short of God showing up as judge live in person. Scripture based decisions can seem inherently perfect, but not for me! I don't mind if ethical and/or scripture-based input is considered on a case by case basis, but no such (e.g.) reading of bible or koran or hadith should ever be codified into law or otherwise forced onto unwilling parties, especially if punitive.

Hey PB, apparently I need to be clearer in what I'm saying. Sorry. I guess it sounded like I was arguing against mercy for criminals, but my point, as I said to TJ below, is the same one I've made elsewhere, that I'm not sure how an atheistic worldview which grounds ethics in either evolution or social consensus can justify the idea that mercy is a morally obligatory value. As for the specifics of the death penalty, that's a tough issue about which I'm torn. I think there are strong arguments both pro and con.


 I still don't see how you can determine that mercy for an accused criminal (for example) is actually a good thing. 


Why is god described as merciful then?

If there are no cases where mercy applies, and its not mercy unless it means dealing out a lesser punishment than normally expected, why is god called merciful when you can't see mercy as a good thing?

Is it because god does things that are not good, like tsunamis, giving babies cancer and teeny heads, starving millions of children to death after making them suffer for long periods of time as they waste away?

When has god actually SHOWN mercy, other than in a mafia "insurance" sort of way?

IE: Other than simply not doing harm to someone who was only in danger from god's commands/actions in the first place?

I think perhaps you have shown that god is NOT merciful, and, that you are glad, as you see no application for it.


TJ, I absolutely think mercy is valuable. My question was how an atheistic could determine that it's intrinsically valuable, but I don't want to waste everyone's time by repeating the same point over again here.

God showed mercy when he chose to die in our place to make atonement for sin.

@David Vogel:

"God showed mercy when he chose to die in our place to make atonement for sin."

When did Allah die???  I can't find that anywhere in the Qu'ran.

Did Vishnu die?

All doG stories are just different myths upheld and retold by fools.

Yes, Christians commit murder, steal, rape, bear false witness, etc.  Its not because they are Christians, its because they are bad people.

If they were born with the sense of right and wrong, and wanting to be good, they would be good people.

So, its about the individual's valuing of the wrong they might commit vs the benefit to them.

A sociopath can commit horrible acts because he doesn't really care about other people, just his own desires/needs...or, might actually WANT to cause harm, as seeing others suffer gives him pleasure.

So, most people don't want to hurt others, and, generally, want to be good people.

If taught  that being good requires you to kill people who have a different faith, you kill others who believe in a different religion, because it is the right thing to do....according to what you were taught.

If the morality you were taught says that you need to stone a disobedient child to death, then, the moral thing to do is to stone that child to death.

If the morality you were taught is to treat others fairly, then, you will treat others fairly...

And so forth.

We are TAUGHT what is right, and what is wrong, and, for new situations, we can generally tell what is fair or unfair.

When you don't WANT TO do the right thing because you have your own agenda, its rarely because you don't KNOW its the wrong thing to do...its because you don't care enough about the right thing, relative to the rewards for the wrong thing.

TO teach right from wrong, the ancients tried to codify it, and, that was where laws came from.

As, back then, no one would pay attention unless it was from the gods of that time, the laws were often attributed to the gods.

The laws reflected the values at the time they were written, hence "god" saying that woman are to be subservient to men, slavery is ok, etc.


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