(Note: This is Part 1 in the series started here.)
Dennis Prager’s Point #1:
Without God there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label "good" and "evil." This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, "right" and "wrong" no more objectively exist than do "beautiful" and "ugly." (Note 1.)
It’s hard to find a more clear example of religionists conceding all philosophical ground to the subjectivists.
Let’s reduce the two positions to their essences and compare:
The subjectivist position is that there is no natural basis to distinguish between good and evil.
The religious position is that there is no natural basis to distinguish between good and evil... but there is a supernatural reason to do so.
Notice that these alleged intellectual foes completely agree on the fundamental point: that there is no distinction between good and evil in the natural world. Mr. Prager states clearly that were it not for the existence of God - a God that has no height, length, or breadth, no weight, no location, no color, no temperature, no energy; a God that recedes precisely and in lock step with the advance of inquiry; a God that has never been seen and by definition cannot be seen, yet is credited with every happy chance while misfortune is attributed to his “mysterious ways”; a God to whom a man who would not purchase an apple without first examining it nevertheless surrenders his mind; a God who is so obviously a creation of poets and scholars and tyrants, who so resembles the heroes, kings, and monsters that listeners and readers crave and storytellers from time immemorial have passed down to us; a God that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, in everything yet outside the universe; in short, a God that exists because his existence is impossible - were it not for this God’s existence, all good and evil is merely subjective opinion.
A subjectivist could hardly refrain from bursting into applause when seeing Prager’s logic. “You are making my point, my friend,” he would say, “and since the condition is clearly absurd, the conclusion is clear: all good and evil is subjective.”
As I said above, the religious conservatives willingly - even enthusiastically - concede all intellectual ground to the modern “liberals” with whom they profess to disagree. They freely admit that there is no natural or logical reason to be moral. The only dispute is whether some extra-universal “entity” with no attributes or possible connection to the physical world should serve as the absolute authority over human behavior. The religionists posit the existence of such an “entity”; the subjectivists do not.
I disagree with their shared premise. There is a very real reason to be moral. Every man’s life and happiness depends upon his ability to discover reality, to understand his nature and the requirements of his survival. Above all, one’s moral code is the very last thing one should surrender to any authority.
For an explanation of an objective morality based in reason, I refer the reader to “The Objectivist Ethics,” the first chapter of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. This excellent volume also contains what is probably my favorite of her essays, “Man’s Rights,” which will be relevant for Part 13 of this series.
(Note: The next installment in the series is here.)
1. Dennis Prager, “If There Is No God,” http://townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2008/08/19/if_there_is_no_god.