Peter Payne debate: do ethics need a foundation in god?

Here’s my debate with Dr. Peter Payne at UC Santa Cruz.  Leave questions in the comments and I’ll try to answer them over the next week.


Huh…I just finished watching the video, which was posted by the Institute for Credible Christianity (a group for which Peter Payne is the managing director).  At around the 56:00 mark there should’ve been my question to Dr. Payne (we were each permitted one question).  I asked if he found out today that obeying the ten commandments would land him in hell and disobeying them would get him into heaven, would his behavior change.  I did this to establish that even he was acting on the basis of what would get him what he wants the most.  Dr. Payne actually refused to answer the question (citing that it was in such conflict with god’s nature that the question made no sense, even though I told him this was a hypothetical situation, not one that either of us believe is real).  But that was edited out of this video.

Strange.  (And here’s a part in the Q&A where the question, which is absent from the video, is referred to by an audience member, and afterward Dr. Payne even admits to refusing to answer it)


Ugh, I need to go through the Q&A and address all the things Payne said that I couldn’t rebut.  Second law of thermodynamics arguments.  *facepalm*


Also, my exchange with this woman was perhaps the saddest thing that happened to me on my entire trip, especially at 1:42:42 where she talks about why she’s still married.  I probably was too forward with her, but I hate when people use the Q&A time to deliver a sermon.

For people who claim that Christianity makes them so happy (as if that’s valuable), they’re so often eager to talk about how pursuing happiness isn’t a decent meaning in life.

  • Criamon

    I’m only in your first pass at the mic now, but one thing is evident to me. You’re getting better and better and honing your presentation. You’re also getting better at being efficient with you’re examples. Cudos.

  • SansDeus

    I don’t have a good sense of smell. I can’t really smell Sulfur.

  • Criamon

    This thing she says about Xianity being unique in that salvation is by grace not deeds… that’s horrible. That’s a cosmic justice system where you can do the most horrific deeds, but just attain grace before you die and its all good.

    • baal

      The ‘grace’ christians tend to be even worse than that. They usually say a relatively small number of people are born with grace (no you don’t get to know who but their religious leaders are) and even the slightist deviation from the faith means you get knocked out of salvation (one strike rule). They tend to be strict to the point of insanity.

      • Havok

        It’s not that you get knocked out of salvation, it’s that you never had it!

    • Artor

      Or you can spend your life like Gandhi, providing material benefits to billions, but go to hell because you didn’t kowtow to an imaginary psychopath. Seriously, how do people believe this shit, and think that it’s the ultimate measure of goodness?

  • baal

    I’m going to listen to the whole thing but I can’t but help comment on the title. Here is the title after a small reformation, “Can ethics be founded on an imaginary being?”

    I think it’s an obvious no. A corollary of my reformation is that it implies anyone who says yes is substituting their own moral intuition for ‘god’s’ and then claiming extra authority for it. It’s like making up a game and declaring yourself referee. Great work if you can get it and it sure makes life easier.

    I also have a magic trick that happens with the opening of a bottle but it’s NSFW.

  • baal

    P.Payne – ~30 minutes. The bible doesn’t teach that god is malicious therefore god is not malicious. God didn’t create cancer, it’s just something out there in nature (which god so totally didn’t create or so totally isn’t responsible for creating it as it is).

    I’m finding Payne’s arguments really hard to follow. They aren’t very ordered and slide around like a stream of consciousness word salad. I’m also not liking him constantly telling me what’s natural or what my position is. He keeps presupposing his conclusions about the ‘godly’ and the ‘atheists’ into the foundations of his assertions as well. very annoying.

  • baal

    P.Payne ~ 45 minutes. PP flatly ignores JT’s argument that humans are evolved to be compassionate and instead inserts kin selection and argues that instead. At this point, I’m giving up. KMy tolerance for willful ignorance is low this week.

    JT you really did a good job on this debate and in sorting out P.P.’s stacked wrong.

  • Havok

    P.P.’s ignorance regarding ethics and morality, and his continuing to harp on about “oughts” is quite funny :-)

    • Havok

      And his reply to your answer to his question – did he not listen to your answer?

    • Havok

      And in the Q&A he makes your point for you – human well being stands behind “ought”s.

  • Charles Chambers

    Jt, nice work. I liked your response to the lady. I didn’t like her preachiness.

    • Compuholic

      And especially the last line was beautiful: “I’d rather be with him because he makes me happy”.

      Short, to the point, sums up all the problems with “I do it because of my faith” vs. “I do it because it makes me happy” and last but not least a nice smackdown to an overly preachy person.


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