Morality can be derived from faith-based sources or from objective reasoning, according to scholars Dinesh D’Souza and Andrew Bernstein.
D’Souza and Bernstein discussed whether Christianity has had a positive or negative impact on the world in a debate organized by the UT Objectivism Society and the philosophical journal The Objective Standard.
Bernstein is an objectivist philosopher who believes morality is based on reason instead of faith in a religious deity. D’Souza, who worked as a political adviser to Ronald Reagan and is a conservative activist, asserted that Christian faith has resulted in concepts including the individual, free trade and freedom.
Craig Biddle, editor and publisher of The Objective Standard, said the debate was interesting because D’Souza usually debates atheists, while Bernstein is an objectivist atheist.
“The difference between an objectivist and the normal new atheist type that D’Souza has debated in the past is that Dr. Bernstein is speaking from the perspective of objectivism, which is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of reason, egoism and capitalism,” Biddle said.
Bernstein asserted that the only way to hold a rational view of the universe is to accept that creation from nothing is impossible. In explaining the existence of good and evil, Bernstein said the two forces arose while human beings were trying to survive.
“Nature requires us to gain certain values in order to sustain our lives,” Bernstein said. “The good for man is that which factually, objectively promotes his life … and the evil is that which factually undermines or harms.”
D’Souza said because Bernstein does not know if God exists, he acts on faith-based conclusions, in the same way that D’Souza acts on faith.
“True belief is not a denial of doubt, it is the acknowledgement of it,” D’Souza said. “I think we have to admit that if we are honest, we have no answers to the most fundamental questions of existence. In other words, we don’t on the basis of reason.”
To support his claim that Christianity enforces faith with violence, Bernstein referenced mass killings conducted under Christian regimes and by Christians, like the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of French Protestants in the 1500s.
“There are only two ways to deal with human beings,” Bernstein said. “You deal with them by reason, or you deal with them by force. … With reason subordinated to faith, rational persuasion is subordinated to force.”
In response, D’Souza pointed out that many of the most civilized concepts and institutions that form the basis of current society developed during Christianity’s heyday in the Middle Ages.
“Out of the rubble of Europe, created by the decadence, corruption and irresponsibility of Rome, the Christians reconstituted Western civilization, rediscovered Roman learning and Greek learning,” D’Souza said.
UT Objectivism Society president Grant Baker said although he had heard many of the debaters’ arguments before, he was still surprised by some of the points made.
“Bernstein did some unexpected things, however,” Baker said. “Using the axiom of consciousness to disprove the idea of a consciousness existing pre-universe was something I had never seen before, and I thought D’Souza did not overcome this.”
Published on February 11, 2013 as "Debaters question basis of human morality".