John Loftus is a 1985 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Th.M. who subsequently rejected Christianity and turned to atheism.
He currently manages a blog called Debunking Christianity at which he reminds us several times that he studied under prominent Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig. It's not clear if he's claiming to be an atheist because of Mr. Craig's influence or in spite of it.
At any rate, Loftus has posted an essay on the matter of the relationship of God to moral behavior. In it he addresses the question whether one must be a Christian or a theist to be moral.
He quotes Craig:
"If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint...." "Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? "The world was horrified when it learned that at camps like Dachau the Nazis had used prisoners for medical experiments on living humans. But why not? If God does not exist, there can be no objection to using people as human guinea pigs."
Loftus then adds:
There are two bases for grounding Christian ethical standards. The first is known as the Divine Command Theory. The second basis is Natural Law Theory, which I will dispense with briefly later. I will show that neither of these bases for Christian ethics offers believers a special access to moral truth that unbelievers don't also share. Christian moral foundations are not superior ones based on their own assumptions!
He goes on to argue for his claim that neither of these ethical theories give the Christian an access to moral truth that the unbeliever, through the use of his reason, doesn't also have. In other words, an atheist can discover and live by moral truth equally as well as the Christian, and God is therefore superfluous to morality.
He then quotes the late Louis Pojman:
"God commands the Good (or right) because it is good (or right), and the Good (or right) is not good (right) simply because God commands it. Furthermore, if this is correct, then we can discover our ethical duties through reason, independent of God's command. For what is good for his creatures is so objectively. We do not need God to tell us that it is bad to cause unnecessary suffering or that it is good to ameliorate suffering; reason can do that. It begins to look like the true version of ethics is what we called 'secular ethics.'" Pojman rightly asked: "If [a Christian] wants to claim that it is goodness plus God's command that determines what is right, what does God add to rightness that is not there simply with goodness?....If love or goodness prescribes act A, what does A gain by being commanded by God? Materially, nothing at all."
If one need not resort to God to discover ethical truth then God is an unnecessary entity in our ethical lives and may as well be discarded like some vestigial anatomical structure that just gets in the way of proper functioning.
A careful reading of what Loftus and Pojman write here, however, will show that neither of them really answer the challenge that Craig lays down in the beginning of the post. Loftus may think he's debunking Christianity with this post, but all he's really doing is missing the point.
The problem for the atheist is not whether he can, through the exercise of his reason, discern moral truth independently of God, the problem is that if there is no God there is no moral truth to discern. Right and wrong are ontologically dependent upon a transcendent moral authority. If there is no such being then there simply is no way anyone can say that anything at all is morally right or wrong. There's no non-arbitrary answer to the question, what is it that makes an act wrong?
Pojman says that:
"if both modified divine command ethics and secular ethics have human flourishing as the goal, what difference should it make whether the very same [ethical] principle issues from a special personal authority (God) or from the authority of reason?"
The difference is that if the atheist is correct and God does not exist then there's no reason to insist that human flourishing should be the goal of human conduct. If someone decides that he doesn't care in the least about human fluorishing he does nothing wrong. If someone were to decide that all he cares about is his own personal pleasure, even at the cost of others' well-being, what is it about his decision that could possibly make him "wrong"? Indeed, if atheism is correct, there are no grounds for saying that any goal is right or wrong. Ethics reduces to one's own subjective inclinations and preferences and everyone's subjectivity is just as valid as anyone else's.
The next time someone passes a moral judgment on another's behavior, the next time you hear, for instance, someone say that the war in Iraq is immoral, ask them if they believe there is a God. If they answer "no" ask them then on what grounds they conclude the war is immoral. If they reply that it's wrong to kill people, then ask again, why is killing wrong? What is it about hurting people that makes it wrong? The usual reply is that we wouldn't want someone to hurt us, but, true as that is, it's no reason at all why one person shouldn't hurt another. What, precisely, is the connection between what I want done to me and what I should do to others? In a world without God I am free to do whatever I have the power to do, even if that involves visiting harm upon another human being.
Indeed, the only reason it's wrong to harm another is because persons are created in the image of God, they belong to God and are loved by Him. No one has the right to harm that which belongs to God. No one can harm God's beloved with impunity. Take God out of the picture, however, and all our ethical disputes reduce to matters of taste and temperament. As Dostoyevsky observed, If God is dead then everything is permitted.