Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Natural Function.

Intelligent design is defined by the Discovery Institute as such:

“Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system's components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence. Intelligent design has applied these scientific methods to detect design in irreducibly complex biological structures, the complex and specified information content in DNA, the life-sustaining physical architecture of the universe, and the geologically rapid origin of biological diversity in the fossil record during the Cambrian explosion approximately 530 million years ago.” -

My argument concerns the “complex and specified information in DNA”, which is often shortened to “specified complexity”. Within DNA, we find extremely complex instructions that govern the behavior of all life on the molecular level. Such intelligent design proponents as Frank Turek (“I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist”) liken the genetic code to the largest and most complex book ever written. The argument goes, if we recognize a written volume such as Hamlet to be the product of an intelligent mind, should we not conclude the same about a string of information many orders of magnitude greater than any of Shakespeare's classics? My answer is no.

The analogy to a written book is missing a crucial point, as are all analogies in which DNA is compared to any information produced by humans, such as a computer program or a musical composition. The difference lies in what I call “natural function”. This term refers to the ability of any string of information to interact in a meaningful and complex way with its environment. Now, “meaningful and complex” is rather vague, so let me give an example. If “I think, therefore I am” was drawn in the sand, its creator would not have to wait long before processes such as wind, waves, and the feet of the occasional passerby destroyed it. This is to be expected; given the specificity in which the grains of sand must be ordered to spell out “I think, therefore I am”, the arrangements in which those same grains of sand do not spell out Descartes's famous line (or any other words in the English language, for that matter) far outnumber the relatively small arrangements in which the sand will spell out the sentence. Entropy takes its toll, and we lose our “information”. Now, let us consider the inner workings of a cell. We observe its constant state of nonequilibrium, which defies our intuitions about how matter should behave when it is left alone. The information in DNA, unlike the writing in the sand, is preserved. How? Let's think about the medium in which this information is encoded: Nucleotides, held together by sugars and phosphates, where each sugar has a nucleobase attached which represents genetic “information”. These nucleobases come in four types, which are now referred to as G, A, T, and C. This information, unlike the writing in the sand which consisted of millions of particles which do not interact with each other in an individually distinct manner, is encoded in single molecules. Of what significance is this, and how does it refer to natural function? Well, each molecule behaves in a certain manner. It can interact in various ways with the basic constituents of life: atoms. (Carbon, as we know, composes the greatest variations of highly complex and diverse molecules.) Now we're getting somewhere: grains of sand do not interact with each other in the way that molecules do. Grains of sand do not cling to each other, possess net electric charges, or self-assemble into complex shapes, as we have observed with molecules in the famous Miller-Urey experiment.

Now comes the kicker: the dynamic, interactive nature of single atoms and molecules allow for something we do not see on a macro scale: the creation and sustenance of information. This information is granted, by the laws of physics, the ability to interact with other matter in a complex and dynamic way, by the medium in which it is contained. That is the difference between a string of information that possesses a natural function and one which does not: the information encoded in nucleobases can employ the laws of physics to directly interact with its environment. As I hope I have shown, it is not the information itself which we should be paying attention to: it is the medium in which it is encoded. If I were to write the genetic code for a simple virus on the side of a mountain, that mountain would not begin to devour its neighbors. Conversely, if I were to write out Hamlet as a complex sequence of nucleobases (assuming for the sake of argument that I invented a morse-code-esque system in which I could represent the entire alphabet through sequences of the four bases of DNA), it would most likely result in a rather muddled attempt at life. The information of life, unlike any book humans have ever written, is “readable” by Mother Nature herself- the laws of physics, in this case- and she has been reading it long before any of us came around. We would be right, therefore, to deduce that a certain string of information originated from an intelligent mind like ours if and only if that information only carried significance to intelligent minds- nothing else. The information of life, due to its dynamic medium of organic molecules, carries a natural significance to the laws of Nature which rings strong and clear.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig: Part One - De Fide - 2 of 2

This week, Craig addresses the role of reason and evidence in Christianity.

Having already argued that it is a direct experience of the Holy Spirit that provides the Christian his justification for "knowing" that Christianity is true, Craig explains that the role for argument and evidence is a subsidiary one, which he terms "ministerial use" in the spirit of Martin Luther: "The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit’s witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology."  So Craig is saying that reason submits to the direct witness of the Holy Spirit but can still be used to supplement the Christian's belief.  A sound apologetic "reinforces or confirms" the Spirit's witness while not serving as the basis for belief.

I must object early on.  Craig writes that there are "great benefits" to someone having a "dual warrant" of their Christian belief.  Several times, Craig makes quantitative statements about Christian belief; he claims that "Having sound arguments for the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe or evidence for the historical credibility of the New Testament records of the life of Jesus in addition to the inner witness of the Spirit could increase one’s confidence in the veracity of Christian truth claims."  Now, earlier in Part One, Craig described the experience of the Holy Spirit as "not only a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but objective knowledge of that truth."  Adjectives such as "veridical" and "unmistakable" are peppered throughout Craig's description; the implication is that the assurance of Christianity's truth is absolute, and as such, no greater belief is possible.  There exists no higher standard of assurance to be met.  This raises the question of how reason or evidence could "supplement" the faith of a Christian.   Even if the Christian were to discover evidence for Christianity, it would be useless.  Evidence, as used by the scientific community and many philosophers, serves to provide a greater justification for a belief; this implies that any given belief has not reached a level of justification in which it can be said to have transcended contradiction by any other conceivable development.  So not only would evidence be useless in disproving Christian beliefs as Craig claims, but it would also be useless in supporting those beliefs.  Either evidence has the power to affect justification Christian belief or it does not.  If it is does, then a lack of evidence would decrease the level of justification for Christian belief.   If it does not, then neither the Christian nor the atheist should spend any time in using evidence to examine Christianity (although I cannot imagine any rational atheist conceding to a Christian that Christianity can be proved or disproved independent of evidence).

My similar, second objection is to Craig's definition of reason and evidence as "ministerial."  The problem here is that Craig wants to provide himself with a justification for confirmation bias early on.  This strikes me as a sort of "safety net" should he run into any problems later on.  If the evidence disagrees with Christianity, Craig can just throw it out, because the Holy Spirit trumps evidential logic.  If the evidence agrees with Christianity, then it can (paradoxically) be used to "supplement" the justification for Christianity, although these beliefs are already unmistakable and objective.  Again: either evidence is a legitimate means of determining the truth of Christian beliefs or it is not.  The validity of evidence must be constant.  If it is not valid, it must not be used.  If evidence and the Holy Spirit contradict each other, one of them must not be valid, lest we violate the law of noncontradiction.

Craig then responds to some objections about whether we can discern Christianity's claims from other religions which make the same claim to self-justifying experience, which I also found rather disappointing.  First, Craig writes that perhaps members of other faiths may indeed be experiencing God, but on a general level, and therefore do not realize that it is the Christian god rather than the Muslim god (assuming there is any difference).  Of course, the latent function of Craig's response is that by his own logic, he may be experiencing the Muslim god, but on a very general level.

The last point I will address is Craig's defense of completely unfounded (in my opinion) belief, which I cannot really say too much about.  Craig writes that, as we already know, any Christian is justified in his belief simply because he feels the Holy Spirit, and that no evidence or reason is necessary.   (This is a strange direction to be taking in a book titled "Reasonable Faith").  Magisterial evidence, Craig writes, is simply incompatible with Scripture, because if evidence took precedence, then insufficient evidence would indeed be reasonable grounds for rejecting Christianity.  (Perhaps Craig is thinking of Bertrand Russell, who said that if he were to come face to with God after his death, he would give insufficient evidence as his reason for not believing.)  Now, it is perhaps encouraging to see that Craig realizes the futility of relegating religious belief to evidential justification; however, it is even more discouraging to see how he tries to circumnavigate the problem.  Craig writes, "The Bible says all men are without excuse.  Even those who are given no good reason to believe and many persuasive reasons to disbelieve have no excuse, because the ultimate reason they do not believe is that they have deliberately rejected God’s Holy Spirit."

What can one say to such a statement?  Craig condemns all nonbelievers in one sentence.  His discomfort in doing so is palpable; however, it does seem to be his only choice- because the Bible says so.  Reasonable faith?  It's not looking very good so far.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig: Part One - De Fide - 1 of 2

My "response" blog posts begin today.

William Lane Craig begins his book by listing several different philosophers, such as Augustine, Aquinas, Locke, and Dodwell, and their stances on "knowing" whether God exists.  More broadly, he briefly goes over the historical debate between theological evidentialism and "fideism" (which can be translated roughly into "faith-ism" and is the belief that evidential or rationalistic approaches to deism/theism are necessarily futile, and in some cases, a downright insult to the supernatural gift of faith).  Finally, he explains the stance of contemporary analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  Plantinga's a priori approach to belief in god strikes me as extremely backwards, but I will save a full response for another time, as I will only be dealing with Craig's claims specifically.

Craig's first claim is made when he writes, "I think that Dodwell and Plantinga are correct that, fundamentally, the way we know Christianity to be true is by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for him who has it; that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; that such experience does not function in this case as a premise in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; that in certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as “God exists,” “I am condemned by God,” “I am reconciled to God,” “Christ lives in me,” and so forth; that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for him who attends fully to it."  Whew!  That's a long second sentence.

Well, firstly, how does one arrive at a veridical and unmistakable knowledge of the Holy Spirit?  Craig says that "in certain contexts" we experience the Holy Spirit, and that experience implies the apprehension of certain Christian truths. However, there are many people (I would call them "reluctant atheists") who, despite their best attempts and their most sincere desire, cannot arrive at this conclusion.  Therefore, we can safely say that desire and rational inquiry alone are not sufficient "contexts" to reach a necessarily self-evident knowledge of God, similar to the way we cannot rationally deny mathematical truths.

Secondly, the apprehension of a truth or truths is a necessarily phenomenological experience and therefore cannot be directly perceived by a third party.  All evidence for this belief, then, is anecdotal and will not do much to further any defense of Christianity.

Finally, this claim can be used as justification for nearly any supernatural belief.  Because the evidence is purely phenomenological, a third party has no means of distinguishing between multiple religions all making this same claim.  Further, seeing as some people have tried and failed to experience the Holy Spirit, would this justify a rejection of Christianity?  Would they then be logically obligated to try every other known religion, given that the "evidence" is just the same for each creed?

Before I go further, let me say that I do not mean to misrepresent Craig's views.  I am well aware that he advocates reason and evidence as vital to a belief in Christianity.  I am simply pointing out the flaws in this particular claim, and the problem with using such a standard to "know" that Christianity is true.  I will give each of his claims due attention.

Craig makes some very bold claims in the next few pages, such as "For if it weren’t for the work of the Holy Spirit, no one would ever become a Christian", and "Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ, it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come
because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart."  Craig is effectively stating that an evidentialist approach alone is not sufficient to know God.  At what point, then, does Craig's aforementioned knowledge of certain Christian truths become apparent through a veridical experience of the Holy Spirit?  In regards to Craig's second statement, then while there is nothing specifically illogical about the claim that all non-Christian men ultimately are dissuaded by their own tendency to avoid the truth and stay in darkness, it is still a very accusatory claim.    We must assume that Craig is making this statement purely on Scriptural authority, because once again, the claim concerns a purely first-person and necessarily phenomenological experience which cannot be verified by a third party, which in this case is Craig.

I will address Craig's explanation of the role of argument and evidence next week.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Announcement.

Hello everyone!

As you may have noticed, I'm rather bogged down at college.  However, I am going to attempt to start a new routine.  Rather than rambling aimlessly, I'll be responding to a particular theistic opinion, be it a scholarly article, a chapter from a book, or anything else.  I'll be doing that weekly.  In the spirit of irony, blogs will be posted on Sunday, the Lord's day (although in the Bible, the Sabbath is Saturday- people changed it later on).  I've got a few articles on the table for this coming Sunday, and soon I'll be reading Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig and addressing that book in a series of posts (by popular demand).  I shall be back this Sunday!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Emergent Phenomena.

I don't mean to lower all theists to the level of Ray Comfort, but his well-known argument reflects the same basic principle that all creationists and ID advocates use- "Every building has a builder, every painting has a painter."  Comfort says that the appearance of design is indicative of intelligence; that complexity organized in such a way that it operates toward a specific purpose or purposes must have a sentient designer behind it, much like we design buildings or machines for a specific purpose.  Is this argument valid?  All examples we have of design in our everyday life exhibit complexity and operate in a particular manner, towards a particular goal.

The largest objection to this reasoning was best articulated by Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience, so I must give him the credit- "We don't know what an undesigned universe looks like."  This sums it up very well.  We do know that design generally shows complexity and features a discernible function; however, we may not have thought hard enough about what nature will do when left to its own devices.  It is likely that a universe so complex, with such a complex fundamental nature, will give rise not only to complexity but to such phenomena as life.  Indeed, I believe that a universe with no surprises, no oddities and no emergent phenomena would be much more confounding than the universe we see around us.  The elements of both chaos and order, complexity and entropy are all around us.  Our creations are complex, yes- but the entire universe is very complex, so that rather rules out the option of electing complexity as remotely compelling proof for "design".

Now, there is another variation on ID which takes yet another step back from life on Earth and instead turns to the laws of nature themselves.  This is the "fine-tuning argument", which argues that surely the six universal constants must be evidence of a designer, for if any one of them were a fraction of a percent lower or higher, life as we know it would not exist- in fact, such necessities as the forming of stars would be impossible (I'm no scientist, but you get the idea).  Therefore, a supervising being must have "twiddled the knobs", perfecting the conditions for life.  This fails in two ways; one is the misunderstanding of what the "laws of nature" actually are, and one is, we might say, a failure of imagination.

The laws of nature are not tangible laws.  In reality, they do not even exist outside of the conceptual.  They are descriptions of the universe's behavior.  These laws are not discovered; they are invented.  They are our interpretation of the fundamental nature of our universe.  Take the color blue- it's not really "blue" in a deep sense of the word.  The universe neither knows nor cares about the concept of "blue".  It's a description that we use to refer to a perception.  Now, these laws are not conceptual in the sense that they do not affect everyday life- if one jumps off a building, he will fall whether he believes in the law of gravity or not.  But the law of gravity is not a tangible, natural entity that governs the universe.  The law conforms to the universe, not the other way around.

The second flaw I find much more interesting.  Pay close attention to this argument- "If the laws of nature were even slightly different, life/the universe as we know it would not exist!"  Well, this is a rather meaningless statement.  It is doubtless that the conclusion is correct, but why does that matter?  Let's imagine that the universe's laws were slightly different (although in reality they couldn't be- this is the universe's fundamental nature; if that nature was different, it wouldn't be the universe).  As I explained above, when we deal with this much space, this much time, and this much complexity in nature, there will be surprises left and right no matter which numbers we're feeding into it.  Doubtless there would be phenomena just as- if not more- awe-inspiring than life or black holes (a fascination of mine).  Now, you may rightly claim that I have absolutely no empirical evidence for that statement.  However, if we are to trust the power of logic, then due to the frequency of phenomena in this universe alone, under all manner of conditions, and at every level of physical interaction, we can reasonably say that phenomena spring up rather frequently given such an astonishing complexity of nature.  Now, if you still disagreed with that on the grounds that this universe can have no say on the likelihood of emergent phenomena in other conceptual universes, then I have no retort- but you've just admitted that the "fine-tuning" argument is bogus, so there we are.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Varying validity.

     Attempts to validate the historicity of the Bible are, in a sense, pointless.  The sense I refer to is in which someone would use the Bible's historicity to prove the Christian religion.  The following is an example using the Bible's reliability in particular, but the core principle is definitely a lesson to be remembered at all times.

     "The historical evidence for the accuracy of our Bible manuscripts is just as strong as the historical evidence for countless other texts we accept as accurate."  This claim is made all the time by Christians.  I am not a Biblical historian, so this claim may very well be accurate (although there is much debate on the subject).  The point is, however, that this really does not matter in terms of proving the claims of Christianity.  Whether or not the original writers of the Gospels were misquoted does not matter.  We could know word for word what they wrote, and we would still be left with the word of four anonymous individuals writing some 40-50 years after  Jesus' ministry.
     "But we just have hearsay testimony of countless other historical documents, and we trust their accuracy!"  I am always surprised that I really need to point out the difference between the Bible and other historical documents.  All claims made in history books that we currently accept as accurate are not "extraordinary" claims.  The assertions they make are compatible with the body of knowledge (historical and otherwise) that we as a species have amassed up to this point.  When we examine a claim, we determine its likelihood based not only on the strength of the evidence in favor of the claim, but also the evidence against it, which is all our previously confirmed knowledge that contradicts or excessively complicates this claim.  I'll provide an analogy, because that has sort of become my thing:

     If I receive a text message from my friend which reads "I just found twenty dollars on the sidewalk", I will be most likely to believe him.  Why?  Because money is occasionally dropped and I have heard of this happening many times before (and confirmed it).  I have no knowledge that suggests my friend would not have been fortunate today.  Now, imagine I receive a text message from my friend that instead says "My cat has begun to levitate and speak English fluently."  My first thought might be that he is pulling my leg, or perhaps a friend of his has taken his phone and is trying to get funny responses from me.  I certainly would not immediately conclude that simply because I have the same evidence that I do for the previous message (my friend's word), then the most likely explanation is that his cat is truly levitating and conversing with him.  We must balance claims against what we have already inferred about the universe.

     Just for fun, let's examine the claims of the Bible.  It claims that there is an entirely separate plane of existence, independent of all things natural.  It claims that there is a being who created and supervises existence as we know it.  It claims that this being has total and absolute power over this universe, and that this being repeatedly stood the laws of physics on their head a few thousand years ago, performing acts that included but were not limited to parting an ocean, impregnating a virgin, raising people from the dead, turning a woman to salt, committing various acts of genocide, and commandeering a horde of bears to tear apart some children who made fun of Elisha's bald head.

     I assert that, if this had been documented by hundreds of independent contemporary sources, and we had the original manuscripts, and the manuscripts were all dated between 30 and 33 C.E., we would not have enough "evidence" to back up such ridiculous claims.  To validate these nonsensical, incoherent demonstrations of verbal and intellectual chaos, each and every separate claim would have to be cross-checked, tested, documented, taped, debated, and generally examined for at least a century and a half.

That's a hypothetical minimum, by the way; that exact amount of effort hasn't managed to convince creationists of evolution yet.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Elusiveness of Objectivity.

I have been quite a happy person recently.  Recently following last week's debate between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss, another debate presented itself earlier this evening.  This one pitted Sam Harris, atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, against Craig (a very busy man).  Now, I must preface this commentary by saying that I'm a fan of both philosophers that participated in this debate.  That being said, however, I must admit that William Lane Craig was the clear winner.

I certainly do not think that this victory owed itself to theological superiority.  Rather, William Lane Craig not only presented his case clearly and systematically, he also was able to make himself sound like he was standing on firmer ground.  Harris simply failed to point out Craig's numerous logical fallacies and failed to clarify his position in the structured and audience-friendly manner which Craig's years of debating allowed him to do quite convincingly.  Sadly, yes- this debate fell victim to miscommunication as much as Craig's previous skirmish.

Harris really didn't say much that we have not heard before- the desire to help others is innate in the vast majority of the species, morality seems clear to us as an almost a priori function.  While I didn't really take issue with anything Harris said, I did take issue with very much that he did not say- a thorough list of Craig's errors, for instance; however, I'd be glad to help him out on the subject, and I shall waste no more time in doing so.

The debate aimed to address the question of morality, and whether a secular foundation or a theological foundation provided a better foundation for it- and whether this foundation could be objective.  Craig tirelessly repeated the opinion that theology provides a solid, objective foundation for morality.  However, this  opinion was only really supported by two facts (here we assume for the sake of argument that Christianity is true): that morality was independent of us and therefore objective, and that good was inseparable from God, as its very definition is that which is of God, or rather, God's will.  God's will is defined as goodness; the quality is inherent in God's will as part of His nature.  Well, I will start with the first assertion- the assertion of objectivity.  This wish for morality to be an objective, immutable law is not only derogatory to humanity, I believe, but it is also futile.  I ask you now to simply contemplate the thought process that takes place when we attribute morality to God: we cannot bear the concept of morality being nothing but an arbitrary concept which we create and shape; being nothing but the collective opinion of humanity.  We want to know that rape is truly evil, not simply that we consider it evil.  Such an act appears to hold an intrinsically evil nature.  So, there must be a lawgiver who makes these laws.  Think about that for a minute- we cannot bear the idea of morality being relative, and so we turn to God to create these laws (and apparently to enforce them as well).  The man who says that we are somehow creating an objective source of morality here is simply blinding himself to the obvious.  God is a sentient being; he chooses these laws.  They do not exist independent of him.  By definition, morality remains relative in this fashion.  All that we accomplish by "passing the buck" here is that morality continues to be nothing but an opinion, but now the opinion is being given by a being infinitely more powerful than us, so that resistance to these laws is ultimately futile- justice will be done, and God shall see to it.  Ironically, this smacks of the relativist ethics of social Darwinism that theists so often express their fear of: "But in your worldview, morality is nothing but the opinion of the strongest!  Might makes right!"  I find it rather amusing that this is exactly what they have done with their idea of God; once again He is let off the hook simply because He is God and that grants Him an inexplicable free pass to do whatever he pleases without question.  Rather than thinking critically, making observations, and creating as good a concept of morality as we are able, we simply obey orders from a more powerful Being because we are content with taking His word for it that everything he commands is ethically acceptable by definition.  "Should" and "should not" are entirely metaphysical concepts; they simply do not exist outside our minds.  Objective morality is inherently impossible.

As to Craig's second point, I really do not know how he overlooked such a simple fallacy.  He attempted to say that God provides us with an acceptable objective morality because good was, by definition, what God commands.  Now, I do not know why Harris did not press this point further- it was certainly the error that stood out the most to me.  Craig is, in this instance, simply assuming his conclusion as a premise- the aim of this debate was to discuss whether we should define "good" as "what God commands" or not.  Craig claims here that we must define "good" it this way, because that's the definition of "good"!  Now, Harris did make a small comment on this problem that Craig gave an unsatisfactory reply to.  Craig claimed that he was not simply assuming that morality was based on God's will; rather, that God's will itself created certain moral laws that exist whether we define them as such or not.  However, this gets us nowhere.  Even if we assume Craig's claim that God's laws exist, he has not explained why we should consider them "moral" by our standards and why we should obey them.  Simply by existing as sentient beings, we have responsibility thrust upon us to accept standards, to make statements- to believe this or not believe that.  We cannot simply throw up our hands and say that we should not do this because it is inherently evil.  As I stated before, "should" and "should not" are entirely conceptual and cannot exist outside of our minds.  Immutable laws may exist, but it still ultimately becomes our own decision as to whether these laws accurately represent our ideas of "should" and "should not".  Craig makes the mistake of assuming that beliefs and morality can be imposed- it is impossible. One can be forced to act a certain way, or even forced to say he believes that he should act a certain way, but these are ultimately a matter of personal decision- otherwise one is simply suspending what beliefs they have truly formed.

The ultimate goal of this debate, I think, would be to choose a definition of morality that seems the most rational to us.  We must decide whether we want to make an informed decision, or accept an arbitrary code that has no apparent grounding in any sort of logic.  The sooner we can make this decision to turn away from unquestioning obedience to a being who enforces his laws with threats of torture, the sooner we may be able to truly study the question of morality, and improve it as best we can.