This past week I had a short debate on Twitter with an atheist over moral absolutes. This is one area in which atheists will often show their hypocrisy and prove beyond doubt that atheism is irrational. The debate began over an article I wrote defending Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, for some comments he made in a prayer meeting. Robertson basically gave a hypothetical scenario of an atheist's home being invaded and the atheist's wife and children being harmed. Robertson stated, that while a Christian would look at these acts and rightly call them evil; the atheist would have no grounds for determining what is “good” or “evil” since he rejects the very notion of God and thus a moral authority on which to stand. I agreed with Phil, and pointed out further that the atheist will proudly declare certain things to be “good” or “evil” or “right” or “wrong.” The atheist contradicts his own worldview in doing this. So, without further ado, here is the debate between “Bantha” the atheist and me over moral absolutes. Keep in mind, on Twitter you are limited to 120 CHARACTERS per response. For the sake of further explanation I have added some of my additional commentary in parenthesis. As an additional note, I assume “Bantha” is a made up name. According to his Twitter bio he teaches high school and lives in San Jose, CA.
Bantha: Something doesn't need to be "evil" to be objectionable. Most mammals value family connections and defend their mates/young.
(My Commentary: Bantha bristles at my referring to the atheist's family being tortured as an act of “evil.” He declares that while the behavior would be “objectionable” it is not evil. To prove his point he goes to the animal kingdom where we have examples of animals protecting their young. Incidentally, I would note that if you have to go to the animal kingdom to justify your beliefs and actions you are already regressing and moving the wrong direction on the intellectual “food chain” so to speak).
Shane: Yes. But some objectionable things are evil. We need ability to define evil. Some mammals care for young. Some eat them.
Bantha: Why do we "need" ability to define evil? I don't believe in a concrete "good" but live a very moral life. Charity, moderation, care for my community.
(My Commentary: This is a GLARING contradiction on “Bantha's” part. He says that he does not believe in a “concrete good.” Then he immediately tells me that HE HIMSELF is “good” though he instead uses the word “moral.” Aside from the fact that he, nor anyone else is truly good (see Romans 3:10); what basis does he have for determing anyone or any deed as being “good” or “bad”? He just said that he did not believe in “good” (nor evil for that matter). While mocking my faith, he contradicts his own worldview and proves that atheism contradicts it's own claims).
Shane: Maybe you do. But everyone doesn't. Evil must be defined in a moral society.Phil Robertson was giving a clear example of it.
(My Commentary: Rather than pointing out his hypocrisy and chasing the “I'm good” rabbit; I chose to stick to the issue. That even though he considers himself “good” (i.e, a law-abiding citizen), there are others who are not. We cannot simply float through life claiming no moral absolutes. Evil must be defined. This is what Phil Robertson was doing in his example).
Bantha: No, he was trotting out the "morality requires religion" fallacy. No one needs Christianity to abhor child rape & murder.
Shane: Not to abhor it. But to define it as evil you do. You may know its wrong. But what makes your standard right? Christianity has an answer. Atheism does not.
(My Commentary: In this exchange Bantha makes the claim that he can abhor something that is evil (child rape and murder). Yet he has already confessed to me that he does not believe “good” exists. Nor does he believe “evil” exists. He said things might be “objectionable” but not “evil.” He is self-contradictory and for an obvious reason. Deep down inside, he knows the truth, but he has “supressed it in unrighteousness” (see Romans 1:18). He knows that things are “good” and “evil” but his dogged determination to cling to atheism will not let him admit it. What standard shall he point to that would define for us “rape” or “murder” as being evil? I point to God and the Bible. Notice in the following exchanges what he points to).
Bantha: Look to nature. What we call "altruism" and "morality" has clear parallels in other social primates. Read "Bonobo & the Atheist."
Shane: We're not talking about good, but evil. Monkeys may be nice. But how can an atheist define evil? This is my point. What is your answer?
(My Commentary: Bantha again moves the wrong direction down the intellectual food chain to justify his belief. His claim is that since monkeys are nice to each other and they don't have religion; then religion must not be necessary for “morality.” This is a 'red herring' on his part, since, according to his worldview there is no morality. Now he claims monkey's act in “moral” ways though he refuses to define it as “moral” only “natural.” I again try to get him to stay on track. I don't care about monkeys. I want him to tell me how an atheist can define evil. Notice, he cannot do it so he frequenlty dodges the question and eventually gives up).
Bantha: Chimpanzees aren't "nice." “Good" and "evil" are human constructs. They act in socially beneficial ways.
Shane: What about when they DON'T act in socially beneficial ways? What about when they act in ways that only benefit them? Rape, for example, benefits the rapist. How can an atheist tell him this is “wrong”?
(My Commentary: Bantha attempts to define “good” as that which is “socially beneficial” and he claims that people and animals do this “naturally.” Yet if you've lived in this sinful world for even 5 minutes, you know this isn't true. While people (and animals) might be trained to benefit one another, they also frequently do that which beneifts them alone. And often do this by clearly violating the person or property of another. Rape, murder, theft, and assault are all clear examples of this.
Bantha I don't disagree that it "benefits" him or her, but that doesn't make it beneficial for the community.
Shane: What if he lives in community of rapists? The “community” might consider it beneficial then.
(My commentary: Again I am trying to point out the logical inconsistencey of his worldview. He basically believes that whatever benefits society at large is “good.” This is a common notion in athiestic circles. But it is a philosophical fatal flaw to atheism. The reason is that what particular societies value as “good” varies between different groups and at differnt times. There was a time when the majority of Americans believed slavery was acceptable. Does this make it so? What if the hypothetical rapist lived in a community that sees nothing wrong with rape? Then according to the atheist's definition, rape would be a “good” thing since society deems it so).
Bantha: Come on man, what healthy human would consider a "community of rapists" not abnormal? How do we need religion to tell us that?
Shane: Many male-dominated societies accept rape. And woman have no rights. Is this wrong? I say yes, because of Biblical teaching. Atheism has no answer.
(My commentary: At this point Bantha thinks I'm crazy. My hypotheical world where rape is acceptable seems absurd to him (as it should). Yet there are many societes where rape is considered acceptable. Perhaps Bantha needs to watch the news a little bit more. But an even deeper issue is this: How can he call rape “evil” when he has already told me he doesn't accept the existence of good and evil? He believes these are “human constructs.” Nevertheless he knows rape is bad. He just can't tell me why. And at this point, he ends the converstation out of frustation. My hope and prayer is that our discussion caused him to question why he believes what he believes and that by God's grace he would see the illogical absurdity of his worldview). Notice our last exchange.
Bantha: I recognize that you view the world differently, and I'm just going to drop it. Keep defending Phil Robertson, its hurting Christianity more.
Shane: Nice talking with you. Have a blessed evening.
(My commentary: Bantha is correct in saying that he and I view the world differently. Not only is this because I'm a Christian and he is an athiest. But also because my worldview is logically coherent and his is not. Christian faith is not at odds with logic. In all honesty, atheism is at odds with logic. For all of their claims of being “rational” the atheist cannot defend his worldview from an intellectual perspective. His reasoning is full of holes and our job as Christians is to lovingly point that out. This is what I attempted to do. And thus I ended the conversation on a polite note. Hopefully he could tell that I was attempting to speak the truth in love. Or perhaps the kindness made him angrier. Either way, we are called to “give an answer for the hope that is within us with gentleness and reverance” (1 Peter 3:15) and leave the results to God.
CONCLUSION: There are many ways to engage unbelievers in general, and atheists in particular in evangelism. We could point to a whole host of things that give evidence for the existence of God. What I did in this conversation was go beyond evidence to the very foundation of belief. Rather than arguing about what is moral I questioned him on how he can even define “moral” at all, since he rejects the very existence of God. In the world of Christian apologetics (the study of defending the faith) this is known as “Presuppositional Apologetics.” And I believe, it cuts the “intellectual legs” out from under the atheist. With no basis for morality he has no leg to stand on in his argument against the Christian.
NOTE: To study this more in-depth, listen to my 14-part sermon series entitled "Expositional Apologetics" on Sermon Audio by clicking here.