A pleasant dialogue with an atheist

A recent visitor asked some common questions. I appreciated his tone and his willingness to concede one of my points from the The “Bronze Age Mythology” fallacy post. Here are his comments and my responses.

LoneWolfArcher, your belief that there is an all-powerful creator who cares about the little details of our lives and your disbelief that we might actually just be here, without being created or having a bigger purpose — THAT is egoism at its finest.

Isn’t the real question whether or not it is true? If my kids felt that my wife and I created them, cared deeply about the details of their lives, sacrificed for them, had their long-term best interests at heart, etc., would they be unjustified in claiming it?

And under atheism, where would be the rationale that egoism is wrong? Wouldn’t that be expected? And where would be the grounding to criticize any behavior as universally wrong?

The core of my atheistic beliefs, and the core of many others, is the lack of any evidence of a creator or god.

Have you studied the cosmological, teleological, moral, etc. arguments for his existence? If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to subscribe to this blog — http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/ or especially Stand to Reason at http://www.str.org or http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com

Atheists who act well are actually more moral than the religious, since the religious are acting out of doctrine or fear of hell.

I concede that many atheists behave relatively well on human terms. But they have no philosophical grounding for universal morality.

In their nothingness to molecules to life to man view, my conversion from atheism to trusting in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is solely due to Darwinian evolution (or some such thing), so why would they criticize what their worldview created?

Also, in Christianity, we are not acting properly because we think it will gain us entrance into Heaven. No amount of good deeds can undo my countless sins against God. We act differently because God has changed us and out of gratitude for what Jesus did for us. We believe He is God in flesh and that we should see the world as He does and act accordingly.

Atheists acting well are doing it for exactly the right reasons — compassion, empathy, and knowing what is right with having it threatened into us with a big stick (hell etc.).

But on atheism you have no reason to say those are the “right” things.

Speaking of not having to answer for your actions: if you believe in a biblical god, you can be a ten time murderer and as long as you accept Jesus etc. you go to heaven. An atheist who murders no-one and acts charitably all their lives, but doesn’t accept Jesus or whatever nonsense it is, goes to hell. THAT is not having to account for your actions, or in fact, the very opposite. Your god is a sick joke and to dress it as morality is wrong wrong wrong.

Technically, you are right. Grace, by definition, isn’t fair. If you want fairness, you’ll get it. You will be punished in Hell for your sins. That is fair. If you want unfairness, then trust in Jesus and how He paid for your sins on the cross. Was that fair for him to pay the penalty I deserved? Not at all. But I’m eternally grateful for it.

If your god actually exists, then they’re welcome to actually show up and communicate with us. But if they exist and are doing an extremely good impression of not existing by hiding, then they might as well not exist at all at this point.

He did show up. We killed him.

He also reveals himself through the Bible. I highly encourage you to read it carefully, even if it is just so you can be more effective at criticizing us.

Something being right, or not wrong, in a book doesn’t make everything the book claims correct. Lots of stars, yes. Doesn’t prove that the bits about a god are true.

I agree. My claim wasn’t that one true statement makes everything in the book true. It was merely that this was a rather significant claim and one that, in my experience, is completely (and conveniently?) ignored by skeptics. Seems like in fairness they’d want to give some credit for it.

On the flip side, I assume you’d agree that even if a book contained errors that other parts could be true and would have to be evaluated as such. I believe in the inerrancy of the original writings of the Bible, but I don’t need to prove that to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with people. We have plenty of evidence to point to.

The point of this post is spot-on — it’s a good point which I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past. “Bronze-age” does seem like a lazy slur. The fact that it is used doesn’t mean the people who are using it are wrong, either, but yes, it’s lazy.

Thanks, I appreciate that. I don’t like when either side uses cheap sound bites to dismiss the others.

If there was a god defining good and evil, it’s just as arbitrary as man defining it. If there is some notion of good that is higher than a god, then god isn’t defining it. So which is it?

I think you may be referring to something known as the Euthryphro Dilemma (I’m sure I misspelled that!). The answer is that God doesn’t “make” good and He also doesn’t sit under “good” in the sense that He is under authority to some standard. Good is simply part of his essence.

Plus, christians regularly “redefine what is good” themselves, in theory, by overriding god/Jesus in the bible, by (rightly!) ignoring the morally repugnant parts of the bible. So is god actually god or not?

I look at it differently. God is good, all the time. It is part of his essence. In our fallen nature we may misunderstand him, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t good.

There are plenty of morally repugnant things in the Bible, as an overarching theme is that we are fallen sinners in desperate need of a Savior. The Bible records many such acts. But God is perfectly holy and sovereign and just, so He can punish as He sees fit.

11 thoughts on “A pleasant dialogue with an atheist”

  1. I’m fascinated by this: “Atheists who act well are actually more moral than the religious, since the religious are acting out of doctrine or fear of hell.” Doctrine is defined as “A principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief.” Atheists, then, act “more moral” because they have no body of principles … wait … what? But I’m sure that’s not what he meant. (It is true, but not what he meant. It is true in the sense that atheist morality is NOT a body of principles — they’re on their own.) What he meant is that it is better to be moral for morality’s sake than for the sake of beliefs or the fear of punishment. How this is true is not represented. Why being moral because one believes it’s the right thing to do based on one’s beliefs is inferior to being moral “just ’cause” makes no sense to me.

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    1. My atheist friend insists on acting “morally.” I finally asked him what that meant – why act morally if you don’t believe there’s a God waiting on the other side to punish or reward you?

      His answer, “I don’t know.”

      The subject hasn’t come up since.

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  2. I’m not sure why you called this exchange “pleasant.” It sounds like the same old crap to me – the same arguments that nonbelievers have made for centuries. I’m always amazed at how they think they’re the first ones to raise these objections, or how they’re arrogant enough to think they’re going to say anything that an experienced Christian apologist hasn’t heard before. That hasn’t been raised over and over for generations.

    And under atheism, where would be the rationale that egoism is wrong? Wouldn’t that be expected? And where would be the grounding to criticize any behavior as universally wrong?

    Excellent question, and for that matter, most of the ones I’ve jousted with seem to have an inordinately high opinion of themselves…believing (unjustly) that logic, reason, history, and science are all on their side. (BZZZT! Wrong!)

    I concede that many atheists behave relatively well on human terms. But they have no philosophical grounding for universal morality.

    I don’t concede any such thing. The ones living here in America may behave well, but things tend to turn out differently when they’re running a government that doesn’t recognize any rule of law higher than itself – and let’s face it, no atheist truly does.

    Remember, we had a little go around here the week before last who kept making self-referential arguments – his beliefs were superior simply because logic had said they were. I finally got around to pointing out that he hadn’t actually used any logic, just made a number of unsupported assertions. I concluded by saying that he in fact had no idea what “logic” or “reasoning” really is. Curiously, he never responded when I said this.

    Also, in Christianity, we are not acting properly because we think it will gain us entrance into Heaven. No amount of good deeds can undo my countless sins against God. We act differently because God has changed us and out of gratitude for what Jesus did for us.

    Isn’t there something in the Bible about how the message of the Cross is foolishness to the unbeliever and how the darkness does not comprehend the Light?

    This teaching manifests itself today as classic psychological projection. They don’t do anything unless it benefits them, so why would anyone else? They’re stuck on stupid – you MUST have some ulterior motive or expect to profit in some way.

    Something being right, or not wrong, in a book doesn’t make everything the book claims correct. Lots of stars, yes. Doesn’t prove that the bits about a god are true.

    Doesn’t disprove it either.

    Lots of stars indeed. Not one of which would be there if the exact temperature, pressure, etc, of the Big Bang hadn’t been calibrated to dozens of decimal places. To assert that it all just “happened” is folly beyond comprehension.

    ……

    I’m not sure if there really is a way to reach hardcore atheists. Maybe it’s not worth the trouble to witness to them, unless they’re standing right in front of you and you have some way of physically serving them or going beyond mere words to help them. That way they can see your faith in action and, if they’re as logical as they claim to be, will be forced to ask why you cared enough to do that. (Unless they think you’re trying to recruit them into some crazy cult or perceive that you are trolling for new members for your local church because that in turn will somehow benefit it financially.)

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  3. I’m not sure why you called this exchange “pleasant.” It sounds like the same old crap to me – the same arguments that nonbelievers have made for centuries. I’m always amazed at how they think they’re the first ones to raise these objections, or how they’re arrogant enough to think they’re going to say anything that an experienced Christian apologist hasn’t heard before. That hasn’t been raised over and over for generations.


    And under atheism, where would be the rationale that egoism is wrong? Wouldn’t that be expected? And where would be the grounding to criticize any behavior as universally wrong?

    Excellent question, and for that matter, most of the ones I’ve jousted with seem to have an inordinately high opinion of themselves…believing (unjustly) that logic, reason, history, and science are all on their side. (BZZZT! Wrong!)


    I concede that many atheists behave relatively well on human terms. But they have no philosophical grounding for universal morality.

    I don’t concede any such thing. The ones living here in America may behave well, but things tend to turn out differently when they’re running a government that doesn’t recognize any rule of law higher than itself – and let’s face it, no atheist truly does.

    Remember, we had a little go around here the week before last who kept making self-referential arguments – his beliefs were superior simply because logic had said they were. I finally got around to pointing out that he hadn’t actually used any logic, just made a number of unsupported assertions. I concluded by saying that he in fact had no idea what “logic” or “reasoning” really is. Curiously, he never responded when I said this.


    Also, in Christianity, we are not acting properly because we think it will gain us entrance into Heaven. No amount of good deeds can undo my countless sins against God. We act differently because God has changed us and out of gratitude for what Jesus did for us.

    Isn’t there something in the Bible about how the message of the Cross is foolishness to the unbeliever and how the darkness does not comprehend the Light?

    This teaching manifests itself today as classic psychological projection. They don’t do anything unless it benefits them, so why would anyone else? They’re stuck on stupid – you MUST have some ulterior motive or expect to profit in some way.

    From the atheist: “Something being right, or not wrong, in a book doesn’t make everything the book claims correct. Lots of stars, yes. Doesn’t prove that the bits about a god are true.”

    Doesn’t disprove it either.

    Lots of stars indeed. Not one of which would be there if the exact temperature, pressure, etc, of the Big Bang hadn’t been calibrated to dozens of decimal places. To assert that it all just “happened” is folly beyond comprehension.

    ……

    I’m not sure if there really is a way to reach hardcore atheists. Maybe it’s not worth the trouble to witness to them, unless they’re standing right in front of you and you have some way of physically serving them or going beyond mere words to help them. That way they can see your faith in action and, if they’re as logical as they claim to be, will be forced to ask why you cared enough to do that. (Unless they think you’re trying to recruit them into some crazy cult or perceive that you are trolling for new members for your local church because that in turn will somehow benefit it financially.)

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    1. Ha — “pleasant” was a relative term.

      There is no way to reach hardcore atheists, or softcore ones, short of God making them spiritually alive. I think some basic arguments are part of seed-scattering — though the real value is in sharing scripture — and it is helpful to strengthen the faith of Christians. They are bombarded with bad atheist arguments and it is useful to show how empty they are.

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  4. Speaking of not having to answer for your actions: if you believe in a biblical god, you can be a ten time murderer and as long as you accept Jesus etc. you go to heaven. An atheist who murders no-one and acts charitably all their lives, but doesn’t accept Jesus or whatever nonsense it is, goes to hell. THAT is not having to account for your actions, or in fact, the very opposite. Your god is a sick joke and to dress it as morality is wrong wrong wrong.

    Perhaps the better answer for this is what it means, as a human, to love Christ, believe that he died for your sins, and that those sins involved killing His creatures. I wouldn’t envy that hypothetical murderer his psyche at all. I guess the question is, “What does it mean to accept Jesus?” Is it just a dispassionate, “Yep, yay Jesus, thanks”, or does it go deeper than that?

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  5. We can say that yes, a person could be a mass murderer and come to Christ and receive forgiveness. We could even see a person being a Christian, going off the rails and becoming a mass murderer, then coming to his senses and repenting and being forgiven. As put above, that’s grace.

    What the atheist fails to realize is that there is no atheistic moral code. Why shouldn’t people be mass murderers if atheism is true? They might not want to be, but that’s a personal preference, not a moral principle. Society might collapse if we are but so what? We’re all worm food in 100 years time anyway, what does it matter if society goes on? In a few billion years the sun will gobble up the Earth and all human endeavors will be blotted from the universe. Eventually the universe itself will end and of course none of us will be here to see that. The idea you should limit your pleasures, whether it be wealth, sex, or mass murder, for the sake of someone else is nonsensical.

    Atheists can be good, of course they can, if anything you do is “good” because you want to do it, then you’re good. However a Christian can be bad, because there is a divine moral law they can transgress, whether that be a fully articulated list of prohibitions, or Jesus’ command, “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” which covers all laws. An atheist, who understands this, can never be bad. Stalin? Great guy. Mao? Humanitarian of the year. Pol Pot? Ready for canonization.

    Sacrifice yourself to help others, or sacrifice others to help yourself. In atheism it’s all the same.

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