Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Interview with the atheist, part 1: the questions

UPDATE: The answers are posted here.

Recently, I have been writing about morality on atheism. In one post, I contrasted the moral behavior of a consistent, authentic Christian, William Wilberforce, with the moral behavior of a consistent, authentic non-Christian Darwinist, Adolf Hitler. In another post, I engaged an atheist commenter about who is really responsible for the mass murders in history. And the post on British novelist A. N. Wilson’s recent return to Christian faith which was partly due to his discovery of the objective moral law.

I decided to interview my atheist friends about God and morality. Yes, I have atheist friends, and yes, they read the blog, and yes, they know the Wintery Knight’s true identity. So, I arranged some lunch meetings with them, and I asked them, and recorded their responses. Later on, I will be posting their replies and my comments about their replies, then some general comments about the Christian Life.

Who is safe to talk to?

In this post, I am going to explain to you clearly how to engage your atheist friends on these issues. But be careful. Some atheists have fascist tendencies – when they feel offended, some of them want to bring state to bear against those who make them feel bad. Atheists struggle with morality, it just doesn’t sit well on their worldview, even though they sense God’s law on their hearts, like we do.

If you want some advice about who to avoid, e-mail me. The easiest way to see if the person is safe, is to ask them for reasons why someone might accept positions that they don’t hold. Ask them: “Why do people believe in God?”, “What’s good about capitalism?”, and “Why are people pro-life?” and so on. If you can’t hear any good reasons presented respectfully, then move on.

How to organize the engagement

My advice is to meet with the person one-on-one for lunch. Describe the questions, but don’t give them the list: 45 minutes is needed to get through all the questions below. You should buy their lunch. Try to convey to them that this will be a safe place for them to tell what they think, and that you will keep what they say in confidence. Explain that you will not be responding or arguing, just asking questions.

You should definitely pray about it beforehand. Ask God to help you to keep calm. Ask him to help you not to be defensive. Also, it may help if you practice these questions on safe people, like family members, first. Yes, they are impossible to persuade, but they won’t be as inclined to censor you. You need to practice hearing views you don’t agree with, and saying the words “I’m sorry!” if you offend someone.

What are the questions to ask?

Below are the questions I used last week in the 5 interviews I did so far. I have more interviews scheduled this week with an agnostic and an atheist, so I may use different questions.

1) Do you believe that the universe was brought into being out of nothing by a person (agent)? Is it possible that this agent could communicate to us, or that we could discover something about that agent? (i.e. – does God exist, is he knowable)

2) Explain to me in which religion you were raised by your parents, if any. How did your parents approach religion in the home? (strict, lax, etc.)

3) What events in your past affected your beliefs about God’s existence and knowability? (e.g. – I studied biology, comparative religions or anthropology, or I met a girl I liked)

4) What are your main objections to belief in God’s existence and knowability today? (e.g – suffering, pluralism, hiddenness)

5) This salt shaker (grab salt shaker and brandish it in a non-threatening way) exists because it is made of matter and occupies space. What is the mode of existence of moral values and moral duties, on atheism? Where do they exist, and what do they exist as? (e.g. – in people’s minds, as descriptions of behavior, in God’s mind)

6) Free will is required in order for humans to act in ways that are morally responsible. You cannot assign praise or blame to anyone if they do not have free will. What is the rationale for free will on atheism? If there is no free will, on what grounds can atheists praise or condemn any behavior? (free will means the ability to act or not act)

7) Suppose you are an atheist journalist writing a story in atheistic North Korea in which you criticize the atheist leader Kim Jong Il. His secret police  burst through the front door of your apartment and drag you off you a torture chamber. You are told that you are about to be personally executed by the dictator himself. On what basis would you plead for your life, on atheism? (i.e. – how would you persuade a powerful atheist to do right)

8) Suppose that you are strolling along the river in the winter, and you cross a bridge. Suddenly, you hear shouts for help coming from the icy water below. A little girl has fallen in the water and will die in minutes unless you jump in. There is no one else around to save her. You have no relatives/dependents. You can swim. There is an even chance that you will both die if you try to save her. Do you try? How is this rational on your worldview? (i.e. – how is self-sacrifice rational on atheism)

9) Suppose you travel back in time to the United Kingdom, when slavery is still legal! You meet William Wilberforce. He says that he has been battling slavery hard for 20 years, on the basis of Christian convictions, but that today he wants to let you try it in his place. On atheism, on what rational grounds could you try to persuade them? (If they say yes, ask them if they are pro-life and what they have done to support the pro-life movement)

10) Consider the heat death of the universe, which is the theory that the amount of usable energy is going to run out at some point in the finite future, as it disperses in space. On atheism, what is the ultimate significance of your moral decisions? How does it does it affect your fate, or the fate of anyone else you act on ultimately? What does it matter to you and to the species ultimately whether you act morally or not? (i.e. – how do your good and evil actions change where you and everyone else ends up?)

11) What is your purpose in life, and why did you choose that purpose? Is it just yours, or for everyone else too?

12) Suppose Jesus appeared to us right now and addressed you directly with the following words: “I’m really here and you need to follow me in order to flourish and achieve the goal for which I created you”. He then glares suspiciously at me, snatches a few fries from my plate, eats them, and then disappears. Later on, the Ghostbusters show up and confirm that Jesus was no ghost, but really God stepping into history. And everyone in the restaurant saw and heard exactly what you and I saw and heard. How would you proceed? How would you find out what to do? (i.e. – the atheist now knows Christianity is true, and I want to see what they think they should do in order to act like a Christian)

13) What would be the most difficult thing about becoming a Christian for you? Would it be the moral demands? The demands on your time? The unpopularity, humiliation and persecution that you would face? How would you feel about publicly declaring your allegiance for Christ and facing the consequences? (i.e. – they have become a Christian, what is the most difficult adjustment from your current life?)

Your assignment

If you are an atheist, please go ahead and answer the questions, and e-mail your answers to me. Don’t leave a comment, use e-mail. This is not about winning and losing, it is about promoting understanding between two opposing teams. I will post non-polemical atheist responses as separate blog posts, and link to your blog if you have one. Answers must be 1-2 lines, at most.

If you are a Christian, start practicing these questions on your safe or Christian friends, and write down their answers. Read the materials below and understand the arguments. Then interview some of your atheist friends and write down their answers. Send me the results of your interviews and I will post them as separate blog posts. Send me any other questions you think of, too!

NOTE: If I interviewed you and you didn’t get all these questions, e-mail me your response to the ones I missed and I’ll add your reply to the list. But you can’t change the answers you already gave!

Atheists: come up with your own list of difficult questions and send them to me. I will post my replies in a separate blog post and link to your blog. Your questions should expose my weaknesses, but not be insulting. This is getting to know each other, it’s not the time for snarkiness. I am doing an interview series on Christians in a couple of weeks, and I may include your questions in my list.

Debates on atheism and morality

My summary of the William Lane Craig (of Biola) vs Shelly Kagan (of Yale) debate at Columbia University on the topic “Is God Necessary for Morality?” is here.

Here are some prior debates on the rationality of morality on atheism.

  1. From Christianity Today, a written debate: Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens
  2. From the University of Western Ontario, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen
  3. From Schenectady College, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor
  4. From Franklin & Marshall College, William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)
  5. From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

Further study

A good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality is here. My previous posts on this blog on this topic are here and here. The first one is about whether atheists can use an ungrounded, arbitrary standard to judge God for his “moral failures”, the second (better) one is on why the concept of morality is not rationally grounded on atheism.

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57 Responses

  1. You consistently use the word “on” where you should be using “in.” For example: “What is the mode of existence of moral values and moral duties, on atheism?” This does not make sense. There is nothing acting upon atheism in that sentence. Your writing would benefit from the proper usage of prepositional phrases.

    • Thanks for the input, but I’m not changing anything because that’s the way philosophers speak. The word “on” is a short form of “on the assumption that atheism is true”.

  2. SeeH says:

    Just discovered your blog Wintery.

    Great questions. Hope people respond intelligently with an open mind.

  3. If that is how philosophers speak, then they do so poorly. Imprecision of language indicates an imprecise mind.

  4. Mindy says:

    Ah, Knight. Here I was, trying to determine how best to insidiously insert my growing fascist tendencies into my daily life, and here you are, with lessons!

    I am working on a treatise for all Christians who fear they are being marginalized. I shall happily share it with you when I am done. In the meantime, I am going to go back to raising my daughters and working to improve the lives of the truly marginalized in our society. Not those who think they are simply because they are being asked not to spout their religion in everyone else’s faces. That, dear knight, is not being marginalized. That is simply being asked to respect one’s fellow citizen.

    • NOTE: I updated this comment to take it out of the personal realm and back into the realm of public knowledge. Personal life details are irrelevant to arguments.

      Let’s stay away from your personal life as that is neither here nor there. Let’s talk about “moral” actions on atheism. Are they rational?

      Atheists can do what they want so long as it makes them happy to do it, because that is the reason, the only reason, for an atheist to do anything, on atheism. The category of prescriptive morality is meaningless, on atheism. If acting like the herd makes an atheist feel good, they do it. If the herd owns slaves or engages in atrocities, they do that. They have no outside moral standard, only their own feelings.

      Oh, and regarding spouting religion. What you mean is that you want to destroy the fundamental rights to free speech and freedom of religion expression, using the power of the state, because of your feeling of being an offended victim. Since you have a right to be happy, and someone is making you unhappyby exercising their Constituionally-guaranteed human rights, and human rights are not grounded rationally by atheism, you think nothing of removing those fundamental rights from others – they are just illusions on atheism. But your need for happiness is real on atheism, and a powerful atheist state could help you to avoid being offended if it silences those religious people who diminish the happiness of offended atheists, as in North Korea.

      • Billy says:

        “Atheists can do what they want so long as it makes them happy to do it…”

        That seems like a very narrow definition of an atheist. I think you more accurately described a hedonist. Anybody who establishes a goal and a method of evaluation would be happy upon achieving it, I think; but that doesn’t mean that happiness was the goal. You could just as easily say that anyone who presumes to understand a personal god and who seeks to bring oneself more in harmony with said god is only seeking happiness, yes?

        • Thanks for your gracious comment.

          Why should an atheist follow that standard when it goes against his own self-interest and would require him to make a personal sacrifice in order to do the right thing? For example, suppose you are on a bus with Muslims and they are intimidating a young woman for not wearing a burkha. Why is it rational for you to take a risk to help her? After all, you only have 80 years yourself to live. Why take a chance that they might kill you, just to do “the right thing”. After all, how can these moral duties be real, on atheism, and why should you take a chance just to follow them when you could get hurt?

          When I do the right thing, I do it not for happiness, but out of gratitude (because God first loved me and sent his son to save me) and because of prudence (the universe is designed in such a way that doing the right thing will work out for me in the end).

          • Billy says:

            I also figure that the universe is, by nature, a place in which doing the right thing works out best in the end. I think this is a phenomenon like gravity, and logic supports the idea that by making the world better, I too will benefit. Even if it doesn’t, I know that I’ll feel better at the end of the day by treating people the way I would like to be treated. I think this type of empathy is innate, i.e. it is in our genes.

            These beliefs do not rest on any complicated notions of an unsensable, personal, supernatural being. They rest on simple logic and observation.

            As far as determining what is the right or good thing to do, I rely on a sort of Kantian calculation of if I can will it upon myself.

            With a corollary of the empathy I mentioned above, and a strong sense of innate human rights that are probably influenced a lot by my American experience.

            I would do what I could to help the non-burqa wearer simply because I would feel bad for her and feel that her treatment was unfair.

            My moral duties don’t rely on a contractual reciprocity, rather they are a reflection of how If I cease to be, it is not as though I never was, even if I don’t know about it anymore. I create who I am by what I do. I have decided to be a good and righteous person, and if I die doing that, so be it. That is who I am, and its my contribution to the world. Further, I affect the world around me by believing it to be a certain way.

          • Billy says:

            Sorry, that last paragraph got a little scrambled. I can’t see the right side of the comment box in which I’m typing – something about the margins on the blog template, I think.

            Should read:
            “My moral duties don’t rely on a contractual reciprocity, rather they are a reflection of how I affect the world. If I cease to be…”

            It gets a little metaphysical, but the end part wasn’t clear either. I guess what I’m saying is that I think that there is an overall level of goodwill that exists in the world, and by contributing my part, I can bring up that level. That’s why I see the “goes around, comes around” idea as logical and not just a tenet of faith. In addition, I create a better world for myself (in my perception) by believing that doing the right thing matters. So, even if the calculation is wrong, my psychological health is better – which isn’t nothing, if you are looking at maximum happiness.

          • Right, and this is all just blind faith on your part – nothing of it is grounded by your materialism – matter is all on your view, and the universe is a mindless accident. So morality is, as I said, irrational. Do it if you like it, that’s all.

          • Billy says:

            I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are saying. I said that I believe acting righteously improves the world around me, benefitting me and others. Additionally, I have empathy for others. The only real question is long-term versus short-term.

            Does that help clarify?

            “nothing of it is grounded by my materialism”? Ummm, its a mathematical calculation, kind of.

            “matter is all on your view”? No idea what you mean here.

          • Those are you feelings! That’s not objective or rational. They are your personal preferences. You are acting “morally” because it makes you feel good – for self-interest. That is not what morality is. Morality is doing the RIGHT thing when it goes AGAINST your self-interest. That is not RATIONAL on atheism. First, there is no objective standard on right and wrong in an accidental universe. Also, what does it matter in the long run how you act since the universe is running down to a cold death? In the end, we are all dead anyway, on atheism. So you are left with doing whatever you want because it makes you feel good. That is NOT morality.

          • Billy says:

            Well, if you only define morality so narrowly, no one can act morally. Don’t Christians or Muslims or Hindus only act morally for the self-interest of their immortal soul? You expect me to believe that you never let that enter your calculation, but when I tell you how I evaluate things, you refuse to believe me? Caring about other people may make me feel good, but when I do good for them, doesn’t it benefit them?

          • NO! We do not act ONLY in self-interest.

            Look here.

            This is the way the world really is. God exists, moral values are real. We were designed for a purpose. The guy who made the show made the rules, and the rules define what counts as scoring. The purpose of life is to score according to the rules. That is not only moral (to do what the Designer designed us to do) but it is also prudent (because following the moral oughts is best for us).

            Now, if you add to that the gratitude of being saved from our self-centered rebellion by Jesus, then you really have moral reasons, prudential reasons and gratitude rolled into one.

            I like people who like me before I deserve to be liked. I have a sense of loyalty to Christ who saving me when I was still a rebel. That’s why I am moral.

          • LCB says:

            WK makes an excellent post. In addition what you define as “narrowly” is what has been defined as “normative morality” for several millenia, by Christians and non-Christians alike. It is only under the new Atheism, which attempts to remake everything in their own self image, that this conception is changed.

          • Billy says:

            I described how I act by normative morality. I said that I generally follow Kant’s categorical imperative, and I follow my sense of empathy.

            Neither of those requires irrationality or a belief in the existance of the supernatural.

          • Billy says:

            By the way, from what did God’s son save you?

          • LCB says:

            Death and damnation.

          • Basically, you can take a look at the answers to the questions from atheists.

            Especially the question where I ask what they would do if they knew Christianity were true. The answer is that they would not give up their autonomous pursuit of happiness ANYWAY.

            Jesus saves you from that very normal attitude of not wanting to conform your will to the way the world really is. We call that desire for autonomy from God “sin”. It’s a rebellion.

          • LCB says:

            Your interviews are very interesting. In my experience (having asked similar questions of similar atheists), I’ve often received the same reply.

            And this points us towards the core of most atheistic positions, which is simply a rejection of any moral authority of any sort other then themselves.

          • They don’t even care if they have no evidence. Evidence is IRRELEVANT. That’s the part that scares me. We need to call them on this. It should be well-known that atheists cannot be moral rationally, as well known as is the fact the earth goes around the Sun. Why can’t we go on the offensive?

          • LCB says:

            WK,

            Have you had a chance to read this?

            If not, I would highly highly recommend.

          • Billy says:

            Hmmm… As an aside, I don’t like the formatting that makes these replies so narrow (I mean, literally narrow.)

            So, “atheists cannot be moral” according to you because “moral” means “to do what the Designer designed us to do”.

            Well, that’s what I mean by a narrow definition.

            You’ve kind of provided a circular argument, i.e. atheists don’t believe in god and morality requires a belief in god, therefore all atheists are amoral.

            Which is great.

            What I don’t understand is the lack of consistency. You say I can’t be moral because there are other benefits (like feeling good about myself). However, you can be moral despite other benefits (the prudence you described above). Am I reading that wrong?

          • Ok, ok. You’re being nice about this and I really appreciate it. I am sorry about the narrowness. That’s just the way threaded comments work.

            Look, I’m a Christian so I think that there really is a Design. So, if you as an atheist act in accordance with that design, you are being moral. So I am not saying that you can’t be moral, but in order to do that you need a real moral standard from the Designer to decide what counts as moral. What I am saying is that suppose you say there is no such Design (but there is) and you act in accordance with that Design, then you would be moral. But If I asked you “why are you denying all your self-interest in order to love your neighbor?” you would not be able to justify it rationally.

            So, you can be good without BELIEF in God, but you can’t be good unless God really exists and provides that objective standard for what counts as good. You can’t be good if the standard is just your own preferences or some arbitrary cultural standard evolved for your time and place. It needs to be a real standard that was made by someone in a position to decide what you ought to do, someone to whom the duty to act morally is owed.

            I am not saying you’re a bad person, I am saying that atheism doesn’t allow you to answer the question “why be moral?” with a RATIONAL answer. You’re going to be left with “because I feel like it”. And that is not the answer that a Christian would give. We would say, because God loved us to send his Son to die for us, and it’s rational to try to honor that sacrifice by imitating his Son in the way we live”. We are trying to act in accordance with a real Design here. And in the end, it will matter whether we did that or not. So there is some self-interest and some gratitude. Look, I don’t make the rules, that’s just the way it is.

            It’s not easy to put God first, by the way. I’m in my early 30s and still completely chaste. That has not been easy! I did it because I wanted to involve God in the way I relate to women. That means treating them right even if I don’t think they’re pretty. And it means not using them and throwing them away. It means trying to treat them as creatures who were designed to know God, and who need to be encouraged and loved so that they can do that. It’s no fun for me, but that’s what they were made to do: know God.

            Sorry to be mean, I hope this helps. I have no doubt that you are a moral person, but I just want you to know God as well. He certainly is interested in knowing you.

          • Billy says:

            So, following your logic (not trying to offend): Jesus, who is/was himself, supernatural has saved (or continues to save) me from my “attitude” of not wanting to conform my will to the way the world really is.

            Do you mean the way the natural world is? Or do you mean the supernatural (god, spirits, ghosts) world?

            In a sense, I suppose if Jesus were to have existed (or were to exist) – or perhaps if Jesus were to have been/be supernatural, and I could sense that somehow, he (or the concept of him)would clearly free me from believing only in the natural world, i.e. by accepting that he was/is supernatural, I would no longer conform my will to the way that the natural world is.

            To paraphrase, I could say, if you believe in dragons, you have been freed/saved from your reliance on reason/science/obervation.

            Is that really what religion is about?

          • Billy says:

            But, Wintery, I gave you my objective standard (Kant) and my rational reasons for acting morally (what goes around comes around).

            And I am an atheist.

            Doesn’t that disprove your theory about what an atheist can not do?

          • I mean your relationship to God (wanting to keep him out) and your relationship to others (not loving them to the point of self-sacrifice). I call this the vertical and horizontal dimensions. The vertical is more important.

            Regarding the dragons, don’t think for a minute that you would have to go against reason/science/observation.

            Take a look here to see some of the evidence, and keep in mind that we do love to engage people in debates. If you name me an atheist, I probably own a debate with that person. For example, have you seen the William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens debate or the John Lennox vs Richard Dawkins debates?

            (By the way, when I say you are sinning against God, one thing I mean is that you spent $20 on slot machines, instead of on a debate DVD, so that you chose not to spend some time thinking about whether God is real while watching the debate. That’s what I mean when I say sinning in a vertical direction. Don’t even think that I am judging you, I just splurged on pop tarts from a vending machine and I am sure that God was not honored by that. I am not trying to put you down, I am asking you: does being good require us to acknowledge God?)

            I am not trying to pressure you at all, I just want to give you places to study if you ever decide to take a look at this stuff. You may decide to take a look and say that Christians don’t even win these debates and their arguments suck, but I am just saying that we do have arguments and we do debate and we debate in Oxford University Press and at Purdue University and against Richard Dawkins.

            Look, when we get to this point in talking to one another where I don’t feel you are being mean at all, I get a little frightened that I am offending you, so I am sorry if you feel that me expressing my views is mean. It’s not like I am trying to beat you up or that you are beating me up. So I just wanted to say sorry for the previous mean things I said getting to this point. I snark at the beginning then when your nice, I feel awful about it. You’re probably more moral than me!

          • Billy says:

            Oh, I know you debate, and I’ve looked at your arguments. I tend to think of your arguments as being of two types. The first type is something like “we don’t understand x, therefore something supernatural must be responsible.” I think that is a logical leap – a very old leap, but still a leap – with no support. It’s much more likely that there is a natural explanation that we just don’t understand. The second type of arguments you use seem to be a case for the internal logical consistency of the theist perspective. I don’t doubt that your supernatural explanation is internally consistent, but that doesn’t mean it is accurate.

          • Beth says:

            “So, you can be good without BELIEF in God, but you can’t be good unless God really exists ”

            “I am saying that atheism doesn’t allow you to answer the question “why be moral?” with a RATIONAL answer.”

            ….You’re first quote makes no sense. At all.

            Number 2

            I am an agnostic/border line atheist. I do GOOD for the betterment of MYSELF and others. How is that not rational???

            Because I don’t believe a man died because he thought he was a prophet and was killed then became a zombie and flew into the sky???

            Yes…because ALL OF THAT ^ sounds REALLY rational.

            Don’t get me wrong the majority of christian morals such as “hey, murder’s bad let’s not do it” are pretty good. Morality is like money and government, all in the human mind.

            Take a dollar, rip it, what just happened? You ripped a piece of paper. Yay. Obama; he is a person. Nothing more. Strip away the term “president” and he is only a man.

            The Bible strip away the word “Holy” from it and what is it? A book. A book, the same as a book I am currently taking a break from to write this comment.

            As the amazing John Lennon once said “It’s all in the mind”

      • Susan says:

        Do you mean that someone needs to believe in God (and by extension, reward (heaven) if they are moral, and punishment (hell) if they are immoral) in order to be moral? Are you trying to say that someone who believes they will never be punished nor rewarded in an afterlife can’t possibly make the moral choice because the moral choice is always the less desirable choice? Just trying to understand.

        • I’m going to assume that you are a naturalist.

          1) Can you explain to me how free will (e.g. moral choices) are possible in a universe where matter is all there is? Doesn’t that mean that everything we do is determined by heredity and environment.
          2) What do you mean by “morals”? Do you mean personal preferences, societal conventions, or objective morality?

  5. Well, it sounds like you’ve got all the answers already. Why ask questions, then?

    • Two reasons. To help non-Christians think more clearly in the face of adversity and to help Christians (who are mostly lazy, cowardly and ignorant – I know I am) to care about what non-Christians believe (without coercing those non-Christians at all). I have had one atheist and one deist already who are appalled by the answers that were given and are beginning to question whose team they are really on.

      My next series is an interview series of Christians and I’m going to make them look even worse!

    • Billy says:

      I agree with Mr. Elliott, you seem to have predetermined the answers, Wintery.

      I told you how I figure I am moral (although an atheist) but you don’t think I’m being honest or something. I’m in no way a relativist who thinks anyone’s definition of morality is equally valid (for example, I strongly disagree with Fred Phelps’s delusion that he acts morally). I think I hold a very humanist definition of morality, but for some reason you don’t think that’s good enough.

      Can you explain in concrete (not supernatural) terms how your morality is better than mine?

      • Thanks again for the comment. It’s not my morality! It’s the morality of the Designer. If you say you are not a relativist, then you are definitely the kind of atheist I like. (The good kind) But then my question to you would be, where did this objective standard come from? Where did these rules that we all ought to follow regardless of our opinions come from, and why ought we follow them?

        I am not trying to trick you, I am trying to get you to see that your intuitions about morality are REAL. And that they are pointing you towards God. I know you don’t want to be converted to Christianity because it’s miserable work and everyone will hate you, but I just want to point out that it is no dishonor to do the right thing because you are grateful to Jesus for paying the penalty for all those things you’ve ever done wrong. If you haven’t done anything wrong to other people, then there at least some time when you pushed God away because you wanted your own space, and that was wrong. We all do that.

        Sorry if I am sounding mean here. Not trying to be.

        • Billy says:

          Objective standard = Can I will that someone acts the same toward me. The Golden rule, Kant’s Categorical imperative.

          That plus an innate empathy, i.e. I sense how others are feeling, and I feel it too.

          I don’t think being Christian would be miserable or that anyone would necessarily hate me – I can be quite charming. I don’t want to convert to Christianity because I can’t get past the willing suspension of disbelief.

          • Yes, and this is fine. You’re in a good place there, we just need you to look at the evidence and see whether there is anything to this.

            If you did convert, you would probably find more content to your moral standard, but agreeing that there is one is a good start. Just need to reflect on whether atheism grounds this standard. Kant was a believer in God, and he believed that God was the grounding for the objective standard of morality. He is not someone who I like at all, but let’s just go with him for now.

          • Billy says:

            By the way, I didn’t find any of your comments mean or overly snarky. And it’s your blog so I appreciate the space. I think you may have found my comment over on the domestic violence thread somewhat snarky (as I was intending) so, I apologize if that’s not taken in good humor too.

        • Bharat Ramakrishna says:

          I’ve been reading more about your blog and I want to emphasize that I am not a relativist.(I don’t believe that definitions of morality have equal value.) Also I think it is only natural you want others to feel that the pleasure and comfort you get from a belief in God, and also scared by some atheists.
          (Similarly I am scared by some Christians.) You cannot understand why people don’t feel that way. To me, knowing how the world works overrides any feelings of comfort and pleasure I might get from a belief in God. If, by studying how the world works, leads one to conclude that there probably isn’t a God, then that’s the way it is. So far, in my life, I haven’t seen any reason to conclude that a personal God who interferes in human affairs in such a way as to be detectable exists.
          If your reason to believe in God is the fear of hell, and want to try to prevent others from not going to hell, then that’s cool too.
          “I know that you don’t want to be converted to Christianity because it’s miserable work and everyone will hate you”. I don’t understand that…no one I know will hate me for what I believe. Also why would converting to Christianity be miserable work. If you feel it’s miserable then why be Christian? If your reason boils down to the fear of hell..then I would just say that there are others who don’t have that fear. “pushed God away because you wanted your space”. I don’t believe in God, so how can I push Him/Her away?
          Granted I haven’t read a lot of your blog and you might have answered these questions already. However it is an interesting blog and I might continue to read more if and when I choose to. If you reply to me in a civil manner, I will certainly continue to engage. I have found in the anonymity of internet that this is not the norm.

  6. I would suggest, then, the use of better-defined terms when framing your questions.

  7. Your questions are worded badly.

    On atheism, on what rational grounds could you try to persuade them? (If they say yes, ask them if they are pro-life and what they have done to support the pro-life movement)

    That wasn’t a Yes or No question. Besides, the question was about slavery not abortion.

    • I apologize. I was looking for a rational response, not an emotional one, that’s why I said rational. Rational means that I want to see a valid argument, with evidence to support the premises, such they are more likely than not. I would also have accepted the name of a scholar who has written on this.

  8. Rich Bordner says:

    If the Ghostbusters showed up after Jesus snatched fries from *my* plate, I’d start looking around for Ashton Kutcher, and I’d ask to have my fries chemically examined for Quaaludes….and if my fries turned out legit, I’d ask for Venkman’s autograph. I mean, c’mon! Can’t pass up an opportunity like that.

    :)

    In all seriousness, though, these are great questions…and I can’t wait to steal your “Jesus eats my fries” scenario–> It was phrased so humorously, and it really calls many non-believers’ bluff: evidence, most often, is not the real ultimate issue for unbelief.

    • The point of that part is to prove that he’s physical. I agree that evidence is not the cause of unbelief – it’s the desire for autonomy from restraints. But I still think we need to give evidence. It’s Biblical. Faith is acting on propositions that you have reasons to believe are true.

  9. Rich Bordner says:

    yes…agreed. I was just jabbin’ at ya in good humor.

  10. LCB says:

    Sure is easier just to start over on the side again.

    Anywho, I’m glad to sit and chat about yesteryear’s atheistic arguments, but Kant’s imperative went out the window with calculus. When you enshrine euclidean geometry as a moral system (and destroy metaphysics in the process) your system goes out the window when math guys throw euclidean geometry out the window.

    Kant’s position certainly rules out ethical relativism, but ultimately a kantian-atheist faces a rather more difficult problem, which Kant sought to address elsewhere: the problem of reason being the criteria for knowing morality…

    and Kant deals with it by concluding that God must exist for there to be any morally objective judgments made by humans. Kant presumes God to make his system work. In Kant’s system, God is required for morality.

    So have fun chewing on that. Glad to chat about it if you want to.

  11. SeeH says:

    Followed your discussion with Billy (up there) a while ago, and am just amazed at how common it is that people fail to under the basic argument from morality. The key word is objective, but I really don’t see why the distinction is such a hard one to make.

    I used to think that those like Billy were just being disingenuous but even high profile atheists make the same clanger, like Christopher Hitchens in his debates against WLC.

    p.s. Please fix the threaded comments problem. Pretty please.

  12. Bob says:

    Hi Billy,

    Kant was a Christian and his argument is actually a refutation against atheism (and against the so called Enlightenment). So it’s strange seeing you use Kant to argue for atheist morality.

    “Kant exposes the ignorant boast of atheists that atheism operates on a higher intellectual plane than theism. He shows that reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable. Atheism foolishly presumes that reason is in principle capable of figuring out all that there is, while theism at least knows that there is a reality greater than, and beyond, that which our senses and our minds can ever apprehend.”

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1017/p09s06-coop.html

    And theistic quotes from Kant: http://www.michaelsview.com/kant.htm

    • Now don’t get mad at me but I really don’t like Kant and I don’t think that his fideism counts as Biblical Christianity. I think that the Bible teaches that Christianity is a knowledge tradition, not a faith tradition. And Kant, by divorce faith from fact, goes against the Bible, in my view.

  13. [...] talks about an earlier survey he’d undertaken of some atheists. By the way, did you all see my survey of atheists that I did a while back? It’s relevant because one of the questions I asked to my volunteers was [...]

  14. Beth says:

    “Especially the question where I ask what they would do if they knew Christianity were true. The answer is that they would not give up their autonomous pursuit of happiness ANYWAY.”

    What would I do? I would ask him if he and his “father” honestly have a problem with the gays and lesbians. Why a woman is property of man, why the story of Lillith was left out of the bible (Ah snap bet you didn’t know about that WK!)

    Why a woman is considered unclean during her period (especially with those pearl tampax!Total life savers!) Why having and selling slaves is okay according to the bible.

    I’d ask him why at one part of the bible divorce is a strict no no then in another part it’s okay and okay to take on a second wife in the case of your brother dying and he left a widow. (Confusing right?)

    I’d ask him why he made an evil fruit tree in the first place. And then I’d ask him what he was thinking with making Sarah Palin.

    And if he answered these all and he said “Well quite frankly miss, women ARE below men, Gays and lesbians ARE all an abomination, Lillith just wouldn’t have sex under adam and wouldn’t just see she was indeed below him, bleeding from the vagina? Come on that’s just gross. Of course it’s unclean! The slaves part? Only if they’re from a neighboring country! Psh, where’s your Canadian? Yeah…I couldn’t make up my mind about divorce…still haven’t. And I couldn’t help making the tree! The evil part? Well you know I’m all powerful but who would stop such a pretty thing from growing and endangering my plan?!?”

    I would tell him “I see. Well then God/Jesus in order for me to give my heart, soul and mind to you you must admit to me you are not perfect. If you cannot then you are not my god. I simply can’t believe such imperfections and contradictions when you say you are perfect.”

    And if he can’t then I should understand and forgive him. I would then tell him I can now see why there is a need for the satan. Because if there wasn’t such a fear base in this religion it wouldn’t have survived time at all.

    I would then say I would join Lillith (read up on this chick, she was the first feminist) in hell and work against him for the good of people. However I would teach that like parents of a child we must forgive such stubbornness and imperfections.

  15. Scott says:

    No free will = no morality?

    Then you must have a problem with the idea of Original Sin.

    The writings of the philosopher Ayn Rand prove that free will is incompatible with original sin: “Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with a free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he has had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot have it at birth; if it is not of his choice, he is not free” (See John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged)

    You must also have a problem with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and predestining Judas to betray Jesus, considering both of those contradict your belief in free will.

    If your assertion about free will is true, then, by your own account, you have no logical reason to be moral.

  16. jean says:

    After reading the above questionnaire of what, who and why athiests believe about morality, I think one would first define what would be called”moral”. To me, morality means an action doing what is good. Most civilized people want to be good and they call that moral. I have plenty of friends who are athiests, including family. But should they find a lost purse or wallet they would look for the owner without removing the contents. Being a moral person doest not make them a Christian. There are plenty of good people in this world who truly do not understand how and why there is a God that is real because even Christians cant give them good answer. But they try. Athiesm is a choice to deny the diety of christ because they truly do not want to know.and therefore they look for reason for their right to choose. There is plenty of proof in the Holy Bible if they really want to find out if God is real. And no the bible does not contradict itself. One can study history, prophecy,,and current archeology. The only proof God sent was a man named Jesus who changed the entire world history even because and thru his resurrection. We love haunted houses and look for ghosts, etc but refuse to believe in a supernatural God who has written history. Morality is a choice to be good or bad but it doesn’t prove anything except that something inside them want to be good. That is their choice to be good or bad.Becoming a follower of christ is a different story.. It is a choice and one I am proud to be. If you want proof you will find it. If not, you won’t.I also do not believe in blind faith. I hope this is not too long but it was sure bothering me to see people trying to use phylosophical and biological non sense words. I’ve read the big popular books of well known athiests and they don’t prove a thing except they know science and algebra. I laugh at their nonsense. Than you for your time. I’m a 72 year old
    Grañma and can’t out talk a college professor, but I know more than they do about God.

  17. Jason says:

    Atheists…the same people who brought you: eugenics, fascism, I’m okay-you’re okay, what I “feel” instead of what is right, or just.

    Look, I am just a nobody. I don’t have some high-power job. Just because I have a college degree…I don’t think I am “smart” or “intelligent”

    I don’t spend hours at hipster-cafes debating non-Christians (what’s the point, they result to name calling and shaming within three seconds?)

    I find it funny that in the above commentary that the word “good” is being thrown around.

    Only God is good. Atheists might be “nice” or “friendly” but not good….and by whose right and standard are they deeming what is “good”?

    Not mine. If they are going to try and claim the word “good” or the wishy-washy wet noodle phrase of: But I am a good person.

    How do they deem good? What is their standard? If they don’t believe in God, or the Bible………I would like to know where they are now getting the “right” to use this word.

    Stalin thought he was a “good person” and so did Mao. Pol Pot claimed he was a “good” person. Ho Chi Mihn was doing everything for the “good” of his people in his fight against the French and then the Americans in Vietnam. Hitler considered himself good, and so did the 60 million Germans that followed him. In Imperial Japan they thought the emperor was the incarnate of God, and the Japanese thought they were “good” for liberating Asia from the “white-European” colonialists.

    Like I said, I don’t know squat. I can’t understand theories and principles by the likes of Camus, Kant, Hegel….

    All I get from Atheists with their belief system (or non-belief system) is: Do what you want, when you want, blame other people for your problems, and instead of a “God” we replace it with something we can see….The State. Hate on anyone who will not agree with us…..or like in the above places I mentioned. Mao’s China, Stalin’s Soviet Union. Southeast-Asia, Hitler’s Germany, Imperial japan and Italy’s Mussolini………

    Millions upon millions of their “own” citizenry murdered, and mostly post WW II.

    No morality when you believe in nothing. Nothing “good” comes out of it. I know who I hath believed, and I know what I was delivered from. Facing your own sins and transgressions takes courage….and admitting you are wrong. Something very few people can do today.

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