Chatting with an atheist

For the past couple of weeks I have been in an ongoing chat conversation with someone who self-identifies as an atheist. He connected with me after a discussion concerning a recent ABI blog. Over the course of our discussion I have asked him a number of questions, including those below in one form or another. I have also added a few comments after the questions to provide some perspective and additional “food for thought.” Perhaps some of them will be helpful if you find yourself in a similar discussion.

Question(s): If it could actually be proven to your satisfaction that God does exist, would you then be willing to submit to his authority and surrender your will to his?

Question(s): Since you don’t accept the biblical record concerning the resurrection of Christ, what evidence would be compelling enough for you to believe that it actually happened? What kind of evidence would persuade you that any given event happened over 500 years ago?

Comment: The intent of these two questions is to help someone see that their real problem is not really with God’s existence or Christ’s resurrection, but rather with the implication of personal accountability that flows from these truths.

Question(s): You have stated that you don’t believe it is wrong to lie. Using the same philosophy /reasoning would you also conclude that it isn’t wrong to steal? Or would you agree that it is not wrong to murder? If murder and theft are wrong, but lying is not, can you explain the fundamental difference between the two without using a moral argument since you believe morality is relative?

Question(s): If everything can ultimately be explained in scientific terms or through scientific discovery, is it only possible to speak in terms of what actually *is* or can we also speak in terms of what *ought* to be? If you think something ought to be and someone else thinks something contradictory ought to be, then what / who has the privilege or authority to determine which of the two actually *will be* (given that one of the two *must be*)?

Comment #1: Atheists frequently insist that morality can be developed philosophically apart from religion and does not require the existence of God. However, this is really a moot point because the real issue for atheists is not morals, but rather moral authority. In other words, the problem is not whether someone believes certain actions to be good or bad / right or wrong, but rather the problem is when someone else tries to tell them what is right or wrong and attempts to restrict their absolute freedom in behaving in certain ways. But even in this regard atheists are demonstrably inconsistent because when their sense of right and wrong comes into conflict with someone else’s they would choose to have the other person’s freedom curtailed rather than give up their own.

Comment #2: Apart from moral authority, the concept of morality itself seems to logically and philosophically require something other than evolution as its basis and means of development. If evolution were responsible for the development of morals it would seem that there should be enough uniform agreement throughout humanity that there should neither be internal conflict of conscience nor external conflict between individuals. Also, if morality can be explained in terms of evolution, it would seem that the concept of morals would make sense not only with reference to humans, but throughout the animal kingdom. However, we seem to intuitively know and agree that when one animal kills another for food – even one of its own species – the killing should not be called murder and the eating should not be condemned as immoral cannibalism. Neither does any form of sexual activity among animals have moral implications associated with it.

Morality also tends to have some form of responsibility tied to it, but if, for example, an animal abandons its young for whatever reason, it is not considered a moral issue. As humans, we might try to superimpose our sense of morality or justice upon certain animal behavior, but it would certainly not be recognized as such by the animals themselves.

Question(s): If lying is not morally wrong, then doesn’t this undermine the entire basis of a fair judicial system? Can’t a fair judicial system only exist in the context of the commonly accepted philosophical premise that says truth-telling is right and valued. If truth is not required by an external party, why would anyone feel compelled to tell the truth if it would ultimately hurt them and help their opponent. Arguably, all of society is built squarely up moral values at every level, to the degree that society would collapse into chaos if morality were removed and expected standards for truth-telling, honesty, and integrity were removed. And if such a collapse were to happen, then there can be no path toward rebuilding a societal structure without prior mutual agreement on a system that values the moral constructs of faith, integrity and trust.

Ultimately, I believe that these philosophical arguments have only limited value when dealing with unbelievers. Sooner or later you run up against an insurmountable barrier. This limitation is caused by the sinful nature of humans that prevents us from fully understanding the whole matter. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 2:14

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

So, we must understand and accept the fact that our best questions, impeccable logic and perfect philosophical arguments will always fall short of persuading someone to move from atheism  to belief in Christ. The logic barrier can only be crossed by faith.

However, apologetics does have value in a witnessing situation when used appropriately and their inherent limitation is taken into account. We will never reason someone to faith in Christ – but we might reason them from atheism to agnosticim – which is actually a huge leap and movement in the right direction.

If you have more questions or experience with discussing these kinds if issues with atheists or agnostics, please add your comments to this blog or email me and I will try to pick them up in future blogs and articles.

Dave James
The Alliance for Biblical Integrity

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