Morality debate with an atheist

(Judy stewart) #1

I brought my colleague to listen to Ravi and Sam Allberry last week in Hamilton Ontario Canada. He is an atheist and at first tried to attack Ravi based on what he thought of his character and motivations for “spreading “ the gospel. I was able to move him past that (!!) and get him to focus on the the logic behind Ravi’s apoplectic. This is his first step at poking holes at the Christian apologetic of morality and the belief in God. He is asking me (below) if I agree with his understanding of our definition of morality I assume BEFORE he goes on his attack. What do you you all think of his summary of morality?? Do I say I agree?

“Let’s poke around at one of Ravi’s arguments: there can be no moral truth without a belief in god. Before getting into it though I want to be clear about what he is saying. Morality, or the principles by which people ought to act, cannot be relevant unless it is grounded in the belief of some supernatural deity. For our case and purpose let that be the Judo-Christian God. The believer will always have a reference frame from which she can decide if an action is right or wrong. And because God’s laws are eternal, these principles must be equally valid now as they will be 100, 1000, n number of years from now, otherwise why would God make them? The, non-believer, on the other hand, does not believe there are any universal truths, and therefore cannot appeal to any objective set of moral principles. As a result, your moral truth is just as valid as someone else’s. Is my understanding correct?”

(christopher van zyl) #2

I would disagree. The non believer may say they don’t believe in objective morality, but they sure do act it out. Imagine a world in which the Nazis were good. Would they concede that they can’t actually say anything about the nazis because to them they were doing good? In saying that Hitler was evil they are invoking an objective morality. Something outside of mere good and evil. The rule by which to differentiate between the two.

People claiming that objective morality is not real is like a person who claims to be vegan in public, but eats a steady diet of meat in private. Their claims don’t match what they are living off of.

(Judy stewart) #3

Thank you! So what part of his summary/viewpoint is inaccurate? I want to respond to him but in a respectful way that just finds flaw in his argument

(christopher van zyl) #4

“The, non-believer, on the other hand, does not believe there are any universal truths, and therefore cannot appeal to any objective set of moral principles. As a result, your moral truth is just as valid as someone else’s”

They are saying that they don’t have to appeal to an objective set of moral principles. Yet they don’t live that way. They truly believe there is a difference between good and evil.
Then he says your viewpoint is just as valid is someone elses. This moral relativism is dangerous.

If you take that to its logical conclusions, it means he can speak nothing of the atrocities of the terrible twentieth century. The deaths of millions are just as moral as believing murder is wrong. I struggle to see that he would say that is the case.

And so it’s easy to think of the worst possible evil in the world, think the concentration camps, the gulags etc. If there is a worst possible evil, there has to be a real good. You can’t differentiate between the two without a moral law. You can’t have a moral law without a moral law giver.
So the flaw I have is twofold

  1. He doesn’t live his moral relativism out. He is claiming to be on a diet while steadily eating off of something else
  2. He says it cannot be relevant unless it is grounded in God. That’s not the argument. The atheist can live a perfectly moral life, without believing in God. BUT they have no reason for living that way. It’s not objective.

This is the way I see it.

Is there anything more this person says? How else did he find the talk?

May Christ guide you and I look forward to hearing feedback from what he says.

(Judy stewart) #5

Hi Christopher

Thank you thank you!!

I will keep

You posted.

My colleague does not trust Ravi. This is what he says:

“If you can find me a clip on youTube, an essay, anything in which he debates someone openly on neutral grounds then I may reconsider. Ravi is a gifted speaker and a fantastic storyteller, but most of what I find is him speaking at Christian groups at various colleges across America.

Yet he consistently advertises that he’s speaking at Ivy League-is universities. Take a look at this headline.

He wants to portray the idea that he’s been invited to speak at Princeton, by the university, but it’s a bunch of student groups who have invited him…. not the university proper.

. If Ravi were just a story teller, an orator, an artist, you are right it wouldn’t matter. We listen to artists bc we know they are entertaining and we are moved by their stories, their songs, and Ravi’s stories moved me last Saturday. But he’s making claims about reality, about truth, and for that character does matter. Anyone would strongly question someone’s truth claims who misrepresents himself to a wider public. I don’t trust Ravi.”

(christopher van zyl) #6

I see. It would be interesting to see what RZIM says about this.

Regardless, a truth claim doesn’t lose validity by someone not living it out. You don’t base the test for truth by those who do evil in its name.
Christianity is true regardless of what people do in its name.

It also appears to me that he is using Ravi as an excuse.
So whether this is true or not, I don’t know. But perhaps what might help is giving him resources of other people that aren’t Ravi that do debate atheists.
I’d be interested to see what he says then, because then he will have to contend with the discussion.

Also, I would ask, why does it matter that someone has character if they are making truth claims? Does that question not prove the truth? Aren’t you using the very truth claim to lay down a judgment on him for not having truthful character?

I pray he may see the light and find Christ.

(christopher van zyl) #7

Please keep us posted! May God guide your words with him and give you all you need.

(Judy stewart) #8

Hey Chris

Thank you. This was the response I gave to him when he was talking about Ravi and his intention/motivations…it’s along the same lines you stated. This is why he is moving on to his claims …God bless.

This was my response…not very deep because I’m not a deep person…

“My point is that with anyone. Anyone At all. We can’t make a character call or judgment call on their intentions…it’s just not scientifically or philosophically fair to do so. And what the the heck that does it have to do with what they are saying?. If someone was to look at my life and judge me the same way you are judging him, then you wouldn’t even listen to the first word that came out of my mouth.

I’m just saying, poke holes in his argument. His character shouldn’t bother you especially since if you’re not a deist, then morality (including what you perceive Ravi is doing) shouldn’t be deemed wrong by you. . “


(christopher van zyl) #9

I like what you said. Poke holes in his arguments.

To undermine his character as an example of the truth is just ad hominem attacks. It is a logical fallacy.

(Kathleen) #10

Hi, @jjudith.stewart! Just able to read this thread, and I love that you are engaging with your friend on this level. I’ve heard similar feedback from a number of people. They will praise his and other itinerant speakers’ rhetoric and storytelling abilities right before they essentially say, ‘I’m not buying it.’ This is great because it gives us the avenue to really get at what their personal questions and objections are. Everyone on the speaking team knows that a 40-minute talk is only going to scratch the surface of these deep issues, but that doesn’t invalidate the points that they make. They know that their job in speaking is to set up the conversations; it is then our opportunity as the friend to engage at the personal level, inviting them into deeper conversation. :slight_smile: So well done!

By trying to discredit Ravi, I do believe he is dodging the real issues. (Which, I suppose, is only a reflection of the polarised political culture we live in today.) I commend you for moving him past that! Don’t sell yourself too short.

As for his initial message about the foundation of morality… am I correct in understanding that he (your friend) was merely summing up what he understood Ravi to be arguing? If so, his summary sounds pretty plausible. Though, without knowing exactly what Ravi said, I may make a few notes on your friend’s summary…

  1. …there can be no moral truth without a belief in god - I think a better statement would be ‘There can be no universal (or objective) moral values without the existence of God.’ This has nothing to do with what we believe to be true but everything to do with what is true.

  2. …principles by which people ought to act, cannot be relevant unless it is grounded in the belief of some supernatural deity - That’s correct enough. As created things, we do not get to ultimately say what ought to be. The Creator God sets up world with its laws and limits and, though we can break those laws and limits, we cannot do so without deep consequences.

  3. The believer will always have a reference frame from which he/she can decide if an action is right or wrong. Ummm…in theory, yes? But ethics MUCH greyer than that. There is a frame of reference, but humanity is complex!

  4. because God’s laws are eternal, these principles must be equally valid now as they will be 100, 1000, n number of years from now. Maaayyyyybeeee? I’d be interested to know which laws your friend has in mind. Because, God is eternal, and the moral law issues forth from his character. God is goodness itself. He cannot be anything other than good. Therefore what constitutes goodness will be the same…though it may look different in different societies.

  5. …otherwise why would God make them? May not want to get sidetracked by this one. Though I think a better question is ‘Why did God reveal the law?’ or ‘Why did God need to specify to humanity what goodness/righteousness looks like?’ The idea that God ‘makes’ the law is a bit weird…like the law is something outside of Himself.

  6. The, non-believer, on the other hand, does not believe there are any universal truths, and therefore cannot appeal to any objective set of moral principles. As a result, your moral truth is just as valid as someone else’s. - Yes. You cannot have objective moral truth in an atheistic world. If there is no god, then it is up to society (i.e. humanity) to decide what it values, making good and evil relative to which society you’re in. You can label an action by another society evil, but that only means you believe it’s evil. It doesn’t necessarily make it evil. Unless truth is grounded in something outside of us - something higher than us - then moral judgements are ultimately meaningless.

Do keep us updated! And let me know if I can clarify. It all makes sense in my head, but sometimes it doesn’t come across as clearly on paper. ha!

Will be praying.

(Judy stewart) #11

Thanks you so much KMAC. I feel I am a bit over my head. I fee very out of my league now in this conversation. I will try my best. Are you ok if I share your viewpoints with him?

(Kathleen) #12

You got this, friend! :slight_smile: You’re welcome to share what I’ve written, though I think maybe there’s a better way for you to go forward…

I would suggest that, rather than sharing answers which you don’t fully understand, you ask him questions. You can certainly ask about his objections to Ravi’s talk, but also ask about how he sees the world. Ask about why he differs in viewpoint. Just sit and listen to him…and keep asking him to clarify if you are struggling to connect some dots. (I have to ask SO many questions when I’m engaging like this!) And pray the whole time. Pray that God gives you an insight into him or his worldview…an insight that you can question or speak to from your experience. I find it takes a lot of concentration and a lot of listening, but, boy, is it powerful when God gives it to you…and he will. :slight_smile: I mean, ultimately we’re inviting him into a relationship with the God of the universe, not trying to convert him to a philosophy. I find remembering that very fact is so freeing. May God shine His light through you and may you overflow with the Spirit!

(Raul Hurtado) #13

Hi. I am a bit late to your post, but let me just add some quick comments.

I think your friend has the idea basically right. You could say to him that he has got the basic idea right and that give or take a few words here or there, he has got a decent grasp of a generally accepted Christian concept of morality. Mind you that those few words can make a big difference down the line of argument he wants to take you. KMAC does a wonderful job of breaking his description down.

He probably has his arguments some what set up and just wants to walk you slowly through them. In my experience as a lay pastor, I would, generally agree with his definition of the concepts and accompany his line of thought and argument, making questions into his arguments and trying to understand them, just as he has made a pretty good effort to understand the Christian argument. You can always come back here if there is something you think we can help with. I think what I am trying to say is don’t necessarily attack his arguments, just question them lovingly, and he will discover its fundamental incoherence by himself. At the end of the day, prayer for your friend, a loving relationship and a patient and thorough look at the arguments and facts, will be keys to an opening of the heart and mind to the Truth - and we know what that looks like.

Great job and just want you to know I just prayed for you.

(Judy stewart) #14

Hi Pastor

Thank you. Even after Taking a couple RZIM courses i still feel very ill equipped for a conversation like this. Thanks for praying.

(Pat Finley) #15

I believe you got it correct. Being Christian means to believe ‘Christ’ came for the purpose of showing us the correct way to live. Without Christ there is no peace because if we only believe in the Old Testament, then we rely on the 10 Commandments as our laws, which no one has ever been able to keep. So Jesus came to show us that we are acceptable to God even though none of us are perfect. Jesus came to give us the New Testament. The gospels (‘Gospel’ means Good News) are written as the beginning of the New Testament. Without Jesus, we would still be fumbling with Old Testament laws, that we cannot keep. Muslim/Sharia law doesn’t believe in Christianity, and they think they are righteous in killing anyone who does not believe as they do. They are just people, are not morally perfect either, and cannot make those judgements. They believe they are correct in following Old Testament ideals, and that they do the Lords work in eliminating them. This is not what Jesus taught however.