Tag Archives: Morality

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.

Who is more responsible for the mass murders of history? Christians or atheists?

This is presented as an exchange with one of my commenters in response to the story about the nurse in the UK who was suspended who offending a patient by asking to pray for the patient.

Here is the initial post, provocative, but regular atheist readers know that I am a lamb, and this is just a trick to get first-time atheists to comment so that I can engage them.


Here is the first rebuttal from the challenger:

1) I have never read so much rubbish as I just have. Are you seriously saying that Atheists are responsible for the deaths of millions of people and yet you include none of the religions whose wars have led to countless more deaths?

2) [Wintery Knight paraphrases]: What did Christians do to stop Hitler in WW2?

3) [Wintery Knight paraphrases]: But isn’t Christianity supportive of wars of aggression such as conducted by Germany in WW2?

4) There have been many good and bad, of faiths and of no faith yet so worried are you by the simple wish of some people to have church and state separated that you use half truths, leave out pertinent facts or omit them altogether. Some of you will even lie.

If that is the face of your christianity, then it is of little wonder that people turn away from it, either by finding another faith or by having no faith at all.

5) Your example of the nurse above, mentions nothing of the fact that she was asked by the patient to stop and or that she has a record of trying to impose her beliefs on those who wish to have none of it or are content with their own faith and have no need or desire for the zealotry displayed by this woman or indeed for others who feel they have a right to inflict their views on others.


And my first rebuttal:

Thanks for your comment. Sorry I had to edit your comment a bit, I hope I didn’t change the meaning of what you said. Now don’t be too unhappy, with me, let’s have a dialog, at least for a bit.

Here’s my response:

1) Here’s my source for the 100 million deaths due to communism, an atheist system that represses free expression of faith. I can provide you with citations of atheist leaders in communist countries explaining how war flowed from their atheist views that the universe is an accident and humans are just animals and morality is a sham. I am only interested in defending Christianity, so for this point I need you to give me the list of wars started for specifically Christian reasons, and then show me in the Bible where Jesus sanctions these wars. I also need a body count for each war in your list. You can include a body count for the Inquisitions and the witch trials, as well. Thanks.

2) On atheism, where is the moral standard that allows you criticize what the Nazis did? Let me help. Is it your personal opinion? Or is it the evolved standard in place in your culture at this time? Or is it an objective standard that governs any culture at any time in history? I need to know what you mean by right and wrong, on atheism, before I answer the charge. Next, please find for me the part in the Bible where Jesus urges his followers to engage in wars of aggression and genocide.

3) Again, I need an explanation, on atheism, for why wars of aggression are wrong, then the Bible verse that shows where Jesus supports wars of aggression and genocide. These things are not forbidden on atheism, (nothing is), but they are forbidden in Christianity.

4) Again, on atheism, what do you mean by good and bad? Also, we do not have an official church in the USA, so we do have separation of church and state. How do you think that separation of church and state should limit the Constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech and to freedom of religious expression? In short, why do your unhappy feelings justify the removal of fundamental human rights, rights that are grounded in God, and not grounded anywhere on atheism, I might add.

5) What do you mean when you say that the nurse was imposing her beliefs? Do you mean that speaking freely to people should be controlled by the state? If not, how do you propose to prevent people from speaking freely about whatever they wish?

Thanks. Take it easy, we’ve got time.


And her second rebuttal:

Well, I’m disappointed that you felt a need to rewrite my original email but I can’t say I’m too surprised.

I’m sorry, but when you said you had sources for the hundred million deaths caused by Atheism, I thought it would more than just a website sponsored by a discredited former U.S. President whose actions have led to the deaths of many of his fellow countrymen and women but also to thousands of Iraqis and who has postured on the world stage but done nothing for humanity.

You ask me for proof of wars started for specifically christian reasons. Well, I could start with the second Roman invasion of Britain, which also included most of Western Europe. Not a nice time to be an unbeliever of any sort, unlike during the first Romano invasion. We can then move on to the Crusades and the invasion of the Arab nations there with the subsequent savagery that attended them. Next? How about the Spanish Armada and the French/Spanish war with Britain based purely because one of our kings fell out with the catholic religion, and we should surely remember the Spanish Inquisition, that was a nasty little war all in itself.

Let’s see, we’ve got the British civil war, again, over religion. I’m ignoring wars in Europe that don’t directly affect the UK, by the way. But let’s not forget the Spanish invasion of South America and the mindless violence that erupted from that. Or indeed, the murder of thousands of North American Indians, all done with the blessing of the church. Two examples which could justly be called Holocausts.

We have various wars with Europe after that, but mostly over Empire (but yet again, an endeavour vigorously encouraged by the church) until we come to the Great War where it was your christian duty to fight the hun as much as it was your christian duty to fight the French/British/American troops, moving swiftly on to the second Great War, where Hitler’s troops invaded Europe, sent millions to the camps, all with the motto “Gott mitt uns” giving the delusion that their “work” would be approved by a higher authority and all the while, the church, either protestant or catholic did nothing. How many dead is that? Who knows but even Stalin’s excesses are reckoned to be around the 20 million mark, leaving 80 million others according to your figures. I very much doubt China lost eighty million during the Chinese Revolution.

There have been various smaller atrocities around the world, all in the name of religion. You ask me to show you in the bible where jesus specifically sanctions these wars. Why should I need to do that, it’s your religion, and others, that have caused these wars and it has been the interpretation of those biblical words which have caused so much harm in this world. I don’t need to specify anything, you need to defend your argument about the interpretations based on this book of your god. Mind you, what is your view on Gods instruction to Moses to go out and kill everything of the Amalekites? I believe that is in your bible.

As for asking me to provide specific casualty details, well, I think asking me to provide the casualty list for an invasion two thousand years ago is being a bit silly really, you know I can’t provide such a list any more than you can. There are, of course, estimates, such as those for the English Civil War in which it has been said the dead and injured equalled that of the Great War. But then, in the examples you quote, there aren’t specific casualty lists, only approximations.

As for Atheism, why shouldn’t atheists have as good a knowledge of right and right as any one else, such as Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus or even Christians. You don’t have to be a christian or be religious at all to be aware of a moral code which embraces right and wrong. Again, I fail to see why I should provide you with quotes in the bible where people are urged to wage war, if there are any, again, you know as well as I do that the interpretation of that book by its readers who use it as the sole authority on what’s right and wrong, go out and do harm. I doubt very much there are any parts of the bible where it says go out and torture to death all those who do not believe but that’s the very thing which was done in your gods name during the Spanish Inquisition and by others throughout history. You know this, yet you argue that it doesn’t happen. I find it quite odd.

As for the nurse, she was asked by the patient not to pray or proselytise yet she ignored that specific request. She had the right to speak freely, and still does, but when a person is asked not to do something and that person ignores that request, then you are not speaking freely, your are impinging on another persons rights and no matter what your belief, you don’t have that right.

Now, ‘m pretty sure, that you will alter this reply as you did my first post into something that fits your particular world view of atheism and Christianity but all it will show me, is that your faith in religion is so fragile, that you feel you have to shield it from any fully justified criticism. As others of your ilk do, the truth will be distorted, facts will be omitted or presented in a poor light and you will think you have done the will of your god. You will, of course, have done nothing of the kind, unless your god is a cruel vindictive being which you claim he isn’t.

For me, all this nonsense about militant atheism and religion under attack is puerile and arrant nonsense. The hierarchy of the various churches see their comfortable positions under threat from a congregation now doing a bit more than just turning up and kneeling and are trying to cloud the issue with a smokescreen about how their religion is under attack. Which it isn’t.


And my second rebuttal:

Atheism’s record

Here is R.J. Rummel, a professor of political science at University of Hawaii:

With this understood, the Soviet Union appears the greatest megamurderer of all, apparently killing near 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself is responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000 are due to lethal forced labor in gulag and transit thereto. Communist China up to 1987, but mainly from 1949 through the cultural revolution, which alone may have seen over 1,000,000 murdered, is the second worst megamurderer. Then there are the lesser megamurderers, such as North Korea and Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Obviously the population that is available to kill will make a big difference in the total democide, and thus the annual percentage rate of democide is revealing. By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot’s rule of slightly over just over 2 to 1.

In sum the communist probably have murdered something like 110,000,000, or near two-thirds of all those killed by all governments, quasi-governments, and guerrillas from 1900 to 1987. Of course, the world total itself it shocking. It is several times the 38,000,000 battle-dead that have been killed in all this century’s international and domestic wars. Yet the probable number of murders by the Soviet Union alone–one communist country– well surpasses this cost of war. And those murders of communist China almost equal it.

Communism is a worldview that explicitly repudiates the truth of religion and the idea that man is created in the image of God. If God is dead, all things are permissible. Atheism, historically, has been the moral foundation for mass murder and genocide.

Christianity’s record

For all of your examples, no link to the Bible was even attempted. The assertions that wars were conducted for religious purposes was made, but not substantiated with a single piece of evidence.

I’ll help you again with a list. There are only a few areas where Christian doctrine appears to have been a factor:

– the Crusades (between 2 and 100 thousand according to Encarta, I say about 30 thousand)
– the Inquisition (about 2000 dead)
– the Salem witch trials (about 25 dead)

I won’t worry too much about the 25 dead from the witch trials. Let’s take a closer look at the others with the help of Dinesh D’Souza, who has sustained these points in debates against Hitchens and other prominent atheists:

The Crusades:

“The Crusades were a belated and necessary Christian enterprise to block Islamic invasion and conquest. Remember that before Islam, virtually the entire Middle East was Christian. Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Jordan—these areas were predominantly Christian. The Muslims conquered the region, and then Muslim armies invaded Europe, conquering parts of Italy and virtually all of Spain, which the Muslims ruled for nearly 700 years. The Muslims over-ran the Balkans and were at the gates of Vienna. Edward Gibbon, no friend of Christianity, says that if the Christians hadn’t fought back then, today at Oxford and Cambridge—and by extension Harvard and Duke—we’d all be studying the teachings of Muhammad in the Arabic language. Western civilization, then called Christendom, was mortally threatened. The Crusades, for all their excesses, helped to prevent this disastrous outcome.”

The Inquistions:

“Well, the best scholarship on the Inquisition shows that approximately 2,000 people were killed by the Spanish Inquisition over a period of 350 years. I would never apologize for the Inquisition, which I think represented a terrible strain in late-medieval Christianity. I am glad that Christianity is different now, and the closest thing you have to a religious inquisition today would be something like the regime of the ayatollahs in Iran. Still, how can you even compare the casualties of the Inquisition to those of the atheists’ regimes? Even a second-rate atheist despot like Pol Pot killed more people in a month than the Inquisition managed to do in three centuries.”

More on the Crusades here.

Do belt buckles on SS troops prove anything?

Here is a historical assessment by Dinesh of Hitler’s vicious hatred of Christianity. Also, I recently wrote a post where I contrasted the morality of an authentic Bible-believing Christian with an authentic Darwin-believing non-Christian. The morality you inherited today in the West is a morality left-over from the prominence of Christianity in the last few centuries. It is based on Christian ideas, and explicitly so, ideas that have NO GROUNDING on atheism.

Please explain to me how a 3-word inscription on belt buckles undergirded Hitler’s wars of aggression, and explain the real record of his hatred of Christianity in his own actual writings. On your view, you would have to argue that Barack Obama is a Christian, because he claimed to be one. Don’t we actually have do some scholarly study to link external activities directly back to specific Biblical teachings in order to claim that there was a meaningful link? If I taught my parrot to claim to be a Christian in his speeches, would he also be a Christian?

What is the ground for a moral standard on atheism?

Again, you had nothing to say here because there is no standard of morality on atheism. None. Atheists do what they please. Indeed, that is the whole point of it – to rebel against morality. If you would like to try again to tell me where is the content and being of the atheist moral standard, I would be delighted to hear.

Until then, the moral language you use in praising this and condemning that is literally meaningless gibberish. There is no standard that you can use, on atheism, in order to praise or denounce anything in the world, past present and future. I offered you 3 alternatives for the source of the moral standard, you declined to answer. Answer the question, please. Where is this moral code that atheists follow? What is the reason for following it when it goes against their own self-interest? What does it matter, on atheism, whether atheists follow the moral code, or not?

Are you familiar with the concept of “heat death of the universe”. Eventually, the usable energy in the universe will run down and no life will be possible. This occurs whether atheists act one way or another. What does it matter for atheists ultimately if they act this way or that way? Is it not the case that what is rational, on atheism, is for atheists to simply do what pleases them most at any given moment? What reason is there, given the meaningless of life on atheism, for putting selfishness second and morality (and you need to point me to the atheist moral standard) first?

The nurse

If you ask someone to shut up, and they don’t shut up, do you then remove their means of earning a living? Do you imprison them? Do you torture them? Do you murder them? Do you remove their fundamental rights by means of state coercion?

Or, do you grow up and realize that in life you are going to hear things you disagree with and that is not a justification for destroying the fundamental liberties of individuals by imposing fascism on individual values.

This is where the impulse in atheism that justifies mass murder and genocide comes from. You feel strongly in the removal of the fundamental rights of those who disagree with you. The idea of tolerating other views seems wrong to you. Instead, atheism seems to bring out the fascist impulse, and you use the very means that you condemn in others against those who have different beliefs than you do. Show me where this idea is in atheistic prescriptions of morality. (I.e. – where is “you ought to love your enemies” on atheism?)

Here’s an idea: how about going out right now and finding the first evangelical Christian you meet and buying them lunch in order to listen to why they are a Christian and what it means to them? I did that 3 times with atheists this week, and will be posting the results of my interviews in a highly-anticipated series about what atheists think. All of these atheists are my personal friends, they know my real identity and could blow my cover at any time. Do you have any Christian friends that you love with all your heart? I do. Love for enemies is explicitly taught by Jesus in the Bible.

Conclusion

Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed responding to it. Please comment again soon, I won’t mind to hear your ideas. Differences of opinions are welcome here!

UPDATE: I gave her the last word here.

Contrasting the moral values of an authentic Christian with an authentic Darwinist

Let’s start with someone who acted consistently on the plain, intended meaning of the Christian worldview, as expressed in the New Testament.

The case of William Wilberforce, an authentic Christian

Consider this article from the Wall Street Journal about the abolitionist William Wilberforce.

In fact, William Wilberforce was driven by a version of Christianity that today would be derided as “fundamentalist.”

…William Wilberforce himself, as a student at Cambridge University in the 1770s and as a young member of Parliament soon after, had no more than a nominal sense of faith. Then, in 1785, he began reading evangelical treatises and underwent what he called “the Great Change,” almost dropping out of politics to study for the ministry until friends persuaded him that he could do more good where he was.

And he did a great deal of good…[h]is relentless campaign eventually led Parliament to ban the slave trade, in 1807, and to pass a law shortly after his death in 1833, making the entire institution of slavery illegal. But it is impossible to understand Wilberforce’s long antislavery campaign without seeing it as part of a larger Christian impulse. The man who prodded Parliament so famously also wrote theological tracts, sponsored missionary and charitable works, and fought for what he called the “reformation of manners,” a campaign against vice.

Even during the 18th century, evangelicals were derided as over-emotional “enthusiasts” by their Enlightenment-influenced contemporaries. By the time of Wilberforce’s “great change,” liberal 18th-century theologians had sought to make Christianity more “reasonable,” de-emphasizing sin, salvation and Christ’s divinity in favor of ethics, morality and a rather distant, deistic God. Relatedly, large numbers of ordinary English people, especially among the working classes, had begun drifting away from the tepid Christianity that seemed to prevail. Evangelicalism sought to counter such trends and to reinvigorate Christian belief.

…Perhaps the leading evangelical force of the day was the Methodism of John Wesley: It focused on preaching, the close study of the Bible, communal hymn-singing and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Central to the Methodist project was the notion that good works and charity were essential components of the Christian life. Methodism spawned a vast network of churches and ramified into the evangelical branches of Anglicanism. Nearly all the social-reform movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries–from temperance and soup kitchens to slum settlement houses and prison reform–owe something to Methodism and its related evangelical strains. The campaign against slavery was the most momentous of such reforms and, over time, the most successful. It is thus fitting that John Wesley happened to write his last letter–sent in February 1791, days before his death–to William Wilberforce. Wesley urged Wilberforce to devote himself unstintingly to his antislavery campaign, a “glorious enterprise” that opposed “that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.” Wesley also urged him to “go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”

Wesley had begun preaching against slavery 20 years before and in 1774 published an abolitionist tract, “Thoughts on Slavery.” Wilberforce came into contact with the burgeoning antislavery movement in 1787, when he met Thomas Clarkson, an evangelical Anglican who had devoted his life to the abolitionist cause. Two years later, Wilberforce gave his first speech against the slave trade in Parliament.

…This idea of slaving as sin is key. As sociologist Rodney Stark noted in “For the Glory of God” (2003), the abolition of slavery in the West during the 19th century was a uniquely Christian endeavor. When chattel slavery, long absent from Europe, reappeared in imperial form in the 16th and 17th centuries–mostly in response to the need for cheap labor in the New World–the first calls to end the practice came from pious Christians, notably the Quakers. Evangelicals, not least Methodists, quickly joined the cause, and a movement was born.

William Wilberforce believed that slaves were made in the image of God – that they were embodied souls who could be resurrected to eternal life. Wilberforce believed that the purpose of human life is to freely seek God, and to be reconciled with God through Christ. He wanted all men and women to have the opportunity to investigate and respond to God’s self-revelation to them.

You can read more about Wilberforce’s beliefs here and his public activities here. And you can still see modern-day abolitionists, like Scott Klusendorf, consistently acting out their Christian convictions in the public square. Only today they’re called pro-lifers. By the way, like Wilberforce, I am also a Wesley-inspired Evangelical Protestant Christian. Hooah!

The case of Adolf Hitler, an authentic Darwinist

Now let’s take a look at the opposite of Wilberforce someone who despised and rejected Christianity entirely. Adolf Hitler was strongly influenced by the anti-Christian zealot, Nietzche, but also by Darwin’s evolutionary ideas such as human inequality, moral relativism, the non-existence of human rights, equality of humans with animals, denial of the soul, and survival of the fittest.

You can see the entire case presented by tenured professor of history at the University of California, Dr. Richard Weikart, in a lecture presented at the University of California at Santa Barbara, here:

Here’s the blurb on the lecture from the University of California Television web site:

First Aired: 11/15/2004
58 minutes

In his book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (2004), Richard Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. Darwinism played a key role in the rise not only of eugenics (a movement wanting to control human reproduction to improve the human species), but also on euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination. This was especially important in Germany, since Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles.

But for those who don’t like watching video lectures given by tenured professors, with nice Powerpoint slides, in front of a live audience of students and faculty, at a major university, then here is an article by secular Jew David Berlinksi writing in Human Events to give us the briefest of summaries of Weikart’s argument.

A little bio of David Berlinski:

David Berlinski received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University and was later a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University. He has authored works on systems analysis, differential topology, theoretical biology, analytic philosophy, and the philosophy of mathematics, as well as three novels. He has also taught philosophy, mathematics and English at such universities as Stanford, Rutgers, the City University of New York and the Universite de Paris. In addition, he has held research fellowships at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (IHES) in France.

He starts his Human Events piece like this:

Published in 1859, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species said nothing of substance about the origin of species. Or anything else, for that matter. It nonetheless persuaded scientists in England, Germany and the United States that human beings were accidents of creation. Where Darwin had seen species struggling for survival, German physicians, biologists, and professors of hygiene saw races.

They drew the obvious conclusion, the one that Darwin had already drawn. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals. German scientists took the word expense to mean what it meant: The annihilation of less fit races.

…At Hitler’s death in May of 1945, the point was clear enough to the editorial writers of the New York Times. “Long before he had dreamed of achieving power,” they wrote, [Hitler] had developed the principles that nations were destined to hate, oppose and destroy one another; [and] that the law of history was the struggle for survival between peoples … ”.

Berlinski concludes by analyzing an answer given by Richard Dawkins to Ben Stein in the movie Expelled:

Would he care to live in a society shaped by Darwinian principles? The question was asked of Richard Dawkins.

Not at all, he at once responded.

And why not?

Because the result would be fascism.

In this, Richard Dawkins was entirely correct; and it is entirely to his credit that he said so.

The difference between consistent Christianity and consistent Darwinism is the difference between day and night. There is not now, nor will there ever be, an atheist Wilberforce. Atheists live their lives seeking pleasure and avoiding social disapproval, and they will never be able to consistently and rationally sacrifice their self-interest to oppose the fashions of their culture in obedience to a higher objective moral standard.

Atheists acknowledge no higher moral standard. If there is no God and the universe is an accident, then there is no way humans ought to be. The only thing to do in life is to invent your own arbitrary “morals” and hold to that, or not, (you do whichever gives you pleasure, since there no ultimate accountability one way or the other), while avoiding social disapproval for breaking the arbitrary cultural standard of your time and place. That’s atheist “morality”.

The moral character of a consistent Christian towers above the base animal selfishness of a consistent atheist like a Colossus towers over an ant. Atheists understand morality like a cat in a library, seeing the words, but lacking all understanding of their meaning.

Here is a quote I am stealing from the Anchoress to summarize: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Other 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 literally meaningless on atheism.

Ex-atheist A. N. Wilson’s reasons for returning to Christianity

UPDATE: A very special welcome to readers from 4Simpsons blog! If you do not have Neil’s blog bookmarked, you are missing out on perceptive commentary on current events and apologetics, all packaged in an attractive and functional layout! For example, check out this post on Obama’s record on abortion, and this post analyzing a recent encounter with a pro-choice challenger! Neil can fight!

Thanks so much for the link and the kind words, Neil! I appreciate it very much!

UPDATE: Welcome readers from Free Canuckistan! Thanks for the linky, Mr. WebElf!

This story is all over the Christian blogosphere, so let’s try to cover all the people who’ve written about it.

Wilson’s initial statement is found in his article in the New Statesman. (H/T Truthbomb Apologetics)

Excerpt where he describes his conversion to atheism:

…I realised that after a lifetime of churchgoing, the whole house of cards had collapsed for me – the sense of God’s presence in life, and the notion that there was any kind of God, let alone a merciful God, in this brutal, nasty world.

Yeah, that’s why I would never send my kids to church until they begged and pleaded to go, and knew why they were doing it. The problem of evil and suffering that he mentions is a solid argument against God, one well worth responding too, that I answer fully here.

But another cause of his atheism was peer pressure – the desire to want to be thought of as smarter than others, the desire to not be bound by morality, the desire for autonomy from the hard task of seeking after the Lord in study and service. (More on this below)

If I bumped into Richard Dawkins (an old colleague from Oxford days) or had dinner in Washington with Christopher Hitchens (as I did either on that trip to interview Billy Graham or another), I did not have to feel out on a limb. Hitchens was excited to greet a new convert to his non-creed and put me through a catechism before uncorking some stupendous claret. “So – absolutely no God?” “Nope,” I was able to say with Moonie-zeal. “No future life, nothing ‘out there’?” “No,” I obediently replied. At last! I could join in the creed shared by so many (most?) of my intelligent contemporaries in the western world – that men and women are purely material beings (whatever that is supposed to mean), that “this is all there is” (ditto), that God, Jesus and religion are a load of baloney: and worse than that, the cause of much (no, come on, let yourself go), most (why stint yourself – go for it, man), all the trouble in the world, from Jerusalem to Belfast, from Washington to Islamabad.

He talks about the importance of the moral argument, which is the argument that converted me to Christianity so many years ago. There can be no doubt that when you meet an atheist, you are talking to someone who is disdainful of the demands of the moral law, (the objective moral standard that is imprinted on every human heart).

Everyone who has any conscience at all believes in God as the ground for that morality. It is only the immoral man who reduces morality to personal preferences or evolved social conventions. And there are so many immoral atheists today… inventing more and more speculations like Darwinism and postmodernism in order to justify full flight from the moral law they know is there.

I haven’t mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

Truthbomb Apologetics also linked to an online interview with Wilson. Peter Williams, a British Christian apologist, highlights one question, “Can you love God and agree with Darwin?”, from the interview.

Here is Wilson’s answer:

I think you can love God and agree with the author of The Voyage of the Beagle, the Earth Worm, and most of the Origin of Species. The Descent of Man, with its talk of savages, its belief that black people are more primitive than white people, and much nonsense besides, is an offence to the intelligence – and is obviously incompatible with Christianity. I think the jury is out about whether the theory of Natural selection, as defined by neo-Darwinians is true, and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book Why Us by James Lefanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian “gradualism”. But these are scientific rather than religious questions.

twoorthree.net has another analysis of the initial article.

A second article emerges

Here’s Wilson’s more recent article from the UK Daily Mail in which he describes his reasons for returning to the Christian faith even further. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The new article has a very striking title, “Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity”. There are some neat parts to this article as well.

For example, why are atheists who are force-fed faith so angry?

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been ‘conned’ by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

This next point is the critical point of this entire story. Atheists dismiss God for three reasons. 1) They want to appear intelligent in comparison others (i.e. – pride, vanity), 2) they do not want to dedicate any time to seeking and serving the person who loves them most, and 3) they believe that God should give them happiness and their needs are not met by God.

When a person becomes an atheist, they are giving an answer to questions like “does God exist?” and “does God have a will for the way I ought to live?”. Atheists do not accept that their purpose in life is to work on knowing God by first accepting Christ’s sacrifice for their current rebellion and then by re-prioritizing their lives based on the character and deeds of Christ.

Instead of accepting the need for a Savior, and the process of following Christ, they want to earn eternal life by dedicating their efforts to projects of their own choosing. Atheists choose a project that they like and work on that hoping to somehow gain eternal life by excelling at that. Similarly, atheists choose a different moral standard (i.e. – yoga, vegetarianism, recycling, socialism, etc.) and work to fulfill this standard of their own choosing in the hope that meeting that standard will justify them morally with God.

The thought that they would have to discover and reflect on God’s revealed character and love for people revealed in the origin and design of the universe, and in the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, is totally repulsive to them. They seize on the most childish opinions about God, (God is unknowable, Christians are stupid hypocrites, I don’t want to be moral, I don’t want to be unpopular, etc.), and refuse to engage in debate to correct those childish objections.

But let’s hear from Wilson about the peer-pressure he received from smart atheists:

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion itself.

Wilson goes on to explain what finally did work to change his mind. One of the reasons for his conversion is also the second reason why I converted: discomfort with the moral evil of the godless and their hatred of God. Observing the godless can create a powerful feeling of sympathy and allegiance to God revealed in Christ, such that you naturally rebel against those who reject God.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

One thing you need to understand about being a Christian is that the life consists in being an ambassador for Christ and then taking the lumps from those who will mock you, blacklist you, expel you, suspend you, fire you, jail you, torture you and murder you. This path of suffering is rejected by atheists and church Christians alike, even though imitating Christ’s suffering for obeying God rather than men is central to Christianity.

We humans somehow internalize the idea that God should desire our happiness, and our freedom to seek that happiness in whatever activities we choose to be meaningful for us. The idea that God may have made us for a purpose – to acknowledge and defend him in public in word and deed – is so repulsive to our wills that it is totally suppressed, not just from inquiry or discussion, but in our thoughts as well.

A third argument that convinced me, that Wilson also finds convincing, is the superior character of Christians when compared to atheists. Atheists have no idea how horribly immoral they look to Christians – about as immoral as Christians look to themselves. For once the horizontal dimension of loving your neighbor is dropped, and the vertical dimension of loving God is taken up, the mask is off. The horror of sin is revealed.

And in the face of that horror, men can do extraordinary deeds as they respond to God’s forgiveness. Actions that are irrational on a naturalistic, materialistic universe are rational for Christians. Atheists simply cannot engage in self-sacrificial behaviors against their self-interest the way that Christians can. Doctrines like eternal life, the incarnation, the atonement, and objective morality, make self-sacrifice rational.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: ‘My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.’

Now, I think of that exchange and of his bravery in proclaiming his faith. Our bishops and theologians, frightened as they have been by the pounding of secularist guns, need that kind of bravery more than ever.

The Christian life is a life of self-sacrifice, self-control and bravery, punctuated by periods of loneliness and defeat. It is not for everyone, and it is certainly not for atheists. Responding in love to God’s initiative in reaching out to us is the most difficult task that can ever be assigned to any human agent. Atheists, having rejected the laws of logic, scientific discovery, the demands of the moral law and the obligations of moral duties, are simply not up to the task.

Wilson concludes his case with a final argument:

…an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives – the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

Let me just say that I have not had the happiest experiences in life, as I have alluded to elsewhere. Things are going great now, as you know from my bio. But I know, and I hope that others can see, that the kind of acts of love that I unleash on my neighbors cannot – cannot – be explained merely as a result of human effort. Life is hard, but God makes love possible in the midst of suffering.

William Lane Craig weighs in on this Daily Mail article in his audio blog here.

I am planning an entire series of posts on atheism and the Christian life next week, and I have been interviewing atheists in order to collect data for the series of posts. I highly recommend that you tune in to the blog next week for this series!

Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams are my two favorite living economists

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Free Canuckistan! Thanks for the link, Binks!

Let’s see some of their recent posts.

Is Obama’s weak foreign policy going to get us killed?

My biggest concern about Jimmy Carter II is for the nations that rely on us to protect their liberties. Our armed forces project strength abroad that safeguards the liberties of our allies against our enemies. Thomas Sowell just nails this point in his post about the dangers of weak foreign policy, a point most of us don’t even think about.

As if it is not enough to turn cutthroats loose to cut throats again, we are now contemplating legal action against Americans who wrung information about international terrorist operations out of captured terrorists.

Does nobody think ahead to what this will mean– for many years to come– if people trying protect this country from terrorists have to worry about being put behind bars themselves? Do we need to have American intelligence agencies tip-toeing through the tulips when they deal with terrorists?

…Repercussions extend far beyond issues of the day. It is bad enough that we have a glib and sophomoric narcissist in the White House. What is worse is that whole nations that rely on the United States for their security see how easily our president welshes on his commitments. So do other nations, including those with murderous intentions toward us, our children and grandchildren.

Who caused the subprime mortgage crisis?

Thomas Sowell writes about who caused the subprime mortgage crisis. And he has a new book out about it, too!

Beginning in the 1990s, getting a higher proportion of the American population to become homeowners became the political holy grail of government housing policies. Increasing home ownership among minorities and other people of low or moderate incomes was also part of this political crusade.

Because banks are regulated by various agencies of the federal government, it was easy to pressure them to lend to people that they would not otherwise lend to– namely, people with lower incomes, poorer credit ratings and little or no money for a conventional down payment of 20 percent of the price of a house.

Such people were referred to politically as “the underserved population”– as if politicians know who should and who shouldn’t get mortgages better than people who have spent their careers making mortgage-lending decisions.

My own comprehensive post on this topic is Democrats caused the recession and Republicans tried to stop it.

What happens when the secular left undermines morality?

I’ve blogged about how atheism cannot ground the rationality of moral values, moral duties and moral accountability. The presumption of materialism is inconsistent with rationality, consciousness and free will which are necessary pre-conditions for non-ephemeral morality. So what happens to civil society when atheists push religion out of the public square? Walter Williams explains.

To see men sitting whilst a woman or elderly person was standing on a crowded bus or trolley car used to be unthinkable. It was common decency for a man to give up his seat. Today, in some cities there are ordinances requiring public conveyances to set aside seats posted “Senior Citizen Seating.” Laws have replaced common decency. Years ago, a young lady who allowed a guy to have his hand in her rear pocket as they strolled down the street would have been seen as a slut. Children addressing adults by first names was unacceptable.

You might be tempted to charge, “Williams, you’re a prude!” I’d ask you whether high rates of illegitimacy make a positive contribution to a civilized society. If not, how would you propose that illegitimacy be controlled? In years past, it was controlled through social sanctions like disgrace and shunning. Is foul language to or in the presence of teachers conducive to an atmosphere of discipline and respect necessary for effective education? If not, how would you propose it be controlled? Years ago, simply sassing a teacher would have meant a trip to the vice principal’s office for an attitude adjustment administered with a paddle. Years ago, the lowest of lowdown men would not say the kind of things often said to or in front of women today. Gentlemanly behavior protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior.

I personally feel alienated by how impolite, unchaste, unromantic and unchivalrous my generation has become.