Dialogue with Atheists

I love my atheist friends. Not only do they brighten up my work days with interesting emails, the also get me thinking quite a bit about what we do right and wrong as Christians.

The Internet Monk has entered into his own little dialogue with an atheist – it’s interesting reading.

That old “morality” chestnut comes up. One of the things atheists seem to find profoundly annoying (apart from being generalised and slandered as a bunch, and references to Hitler) is the idea that you can’t be a moral person without God.

This is a communication breakdown. When I say “you can’t be good without God” it’s because I believe in God, believe humanity to be totally and naturally sinful, and believe that God graciously allows sinful people to act morally. Other people mean something different – they mean that you can’t be moral without “believing” in God. They’re different. And I think we need to be careful to express the difference in meaning. Non-theists are capable of moral behaviour. Theists believe that’s because God lets them, atheists don’t feel that compulsion because they don’t believe God is there to do it.

The internetmonk article also brings up the question of indoctrinating children and whether or not this constitutes “child abuse” – which it can’t possibly, if God is there. And I believe he is.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

10 thoughts on “Dialogue with Atheists”

  1. There is a third category that many will also push, Nath, which is that atheists have no basis for their moral behaviour. Not that they do not act morally, but that their worldview gives them no internally consistent reason to do so.

    There are certain situations where I think it appropriate to use this argument, and certain where it is not. The common response of a Dawkins-type ‘meme’ argument where the conscience is an evolved aid to perpetuation of the species is at once abhorrant in its ultimate end and, as far as I can investigate it, an internally consistent and rational view. I just don’t know too many people who act it out consistently, there’s too much of God’s goodness in them.

  2. Many of these “new atheists” or “out atheists” or those who get annoyed by the morality “play” that theists make, are out and loud because they are secular humanists and committed to a certain philosophical framework that does lead to “moral” living and a positive “ethical” view of decisions. Sadly this doesn’t lead to them being nice to us delusional Christians, or unborn babies, but they are nice to animals and the environment…

  3. What basis do they give for their ethics? I’ve never found a consistent one. Social contract is as good as they can get, in my experience.

    1. The reasons are as varied as you’d expect from a dogma that lacks an orthodox base. I don’t think you can lump all atheistic approaches to ethics together anymore than you can do that with Christians (though the atheists have a pretty good Christian strawman that they like to whack around based entirely on the worst expressions of Christianity out there).

      The fact that their starting premise – ie no God – is wrong – makes it difficult to have a “consistent” worldview.

      But their argument that their motives for goodness are pure because they’re not just being good because God tells them to have some merit – in a way. They’re good – and socially contracted – because they “choose” to be… I respect that. In a way. The fact that it’s not intellectually consistent is by the by – they are “moral” in a way that campaigns like this Answers in Genesis one fail to acknowledge. And I can see why that would be really annoying.

  4. I agree with what Kutz said in his first comment – atheists are quite capable of acting morally but have no basis, foundation, or reason to (other than that’s just ‘being nice’ or something).

    Of course we shouldn’t say atheists aren’t capable of doing what humans would classify as ‘good’ things, but I also think it would be wrong to say they have the same conviction about it, because Christians believe they’re ultimately answerable to somebody over their actions, while atheists don’t.

  5. Their point is that to act in a ‘moral’ way (used in the common way, not the correct one) because of a choice to as opposed to doing so because of fear of punishment (ie hell).

  6. Nathan said – “The fact that it’s not intellectually consistent is by the by” – I disagree here. Having an intellectually consistent worldview is important. Lovingly exploring this with a person can be of great benefit to them.

  7. Of course, I’m fully on board with your reaction to the type of campaigns that you posted in response to.

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