One of the most popular arguments for God’s existence is the moral argument. It can take different forms, but a popular version runs like this:
- If God doesn’t exist, there are no objective moral values or duties.
- But moral values and obligations exist – objectively.
- Therefore, God exists.
It’s not unusual for someone to say, “Are you saying that all atheists are bad people? Rude!” The Christian apologist will often reply that the issue isn’t about belief in God but whether or not God exists. After all, we all know moral atheists.
It’s true that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the argument. But do we really know of many good atheists?
Relatively so, absolutely. Without a doubt.
But here comes the ‘but’. I want to challenge the claim that there are good atheists. I don’t think ‘good’ atheists exist. But here’s a major caveat alert: I’m also skeptical that there are any good people at all according to Jesus’ standards. So what follows isn’t just me picking on atheists.
So with much trepidation, here we go.
Jesus on adultery
Jesus said that heaven and earth will pass away before the Law would, referring to the Ten Commandments. He said that unless we’re more righteous than the Pharisees, we can’t enter into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:17-20) Jesus then gives us an exposé of a few of the commandments and even strengthens their requirements.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.Matthew 5:27-28
Almost all of us have us have done this at one point, and Jesus says it’s as bad as adultery. But why so strong? Let’s think about this for a moment: Why haven’t most of us committed adultery?
Is it because we love our spouse so much, or that we care so much about the other person’s spouse? For many, sure. But for many more, it’s because we think the other party probably won’t be down to do the deed. We’d embarrass ourselves and get punched if we suggest it, so we opt to look down someone’s shirt when we think they aren’t looking.
Or if the other party flirts back, we are afraid of getting caught, ruining our reputation, having an unwanted pregnancy, or getting an STD. It isn’t out of moral goodness but self-preservation. Many would go for it in a consequence-free world.
The porn issue
Now let’s really bring it home. 76% of non-religious people find that viewing porn is morally acceptable, compared to 22% who are religiously affiliated. (22% of the religious need to repent!)
Pornhub gets 115,000,000 visits per day. That’s staggering. Pornhub has also been accused of enabling and profiting from rape and sex trafficking. The site should be taken down. Considering all the other negative costs of pornography, consuming it isn’t justifiable behavior.
But who keeps it legal? The majority of people do (including professing believers), and at least 3/4ths of non-religious people find it morally acceptable. This is not what good people do. Jesus agreed that adultery is sinful behavior and condemned it at its roots — one’s thought life.
Jesus and murder
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.Matthew 5:21-22
The vast majority of us have never murdered anyone. But Jesus said calling someone an idiot is worthy of hellfire. Why? By insulting them, you’ve said that this person has no worth even though they’re made in God’s image.
How many of us can say we’ve never called someone stupid? The apostle John goes on to say that if we hate someone, we’re a murderer. (1 John 3:15) We all know someone who has done us wrong. Maybe it’s an ex-wife, a friend who betrayed us, or that really annoying co-worker, or that bad boss. It would be difficult to find anyone who has never harbored hatred in their heart.
Now, look at our current political climate. It’s not enough to disagree with someone’s position on economics or immigration. If you disagree, you’re a monster. Think of all the celebrities who expressed that they wanted to kill Donald Trump since he’s been in office or cheered when he caught the Coronavirus.
So why don’t they go ahead and take a shot at the President? Is it because they’ve decided to “love their enemy” as Jesus commanded? No, it’s because they don’t want to be arrested and given the death sentence. It’s the same reason we opt for obscenities rather than assault when people cut us off in traffic.
I think CS Lewis was on the money when he wrote:
“The real trouble is that ‘kindness’ is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that ‘his heart’s in the right place’ and ‘he wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ though, in fact, he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow-creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.”The Problem of Pain
State-sanctioned mass murder
Maybe you’ve never raged on your fellow man no matter how frustrating they’ve been. Still, according to the Pew Forum, 87% of atheists support legal abortion. And most abortions have nothing to do with hard cases like ectopic pregnancies. Most are elected for relationship issues or the fear of a child interfering with their lives.
That means that the vast majority of atheists believe that suctioning, scraping, and scalding to death defenseless unborn humans is morally OK. When you call the pro-choicer out on this, they’ll often resort to metaphysical mysteries about when life really begins or matters. They don’t talk about the science of embryology that states that life starts at conception.
But this just proves that no matter how much the atheist might profess moral subjectivism, the Law “do not murder” is written on their hearts. (Romans 2:14-15) They know it’s wrong and so they soften it and start equivocating. And what do people do when they want to commit mass murder? They dehumanize a segment of the population. In the US, that equals to around 600,000 to 800,000 needless deaths per year.
But it’s not just unbelievers who keep this legal. It’s your “believing” neighbors, co-workers, and even fellow church members. Paul was correct when he said, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Millions are guilty of aiding and abetting mass murder.
This seems a bit harsh
We’ve looked at just two commandments that virtually every human being has broken, probably before they got out of middle school in some fashion. So why do I bring this up? Jesus said that it isn’t those who are well who need a doctor, but the sick. He didn’t come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Matthew 9:9-13)
Regarding the Law, Paul said “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20)
Too often, when Christians debate and engage skeptics mentally. We can argue about the existence of God or the reliability of the Gospels day and night. That’s well and good. But we have to show people that according to Jesus, man is sinful before the eyes of the Righteous Judge of all the Earth. And maybe it’s possible that one reason the atheist is motivated to debunk theism is that they find it distasteful. Aldous Huxley was honest when he admitted his anti-theistic bias. He wrote:
I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. . . . For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.Ends and Means
The offense of the cross
Again, I want to stress that there are many non-Christians who have done many good things. But there are many criminals who have done good things, that doesn’t get them off the hook for their crimes. If someone gets caught for committing treason, they’re not going to get a pass because they can prove that they’ve given to charity. Chicago crime boss Johnny Torrio was generous and known to be a role model to the neighborhood kids, but he paid people to murder his rivals, oversaw hijackings, and ran brothels.
According to Jesus, we’ve all been murderous adulterers at heart at some point. Jesus stepped in and took the punishment that we deserve. (Romans 5:8, 2 Cor. 5:21) If he didn’t vicariously take the spiritual and physical death that we earned, then what he did was either foolish or suicidal. God showed that he was neither, raising him from the dead. If we reject him, we’re on our own on judgment day.
Until the Gospel is clear to non-believers, apologetic issues are of secondary importance. Plus, we don’t want to just be playing mental chess games with scoffers. If Christians don’t proclaim the cross and opt for apologetic arguments only, do we truly believe in the power of the Gospel? (Romans 1:16)
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love”
I don’t mean this at all to come across as offensive. Some might accuse me of saying atheists are only atheists because they want to sin. I’m not. I’m asking people to be honest with themselves. At least admit there are some Christian standards that you would rather not live by, you don’t like the idea of a God who punishes sin, and that you’re not completely neutral about it. As a former atheist, I can say that was true for me.
And if that’s true, then maybe that could cause people to play mental gymnastics when it comes to dealing with arguments for theism — such as denying moral facts, punting to an unprovable multiverse to explain away design, or saying life originated through directed panspermia. And why is it that only militant atheists who will dispute that Jesus was a real historical person?
Many may be irked with me at this point — the cross is offensive — but it is the central message that we must make clear because we care about others. If you don’t see the danger of your condition, why think that you need a cure? (1 Cor. 1:18, Gal. 5:11)
Atheist Penn Jillette said this in regards to Christians sharing the Gospel:
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Amen to that.
Sources and recommended resources:
- Why Does God Allow Evil?: Compelling Answers for Life’s Toughest Questions by Clay Jones
- The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief by James Spiegel
- What We Can’t Not Know by J. Budziszewski
- Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families by Pamela Paul
Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.