Thursday, 16 May 2013

A letter to an atheist

I got into a conversation with a convinced atheist a couple of weeks ago. He brought up a few "atrocities" in the Bible, and God allowing evil in the world. When I tried to challenge him about what basis he, as an atheist, had for condemning any behaviour he ignored me and changed the subject. Thinking he might interact more coherently in print, I wrote him a letter which I have copied below. I will put my further correspondence to him in another post.
Dear David,

Thanks for the opportunity of chatting with you the other week. As you are a reader I thought I would write to you because in conversation you seemed to change subjects quickly if you felt like it. You say you are a thinker, so I hope you will take time to read and think about the following.

When you brought up atrocities that have been committed in history (e.g. the Holocaust) I asked you if you thought such things were evil. Your reply was a flippant “No, they were good!” and then you said “Answer a fool according to his folly”, as if the question I had asked was stupid.

Well, I agree, the question is stupid, of course such things are evil, that is obvious and indisputable, but my question was a preliminary question. The follow up question, which I asked many times and which you continually dodged and ignored was, Why is it evil?

Evil is a moral departure from the way things ought to be, but, as an atheist, you have no foundation upon which to ground objective morality. In an atheistic universe there is no way things ought to be, there is only the way things are. It was David Hume who highlighted this problem – you can’t get an ought from an is.

This doesn’t mean atheists can’t live respectable lives, or know right from wrong. It means that if atheism is true then there is no law other than that which humans make up. There is nothing that is actually objectively evil in an atheistic universe. There is no transcendent standard to which we must adhere. The person who wants to rape, torture, murder, etc. is only going against the standards of society. But is his behaviour only wrong because enough of us say so?

When you did eventually try to answer the question of why Hitler’s behaviour was evil you said if you go about murdering people you’ll land in the choky! And there is the moral bankruptcy of atheism. Is that it?! Don’t murder because you’ll end up in prison?! So someone who lives on an island where there are no laws or prisons can torture a child and there is nothing evil about it?

Hitler wasn’t in danger of prison; he didn’t do anything “illegal”; his followers at Nuremburg said they were following orders. But the laws of Nazi Germany were unjust, but if atheism is true then that statement is meaningless – how can our laws be unjust, what is the standard by which we measure? If we are just molecules that have been brought together by natural selection acting on random mutations in a chance universe in which there is no design or purpose then there are no rules other than what we invent. Furthermore, if atheism is true then there is no free will – we do not act freely, we react deterministically, thus no actions are worthy of praise or blame.

These are the logical conclusions of atheism – there is no objective purpose in life, no intrinsic value to human beings, no transcendent law, no absolute morality, no ultimate justice in the universe, no free will in behaviour. These conclusions follow logically and necessarily from atheism, and yet they are totally contrary to reality and unliveable in practice. That means the worldview that produces them is wrong.

You know right well that it doesn’t matter if the Government collapsed and prisons closed and the police disappeared, there are things that are evil. If that is true then it is only because there is a law above the laws that we have made, and that can only come from a righteous God to whom we are accountable who has place His law on our hearts.

You seem to think it terrible that God would just watch as these atrocities were committed. David, what is worse is that you are taking away the very foundation for calling these moral abominations atrocities, and you are taking away the hope that justice will be done and comfort can be granted. On your view the murdered and the murderer, the raped and the rapist, the abused and the abuser, the oppressed and the oppressor all end up exactly the same, and there is no justice done. God has granted free will, man has messed up this world, and God offers us another world where these things will never happen, but the reason that world will be free from sorrow is because it will be free from sin. God will intervene and judge the world, but when He judges it will be in righteousness, and that means all are condemned (Acts 17 v 31). The Bible says the reason He hasn’t intervened is because He is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3 v 9). You ought to be glad God hasn’t moved in judgment yet, because He won’t overlook your sins.

I’ll just briefly mention something else we touched on.

We talked about the resurrection. You showed no willingness to think clearly and deal honestly with the facts. What would compel monotheistic, God-fearing, Torah-observing Jews to worship as God this man who had been crucified? Why would they give up the Jewish ceremonies, sacrifices etc. which were all essential to their covenant relationship with God? The only explanation that fits the facts is the one they gave – God raised Him from the dead. They must have been 100% certain of this or they never would have abandoned their God-given Jewish ceremonies and given their lives for this message.

One more thing, you need to know that we are not coming at this from the perspective of an outside observer wondering what is true. We know this is real because the Lord has actually saved us, given us new life, and brought us into relationship with God.

These are just a few things to ponder. There are lots more. But David, if the Gospel is true then the consequences of rejecting it are eternally and unspeakably tragic. There is literally hell to pay for the sins we have committed, and our only hope is in Christ who paid for our sins by His death at the cross. It is only common sense to think about these things carefully, and seek the truth honestly.

If you ever want to talk about these things please let me know.

Yours sincerely,