2nd Debate, Atheism and Morality, 4th Round, Matt's Response

Fourth Round:  Matt Slick's Response


Note: the ">" signifies an earlier post from me, Matt Slick, to which Chad was replying.



Thank you for your reply. Again, for the sake of trying to be brief, I will not respond to every point you have made.

Chad4: What do you mean by "work to continue their disbelief"? Are you suggesting that we are arguing in order to maintain disbelief?

Matt4: Yes, I believe that you atheists (perhaps an overgeneralization) work to continue your disbelief. The reason I say this is that you consistently attempt to refute theistic arguments, undermine supporting evidences for God, and defend atheism. As I have tried to establish earlier, people's beliefs shape actions, and actions reveal beliefs. The actions of the atheists are consistently antagonistic, even hostile, to theistic support. Therefore, my conclusion is that atheists work to continue their disbelief in God.

Chad4: Remember, that along with the lack of belief is the working assumption that no gods exist.

Matt4: I'm glad that you said this since it helps support what I have been saying that actions flow from beliefs. If an atheist has a working assumption that no God exists, then he will behave accordingly; and, as I said above, he will work to continue his disbelief. I see this as being very typical among atheists; they disbelieve in God and work to continue their disbelief--at least, this is how I interpret the evidence they present. But to be fair, in my experience, as best as I can remember, I have only encountered one atheist who honestly desired to believe in God but was not convinced by the supporting evidence.

Chad4: This may be the source of some of our confusion then. I categorize Martians (and gods) as nonexistent too, but only as a working assumption based on a lack of any reason to believe they exist. That is quite different than my categorization of the statement "Chad's wife did not give birth to their daughter Jade" as false since I have quite reliable evidence to the contrary (having been there at the birth).

Matt4: You just said that you categorize God as nonexistent. This means that you believe God does not exist. Then you have stated that you "lack belief in God." Therefore, I can conclude that for you to lack belief in God means that you categorize God as nonexistent. In other words, you place the topic of the exist in of God in the nonexistent category. This logically means you believe God does not exist. If not, why would you place God in that category? Therefore, I'm vindicated in my earlier statement that actions follow beliefs, and that "lack of belief" is basically equivalent to believing God does not exist--or as you have stated, to categorize God as nonexistent.

Chad4: It seems that when we say "lack of belief" you hear something more like "lack of opinion" as though we are pretending to have no view on the subject. That's not what we're saying, however; rather, we are making a distinction between a working assumption that X does not exist (we lack belief in X) and a positive belief that X does not exist (we believe in ~X based on evidence that ~X).

Matt4: Yes, that is going what I have been saying. At the risk of sounding impolite and accusatory (which I am not trying to be), it is my opinion that the phrase "lack of belief" is a strategic attempt to construct an atheist position that is as unassailable as possible. I also believe that it is inconsistent with atheistic actions. Atheists, in my opinion, behave more consistently with an active disbelief in God rather than a passive "lack of belief." Again, I honestly mean no offense to you, but this is how I see it. Furthermore, I believe that we will not come to an agreement on this. I've spent an unusual amount of time on this for a reason because I believe that atheists work to continue their disbelief, work to remain nonbelievers, work to try and refute theistic beliefs, and to spread their atheism. This is my opinion which I offer without intent to denigrate.

Chad4: Moreover, I have to point out that your current position is quite different from what you originally wrote. The Martian discussion began with you saying: I would say that actions follow beliefs rather than lack of beliefs and that it is irrational to act based on a belief that a person claims he does not have. Therefore, I think it is logical to conclude that a lack of belief in something results in lack of action concerning it. For example. I don't believe there are Martians. Therefore, I don't defend my not believing in Martians, nor do I promote my non-believing in Martians. But, if I actively believe there were no Martians, I am more likely to present arguments supporting my belief that there are no Martians and I would attempt to refute evidences for Martians. My actions would reveal my beliefs; namely, that there are no Martians.

Matt4: I do not see it as being different since I have had the same presupposition and opinion throughout this discussion. Perhaps I have approached the same issue from different angles, and you are seeing it incorrectly; or perhaps I have not worded my statement properly. But, I have tried to be consistent in my assertions. Again, a lot of this could be simply the differences we have in how we see things. This is why it is necessary to define terms as best we can before discussion begins. Nevertheless, I think we are close enough to understanding your atheist position that we can progress.

Chad4: Thus, at first you said that you didn't actively believe there to be no Martians but simply didn't believe there were any. According to you, this explains why you don't expend energy either defending your non-belief or promoting it. But now you say that you categorize the existence of Martians as false.

Matt4: I think you missed a qualifying statement in the above paragraph: "if I actively believed there were no Martians . . . " I think that it answers your objection.

>Either position is a category of
>judgment. If you want to equate "lack of belief" with being
>undecided, then you have essentially excluded the category of
>belief. Unless you want to violate the law of excluded
>middle, then you either do or do not believe God exists.

Chad4: Yes, but within the "do not believe" category there can still be more than one coherent possibility. Just as the law of excluded middle says that you either consider me your best friend or you don't . . . but within "Chad is not my best friend" there is still room for "Chad's a friend" and "Chad's a big jerkface".

Matt4: We are arguing semantics here. It is true that you are not my best friend. However, the statement "Chad's a friend" is a different statement than "Chad is not my best friend." The law of excluded middle applies to each, and each subcategory is a statement to which the law of excluded middle can equally apply.

>Matt3: Lack of belief falls under the denial-of-God's-existence category.
>Therefore, the actions of atheists can be categorized in one
>of two categories: believing God exists or disbelieving God
>exists. Since atheists, by definition, disbelieve God exists,
>all their actions must logically be construed as emanating
>from that position. (Remember, logically, "lack of belief" is
>disbelief and a denial of God's existence since it is not an
>affirmation of God's existence).

Chad4: I do not accept this at all. It seems to me that you are unwilling to address the clearly presented difference between not believing in something because of a lack of positive reason to believe and disbelieving in something because of positive reasons to believe it is not true.

Matt4: It is certainly possible that I am missing what you are saying. This is why I'm trying to stick with the issues of the argument more precisely, along with the ramifications of the arguments, which explains why I believe actions follow beliefs far more strongly than follow a lack of belief. However, above you categorize God is nonexistent. This is an active and willful decision on your part to assert that God does not exist. If this is not true, then please explain to me how your categorization of God as nonexistent does not qualify as an active and willful decision to assert that God does not exist.

Chad4: I don't believe there is an invisible ghost in the room with me because I have no reason to believe such a ghost exists. But I also have absolutely no reason to believe that it doesn't. My lack of belief, and my working assumption that there are no such ghosts, is based on lack of reason to believe and the extraordinary nature of the claim "ghosts exist".

Matt4: Are you saying you believe there is no ghost in the room with you now? As an atheist, I assume you deny the supernatural; therefore, it would be perfectly fair for me to conclude that you actively believed there is no ghost in the room with you. I have always heard atheists describe the existence of ghosts in the category of the supernatural. Since atheism denies the supernatural, I'm assuming you would have a reason for deny that ghosts exist and also believing that no ghosts exist, particularly in the room with you now. Furthermore, your action of denying the existence of ghosts would follow your belief that they do not exist which is consistent with the working assumption that they don't exist.

Chad4: I don't believe there is a glowing purple ghost in the room with me because if there was I would see it. Thus, I have specific evidence that no such being is in my room, in addition to the above considerations.

Matt4: Not necessarily so. How can the evidence of not seeing something mean it isn't there? Because you cannot see God, doesn't mean he's not there? As far as the purple ghost goes, you could be facing the wrong direction. There can be something blocking your view. You could be unconscious. You could be colorblind and not be able to see purple. The room could be painted purple. I labored this point because your denial of the existence of a purple ghost because you could not see; it is a very insufficient criteria since there can be reasons you cannot see. Heck, you could be blind. Not seeing something does not mean it does not exist. I suspect that you do not apply the same criteria of the verification to God's existence.

Chad4: The difference is real, whether you accept it or not.

Matt4: Let's agree to disagree.

>Matt3: You are trying to demonstrate that atheists who lack
>belief in God can exhibit multitudenous amounts of actions
>based on passive "lack of belief of God" rather than the
>active "believe there is no God."

Chad4: No, I'm demonstrating that there are more possible explanations for level of action than simply "belief vs. lack of belief vs. disbelief".

Matt4: Yes, I know that. But I am not convinced by your reasoning.

Chad4: Do you dispute that Christians (among other theists) have a major impact on my life?

Matt4: I cannot dispute what I do not know. If you say they have a big influence on you, then I will believe you. If you say they have not influenced you greatly, I will believe that instead. Just tell me which one it is.

Chad4: I have no problem agreeing that actions follow beliefs . . . only with the implicit and unstated assumption that actions only follow beliefs.

Matt4: I never stated that actions only follow beliefs. But I have been saying that actions reveal beliefs, and that we can get a pretty accurate estimate of someone's beliefs by looking at his actions.

Chad4: Whether you call it lack of belief, disbelief or belief in the contrary, my "position" on God is identical to my "position" on ghosts. But the God question is far more interesting and relevant to me because of you and because of the billions of theists in the world . . . people whose beliefs have a large and multi-faceted impact on my life.

Matt4: Ok, I believe you that theists in the world have an impact on your life.

>Matt3: If you did, this would mean that
>atheists actively believed there is no God. Yet, you are
>required to defend the "lack of belief" in God as a sufficient
>motivator for atheist actions.

Chad4: With respect, when you start telling me that the reason I'm arguing a position is because I can't afford not to it doesn't feel much to me like we're having a respectful discussion.

Matt4: Honestly, I am not intending to offended you. With that said, I don't recall saying that you can't afford not to defend your position. However, I have tried to demonstrate that I believe your reasoning is insufficient regarding your defense of the atheists' "lack of belief" and its relationship to their counter theistic actions. I believe that actions are motivated from beliefs. I think this is very reasonable, and I also believe that it is far more logical to assume that someone does something because of an underlying preference or belief.

Chad4: As you say, attack the argument, not the person. Ad hominem attacks aren't limited to insults.

Matt4: Honestly, I see no ad hominem anywhere on either side in our discussion. It is my belief that atheists, in general, are required to defend their "lack of belief" statement as a sufficient cause for their actions. If I understand you correctly, you have been saying the same thing. It's just that I see their statement of "lack of belief" as being a strategic defense and a less accurate assessment of their position. Of course, my statement can be taken the wrong way and misconstrued to say that I am calling atheists liars. I am not. It is just that I am of the opinion, I stress opinion, that atheists openly seek to justify their disbelief and to continue their disbelief, and that their actions demonstrate this. If my opinion is offensive to you, then we will have to forego further discussion of this sub-topic.

Chad4: Who says "lack of belief" is passive? As I've said multiple times, it is combined with a working assumption that extraordinary claims (including, "the Christian God exists") are false until demonstrated to be true.

Matt4: Ah . . . then it isn't passive, which is exactly my point. Though the term "lack of belief" is grammatically passive, it does not result in passive behavior by those who claim it. This is why I have been saying that actions flow from beliefs. Again, though the phrase "lack of belief" is grammatically passive, it is used among atheists who actively deny that God exists; and I believe this is an inconsistency. The word "lack" means deficiency--without something, absence of something, etc. To be passive means to show no action, no resistence, etc. They are synonomous. It is logical to say that if you have a deficiency of or an absence of a belief in something, your actions will reflect that absence. In other words, you don't work real hard to show something doesn't exist if you have a passive lack of belief about that something. You are not acting in a passive manner when you are actively refuting theistic proofs. Those actions are more consistent with an active belief there is not God--in my opinion.

Matt4: If I lack the ability to walk, then I don't perform the action of walking. If I lack wings, then I don't fly. In each case, my lack of an attribute means no actions follow from the attribute. Actions don't result from the lack of an attribute. They follow from the existence of an attribute. Likewise, the consistent refutation of theistic proofs would result from the belief-attribute that God does not exist. Now, I suspect that you will probably comment about how inaccurate I am in how I am not understanding what it is you're trying to tell me. I believe I do understand, which is why I also believe you will say I don't. I just don't agree with your reasoning.

>Matt3: It is perfectly logical to state that a person's
>actions are the result of what he believes. Atheists claim
>the lack of belief in God, yet they perform a great many
>actions supporting that lack of belief. Though they say one
>thing (they lack belief), they behave in a manner consistent
>with denial of the existence of God. In other words, they try
>to disprove what they claim they lack belief in. Such actions,
>among in my opinion, reveal beliefs--not lack of beliefs.

Chad4: I have never tried to disprove the existence of God. Nor have I ever, to my knowledge, tried to deconvert a theist. What I do is: 1. Argue against specific arguments for God as invalid. 2. Attempt to help theists understand atheists and atheism.

Matt4: So, you don't try to disprove God's existence, yet you argue against specific arguments for God's existence? Is that right?

Chad4: As noted, you said that you don't push your non-belief in Martians because it is only non-belief. Do you seriously contend that you might not become a bit more actively "amartianist" if the people who did believe in Martians were having a major impact on your life?

Matt4: I am sure I would. And since I actively believe that no Martians exist, I would act accordingly.

Chad4: With respect, I'm going to snip the section about insults, etc. I think it's a bit of a tangent and unlikely to be productive. We both agree that insults should be avoided as a rule. As you point out, a "he said-she said" about whether atheists or Christians are ruder isn't going to get us anywhere. If you disagree, let me know and we can continue to discuss it.

Matt4: Since insults deal with morals, it may become relevant in our discussion later.

Chad4: Because, as noted above, it isn't just about belief but also about the "stakes" as it were. Let me try to explain my point with a story: A young couple gets married in Las Vegas and decides to do some gambling. As they pass the roulette wheel, the husband becomes convinced that the next spin will be number 7. He tells his wife he's had an incredible vision that the wheel will come up 7, and he's absolutely certain of it. The wife does not find this terribly persuasive. Now the story splits. In one version, the husband says, "Honey, I'm going to bet $10 on number 7. If it hits, and I know it's going to, I'll take you out for dinner and a show with the winnings." The wife smiles and says, "Sure," even though she sees no reason to think that her husband's vision is reliable. In the other version, the husband says, "Honey, I'm going to bet $10,000 (roughly their life savings) on number 7. If it hits, we'll be rich!" The wife is horrified and begins to argue with him that his vision isn't something to bet their life savings on. Do you think her non-belief in his vision is stronger in the latter example? I submit it is identical but the stakes of the question are higher and this is why she argues against trusting his vision whereas she might have just indulged him if he only wanted to bet $10.

Matt4: I agree that the higher the consequence, the more serious the result, and the more serious a "vision" should be taken. I remember as a young man contemplating the existence of God. It was in a time of my life what I did not know if He did or did not exist. I clearly remember concluding that the stakes were far too high for me to ignore the topic. I remember concluding that it was more reasonable to assume He existed than not. It was better safe than sorry for me. (I am aware of atheistic comebacks to this kind of argument. But I'm trying to illustrate the point in agreement with you).

Chad4: Hopefully I've shown that while stronger beliefs can lead to stronger actions, higher stakes can also lead to stronger actions. "Does God exist" is a high-stakes question at the level of human interaction.

Matt4: Of course, I argue this all the time with people. I tell them they better take the issue of God very seriously because eternity is a long time to be wrong.

Chad4: I'm ready to continue.


Matt4: Great. Me, too. Since we have discussed atheism as it relates to belief, disbelief, actions, lack of belief, etc., perhaps it is time to discuss morality in relationship to the atheistic position. Therefore, at this point I think it is worth discussing the tenets of atheism since a person's morality is necessarily related to beliefs, and beliefs are often based on tenets. I know that you have beliefs about morality, and that you are an atheist. Therefore, there will be a relationship between your morality and your atheism.

Matt4: You admitted that atheism is a position. Good. I do not see how you can hold an intellectual position without there being principles inherent in that position. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I propose that as an atheist, you have certain "presuppositions": 1) Disbelief in God, 2) No absolute moral code or source for absolute moral code, 3) materialistic naturalism (that all things in the universe can and will ultimately be explained via natural physical, chemical, energy laws, etc.), and 4) denial of the supernatural. If these are not accurate and/or you don't believe any of these, please correct me since I want to know your suppositions, as well as represent atheism properly, as we move into the discussion of morality and atheism.

Matt4: I propose (with possible future modifications) that morality within the atheist system is subjective; and because it is subjective, truth, right, and wrong are all relative. Because there are no moral absolutes and because atheist morality is subjective, atheists are free to alter their moral behavior depending on the circumstances and whatever desires suit them at the time. (Notice, I did not say that all of them will). Therefore, there is nothing to prevent an atheist from lying, as an example, if the situation warrants it. (I am not talking about highly exceptional situations like hiding Jews in Nazi Germany--to lie there is still a sin and another discussion). Since I like to put flesh and blood on ideas, let's take the CARM discussion boards as an example. There are rules for the boards to which all of us are supposed to keep. (Of course, I do not expect absolute perfection. There is grace on these boards. Also, application of those rules cannot be perfectly consistent either.) Given that the atheists, by signing up, agree to uphold those rules, then shouldn't we expect the atheists to adhere by them? ("should" implies moral obligation). But what if the atheists don't like the rules, and for whatever reason choose to violate them at different times? Are they wrong for doing that? (I'm asking you). If they are wrong, why are they wrong since morality is subjective. (I'm asking you.) If they are not wrong, why not? (I'm asking you.) If you, Chad, were to condemn the actions of an atheist who purposely broke the board rules, what right would you have in condemning that atheist since that atheist has a subjective moral standard as you do? (I'm asking you.) You would have no moral right to impose your moral standard on him (or her). Thus, you could not morally/rationally condemn the actions of atheists who purposely break the rules. If you were to say that the atheist who agreed to abide by the rules is wrong because he broke his agreement, then you are establishing an absolute moral standard; namely, that you should keep your word. But then again, if the atheist wants to break his word because he has a subjective moral standard, who's to say he's right or wrong? You? He is free to abide by or not abide by the rules, and no one has the right to tell him otherwise--from an atheistic perspective, that is. What do you think of this?

Matt4: Furthermore, if we were to find that atheists were repeatedly breaking the rules, apparently on purpose, then it would be evidence that they are not trustworthy. Since they are representing atheism and since actions predominately follow from beliefs, would it not be fair to conclude that the atheists who break the rules are doing so ultimately because of atheistic principles which includes no moral absolutes? (Remember, if you don't have absolute morals, then you must have subjective ones).

Matt4: Therefore, ultimately, in my opinion, there can be no logical moral absoluteness in atheism, and this undermines the ethical credibility of the atheism as a position and weakens the philosophical credibility of atheists who adhere to a non-absolute moral standard, but promote, by necessity, moral relativism instead.

Matt4: Finally, please let me make some clarifications. I am not saying that all atheists are by default moral relativists, nor am I saying that all atheists are morally handicapped. I believe that there are many atheists who are extremely trustworthy and morally astute. I am trying to focus on the logical relationship of morality as it relates to the position known as atheism and its necessarily relativistic moral system. And, recognize that there are atheists who assert moral absolutes. But, I would argue with them that they are doing so illogically--perhaps another discussion on that later.

Matt4: There you go Chad, it is a lot to respond to so, I will not expect a prompt reply.



About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.