2nd debate, Atheism and Morality, 3rd Round, Matt's Response

Third Round:  Matt Slick's Response

Note: the ">" signifies an earlier post


Matt3: For the sake of keeping our posts down to a reasonable length (which is proving difficult to do), I have removed some of the older material in this post so that we can focus more easily instead of getting sidetracked into so many divergent threads.

Chad3: I would say "perceived" rather than "supposed" but that's probably a meaningless quibble. The point (if I understand you correctly) is that it is a lack of evidence in the atheist's opinion rather than a lack of evidence, per se. It could be that the atheist's opinion that the evidence is insufficient is not a reasonable one or not the only reasonable one.

Matt3: That is fine with me. Then we agree that "Atheism is lack of belief in God or gods and/or denial of the existence of God or gods, due to perceived lack of sufficient evidence supporting the existence of any God or gods."

Matt3: That is a sufficient definition for atheism. Because of some recent posts here on the atheism board, I would like to clarify that the reason it is important to define atheism is that you and I need to be speaking about the same thing. Since I'm discussing atheism with you, an atheist, it makes sense that I should understand what you think atheism is so that I can adapt my arguments accordingly.

>Matt2: Of course, I agree with you that there is a lack of
>evidence for gods. I would join you in refuting the idea that
>there are gods. However, I acknowledge that there is only one
>God in all existence, in all places, and in all time.

Chad3: That is where we differ. IMO, the same lack of evidence that exists for gods in general also exists (for the most part) for a single creator God.

Matt3: I figured as much.

Chad3: If you ask, I bet you would find that 99% of atheists who define atheism as "lack of belief in God" would also say that they have looked at the objective evidence and concluded that it is not strong enough to merit belief in any God or gods.

Matt3: Since there are countless people who have looked at the evidence and concluded that there is a God, we can deduce that how someone views evidence would be worth a serious discussion since some looked at the same evidence and believe in God, and others disbelieve.

Chad3: The whole "lack belief" thing is not, IMO, a dodge--it is a description of where the atheism comes from, i.e. a lack of evidence that would cause belief in X, rather than contrary evidence that would cause belief in ~X. "No Gods exists" is thus a working assumption based on the lack of perceived evidence that any Gods do exist rather than a conclusion drawn from evidence that no Gods exist.

>Second, would you say that actions flow out of disbelief or belief?

Chad3: I think you're committing a fallacy of false dichotomy here, by ignoring things other than belief/disbelief as cause of actions. I'll explain below what I mean.

Matt3: I do not see how it is a false dichotomy since you either believe or don't believe in God. Lack of belief and being undecided fit in the latter category since they are both not belief.

Matt3: We must be careful here not to violate the law of excluded middle. Let me clarify. First, the law of identity states that something is what it is (that which exists has a specific nature). Second, the law of non-contradiction states that something cannot be itself and not itself at the same time (something cannot be both true and false at the same time). Third, the law of excluded middle says that a statement is either true or false. Therefore, it is either true or false that you believe in God. There is no middle option. If you say that you are undecided, then it is true that you do not believe in God. If you say that you lack belief in God, then it is true that you do not believe in God. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that you do not believe in God and that your actions follow. Obviously, atheists do not believe in God, and their not believing is represented by their actions. Since the atheist's work so hard to disprove God's existence, then it is logical to conclude that they do not believe in God and work to continue their disbelief. Whether or not you want to call this "a lack of belief" does not change the fact that they do not believe in God and behave accordingly. Therefore, my dichotomy stands, and their actions are a result of what they believe--that the evidence for God is insufficient and that not believing in God is warranted.

>Is it more reasonable to state that actions are the
>result of beliefs, or that they are the result of lack of
>beliefs? 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 believed 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.

Chad3: Let's assume that you "lack belief" in Martians because you have looked at the evidence that they exist and find it lacking. However, let us also assume the following:

Matt3: If I lacked belief in Martians, it would not be because of looking at evidence or the lack of it. To me, lacking belief in something is what I do before I am aware of something. Once I am aware of the it, I categorize it . In the case of Martians, I categorize them as nonexistent. Therefore, not only do I lack belief in them but also more accurately I believe they do not exist.

Matt3: It is my contention that "lacking belief" is more consistent with the lack of awareness of a concept. Once you are aware of the concept, you invariably categorize it in your mind: true (accept), false (reject), or undecided (not accepted or rejected). 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. 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).

Chad3: 1. The vast majority of people believe that Martians exist. 2. Some of them want to impose laws on you based on a moral code they think was handed down by the Martians. 3. Your children will be told to pledge allegiance to, "one nation, under Martians" when they are old enough to go to school. 4. You're going to a wedding today that most Martian believers want to make illegal, based on beliefs deriving from the supposed existence of Martians. 5. Martian organizations get favorable tax status. 6. Martian believers actively try to convert you and tell you you're a bad person because you deny the Martians. 7. Many Martian believers think that you and your wife and many of your close friends have committed crimes for things you do not consider criminal at all. Some even think you should be put to death for these crimes . . . and these people vote. 8. Public schools are under pressure to teach things you (and the vast majority of scientists) consider junk science by people who believe, for example, that planetary orbits are not caused by "macro-gravity" but rather by Martian tractor beams.

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." At this point, neither one of us is going to get through to the other. In my opinion, you cannot and will not grant me the logical conclusion that actions follow beliefs. 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. I have written on carm concerning this and given my analysis of this here in our thread, and I am convinced that atheists behave more consistently with an active denial of God rather than a passive "lack of belief" in God.

Matt3: It is perfectly logical to state that a person's actions are the result of what he believes. Atheist's 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.

Chad3: Even if you thought there was no specific evidence that Martians don't exist--only a lack of evidence that they do--you might be moved to action from the above. Alternately, suppose that the Martian believers had come up with a range of fascinating (but in your opinion logically flawed) arguments "proving" the existence of Martians, and you found that you enjoyed debating these proofs. That might also cause you to spend more effort on the Martian question than you do now.

Matt3: Then you would be supporting your position that you believe that Martians do not exist. As I said before, actions follow beliefs, and you are helping to prove my assertion.

Chad3: This is the fallacy I believe you've committed. By limiting the choice to "belief vs. lack of belief" you're ignoring the many things other than belief that might cause a person to spend energy on the question of God's existence.

Matt3: I do not think your analogy disproves the idea that people's actions are the result of what they believe. You said you "believe" I've committed a logical fallacy, but you have not demonstrated that. Besides, all of your other reasons that might cause a person to spend energy in the question of God's existence ultimately fall into one of two categories: belief in God or disbelief in God.

>Third: The actions of atheists reveal their position. Since
>basically every atheist I've ever encountered expends energy
>trying to refute theistic arguments and defending atheism, I
>would say they are behaving in a manner consistent with their
>position. The stronger the actions, the stronger the
>position. If you have no position concerning God (lack of
>belief), then it seems to me that refuting theistic evidences
>is inconsistent with that position.

Chad3: As noted above, this is not necessarily true. Moreover, as noted above, lack of belief in God does not mean no position regarding the evidence for God. I believe quite strongly, for example, that the various ontological arguments are unsound; thus, I hold a clear position on the ontological arguments. For me to spend energy explaining to someone why a given OA is unsound is reasonable regardless of my beliefs about God. (I even know a few Christians who will spend energy refuting OAs and other arguments they consider unsound.)

Matt3: I did not state that this was an absolute rule. But it is perfectly logical to assume that someone's beliefs lead them to actions, and that we can discern a person's beliefs based upon his actions. There is, after all, a relationship which I hope you do not deny. Your concluding statement in the above paragraph confirms what I'm saying. You deny the sufficiency of ontological arguments (you believe they are insufficient); therefore, you carry out the action of explaining why you believe the ontological arguments are unsound. You made my point that actions follow beliefs--not non-beliefs.

>If, however, your position
>is is more positive that there is no God, then refuting
>theistic evidences is consistent with that position. To be
>fair, an atheist could have the position that he believes
>there may be a God, and he is refuting theistic evidences until
>that time he finds one sufficient to become a theist. But if
>this were the case, then he is really an agnostic.

Chad3: No. A/gnosticism refers to whether knowledge of God is possible. A/theism refers to whether belief in God is held. I am, for example, an agnostic atheist. I do not believe in God (or gods) but consider it impossible for me to know that no God (or gods) exist. One could also be an agnostic theist.

Matt3: I appreciate the clarification. I have heard different definitions of agnosticism, but for the sake of this discussion, I will accept the one you use.

>Fourth: Ridicule, insults, and attacks should not be part of
>attempted theistic refutations by atheists who lack belief in

Chad3: I agree, but I don't think it's because they lack belief but rather because no one should use insults, ridicule and personal attacks . . . as a general rule. (I submit that some posters on both "sides" of the debate bring this on themselves . . . )

Matt3: I certainly hope that you are not saying that a person deserves to be insulted because they "bring it upon themselves." The argument a person presents is what needs to be addressed--not the person. This is a vital error made by the atheists on a very consistent basis here in this discussion board. Of course, I'm not denying that Christians also commit this mistake. But I have noticed that the atheists are quite adept at ridicule. This is important because actions reveal beliefs. To insult regularly without repentance means that one believes it is okay to use insults. The atheists on the board have insulted me in many ways.

>The arguments themselves should be addressed, and
>attacks on the individual should be avoided--unlike many of
>the atheists on this board who attacked me and often
>misrepresented my position.

Chad3: Bear in mind that many atheists (and some Christians) have said that they think you have misrepresented atheist positions and/or made personal attacks on atheists as a group. Sometimes the insult is in the ear of the hearer.

Matt3: People can claim all sorts of offenses simply because they wish to be difficult and divisive. Bear in mind also that there are many Christians who think that the atheists have been exceptionally ill-behaved on this board. I can concur with their observations. What will it gain us in this discussion to banter back and forth with he-said-she-said.

>Their actions reveal their
>position, a very antagonistic one, which is based on, it would
>seem, an active belief that there is no God. I say this
>because many of their actions were quite strong in their
>attempt to refute me.

Chad3: As noted above, given the many reasons atheists have to take the God question seriously, I think it is a mistake to infer an active belief from their strong efforts to refute your arguments.

Matt3: I do not think it is a mistake to infer an active disbelief by looking at their actions. I think it is perfectly fair and perfectly reasonable to draw conclusions about a person's beliefs based upon their actions. I also think we could logically conclude that the stronger the actions, the stronger the belief. If you do not think that this is reasonable, then please tell me why it is not.

>Conclusion: These are some of the thoughts I've been having
>as I think about the atheism represented here on this
>discussion board. As we approach the issue of morality and
>atheism, I think understanding atheist actions will help us
>see atheist "beliefs"--if I might be so bold to say, and
>more accurately see the relationship between atheist behavior,
>atheist beliefs, and atheist morals.

Chad3: I look forward to the discussion of morality and atheism. I hope that if I have not persuaded you that "lack of belief" is both coherent and more accurate than "active belief that there is no God" I have at least explained why I believe it.

Matt3: I mean no disrespect to you, but your argumentation has not convinced me that a "lack of belief" is more coherent than an "active belief that there is no God." It is not because I simply choose not to believe it; but because I think my reasoning--that actions follow beliefs and the stronger the actions, the stronger the beliefs--is sound.

Matt3: I am ready to move closer to the issue of atheism and morality if you are. However, I think it is only fair that you ask questions of me, if you so desire. You have been very polite and patient. So, if you have any questions, please fill free to ask. If not, perhaps we can discuss the issue of the atheists and morality.


"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Rom. 1:16).


About The Author

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