Atheism and Morality, Matt's Response

First round, my response

My responses are in green.

  1. "The atheistic worldview (there is no God) cannot defend moral absolutes and thus its moral system is inconsistent and self contradictory. The Christian theist worldview can defend moral absolutes and thus it's moral system is consistent and non-self-contradictory."

    Such is the topic of this debate. I will obviously be taking the opposing position, Matt the affirmative. I will focus on the two most serious, and I believe insurmountable, flaws in such a claim.

  2. Since the basis of Matt's claim of the self-contradictory and inconsistent nature of atheist morals is that they cannot defend moral absolutes he is going to need to somehow show that his conclusion follows from his premise. A difficult proposition indeed seeing as "non-absolute" and "inconsistent and self-contradictory" are not synonomous terms by any stretch of the imagination.
    1. Yes, I do assert that atheists cannot logically lay claim to moral absolutes - which I will tackle later. But, my opponent offers an initial comment about how the words/terms "non-absolute, "inconsistent," and "self-contradictory" are not synonymous terms " by any stretch of the imagination."
      1. First of all, "any stretch of the imagination" is a pitfall for him since I, for one, can "stretch" my imagination to make the terms synonymous. So, his statement is vulnerable to easy attack.
      2. Second, "non-absolute" isn't really synonymous with inconsistent, but inconsistent certainly shares meaning with "self-contradictory" since something that is "self-contradictory" is also inconsistent.
      3. Therefore, my opponent is inaccurate from the beginning. If he desires to build his case upon an inaccuracy, then it is most likely that his conclusions will also be inaccurate.
  3. Even if he does somehow manage to overcome this first problem he must then show that the Christian worldview can defend moral absolutes . . . otherwise he has simply argued that all moral systems are inconsistent and self-contradictory.
    1. I'm not exactly sure what my "first problem" really is since it my opponent has not laid it our that clearly. But, I suspect that he is referring to my conclusion following my premise. If that is it, then reading on should help answer that objection.
    2. The Christian world view can easily defend moral absolutes. Here's how.
      1. The Christian world view is that there is an absolute and unchanging God who has existed as such from all eternity (Psalm 90:2) and who has also revealed Himself to us (John 1:1, 14; 14:6; Heb. 1:1-3). This same God has also revealed to us moral truths (Exo. 20 - the Ten Commandments). "Do not lie," for example, is a moral absolute because it is a reflection of God's moral character which is, by default, absolute and unchanging. Therefore, we can easily lay claim to moral absolutes within our world view because we state that they are based upon a morally absolute God.

        Now, this does not mean that we Christians will apply these moral absolutes in an absolutely consistent manner. A critic of the Christian Worldview regarding moral absolutes cannot say they do not exist because Christians don't exhibit them properly. This would be like saying that the absolute truth of 2 + 2 = 4 is not true because Johnny the second grader said it equals 5. In other words, a person's failure to live or apply the absolutes does not mean they do not exist.
  4. A third requirement would obviously be demonstrating that atheism cannot defend moral absolutes . . . but I'm not going to concern myself with it overly much as I happen to agree on that point.
    1. It seems then, that my opponent has conceded the first part of the first point of the debate; namely, that atheism cannot defend moral absolutes. I will attempt to demonstrate later in this response, that the atheist world view leads to inconsistent morals.
  5. Absolute -> Consistent -> Absolute? Let's just start at the beginning of that sequence and work our way to the end. If something is absolute does it follow that that something is consistent? Well yes actually, it does. By definition really. Something which is absolute always applies, thus it is consistent in it's application. If something is consistent, does it follow that that something is absolute? No. I can paint a wall in a consistent manner by applying an evenly distributed coat of paint. Does this mean I have painted "absolutely"? Hardly . . . I doubt you could even justify naming a process "absolute painting".

    -To give a more relevant example . . . I declare that I will consistently act according to the dictates of my own relative, non-absolute moral judgement f. Have I contradicted myself? Have I expressed some kind of logical impossibility? Of course not, all I must do is act acccordingly in all situations and I am behaving in a morally consistent manner.

    1. Perhaps I have missed his point, but it seems that my opponent is seeking to claim consistency by practicing inconsistency. In other words, he appears to be saying that because he has no morally absolute base (which means that his morals can change) and that if he acts consistently with his lack of absoluteness (by being able to alter his moral codes), then he is being consistent with his world view that allows him to have no moral absolutes. In so doing, he is, therefore, being consistent.

      If this is the case, then the position is utterly illogical because it would mean that if he is being consistent in his inconsistency, then he is being the thing he cannot be which is a logical contradiction. How do you be that which you are not? You see, being consistent and inconsistent are opposites, they are mutually exclusive. If he is consistently inconsistent, then he is being consistent. It is a morass of illogic.

      If he is stating that his moral base is relative (without absolutes) and that he can then act in a manner consistent with that relativity, then he has established nothing at all except that his inconsistency is proof that his position is consistent within itself. First, I hope that he would not hide behind such a logically dangerous position. Second, I hope that I am simply misunderstanding his position.

  6. This is one of those classic cases where we must keep in mind that just because all 'A' are 'B', doesn't mean all 'B' are 'A'. So, simply showing that atheist morals are not absolute does not establish their inconsistency.
    1. Correct. Making the claim that atheists have no moral absolutes doesn't prove they are inconsistent in and of itself. But, the point is that because the atheist has no moral absolutes, he will, by default participate in a morally self contradictory system.
      How so? The atheist presupposition of no moral absolutes means that one atheist can say it is okay to lie to someone and another atheist say it is not alright to lie to the same person. This is an inconsistency and the excuse that morals are up to the individual is no defense since the atheist non-moral-absolute presupposition shared by both atheists has produced moral decisions in contradiction to each other. This is, therefore, an inconsistency.
    2. Let me work with this further regarding the atheist presupposition that there are no moral absolutes as already conceded by my opponent in paragraph 4 above.

      If there is no God to provide a morally absolute system, then from where does the atheist derive his moral base? I have consistently heard atheists state that they derive their morals either from society (macro and micro) and/or themselves. I will assume for now that my opponent derives his morals from one and/or the other. But, before I tackle that, I want to lay out a premise: Truth is not self-contradictory.

      I can develop this premise extensively, but for now, if something is self-contradictory, it isn't true. If I say that I have a quarter in my pocket and I also do not have a quarter in the same pocket, both statements cannot be true at the same time because it violates the law of non-contradiction. Therefore, truth exists and it is consistent with itself--as well as with the facts. If it were not, then we could have no discussions about what is and what is not true, logical, right, etc. Likewise, if something is self-contradictory, then it is not demonstrating internal consistency and is not to be trusted.

      Let's work with the social-moral-base system. What if society then determines that killing atheists is morally permissible? Who then is to say what is right and wrong, the atheist? In an atheist world view, if society said that killing atheists was good, then the atheist doesn't have a leg to stand on when complaining and killing atheists is good. If the atheist doesn't like it, who cares? After all, there are no moral absolutes since atheistic morality is a fluid, non-absolute quagmire that can provide him no rational reason for stating that society is morally wrong for "taking him out."

      If, on the other hand, we assume the individual-atheist-moral system, then he is still stuck since his moral system is valid only for him. On what basis would he then impose his moral system upon other individuals in society who think it best to remove him from the face of the planet? Without an absolute system to appeal to there is an "anything goes" type of morality which, in this case, would be imposed upon him by the moral majority of society. In other words, he won't be around very long to argue the point, will he?

  7. Non- Absolute -> Contradictory -> Non-Absolute? As above, we'll just work through from beginning to end. If a thing is non-absolute does it follow that it is contradictory? No. For example, all of science deals in non-absolute findings . . . but one could hardly say that science is necessarily contradictory because of this!
    1. My opponent is missing the point. I am not arguing that if something is not absolute that it must be contradictory. What I am arguing is that the atheist world view has a moral system based upon people (either in society or as an individual) and since societies and individuals change, so do the morals. These morals can then become self-contradictory, i.e., abortion was illegal (immoral) 100 years ago, but now it is legal (moral). In other words, self contradictory positions have been held on the same subject.
    2. By comparison, if we were to look at the Christian world view, killing unborn babies violates the God ordained command of "Thou shalt not murder," (Ex. 20:13). Therefore, killing unborn babies is still wrong, whether or not society has changed.
  8. If a thing is contradictory does it follow that it is non-absolute? Clearly not! We can demonstrate this with another moral example:
    1. Again, my opponent is not dealing with the issue at hand.
  9. Since any system of morals is made up of a set of moral principles let us take two such absolute principles:
  10. A1. It is absolutely wrong to kill. Always. No matter what.
    1. I don't know what absolute principle my opponent is using, but it isn't a Christian one. Biblically, it is permissible to kill either in war, in self defense, in the defense of another, and/or via the government sanctioned death penalty. So, the "absolute" principle that he is working with isn't Christian. Also, since he has admitted there are no atheist moral absolutes, he cannot be arguing from an atheistic presupposition.
    2. The debate topic is as quoted above, "The atheistic worldview (there is no God) cannot defend moral absolutes and thus its moral system is inconsistent and self contradictory. The Christian theist worldview can defend moral absolutes and thus it's moral system is consistent and non-self-contradictory."

      Notice that the subject is dealing with the CHRISTIAN worldview. Since my opponent has established a principle to work with that is neither Christian nor atheistic, it has no relevance to this discussion, his points thus made are useless, and he has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the issue at hand.

  11. B. It is absolutely wrong to stand aside and allow a child to be harmed. Always. No matter what.
    1. This is a nebulous and inaccurate statement. It harms a child to take a sharp instrument and puncture the child's skin. But is not morally wrong to do so when it means saving the child's life by administering antibiotics with a hypodermic needle. So, his premise is incorrect.
    2. We have seen that my opponents first premise doesn't fit the debate topic and his second one is inaccurate. Therefore, there really isn't anymore to say about this and responding to further illustrations and conclusions based on this will be useless.
  12. Problem? We encounter a situation where the only way to intercede and keep a child from harm requires the death of the one about to inflict that harm. There is no way to prevent that harm which does not involve the death of the person about to inflict it. According to absolute principle A it is wrong to intercede since this would involve killing. According to principle B it is wrong not to intercede, as this would involve allowing an innocent to be harmed.
    1. My opponent has constructed a false syllogism (a logical conclusion based upon a major and minor premise) based upon his previous two "absolutes" which, I have shown, are inaccurate and illogical. Therefore, his conclusions is unfounded and not applicable to the topic at hand.
  13. And there you have it, absolute moral principles which are contradictory.
    1. If my opponent wishes to establish that absolute moral principles are self contradictory, then he must first accurately establish a moral absolute and understand what it is before he attempts to compare it to another "proclaimed" moral absolute. He has failed to do this. His point is not made.
  14. And so we see both that demonstrating that atheist morals cannot defend moral absolutes does nothing to establish that those morals are contradictory . . . and that demonstrating theist principles are capable of defending moral absolutes (if such a thing is possible) does nothing to demonstrate that such morals are non-contradictory.
    1. My opponent has not established that his moral system of moral relativity (since it is not absolute) is not self contradictory. It takes little logic to demonstrate that moral relativity leads to self-contradiction. For example . . .
      1. Atheist number one says that it is wrong to lie to a little old lady in pink about a specific issue. Atheist number two says that it is right to lie to that same little old lady in pink on the same issue at the same time. Since both have a "godless" presupposition that has no moral absolutes, then the atheistic worldview has produced a mutually contradictory moral set because it is relative to the individual atheist's choices.
      2. If the atheist responds that atheism has no moral code and has produced nothing, then let him explain how an atheistic presuppositional moral base can avoid moral contradictions among atheists or even among themselves. First of all, there is no logic that prevents moral contradiction in an atheistic worldview dealing either with society as a whole or individuals. Second, it is logically possible that atheist number two above can then change his position and say it is wrong to lie to that little old lady in pink. The question then arises, is it wrong or not to lie to her? Answer? There is no right and wrong in an theistic worldview, only positions that are assigned moral value--and that moral value, since it is not based in anything absolute, can change.

        Remember the little old lady above? Atheist morality is relative to what the atheist perceives as right and wrong in relation to himself and to society. In other words, whatever the atheist feels is right, becomes right. Notice that I used the word "becomes." Why? Because on one day it is right to lie to that little old lady and another day it is wrong. The situation, or the motive, or the whim of the atheist lead to an altering of his moral "need" for the moment and he can thus change his position--thereby demonstrating an internal inconsistency. If it is inconsistent, then is it right?

        Would anyone want to actually base a lifestyle on a worldview that is naturally predisposed to internal contradictions? I wouldn't.

        But, again, the atheist might state that atheists assert that they are moral and that they adopt certain morals in society and behave well and properly. That is fine. But they do so not based upon the atheistic worldview, but in spite of it since there is nothing in the atheistic moral worldview that lends itself to absolutes.

    2. The Christian's moral set is derived, in principle, from an absolute God. By definition then, the moral set is absolute as well. Since God is not self contradictory, His morals are not self-contradictory. This does not mean that we cannot misapply or misunderstand His moral absolutes. But it does mean that we have an absolute moral set from which we derive right and wrong.

      Logically, those holding the Christian world view can lay claim to moral absolutes since they are based on a non-contradictory God.

  15. That in essence is problem number 1 for Matt. I do not see how this can be denied . . . and if this problem cannot be overcome problem 2 is irrelevent . . . but allowing for the possibility that problem 1 can be dealt with I'll outline the second problem.
    1. Perhaps after my opponent reads this post, he will see how it can be denied and how his logic is faulty.
  16. The very nature of morality makes declaring morals absolute a tricky proposition. Moral judgements are value judgements, and the value being judged is not some objective property like mass or electrical charge. No, it is the "goodness" or "evilness" of an act. Inherent in such concepts is the question of intent. For instance . . . you may say that a person who drops a big heavy rock on someone's head is evil . . . but if an earthquake did the same thing you can hardly call the giant plate of rock you are standing on that happened to shift when it did "evil" as well, because no intent was involved.
    1. It is not a tricky proposition when God declares the absolutes.
    2. Does morality have a "nature" unto itself? Morality is a concept and naturally deals with and relies upon cognitive beings for its development, existence, understanding, application, etc. It seems to me that if anyone were to claim moral absolutes, He could do so only by declaring an absolute source of morality. Since morals are conceptual by nature, they are products of a mind. If morals were absolute, they would be so because there is an absolute mind. But, if there is no absolute mind, there can be no absolute morals.

      This then brings us back to the issue at hand. The atheistic worldview has no absolute God, therefore it cannot have absolute morals. Whereas the Christian worldview does have an absolute God and therefore, does have absolute morals.

      Furthermore, only the Christian worldview is logically consistent with itself since it precludes self contradiction. But, the atheistic worldview, as I have demonstrated above, can be inconsistent with itself.

  17. So, one huge problem for absolute morals is . . . how do you absolutely judge intent? Moral judgements are meaningless without an evaluation of intent, and absolute morals are unworkable without an absolute means of performing such an evaluation. One person seeing a person belting a child will immediately conclude "child abuse!" and another will conclude "ahhh, discipline" and what is responsible for the distinction? Among other things, perception of intent. They both witnessed the exact same event but the former assumed sinister motives, the latter assumed righteous ones. Lacking mind-reading capabilities the only way to choose between the two is to make your own judgement as to which you think is correct.
    1. My opponent is not working very well with the Christian premise that God knows the intent of the heart. If anything, he is simply telling us that the moral dilemma of the atheist in his atheistic system is further weakened by the "intent" issue. My opponent fails in properly understanding the Christian presupposition and thereby forfeits his logical conclusion by making irrelevant inferences.
  18. And that is hardly where the problem ends. Let's say tomorrow we DID invent a mind-reading machine and it was 100% accurate! We read the mind of the person above and yep, they were disciplining the kid for some infraction or another . . . and the first person in our example still declares "child abuse" because her morals dictate that "it is absolutely wrong to strike a child, no matter what". So, to her the intent which makes this evil was simply the intent to strike the child regardless of the reason for it.
    1. My opponent now continues to draw errant ideas from a faulty presupposition which I showed was faulty beginning in paragraph 10 above. Therefore, I will forgo comment.
  19. Is she right? Can you say absolutely? How? I certainly don't know, but I would hope someone who proposes moral absolutes does. It's rather important. Lacking the ability to do this all you have done is declare without support that your own relative judgement is always absolutely right and any who disagree are absolutely wrong.
  20. That is one immense problem for absolute morals. They're easy to declare (I did it twice myself in this post), but hard to justify. I'd say impossible.
    1. I would like to reiterate that my opponent has apparently failed to properly understand the nature of Christian moral absolutes. They are based upon and declared by an absolute God. Again, by definition, when you have an absolute God who is unchanging, His moral system will likewise reflect His unchanging character. Therefore, His moral base is non self-contradictory and absolute. It is this issue that is the issue at hand, and my opponent is failing to recognize this.
  21. One might try to skirt around this entire problem by arguing that regardless of whether or not they can be practically applied given certain conditions we could still conclude that they must exist . . . even if we can't say what they are. I am of course referring to the argument that "if God exists, morals must be absolute" . . . but why is this? What property of God makes his mere existence require morals to be absolute? I have yet to see this rationally explained. Most attempts seem to boil down to "who are you to say he's wrong?"
    1. The answer, yet again is simple: By definition the Christian God is absolute and unchangeable. This means His character is absolute and unchangeable. Logically, we can conclude that His moral system, which reflects His character, is also absolute and unchangeable. My opponent, who is an atheist, does not have to believe in the Christian God, but at least he should understand on what basis we Christians claim to have moral absolutes and deal with that instead of producing straw-man absolutes which are irrelevant and inaccurate and try and attack them. So far, my opponent has not dealt with the Christian aspect of moral absolutes and has yet to enter this aspect of the debate with relevance.
  22. Well.. I'm me obviously. A thinking, reasoning human being who is capable of drawing his own conclusions and forming his own opinions. Reasoning presented for the "who do you think you are . . . " argument generally is along the lines of . . . " so you think you're smarter than God? You know better than God?"
    1. I fail to understand the relevance of this comment regarding the topic at hand.
  23. No, what does that have to do with anything? Since when did IQ corellate with the validity of one's morals? If this were true we'd all have to find the person with the highest IQ score, tell them to interpret the moral message of the bible (assuming for the purposes of this example that it is the Christian God who really does exist), and then everyone accept that his interpretation is closest to what God really meant because his IQ (however far removed from God's it may be) is still closer to that level than anyone else's. Some people might try to say we don't need to interpret it, God already did and he wrote what he meant . . . but if the person with the highest IQ on the planet says that what God meant isn't what YOU interpreted it to mean and you disagree with him . . . who do you think you are? You think you're smarter than the smartest person on the planet? He obviously knows what God meant better than you do . . .
    1. Does my opponent think that I would be defending the existence of a non-Christian God? Was it not stipulated in the debate topic that we were dealing with the Christian theistic worldview? It should go without saying that I would be defending the Christian God since that is the agreed upon topic. In fact, I would join with him in refuting the existence of all other supposed "gods" offered by humanity.
    2. A person's IQ has no bearing on the existence of moral absolutes. Similarly, a person's IQ has no bearing on the existence of logical absolutes. In other words, it is logically true that something cannot bring itself into existence whether or not a person has or does not have a high IQ. Likewise, the existence of moral absolutes is not dependent upon a person's IQ.
    3. Furthermore, if IQ were a determining factor of moral absolutes, then there could be no moral absolutes since people are different, have different opinions, and different IQ's. Therefore, moral absolutes could not be contingent upon individuals since individuals contradict each other thereby demonstrating that they could not be the source of moral absolutes.
    4. Finally, the Christian worldview places moral absolutes squarely upon the shoulders of God Himself. Therefore, an IQ issue is irrelevant to the discussion.




I would like to conclude by stating that my opponent has acknowledged that the atheistic worldview has no moral absolute basis. He has conceded the first part of the first section of the debate topic. Also, he has failed to understand the Christian concept of God and His absolute character and nature and how it relates to the absolute nature of morality relating to this debate.


The Christian worldview which states that there is an absolute God can easily explain the existence of moral absolutes by claiming that they reflect the absolute character of God. This is not a logical leap by any means. It is logically consistent based upon the presupposition that the Christian God exists--and this is consistent with the debate topic since it includes a Christian theistic worldview.


Whether or not the Christian God exists, largely, is immaterial to this discussion at hand. The debate topic is dealing with worldviews and not proofs for or against the Christian God's existence. Nevertheless, it is the Christian worldview with its presupposition of an absolute and unchangeable God who has communicated to us and revealed His moral character that is the topic of the debate.


Furthermore, the Christian worldview can logically lay claim to moral absolutes. The atheistic worldview, on the other hand, cannot; and because it cannot, it can only offer us a moral system that is not by nature absolute but is evolving, changing, and relative. Since it is not absolute by nature, it must be variable. Since it is variable, it can become self-contradictory and inconsistent as I have demonstrated above.


Finally, I suggest that my opponent narrow the topic down to something more specific. If he were to respond to each of my responses, then I would be required to respond to each one of his in turn. This debate would quickly become laboriously long. Therefore, I politely request that my opponent pick one or two or three specific points to deal with. Since he has conceded the first premise of the debate, he then, in my opinion, should try and establish how the atheistic worldview, when dealing with morality, is not self-contradictory. Also, he may wish to re-evaluate his concept of absolute morality as it relates to the Christian worldview so as to better address the issue in his next post.





About The Author

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