The God Who Wasn't There
We see this flip-flopping from the very beginning. Flemming launches his video with the statement that it was once believed that the sun revolved around the earth. “Christianity was wrong about the solar system. What if it’s wrong about something else, too?” In his interview with Earl Doherty, it becomes apparent that he is referring to the beliefs of the Catholic Church during the time of Galileo in the sixteenth century. From there, he proceeds to show a number of Christians who say they are happy because they know Jesus. He then says that Christianity also has a different face, and shows Charles Manson, Pat Robertson, Dena Schlosser who cut her baby’s arm off for God, and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the authors of the extremely successful Left Behind series. For LaHaye and Jenkins, he lifts what must be a citation from one of their books that says that Christians “look forward to the day when all non-Christians are thrown into a lake of fire, ‘howling and screeching.’” (This statement is not found in the Bible. Indeed, with the exception of a few Calvinists, one would be hard-pressed to find Christians who would make such a statement.) He then mentions the 86 Branch Davidians who died in the Waco, Texas fire and comments, “So, I guess it’s kind of a mixed bag.”
Of course, none of this adds anything to the question of Jesus’ existence. And one may answer Flemming by noting that a philosophy should not be judged by its abuse. One could make a similar apologetic against atheism by naming atheists like Stalin, Mao, and the Khmer Rouge who were responsible for the killing fields of Cambodia. Every one of these despots and brutal governments embraced atheism and oppressed people. One could easily produce a “documentary” showing Flemming and his guests smiling and happy with their atheism, then turn to photographs of Stalin who killed 7 million, Pol Pot who killed 1.2 million, and of course Mao who killed more than 70 million. This is certainly a mixed bag. However, this would do nothing to prove atheism wrong.
It is worth noting, however, that there is a major difference between showcasing Stalin as an example of an atheist and Manson as an example of a Christian. Manson acted contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Thus, one cannot fault Jesus or Christianity for the misdeeds of charlatans and lunatics who misrepresent him. On the other hand, one cannot say that Stalin acted contrary to the teachings of atheism, since atheism has no moral teachings intrinsic to its worldview. But neither can one claim that Stalin acted in a manner inconsistent with atheism. Atheists and theists alike usually agree that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Those atheists who still claim to believe in objective morality simply fail to grasp the meaning of the word “objective.” By “objective”, I mean that something is morally right or wrong irrespective of the opinion of a person or society. This is not an argument for the objectivity of morals. Rather it is to say that if atheism is true, morals are not objective. The only standards are those set by individuals or societies. People can choose to abide by those standards or endure the consequences imposed by the society in which they live if they are caught breaking those standards. Individuals can vary significantly in their moral standards. But in a godless reality, no one is obligated to abide by the moral values of another individual. Given this, we may think that Stalin’s brutal communist regime was morally deficient. However, in a godless reality, to say so is merely to state our opinion and nothing more. This is because we are using our moral values to judge his. In other words, his moral values are deficient when judged according to our moral values. But they are fine when judged according to Stalin’s. We can provide reasons why we believe that our ethics are superior to Stalin’s. However, while this may gain support from others in our global community, it can never establish that our ethics are intrinsically superior to Stalin’s. We may defeat him in battle and force our moral standards upon him, but that only means we are stronger or more clever. It would not mean that we are right.
I want to be crystal clear at this point, since atheists are notorious for misunderstanding this argument, as Flemming certainly does in his video. I am not saying that atheists are evil due to the nature of their worldview. Since atheism has no moral code that is intrinsic to its worldview, if an atheist is kind, it is because he or she chooses to act in that manner, not because atheism possesses a moral code that requires or encourages it. In a similar manner, if an atheist chooses to act brutally, that person is every bit as consistent with the atheistic worldview as an atheist who chooses to act kindly.
To illustrate, let us suppose that Flemming feels morally justified in presenting false information in his video in order to promote his agenda of discrediting Christianity, whereas one of his guests, Sam Harris, does not think this would be a good thing to do, even if it serves to accomplish an end they both share. If atheism is true, one cannot judge between the ethics of Flemming and Harris. Harris may argue that his ethics serve to promote the greater good of both the individual and society. Flemming may reply that the achievement of his goal of discrediting Christianity is his chief goal, to which all other objectives he may have must submit to. If this were Flemming’s ethical system, one could not say he is objectively wrong, given atheism. Most of us may agree with Harris’ ethics. But, in a godless reality, one could only state that more people side with Harris than Flemming. That is different than stating that Harris is right. Thus, there are two major points to make here in reply to Flemming. First, despots like Stalin did not act in a manner inconsistent with atheistic beliefs, whereas Manson acted contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Second, ethics for atheists are subjective and, thus, there is no vantage point for people to adjudicate between ethics. When they attempt to do so, they are merely judging by their own ethics. But that is different from having an objective reference point to which one can appeal.
 That Hitler was an atheist is debatable. For an interesting article that can be viewed online that has a number of interesting quotes from Hitler, see http://homepages.paradise.net.nz/mischedj/ca_hitler.html.
© 2005 Mike Licona
Used on bethinking.org by the kind permission of Mike Licona.
Other resources by Mike Licona are available from his website risenjesus.com.