My Debate on the Grounding of Morality

Was I nervous? Yes, absolutely. Of course, this wasn't my ordinary speaking event. On April 5, about 170 people packed a room at Weber State University, to watch my formal debate with professor of philosophy Dr. Richard Greene. The question: Can there be objective moral values and obligations without God? Each debater had 20 minutes for opening arguments, a 10-minute rebuttal, about 40 minutes of joint Q & A from the audience, and a 5-minute conclusion.

Dr. Greene had home field advantage. He has been teaching classes at Weber State for about eight years and a number of his students came out for the debate. About 65% of the attendees indicated on a pre-debate survey that they held Dr. Greene’s view, that morality is best explained without God.

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The Spiritualist

Groups of People: non-followers of Jesus

·         A non-follower is by definition someone who has not given his/her life to follow Jesus.

Group 2: The Spiritualist: believes in every kind of supernatural possibility – ghosts, energy, reincarnation, etc.


When I first met my wife, Melissa, she was a spiritualist. It wasn’t that she didn’t believe in a god (little “g”), but more that she thought he or she was one part of a whole host of spiritual or supernatural experiences. Ask some people if they believe in God and they will say “no”, but ask them if they believe in ghosts they will say “yes”. In fact, there’s a whole Discovery channel show dedicated to celebrities who believe in ghosts. Melissa had cobbled together a form of believe from a variety of vague thoughts…careful not to think to thoroughly about any one of them. She had a crystal not because she thought rocks were inherently powerful, but because maybe there was something to some forms of rocks having more energy than others. She believed in reincarnation not because she was a Hindu, but because she wasn’t sure if she was herself or herself come back into time again and again.

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Much Ado About Nothing

It seems to me that atheists are becoming exceedingly shrill. Perhaps the swing towards a materialistic, deity-free culture has empowered them to come out of the shadows and boldly proclaim their belief in nothing and no one besides their own wisdom.

To be honest, atheists have never bothered me too much. I reserve my ammo for the “functional atheists”, those who give lip service to God but act in their everyday lives as if He is not the prime factor.

But apparently I, and those of my ilk, really bother them. We constantly annoy them by bringing up the “G” word and they fire back with odd fervor for a group who are so insistent on this entity being imaginary. They seem to lurk in the comment section of the Internet, mocking, insulting and foisting their half-baked intellectualism and Darwinian intellectual superiority upon those of us hayseeds who are so naïve as to even contemplate a Creator. They cause a ruckus in their attempt to sanitize any cultural, social, educational or political realm of the hint of this deity.

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The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil.  But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil.  Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow.  Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?

Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child."  Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner.  Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice.  But what of Russell'sresponse?  What can the atheist say to the dying child?  Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  •  "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."
  •  "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."
  •  "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."
  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."
  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."
  • "Bummer."
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Advice for Christians, a Challenge for Skeptics

This is the final segment of a four-part conversation with a former Christian, William Lobdell and a former atheist, John Ball. William offers some direct advice for Christians: Get some humility, and don't be afraid to explore different things. And Joan has some words for skeptics: Know the real substance of what you're pushing against, and don't confuse that with what people may say or do.

This is the final segment of a four-part conversation with a former Christian, William Lobdell and a former atheist, John Ball. William offers some direct advice for Christians: Get some humility, and don't be afraid to explore different things. And Joan has some words for skeptics: Know the real substance of what you're pushing against, and don't confuse that with what people may say or do.

Joan Ball and William Lobdell Part 4: For Christians and Skeptics from ConversantLife on Vimeo.

An Evening with Atheists

Christians love talking about atheists. Generally, however, we’re less excited about talking to them. 

Well, one night last winter I set out to change that, at least in my own life. I attended an atheist gathering in my neighborhood.

But first I had to go online and join their “meet-up” group.

I remember my hand freezing on my computer mouse, unable to click the “join us” invitation. For a moment the cursor hovered over the button. Did I really want to do this?

I had already interviewed dozens of atheists for the book project I was working on, but most of my interviews had been conducted over the phone or via email. Somehow the prospect of sitting face to face with them was more intimidating. I wasn’t afraid of an intellectual assault. Yes, there would be plenty of God-bashing in these meetings, but I wasn’t likely to hear anything new. Thanks to my peculiar habit of reading reams of atheist literature, I’d heard most of the arguments against Christianity before, and all from the movement’s most eloquent spokespeople.  
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Hitchens' Presumption of Meaning

Even though I don't agree with his ideas, I must admit Christopher Hitchens is a talented writer.  Here he writes an interesting account of his battle with cancer

What I find highly interesting, and inconsistent, is Hitchens' presumption of meaning.  Hitchens is an atheist.  In his worldview, any objective transcendent meaning to life or its events is utterly illusory.  No purpose here.  Just a random collision of atoms in this cold dark universe we call home.  Hitchens implies as much:  "To the dumb question 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply:  Why not?"  "Why me?' is indeed a dumb question when there's nothing or no one to answer.

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Interview With Rachel Held Evans

Evolving in Monkey Town is a great new book by a young evangelical author recounting her spiritual journey as she’s moved from the “all questions are answered” certainty of her evangelical youth to the somewhat more complicated, “questions are ok” place she now finds herself. It’s a great read, full of provocative insights and disturbing questions about Christianity–the sorts of things that lead many Christians of a certain age to abandon their faith. In spite of the spiritual crisis she recounts in the book, author Rachel Held Evans hasn’t abandoned her faith, just allowed it to evolve a little bit (hence the title). In this interview, she discusses some of the problems that led her to question her faith (hell, “the cosmic lottery,” etc), the damage done by “false fundamentals,” and what parts of Christianity she’d like to see evolve.

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The Attraction of Atheism

If atheism is true, and there is no God, then everything really is all about me, and what I want, and what I can get. “My will be done, not Yours.”

Put your finger on the pulse of modern culture: it throbs with “me, me, me.” Advertisements tell me: “Indulge yourself! You deserve it!” I can buy my lunch and my coffee made “my way.” I flip open a magazine, or browse the best-sellers, to find ten easy tips on how I can have what I want, right here, right now.  

Put one way, this is selfishness. But it’s spun as empowerment, self-actualization. We are told to follow our hearts, seek our deepest desires, do what feels good. Indeed, if atheism is true, there is no ultimate purpose to life, so we might as well go for self-indulgence, whether through hedonism or through constructing one’s own “meaning” in life.

The Parable of the Sweater: or, Why Evangelism Can Drive People Crazy

How do you evangelize when people aren’t interested in the Gospel? They don’t feel a need for it, they think it’s silly and embarrassing, it interferes with their daily lives, and they just don’t want to hear about it. One approach is to try to work in appeals to the Gospel in conversation – to look for an opening and point out that Jesus really is the answer.

Many Christians don’t understand why this approach often backfires – sometimes spectacularly, as if the evangelist had just stepped on a verbal landmine, sometimes quietly, as if a glacial chill had settled on the room. Why doesn’t this approach work better? Why don’t people open up and take the opportunity to talk about the Gospel?

I’ve been there, on that side of the conversation. It’s hard to explain straight-up, so let me tell you a story.

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