For the past 8 plus years, I’ve been a men’s lacrosse official. (Sorry ladies, girls/women’s lacrosse is too confusing!) I’ve officiated at the youth, high school, and college level, and I even had the opportunity to officiate two Georgia state lacrosse championship games. As an official, I’m required to be extremely knowledgeable about the rules (we have to take a rules test annually). With lacrosse, there are some rules that are similar to other sports. Penalties such as illegal body checks, cross-checking, and tripping are found in hockey; similarly, illegal screens and “over and back” are penalties also found in basketball. But clearly, despite these similarities, the sport of lacrosse is very different from hockey and basketball and it has different rules.
Imagine if you will, that I am officiating a lacrosse contest between two local high school teams. The score is tied, and we’re under minute of the game. The blue team’s goalie makes an amazing save, and quickly passes the ball to the team’s star midfielder, number 27, who immediately sprints down the field. The clock is under 20 seconds. Blue 27 dodges first one defender, then a second, then does a spectacular spin move and beats the last defender. The clock is down to 10 seconds. He is set up for a game-winning goal just ten feet in front of the opposing goalie. As he winds up for a 90 m.p.h. shot, I blow my whistle and stop the play just as he is about to fire off what is sure to be the winning goal. The crowd goes silent, the players turn toward me, the coaches are staring in anticipation, and all eyes are waiting my penalty call.
“Blue, twenty-seven, double dribble!” I announce confidently.
The crowd erupts in astonishment. The blue team coach throws his clipboard on the ground and starts yelling and cursing. Blue 27 throws off his helmet, and comes charging at me, his stick swinging wildly for my head. His teammates struggle to keep him from assaulting me. The blue team coach yells at me, “What kind of call was that ref?”
Nonplused, I shrug and tell the coach, “Well, that’s how I’d call it in basketball.”
“You idiot,” the coach screams, “this is lacrosse, not basketball!”
Clearly, I cannot apply the rules of basketball to lacrosse. But this is often what an atheist will do when debating against theism and the Christian worldview. He will call a “foul” that doesn’t exist in his own worldview. In other words, the atheist will raise an objection or make a point using an idea or concept that does not follow from his own atheistic worldview. Ironically, atheists will often do this within the context of the same debate, presentation, discussion, or book.
Recently, I came across a YouTube video of a talk that atheist and blogger J.T. Eberhard gave titled “Why the Arguments For God Fail.” During his presentation to a group of atheists and skeptics, Mr. Eberhard was discussing some of the bad arguments for God that Christians often make. While a critique of his entire presentation is beyond the scope of this blog post, I will say that some of what he said is accurate (there really are some bad arguments that Christians make). But that being said, Eberhard himself made a couple of very fundamental mistakes where he called a “foul” for a “rule” that doesn’t exist in his own worldview.
At about two minutes into the video, Eberhard was speaking about a situation where some Christian parents failed to get their child appropriate medical care and opted instead to pray for their daughter. Sadly, the girl ended up dying due to diabetes. Eberhard remarked, “If the word ‘bad’ is to have any meaningful definition, parents who watch while their child dies are ‘bad’. You might even call them monsters.” He went on to assert, “If you have good intentions, it is a moral obligation for you to try and be as reasonable as possible to make sure that your good intentions are born out in the results you see” (emphasis mine).
Later in his talk, at about 25 minutes, he was railing against the (purported) Christian argument that “God makes people better.” He countered, “You’ll hear that with atheism you can’t have absolute morality. And there is no absolute morality.”
So here’s the problem. On the one hand, Eberhard says that parents who let their child die due from a treatable disease are “bad” and that we have “a moral obligation” to be reasonable about our beliefs; yet he later asserts there is no absolute morality.
He’s calling “foul” for “bad” parents who didn’t adhere to a “moral obligation”, yet given atheism there is no absolute morality, which to his (partial) credit later admits. This would be like me calling Blue 27 for double dribble in lacrosse and when the coach protests telling him, “I’ve seen it called in basketball before.”
Around the 3:30 minute mark, Eberhard made the point about beliefs and that sometimes atheist may be frustrated thinking they can’t convince Christians that atheism is true (or at least cast doubt in the Christian’s belief). He asked the audience to raise their hand if they were once religious and then keep their hand in the air if “some argument… helped you to change your mind [about religion].” As to be expected, the majority of the room kept their hand in the air. He then made a most curious assertion. “That’s just the thing, you do not choose your beliefs. This the message of Christianity; you need to choose to believe in Jesus. No one can do that. Your brain is an engine that generates this map of reality based on whatever facts are in your skull, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
The problem with this statement is the sword cuts both ways. If it is true, as Eberhard says, we cannot choose our beliefs, then two important conclusions follow from this. First, the atheist cannot choose to believe in Jesus. Second, the Christian cannot choose to not believe in Jesus. On atheism, our beliefs are simply the product of electrochemical reactions in our brains. One cannot watch a YouTube video, listen to a friend, or read Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and choose to believe anything. On atheism, we are simply “moist robots” with no capacity to make free choices.
What is fascinating is that Eberhard asked his audience the question “was there some argument that convinced you that atheism was true” and then in the very next sentence makes the unbelievable statement “you do not choose your beliefs.” I’m not getting how that even works.
So back to my lacrosse analogy: Atheist will often import the rules of their worldview into the theistic worldview, or conversely import the rules of a theistic worldview into atheism. This is no different than me calling a basketball foul in a lacrosse game. It doesn’t work.
If an atheist tries to make an objection, say about the killing of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, based on moral grounds, ask him, “On your view, why is that objectively immoral and not just your opinion?” Or if he makes the statement “we can’t choose our beliefs” or “there is no free will”, then ask him, “Then why are you trying to convince me that atheism is true, if your beliefs and mine are just based on prior physical causes in our brains over which we have no control?”
In short, don’t let the atheist use our rules in his game, and don’t let him try and smuggle his rules into our game. Make him play by the rules of whichever game he wants to play. There is no double dribble in lacrosse!