Patrick made a good observation about the disparity between some apologists’ stated beliefs and their actual behavior and the problems this hypocrisy creates in debates. He summarized some of William Lane Craig’s more terrifying beliefs (particularly with regard to Old Testament slaughters) and asked
Do you treat Craig (and by extension his faith and his holy text) as monstrous, since that’s what his interpretation makes them? Do you treat him as an idiot, because you know he’s not a monster even though anyone with two brain cells can see that he’s describing a God that’s literally indistinguishable from a Nazi version of Cthulhu (read up on Craig’s conception of “cultural pollution” as a justification for murdering kids)? What do you do?
Its a hard question, particularly for atheists, many of whom became atheists because they weren’t any good at separating professed beliefs from actual, real life belief.
I’ve run into this problem with atheists as well as Christians, and I’m sometimes torn about how to handle it. If the problem comes up in a formal debate or with a public figure/apologist, it makes sense to call them out on the contradiction and point out how the problem is resolved or is prevented from coming up entirely in your metaphysical framework. In that kind of situation, I’m using the absurdity of the contradiction to make a play for the audience and persuade them that my opponent’s position is untenable. It gets a little more complicated in a one-on-one conversation.The hypocrisies I run into most frequently in college are lived by atheists who are professed nihilists or materialists, but act as though their interactions with others are imbued by profound and transcendent meaning. Even though they respond skeptically to the arguments of Christian (or weird little me) if we make claims about human exceptionalism or virtue, they still behave in many of the same ways as their opponents do. I’m torn about calling out my friends on this kind of thing since I’ve seen some people respond by doubling down on their positions and become even more nihilistic.
An insistence on perfect logical consistency among college students pushes people towards uncontradictory but narrow philosophies like nihilism or objectivism. When I care about the person I’m talking to, and I’m not trying to score points off them, sometimes I’d prefer to let the contradiction stand, and trust that further experience and reflection will bring them around. I don’t want to make them pick a side for the sake of appearing strong.
I think some of the nasty ideas that Christians have about atheists are born out of the contradiction between the rhetoric of materialists and nihilists and the way those atheists live their lives. Hearing this subset of atheists go after the idea of virtue, moral fibre, and love frightens Christians and plenty of others. Seeing the way these professed nihilists live their lives might offer comfort.