Ultimate justice—Christians have it and atheists don’t. That’s the argument from Christian apologist Greg Koukl (podcast). With this topic, he thinks he’s found a winner.
I think the problem of justice is a double down for us because not only is there no justice executed in an atheistic worldview, which is trouble, but there is no justice in an atheist worldview in the sense that the word can’t get any traction. The word justice itself, which requires that there is a right and proper end for those who do what is wrong, entails objective right (justice) and objective wrong, which are categories which don’t even exist in a naturalistic worldview, so in a certain sense they have a double problem with the issue of justice. (@11:05)
Koukl identifies atheists’ “double problem” with justice as (1) there is no ultimate justice within an atheist worldview and (2) the word justice itself makes no sense without objective morality to ground it.
I wonder how many things are wrong in this one brief paragraph. Let’s count them.
Note that this isn’t the introduction to a longer discussion. I’m not strawmanning his position by responding to just this paragraph—this is Koukl’s entire argument.
1. We can’t let Hitler get away with it . . . but is the Christian view any better?
The idea of Hitler starting World War II and encouraging the Final Solution and then using suicide as an escape with no further consequences frustrates Koukl. If you do the crime, you should do the time. But Christians themselves don’t do the time. They claim that accepting the sacrifice of Jesus gets them a suspended sentence and a ticket into heaven. So what happened to justice?
Maybe that’s how it worked with Hitler. Hitler was raised Catholic. Suppose in his final hours in the bunker, he returned to his roots, accepted Jesus into his life, asked for forgiveness, and then pulled the trigger. He might be in heaven right now playing shuffleboard with Jesus, and to hell with justice.
2. God’s mercy conflicts with his justice.
Koukl likes to imagine everyone getting what’s coming to them. But God doesn’t do it that way. When God gives justice, we get what we deserve, but sometimes he gives mercy and we get less than what we deserve. So which is it?
Christians celebrate both mercy and justice, but they can’t apply at the same time.
3. God’s “justice” fails when judged against modern, Western justice.
God’s primitive justice may have made sense in the time of Jesus, but it is ridiculous from a modern standpoint. God, the perfect judge, apparently is too dull-witted to conceive of anything but two options: perfect bliss in heaven and perfect torment in hell. That’s it.
That’s not “justice” by any definition used by people here on earth. “The punishment must fit the crime” is a maxim that we imperfectly strive for here on earth, but God doesn’t even bother trying.
4. There’s no evidence for objective morality or ultimate justice.
Koukl said, “The word ‘justice’ itself . . . entails objective right and objective wrong, which are categories which don’t even exist in a naturalistic worldview.” While the Christian worldview imagines objective morality, that’s nothing more than wishful thinking.
5. The claim is that Christianity is useful, but wishing it were true doesn’t make it so.
Koukl doesn’t like the atheistic or naturalistic worldviews, but he makes no argument that Christianity is true or atheism false. Koukl may be implying that Christianity is useful or happy (I think atheism as a worldview is invigorating and empowering and makes much more sense of the facts we see around us), but my only interest is in which worldview is true, not which has the happier story. At the top of my list of 25 Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid, was “The consequences of atheism are depressing.”
Koukl will fume that Christianity has the happier viewpoint, but (1) no, it doesn’t, and (2) who would care about a happy worldview that didn’t have evidence to back it up?
6. What’s the point? The Bible makes clear that we’re all good.
Paul said, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). We’re tarred with Adam’s brush, but we’re made clean by the sacrifice of Jesus.
Paul says the debt has been paid, and we’re all righteous, Hitler included. So much for Koukl’s justice.
for doubting or denying its teachings,
and most of these teachings have been true;
but religion has murdered millions
for doubting or denying her dogmas,
and most of these dogmas have been false.
— George P. Spencer
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/4/15.)
Image from Rae Allen, CC license