The Turek Test

Christian apologetics is a branch of theology in which the existence of God is defended through philosophy, history, and science. Requiring an abundant amount of mental gymnastics, the defense of the faith jeopardizes the intellectual sincerity that has undergirded mankind’s pursuit of truth. One particularly avid apologist is Frank Turek, a popular Christian author and speaker.   When engaging with a non-believer, Turek asks one question of the skeptic: if Christianity were true, would you become a Christian? He says that if an individual is truly in pursuit of knowledge, they will have no issue responding “yes.” However, the question is a bit too black and white.

Rather than opening a dialogue, the question is a poor attempt at spoiling the attribute of rationality most skeptics hold. Turek’s question turns a blind eye to the legitimate objections of the moral argument. The issue is even if Christianity were proven to be the one, true faith, God isn’t worthy of worship. While Christianity sees him as the origin of goodness, I see a flawed, jealousy-ridden toddler who tries to bully his way into the consciousness of man. Turek often points to Romans 2:12-14 to show that morality is written on our hearts. And yet, we’ve surpassed God’s ethical laws on every front: unlike God, we know that the wrongdoings of our relatives should bear no reflection on us as a person; unlike God, we know that rape is never justified; unlike God, we (well, most of us) know that love—no matter the gender or sex—is not wrong.

One of the major flaws with the idea of a prescribed and internal ethical code is deviation in morality. Not only do we find differing moral customs in each culture, we also find differing values between individual Christians. If we truly have a divine, moral compass as part of our hardware, how is it that I can sit down two Christians of the same denomination and receive conflicting perspectives on issues such as homosexuality? Regardless of personal opinion, each Christian should be able to reach a firm consensus and feel guilt for any deviation from God’s will.

As a debate junkie, I can hear Turek’s counterpoint loud and clear. If morality is a social construct, then reason is impossible because our mental processes are nothing more than chemical reactions. Chemicals don’t reason; they react. As Turek points out, if our decisions are reactionary at best, how can we trust them? Through the years of social evolution, we’ve decided as a species that survival is “good.” This is based on the internal drive to live. Frank Zindler, former president of American Atheists, points to two ways an individual can attempt survival, unenlightened self-interest and enlightened self-interest. The first is a great illustration of Turek’s idea of chemical reactions: seeing something that would help our individual probability of survival and seizing it without considering the consequences it may have on the group.   We have labeled this “bad” because living an egocentric life and indulging every self-gratifying whim wouldn’t be beneficial. We are, by nature, social creatures. Thinking of only myself would make me a cultural pariah.

Enlightened self-interest, on the other hand, is a beneficial compromise. This is a strategy where one maximizes the pleasure of personal gratification while simultaneously cooperating with others to achieve a greater good. Zindler demonstrates this by looking at our ancestors. In the past, one individual could not kill a buffalo for dinner. However, as a group, they could take down the creature, divide up the meat, and flourish as a civilization.

As empathetic beings, we’re also able to place ourselves in the shoes of others with ease. One of the best examples of this is John Rawls’ thought experiment the Veil of Ignorance. Imagine yourself positioned behind a veil that erases any privileges or circumstances that currently shape your life. You know nothing of your gender, your race, or your class status. Before passing through the veil, you’re confronted with a moral dilemma—slavery. If slavery becomes a societal convention, there is a 50% chance you will be one of the captives. What would you choose? Most of us grew up with the Golden Rule and can hear the maxim clearly: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. The law of reciprocity is likely the closest to objective morality as we can get.

In the end, Christians will state that something is good because God wills it. If this were true, God’s mood—which we know is fickle at best—would dictate what the moral flavor of the week is. If morality exists simply because God’s will supersedes all others, Christianity boils down to little more than the clichéd parental comeback of “because I said so.” Instead of expecting a confession of faith, the more appropriate question would be this: faced with undeniable evidence of a creator, would you believe in a god?” A fair, logical answer would be “yes.”

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