Those of us who acknowledge the self-evident existence of transcendent, moral truth claims (i.e. “It’s never OK to torture babies for fun”) need to be prepared for opposition from unbelievers who anticipate and reject the implications. If objective, transcendent moral laws exist, the need for an adequate source (a transcendent Moral Law Giver) becomes apparent (more on that in future posts). In order to avoid the need for a transcendent Moral Law Giver, some will do their best to deny the existence of objective laws in the first place. In doing so, they often employ the same tactics used by defense attorneys in criminal trials; tactics that typically signal smart jurors the prosecution’s case is sound. I’ve written an entire chapter about this in my book, but I recently saw two of these tactics used in response to the “baby torturing” claim.
Distract By Focusing on Minutia
After asking the direct question (“Is it ever OK to torture babies for fun?”) in an effort to provide at least one example of transcendent, objective moral truth, a skeptic responded by arguing I was “equivocating on the word ‘OK’” because “‘OK’ encompasses a dozen denotations that do not include objective morality.” While it’s true I am often philosophically imprecise in an effort to “translate” and communicate complex ideas at a lay-level, I tried to imagine a definition for “OK” that would allow someone to justify torturing babies for fun. Even when I insert a variety of implied definitions for this term, the result seems the same:
“Is it ever morally acceptable to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever legally permissible to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever socially agreeable to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever proper to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever culturally satisfactory to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever emotionally acceptable to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever fair to torture babies for fun?”
“Is it ever just to torture babies for fun?”
See the problem? No matter which definition for “OK” I use, the answer remains the same. To focus on the term “OK” (as if it were some trick I was trying to employ) is merely a tactic offered to distract from the more important over-arching issue raised by the question.
Discredit Your Opponent’s Character
I responded to the skeptic as respectfully as I could: “I’m trying imagine a definition of ‘OK’ that would justify torturing babies for the fun of it. Which definition are you suggesting? Pick any definition you think works, and help me understand. How about this: Is it ever morally acceptable to torture babies for the fun of it?” The skeptic’s response demonstrated an immediate change in character. He became much more accusatory and described my second rendering of the question as a “shameful tactic”. He even claimed I was being dishonest. He began to focus on me rather than my argument.
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. Don’t be discouraged and, more importantly, don’t surrender your character. It’s easy to get “sucked in” to aggressive and demeaning exchanges when people start name calling, but there’s nothing more disheartening for me, as a Christian, than to see my fellow brothers and sisters argue for the existence of transcendent, moral truths while simultaneously ignoring the objective truth that we ought not be disrespectful to people who hold a view different from our own. We can reject their view without being obstinate and abusive.
These two tactics actually reveal the weakness of the skeptic’s position. He employed the same strategies defense attorneys use in an effort to obfuscate the important questions evaluated by criminal juries. Rather than have the jury addressing the question, “Is it ever OK to torture babies for fun?” it’s much more advantageous for the defense to have them examine the question, “What is the definition of ‘OK’?” Most jurors are able to see through that approach, however, especially when the first question goes completely unanswered.