Christian Morality Versus Atheist Morality

by Donald R. Fox

One of the most interesting formal discussions between an atheist and a Christian was the Oliphant-Smith Debate, conducted in Shawnee, Oklahoma, August 15-16, 1929. W. L. Oliphant was a preacher from the Oak Cliff Church of Christ, Dallas, Texas. Charles Smith was the President of the American Association of the Advancement of Atheism, New York City. Since I purchased the debate book in 1972, I have read and browsed through its pages with great interest.

On the afternoon, August 16, 1929, Mr. Smith affirmed the proposition: "Atheism is Beneficial to the Race, and is Most Conducive to Morality of any Theory Known to Man." I am amazed that Mr. Smith signed an agreement to defend this proposition. Following is an extraction that is modified to assist in reading clarity, from the end of Mr. Oliphant's first negative speech on the proposition.
I want you people to remember that, though Mr. Smith is supposed to be affirming that atheism is conducive to good morals, he has not said one word in defense of the morality of atheism. He has done nothing but attack Christianity. This method of debating is in harmony with the whole program of atheism; it is entirely destructive. In the few minutes I have left, I shall introduce a few of the principles of morality taught in the New Testament.

The religion of Jesus Christ teaches:

  • Avoiding hatred (Matthew 5:21-22)
  • No lustful thinking (Matthew 5:28)
  • No unfair judgments (Matthew 7:1-2)
  • Love of enemies (Matthew 5:44)
  • Reconciliation (Matthew 5:24)
  • Non-resistence (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • Avoiding Anxiety (Matthew 6:25, 29)
  • Self-examination (Matthew 7:3-5)
  • Respect for government. (Romans 13:1-7)
  • Equality of man (James 2:1-4)
  • A universal brotherhood (Matthew 23:9)
  • Forgiveness (Mark 11:25)
  • Thrift and industry (Ephesians 4:28)
  • Progress (Hebrews 6:1)
  • The value of truth (2 Corinthians 13:8)
  • Truth as the basis for freedom (John 8:32)
  • Humility (Luke 14:11)
  • Benevolence (Acts 20:35)
  • Honesty (Romans 12:17)
  • Single standard of morals (Ephesians 4:4)
  • Unselfishness (Romans 12:10).

With this list of positive moral teaching, Oliphant challenged Smith to find fault with the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12). Oliphant stated in conclusion of his first negative speech, "I am willing to risk the whole proposition on this challenge: I challenge Mr. Smith to name any principle of morality that I cannot read in the Bible. Let him mention any virtue he may think of, and I will read it in this Book the Christian's standard of life." In his following speech, Smith said, "Perhaps I cannot; you can prove most anything by the Bible." A feeble answer to Oliphant's challenge.

[All quotations can be found on pages 80-83, Oliphant-Smith Debate, 1929 By F. L. Rowe, Gospel Advocate Company, Owner, Nashville, Tennessee.]