Opinion

Could Convicted Murderers Go Free If Atheist Group Wins Case?

Shari Webber-Dunn “received a minimum 40-year sentence after her conviction on first-degree murder charges following the shooting death of her estranged husband, Scott Webber, in 1994…”

She filed a lawsuit this week, “alleging that prison officials have been ‘imposing Christian beliefs’ on her and other inmates…. She says officials there have created a ‘coercive atmosphere where inmates are pressured to spend their time in a highly religious atmosphere and to participate in religious activities and prayers, thus violating the establishment clause,’ the Wichita Eagle reported…. She alleges religious bias on the part of the Kansas Department of Corrections and the correctional facility’s staff.”

As expected, one of our nation’s atheist groups has come to her defense: “The American Humanist Association (AHA), based in Washington, D.C., joined Webber-Dunn’s lawsuit, accusing the prison of engaging in a government establishment of religion.” (Fox News)

If these humanists were consistent, they would argue that Shari Webber-Dunn is being imprisoned for a non-crime. The crime of murder presupposes a higher law and a sovereign lawgiver. The Bible states, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). The prohibition is found in the New Testament as well (Matt. 19:18; Rom. 13:9).

There is no murder in the world of evolutionary survival of the fittest.

This case reminds me of another murder case where religion was brought into the discussion.

Karl S. Chambers was convicted of fatally beating 70‑year‑old Anna May Morris while robbing her of her Social Security money. District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert told the jurors, “Karl Chambers has taken a life. As the Bible says, ‘And the murderer shall be put to death.’”1

Upon hearing the nonsense from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Mr. Rebert stated, “I don’t know of any God‑fearing prosecutor that has not used some scriptural or religious reference in arguing to a jury. God’s law is the basis for Pennsylvania law and all law.”2

What if the prosecuting attorney had asserted that murder is wrong by making a reference to the Bible? Why is murder wrong? If there is no God, there are no rules. Survival of the fittest prevails. If I, as a consistent evolutionist, were defending Mr. Chambers during his resentencing hearing based on the ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, my line of argument would go something like this:

Defense Attorney (DA): Mr. Chambers, did you go to public school?

Chambers: Yes, sir.

DA: Did you have a class in biology?

Chambers: Yes, sir.

DA: Were you taught that man evolved over long periods of time and that the strongest organisms survived over the weaker ones?

Chambers: Yes, sir.

DA: Did you learn that these were the natural and positive consequences of evolution?

Chambers: Yes, sir.

DA: Were you taught the Bible in public school?

Chambers: No, sir! It was not permitted.

DA (to the jury): Ladies and Gentlemen. You spent your tax dollars educating this young man. It’s been said that our students are not learning what they’ve been taught. Now we find out that when a person does master his lessons, we put him on trial. You are here today because some strong ancestor eliminated a weaker ancestor on the evolutionary tree. We are proud of our evolutionary heritage. Look how far we’ve come due to the elimination of so‑called “weak links” in the evolutionary chain. How can Mr. Chambers be faulted when he simply followed the evolutionary tradition he learned in school. In addition, you heard the prosecuting attorney in the first trial tell us, “As the Bible says, ‘And the murderer shall be put to death.’” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has overturned Mr. Chambers’ death sentence because the prosecutor quoted from the Bible. The same Bible that says that a “murderer shall be put to death” also states that murder is wrong. If the Bible is inadmissible in the one case, specifying punishment, then it ought to be inadmissible in the other case, specifying what constitutes a crime.

Shari Webber-Dunn is complaining about religion, but it was a tenet of religion that put her in prison. Murder is only a crime because God says it is. There is no murder in the inevitable struggle for life. Atheism cannot ultimately account for why it is fundamentally wrong for one evolved animal to kill another evolved animal.

At the end of the film Collision, the late anti-theist Christopher Hitchens recalls a conversation he had with atheist Richard Dawkins. It went like this:

I said [to Dawkins] if I could convert everyone in the world, not convert, if I could convince everyone to be non-believers, then I have really done brilliantly, and there is only one left, one more, and then it would be done and there would be no more religion in the world and no more deism and theism, I wouldn’t do it. And Dawkins said, what do you mean you wouldn’t do it? And I said I don’t quite know why I wouldn’t do it. And it is not just because there would be nothing left to argue over and no one left to argue with, it is not just that, well, it would be then, somehow if I could drive it out of the world, I wouldn’t and the incredulity with which he looked stays with me still, I’ve got to say.

Without God, there is no morality. Everything falls apart. The center collapses into the void.

For the logical ramifications of why killing someone is not murder in a world without God, see the short film Cruel Logic written and directed by Brian Godawa. “The issue resolved. There is no valid reason that I should not kill you.”

  1. “Court Rejects Bible,” The Atlanta Journal (November 16, 1991), E6. []
  2. “Court Rejects Bible,” E6. []
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