An interesting question arose in a debate with fundamentalist minister-turned-atheist Dan Barker, who has argued that all morality is relative, and has specifically supposed that it would be morally correct to rape a girl if, for example, aliens in spaceships appeared and stated that they would destroy the planet Earth unless the person to whom their demand was put agreed to rape a girl. Barker here engages in a debate on this point with a theism-promoting opponent, wherein the stakes are continually raised -- to save Earth's billions of inhabitants from destruction, would you rape two girls? A thousand? A million? An infant?

I think the mistake Dan Barker makes is in engaging such an absurd hypothetical -- not simply because of its improbability, but because of an unrecognized inherent contradiction. Here is why: aliens who are willing to destroy the Earth if a man doesn't rape a girl are virtually by definition evil and insane -- as evil and insane as a deity who would command a follower to sacrifice his own son, or command obedient soldiers to kill infant children of an enemy tribe -- and from that, it follows that they simply can not be trusted. It is not a question of weighing a girl's sanctity (or a son's life), against the rest of humanity, because an entity which would demand such evil would probably easily go back on its word and destroy humanity anyway. And so, this depravity must be weighed into the equation as well, and surely it can never be concluded that the immorality of the act requested can be outweighed by the mere possibility that vile madness can be trusted to keep its word and not carry out vile and mad consequences.

And so I would have posed to Barker's theistic debate opponent the contrapositive position: suppose your God demanded that you rape a girl (or a dozen, or to sacrifice your own child or bash to death somebody else's infant), and threatened that if you refused it would destroy most or all of humanity -- perhaps with a great flood -- and on top of that condemn everybody, faithful or not, to eternal suffering in hell (including, by the way, yourself and the girl your god wants you to rape). Would you obey your god in that instance? I can easily imagine the debate opponent trying to squirm away from engaging that question -- insisting that their God would never make such a request. But the hypothetical being posed is, what if it did (and it really meant it, and would in fact carry out its threat if not accommodated). And that seems to me to be at least as likely of a circumstance to stand against as the possibility of aliens arriving and demanding a rape to spare the planet.

And by the way, if your debate opponent were to insist within the parameters of the hypothetical that you could, in fact, know that the aliens would keep their word, well you have a solution in that as well. Because the only being who could know this in any absolute sense would itself be a god; and so instead of entertaining the aliens' threat, in that event I'd simply use my god-powers to do, well, whatever a god would do in such a circumstance.