Will Mentally Handicapped People Go To Hell If They Can’t Understand The Gospel?

Posted: March 12, 2015 in Blog Post
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Last weekend I was privileged to be part of a Q and A panel during a Christian apologetics conference. The panel, which included a wide array of speakers from various backgrounds, was given the task of publicly answering some tough questions that had been submitted beforehand. In this post I want to address a particular question that came up. It was one that was very thought provoking, and entailed what might be some deep emotional issues. A number of responses were offered by the team, and great ones at that, but I addressed it from a broader angle and want to expand on that here.

The question was something like this: If God expects us to put our faith in Jesus and believe that He was raised from the dead, does it mean that a mentally challenged person, who possibly does not have the ability to understand such concepts, would go to hell?

As you can see, this is a question that must be dealt with gently. I am sure that such an idea has caused some people to doubt Christianity altogether. Would God really send a person to hell because they don’t have the mental ability to understand the Gospel? It certainly seems unfair, to say the least. Well I think, as I said during the conference, that the nature of the question itself is actually strong evidence that God exists. Let me explain…

When a question like this is asked, there is a something hiding behind it – Humans have intrinsic value. That term may not make sense to some people, so let me define it first. Intrinsic value, means that something or someone has value for its own sake, or because of what it is. The opposite of this would be extrinsic value, which means that something has value based on how useful it is to someone. A hammer may be valuable to one person who needs it, but to another person, it is worthless. It has extrinsic value. So one must ask: Are people valuable only if they are useful? Or are they valuable because they are human beings?

It should seem obvious that the person asking such a question is assuming that mentally challenged people are valuable simply because they are human beings, which I agree with. Their value cannot be based on how useful they are. A person who is mentally challenged requires greater care and attention, depending on the disability, and so in many cases might not be as “useful” as a person without such a disability. But they are valuable. That should not be up for debate. That is why it seems so immoral to think of God punishing such a person. And so the question then becomes: Which worldview best explains the intrinsic value of human beings?

Atheism certainly doesn’t lead to human beings having intrinsic value. If atheism is true, then a human being is nothing more than a big lump of chemicals that arrived on this earth by chance, and by blind natural forces. Evolution has supposedly brought civilization to where it is through a long process of survival of the fittest. There is no such thing as intrinsic value for humans on this view, only many different animals fighting to see who gets to eat and reproduce. It would seem then that a person is only valuable if he or she can survive. If God doesn’t exist, then that is really all we are left with – no ultimate value to anything, let alone human beings. Just a bunch of particles smashing together.

How would a mentally challenged person fit into an atheistic worldview? Would they have intrinsic value? Well, since no one does, they wouldn’t either. Even worse, it would seem they would be a mistake in the evolutionary process. Not surprisingly, there are some well-known evolutionists that have actually argued that mentally handicapped people don’t have value. Famous atheist Richard Dawkins received a lot of criticism when, in response to someone talking about having a baby with Down syndrome on Twitter, he tweeted,

 “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

In his book, Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism, atheist James Rachels reluctantly describes what an evolutionary worldview leads to when it comes to the intrinsic value of human beings. Speaking of mentally handicapped people he writes,

               “What are we to say about them? The natural conclusion, according to the doctrine we are considering [Darwinism], would be that their status is that of mere animals. And perhaps we should go on to conclude that they may be used as non-human animals are used–perhaps as laboratory subjects, or as food?”

Most atheists don’t think this way, because they are not being consistent. However, these guys are. Humans don’t have value in a world without God just because they are humans. People forget this many times and think getting rid of God solves all problems. Well it doesn’t. There is no reason to value humans over horses, or crabs, or seagulls if evolution is true. We are all just different animals brought here by the same processes, and none is more valuable than any other. Does that really sound like an accurate description of reality?

And so the question I posed was this: What is easier to believe – that mentally challenged people have no value (atheism), or that a God of perfect justice will judge perfectly in every situation?  To me, the answer is obvious. If atheism is true, then merely being human is not enough to make anyone valuable. If Christianity is true, which I believe it is, then humans are not only valuable, they are created in the image of God. People ask questions like this, because they have a God-given moral compass. Our desire for justice makes sense in Christianity. There is no way to explain justice, if atheism is true.

One of the core truths of the Christian worldview is this: we are worth dying for in God’s eyes. It is because of this reality that I can have faith that God will judge with absolute perfection anyone who, because of the fallen state of reality we live in, finds themselves mentally unable to understand what Christ has done for them. It is easier to believe that, than the alternative. I simply don’t have that kind of faith.





  1. the fact that this is even a post is the reason why the atheist took the low blows. this is devastating thing to even have to ask, and is one among many other thousands of reasons people find christian fundamentalism dangerous, anti-human, and cruel.


    • defendingyourfaith says:

      I am glad you stopped by, but I am very confused by your comment. Did you actually read this article? What would you say is cruel about it?


  2. Mark says:

    Great post. Never seen it tackled from that angle before, but very effective. I prefer to call the mentally challenged “God’s special ones.” God no more sends them to hell than He would a child who has not yet reached the age of accountability. As Abraham said long ago, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”


  3. Rosee says:


    I am assuming you’re an atheist. Anyway, I am very confused. If we are a product of evolution, wouldn’t those “weaker” people have been evolved out? (That is if we even came from evolution since there is no solid evidence of macroevolution, but that is another issue).

    Now, why help these “weaker” animals? (in a theistic worldview they are humans with intrinsic value but in your worldview they are animals so I shall use your terminology) How is that sending better DNA to future generations? Or why should we care enough to devote millions of dollars into scientific studies to help them, when we could be using those resources to create a better living for the more evolved people such as yourself and every other atheist who thinks they have figured it all out 😉

    You see, there is no objective morality in atheism. No absolute good or bad. (Not even absolute truth! So according to your view, you are not even right, you just “think” you are! Oh brother). You have no reason to really care just whatever your little gum ball machine (your brain, get it? Different colors, flavored etc. hehehe sorry that was funny to me) already has predetermined due to your DNA. Well, you might say, we have learned through time that it is better for our society and human beings, however by “caring” and keeping them alive, according to atheism you are wasting time, money and the space they are occupying.

    As for your comment about why some people are born with disabilities while others are not, you should really watch the documentary “The Drop Box”. I think it answers that question very well, from someone who is living life daily to care for people with disabilities. Even though you may not agree, since it goes against your view, it’s good to see what another side has to offer.


  4. Tyler says:

    From an evolutionary stand point you are correct that a one point in time when survival was solely based on who was the fittest and strongest, the handicapped, mentally disabled and even those who had serious injuries would’ve been left behind. They would’ve been problamatic to keep around and take care of because every darn thing around them was trying to kill them all the time. What you’re missing is that was a very long time ago.

    The process of evolution has brought us to a point where we no longer are constantly fighting for our lives. We are smarter. We have invented better tools, permanent shelters. We have medicine. Ways to produce food and clean water that’s sent right to our homes! We have no fear of if we’re going to eat today because that wooly mammoth got away or if that pack of saber tooth tigers murdered half our tribe. (I mean no disrespect to the starving millions of people around world, that’s a whole different situation)

    So yes, now we are able to care for the sick, treat the wounded and care for the disabled. Whether physical or mental. Every year Scientists are improving robotic and prosthetic limbs for people who are in need. Praying for those legs to grow back dosen’t seem to be working out so well.
    You mentioned that man was created in the image of God. So how is it then that some people are born mentally handicapped or disabled (Not including those that were damaged because of irresponsible mother doing irresponsible things while pregnat of course)…and some of us are not. It would be very ungodlike to target certain people with restrictions and not others. Although I guess he did intentional torture and murder the family of Job to prove a bet with Satan…


    • defendingyourfaith says:

      Hey Tyler! Great to see you back again!

      I think there is a huge problem with the way you seem to use the theory of evolution to try and explain everything. First of all, if you want to believe in it, then you have to stick with it all the way, not jump off when it is no longer convenient. Evolution didn’t happen a long time ago, it supposedly still is happening, and yet you seem to think that the primary drivers of natural selection (things like survival and reproduction) can be thrown away and people will still survive. An island with only men will die. An island with paralyzed people will die. An island with some nice people, and some people who will kill anyone who doesn’t agree with them, will quickly become an island where only the killers survive and pass their genes into the next generation. You seem to think that the chemical changes in our DNA that got us here, can somehow be shut off, which is nonsense. This is why evolution is a poor way of describing reality, not to mention there is thin evidence for the theory itself.

      If you insist on using evolutionary theory to explain why things are the way they are, it might be helpful to give evidence instead of telling stories of how it “might” have happened. That’s all I ever seem to hear when this subject comes up. Stories are not evidence. The science is supposed to observable and repeatable, and you can’t do either with your stories.

      If your claim is that we used to let handicapped people die because they made survival hard or something, then why did we all of the sudden change our minds? How have the genetic anomalies that cause people to be disabled not evolved out? And are we better for the care we now give them? On your worldview, no we are not “better” just different. That is what your evolutionary atheism leads to, and there is no way around it.

      It is very important that you come to grips with the fact that evolution does NOT require people to be nice to each other. History has strongly and decisively demonstrated that brutal cultures can do quite well. All that is needed is for groups to survive and reproduce. You have grown up in a culture where much of your moral beliefs come from a Judeo-Christian worldview, and so it is understandably hard for you to not impose them on your atheistic worldview. You have to understand that.

      Your response did not demonstrate at all that humans have intrinsic value in an atheistic worldview, because you can’t. There is none. That was my point. This is precisely why down syndrome babies and babies with health defects are targeted for abortion. Did the Christian worldview produce that system? No, it was the secular folk who embraced the LOGICAL outworkings of a lack of intrinsic value for humans. There are now hundreds of millions of babies dead because they were inconvenient. Is that wrong? You seem to think it is a morally good thing that scientists are making new limbs for disabled people. Hitler and Margaret Sanger would have been appalled that those scientists are helping disabled people survive. In your view, who gets to say? The person in power, that’s who. You have no moral foundation to condemn anything. All you can say is it is different.

      The fact that some people are born mentally handicapped, even if it is due to a mother’s actions, does nothing to demonstrate that people are not made in the image of God, or that Christianity is false. Unless you think that Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler killing collectively well over 100 million people demonstrates that atheism is false?

      If you think that atheism is the superior position, I would like for you to explain what it has done for the world. What has it done? Killed more people in one century than the last 19 combined. It fuels the logic behind abortion, which has killed an additional billion conservatively since the 1930’s, it embraces “science” when it is convenient (to supposedly get rid of God and remove all moral accountability) and then throws it aside when it is politically incorrect ( aka when survival of the fittest ethics hurts your feelings). If all Christian missionaries and aid workers and teachers and pastors and whoever else were to suddenly remove all humanitarian care, the world would collapse. If all atheist organizations doing humanitarian work pulled out, not many would notice. Where was the American Atheists organization during the earthquake in Haiti, or in hurricane Katrina, or over in the middle east when millions of people are being slaughtered and displaced? They are trolling around the internet on their self-righteous pedestals throwing low blows at the bible, that’s where. They are out chasing after the “immoral” religious people, while at the same time saying all morality is a product of our DNA. They are fighting for a woman’s supposed “human right” to kill her own human child if it’s in the way. Where do human rights come from if atheism is true?

      I know it is the standard tactic to take cheap shots at a bible you don’t understand even if it has nothing to do with the subject, but I think if you are going to be honest you should at least accurately characterize things. First of all, the actual genre of the book of Job is debated, which means it may be metaphorical rather than historical. But even if it is historical, in the actual story, God didn’t torture and murder Job’s family in the story, Satan did, and God gave it all back in the end anyway. What is the problem? If God does exist, can He not make decisions like that? Or can He only do things in a way that we like? This is the primary focus of the book of Job anyway, that what God does in creating and sustaining the world is something we could never comprehend, which is what He tells Job at the end. Once again, you seem to be claiming that what you think God did was immoral, but then you say there is no real morality to speak of. Which one is it?

      People are miraculously healed everyday through prayer. There are countless millions of testimonies to support it. Are you saying that unless God did things in a way that you approved of it would not be good enough? Are you saying they are all lying? That seems to be a very arrogant claim.

      The claim of my post was to argue that humans have intrinsic value, because they are HUMANS, not because they are convenient or helpful or make us happy. You did nothing to argue against that, probably because you agree with it I hope. The Christian worldview explains that. Evolution or atheism does not. You have value, not because you are a highly evolved monkey that might be able to do something that benefits someone else, but because you, Tyler were made in the image of God. If you lost all ability to do anything, if you became paralyzed from the neck down and could never help anyone with anything ever again, and every one left you alone, you would still have that value, and you would still be loved by God.

      Thanks again for stopping by! I appreciate it as always. I take your concerns seriously, and I hope you consider what I have said as well. I also once again hope that no offense is taken, because none was meant. Take care!


  5. Rosee says:

    Very good post. The way you reworded the question, made it easier to understand the real issue. Do people have intrinsic value? Of course, that will be answered by your worldview. Thanks again for bringing some clarity to this issue. Sad that some atheist don’t want to admit this is part of their worldview. Or that they say religion is evil and immoral when they can’t even simply value human life. That’s another issue. Could you write a post on the crusades?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I really love this article. I wrote a little addendum to it on my page and linked it back here to help make it a bit more explicit at least from a Catholic perspective, but I think you really hit on the heart of the issue as opposed to the technicalities. Fantastic post.


    • defendingyourfaith says:

      Thank you very much! I am glad I was able to speak effectively on such a delicate issue. I appreciate your support and thanks for following me as well!


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