I’ve mentioned before in other places that atheism is becoming “cool” again. The cool kids are starting to talk more and more about their atheism and why they are atheists. The thing is, the reasons they give for their atheism are all arguments that are really old and have been handled well a long time ago.
We, the Church, are failing in this. We are not teaching our children to understand the basic reasoning of our own religion. They are not prepared for conversations with people who do not think like we think. The doctrine of the church is, to them, in the same class with “be nice to old ladies” and other things you should do but only really have to do when people are watching. Accepting things on faith, without any reasoning may be enough for some people, but it’s not going to work for everyone and especially not for the younger generation.
So, we are going to have to go back and learn. The Bible does not teach us how to reason or how to defend our beliefs but it does command us to do so.
Doesn’t the Bible say “Lean not on your own understanding?”
Yes, it does. But that does not mean “do not try to understand” anything. It does not mean “do not use your brain.” If it meant that, then why attend sermons if we are not trying to understand? Why teach anyone anything? Why read the Bible if not to understand it? Why pray for answers since we can’t understand the answers we get?
The Bible is not the source of all knowledge. It didn’t teach you to read. You had to learn to read before you could read it. It does not teach you plenty of things. It is a valuable source of information and critical for believers. But it is for believers, not for unbelievers. The Bible is a helpful aid to Christians, not a tool to convert others, or the source of all knowledge.
We are to defend our beliefs with reason.
1 Peter 3:15
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
2 Corinthians 10:5
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
… and on and on.
We Christians need to reconsider out own education. We need to work to understand how to reason and argue. We should know how to persuade and know our doctrine.
The Atheist Arguments, with apologies to the real thinkers.
Here is a short sample of some of the things I hear a lot and the beginnings of how they have been handled by smart people from as far back as 300 AD or before. I will try to do them a little justice, though I may fall short:
Science has disproved Religion.
Science is a very specific method for learning about the universe. Unless it is a lot like, “to test my hypothesis, at 3:35 pm on June 5th, 2015 I heated the material to 450 degrees centigrade and it turned purple, providing additional evidence in the affirmative though more results are required,” then it is not science. Religion is about the supernatural: things that are outside nature. Science has nothing to say about the supernatural at all and it never will. (C. S. Lewis, but he got it from countless others.)
Only uneducated people believe in God.
If they were alive, you could tell that to Isaac Newton, or Blaise Pascal; two of the smartest and most educated people who ever walked on the planet. Or Rene Descartes if you prefer a philosopher? The list of brilliant and highly educated believers is very long. I have a BS and a MS myself. In fact, in my experience, it is often the partially educated who do not believe in God. They know just enough to be dangerous to themselves. (This is just me, so pardon me if I missed something big.)
If God existed, He would not allow bad things to happen.
This is one of the oldest arguments around: “the problem of evil.” It is sometimes put more like this, “if God is all powerful, He can stop evil, but He does not; therefore He is either evil Himself or He does not exist.” It has been dealt with over and over for more than a thousand years. St. Augustine argued that evil is not created by God, rather, it is an absence of good, a parasite that exists where good does not. Others have formed it various ways. In short, there is simply no way to have a free will and remove evil as an option. Try to imagine even a very simple universe with creatures who can do whatever they like but who cannot do anything evil. It just won’t work. It is not possible.
Can God make a rock bigger than He can pick up? (… and other nonsense of this sort.)
Some ideas carry their impossibility with them. They are not possible in any world by any agent. They reduce to, “Can God make true the same as false?” And the answer is, “No, nor can anyone else.” It is nonsense and we need not bother with it any further.
I cannot believe in a God who would create Hell and punish people with it.
God did not create Hell for people. (I’m not even sure He created Hell in that way at all.) Hell is where you end up by choosing to be separated from God. It’s what you are left with in the end, not a place to which God sends people. (Full disclosure: there are some denominations of Christianity [Universalists] who believe that all people are eventually reached and no one ends up in Hell.)
There is a lack of evidence of God existing.
Some people insist God must be believed in on “blind faith” and that there is no evidence for God’s existence. In fact, there have been a multitude of books and portions of books dedicated to proofs of God’s existence. Many of the greatest philosophers who lived also wrote about it much more eloquently than I ever could. But to claim that there is no good reason to believe in God, as if it were the same as believing in a fairy tale, is simply ignorance of the massive body of work on the topic. And this is not the work of uneducated, backward people. It is the work of highly educated geniuses. Even a brief hunt around the Internet will turn up some good stuff for the reading.
There are thousands of religions and you want me to disbelieve all of them but yours.
This is actually a great point, if you grant the premise. I do not. There are not that many religions. Oh, there have been loads of religions if you counted each denomination of Christianity as a religion, and did the same kind of thing with the other religions, but if you take the basic beliefs and group them, there simply are not that many. Most quickly converge into a few belief systems. For example, all pantheist religions are different in the details but on the whole are the the same in terms of how they view God. Some people would count Buddhism and Hinduism as different but from a “view of god” standpoint, they are the same. Polytheistic religions are silly, since when you get to the back you find there is always a king of all the other gods and so it converges to monotheism. There are plenty of Pagan religions but again, they view god in the same way with differences in details. The mystery religions can be grouped together as well.
I will not make an argument about which religion is the right one here, but let us not pretend there are thousands to choose from: there are not. Either the universe is god (pantheism), or there is a mind at work from outside the universe. Either there are lots of gods (polytheism) or one (monotheism.) Either there is a way to influence the spirit world by magically changing this one, or there is not. So we are only talking about a few choices at bottom.
But, one might argue, “as long as there is more than one religion, does that not mean even believers don’t know what is right?” This is also reasonable. But consider this: what else should it look like? If you assume for the moment that God does actually exists, what would worship of Him look like in that world? Would it not be an extended process of trying one thing after another while man attempts to find out the right relationship to Him? How else could it ever have gone?
We no longer need God to explain things we don’t understand, which is all He has ever been.
This is the “God of the gaps” idea that says God is pulled out whenever we need to explain something we cannot explain any other way. There is some merit in this argument since people do it all the time these days. But please do not let these confused people make you think this is correct. It was not that Joseph believed in the virgin birth because he didn’t know where babies came from, on the contrary, he was “minded to put Mary away” and then he believed because an angel came and told him it was true. People who throw up their hands and say, “it was the work of God” when they don’t understand something might mean well, but they don’t know what they are talking about.
If you’re an atheist and you think you have some “new ideas” that no one else ever thought of, I strongly suggest that if you want to be intellectually honest, in the way you claim you do, you should seek out and read some old books that will probably show you that your ideas are quite old. You are probably walking on ground that has been well trodden.
If you are a Christians and you find yourself unfamiliar with any of these things or worse still, uncomfortable talking about them, please go out and find some smart person to teach you. C. S. Lewis is a wonderful introduction in any number of his books. There is a whole world of philosophers and apologists out there for the taking.