Responding to atheists

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The ex-atheist Alister McGrath.

The book The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue features a cordial dialogue between Alister McGrath and the atheist Daniel Dennett.

There are a number of ways to respond to atheist arguments. Christians have done extremely well in Christianity vs. atheism debates (see: Atheism vs. Christianity debates and Atheism debates).

When having a discussion with an atheist, it is important to listen, be empathetic and build rapport with that atheist. In addition, ask open ended questions. If this is not done, the atheist will be resistant to what the believer in God has to say.[1]

By listening and asking open ended questions (which builds rapport) the theist can find the underlying reasons why an atheists believes what they believe or disbelieves what he disbelieves.[1]

An adage of John Pierpont Morgan says, "A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason."

Listening to the other person allows you to be a detective to find the real reason why a person is an atheist (see: Causes of atheism). For example, various studies found that traumatic events in people's lives has a positive correlation with "emotional atheism".[2] See also: Atheism and the problem of evil

The Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen, who was a proponent of presuppositional apologetics, says when having a discussion with unbelievers, challenge their prejudices and presuppositions in order to show the arbitrariness of their assumptions and beliefs.[3] In other words, drill down and ask them why they claim various things are true.[4] See also: Atheism and presuppositional apologetics

"Every man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension… The Christian lovingly, must remove the shelter and allow the truth of the external world and of what man is to beat upon him.” - Francis Schaeffer[5] See also: Francis Schaeffer's "taking the roof off" method of apologetics

Evan Lenow wrote about the Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer:

One key element of Schaeffer’s work that I found especially influential was his apologetic method of “taking the roof off.” Schaeffer argued that a person’s worldview is similar to a house; however, there is only one blueprint that can effectively explain all aspects of life and be lived out consistently—a Christian worldview. All other worldviews are defective in one way or another.

Taking off someone’s roof involves exposing the weaknesses and inconsistencies of his worldview. This is a necessary but dangerous task. When a roof is removed, Schaeffer states that “each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is.” The reality of the world in which we live comes flooding in. Therefore, we must carefully deconstruct the roof so that the house can be rebuilt with truth.

Once the roof is carefully removed and the individual has encountered reality, it is time to reconstruct his house. This is where the transformative power of the gospel comes into play. Schaeffer writes, “The truth that we let in first is not a dogmatic statement of the truth of the Scriptures, but the truth of the external world and the truth of what man himself is. This is what shows him his need. The Scriptures then show him the real nature of his lostness and the answer to it.” No longer must one live according to the course of the world. The true truth of the gospel allows us to see the world as God created it. We recognize the influence of the fall and the impact of sin upon our lives, but the believer now has the Holy Spirit to help him make sense of it all.[6]

Specifically, Francis Schaeffer wrote:

Every man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension…The Christian lovingly, must remove the shelter and allow the truth of the external world and of what man is to beat upon him. When the roof is off, each man must stand naked and wounded before the truth of what is…He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is.”[7]

For more information, please see: Francis Schaeffer's "taking the roof off" method of apologetics

Research the matter at hand and have a familiarity with rebuttals to atheism and atheistic arguments

It is important to research the matter at hand and be familiar with the various arguments for the existence of God and rebuttals to atheist arguments (see: Arguments for the existence of God and Rebuttals to atheist arguments).

Challenge underlying assumptions/beliefs, unrealistic extrapolations and illogical reasoning

Atheist arguments generally have false assumptions, errant underlying beliefs, unrealistic extrapolations and use illogical reasoning (see also: Atheism and critical thinking and Atheism and logical fallacies and Atheism and reason). So challenge the assumptions, beliefs and illogical thinking of atheists.

Atheism has no foundation. Atheism lacks evidence that it is true

Hoover Tower at Stanford University

Atheism, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other philosophy reference works, is the denial of the existence of God.[8] [9][10][11] See also: Definition of atheism

Paul Edwards, who was a prominent atheist and editor of the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, defined an atheist as "a person who maintains that there is no God." [12]

Beginning in the latter portion of the 20th century and continuing beyond, many agnostics/atheists have argued that the definition of atheism should be defined as a mere lack of belief in God or gods.[10][11][12][13]

In terms of contemporary definitions of atheism, the Webster-Merriam Dictionary defines atheism in two ways: "1) a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods 2) a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods."[14] Oxford English Dictionies defines atheism as "Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods."[15]

In his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose, the atheist Francois Tremblay compared unifying atheists to herding cats.[16]

The atheist Francois Tremblay wrote in his essay Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose:

Atheism, as commonly defined by atheists, expresses a lack of belief, or disbelief, in deities. It is not a positive belief in anything, but a negative concept. That is why atheists, inasmuch as they are atheists, are nothing like a coherent or concerted group. Organizations like American Atheists serve a role of broadcasting information more than anything else, because there cannot be concerted action when nobody agrees on what to do (except of course on direct concerns like the rights of atheists or separation of church and state). Most atheists disagree strongly on whenever atheism should be propagated, or promoted, and on the matter of doing so.

Another problem of atheism qua atheism is that it does not contain its own basis. What I mean by this is that atheism is a punctual, ontological belief, which is itself the implicit or explicit result of metaphysical and epistemological deductions. Any reply to an attack on this basis cannot come directly from atheism. Concentrating oneself only on being an atheist is like trying to build a house from the second floor up. It may look less costly on paper, and for people who only build houses in their imagination this may be a good way of seeing it, but it's not good enough for a serious endeavour. And most importantly, it's too fragile. I see too many religionists attacking atheism from the bottom and atheists being unable to adequately reply to the arguments. If the atheist cannot answer to his most fundamental beliefs on the nature of reality and cognition, then his atheism is worthless in terms of validation. It is nothing more than a big paper tiger, made from the finest cardboard.

One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let's be honest here, "there is no god!" is not a very motivating call for most people.[16]

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort says about atheism (which you can share with an atheist):

Let’s say that you know an incredible one percent of all the knowledge in the universe. To know 100 percent, you would have to know everything. There wouldn’t be a rock in the universe that you would not be intimately familiar with, or a grain of sand that you would not be aware of. You would know everything that has happened in history, from that which is common knowledge to the minor details of the secret love life of Napoleon’s great-grandmother’s black cat’s fleas. You would know every hair of every head, and every thought of every heart. All history would be laid out before you, because you would be omniscient (all-knowing).

Bear in mind that one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, Thomas Edison, said, “We do not know a millionth of one percent about anything.” Let me repeat: Let’s say that you have an incredible one percent of all the knowledge in the universe. Would it be possible, in the ninety-nine percent of the knowledge that you haven’t yet come across, that there might be ample evidence to prove the existence of God? If you are reasonable, you will be forced to admit that it is possible. Somewhere, in the knowledge you haven’t yet discovered, there could be enough evidence to prove that God does exist.[17]

Since atheism has no foundation, you can also ask the atheist, "What proof and evidence do you have that atheism is true?".

Definition of atheism issue

In terms of philosophical debates, if the atheist says that atheism is merely a lack of belief instead of a denial of God's existence, then challenge his definition of atheism and point out that leading encyclopedias of philosophy define atheism as the denial of the existence of God (see: Definition of atheism).

The Christian Research Institute Journal declares:

It should also be stated that defensive atheism's absence of belief sounds very similar to agnosticism (which professes inability to determine whether God exists). The Christian should force the defensive atheist to show just how his (or her) atheism differs from agnosticism. Does he know or not know that there is no God?[12]

Norman Geisler on complete agnosticism

Christian apologist Norman Geisler wrote on complete agnosticism:

Complete agnosticism is self-defeating; it reduces to the self-destructing assertion that "one knows enough about reality in order to affirm that nothing can be known about reality." This statement provides within itself all that is necessary to falsify itself. For if one knows something about reality, then he surely cannot affirm in the same breath that all of reality is unknowable. And of course if one knows nothing whatsoever about reality, then he has no basis whatsoever for making a statement about reality. It will not suffice to say that his knowledge about reality is purely and completely negative, that is, a knowledge of what one cannot meaningfully affirm that something is not – that it follows that total agnosticism is self-defeating because it assumes some knowledge about reality in order to deny any knowledge of reality (Geisler, Apologetics, p. 20).[18]

Proverbs 8:17 says about God: "I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me." (NASB). The real reason why atheists/agnostics haven't found God is that they have not truly sought Him. And they do not want to repent.

Familiarize with various facts about atheism

While knowing various arguments against atheism and arguments for the existence will also get you acquainted with various facts about this issue, knowing various key facts about atheism and its history is very helpful.

Please see:

Countering atheist indoctrination

See also: Atheist indoctrination

Jewish columnist Dennis Prager has stated that a causal factor of atheism is the "secular indoctrination of a generation."[19] Prager stated that "From elementary school through graduate school, only one way of looking at the world – the secular – is presented. The typical individual in the Western world receives as secular an indoctrination as the typical European received a religious one in the Middle Ages."[19] See also: Atheism and critical thinking

In 2013, an study found that academia was less likely to hire evangelical Christians due to discriminatory attitudes.[20] See also: Atheism and intolerance

Atheists have focused considerable efforts on the public schools in order to indoctrinate young people into atheistic beliefs.[21][22]

Many times when people are indoctrinated, patient repetition of various points is necessary and endeavor to use news facts and arguments to make a particular point to a person and not repeat the same arguments to them unless it is to confirm they understand what you previously told them.

Keep in mind the unpreparedness of atheists

See also: Atheology and Atheist apologetics

The majority of philosophers of religion, or those who have extensively studied the issue of the existence of God, are theists (72 percent).[23]

There is a considerable body of evidence and argumentation for the existence of God (see: Arguments for the existence of God and Evidence for Christianity and Rebuttals to atheist arguments).

Vox Day wrote:

...we are still in search of an atheist to champion the argument that the logic and evidence for the nonexistence of gods is stronger than the logic and evidence for the existence of gods. It is certainly informative to see how many atheists do not appear to believe they are able to effectively make this case; in light of this, many Christians may find this to be a useful tactical approach when confronted by aggressive atheists in the future. This tends to confirm my previous observations that while atheists like to challenge the beliefs of others, they are very ill-prepared, and in many cases downright unwilling, to defend their own. So, if you want to shut them up, simply go on the attack. They'll run away with alacrity.[24]

Atheist Michael Martin on atheistic responses to theistic arguments

In 1990, the atheist philosopher Michael Martin indicated there was a general absence of an atheistic response to contemporary work in the philosophy of religion and in jest he indicated that it was his "cross to bear" to respond to theistic arguments.[25] Yet, in 1994, Michael Martin was criticized for his eleventh hour cancellation of his debate with Greg Bahnsen (see: Greg Bahnsen and debate and Bahnson-Martin debate press release).

Theists surge in philosophy departments and world at large

In 2001, the atheist and philosopher Quentin Smith declared:

Naturalists [atheists] passively watched as realist versions of theism … began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians…. God is not 'dead' in academia; he returned to life in the 1960's and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments."[26]

The agnostic Eric Kaufmann wrote in 2010:

Worldwide, the march of religion can probably only be reversed by a renewed, self-aware secularism. Today, it appears exhausted and lacking in confidence... Secularism's greatest triumphs owe less to science than to popular social movements like nationalism, socialism and 1960s anarchist-liberalism. Ironically, secularism's demographic deficit means that it will probably only succeed in the twenty-first century if it can create a secular form of 'religious' enthusiasm." [27]

See also

External links

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 This Is How To Be Persuasive: 7 New Secrets From Hostage Negotiation, Observer
  2. When atheists are angry at God by Joe Carter at FirstThings.com website
  3. Reasoning With Unbelievers - Dr. Greg Bahnsen
  4. Reasoning With Unbelievers - Dr. Greg Bahnsen
  5. Sunday Quote: Francis Schaeffer Takes the Roof Off
  6. Taking the roof off: The apologetics of Francis Schaeffer
  7. Sunday Quote: Francis Schaeffer Takes the Roof Off
  8. Is Atheism More Rational? by Creation Ministries International
  9. 10.0 10.1 Day, Donn R. (2007). "Atheism - etymology".
  10. 11.0 11.1 Definition of atheism by William Lane Craig
  11. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Putting the Atheist on the Defensive by Kenneth R. Samples, Christian Research Institute Journal, Fall 1991, and Winter 1992, page 7.
  12. Britain is a less religious country than the United States and the online Oxford Dictionaries offers both the narrow/broad definitions of atheism (As noted in a previous footnote the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which is a traditional American dictionary, offers a more narrow definition of atheism similar to the definition that major encyclopedias of philosophy use). Oxford Dictionaries: Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.[1]
  13. Atheism, Webster-Merriam dictionary
  14. Atheism, Oxford online dictionary
  15. 16.0 16.1 Herding Cats: Why atheism will lose by Francois Tremblay
  16. [God, Tsunamis, and Cheese Sandwiches] by Ray Comfort
  17. http://www.greatcom.org/resources/secular_religions/ch01/default.htm
  18. 19.0 19.1 How atheism is being sold in America
  19. Suspicions Confirmed: Academia Shutting Out Conservative Professors
  20. The atheist indoctrination project
  21. [Atheists to do religious education in schools] by Dr. Don Batten
  22. Does it matter that many scientists are atheists?
  23. "Running, running". Vox Populi website. Retrieved on May 15, 2015.
  24. Open Questions: Diverse Thinkers Discuss God, Religion, and Faith by Luís F. Rodrigues, page 201
  25. Craig, William Lane (2012)."Theistic critiques of atheism". Reasonable Faith. Retrieved on July 26, 2014. Unabridged version of article published 2007. See William Lane Craig.
  26. Shall the religious inherit the earth? - Eric Kaufmann