Sun, Dec. 09, 2012 Posted: 11:33 AM
Behind my desk is a huge binder containing essays and meaty book excerpts of atheist literature. The likes of Russell, Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, and many more scientists and philosophers make up this hefty collection of anti-Christian thought.
Part of my Master’s requirement was that I read the binder in its entirety and write summaries of every argument so that each was thoroughly impressed upon me. Needless to say, that took some time, but it was time well spent.
Through that exercise, I learned that atheism, just like every body of thought (including Christianity), has both good and bad arguments. Those arguments rightfully deserve to be heard in the world’s marketplace of ideas and respectfully scrutinized in the same way as every other worldview’s positions and claims.
In my last blog post, I examined why the “born this way” argument used by secularists to justify various sexual practices fails on a number of levels. I thought it would be good to follow that up with two more arguments, used by atheists to counter Christianity, that show themselves to be faulty when closely examined.
This argument is heard quite a bit these days and takes several forms, with one of the most common being: “I contend we are both atheist. . . .When you understand why you dismiss all other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." The foundational charge is that there seems to be an infinite number of gods that people believe in, and Christians reject them all except for the God described in the Bible. Therefore, isn’t the Christian really just a tad disingenuous where atheist reasoning is concerned?
No, not at all.
First, not to be pedantic, but Christians are not atheists. The strict definition of atheism is “a disbelief in the existence of deity”; “the doctrine that there is no deity”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
This is not just a semantics game, but instead a misrepresentation on the part of the atheist argument to redefine the term, much like atheist-physicist Lawrence Krauss did in his latest book when he redefined ‘nothing’ to be either empty space or the quantum vacuum so he could describe how our universe came from ‘nothing’.
I am not an atheist where Islam is concerned, but instead a rival theist believer, so let’s at least understand that much. But moving on: the primary thrust of the argument is that the Christian really does not aim the criteria they use to dismiss other faith claims at their own belief system. If they did, then they’d end up an atheist.
This contention implies that no good reasons exist to be a Christian vs. other faiths, which is certainly not the case. Like many other people, I have examined the claims and evidence of rival faiths and used the law of non-contradiction to rule out, for example, Islam in favor of Christianity. Internet hatetheists (not atheists; there is a difference..!) can use the cut-and-paste function of their computer all they like to constantly say, “there is no evidence for Christianity”, but such assertions are nothing more than examples of either intellectual dishonesty or willing refusals to truly examine the claims of something that threatens their worldview.
Lastly, the argument subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) charges that the many faces of religion demonstrate that there is a potentially infinite number of answers to the God/deity question. The Christian blindly clings to one answer, while the atheist wisely rejects them all.
But this line of reasoning fails to understand that there are also a seemingly infinite number of possible answers to the problem of 1 + 1. When I answer “2” to this simple math problem, by default, I exclude the myriad of other possibilities. In the same way that “2” is the correct answer to the math problem, one answer affirming the existence of a supernatural deity via the use of a systematic theological and philosophical methodology could also be correct.
The fact is you can sit 100 math students down, give them a complex problem to solve, and if only one student arrives at the right answer, their solution remains the correct one despite the fact that the majority missed the mark. But the atheist argument says we should reject all answers, which is just not rational. A truth, by nature, excludes all its opposites and does not depend on how many wrong answers stack up against its position. It still remains a truth.
Attributed to the atheist Victor Stenger, this sound bite argument packs a lot into just a few words. The idea here is that science delivers ever increasing knowledge that is useful, but religion peddles suspect philosophies that are counterproductive; science causes life to excel, but religion brings terror and death; science moves us forward with breath-taking achievements, while religion moves us backwards with supposed chaos and conflict.
It’s tough to know where to even begin with such a deliberately crafted misrepresentation.
Let’s start by noting that science didn’t fly anyone to the moon. Quite a few God-believing scientists, engineers, and astronauts participated with others in bringing about that event.
Next, it is clearly evident that science has delivered tremendous benefits to humankind. I have several close loved ones who I would not be able to kiss goodnight this evening without the scientific breakthroughs that have been made in the past several decades.
However, let us not forget that science has also delivered nuclear weapons, napalm, and chemical abortions to humanity. In addition, it has produced scientists such as Eric Pianka who, at a 2006 lecture at the Texas Academy of Science at Lamar University, recommended wiping out 90% of the earth’s population with the Ebola virus to overcome what he believes to a serious problem with the earth’s supposed overpopulation.
While it is tempting to say that such were the thoughts of one rogue scientist, it is important to understand the he received a standing ovation from the few hundred other scientists in attendance that day (perhaps they believed they would be among the 10% of humanity that Pianka would spare?) Forrest Mims, a scientist present at the lecture, wrote, “I still can't get out of my mind the pleasant spring day in Texas when a few hundred scientists of the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation for a speaker who they heard advocate the slow and torturous death of over five billion human beings.”
The takeaway from these facts is this: science can be misused by human beings to cause great suffering and harm in the same way that evil people can either erroneously or deliberately distort a religion to get whatever end result they are after.
Did the crusades, the inquisitions, and 9/11 take place and were they motivated by religion? Absolutely. But we must understand: (1) the events involving Christianity were carried out by people who acted in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ; (2) while hatetheists continually peddle the mistaken notion that religion has caused the vast majority of wars and conflicts in human history, the truth is that non-religious and secular campaigns have been responsible for 93% of all wars that humankind has experienced.
Further, Richard Dawkins may naively write that he does “not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame, the Shwe Dagon, the temples of Kyoto or, of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan”, but he shows himself to be a poor student of history. From 1917 to 1969 the atheist Soviet Union destroyed 41,000 churches. In Communist China Tibet, secular humanists tore down 7,000 monasteries. In North Korea, all but 60 Buddhist temples have been demolished. So let us not pretend atheism has always been friendly to religion.
Moving on, please note that this argument also intentionally omits all the good that religion has brought to the world, while suppressing the evil delivered by secular movements. One only needs to read the excellent work of Alvin Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World to quickly understand the benefits provided humanity in the areas of charity, hospitals and health care, education, labor and economics, human government – and yes – the spheres of slavery, women’s freedom/dignity, and science, to see how flawed the atheist argument in this area really is.
Lastly, the argument fuses all religions together to produce a singular supposed enemy of humankind, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Some atheists have publicly recognized this notion to be false; however, others continue to proceed with the idea that somehow the goals, methods, and teachings of all faiths are the same.
If anyone reading this thinks that still to be the case, I ask that they just examine the differences between the last words of those who founded the two largest two faiths on the planet. The final words of Muhammad were: "O Lord, perish the Jews and Christians. They made churches of the graves of their prophets. There shall be no two faiths in Arabia" (Hadith Malik 511:1588).
And the last words of Jesus where His enemies were concerned?
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
One of my seminary professors used to read atheist literature during his devotion times, and when asked why he did that, he said, “They keep us honest.” Indeed, sometimes they do, and for that, we should thank them.
When I finished reading that massive binder of atheist literature, I felt a sense of accomplishment, but more importantly, I experienced a very real lift in my Christian faith. I had read the best-of-the-best; thinkers that make some of the crass new atheists today (e.g. Dawkins) look pale in comparison. And in the end, it was an exercise in what philosophy calls “drowning the fish”. You can pile all the ocean’s waters on the animal (in this case, God) in an attempt to drown it, but in the end, the fish is still there affirming its existence and presence.
Some atheist arguments are good and deserve attention, while others – like the two we’ve examined in this article – just aren’t. But in general, I would encourage everyone to give the various arguments posed by atheists a hearing, but make sure you also seek out the solid answers given by Christian thinkers in reply.
In the end, I think you’ll be like me and understand why after 2,000+ years, Christianity’s fish is still swimming strongly and happily in today’s ocean of worldviews.