It’s been a couple of busy weeks, and that’s been reflected on The Upturned Microscope. I had to graduate last week and had my parents up for a few days, and then I had to travel to London for a job interview this week… sometimes I feel busier than when I was actually doing my PhD.
But, in the same time, I haven’t been idle in matters of the Kingdom, as I’ve spent no small amount of time researching modern-day atheism. Yes, you read that right. And if you, like I used to, harbour a generally dismissive attitude towards the Great Debate, perhaps you, like me, might want to revise your position. Because, after all, people’s eternal souls are at stake, no matter how laughable our atheist friends find such warnings.
Now, let me point out that the following will involve some names, but it is merely within the context of my own opinions. No slander nor ad hominem attacks are intended, so please don’t sue me.
Before I became a Christian, I had a certain guilty admiration for atheists. Having been raised in an evangelical church with good people and even better friends, I didn’t have much religious disgruntlement to motivate me to doubt God’s existence as is the case with some atheists. But I did think they were pretty cool (about time I used that word here) in that I considered them to be in a way free of the “restraints” of religion – something like a new species of humans, looking down us, the stupid masses who clung to our awe of God for fear of His wrath. Now, I respect atheists, in much the same way that I respect all people who sincerely and thoughtfully are looking for greater answers. But it’s hard sometimes to read Richard Dawkins’ latest rant or watch fashionable deniers of the Holy Spirit on YouTube and keep a straight face.
This, friends, is a disease inherent to all men and women, and it’s called Ignoramus spiritualis, or spiritual ignorance. Take a look at 1 Cor. 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”.
What Paul is saying there, is that if a person has not been made a new creation by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; cf. John 14:16-17; cf. 2 Tim. 1:14), then that person is unable to comprehend, let alone accept the Word of God. And it is my humble opinion that this principle is nowhere illustrated better than in those who call themselves atheists.
One of the most memorable confrontations I came across was the May 2007 Atheism/Christianity debate between theRational Responders (Brian Sapient and Kelly O’ Connor) and The Way of the Master’s Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. I must admit that, like many others, I was generally disappointed by all those involved. Don’t get me wrong – I generally like both Cameron and Comfort, and I fully agree with their Law/Grace method of evangelism. But, as they admitted from the start, they’re not scientists, and in this brutal arena such a background is often indispensable. As a result, the Christians appeared ill-prepared and their tepid responses to the atheists’ attacks left much to be desired.
To make things worse, both Cameron and Comfort kept appealing to subjective experience (“deep down, you know there is a God”)rather than responding with evidence to support the existence of God, which just fueled the atheists’ prejudice that Christians are just silly superstitious hypocrites.
And finally, the Christians were mostly geared to doing all-out evangelism rather than debate. What’s wrong with that? Well, you’re either there for a debate or you aren’t. And claiming that you can prove God exists without reference to the Bible and then referring to the Bible in your opening statement doesn’t fly very well with an audience that’s there to listen to an evidence-based dialogue. Having said that, the WOTM duo has responded to criticisms such as mine by pointing out that their goal from the start was to do apologetics BUT first to preach Christ and Him crucified. As they put it, “our primary goal was to preach the gospel and then (where possible) support our preaching with apologetics, reason, logic, with a loving demeanor. That’s what we tried to do.” So I will concede that, in the face of the particular atheists’ hostility, emphasising the Gospel over pointless debates might have been the better approach. After all, reason is only for the reasonable.
Which now brings me to the atheist duo. I’ll admit I had never heard of either Sapient (an alias) nor O’Connor back in the old days and I was surprised – to say the least – that they got to represent the atheist viewpoint in such a major debate (it was televised on ABC). Angry, hostile, sneering, jeering, mocking, highly emotional, condescending and often downright rude (at some point, Comfort had to ask them to look at him when he spoke to them!), they hardly seem fitting to fill the shoes of atheism’s spokespersons in a big event like this. If anything, their yelling and crowd-pleasing blah made them look like religious fanatics (for all their weak countering, the Christians remained generally calm and composed throughout the debate). For example, when a viewer asked if the atheists were concerned about the possibility that they were wrong, O’Connor turned to the audience and yelped “Pascal’s wager! Whoo-hoo!” Call me fussy, but I expected a little more maturity in an encounter like this.
Solely from that debate then, it doesn’t seem to me like atheism has evolved (ha!) much over the past decade. The terms have changed (Richard Dawkins is still throwing his “meme” theory around), but the roots are the same: God doesn’t exist because…
… religion is the root of all evil in the world
I never understood that argument, no matter what format it takes. It’s like saying that you deny the existence of Ford because people who drive Ford cars appear to cause most road accidents in the world. No one is arguing that Religion has been exploited by religious fanatics and hypocrites to carry out often abominable acts (think IRA and Al’Quaeda). But there’s a big difference between God’s existence and people behaving like maniacs in His name. The Bible, at least, is full of such examples and accompanying warnings (cf. Mat. 23:13). So failure to obey God doesn’t make God disappear.
But there’s another dimension to this: I have yet to meet a calm atheist. Why? Because I have yet to meet an atheist with a positive religious experience. None of them ever says something like, “My family was religious and they were very supportive and loving, and we attended an excellent church with loving, caring friends… but one day I reached the logical conclusion that God does not exist.” No. I will challenge any atheist to look me straight in the eye and tell me that their atheism didn’t spawn from some kind of religious disappointment/disillusionment. And I find it strange that they usually criticise religion as something rooted in emotional elements, when their own atheism seems to stem from something similar – a de-religious experience. You don’t believe me? Watch the RR/WOTM debate again, and then watch Brian Sapient being interviewed by WOTM radio’s Todd Friel at the end of the debate.
… evolution is an established, proven fact
No – it’s not. And I say that as a biologist. Evolution is a theory that tries to explain how all things bright and random came to be, but it’s not without fundamental holes. We need to understand this, because Evolution has gradually been moved out of the Science field and kicked into the Philosophy/Politics ballpark. And that’s never a good thing, because it often removes the analytical hand of Science and replaces it with heated emotion that often clouds judgment and misinterprets data. And let me also point out here something that most scientists do agree about: The theory of Evolution in of itself might not disprove the existence of God in general, but it does cast doubt on the God of the Bible. Which is equally bad, but at least should remove Evolution from the atheists’ arsenal.
Okay. I’ll admit that Creationists haven’t done a bang-up job in supporting the Biblical account of Creation. And that, I believe, is because the job is left usually to people who have no serious scientific training, or who do but argue as if they don’t. When Kirk Cameron pulled out his Croco-duck painting to argue against interspecies transition, I echoed Sapient’s cry of frustration. And yet, these lame weapons from the ’70s are given today to Christians as a “sound” argument against evolution! And then they get “blown out of the water” with complicated terms like “macroevolution” and “silent mutations”… please, Christian scientists, speak out as both Christians AND Scientists! And if you’re out there, please let me know.
… morality is not an absolute; it’s just a learned way for society to survive
This is the attack on Absolute Morality or – as C.S. Lewis put it – “who gave me my notion of right and wrong?” Morality is an important issue, because it either originated from an absolute source (God) or it’s just a trial-and-error approach to social survival that we learned over millions of years.
Well, it’s a big debate, I’ll admit. But I prefer to take the apostle Paul’s approach in the epistle to the Romans: Creation speaks of God, and conscience speaks of His Law (Rom. 1:18-32). After all, if we made up our own morality, we wouldn’t make it so hard, would we? And what would we benefit from setting hard standards of perfection? In other words, why would we make ourselves feel bad about ourselves? Doesn’t it seem more plausible that our conscience is simply a remnant of our “according to God’s image” nature telling us that there is a Perfect Law higher than ours?
Maybe that’s not clear. What I’m saying here is that, if morality had evolved as a conglomerate of social memes (transmitted units of information), then it would seem unlikely that we would devise standards that would be impossible to keep, like the Old Testament Law. The product would be guilt, and surely that’s not a good thing for species’ survival, is it?
Now, the above are in no way a comprehensive list of all atheist arguments, nor do I think that I’ve answered them comprehensively. I didn’t set out to do so. What I wanted to do is share some of my thoughts on today’s atheism that seems, to me at least, to be suffering from emotion-driven fanaticism with tired arguments rather than sincere seeking for the truth. What do I mean? Well, allow me to submit to you that atheists frequently demonstrate a spectacular lack of knowledge of Christian theology and doctrine. Now this puzzles me, because Christianity is one of the “world’s evils” that they are trying to debunk. Let me demonstrate in a quick FAQ fashion:
How could have God make the world perfect when there is so much imperfection and destruction in it?
The Bible teaches that though God made the world perfect, Man sinned and caused the creation to Fall (Gen. 3)
How can we talk about a just God, when even salvation is predestined?
This seems to be a favourite with the Rational Responders. Predestination is a hard one to swallow for our small finite minds (so it’s hard to believe that it was cooked up by humans). It’s easier to ask why would a just God even offer salvation to some? Because we’re talking also about a loving, gracious God.
Oh yeah? Then why would a loving God order people killed in the Old Testament?
Because He is also a Just God. Didn’t we just talk about that?
And so forth. But that just returns me to our original passage: “…the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). And you can argue and argue until you’re blue (or red) in the face, but in the end, believing in God and knowing God requires honesty, sincerity and what we all lack, humbleness. So I’ll leave it too here, with a prayer that, if you are indeed seeking God, you will do so with an open heart that will fill your mind later (Rom. 12:2). And if you know God through His Son Jesus Christ (there really isn’t any other way), then that you will set your heart and mind to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).
So with all the above in mind (yes! We DO involve the mind!), take a look at what God’s Word says about the issue:
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”— Exodus 3:13-14
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction.— Prov. 1:7
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”— James 4:6
The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”— Psalm 14:1
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.— Ps. 2:1-4
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him — Heb. 11:6