Talking To Atheists

"Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape."

“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better and we could talk.

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23 Comments

  1. I think that the best way to learn about an atheist’s beliefs is precisely the same as the best way to learn about a Christian’s beliefs: find one, and ask him. On either view, you’ll run afoul of people who want to talk at you, rather than with you; however, it’s worth searching for those of us who really do enjoy a friendly dialectic.

    If you’re truly interested, I’m one atheist who is certainly open to a dialogue. I’ll do my best to answer any questions you’d like to ask.

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    • Boxing Pythagoras, thanks for stopping by and for being open to dialogue. I think that’s great.

      I think the question I posed at the end of this post is the one I’d like to know most of all: “So ‘a cosmic accident’ is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer. Why?”

      Any light you can shed on that would be most appreciated.

      Becky

      Like

      • I think that a “cosmic accident,” as you’ve phrased it, is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer for precisely the same reason that I think a meteorological accident is a better explanation for the existence of desert dunes than is an intelligent designer. Even if I find a particular set of dunes arbitrarily pleasing, I do not jump to the conclusion that someone deliberately designed them to be so. I notice how the wind pushes the sand around and hypothesize that, over large periods of time, sand moved in such a way accumulates into dunes.

        Intelligent Design is only a rational hypothesis if one is already aware of the existence of an intelligent designer, and has access to objects which that designer is known to have created in contrast to objects which that designer is known not to have created. I am not already aware of the existence of such a designer, insofar as life is concerned, nor have I any other objects by which to compare and contrast.

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        • I understand what you’re saying about the dunes and agree that they can seem arbitrary and therefore would have an arbitrary explanation. But what about intelligence? There’s nothing arbitrary about intelligence, is there?

          I also wonder about not looking for a designer when in fact all we know on earth apart from nature has a creator. So if we credit a creator with the wheel and bronze and houses and wagons and hoes and penicillin and radio and the Internet, why would we think the greatest “invention,” nature itself, doesn’t have a creator?

          It seems more likely to me that since we don’t have any random developments cropping up around us, we’d be more inclined to look away from randomness as an answer to where we came from, than to it.

          What am I missing?

          Becky

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          • But what about intelligence? There’s nothing arbitrary about intelligence, is there?

            A preference for intelligence over non-intelligence is certainly arbitrary.

            we credit a creator with the wheel and bronze and houses and wagons and hoes and penicillin and radio and the Internet

            We note such things as being intelligently designed specifically by contrasting them against things which were not intelligently designed. With what undesigned entity would you suggest we contrast the universe in order to determine whether or not it was the product of intelligent design?

            It seems more likely to me that since we don’t have any random developments cropping up around us, we’d be more inclined to look away from randomness as an answer to where we came from, than to it.

            I’m not sure what you mean. There are random developments cropping up around us all the time, especially as regards chemistry and life.

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          • Thanks for your thoughtful answer, Boxing Pythagoras. I don’t know if I can do justice to your comments.

            I’m not sure I understand your response to my point about intelligence not being arbitrary. In context, I was simply meaning that a random dune might have a random blast of wind to explain it, but intelligence is complex and therefore would seem to require something more than a random cause. How can non-intelligence create intelligence?

            But as I think about it, I also wonder why intelligence doesn’t crop up among the flowers or rocks from time to time if it’s a chancy development. Why are there patterns? Why all the complexity in DNA which mirrors in miniature the complexity of the universe?

            We note such things as being intelligently designed specifically by contrasting them against things which were not intelligently designed. Hmm, I’ve never looked at it like that before—as if it needs to be contrasted in order to be understood as intelligently designed. I’ve thought intelligence creates connections that order things uniquely. If left alone, they would not be so ordered, but when intelligence is applied, it changes in ways it would not otherwise have changed. I mean, we could (hypothetically) leave a typewriter alone for a billion years and it would not become a computer. I suppose that’s a form of comparison.

            But we’re reasoning backwards. My argument is you could leave sludge alone amongst volatile electric charges for billions and billions of years and there’s no reason to believe life would spring from that. On the other hand, if you start with a person of intelligence, it seems likely that people of intelligence would result.

            I’m not sure what you mean. There are random developments cropping up around us all the time, especially as regards chemistry and life. The “random developments” I was referring to are cars that fly without someone designing them to do so or self-washing dishes—technology. We don’t expect random un-designed machinery to pop up one day. Intelligent people create. If that’s true here and now, it seems likely it has been true from the beginning.

            Becky

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          • Hi, Becky! Sorry I missed your latest response until just now. I’ll do my best to answer them.

            …a random dune might have a random blast of wind to explain it, but intelligence is complex and therefore would seem to require something more than a random cause.

            A dune is rather complex, as well. A dune can arise over time from a long series of winds randomly acting upon millions of individual grains of sand. Similarly, I see no reason why a long series of generations involving neuronal mutation would be prevented from resulting in intelligence.

            I also wonder why intelligence doesn’t crop up among the flowers or rocks from time to time if it’s a chancy development.

            Flowers don’t have neuronal nervous systems, which seem required for producing the qualities which we classify as “intelligence.” Rocks aren’t even living things, let alone organisms with a neuronal nervous system.

            Why all the complexity in DNA which mirrors in miniature the complexity of the universe?

            I honestly don’t see how DNA mirrors the universe in miniature. There doesn’t seem to be much resemblance between the two.

            I’ve thought intelligence creates connections that order things uniquely. If left alone, they would not be so ordered…

            Natural, non-intelligent processes lead to some rather beautiful orderings all the time. No intelligence was necessary for gravity to cause the planets to coalesce and fall into orbit about the sun, for instance. No intelligence is necessary for carbon atoms to form into cubic lattices when they are composed into diamonds. No intelligence is necessary for the wind to order grains of sand into incredible dunes.

            I was referring to are cars that fly without someone designing them to do so or self-washing dishes—technology. We don’t expect random un-designed machinery to pop up one day.

            These types of things do not have any means of self-replication, let alone any of the other systems which are necessary to biological evolution. It’s fairly unreasonable to expect the same results out of inanimate objects as out of a system of self-replicating organisms which results in variations over subsequent generations.

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  2. Ray Comfort did a “man on the street” session with university students and professors, asking for provable, observable evidence of evolution. People had to admit, in the end, that they held a belief, and that it wasn’t scientifically provable.

    Just as the other side asks us for the evidence, we should not be afraid to let them present their evidence, as well. Although evolutionists and/or atheists claim to have science on their side, while saying that all we have is mythology, they need to come to an understanding that the science they hold dear doesn’t prove their side, either.

    We’re all just people of faith, of one kind or another.

    And perhaps that’s the common ground from which we can begin the discussion.

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    • Keanan, I think you’ve made a critical point. Because evolution can’t be tested by the scientific method, it’s surprising that it has become the touchstone of science when it comes to the origins of life.

      I agree that faith is the common ground, but I’m afraid that’s still only something those of us with a Christian worldview believe.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I find that the best way to engage an atheist regarding his or her beliefs is to focus the discussion within the areas they are most comfortable: science, mathematics, and logic. And it isn’t about refuting what that person believes but rather to begin a dialogue in which he or she understands that there are only two possible options: theism or nihilism. But when exploring the latter through those three disciplines, one may discover that the very concept of nihilism falls on its own sword, leaving the only remaining option. One day I hope to publish my book “The Big Answers: Science, Faith, and the Math of God.” In that book, I try to open that dialogue not by refuting naturalism but looking at the scientific, mathematical, and logical evidence to support those things beyond the limited scope of naturalism.

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    • Lyle, you certainly have the expertise to engage atheists at the science, math, and logic levels. I suspect, however, your starting place is not one readily accepted. I think it’s brilliant and I hope you get your book published soon. But I think some people—Christian and atheist alike—will need some convincing.

      Becky

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  4. That was well said. Atheism is an interesting thing, it often springs from Christianity. Many atheists were former Christians. You also don’t find a lot of atheists in parts of the world not heavily influenced by Christian values. Islamic countries aren’t big on atheism. Totalitarian regimes pretty much replace all beliefs with belief in the state. So atheism and Christianity are closely entwined, nearly reflections of each other, opposite sides of the same coin.

    Atheists sometimes have a hard time seeing this, but they can’t exist without Christians, because it is Christians that they need to use to prove their own non belief. You simply cannot prove the non existence of a God you do not believe in, because that’s a logical fallacy. Eventually atheists have to turn to Christians as a way of validating or defending their non belief. So “bad” Christians become the “evidence”
    atheists often use to explain why they don’t believe in God. LOL, a fact that really presses on me the importance of not being a bad Christian.

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    • but they can’t exist without Christians, because it is Christians that they need to use to prove their own non belief

      Smile… if it weren’t for Christians, or any religious person trying to enforce their unsubstantiated supernatural views onto society then the average atheist wouldn’t give a monkey’s uncle what you or anyone else believed.
      You must understand this to truly appreciate how an atheist thinks.

      If it weren’t for the insidious proselytizing and indoctrination of kids I would view Christianity much as I view an ”opposing” sports team.
      They tout themselves for all their worth, but they wont damn another teams supporters to eternal torture for not supporting them and if I choose to cross the floor and support them they will welcome me.
      But should I do so, it is because of choice as an adult.

      So, if someone like you were to issue a public statement that you would never indoctrinate children with your religious beliefs then I would doff my cap and you would gain a modicum of respect.
      Oh, I would still consider that you are completely off your rocker, but this is a choice that you are exercising as an adult, which you have every right to do.

      And if every religious person made a similar public statement there would pretty soon be a huge wall of silence form the atheist community – as there was nothing to fight against.

      So, IB, how about it? Are you up to making such a public statement?

      Like

      • “So, IB, how about it? Are you up to making such a public statement?”

        I wrote you a whole post about it 😉

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        • Another apologist ream, I note.
          *Shakes head*

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        • Well written post IB22!

          Liked by 1 person

        • What a great post about indoctrination, IB22. Not sure how Arkenaten says it’s an “apologist ream,” and it certainly isn’t like any other since it is your story. You have a unique perspective and I’m glad you’re willing to let others know about it.

          Becky

          Liked by 1 person

    • Great observation about the absence of atheists in non-Christian societies. I’d never thought of that before.

      And you’re right about the logical fallacy of proving God’s nonexistence. Only an omniscient being can know what does not exist, which would make that person . . . god-like, at least on one level.

      I have also encountered a number of atheists who came from a background which included a professing Christian church or family. I’d like to know to what degree the people of the past influenced their thoughts about God.

      As you say, “bad Christians” may be the real “evidence” upon which they rely.

      Interestingly, Jesus say something close to the converse—they’ll know you are Christians by the love you have for one another. Seems to me, the evidence of changed lives is greater than the cosmological arguments. But I could be wrong on that. I’d love to know what atheists think on the matter!

      Becky

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      • Great observation about the absence of atheists in non-Christian societies. I’d never thought of that before.

        Did you ever stop to consider why though?
        Perhaps if you understood more about other religions you would understand why?
        Go on…have a guess why there are few professing atheists in some non -Christian societies?

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  5. Starting from where you are, you should probably just forget about it. Why do you want to understand in the first place? What do you want to discuss with non-believers, evangelism?

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    • Keithnoback, I want to discuss the big issues of life—why are we here, where did we come from, where are we going. As I see it, those make a huge difference in the society that we help to shape. If we continue to miss each other at this level, how can we expect anything but the ruptured culture we’re currently experiencing? Wouldn’t it be better to find common ground, to discover what we both believe in, the values we hold in common?

      Becky

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  6. I like your non confrontational approach. It makes me crazy to see those claims of someone “dismantling atheism in three minutes” or some such thing. That has an element of hubris and disrespect I can’t handle. Phil Vischer has done a series of blogs and podcasts dialoging with atheists that are fascinating and very good.

    And by the way. we are all “indoctrinating” children. Whether we teach, live with, or model before them, we are imparting our beliefs. Those beliefs may be Christianity, humanism, Islam, or anything else under the sun. They are all belief systems, and atheists indoctrinate equally. Or perhaps we should take out the loaded word and instead of using it to accuse and divide people simply say we all model what we believe, because it’s part of who we are.

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    • Great point about the indoctrination issue, Jill. Of course you are right, and you explained it far better than I could have.

      I appreciate your feedback. I know it’s easier to drop a few cliches and invectives into a post that actually fuels animosity, but I don’t see the point and I don’t think that’s what Jesus Christ wants from his representatives.

      Becky

      Like


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