Tag Archives: dialogue with atheists

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Eight things I’ve learned from arguing with atheists online and why I (mostly) can’t be bothered anymore

I’ve spent a fair portion of my time in the last two years entering arguments with atheists online. These are different to arguments with atheists in real life. Steve Kryger at Communicate Jesus has posted a couple of thoughts on this matter lately – and even been roundly panned by an atheist blog for his trouble. Steve’s posts:

My motivation for doing so has been twofold – on the one hand, I don’t like seeing people bagging out Jesus without anybody mounting a defense, and on the other, I realise that people google for all sorts of things and read blogs and their sycophantic comments to help make up their minds. I want to present Jesus as an alternative worldview to militant atheism.

But I’m on the verge of giving up. Here are eight lessons I’ve learned (at times the hard way) from arguing with atheists that have left me close to pulling the pin on this particular avenue of evangelism.

  1. If you argue with atheists online, especially on their turf, you will almost always be outnumbered. There’s something about the nature of community that stops Christians using the Internet the same way atheists do. I suspect it’s because atheists are a minority with no real world equivalent to church. They meet virtually. They encourage one another through forums and blogs. The Internet, in my opinion, is their nexus of community.
  2. Being outnumbered makes actually engaging with arguments hard. If one hundred commenters on a forum each ask the token Christian a question and that Christian only picks three to answer (which is a 3:1 comment ratio ie those hundred post one comment each, the Christian posts three) then the forum often jumps on the one person, suggesting that they are being duplicitous or purposefully evasive. It’s a trial by numbers and “victories” are awarded to the masses.
  3. If you’re going to talk about science, logic or morality you need to be careful to frame your terminology accurately. If you want to engage and give a good account for yourself you need to be familiar with strawmanning, Godwin’s Law, ad hominem, Pascal’s Wager, and the “no true Scotsman fallacy” – Christians are often guilty of transgressions of the first two, the chances of an atheist resorting to an ad hominem attack in response to a Christian rapidly approaches one the longer the conversation continues. Atheists think they’ve debunked Pascal’s Wager, while the “no true Scotsman fallacy” is a favourite “trump card” they play in order to lump all theological beliefs together so that they can strawman us.
  4. Atheists have no interest in nuance. They don’t pay any regard to context. They interpret everything literally – be it text from the Bible, sarcasm in discussion (or irony), or anybody’s claim to be a “Christian.” They love quote mining – especially from the Bible. I’ve seen atheists take bits from Jesus’ parables to suggest that God wants his followers to put people to the sword. They aren’t interested in theology, they aren’t interested in why Christians can justify believing things they find abhorrent, they won’t ever really put themselves in “Christian” shoes when understanding things Christians say – they prefer to maintain distance because it’s easier to ridicule the “other”.
  5. “Christians” are your own worst enemies in these contexts. A week’s worth of reasoned and fruitful discussion can be very easily undone by one comment made without being mindful of presenting the “truth with love.” Stupid “Christian” statements, along the lines of the Answers in Genesis billboard advertisements form last year spend any credit lovingly Christ centred arguments develop.
  6. Most “atheists” are antitheists, most hold atheism at the core of their identity – but this is not true for all of them. You can’t generalise when describing atheists – some are like Dawkins who are atheists through a philosophy of scientific naturalism and evolutionary biology through “natural selection” – this view leaves no case for a creator, others are ex-Christians who had rejected all other gods already, and have since rejected God, some, like Christopher Hitchens, seem to be atheists philosophically first, and scientifically second. Each atheist is an individual. This is part of their problem when dealing with the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. They think self definition is all that matters for assessing claims – there are, in fact, external issues to take into account when deciding if a Christian is a Christian.
  7. You’ll almost never change anybody’s mind online. Particularly if you’re outnumbered. They who shout loudest win. Ten idiots in a room yelling loudly will always feel like they’ve beaten one genius speaking quietly.
  8. Your best bet in these situations is just to bring everything back to a question of the historicity of Jesus and his resurrection, this, after all, is the lynchpin of our belief. If they can disprove the resurrection then our faith is in vain. And it’s this argument that needs to be convincing. Questions of science and methodology are secondary.

Some bonus reflections – if you’re familiar with online bookmarking services like Digg and Reddit you’ll know that they are full of atheists who like to post, share, and comment on articles relating to atheism. There is almost no Christian presence (that I’ve found here). Christians need to come to terms with discourse on the Internet – because it’s, like it or not, a form of community. And a nexus for people looking to discuss new ideas. Sending people in to these forums “solo” doesn’t work. Constructive conversations in this format need more than a lone voice. I don’t know how you arrange a “team” approach – but that might be worthwhile.

If you’re an atheist who arrives here and thinks “these claims are all generalisations with no substantiation” – I can, if requested, point you to different threads (mostly on my blog, on the Friendly Atheist and on Pharyngula) where situations have arisen. Here’s one example, with a follow up, here’s a post I wrote that created quite a lot of atheistic consternation, and the response on Pharyngula. Or check out guest poster Dave’s three fantastic posts on why he’s not an atheist…

I’m not giving up arguing online – though I won’t spend as much time and I’ll try to establish my commitment to arguments early in the discussion, but I’d much rather chat over a beer in a pub where there’s not the ability to hide behind a computer screen and thousands of kilometres. Non verbal communication is important. And it’s much harder to be nasty to a person if they’re right in front of you (incidentally this is why you should always do radio interviews in studio rather than over the phone).

UPDATE: Hermant from the Friendly Atheist has kindly responded to my list. I’ve posted a response to his response in the comments on his blog.

I’d also like to make a small amendment to point 4 – atheists (as a general rule – not all atheists) also pay no regards to “medium” a blog entry is to be deconstructed, analysed and critiqued the same way a scientific hypothesis or peer reviewed journal is. They disagree with a sentence without paying any regard to the paragraph it builds. They interpret things they disagree with at extremes –  for example – I put quotation marks around the word “Christian” above as a shorthand way of describing those who take the Christian label (making no actual judgment on whether they are Christian or not – I think you can be a Christian and be very wrong about things). And it is interpreted in the following manner:

“Oh, and putting Christian in smarmy little “scare quotes” whenever you’re using it to describe a person whose actions you disapprove of? That’s what we call a “cop out.” The claim that YOUR interpretation of the Bible is flawlessly correct and that ANY judgment you make about whether a person is or is not a Christian places YOU in a position of purported omniscience. Talk about hubris!”

That might be one way to interpret such punctuation – the traditional usage is to indicate direct speech.

On Hitchens

Four interesting little articles or events surrounding Christopher Hitchens have piqued my interest in the last few weeks. For the uninitiated, Hitchens one of the more prominent voices of the New Atheist movement.

Hitchens, in a recent column on Slate, described himself essentially as the modern day champion of atheism – in the same sense that medieval kings had champions who would throw down the gauntlet to knights from near and far…

Ever since I invited any champion of faith to debate with me in the spring of 2007, I have been very impressed by the willingness of the other side to take me, and my allies, up on the offer.

Hitchens is making his big screen debut shortly. A series of debates he held with American pastor Douglas Wilson is being turned into a feature film called Collision.

Some of his preconceptions about Christians have been challenged in the process – and they’re the issues I find most offensive about the manner in which atheists conduct themselves in debates.

On one hand they say “don’t generalise us, we’re all different” and on the other they throw all Christians into the same boat as the Westboro Baptists or (medieval) Crusaders.

Hitchens made this comment on his interactions with Christians in debates:

“I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.”

Who’d have thought that some Christians might actually act like Christ.

Then he ends up committing what I think is the other great error in the discourse – the inability to split the Bible up into literary sub-genres.

Wilson isn’t one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just “metaphors.” He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn’t waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he “allows” it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners.

Some stories in the Bible are clearly metaphors – like the parables. Others are not. The fact that some Christians can’t tell the difference doesn’t mean that every piece of the Bible needs to be taken at literal face value, and it doesn’t make anyone who sees a place for metaphor or symbolism a liberal.

Hitchens was in Sydney recently speaking at the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” – his presence earned him a gig on the ABC’s Q&A. You can watch his exchange here. I only hope that Christians presenting their belief in an absolute truth can avoid the smugness the he occasionally exhibits. I know we often don’t.

While he was in Sydney Michael Jensen had an opinion piece published in the SMH that thanked Hitchens for getting people talking about God…

He points to certain passages in Hitchens’ work that fail to grasp any form of nuance in Christian thinking and buy into other people’s subjective hatchet jobs…

“Please repeat your completely erroneous claim that, in the Old Testament, God never shows or speaks of compassion or mercy; or that one about how the gospel writers can’t agree on anything. Or drop once more that clanger about how the Christian doctrine of the resurrection means that Christ never died.

Say again, in front of an audience, your historically laughable tale of how the Maccabees of the 2nd century BC were responsible for both Christianity and Islam. Say that the missing document called “Q” influenced all four gospel writers (p. 112) – when everyone who knows anything about it knows that this is just plain false.

Give full vent to your magnificent spleen. Remind us of the lack of marsupials in the book of Genesis and watch us squirm with embarrassment. Display once more that you read the Bible with no more sophistication than a snake-handler. Dismiss with an elegant wave of your hand the whole exercise of New Testament scholarship, especially the authors you haven’t read.

State again, with the conviction of someone who knows he is right, why it is that you can’t stand people who know they are right (p. 242).”

This was followed by a piece in the SMH this week by a Jewish scholar – who again points out the problems with the way Hitchens handles both the Jewish and Christian Bibles (particularly the OT).

Hitchens cites the Binding of Isaac and “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” injunction as brutish and stupid. Yet, scholars have interpreted the binding as ending child sacrifice and the injunction as a caution against excessive vengeance. Hitchens says that the God of Moses never refers to compassion and human friendship, overlooking “love your neighbour as yourself”.

For his part, Dawkins is clearly out of his depth when it comes to Jewish teachings and ethics. He claims, for instance, that “love thy neighbour” meant only “love another Jew”. He apparently is not aware that in the same chapter, Jews are commanded to love the stranger that lives in their land as they would themselves. When Jesus, himself a Jew, was asked “Who is my neighbour” he did not refer to other Jews, but to a Samaritan, considered at that time as heretical and unclean.

Which prompted this response from an atheist physicist also on the SMH website. The reason I post this is that in one paragraph he raises two of the points that Dave wrote about in post two of his “Reasons I’m not an Atheist” series.

The human brain has evolved over millions of years to be well adapted for dealing with and surviving the challenges thrown up by the kinds of environments in which human beings live. It has been suggested that the same adaptations that have contributed to humanity’s success as a species have also, as a side effect, predisposed us towards accepting certain kinds of mystical and religious beliefs. Our brains may well be “hard-wired’ for religion. Add some cultural nurture to our evolved nature and we have the beginnings of an explanation for why so many people follow some form of religion. When it comes to choosing one particular religion over another, it seems to be largely a matter of indoctrination; the best predictor of a person’s religious beliefs is the beliefs held by his or her parents.

Meanwhile, my conversation with the “friendly” atheists on the post I linked to yesterday is still going.

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Six areas atheists and Christians should agree

I had the chance this week to head along to JCU’s Society of Atheist Philosophy (SOAP) meeting where Dave Walker was invited to speak on the reasons he’s not an atheist.

The meeting itself had all the trappings of a Christian meeting. It had a nice positive tone.

Dave did a great job. I’m hoping he’ll turn his three reasons into guest posts.

But here are six areas I think Christians and atheists should agree.

  1. The separation of church and state is a good thing
    One of the big branding problems facing Christianity, and one of the major problems atheists have with Christians, is that we’re inconsistent in our approach to politics.

    We can’t want to impose Christian morality on people through the legal system unless we’re happy for an atheist government, or Islamic government to do the same to us. If we all believe we’re right and everybody else is wrong we need to make accommodations for this in the way we deal with each other.

  2. Freedom of speech
    I’m a bit shocked at how Christians respond when atheists want to advertise or gather. This week two atheist websites were hacked – probably by crazy Christians. Complaints flood in every time an atheist association puts up a billboard or advertises on a bus.

    If we want to be free to discuss and promote our beliefs we need to uphold the rights of others to do the same. Even if we don’t like what they’re saying.

  3. Most religious beliefs are crazy
    I think it was Peter Jensen who said that atheists are the closest group philosophically to Christians because we’ve both made a deliberate decision regarding the existence of God. We believe there is one, they believe there is none, the rest of society is either undecided, pluralistic, or quasi-spiritual.In most cases we’ve applied logic and reason to the rejection of other Gods. We shouldn’t be overly upset when atheists do that to us. Even if we think they’ve discounted one God too many.

    There are also a lot of subsets of Christianity that fit the crazy bill. Anyone who bases a distinctive on one verse in a part of a gospel that is not even in all the original manuscripts (like the snake holders and poison drinkers do) should be considered crazy.

    Most people who read Revelation as though it’s a literal description of what’s going to happen (even though it is introduced as a vision) can also rightly be labeled crazy.

  4. Pluralistic relativism is a dumb idea
    If there’s one idea that truly unites atheists and Christians it’s the idea that we can’t all be right. Both groups make absolute claims. All religions make contradictory claims. Even the monotheistic Abrahamic religions that are theoretically following the same God make claims that can not be reconciled. Islam teaches Jesus didn’t die. Judaism teaches Jesus isn’t the Messiah, and that he didn’t rise. We can’t all be right. We can’t pretend that we are.
  5. Morality is not dependent on belief in God
    Atheists are capable of doing good things. The group contributing the most money to developing small businesses in developing countries on Kiva is an atheist society.

    Christian statements about morality are slightly confused, which in turn confuses atheists. There are two definitions of good at play in the Bible. One describes actions. It’s “good” to feed the hungry. The other describes our nature. Where nobody can be “good enough” for God.

    It’s true that Christians believe that all goodness, and good actions of people come from God. Whether you’re a Christian or an atheist. And that good atheist actions come because they too are made in the image of God.

    But you don’t have to believe in God to be good.

    To throw further confusion into the mix – not even Christians are “good” in the complete sense. And nobody is good (or righteous) except Jesus.

  6. Science is a great tool for understanding the world
    Christianity’s stance on science (particularly in America) is confused and confusing. Science has no scope to prove or disprove God, unless you think the Bible (written before the scientific method was developed) somehow seeks to be a scientific textbook.

    Science teaches us about the way God does things. It reveals more about the world we live in. Christians should love science. Not fear it. The reason some Christians fear it is the same reason someone attacked by a vicious dog fears all dogs. Science handled badly is dangerous.

    What Christians shouldn’t like (and one of Dave’s points) is the idea of naturalism – that only what we can sense and test is real. This is a philosophy that embraces science as a sword. It’s not science.

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Comical discussion

A week after the PZ effect my traffic is just about back to normal… But for some of us the fun continued after discussion on that thread concluded.

Andrew Finden – opera singer extraordinaire (seriously, YouTube him) was in the blue corner, while a Canadian “stand up comedian” going by the name of Salvage was in the red corner.

I am going to call Andrew the winner in their 30 round match up. Salvage, like so many atheists before him, made the mistake of assuming:

a) that Andrew would be shocked to find out that Christians disagree about stuff.
b) that Christians have no idea about conjecture about the historicity of the Bible.
c) that Christians fail to grasp the basics of logic and argument.
d) that they, the atheist, on the basis of their rejection of Christianity, are in a better position to understand and critique the Bible.

He also couldn’t get past his notions of what Christians believe and actually engage with what it is that Andrew, and to a lesser extent me (he dismissed me on the basis of my disclaimer).

I’ve been pretty proud of the way Christians have conducted themselves in these threads – firstly Stephen on the original thread and then Andrew have handled obstreperous comments with grace and aplomb.

Why Hitler is actually a problem for atheists

Atheists rightly get angry when Christians make arguments about “morality” on the basis that Hitler was an atheist (by most accounts). It’s a stupid argument by an extreme and is the equivalent of people arguing that Christianity causes war on the basis of the Crusades.

No, Hitler is not a problem when it comes to atheists being able to act morally – but he is a problem for atheists when it comes to the question of evil.

I don’t know if this is true for all atheists. It’s probably not. But the ones I talk to, who are pretty smart, and cover a spectrum of “moral” approaches to life, are pretty consistent on the question of the existence of evil. They say there’s no such thing.

I asked them, out of curiousity, to define evil.

Here’s a mix of responses I got…

I find evil is a helpful word to describe abhorrent things. "Evil" is not a noun, it’s an adjective. What does exist is broken people and randomness… I don’t like it when Kevin Rudd uses it to describe something. My immediate reaction is negative because it makes me think of spiritual absolutes which I really just see as a lazy guide to morality. When I use the word "evil", I would use it with the knowledge of the religious overtones to give the word more impact.

It’s much better to view the world is terms of Harmful/Not Harmful.

Was Hitler harmful, yes.

Is homosexuality harmful, no.

That’s more meaningful than:

Was Hitler evil, yes.

Is homosexuality evil, yes.

Is abortion harmful? Yeah, I guess, but then is not-abortion even more harmful? I think so. Talking in terms like that is a lot more helpful than absolute evil.

And another response:

Evil is just a lazy shorthand way of simplifying things.  Evil exists in stories not in reality.  I also think it’s harmful as an idea.  Let’s go Nazi’s since it seems appropriate.  Humanising a Nazi or Hitler is something that will get the public up in arms.  But all "evils" are perpetrated by people not by some strange creatures of darkness and we can’t ignore this.  To understand them is not to excuse actions but it can inform how these things happen.  The Nazi’s, paedophiles, murderers, dance music producers, etc are just people.

And another…

I think the word "evil" creates more problems than solves it. I suggest a movement toward more specific terms, like "malicious", or "malevolent", or "unfortunate", depending on context and circumstance.

It seems there are a few of problems these guys have with the label. It’s got theological, and semantic baggage that make it unappealing – but in this discussion there’s also a question of relativity.

I personally find comfort in operating in a binary world of good and evil. I think it explains lots of things. I think Christianity provides a framework for understanding this binary that atheism doesn’t.

I think atheism is at its weakest when it tries to address evil, or bad, behaviour and explains away the purposeful actions of malevolent dictators as “insanity”, or the acts of the crazy. It’s more than that. There’s rationalised intent involved.

Reading any atheists (not just these specific friends of mine) trying to define how they decide if a behaviour is “positive” or “negative” is like watching someone trying to nail jelly to a wall.

There is no atheist apologetic for evil that sounds even remotely convincing to someone who believes in “good” and “evil” as absolutes. Which is a shame for the atheist – because all of our popular entertainment perpetuates the idea of such an absolute. Actually, it seems that the exceptions to that rule are the truly exceptional and intelligent, more nuanced, shows like the West Wing, The Wire and The Sopranos.

Good and evil come in degrees – and particular actions are nuanced by context. Shooting someone and killing them is not always evil. Similarly to these atheists I would support a harm v benefit process when deciding whether or not to shoot a dictator. But murder (defined as unjustifiable killing) is always evil, or bad. It doesn’t matter what rationalisation the perpetrator uses as a justification. If it’s truly justifiable then it’s not murder.

The Bible has a fair bit to say about evil, and about sin – and I think it’s where the Bible intersects the best with the human experience, along with the evidence of careful design in creation. I also think it’s the point where atheism is at its weakest when it comes to alternative explanations for why things are the way they are.

What do you reckon?

Update: one of my atheists pointed out that I haven’t really made a clear point about why I think atheism struggles with Hitler/evil.

Here’s my argument…

Most of atheism’s arguments from a scientific standpoint make sense if you remove the idea of God from the picture. You can observe most of the things atheists observe. And come to a conclusion ultimately based on how you think things came to be…

When it comes to giving any rationale about why people behave in evil ways – you’ve either got a compelling and consistent theological picture (evil is the result of rejecting God’s rule) or you’ve got the atheist’s answer – “some people do stuff that other people don’t like.”

Strobel light

I was so intrigued by Lee Strobel’s approach to talking to atheists at the Friendly Atheist, and so annoyed by a Facebook friend’s recent somewhat ill thought out Answers in Genesis inspired attack on the morality of atheists, that I decided to ask my atheist friends for advice on how they’d like to be talked to.

Christians, by nature of their belief in God, have an imperative to share the gospel with their atheist friends, and in fact any non-Christian friends. It would be unloving not to. Atheists have a low tolerance for evangelism – but they do tolerate it when they understand the motivation. Or so I have found, and generalised. The problem for atheists is that once you reject the notion of God any further assumptions about how God might or might act move further and further away from that point of distinction. For the Christian it is perfectly rational, because we believe in God, to then believe that he would intervene in things, provide the mechanism for a relationship and raise the dead. We work deductively from that point. The atheist would prefer to work inductively (it seems) from the point of something miraculous (other than our miraculously balanced continued existence) like a visible miracle or visible, physical, answered prayer.

That’s a rather long preamble. I asked my friends, who I will identify by their online nom de plumes (except for Benny) some questions. While there are some obvious problems with some of their answers from a Christian perspective, they answered honestly and gave a pretty good representation of a cross section of atheist thoughts on the matter.

What should the church do better, in your opinions, if it wants to grow?

Benny

Push its community spirit more. I think people today would appreciate being part of a social group as much as learning their chosen religion. I think the non-church opinion of churches is that they are becoming less of benefit to the community and more benefit to members and the religion. ie, there is a divide opening.

Mr Paroxysm

That’s an odd question for an atheist/agnostic to answer as they wouldn’t want the church to grow.  I think Ben covered this though.  The good churches do is with community building and support systems.  I think it is important however to keep the religious aspect separate from support groups/charity they provide and instead let people naturally discover those aspects if they wish.  The Salvation Army does this extremely well.

What arguments from Christians do you have the most problems addressing?

Mr Paroxysm
I don’t really find any subject difficult to address.  I suppose when the Christian uses "read the bible" as some kind of proof then you fall into an argument about the legitimacy of the bible and considering all the different theories on it’s authorship, differences in translation, included and omitted texts most of which can not be historically proven from either side and likely never will be (with exception to translation issue, the original text isn’t an issue for debate as far as I’ve ever seen just the different translations can be confounding)

Mr Snuffle

Problem is I don’t find any of it convincing, and when you start getting into prayer/resurrection it all just sounds ridiculous. If you want to understand the way I think about what you say, simply replace the words "Christian God" with "Santa", and then ask yourself which part of the argument you find the most compelling.

I think the meat of the argument you make is the argument for a god, any god. Or the likelihood of God as a starting point.

Assuming for a moment that Christianity is true, how should Christians do better at not annoying non-believers and people from other religions?

Benny

Who knows. Toning down the righteousness would be a good start. I think non-Christians are sick of having their views thwarted/not taken seriously because apparently they are morally and ideologically inferior.

Mr Paroxysm

Well your first point is something that I think encapsulates what I was going to say.  Christianity is true… for you.  What Christians need to recognise is that their religion is a personal truth and all other religions are as personally true for other people.  Obviously for themselves Christianity it "True" but they need to recognise that they do not lay claim to any more evidence of truth than any other religion.  You have faith that your religion is true but so does everyone else.  The difference is with the Atheist who sees equality amongst all religions but has no faith in the evidence presented by any.
Christians (as with any other religion) can not expect their personal truth to be impactful to anyone not adhering to their dogma. 

Let there be light

I often feel discouraged when talking to my atheist friends. Not because their arguments are compelling, but because I love them and believe Christianity is true and offers hope.

It’s hard. It’s like talking to a brick wall. But this long quote gives me a fair bit of hope that all is not lost.

“My commitment to atheism essentially came in three steps. The first was when I was in junior high school and began asking Christians uncomfortable questions, like, “How can there be a loving God with so much suffering in the world?” And, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” And, “How can Jesus be the only way to God?” Rather than engage with me, they basically told me to keep my questions to myself. I quickly concluded that the reason they didn’t want to discuss these matters was because there were no good answers from the Christian perspective.

The second step came when I began studying neo-Darwinism in high school. I was particularly struck by Stanley Miller’s 1959 experiment in which he recreated what he thought was the original atmosphere of the primitive Earth, shot electricity through it to simulate lightning, and discovered the creation of some amino acids, the building blocks of life. I naively concluded that Miller had proven that life could have emerged in a purely naturalistic way. To me, that meant God was out of a job!”

That’s Lee Strobel – American author of a number of books of Christian apologetics. He said it in answers to a series of questions from the Friendly Atheist back in January.

You can find them here, here, here, and here. It’s a great example of respectful dialogue between two opposing camps.

And here’s the encouraging rub.

For nearly two years, I investigated science, philosophy, and history. I read literature (both pro and con), quizzed experts, and studied archaeology. On November 8th, 1981, alone in my room, I took a yellow legal pad and began summarizing the evidence I had encountered. In light of the scientific evidence that points toward a Creator and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I came to the conclusion that it would have required more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian.

Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God’s existence and Jesus’ resurrection (and, hence, his divinity). In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.

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Dialogue with Atheists

I love my atheist friends. Not only do they brighten up my work days with interesting emails, the also get me thinking quite a bit about what we do right and wrong as Christians.

The Internet Monk has entered into his own little dialogue with an atheist – it’s interesting reading.

That old “morality” chestnut comes up. One of the things atheists seem to find profoundly annoying (apart from being generalised and slandered as a bunch, and references to Hitler) is the idea that you can’t be a moral person without God.

This is a communication breakdown. When I say “you can’t be good without God” it’s because I believe in God, believe humanity to be totally and naturally sinful, and believe that God graciously allows sinful people to act morally. Other people mean something different – they mean that you can’t be moral without “believing” in God. They’re different. And I think we need to be careful to express the difference in meaning. Non-theists are capable of moral behaviour. Theists believe that’s because God lets them, atheists don’t feel that compulsion because they don’t believe God is there to do it.

The internetmonk article also brings up the question of indoctrinating children and whether or not this constitutes “child abuse” – which it can’t possibly, if God is there. And I believe he is.