“Don’t be surprised to find out that there are atheists and agnostics in your midst,” Ted said to me. He’d been railing against the evils of organized religion. I got the impression he expected some kind of shocked reaction from me.
But he didn’t get one. He’d already said he was a humanist, and I knew the two kind of go together. Besides, I’m not horrified over atheists. I relish fielding their objections. I took the bait.
“So, I get that you have problems with organized religion, Ted. But human organizations aside, do you believe there is a God? Or do you believe there is not a God?”
Ted didn’t give me a straightforward answer, though. Instead he referred me to Sam Harris, one of his favorite authors. He pointed me to an article where Harris takes issue with some Catholic teachings and other Christian ideas about God. That was all fine and well for Sam Harris, but Ted hadn’t answered for himself. So I put the question to him again.
This time he answered. “I don’t believe there is a God,” he said, and followed up with a caricature of Christianity: “I don’t believe there is a supreme being that created the universe and sits in heaven and watches every movement and monitors the thoughts of every human. I see very clearly the problems of organized religion…the hypocrisies, the greed, the sadistic, bullying behavior.”
I didn’t believe those things either, but that wasn’t the issue of the moment. Ted wasn’t in a mood to listen. He wanted to do the talking. So in the language of basic logic, reasoning from premises (P) to conclusions (C), I reflected his reasoning back to him. “Ok, Ted, correct me if I’m wrong. From what I’m hearing, your reasoning goes something like this:
P: People associated with organized religion have engaged in objectionable behavior.
C: Therefore, there is no God.”
Since he’d quoted Sam Harris, I did the same for his. “And Sam Harris’s reasoning goes something like this:”
P: The character traits of God as presented by some organized religions are objectionable to me.
C: Therefore, there is no God.”
At this, Ted clarified himself a bit. He was a “science guy,” he wanted me to know, and God, if he exists, is either “impotent…or evil.” And with that, Ted wasn’t interested in talking any more. “But, enough about what I think,” he said, and changed the subject.
This exchange illustrates something about non-theists, whether they call themselves humanists, agnostics, atheists, freethinkers, or whatever other label they prefer. At root, the atheist’s position is intellectually unsound. And when the illogic is plainly reflected back to him, he must make a choice: Reexamine his intellectual grounding or discontinue the conversation. That choice will reveal something about him, not God. Ted opted for the latter. Most do … at least in public.
Here’s another example:
Ivan: “I’m definitely an atheist. I am an atheist because I cannot believe in fantasy. There is no God. There is no Heaven. There is no Hell. That stuff was created by man to help man feel better about himself. When I look at the scientific facts, I cannot believe in that. So yes, I am an atheist. Absolutely.”
Terrell: “Which scientific facts?”
Ivan: read off statistics about the size of the universe, emphasizing its vastness. “To think that there’s some type of supreme being, call it God or Jesus, that is bigger than that? That is concerned about us on earth? About our welfare? About our future? It’s absolutely preposterous,”
Ivan’s reasoning went like this:
P: The universe is really huge.
C: Therefore, there is no God.
Like Ted, Ivan considers himself a “science guy.”
Well, I like science, too. And, sure, the size of the universe is a marvel. But it says nothing whatsoever about the existence or non-existence of God. Soon, Ivan was ready to call it quits too. “I believe that at some point, people end up with firm convictions,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. “Their viewpoints should be respected and further attempts to convert them should be avoided because not everybody wants to be converted.”
Ahh, now we have arrived at the heart of the matter: Not everybody wants to be converted. These two conversations expose the heretofore hidden reality that both Ted and Ivan have made a personal, philosophical faith choice to disbelieve. We need to keep this in mind and press those vocal non-theists to make their case. The prevailing posture among atheism says the atheistic worldview is more intellectually sound and evolutionarily advanced—that atheism is the belief anyone would come to if he merely examined the scientific facts. But it’s not. Get the facts out in the open and that becomes relentlessly obvious. Theism stands and atheism falls. Because God really does exist.
The smart atheists seem to know this. Tom Gilson invited David Silverman, president of American Atheists, to co-sponsor an open, reasoned debate at the Reason Rally which took place last spring in Washington, D.C. He declined. William Lane Craig invited Richard Dawkins to debate several times last year. He declined.
Unreason notwithstanding, it’s important to remember that our goal should never be to win a tit for tat verbal volley. Ultimately the goal is to reveal God’s truth in an unbelieving world. Toward that end, this analytical tactic is quite useful for turning back ill-conceived, nay-saying arguments for atheism. And for atheists honest enough to accept it, it’s an invitation to reason together with the sure knowledge that theism is up to the challenge and atheism isn’t.