Over the years, I have seen a lot of skeptical arguments against the Christian faith. There are plenty of websites written by people who claim to be former Christians who now have made it their life purpose to ‘disprove’ Christianity. What are the similarities between the purpose of these atheist websites and the Christian apologetic endeavor? As I have already said before, in Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment by James Taylor, Taylor lists three kinds of people who we will encounter. If anything, if we encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:
1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.
2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims.
3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.
When it comes to evaluating these atheist websites and their criticisms it is clear these people mostly fall under category #1. They are mostly critics. And they are providing the info for people that have become atheists or are possibly seekers and doubters. Some of them clearly want to turn doubters into #1′s and join the fight against eradicating the Christian faith and religion in general. My friend Tom Gilson has written an excellent article called The Strangely Simple World of Internet Atheism.
What are the similarities between the purpose of these atheist websites and the Christian apologetic endeavor?
First, both have issues of confirmation bias. If someone is a critic (see above), and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible, in many cases they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and dismiss evidence that might challenge or overturn their position. Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist, they will seek evidence to support such a claim as well. The one thing I have noticed about atheists (and those that adhere to metaphysical naturalism) is that they are only permitted to look for natural causes. Theists are permitted to look for two kinds of causes-both natural and non-natural.
I don’t want to give the impression that this means there is no objectivity involved here. But in many cases, the bias and starting points are the same. Both parties are looking for evidence for their position and they cite books and articles to back up their points. Also, both sides can tend to dismiss each other when they cite an authority on some given topic because the authority doesn’t share the same worldview or position on the topic.
A small example is needed here: go to any atheist website and you will see the same list for the Jesus mysticism position (e.g, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Dan Barker, Earl Doherty, etc). When Bart Ehrman came out with his book on the existence of Jesus, this list of mythers and their followers trashed it because it challenged instead of confirming their position on mythicism.
Why Atheist Apologetics?
In regards to this topic there is one thing I have thought about a lot. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history. Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology. In other words, humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, no directions. Therefore, teleology has a goal in mind and evolution has been seen to run down dead ends many, many times. As Richard Dawkins says:
Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference-Scheff, Liam. 2007. The Dawkins Delusion. Salvo, 2:94.
Sometimes, a non theists’ desire to do apologetics might be driven by the issue that religion is a perceived as harmful to humans and society. In response, there has been enough written about the benefits of Christianity to the world. Jonathan Hill’s What has Christianity Ever Done For Us? or An Atheist Defends Religion by author Bruce Sheiman are good starting points. So we are back to whether we have all the information on this issue.
But what if an atheist thinks they have a moral obligation to do atheist apologetics? We now are back to the issue of how a naturalist might try to ground a moral obligation. A moral duty encompasses both a proposition and a command; both are features of minds. But based on a naturalistic worldview, we only have whatever is there IS right. In other words, the descriptive element is there. But there is prescriptive aspect here which is missing. It is a challenge to make the leap from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought.’
I don’t doubt for one moment think atheist apologetics are going away any time in the near future. In many cases, they are more aggressive than ever. But here’s my point: I ask atheists why they get so much meaning and purpose in trying to disprove Christianity? As I repeat again, by their own worldview, they have no purpose, goals, etc. But now they say they can create their own meaning. However, while skeptics/atheists can say they can create their own meaning, let’s think about this: If they want to claim they are the beacons of rationality and objectivity, they need to admit they have a gaping hole in their worldview and apologetic endeavor. By their own worldview, the universe is deaf and blind to their own meaning that they have created.