When I talk to atheists - which is often these days - it's very, very common for us to debate the merits of Christianity.
As a Christian, I affirm that there is a God, that the direct revelation of God's will to mankind can be found in the Bible, and that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins and restore us to God.
The atheists...well, they disagree.
In debating a wide range of issues, from morality to God's nature and everything in between, there are five lines of reasoning that I hear often from atheists.
1. The God of the Old Testament was violent and wicked.
It's true that there is a lot of violence in the Old Testament. It's also true that God commanded much of this violence (e.g. Lev. 20:10; Deut. 7:1-2; 1 Sam. 15:1-3). Many atheists object to God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:2), even though God was only testing Abraham's faith and stopped him before he could go through with it (vs. 10-12).
Of course, there are countless examples of God's incredible mercy and patience as well, which the atheists ignore, but yes, I won't deny the examples of violent acts and seemingly harsh laws.
Atheists are disgusted and horrified by these stories, and coming from their perspective, I can understand why.
But none of this disproves the existence of God, does it? Even if God is as horrible as they seem to believe, it only means that they don't approve of God's character. I know my kids sometimes think I'm a little mean or harsh...but I'm still their father. There's no way around that.
Any parent will tell you that even though their kids sometimes view them as harsh or unfair, it's often just love misunderstood or justice unappreciated. Even though children and teenagers think they have all the answers, they are usually just very immature, ignorant and naive. Also, when I mete out punishment to one of my children, it may seem harsh to my other children or to bystanders because there are details they don't know.
Are we children? Not technically. But in comparison to God, we kind of are, aren't we? And sometimes, just like spoiled children, we accuse God of wrongdoing without knowing all the details. Without getting into every example of God's allegedly violent and harsh nature, suffice it to say that there is a lot more to these instances than you might think.
The well-known scientist Stephen Hawking, once a theist, has concluded that God is no longer needed as an explanation for how the world works. There was a time, for example, when folks ignorantly believed that solar eclipses and bolts of lightning from the sky were expressions of God's wrath or whatever. God was used as an explanation of the otherwise unexplainable.
I have talked to many atheists who believe that because there is a natural explanation for everything, there is no reason to invoke God as an explanation.
This is illogical.
Think about it. Because we can explain how a computer works, have we explained away engineers and programmers? Not at all. Because we can explain how a car works, have we explained away the designers, the mechanics, or even Henry Ford? Of course not.
"But Casey, we can see the engineers and mechanics; we can't see God!" I understand that. But first of all, the point simply is that it's not logical to conclude that because there are natural explanations for how the world works, that there must not be a God. Secondly, I do not deny that believing in God takes faith. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen...By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Hebrews 11:1, 3).
In the Bible, we learn that even though God is active in the world and sustains it, the world primarily operates according to natural laws. For example, in Job 5:10 and Job 28:26, we're told that the Lord sends rain on the earth, but in Ecclesiastes 1:7, the hydrological cycle is explained. God sends rain on the earth using natural processes.
I'll even go so far as to say that because this world operates according to natural LAWS - laws that work together to sustain an orderly world - God is the only viable explanation. After all, laws infer a lawgiver and order infers an overseer. Paul observed in Acts 14:17, "Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."
Here's the trailer for "Earth From Space," a mind-blowing video from PBS that illustrates the incredible order and complexity of the world we live in. To watch the full documentary, click here.
3. The Bible is full of contradictions and fallacies.
I have a few friends who are scientists and it's a fact that almost nothing frustrates them more than when non-scientists are careless and irresponsible with science. Like with anything else, scientific facts can be taken out of context and misused to reach the wrong conclusions.
And yet many atheists - the same ones who can be very protective of science and hyper-sensitive to the mishandling of science by non-scientists - fall short of their own standard when it comes to their criticisms of the Bible. They cite an alleged Bible contradiction without giving any real thought to the greater context of the verses they are pitting against each another. And then, when Christians like myself offer an explanation, they accuse us of trying to "explain it away." I wonder how they would feel if I blew off their explanations of the deeper complexities of science. "You're just explaining it away you ignorant scientist you!"
In reality, many of these atheists (though not all) have a prejudice against the Bible. They're usually seeking to discredit and malign the Bible, not better understand it. For this reason, I am always so excited when I meet an atheist who seems genuinely interested in how I understand certain biblical truths or how I explain certain alleged contradictions.
One more thing...
Should a person who is trying to better understand science begin with quantum physics? Or would it be wiser to begin with basic physics? And should they consider the entire field of physics to be "junk science" or pseudoscience when they fail to understand quantum physics (as they inevitably will)?
To my atheist friends: just because you can't understand some of the deeper, meatier issues of the Bible (Heb. 5:12-14; 2 Pet. 3:15-16) doesn't invalidate the Bible or mean that it is full of logical fallacies. Be patient, please.
In other words, extend the Bible (and Christians) the same courtesy that you expect Christians to extend to science (and to you).
4. What makes Christianity any more right than other world religions?
How can I say that Christianity is right when there are Muslims who are equally-convinced that they have the truth? Isn't it the height of arrogance to tell another person of faith that I am right and they are wrong? And how can I have any confidence in the Bible as divinely inspired when there are other religious people who make the same claims about their holy books?
But is this problem unique to religion?
There are differences among historians about historical events. There are differences among politicians about policies and legislation. There are differences among parents about parenting styles. There are differences among doctors about health and lifestyle choices.
On a scientific level, what makes evolutionary scientists right when there are creation scientists claiming to have a better understanding of the universe? What about the differences that abound among scientists when it comes to string theory, the multiverse, uniformitarianism, etc?
In the end, I cannot answer for every Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan or Jew out there. I can't even answer for every Christian. All I can do is explain why I believe Christianity is true and why you need Jesus to be your Savior. The Bible says that we're to "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
5. Religion is rooted in emotions and wishful-thinking, not science and reason.
Unfortunately, this is true for a lot of Christians and religious people. There are people who cling to their faith, not because they have reasoned it out, but because they want to continue their family tradition, or they're clinging to some emotional connection, or because they "want" to believe that it's true, or because it adds structure to their life, or...well, you get the point.
Sometimes an atheist will even share a video like this on their Facebook page just to show how ridiculous religious people are. And yes, there are people out there like this. I've seen it.
But the Christian faith, even though it absolutely appeals to our emotions and feelings on a number of levels, also appeals to our intellect.
"And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised" (Eccl. 1:13).
"Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Mt. 22:37).
"...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling..." (Eph. 1:17-18).
I would suggest to you that Christians - true, committed disciples of Christ - are very interested in the human intellect and in truth. I know I am, and I have a lot of brothers and sisters-in-Christ who are as well. Again, true disciples (learners) must be!!!
And finally, to be fair, let's not fool ourselves into thinking that emotionalism is restricted to religious people only. I can assure you that some folks are atheists because they are "angry at God" or have had bad experiences in religion. Others may be atheists simply because they don't want to feel obligated to an authority higher than themselves. Some are too lazy to be religious and wear the 'atheist' label because it's convenient. In other words, not all atheists are atheists because of science and reason. So this isn't a religion problem, it's a human problem.
In this article, I've addressed five of the common arguments I hear from atheists. There are other arguments, I know, but those will have to be addressed in another article. And keep in mind that the answers I've provided are condensed; there's a lot more to say in response to each point.
If you would like me to address a particular argument or line-of-reasoning that you've heard atheists use, please let me know. I'd love to hear from you.
Until then, take care, and may God bless you in your pursuit of truth.