Q&A: Debating Atheists about Scripture


Hey, I was wondering, how do you debate with atheists about Scripture? I have been doing it and they always come back with some kind of nonsense. I can show them facts and they’ll just “blah blah blah.”

Any advice?

Thanks,

J

Hello J,

Thank you for your question! The answer is not easy, but I do know, first-hand, the difficulties of trying to reach the “atheist” mind and it can become quite tiresome to be laughed at incessantly. When holding a discussion with an atheist, it is essential to start with certain things being realized (you may already know some of this and how it applies):

1) There are essentially two types of atheists:

a. The introverted atheist: these essentially say, “I do not believe in God.” They make no proclamation of assault, but instead they simply turn away.

b. The proselytizing atheist: this type of atheist proclaims that “there is no God.” They do not simply turn from God, but they wage a war against the very notion of a Higher Authority to which they are to be held accountable. The proselytizing atheist commits a great fault in logic and rationality (quite humorously, for they claim a monopoly on rational thought). I can go further into this if you would like – I would not be put out in the least, but the general fault itself is what I will call the “fault of the Universal Negative,” which is a fallacy and quite a massive one, at that.

2) The atheist can also be labeled a “naturalist,” for this is all that is and ever will be in their perspective. What this means is that the atheist will claim justification for their lack of belief on a lack of evidence for the existence of God (they will use words like “empirical”), which is to say that they deny on the basis of no physical evidence; this is just silly, though, for they demand physical evidence of a supernatural Being (God).

The aforementioned argument is similar in heart to “argumentum ad ignorantiam.”

3) Christianity is not, “Salvation by belief through reason,” but is, instead, “Salvation by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8). What this means is that the unbeliever cannot be beaten into faith through logic, fact, or reason. This is relevant only because they will attempt to draw out proof against God on the basis of science and philosophy – falsely, might I add – and will say that their belief or lack thereof is for the sole reason that they have not the evidence to substantiate a reasonable belief, but if this is not possible for the very reason above, then it leads to the next point.

4) Most of the time, the one who is impacted the most is the one who is watching the debate/discussion on the matter of faith in God. Most proselytizing atheists will fight for the sake of fighting and will argue on the sole basis of the fact that they are the opposition, yet those watching from afar – those observers – are those who are weighing the statements and the intent of the adherents.

5) Some people refuse to believe – just because.

That is quite a lot of information and I pray that it is retained well, but the matter is not complete. If you wish to effectively use scripture against an atheist, read it avidly: start with the beginning of the New Testament through Revelation and then through the Old Testament. If you have done so, already, then continue to read through it in either its complete text or in varying sections, but never stop. Next, pray for an effective witness to those who have established themselves against God. To go further, remember Paul’s words to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:18-25),

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Our faith is frustrating to them for they seek wisdom and evidence; we are foolish to them for this very reason and, as hard as it can be to accept, some, it could be, were just not meant to believe. Paul discusses this, in a way, I suspect, in Romans 9:22-24,

“What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”

Finally, approach the matter with love. If the individual battle cannot be won with love, patience, and humility, then it is not being battled appropriately. Atheists, i.e., those who establish themselves against God, can only effectively be won over through the fullness of love. Do not repay their evil with your wrath and remember that the persecution you will face is supposed to happen…

If you need anything else, please let me know.

With great love and peace in the risen Lord Jesus,
Phillip Nicewaner

 

If you have any theological questions for me, you may contact me @ ministeringinlove@gmail.com or through the Ministering in love Facebook page and Twitter links on the left-hand side of this page.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Q&A: Debating Atheists about Scripture

  1. Great advice, Phillip!

    I just try to love them.. and it’s easier with some than with others to do so. The polite atheists are a joy to discuss things with, but it’s really hard with the ones who have contempt for Christians and Christianity. The Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett new atheists are challenging. These are not lovable people.

    It’s good to have our beliefs challenged and it keeps us on our toes. Stay in the word, like you said… I never studied so much until I began to converse regularly with atheists.

    • You are right. Having to overcome the challenge often makes us more knowledgeable and better prepared for future interactions. The best interaction I have been blessed with in this regard was near the time that I surrendered my life. I spent several days talking to a mathematician who embraced the naturalist line of thought; this helped refine my ability to stand against some of the most challenging minds.

      God bless.

  2. There are several problems with your position.

    First, a lot of theists claim that the existence of gods is supportable by evidence. McDowell, Craig, Strobel, and Johnson spring immediately to mind, not to mention millions of actual believers. To the extent that atheists do in fact argue on the basis of evidence, we are arguing against real people who hold real positions. If it’s not your position that evidence is not relevant to the existence of God, then this argument does not apply to you; if the shoe does not fit, you are under no obligation to wear it.

    If, however, the existence of God is not something to which evidence applies, we have a severe problem: on what basis could we have any meaningful debate? Philosophy is a poor basis on which to debate; philosophy is about asking interesting questions, not providing authoritative answers. Any discourse that provides authoritative answers is science (broadly construed), not philosophy.

    I think you get the atheist agenda only half right. I think you’re spot on that the atheist agenda is “against the very notion of a Higher Authority to which they are to be held accountable.” Presumably, you take the contrary position: there really is a Higher Authority to which humans are held accountable. I don’t see how you can get the benefit of the doubt on this point: it doesn’t feel sufficient to say we cannot be absolutely certain there isn’t some Higher Authority; we really want a very compelling argument that not only does this Higher Authority actually exist, but that we can be very confident we know its dictates unambiguously.

    Your naturalism/supernaturalism dichotomy is, at the very least, imprecise. You may be confusing naturalism with materialism. Naturalism is, I think, best construed primarily epistemically: the “natural” world is just the world we can know about. Metaphysical Naturalism, then, is just the position that the world we can know about is the only world there is. “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

    Scripture may sometimes be useful in explaining what Christian theology is, but it does not seem useful as apologetics. Most atheists understand, I think, that parts of the Bible exempt God from natural inquiry (other parts, however, seem to assert that God knowable by rational inquiry); we believe that these parts simply make the concept of God incoherent or meaningless.

    If you want to claim the existence of a non-interventionist, absolutely passive, deistic god, the atheist response is usually going to be apathy. Sure, God might be hiding behind the couch, but so what?

    Remember, we are not demanding that a Supernatural God provide natural evidence of its existence. We are demanding evidence from human beings who claim to be speaking for this supposed Higher Authority. Whether or not we are in a position to demand evidence from God, we are certainly entitled to demand evidence from you.

    • Thanks for your courteous response and sorry for the delay. School work and other obligations prevented me from giving this the proper consideration that it deserves.

      The demand for evidence from the skeptic most commonly involves what is “empirically demonstrable” and acceptance is withheld until such evidence can be provided; this is demanded because of one primary reason: the skeptic knows that “empirically demonstrable” evidence is not possible for the theist to provide. The issue of the “empirically demonstrable” evidence falters in the sense that it first requires the ability to make the leap from the natural to the supernatural and afford the room to allow a supernatural cause for a natural event, but, instead, the scientist and, consequently, anyone who asks for empirical evidence finds that the natural movement has an associated natural movement from which the observed movement was derived. More to this point, even in historical documentation of the direct communication of God to the world through specific acts of miracles and whatnot (consider the Scripture), we are given rationalizations that say the writers and various people were on drugs and/or were merely having dreams or hallucinations. Looking back to Hawking’s, A Brief History of Time, Hawking wrote about the discovery that the universe was not static and how this left the door open for a potential creator, which many tried furiously to defend against and explain away (I would give the exact section, but I am about 600 miles from my copy. It was, however, in the section talking about Hubble and his discoveries). The ultimate point, here, is that the room for rationality is non-existent because the will becomes the primary motivation.

      What we are left with on both sides is the reliance upon philosophical approaches to the general existence of a deity. Sadly, though, more modern scientists of various forms have largely ignored or devalued the worth of philosophy in their fields of study, when it, as a distinct discipline, was the bed-fellow of the various sciences. Despite what we are left with, those who entertain such methods are laughed at and their credibility is held as waste. The reality is that Philosophy is actually a means of providing answers to questions and, more specifically, the question we cannot answer by other means. Where science is focused around the observation and recording of the processes of existence itself (philosophy addressed these matters and how they relate to our individual lives. Think Aristotle’s, Physics, which happens to be a foundational work in both facets of intellectual thought), Philosophy tends to focus more on the relationship of and the essence of the human being in relation to existence, which, interestingly enough, is also a point of Theology.

      As for the “benefit of the doubt,” we don’t really seek it necessarily – at least, not as a whole. For many of us, we know that the human mind is not capable of accepting these things on its own. More than this, though, we do not generally try to lead a person to the mere acceptance that there could be a creator, for our purpose is to preach the “good news” of Jesus Christ, who cannot be accepted, in the manner in which He demands, by way of reason. Kierkegaard argued that our faith was one “by virtue of the absurd” in the sense that the certain tenets of our faith specifically assault human reason.

      The atheist’s “agenda,” if we could call it as such, varies. There are those who take the neutral sense and will entertain discussions, but the growing majority takes the “anti” stance against it – and I will call them “proselytizers”-, perhaps, being fueled by the more vocal and famous anti-theists like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. The latter community suffer under the weight of their assertions, which surmount to nothing short of adamantly teaching there is no God and, consequently, they fall under the preposterous fallacy of the Universal Negative. Mind you, the aforementioned fallacy is not always a fallacy, but when the perceptive abilities of the observer cannot perceive the object or all parts of the container in which the object is to be contained, the observer cannot logically deduce that the object does not exist. Exceptions would be if one would say something along the lines of “there is no live elephant floating in outer space.” Larger, complex life or, more specifically, air-breathing life cannot, as we understand, sustain life unassisted in outer space. Knowing the qualities of the object and the container in which the object is said to be contained can offer us insight into the truthfulness of the claim itself. The problem of “there is no God” is that the person making the claim does not know the qualities of the object or subject in question and how the aforementioned object/subject relates to the container in question and, next, if the object is said to exist outside of the container in question, the claim itself is unsupportable and irrelevant.

      Again, thanks for the response. If I missed anything or if you would like to continue this, please let me know.

      Blessings in the Lord,
      Phillip Nicewaner

  3. I understand the press of time; I am a full time student myself.

    The fault is certainly my own, but I must confess I completely failed to grasp your previous comment. Perhaps we should stick to a single point and explore it in some depth, keeping it simple for the benefit of the… moderate… quality of my own intelligence.

    I’d be happy to consider any topic, but perhaps I might suggest this question: Assuming that you believe that questions regarding the existence and nature of God are subject to any sort of empirical demonstration, in what sense is the existence and nature of God a matter of controversy? A controversy, of course, more than just one of opinion and taste in literary metaphor.

    • Thanks again for your patience. Between school and getting enough time to post what I feel to be important, I haven’t had much left to respond.

      I think you may be right about covering a single topic for mutual benefit. The problem is that we (“I”, specifically) start writing in response to another and there is so much that our minds want to cover that we can inadvertently make things seem convoluted – not that they are necessarily being twisted, but the link or connection from point A to point B cannot be easily made. We see this from a lot of the older philosophers and even with one another in these types of discussions. To this point, I am reminded of the works of Hobbes, Bacon, and, occasionally, Kierkegaard.

      You pose an interesting question. I believe the controversy is exactly the conflict between the rational man and spiritual man. Either one can be the other in the sense that a rational man can be spiritual and a spiritual man can be rational, but when related to one another, they exclude the contrary. I suppose, in a loose way, the conflict can also be seen as man v. himself, in the sense that man’s “human reason” is assaulted by the concept of faith – this point, I admit, has been heavily influenced by Soren Kierkegaard because it made the most sense and answered one of the more difficult questions. Man’s human reason requires intellectual proof by which man may accept any idea about a person, place, or thing as truly being the case; however, faith requires man to admit that his capabilities are insufficient and we see this in a few areas, such as: faith in one’s ability to use skills or traits to respond to an event, faith in belief itself, and faith in a higher power.

      My concern is of the latter of the three, which I will call the “revelatory experience”. We all experience a form of that faith or the proper synonym for this discussion: trust; that is to say “trust in a higher authority”. In Science, not everyone can be a Hawking or Polkinghorne. In Philosophy, not everyone can be an Aristotle or Kierkegaard and there is a level of trust that is placed on these individuals whether or not their work is understood, which results in a sort of revelatory experience, whereby ignorance is lifted through the acceptance of the presentation by the authority. The Christian is essentially the one who recognizes their great ignorance and places their trust in the revelation of the authority. See, for those of us who truly believe (it is necessary to qualify it in such a manner), we are not putting our faith on the belief that there is a God, but, instead, we are putting our faith on the promises and assurances of the God whose existence was revealed to us. To address a point from the first response, to ask that we should provide empirical evidence that God exists is not unlike asking the dense to prove why Aristotle was right in his Metaphysics and provide support from the material. It simply cannot be done in a rational way.

      If we look at a Kierkegaardian concept, we would argue that we believe “by virtue of the absurd”. The primary tenets of our belief, alone, are paradoxes that assault the foundations of reason (i.e. a transcendent Creator could make Himself lower than the angels and allow Himself to be humiliated and killed by His own creation), which, if you know any Christian Scripture, should bring to mind 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, specifically for this point, verse 20: “Where is the wise person…Where is the philosopher of this age?” What eventually happens, though, is the unjustifiable progression to attempt to prove, scientifically, that there is indeed a God, when we are not here to do that and, again, cannot. In a way, we cannot for the exact same reasons why one cannot justifiably state that there is no God: we do not know [enough] about God’s qualities to say, “He is at work here, but not there.” Nor do we have the luxury to assume that He is at work on one thing but not another. As far as we are concerned, God’s handiwork could be at work in all things, but, even then, what does such a thing look like to our eyes? Job 38-39 would point us to the conclusion that God is at work in all aspects of existence itself, but, again, how do we know that “x” process is the work of God and “y” process is not?

      The conclusion, I suppose, would only be a mere restatement: the controversy exists between the rational and spiritual man because both have different bases from which and methods with which they work.

      Phew. I hope this was a coherent response. It certainly sounded clear in my head. Peace to you, man.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s