It’s the inaugural post from The Wednesday Writers!
No idea what I’m talking about? Read this.
Today we hear from my dear friend Andrew Budek-Schmeisser.
How To Talk To An Atheist
How do you talk to an atheist who is interested in debate?
And how do you talk to an atheist who wants only to shout you down?
The second one’s easy. Atheism is a faith; there is no proving the non-existence of God, and even disproving every single transcendental experience over recorded history won’t do it…because the one that can’t be disproven might occur ten minutes from now.
Atheism is a belief masquerading as non-belief. Period.
And it has no foundation in science. Science is what we use to build models of observed phenomena in the world around us, models that invoke certain physical laws, like those of mathematics and chemistry. Science is NOT truth. It’s the best explanation we have, based on what we know from interpretation of what we have observed.
As an example, Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion work beautifully to describe our observed world; they are what we use in designing bridges and buildings and aeroplanes. But scale them way up to the galactic, or way down to the subatomic, and they don’t work at all. They’re simply wrong. We can use them, yes, but only to a degree, and in the knowledge that they are fundamentally incorrect in that they don’t take all cases into account.
Regarding God, science can never do that. It was never meant to do that.
So our domineering atheist is left with this: his or her belief in non-belief is just that, and science can’t back up the argument…and never will.
But when we meet the earnest believer in non-belief who’s willing to talk and to listen…what do we say?
I think the first thing we need to express is humility, that our faith is just that…a belief that we can’t prove according to an external physical benchmark.
We also need to be respectful, especially to someone who’s fallen away from faith. An atheist has a personal investment in his or her non-belief, and has made psychological and philosophical adjustments that give life meaning within that framework. Don’t attack it, because provoking a defense will only lead to defense against Christ’s message.
We can bear witness to what Christ has done in our hearts and in our lives, our faith walk, but I fear that for an atheist it’ll be religious “jaw,” something unrelateable.
So perhaps we can take a more prosaic approach, one that leads to a logical acceptance of the transcendent:
The existence of, well, everything is highly unlikely as a random event. Consider the formation of one strand of RNA, one of the building blocks of life, from the four relevant nucleotides. If the strand is postulated at a length of 300 nucleotides, and all the nucleotides are present, the chances of a random assemblage in the correct (that is, viable) order is 4 to the 300th power. In the decimal (base 10) system, it comes out to 4.15 times ten to the 180th power, around 4 followed by a hundred and eighty zeros. As a comparison, the Lambda CDM Concordance Model says the universe is 13.8 billion years old, or about 4.36 times 10 to the 17th power seconds (that’s 436,000,000,000,000,000 seconds). The odds, therefore, are very much against the formation of even one strand of RNA . If a “try” is assumed every second, involving, simultaneously, a quadrillion potential RNA strands, the odds are something like 1 versus 10 to the 165th power against. Don’t go to Vegas with those odds. And this is for a single strand of RNA; the formation of the nucleotides is not factored in, and neither is the formation of life. Intelligent design suddenly makes a lot more sense.
There’s a lot more history in the Bible than many people realize. Archaeology has found evidence of many of the places and people in the Old and New Testaments. King David is mentioned on a tablet from the time of the Egyptian pharaohs; the Pool of Siloam has been excavated; and the ossuary of the High Priest Caiaphas has been found. Nothing from Jesus’ life has been disproven, and current discoveries prove more and more (the latest is the dating of Jesus’ traditional tomb to the correct part of the Roman era in Jerusalem).
The Bible is much more a narrative than a story; the familiar form of the novel didn’t exist when the New Testament was written, and while there was epic poetry, the Bible doesn’t fit that genre, except in the parts of epic poetry that preserve historical details, like the “Catalogue of Ships” in the Iliad (which has been shown to be faithful to the Aegean Bronze Age). Reading Jesus’ genealogy can be pretty tedious, but ‘listed’ history is very often true.
For someone who claimed to be God, Jesus’ words have an awfully lot of common sense behind them; for example, when being asked if Jews should pay Roman taxes, He took a coin, and as it had a portrait of Caesar on it, said that what was Caesar’s should be given him. In other words, pay your taxes. And make no mistake, Jesus’ claim of divinity was a show-stopper in that society. Not to be dismissed out of hand as a lunatic He had to offer something useful, and not just spiritual gas.
Jesus attracted some pretty hard-headed people, including a couple of guys who collected taxes for the Romans, which today would be like guys doing collections for the Mob. They were not clerical pantywaists. They realized that by tying their lives to that of Jesus they were probably going to die young, and something in Jesus’ teachings had to say it was worth it, that there was something ‘beyond’ that would make a shortened life worthwhile.
This doesn’t touch the concept of a personal relationship with Christ; it’s not supposed to. What we want to do is crack to door, so some light can enter.
You do have to expect resistance, and argument. Some popular rebuttals to the Christian are:
A lot of smart people are atheists. Yes, Stephen Hawking has no need for the God Hypothesis. But Stephen Hawking is an astrophysicist, and has no more background to evaluate the historicity of Christ or the validity of transcendental experience than he does in removing an appendix. His education simply doesn’t go there, and making pronouncements in a sphere in which knowledge is limited simply makes one look silly.
There is no evidence of God’s existence. Maybe, but until we built the right instruments we had no evidence that gamma rays existed, even though millions of them pass through our bodies every minute. This is not to say that someone will eventually invent a God-O-Meter, but the point is that something unseen is not necessarily nonexistent.
Religion has caused misery in human history. No doubt religion has played a part in some of history’s worst moments. But sex has caused just about as much. Is anyone talking about giving up sex for that reason? Humans can ruin anything.
The Bible is a made-up fantasy. The New Testament, on which the truth of Christianity ultimately rests, is being proven in its details by archaeology, and has been corroborated by independent contemporary sources (notably the historian Josephus).
It’s just something you believe because you’re scared of death, and it brings you comfort. Of course I’m afraid to die, and being terminally ill this is an important question for me. I would be a lot less pleased to be putting my hope into something that I felt, deep down, was a lie. But don’t take my word for it; look at Jesus’ followers. There’s nothing to indicate that they were unbalanced, and we have extensive writings from Paul, who never met Jesus in the flesh, that show his almost tedious sanity. And these men, after the death of their leader, chose lives that led to ridicule and the cruelest kinds of death. If the Resurrection story wasn’t true, they were simply fools. But what record we have of their actions doesn’t remotely indicate anything other than a steadfast resolve to spread the faith on which they literally staked their lives. There had to be a reason.
It’s unlikely you’ll convert a committed atheist in one shot. But you can plant a seed, and you can fertilize and water the soil.
Andrew Budek-Schmeisser writes at Blessed are the Pure of Heart. He and his beloved wife Barb are caregivers to many beautiful and rambunctious dogs. Andrew regularly blesses his readers with encouragement, wisdom and a delightfully warped sense of humor.