Replying to Atheism
The Atheist Myth
'Once upon a time there was a terrible monster that lived in the sky. No one had ever seen it because it lived a long way away and was invisible, but everyone knew it was there because a long time ago it had shown itself to some very clever men.
These very clever men explained how the monster had one head, three bodies and a thousand eyes, with which it could see into people’s souls. They told terrible tales of what the monster would do if it got angry but also of how kind it was if people would only worship it without thought or question. They explained how the monster had given them a powerful magic, which, if used rightly, would protect the world from evil.
Sometimes the monster would get angry and when it did the clever men would offer it sacrifices, dragging people into market squares where they would burn them alive, just to show the monster how much they loved it.
The people listened to the very clever men and believed them. But they still yearned to be free of the monster.
And then, one day, a few brave men, who had only ever pretended to believe in the monster, unearthed a chest of strange metal. The chest had been hidden by an earlier, wiser, freer people, who had lived in the land before the monster came, and had known a better way of life.
Ever so slowly, the men began to work the metal, which they called ‘reason’, using it to forge a new weapon, which they called ‘science’, and they used ‘science’ to attack the monster, and the very clever men. They had to be very careful at first because if anyone was caught using ‘science’ they would be dragged into market squares where they would be burned alive, and indeed this was how many men lost their lives.
But these were brave men; not to be fooled by fables or cowed by threats. Their band multiplied and their weapons grew in number and power until one day, a brilliant, reclusive rebel invented a super-weapon, which he called ‘evolution’, which could punch clean through the monster’s armoured scales.
After that, the attacks increased in frequency and ferocity until one day the rebels were able to show the people what they had long known themselves. The monster had never actually existed. It was just a tale told by the very clever men to keep themselves in riches and power. Slowly the truth spread and although some very clever men still cling to riches and power, and some very stupid ones still believe them, gradually, wonderfully, the world is being set free. -Atheists: The origin of the species, Nick Spencer.
This is the atheist myth; it encapsulates how a minority of atheists see themselves. It also can be how Christians perceive what all atheists think. The atheist stereotype is someone like Dawkins or Hitchens; angry at a God they don't believe in. According to the atheist, the Christian stereotype is an ignorant, unthinking, blind sheep.
What is Atheism?
There are several types of anti-theism (anti-God)
A-theist, meaning without God.
An atheist is someone who claims to know or believe that God does not exist.
Without knowledge; someone who doesn't know if God exists
Ignorant of knowledge; God is a non-concept. They refuse to understand the concept of God
There are also different forms of atheism. The two that concern us most are Mythological atheism and Traditional atheism
God has never existed but people have believed this God-Myth as something that plays a positive role in society. We may or may not have developed enough that we no longer need him.
Traditional metaphysical atheism:
God does not exist and belief in him is detrimental to human development.
Atheism is primarily negative; it is a non-belief in something and it says nothing about what they do believe in. An atheist may positively believe in a number of things such as humanism, naturalism, ancient astronaut theory, Marxism, Buddhism, etc.
Traditional Atheism is, in its very nature, a reaction to a belief in God or gods. It thinks of itself as highly scientific, highly intellectual and completely objective. Our response depends on who we are talking to, for example, there is a certain type of language used in debates that would be completely inappropriate for a sceptical agnostic who is seeking. Nowadays people call themselves an atheist or agnostic to avoid thinking on the idea of God.
Burden of Proof
One of the things you may hear atheists say is 'the burden of proof is on you, as the Christian, to prove the case for the existence of God.' Whilst that is not true, it is a good place to start and as a Christian we can present our view for discussion. It can often be challenging to engage in discussion with an atheist because it will often centre on whether there is a God or not, rather than what kind of God and what that God has done for us, through the death of Jesus Christ.
Due to the negative nature of atheism there are very few arguments FOR atheism. One argument is the 'Existence of evil'. In a debating language the most common form of the argument is:
Premise 1: If an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God exists, then evil does not.
Premise 2: There is evil in the world.
Conclusion: Therefore, an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God does not exist.
This is the technical way of putting forward an argument; two or more premises and then a conclusion. So if you disagree with the conclusion then you must debate one or more of the premises.
Premise 1. If an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God does exist, we, who possess none of those attributes, cannot understand his plans. And if an entity with those attributes decides to allow evil to continue then he must have a good reason for doing so; to create and sustain free will and to allow for genuine relationship. So premise 1 is false because an all-loving God requires authentic two way relationship so he allows us to be free agents; to do evil or do good.
Premise 2. In order to hold to this premise it must be proven that there is such a thing as evil in the world. There must be an ultimate moral code to hold God accountable to it. If there is an ultimate moral code then there must be a law giver. In order for premise 2 to remain true the atheist must first provide a basis for morality.
This is the clinical approach to debate, however it does not work that way in real life. Rather than a premised argument, everyday discussion is more likely to appear like this:
'Why would God allow my family member to die? Why would God allow paedophiles to live? Why would God let the twin towers collapse? If God doesn't stop these things then he can't be real.'
Whilst essentially the same question, it is framed differently and may require a more delicate response. A response might be:
'God's heart breaks when he sees all these things happening because this is not the way he designed it. God's design was good but man brought all these awful things into the world. God does care and works to restore his hurting people'
From here we have a basis to establish what God's heart is from scripture. God cares so much that he came to restore what we have broken.
Colossians 1:20 ‘and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.'
The 'How' and the 'Why':
The story of the atheist myth cannot be further from the truth. Virtually all modern Science has its historical basis in Christian faith.
“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”
? Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
The remit of Science is observational, looking at how things work and how they might have worked and how they will work. Looking at what is there. Looking at what is. The language of science is 'How, when, observe' when scientists start saying why something happens or what ought to be the case, then they leave the field of science. Science cannot say what should and shouldn't be, only what is. When you see scientist attacking God and talking of why rather than how then they are no longer talking about science. So it is unscientific practice to talk about questions of why, scientists should ask themselves 'why questions' but when they write and give lectures their scientific background is irrelevant.
New Atheism: An Aggressive Attitude
There has emerged, in the past decade, a movement called 'New Atheism'. This describes a group of atheist authors, journalists and scientists who have set out to attack religion as a whole. The movement itself brings nothing new to the discussion but rather a new, highly aggressive attitude in today's culture. New atheism itself was a reaction to 9/11, blaming religion as a whole.
The main characters in this movement are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet. There is simply not enough space to discuss fully each of their arguments, but I will provide links at the end of this booklet.
Arguments for God
As discussed, atheism holds science in very high regard. This gives us the opportunity to talk about design. (As we do this, remember that a scientific discussion of atheism may not be what every atheist needs to hear.)
Arguments from design:
An argument from design is where we take a closer look at nature: we see how it works, how it moves, how it was designed. We can see God in it.
There are many different types of argument from design, some of which are as follows:
1st and 2nd law of Thermodynamics:
These laws together state that energy cannot be created or destroyed only changed. There is a limited amount of energy in the universe. Consider a log fire. You do not create the energy that keeps you warm but rather change the energy within the log into heat. And each time energy changes it dissipates some of its total energy until eventually it is entirely gone. This is known as equilibrium, heat death or entropy.
So it stands to reason that in the beginning there was a total amount of unchanged energy. If that is not the case, and the universe exists in infinite past, we would currently have reached equilibrium with no available energy remaining. Therefore energy itself must have had a beginning.
This leads to the Big Bang. The atheist claims that the Big Bang created everything. But how can something come from nothing? 'Out of nothing, nothing comes'. There must have been a point at which something created a first cause, introduced the amount of energy in the universe, and set the universe into motion.
The atheist response to this is 'if every effect has a cause then what caused God? Who created him?' The laws of thermodynamics only apply within a closed system so in order for energy to be created it must have come from outside the system, outside the knowable universe. If an intelligent being can manipulate energy in this way he must be able to manipulate time as well. The existence of a creator God requires that God to be outside of time. God, then, does not require a cause.
Psalm 90:2 'Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.'
Psalm 90:4 'For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.'
It is for this reason Christians believe in two separate realities that interact; the natural and the super-natural.
The probability of a life sustaining planet existing has been calculated:
'Less than 1 chance in a million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.' Dr Hugh Ross 'Probability of life on Earth'
Imagine a dice with that many sides and throwing it to land on the one correct number. It is a truly tiny possibility that Earth would exist, but it does. The atheist response to this may be that the universe is infinite so such probability is void. There is no scientific evidence that the universe is infinite, it seems highly unlikely to be. Neither is time infinite. The 1st and 2nd laws state there must have been a set beginning, otherwise we would have reached equilibrium with no useable energy.
The possibility of Earth existing is so extremely remote, even before you begin to calculate the existence of life on that planet.
Pattern and code:
DNA is what stores the information about how to grow and develop a living thing. It is quite literally a coded set of instructions. Specific instructions in a specific order, if the amount of genetic information stored inside the human body was put into a computer hard drive it would be approximately 150 trillion Gigabytes. A truly huge amount of specific information in a specific order.
The probability that that information would be in the correct order by pure random chance is 'less than 1 chance in 10 to the 40,000 power' Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space
To arrange the human genome by chance is practically impossible. Put simply, complex code is not written by chance so why should DNA be any different.
Evolution is not as important a discussion as it may first appear to be, as it primarily discusses 'how' questions, rather than the more important 'why' questions. It is however vital for the atheist position that complex living organisms can come into being without a God. We shall give evolution our full attention in a session in the future.
Some unresolved flaws with evolution
Evolutionary theory claims that all living organisms come from one common ancient ancestor and through small genetic changes over billions of year the diversity of live has come about. As we established DNA is basically a set of coded information on how to grow the organism. There are two types of evolution, Micro-evolution and Macro-evolution.
This is genetic change from parent to offspring through the loss of genetic material. It can be viewed easily in dog breeds.
The dog at the beginning has a huge genetic pool and contains the information for each trait that we recognise in all the other dogs. As the dogs have been bred for traits specific for a certain task, for example hunting, fighting, playfulness they have lost the potential genetic material for the doggy traits in other branches.
The key for us however is that although they have different traits and behaviours they are all still dogs. The loss of genetic material provides the diversity of dog types. Micro-evolution is obviously true.
Macro-evolution (overall evolution)
Macro-evolution is impossible and it is this that atheists require to be true. Macro-evolutionary theory claims that genetic mutation inserts new genetic information into the organism’s genome at random. These tiny mutations culminate over millions of year to change a dinosaur into a bird or an ape into a human. Over billions of years simple bacteria can evolve into all known lifeforms. Mutations occur when genetic code is damaged; it simply cannot provide new genetic information.
For example Jake the peg is a lamb born with a fifth leg, this is a genetic mutation. But there is no new information provided, but a repeat in existing information. Perhaps a mutation in the specific code that stabilises leg growth. This is radically different than new information being mutated, for example changing scales into feathers. Even if it is possible the vast majority of mutations are not beneficial but rather damaging, consider all the various genetic diseases. Even Jake the peg eventually had his extra leg removed.
Imagine a mousetrap is a living animal that must kill mice in order to survive. A mouse trap consists of five components, the base, the catch, the spring, the hammer and the hold-down bar. All of these things must be present in order for the trap to work effectively and kill mice. If the base alone evolved it could not kill mice and would die likewise all the other components. All 5 components are required for the living mouse trap to survive. If we grant mutations can somehow provide new material in order for complex life to evolve many thousands of mutations must happen simultaneously, which is highly unlikely to happen. Dr Henry Morris has calculated the chance of a simple organism with only 200 functioning parts evolving, this is granting mutations somehow providing new information. It is 1 in a billion trillion. It is indefensible to assume blind chance can possibly produce complex life forms.
There are other problems with evolution but we shall address them in another session.
Living according to your beliefs
Virtually all atheists live contradicting their beliefs. That does not mean all atheists are bad people but that they do not follow out the conclusions of their belief. Most everyday atheists live their lives as if the following things exist and are real, but their worldview gives no satisfactory explanation as to why these things are really real.
Morality- Right and wrong.
Meaning- Most atheists continue to get up in the morning.
Reason- If intellect and reasoning is just chemical process how can we trust it?
Truth- If there is no truth; then we can't know anything at all, including statements about God.
Science- Why does the universe and world behave consistently at all?
Beauty- Why do sunrises take our breath away; it is just a ball of hydrogen after all.
Atheism may not be about evidence.
Love- Atheists get married and have children; they feel love but claim it is just endorphins.
Despite insistence that atheism is based on science, facts and evidence, in actuality most people base their atheism on none of these things. There are many other factors that form someone's opinion first. Then they will find and cling to evidences that suite them, and will take offence when we actually discuss them openly. This is not just true for atheists but for all belief. We as Christians can say 'God fulfils all our needs through relationship with him, through Jesus.' Christianity welcomes psychological, intellectual and spiritual reasons for belief. All are part of the whole human that is designed for relationship.
Luke 10:27 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself."
Atheism on the other hand formally only allows intellectual reasons as valid for their own faith, but this again is lived out contrary to their belief. People may indeed believe there is no God for intellectual reasons and we can discuss with them. But people also hold to a disbelief in God for psychological and spiritual reasons.
Some possible psychological reasons for disbelief
Embarrassment of the Christian culture that you may be born in.
Embarrassment of the negative attention religion can bring.
Atheism is regarded the more intelligent choice
A desire to be accepted by a sceptical social group, perhaps at work or school
It is inconvenient to be a Christian, church, bible studies, prayer etc.
It is inconvenient to change your life according to belief in God, sexual, social and moral conduct
Some potentially deeper psychological reasons for a disbelief in God
Belief in God may challenge your identity, homosexual, bohemian, scientist etc.
Rejection of God may come from a rejection of the world as a whole.
Rejection of God may stem from a general rejection of authority figures.
Rejection of God may stem from a rejection of a father or mother figure.
The view of God as a projection of a father figure has been the study of Dr Paul Vic, he lists the following prominent atheists who formed the atheist worldview we have today. All of whom had family trauma involving fathers who were weak, abusive, absent or died at an early age.
Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyst, passive Jewish father who seems to be a sexual pervert.
Voltaire, philosopher, controlling father whom he hated.
Ludwig Feuerbach, philosopher, violent father who abandoned the family, when Ludwig was 13.
Madeleine Murray O’Hare, founder of American Atheist, hated father and tried to kill him.
Albert Ellis, psychologist, abandoned by his single father and left homeless.
David Hume, philosopher, father died when David was 2.
Bertram Russell, philosopher, father died when Bertram was 4.
Frederich Nietzsche, philosopher, father died when Frederich was 4.
Albert Camus, Philosopher, father died before Albert was born.
Jean Paul Sartre, philosopher, father died when Jean was 2.
Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher, hated his mother, father committed suicide when Arthur was 16.
Russell Baker, writer and humourist, father died when Russell was 5.
It is vital to note that psychological reasons for a disbelief in God are not always the case. It is important to answer the questions and doubts they have and don't ignore them because you suspect that there disbelief comes from elsewhere. It would be wrong to point at a person and say 'you are only saying that because of your relationship with your father.' However we are in a position to help discuss and engage with the whole of a person not just their mind. I am often surprised that atheists will accept being prayed for when it’s offered.
Engage with Atheism
In this booklet we have examined mainstream atheism, an atheist may believe in many things, it is important to engage with them. When an atheist says 'I know the idea of God seems to work for you but I am an atheist' it can often take them aback when you ask 'so what do you believe in?' The battle is not won if the person agrees that there is a god. They might believe in a god-force or even that we are gods. We must talk with pride about the kind of God, God really is, and what he does. Giving an atheist your testimony of how God actually changed your life personally can change the life of someone else.
Dawkins delusion, Alister McGrath
YouTube, William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens debate
General resources on atheism,
YouTube, one minute apologist
YouTube, Dr Craig’s videos
Information on the amount of data in DNA, http://bitesizebio.com/8378/how-much-information-is-stored-in-the-human-genome/
Written and produced by Peter Graham