July 18, 2010
So Many Atheists, So Little Time!
Dr. Craig, I attend Louisiana State University and I am a student worker at our school's library. Of all the people I work with, half are agnostic and the other half are atheists. I became a born again Christian a little over a year ago after five years of atheism. I have noticed many young people believe, as I used to, that religion is stupid and there is no God. I don't even mention religion to my co-workers and some simply blurt out horrible things about religion/ Christianity. I work with an Englishman who talked about his country being very nonreligious to the point where the mention of God is laughed at. America is also increasing in the number of non-believers. I am worried for our future. I don't know how to combat atheism. I am a Christian, I converted based on personal experiences, and I am not a philosopher. Atheists are grumpy and want answers, answers I don't have the time to find out. I am currently trying to earn three undergrad degrees at LSU and none of them are philosophy. How can a simple layman college student like myself become a decent defender of Christianity against these average college atheists. I will always defend my belief in Christ but they are looking for something more than what I believe. They say that believers are stupid and illogical so therefore I would like to argue based on logic and prove to them that believers aren't simply stupid. How does one who has no time to learn philosophy or read theology become a debater against these closed minded ranting non-believers?
Having spoken twice at LSU, I was surprised by the atmosphere of unbelief that characterizes the university community there. It gives you the opportunity to be an even brighter light in the darkness.
I took your question this week, John, because I think it’s one that many Christians face. We don’t all have time to become skilled apologists, and yet we find ourselves in situations in which we’re called upon to give “a reason for the hope that is in us” (I Peter 3:15). What are we supposed to do?
One easy thing that we can all do is learn to ask questions. Greg Koukl recommends asking two questions of non-believers:
1. What do you mean by that?
2. What reasons do you have to think that?
It’s amazing how these two disarmingly simple questions can tie people in knots! For example, ask the unbeliever what he means when he says he doesn’t believe in God—is he an atheist or an agnostic? (Be prepared to explain the difference to him!) Whatever he says, ask him, “What reasons do you have to think that?” Many people don’t even understand what they mean by their assertions, and probably most don’t have any good reasons for them. So long as you’re asking questions, you’re not making any assertions at all, and so don’t have to prove anything. Let the non-believers bear the burden of proof for their claims.
A second thing you can do is refer the unbeliever to some resource. You don’t have to have any brains to tell someone, “Have you seen the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology? Before you say there are no intelligent theists and no good reasons to believe in God, maybe you’d better look at that book first. Otherwise, you’re not really informed.” You don’t need to have read these books yourself if you’re so pressed for time. All you have to do is know a few titles. God, Freedom, and Evil, by Alvin Plantinga. The Existence of God, by Richard Swinburne. Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics, by Robert Adams. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, by Colin Hemer. Jesus Remembered, by James D. G. Dunn. The Resurrection of the Son of God, by N. T. Wright. Shame the unbeliever for his ignorance of the literature. If he’s a sincere seeker, on the other hand, recommend that he peruse this website or watch a debate.
Third, learn to drop the names of some Christian scholars. When the unbeliever says that Christians are all ignorant bigots, look really surprised and say with astonishment, “Do you really think that? What do you think of the work of Alvin Plantinga—or William Alston?” Name-dropping is distasteful when someone is trying to show off, but in a case like this, you’re simply offering counter-examples to the sweeping claim that all Christians are ignoramuses, a view that is itself rooted in ignorance. Here are some names to mention: philosophers: Alvin Plantinga (University of Notre Dame), Peter van Inwagen (University of Notre Dame), the late William Alston (University of Syracuse), Richard Swinburne (Oxford University), Robert Adams (University of North Carolina), Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers University); scientists: Francisco Ayala (highly decorated evolutionary biologist), Allan Sandage (world’s most famous astronomer), Christopher Isham (called Britain’s greatest quantum cosmologist), George Ellis (once described to me by a colleague as the person who knows more about cosmology than any man alive), Francis Collins (head of the human genome project); historical Jesus scholars: John Meier (author of a multi-volume study of the historical Jesus), N. T. Wright (another writer of prodigious works on Jesus), James D. G. Dunn (highly regarded scholar at the University of Durham), Craig Evans (first class Canadian historical Jesus scholar). Ask the unbeliever how he can make any credible assertion about the intellectual caliber of Christians if he has never read any of these scholars.
Fourth, offer this handy-dandy rejoinder to his assertions:
“Now let me get this straight: your argument is that
1. Christians are stupid and illogical.
2. Therefore, Christianity is not true.
Now can you explain to me how (2) follows logically from (1)?”
Who’s being illogical now? You can even write the premiss and conclusion down on a piece of paper for him. Ask him how the conclusion follows logically from the premiss. If he wants to add some premisses to his argument, go ahead and let him, and then ask him what reasons he has for thinking the premisses to be true. Point out to him that attacking the intelligence of Christians rather than attacking their view is to be guilty of the fallacy of arguing ad hominem (the fallacy of attacking the person rather than the person’s view). Again, who’s the illogical one now?
Finally, John, quit making excuses and take some time to get prepared. You can take one hour a week every Saturday or Sunday and work through a chapter of On Guard. You’ll be done in ten weeks. Memorize the premisses of the theistic arguments so that you can share them at the drop of a hat. I guarantee that if you do this you will be prepared to handle almost any unbeliever than comes your way. It’s not that hard, John! I know you’re busy with your classes and homework, but I can’t believe that you can’t find one hour a week to invest in apologetic preparation. If you do this, you will not regret it.