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#145 Atheist Arguments

January 25, 2010
Q

Upon showing my atheist friend your monologue at Johnson Ferry (which I attended), here was his response. I don't think I am quite ready to tackle this head on. Do you wish to tackle any of his points as a QOTW? Thanks,

Jon

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

Atheist Arguments

Sure, Jon! I'd be very interested in hearing what your friend has to say about my sermon. Since his response is rather long, what I'll do is comment paragraph by paragraph, so as not to be constantly citing statements in the text of his response. To differentiate my comments from his, I'll put mine in italics, thus.

"Goodness gracious, my head is spinning. I can't believe I managed to consume all 39 minutes of this. He's a terrific speaker, but his presentation is riddled with self-contradiction, playing the victim, and some seriously flawed points (although I think he's right on now and then).

 

"It seems to me that his argument there is that reasoning is irrelevant, because absolutism (whether it's in regards to conventional wisdom or unquestioned faith) is the only thing of import in education--and indeed, life. That's not "intellectual neutral," it's "intellectual absence."

 

Comment: Oh, he's really misunderstood me! The whole thrust of my sermon was to admonish Christians to engage their minds with regard to what and why we believe as we do. My argument was that reasoning is not merely relevant but crucial both to Christian discipleship as well as to commending our faith to thinking people today. He evidently didn't understand what Alan Bloom meant by absolute truth, which is objective truth, facts that are independent of whether anyone believes in them or not. Most truths are of this nature: that my name is William Craig, that most of the earth's surface is covered with water, that Barack Obama is the U.S. President in 2010, that the Cubs did not win the 2009 World Series, etc. It's actually hard to think of examples of truths that are not absolute. Statements of taste would be the main example, I think: that coffee tastes better than tea, that vanilla tastes better than chocolate, etc. These are the sorts of things that are true for you but not true for me, as they say. Such truths are merely relative. Now Bloom's point in The Closing of the American Mind was that belief in absolute truth is what promotes intellectual inquiry and fosters educational excellence, since learning the objective truth about things is a prize worth striving for. His point was that it is relativism which promotes intellectual laziness and undermines quality education, since everybody can have his own truth without any effort and no one's truth is any truer than anybody else's.

Atheist arguments – Is there a distinction between truth and facts?

"I also think his terminology is flawed: FACTS are incontrovertible and cannot vary from person to person; TRUTH is flexible, and is based on the world view of the individual. Your truth as a believer in god is different from my truth as a humanist. In fact, he even says quite clearly that his "truth" is shrouded in his concept of a deity. Since this is a belief, and not a provable fact, then indeed, he punches a big hole straight through his own point there.

 

Comment: Again, there is confusion here. What is a "fact?" A fact is a true statement or proposition. Thus, there is no difference between a fact and a truth. Facts (or truths) are not incontrovertible; sometimes facts are very hard to discover and a matter of great controversy. Your friend's claim that truth is flexible and worldview dependent is an expression of the relativism that Bloom decries. It is literally self-refuting. For just ask yourself: is the statement "TRUTH is based on the world view of the individual" itself based on the worldview of the individual? If so, then it is not an objective fact but just your friend's view. If not, then objective truth does exist after all. I don't know what your friend means when he says that my truth is shrouded in my concept of a deity. I think, perhaps, he misunderstood my assertion that all truth is God's truth. What that means is that truth is objective. There is no such thing objectively as "your" truth or "my" truth. Even for the atheist, arguments are ways by means of which one seeks to validate some truth that holds for all. Truth is just truth, regardless of its source, and is fully known to God.

Atheist arguments – Understanding the concept of tolerance

"However, I do agree with the idea that "tolerance" is bunk. When someone says they "tolerate" gays, people of different religions, interracial marriage, etc., it's utterly insulting. You either accept and respect, or you "tolerate" and disdain.

 

Comment: This almost makes one despair about the possibility of communication! We come to things with all our filters and preconceptions in place that make it difficult for us to grasp what is being said. I argued and affirmed that tolerance is a virtue, the attitude that although I disagree with you say, I'll defend to the death your right to say it. As such, tolerance is hardly an insult: as I said, the basis of tolerance is love for persons with whom you disagree. By rejecting tolerance as a virtue, I fear that your friend exhibits that disdainful attitude toward Christians that he decries toward others. Does he accept and respect Christians while disagreeing with their views? If so, then by definition he tolerates them (and affirms the objectivity of truth!).

"As for the alarmism about believers becoming powerless in the face of non-theists, he's either being savvy and using a scare tactic to promulgate proselytizing or he's severely deluded. For one, secularists aren't hell-bent on exterminating religious belief...we just don't engage in it. Secondly, if it was "politically incorrect" to believe in Jesus Christ, then atheists would be in the halls of power. Gay marriage would be legal. Abortion wouldn't be an issue. Churches would pay taxes.

 

Comment: As I mentioned, Jan and I lived in Europe for 13 years, and I speak frequently on Canadian university campuses. I see clearly where we are heading as a society. Just compare the culture of America during the 1950s to today, and I'm sure you'll agree that we have become more secularized. Your friend is wrong about secularists not wishing to exterminate religious belief. Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. have explicitly stated that they consider the teaching of religion to children an evil act, and declared their desire to forge a society which is free of religion even in the private sphere. Don't just believe me: read their books. His refutation of my claim that belief in Jesus Christ is politically incorrect misfires because I affirmed that a generic theism is still the norm, and that's all his examples show. Civil religion still flourishes in America. But when I was growing up, it would have been unthinkable that wishing someone "Merry Christmas!" would someday be a controversial statement. Just think about the public reaction if a minister should dare to pray in Jesus' name at the National Prayer Breakfast or the Presidential Inauguration!

Atheist arguments – Christians are called to fight against false ideologies

"The last time I checked, there was one avowed atheist in Congress, one Muslim, and a smattering of Jews. The rest? The vast majority of those 535 very powerful people? Christian. His claims are a great example of the religious majority frequently (if not constantly) playing the martyr card to make themselves out as victims. Poppycock. As for education: I wholly agree that we're in a bad way with imparting knowledge to our kids. It's an embarrassment that we have such an under-educated populace. However, I would counter that perhaps a part of that is his own attitude that, when sending kids off to school, we have to "train our kids for WAR" against the very people who are supposed to be doing the educating. Perhaps it's this kind of suspicion and distrust that makes some kids disengage from the learning experience. I don't know about anyone else here, but in 16 years of public education, I never once had a teacher or a professor who tried to instill a disbelief in god. He claims that this monolithic institutional atheism is what makes many teens "turn away" from the faith in which they were raised once they reach college (or even before). This completely discounts the idea that very adult, very rational thought (or "relativism") might have played a part. He's implying that simply because he embraces and encourages what he himself calls a "childlike" belief (which, let's be real, is no different from a "childish" belief), that the only reason everyone doesn't share that mindset is because their manner of thinking was somehow purposefully sullied and they were converted by someone else. As someone who went through this process myself, I can guarantee you that it was a long road, involving much thought, reading, and reflection. But the evolutionary process was mine. All mine. I also take umbrage to his assertion that being a Christian automatically makes one deeper and more interesting, and that non-Christians are obsessed with celebrity and other shallow pursuits. That is smug, self-righteous nonsense.

 

Comment: I wouldn't want people to think my comment about training our kids for war meant war against those who teach them. What I said was,

"In high school and college, students are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian philosophy conjoined with an overwhelming relativism and skepticism. How dare we send them out unarmed into an intellectual battle zone? We've got to train our kids for war."

I was talking about the struggle of competing ideologies and worldviews which our children must be prepared for. As an educator myself, I hold that in the classroom, the professor is king and always to be treated with the respect his position commands, even if one disagrees with his views. As for your friend's personal experience of 16 years in public school, I'd say he's led a very sheltered life—or, perhaps, that the influences were so subtle that he didn't even discern them, such as the corrosive influence of relativism on his own views. As for the difference between child-like and childish faith, I clearly defined those terms so as to differentiate them. You can have a whole-souled trust in God as a loving Heavenly Father even as you have the razor-sharp mind of a top philosopher or scientist. As for my comment about intellectual engagement making a person more well-rounded and interesting, that seems to me indisputable. The contrast here is not between Christian and non-Christian but between those who use their minds and those who do not. Sadly, the latter group far too often includes Christians (if I thought that being a Christian automatically makes one deeper and more interesting, then why I was giving the sermon?). Non-Christians likewise who are thinking deeply about these questions will be more interesting and well-rounded than non-Christians who do not. I'm glad that your friend has thought about these questions and hope he will continue to do so.

"All in all, his presentation smells much less like a defense of his own faith than an utter dismissal of the value and worth of everyone who doesn't believe as he does. That's what I find so ugly about evangelism: the constant cries that all non-believers are trying to denigrate and convert Abrahamic minions, while oblivious to the fact that what they decry is their own very active (and often very acidic) mission. I've never in my life tried to convince a believer that they were wrong or said anything insulting about their views. However, I've met plenty of believers who are utterly insulted simply by my firm stance on my OWN beliefs (or lack thereof), and who then attempt to convince me that I should act and think as they do."

 

Comment: He misunderstood the purpose of my sermon. I wasn't offering a a rejoinder to atheist arguments or a defense of the faith (I do that when I speak on university campuses) nor was I engaged in evangelism. I was speaking to fellow Christians and exhorting them to use their minds. I affirmed the value and worth of those who don't believe as I do (remember my remarks on the virtue of tolerance?). So your friend has never tried to convince a believer that the believer was wrong—really? Then what is the purpose of his remarks? He's never said anything insulting about believers' views? How about:

"That's not 'intellectual neutral,' it's 'intellectual absence.'"

 

". . .he's either being savvy and using a scare tactic to promulgate proselytizing or he's severely deluded."

 

"His claims are a great example of the religious majority frequently (if not constantly) playing the martyr card to make themselves out as victims. Poppycock."

 

". . . he embraces and encourages what he himself calls a "childlike" belief (which, let's be real, is no different from a "childish" belief). . . ."

 

"That is smug, self-righteous nonsense."

 

It never ceases to amaze me.

- William Lane Craig