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#193 Questions to Ask an Atheist

December 27, 2010

Hi there, I'm writting in regards to your "Q&A 170: So many athiests, so little time" answer. First of all, your two simple questions have very simple answers, and an athiest who can't answer them isn't a true athiest.
Q. What do you mean by (you don't believe in God)
A. I mean that I have a lack of belief the the existance of a deity, your christian God or any other.
Q. What reasons do you have to think that (there is no God)
A. The Earth shows no proof of creation, every single thing on this Earth has a natural explanation, simply becasue modern science has not yet solved every problem, does not mean it never will. I'd go in to detail, but no need to bore you with the science of it all.
So, I've given my proof and will give far more if you ask it of me, and any wel linformed athiest will be able to answer those questions in a flash and have the burden of proof back in your hands.
In regards to scholarly work, may I point out Charles Darwin's "The Origins of Species", the works of Gregor Mendel, father of Genetics, William "Strata" Smith, father of Geology, Alfred Wegener "The Origin of Continents and Oceans", Issac Newton, Galileo, On and on I go, where I stop, nobody knows!
Now, if I may turn to the real point of this e-mail besides to point out that you havent really told anyone how to argue christianity other than asking easy questions and throwing names at them. Your God is Omnicient so you say, operating on this assumption, here is how morality plays out in the bible...
1) God creates heaven and Earth and then he creates Humans.
2) God KNOWS that humans will sin
3) God puts the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden KNOWING it will drive Adam to sin.
4) God Determines that Adams sin is transmutable down to every single person that will ever exist. (Moral objection 1: The sins of the father are logically not related to the son in any way shape or form)
5) God decides that to punish people for this one sin they had nothing to do with or anything else he deams bad, they shall be sentenced to an eternity of burning hellfire. Infinite punishment for a finite crime? That sounds like Moral objection #2 to me!
6) When God sees that his creations have really gone bad, he drowns the world, killing millions of innocent people.
7) only 1600 years after the mass murder of his creations(following biblical chronology) they've already fallen back in to sin. So God, in his infinite wisdom, determines the best course of action, is to sacrafice his Son, who is part of himself, TO HIMSELF, to make up for the sins of the creations he made knowing they would sin!

How in the world do you rectify this!?



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Dr. craig’s response


Questions to ask an atheist

Luke, your letter reminds me of those auditions for American Idol by contestants who are so cringingly bad but who actually imagine that they can sing. They are so arrogant that they cannot see how really poor their performance is. Your letter betrays that same deadly mix of ignorance and arrogance. Your cockiness blinds you to the poverty of your own argument.

So why do I take your question this week? Simply because yours is the sort of atheism that our readers will most likely encounter among students today. It is a display of overweening ignorance.

Start with the big picture. You completely misunderstand my answer to question #170. That question is from a person who wants to know how, without putting any time into the study of philosophy or theology, he can deal with atheists who say that believers are stupid and illogical. My goal was to give him some conversational tools to help him interact with such persons without putting in any study time (while also admonishing him to “quit making excuses and take some time to get prepared”). Thus your complaint that “you haven’t really told anyone how to argue christianity other than asking easy questions and throwing names at them” is misconceived. The purpose of my answer to John’s question was not to tell him how to argue for Christianity (I do that in books like Reasonable Faith ) but to help him fend off attacks without arguing for Christianity’s truth.

So I advised him of two simple questions to ask an atheist:

1. What do you mean by that?
2. What reasons do you have to think that?

I encouraged him to “ask the unbeliever what he means when he says he doesn’t believe in God—is he an atheist or an agnostic?” I observed that “Many people don’t even understand what they mean by their assertions, and probably most don’t have any good reasons for them.”

Questions to ask an atheist – What justification do you offer for the belief that “there is no God”?

Ironically, Luke, your answers on behalf of the atheist betray the very confusions I was talking about. Your answer to (1) is that you lack any belief in the existence of God. Fine; that’s consistent with your being an agnostic, an atheist, or someone who thinks the question meaningless. You’re not asserting that God does not exist, just that you lack a belief in God. But then when we come to question (2) we suddenly find you taking the hardline atheist position that “there is no God.” That’s a surprise because the word “that” in question 2 refers to what you meant in answer to question (1)! It turns out, it seems, that you do not simply lack a belief in God; rather you believe that there is no God. So we want to know the reasons for your atheism. What justification will you offer us for your belief that “there is no God”?

Here we are disappointed to find no argument at all offered in support of the proposition that there is no God. Instead all we hear is assertions about the absence of evidence for God. But obviously, the absence of evidence—itself a moot point rooted in a naturalistic faith—doesn’t do anything to prove that God does not exist. So we’re astonished at your assertion that you have offered a “proof” of your position. Pardon us if we are sceptical about your ability to go into the boring details of how modern science proves that there is no God.

Luke, this is really bad. You can’t sing! You’re making all sorts of mistakes and you don’t even know it.

Questions to ask an atheist – Why are you so defensive?

Now we come to your list of scholars. Where did this riposte come from? I guess it’s intended to be your response to my encouraging John to learn the names of some great Christian scholars to rebut those who say that all Christians are stupid. But why so defensive, Luke? I’ve never asserted that all atheists are stupid and illogical. Far from it! So what are you trying to rebut?

Worse—and here is where the cringing really starts—the scholars you list aren’t atheists ! They’re theists, many of them Christian. Galileo was a believing Catholic. Isaac Newton, one of my heroes, was an ardent theist who blended science and theology. Darwin was a theist for most of his life, at least, certainly when he wrote the Origin . Mendel, for goodness sake, was a monk! I have no reason to think that William Smith (1769-1839), who was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Northampton, or Alfred Wegener (1880-1930) were unbelievers. All you’ve done is reinforce my point by listing in addition to my contemporary scholars some great theistic scientists of the past. Yes, Luke, do go on and on, please!

Questions to ask an atheist – Where’s the argument?

Finally, we come to your last section. The numbered sentences have the appearance of an argument; but in fact the sentences have no logical connection one to another. Although you ring the changes on God’s foreknowing that human beings would sin, I’m glad that you don’t object to that per se , since doing so would confuse divine foreknowledge with divine middle knowledge. If God simply foreknows that man will sin, then it’s too late, so to speak, to do anything about it, since it’s logically impossible to change the future. What you’re really talking about is God’s middle knowledge of counterfactuals like “If Adam were placed in the garden, then he would freely sin.” The problem here, Luke, is that the doctrine of middle knowledge is not essential to the Christian faith. On the contrary, it’s highly controversial! Some of my best friends, as they say, deny middle knowledge. So if you’ve got problems with it, don’t let that stand in your way of becoming a Christian. I personally don’t have a problem with it because if God has such knowledge, then He also knows that He has morally sufficient reasons for permitting man’s fall into sin. But you needn’t believe in middle knowledge to be a Christian.

Similarly, most Christians don’t hold to Young Earth chronology, as you seem to assume. So that needn’t be a hindrance to you. You assume that God cannot give and take human life as He sees fit; but I see no reason at all for that assumption. God is under no obligation to prolong my or anybody else’s life for even another second.

You speak derisively of the doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation; but you do not interact with my or any other philosopher’s articulation and defense of those doctrines (see Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview ).

Questions to ask an atheist – What about your own sin?

As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin. But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith. So don’t let that be a stumbling block for you. What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption. I’m sure you’d recognize your own moral shortcomings and failures, Luke. So don’t get hung up on Adam’s sin. It’s your own sin you need to deal with. (As for the doctrine, its viability will depend on the viability of imputation. We often know of cases where one person is held responsible for the actions of another because the one person represents the other or serves as a proxy acting on the other’s behalf. Maybe Adam was our representative before God.)

Your second objection is that the punishment of hell doesn’t fit the finite sins that we commit. See my answer to question #35 . There are at least two ways of dealing with this objection: (1) God does allot a finite punishment for every sin; still, since the denizens of hell continue to hate and reject God, they continue to sin and so accrue to themselves more punishment, so that both sinning and the punishment go on forever. (2) Alternatively, the sin of rejecting God Himself is a sin of infinite gravity and proportion and so plausibly merits an infinite punishment.

The rest of your letter is little more than sarcasm and incredulity and so requires little response. Let me say merely that on the Christian view Jesus of Nazareth was truly God and truly man, so that by his death he might reconcile us to God. God knew from before the foundations of the world that He would do this to rectify man’s falling freely into sin. It is amazing, I agree, but God has given evidence for the efficacy of Christ’s atoning death by raising him from the dead, an event for which we have surprisingly good evidence.

- William Lane Craig