5 ways for Christians to talk with Atheists

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I ‘stumbled upon’ a debate today, raised by biologist PZMyers at pharyngula’s Atheistic objections to an article entitled “5 things that would make Atheists seems nicer.” Although I don’t disagree with any of Myers’ responses, as he says he is not interested in having a meaningful, respectful conversation with Christians, because ‘he’s not a nice guy’ and would rather just piss all over the shoddy arguments and beliefs of the Christians. (Funnily enough, the original Christian website was so overrun by angry Atheist commenters after Myers’ criticism that the blog shut down.)

In my view – the (increasing) animosity between Christians and Atheists has no where to go but from bad to worse; especially when they aren’t willing to actually talk to each other – and animosity, the creation of us vs. them groups, is never healthy for a society. Moreover, the Christian perspective raised some issues that are not at all addressed by Myers; for the sake of mediation, I’d like to compose a more thoughtful response.

This is the original list as given by http://st-eutychus.com

  1. Stop being so smug.
  2. Don’t assume every piece of Christian evangelism is directed at you – we want the undecideds, not the decided-uns.
  3. Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex – and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.
  4. Admit that the scientific method – which by its nature relies on induction rather than deduction (starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis) – is as open to abuse as any religious belief, and is neither objective nor infallible.
  5. Try to deal with the actual notions of God seriously believed in by millions of people rather than inventing strawmen (or spaghetti monsters) to dismiss the concepts of God – and deal with the Bible paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative rather than quoting obscure Old Testament laws. By all means quote the laws when they are applied incorrectly by “Christians” – but understand how they’re meant to work before dealing with the Christians described in point 3.

Here are my responses.

1) Atheists are smug. Sure – their views are based on reason, logic and evidence and from that basis they can be pretty confident. However, rather than trying at all to explain their views humbly, they mostly make pompous, pretentious ‘holier than thou’ statements which create unnecessary conflict. Saying “I don’t believe in God because I can find no evidence for it” is very different from “Everyone who believes in God is a stupid fool.” I have absolutely no problem with Atheism or Atheists – but their attitude of superiority (especially by young kids, with little common sense or intelligence, who are simply puppeting great scientists for shock value) is disconcerting. 

2) If I don’t agree with Christianity, and I don’t want it to take over the world and control politics, laws, and influence my society, then I have the obligation to stop you from converting the ‘undecideds.’ Standing by and letting beliefs spread which I know to be false is the same as watching someone cheat another person. Admittedly; Christians believe the same about their need to convert, but luckily, given equal opportunity, I don’t think the Christian cause is strong enough to convince a rational person (those the need for better education).

3) I’ll admit that belief in God is complex, and I’ll even admit it may be possible for an otherwise intelligent person to conceive of a Deity who writes his laws down in a book for humankind. However – I also know that the Bible is a product of varying religious cults in various episodes of spiritual reform, with little consistency, outdated cultural prohibitions, and some ghastly stories that I wouldn’t let near my kids. I’m also pretty sure it is completely a rehash of older or emerging ideas and that “Jesus” had nothing to do with it. An intelligent or rational person, will be willing to face the historical evidence surrounding the rise to Christianity.

4) I don’t know enough to comment on the scientific method, but I’d say it’s a pretty good system of finding out more about what’s real. I will admit that ‘Atheism’ as a belief, while based on evidence or logical argument, does not warrant the fanaticism shown by modern Atheists. (At the same time, I appreciate that the exasperation is simply a response to the obstinacy of Christians who continue to refuse basic scientific principles).

5) Number Five is the very purpose of this website. We try to investigate the specific claims, the historical traditions, the Biblical support for Christian faith; we treat Christians as intelligent persons who are basing their faith on erroneous ideas about the available evidence, and strive to make the actual evidence as accessible as possible.

The disagreements between Christians and Atheists are wide variations in paradigms. There exists an uneasy truce, but both sides are incapable of communicating in a way that makes the other side hear what they are saying. And so without further ado, in order to help Christians deal with Atheists, here are 5 simple rules to follow.

5 ways for Christians to talk with Atheists

…or as Myers says, “5 ways for Christians to seem more intelligent

1) The God Atheists don’t believe in is the humanistic God of the old Testament; the one who intervenes in history to make his chosen people prosper (or suffer). Instead of talking about God like a person, talk about Him like a conscience, an inner voice of goodness, or a universal natural principle. The early Greek conception of the One, the Logos (the divine, organizing principle that animates life) is not foreign to scientific minds or basic human experience. Start with this shared notion and agree that “God” may not be the best word to convey it. (Belief or disbelief in ‘God’ is meaningless when both parties have different ideas about God).

2) Understand that there is no ‘proof’ for the existence of God; many great minds have tried and failed to provide an adequate argument for God. Belief in God is a personal choice (or a social institution). Don’t try to prove that God exists to Atheists; they are most likely much more familiar with the logical arguments than you are. Without evidence, either belief may be held as long as it is of benefit to the holder and causes no harm; the best you can do is say “I believe because it consoles me” and move on.

3) Belief in God is very different from belief in Jesus Christ or Belief that Evolution is False: these are historical claims that can be refuted by contrasting physical evidence. And if you ignore evidence with claims that ‘reason is untrustworthy’ or ‘God is a mystery’, you cannot at the same time claim to equal Atheist’s in intelligence or logical ability. (If a genius chooses to disregard his own reason, and instead believes something on faith at a disregard for evidence, his opinions or arguments can hardly hold up against those who have not made such a choice – if this is you, recognize that you cannot participate in honest, intellectual discussion and it is right that your opinions will simple be dismissed.)

4) Educate yourself! How can you hope to support your own beliefs without looking for evidence to support them? The recycled arguments for Jesus Christ or the existence of God have no weight with Atheists; they are platitudes that do little to convince someone familiar with the subject matter. For example, I make a pretty good argument on this website, in many places, that the Jesus Christ of the gospels didn’t exist as a historical person. I can make this claim because of an abundance of historical evidence; much more than the handful of quotes used to justify a historical Jesus. Jesus existed or did not; your faith in him doesn’t sway my opinion, which is based on evidence. However – if you were familiar with all of the evidence I provide, and could put forward a theory that explains it all while being dependent on a historical founder, I’d be fascinated.

5) Understand that Christian history has been long and dark. Most Atheists disbelief in God is supported by the evils done in His name. The Christian church has done very little good for the world in the last 2,000 years, and very many travesties. Although the Christian church may hold some kernels of wisdom, the idea that the church is God’s vessel, his plan for salvation, doesn’t fit with the available facts. Someone has done something very wrong. It is no use to say “Men corrupted the church” or “All those bad things have nothing to do with the Christian message” – there would be no Christianity without the organizing body of leaders who edited and preserved the scriptures, and often drastically reinterpreted them. Explaining how God’s chosen plan was capable of such ‘perversion’ will not be an easy task for you, but it demands an answer.