What Atheists Wish Christians Knew About Them (Expanded)

What Atheists Wish Christians Knew About Them (Expanded) May 19, 2013

interviewcap1Several have asked me to put my “What Atheists Wish Christians Knew About Them” into writing so they could share it with those who don’t feel like watching the video. Since my talk at the church was long enough already, I didn’t get the chance to go into much detail or elaborate on any of the points I gave. Also, given the face-to-face nature of the interview, I felt I should limit my explanations of each of the points in order to respect the minister’s desire to avoid debate. It just wasn’t the time or the place for that. But I’d like to expand on each of the points here since many have asked for a fuller explanation. And incidentally, in response to my video, Mike the A-Unicornist posted his own top ten list a few days ago. You should check it out. It’s quite good, as his stuff always is.

For what it’s worth, lest anyone not from the southeastern United States thinks there’s no reason to spell these things out, let me assure you that there is ample reason from where I’m standing. Every one of these points was reiterated by multiple people with whom I am in regular contact. These are things we find ourselves explaining over and over again to people we know.

1. We have morals, too!

Most of the atheists I know are very principled, passionate people. We think long and hard about how we should live and relate to one another and to our environment, and we work to live consistently with our principles without fear of supernatural retribution. But many theists give us an undeserved hard time because they believe it must not be possible to live a moral life without a belief in some kind of supreme supernatural being. They believe this, not because they have observed us behaving badly (or at least not any worse than they themselves behave) but because of a prior commitment to believe that it must be the case.

But reality doesn’t match their belief about us. Internationally, those countries which are the most secular and which report the highest percentage of atheists/agnostics also have the lowest crime rates, the lowest incidence of mental illness, and they rate themselves the highest on all measures of happiness and well-being. In the US, those states which score the lowest on religiosity illustrate the same trend, while those states with the highest crime rates, poverty rates, and rates of mental illness score the highest on measures of religiosity.

What gets me (besides the unmerited disapproval itself) is how some will begin by telling me I cannot have morals without faith in a supreme being only to turn around and give credit to that same being (who I believe is fictitious) when I do in fact demonstrate morals. But which is it? Either say that I am a moral being because I am created in the image of (your particular) god or else say that I do not have morals because I do not believe in (your particular) god. But you can’t have it both ways.

I could go on about this but I’ve already written some about the American tradition of distrusting atheists as a group. So I’ll move on.

2. You don’t know us better than we know ourselves.

Really the next four points grow out of this one. While all of us have our blind spots which close friends and family can see, this goes way beyond that. Any non-believer who tries to converse much with Christians will discover that they can be full of pronouncements about what’s going on inside of our own heads and hearts without our own knowledge. But what would possess them to be so bold, so presumptuous?

Having a holy book does that to you. When you outsource your thought processes to a holy book, you feel empowered and authorized to make pronouncements about everything from world events to the personal motivations of others. It’s called “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (see 2 Cor. 10:5). This lies at the root of fundamentalism and it is the fountainhead of just about everything that I take issue with in evangelical Christianity. I know they mean well, and in their defense they are only doing what they were taught to do. They were taught to believe that their particular holy book is uniquely capable of dissecting the metaphysical innards of every man, woman, and child (see Hebrews 4:12-13). But they do not see how they disrespect us when they dismiss what we say about ourselves simply because an ancient book told them that we really aren’t qualified to say what’s going on inside ourselves.

3. We don’t deep down believe in your god.

I cannot count how many people have insisted that I really believe in their god…not just any god, but theirs alone. Never mind the fact that there are thousands to choose from. It’s quite egocentric to assume that anyone who disbelieves in gods must be in denial about secretly believing in (guess which one?) their particular god. But again, this isn’t their fault. They were taught to think this way by the biblical writers. Paul in particular presumed to declare (see Romans 1:18ff) that even the primitive polytheists of his surrounding culture were closet monotheists, secretly holding on to a belief in the god of Abraham (even though they might have never heard of the guy). What’s so frustrating about this is that our own voice gets tuned out and our words are completely disregarded because, once again, people believe they have been authorized to tell us things about ourselves that even we do not know. But this is terribly disrespectful, and it does not nurture any kind of fruitful relationship. No one wants to talk with someone who tunes them out.

The more philosophically inclined Christian apologist will argue that if I subscribe to any kind of moral code then I must have predicated that moral code on the existence of an invisible spirit (guess which one?). But this opinion comes from ignorance. I’m sorry, I don’t know any gentler way to put that. That belief is deeply ingrained in several expressions of the Abrahamic religions, but moral and ethical standards don’t have to be rooted in something supernatural in order to be useful. They can just as well be rooted in a biologically reinforced solidarity with one’s own species, or better yet with all other living things. I know that answer disappoints anyone who was taught the supernatural view, but it’s a valid view nonetheless.

4. We don’t hate (your particular) god.

Once again I have lost count of how many people have asked me why I am angry at (their particular) deity. This can only be an outgrowth of number three (see above) because nothing else would make sense. How could someone be angry at something that they do not believe exists? After you found out the truth about Santa Claus, did you get angry at Santa for not existing? I’m guessing not, because that wouldn’t even make sense.

Ah, but atheists seem angry a lot of the time, don’t we? You are correct. But isn’t it possible that we are angry at something else? If you were consistently misunderstood, dismissed, distrusted, and excluded because of what you believe (or don’t believe) wouldn’t you get upset about that yourself? What if someone told you that you are so very bad that you deserve to be tortured forever and ever? Is it possible that you might be angry at the treatment of people who should know better? Remember how I said we all have our blind spots? Well, this is one of the blind spots of many evangelicals/fundamentalists. They say truly offensive things about us and then when we get upset they say, “See? Your strong emotional response only proves that you are angry at (my particular) god!” No, in reality it means you’ve just treated us disrespectfully and you don’t even see it. That’s very frustrating. Don’t confuse our anger towards you with anger towards your object of worship.

5. We don’t all disbelieve because something bad happened to us.

The majority of atheists I know disbelieve because they asked questions and thought through things and concluded that theism just didn’t make sense, or at least didn’t match up with the world they see around them. A handful of them had bad experiences as children (divorce, abuse, illness or death) but that’s not even a distinguishing factor…everyone I know has had at least some of that. That’s just called life. If you ask these atheists to explain how they came to their conclusions, you will find that most of them followed a trail of logic which led them to where they are now. And some folks (like myself) were fortunate enough to have never suffered any horrific or underprivileged childhood. We simply thought through things and eventually realized that we don’t believe anymore.

But more importantly, this assumption displays a rather insulting presupposition: It indicates that we are flawed, broken, warped, or not right in the head. Asking me what bad thing happened to me to make me an atheist implies that I am damaged goods somehow. This presumptuous and condescending question betrays an undeserved judgmentalism of which the enquirer hardly seems aware. Next time, before you ask an atheist this question, take a moment to pause and consider that you are jumping to conclusions, and that perhaps you should take a little time to hear one of us explain who we are instead.

6. Belief isn’t a choice.

Belief is an involuntary response to something learned or something experienced. Just as you didn’t choose to believe in your particular god (you were likely taught from your youngest days to believe that there is such a thing), so those of us whose minds changed about this matter didn’t choose to disbelieve. It just sorta happened. It was a spontaneous consequence of having thought through some things in a certain way. The most respectful thing would be to allow us to speak for ourselves when we say this wasn’t a deliberate choice. It was merely a logical consequence of a series of thought processes.

But this would pose a problem, wouldn’t it? What if you were taught that unbelief is a sin? What if your religion says that unbelief is a punishable offense? Now you’re stuck with a dilemma. If belief isn’t a choice, then it wouldn’t be fair to cast atheism as a moral shortcoming, would it? No, it really wouldn’t. But to most Christians it’s simply unacceptable that the Bible (or at least their tradition’s reading of it) would lead them astray. So they conclude instead that unbelief toward their religion’s claims must be a willful act of disobedience rather than simply an intellectual disconnect. This totally changes the way you relate to us, doesn’t it? Something to consider.

7. Many of us were Christians once, too.

This point is directed more towards Americans. Being raised in the United States greatly increases your chances of growing up Christian, and growing up in the Bible Belt almost guarantees it. But people forget this and they assume that our atheism simply must be the result of insufficient exposure to the Christian message. They then proceed to tell us all the things which mean so much to them, reciting Bible verses and sharing stories, watching to see if this stuff affects us the same way that it affects them. But for so many of us, we’ve really heard it all. Many of us have even been responsible for teaching it to others, sometimes even to whole churches. The problem is not a lack of exposure.

So allow me to save you the time and energy by telling you before you start: We really don’t need just one more great Bible verse quoted to us, nor do we need to visit one more church (Yes, I know yours is wonderful). We do not need one of your favorite theological points explained one more time (“But it’s by grace!! Isn’t that great!?”). The truth is, some of us actually understand the Christian faith (and the Bible) better than the majority of Christians do. And we didn’t study it as outsiders–we were insiders. We initially heard the message through believing ears, and we may have spent many years living that way. I know for many people it completely nullifies even decades of sincere devotion if you later find you no longer believe. Many simply will not accept that our experience and our education were authentic or up to standard. To do so would throw them into intolerable cognitive dissonance. So instead they conclude that our devotion was never sincere, and they can dismiss however many years we spent as Christians and address us as brand new to the Christian faith. I suppose you’re free to do as you please. But do not expect people like me to feel understood, and do not expect us to stay engaged in a conversation that ignores what we say about ourselves.

8. Quoting the Bible doesn’t work like a Jedi mind trick.

Atheists do not revere the Bible the same way that evangelical Christians do, and apparently this has never occurred to many of them. I know that when talking among fellow believers it is customary to quote Bible verses as a way of illustrating a point, or settling a disagreement, or suggesting a course of action. I also know that you have been taught that the Bible itself has a certain kind of power to it. Isaiah 55:11 (among many other places) says so. But for us this is rather circular, and it just doesn’t carry the weight for us that it does for you. So it strikes us as mildly entertaining when you quote Bible verses “at” us, expecting something to happen. Perhaps it works on you. It does not work on us.

9. We don’t worship the devil.

Come on, now, really? Why do we have to clarify this at all? For some reason it’s harder for some people to accept that we don’t believe in the devil than it is for them to accept that we don’t believe in any gods. It’s really all in the same category, though. But when I was in youth group we always heard Satanists and atheists lumped together into the same category, so it’s no surprise people get them confused.

The character of Satan is completely unbelievable, though, and frankly insulting to everyone’s intelligence. It’s just not a convincing character. He’s so two-dimensional, bent solely on destruction and malice, like one of those cheesy villains on straight-to-DVD kids movies. You know the ones I mean…the ones with talking dogs and cats and such? Who writes this stuff, anyway, and how old are they, exactly? At least movies for grown ups give complexity to the villains so they’re believable human beings. Like them, this devil character is just not convincing.

10. Hell doesn’t scare us; we find it absurd.

I’ve already written about this in another post, but I’ll sum up here, too. Because we don’t believe in spirits or ghosts or life after death, neither Heaven nor Hell are believable things for us. So it’s no use trying to use Hell to frighten us into…something…I don’t know what. I don’t see how you can be scared into believing. I don’t even see how that remains popular among sects of a religion which champions grace, mercy, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek. Yes, I’ve read the same verses about wrath and justice and all that but there are several problems with this whole concept:

a. Eternal punishment for temporal actions. Infinite payment for finite deeds? That doesn’t make sense.

b. There’s nothing to learn in Hell because you never get out.

c. There’s considerable confusion about the physicality of such a place. Are we talking bodies burning here? Do they keep regenerating so they can keep burning?

d. Jesus paid it all, they say. Except some of us will have to pay, too. And while it will take all eternity for us to pay for our 70 years of sin, Jesus paid for the sins of billions of lifetimes over a twelve hour period one Friday.

e. Don’t even get me started on Pascal’s wager.

11. Not all of us are anti-theists.

Boy was I taken to task over this one! I heard all kinds of positive things from both Christians and atheists about how I conducted myself during this interview. But every day since then I’ve received at least four or five critical comments or messages from what some would call “strong atheists” (or “gnostic atheists”) telling me I totally blew it because I didn’t show up and tell them all what’s wrong with their religion. I’ve already written about this here and here, and I figure I’ll have to write some more about it in the future. I was evidently naive about how seriously some atheists take their atheism (as a “movement”), and how important it is to them that all atheists agree to certain principles (like “All Religion Bad!”). This was a great learning experience for me.

For now I’ll just repeat that not all people who disbelieve feel that we should be actively working to rid the earth of all forms of religion. I think it’s a more realistic goal to find our allies among those who more often than not allow for reason and rationality to win out over fundamentalism. There are plenty of them out there, you’ve just gotta find ’em.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David Austin

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for posting the 11 points you made in the video, with follow-up explanations. It was really helpful.

    I’m hoping my local Pastor will be interested to have a similar interview idea some time, but currently he has declined my offer.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

    Regards

    David Austin

  • Scott

    Hi Neil,

    As an atheist, I just want to make sure you’re using the best possible arguments. In point #1, you cite correlation (peace and secularism) as evidence of causation. It could be that causality runs the other way or from a third factor, so I’d try to find more solid evidence (experimental, if possible, or at least evidence approximating experiments) to make your major talking point for that idea–perhaps a study that shows that crime rates fall while societies are becoming more secular, for instance.

    Otherwise, I loved your video, and keep up the good work!

  • Excellent compilations of all the important points Christian need to know about talking to Atheists. 7 and 8 are probably the most important (and the comparison to Jedi mind tricks is a clever analogy). 3 and 5 are probably the strangest comments I’ve received and probably the worst debating tactics possible.

  • A valid point, Scott. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation (see link below…I love xkcd).

    But my purpose was not to prove that godlessness causes those things. My point was simply to attempt to invalidate what others have said about causation. If their assertions were correct, there should be a high correlation between atheism and crime (among other unwanted things they often throw in). I guess what I’m saying is that my purpose was narrower than that.

    http://xkcd.com/552/

  • Scott

    Yep, love that comic. Good point!

  • Julio Leal

    Hi Neil, I was curious if you’ve read books from Bart Ehrman or heard his debates.

  • I’ve heard snippets of his talks and own a couple of his books but time hasn’t permitted me the opportunity to read them. What I’ve heard so far sounds pretty legit, though. I’m a hack biblical student myself, so his interaction with the text (and the historical context) is right up my ally. I also like the fact that he doesn’t go to the extreme of trying to deny the historical existence of the person of Jesus. He actually defends the historicity of Jesus, although like me he believes that the layers of legend and embellishment surrounding his life make it very difficult to discern what the historical figure really said and did.

  • RBH

    Neil, as I threatened a week or so ago, I used a couple of your points in my ‘Interview an Atheist’ session at a Baptist church yesterday. I also added one of my own: “Our lives are not empty and bleak.” That in fact was the most extended of the five points I made. But your willingness to get yours out there on the web was a great help to me. Thanks!

  • D.M.

    Mr. Carter.

    I was actually led to this blog from your video. I was really shocked at what you said in the interview and the way you said it. Especially about understanding one another and being respectful and such. I was shocked because I couldn’t remember the last time I heard an atheist/agnostic be so kind and respectful when addressing someone who disagreed with them. I was so impressed.

    Then I came here; and now I nearly find myself going, “it figures,” after I was done reading the post connected to the interview. The way you phrase things and some of the things you said were outrageously condescending and presumptuous.

    – “But which is it?”

    – “But what would possess them to be so bold, so presumptuous? Having a holy book does that to you.”

    – “simply because an ancient book told them”

    – “anyone who disbelieves in gods must be in denial about secretly believing in (guess which one?)”

    – “But again, this isn’t their fault. They were taught to think this way by the biblical writers.”

    – “because, once again,”

    – “then I must have predicated that moral code on the existence of an invisible spirit (guess which one?)”

    – “I know that answer disappoints anyone who was taught the supernatural view, but it’s a valid view nonetheless.”

    – etc.

    – etc.

    – etc.

    – etc.

    (It would take me too much time to go through the whole post.)

    Are you serious? You talked a great deal about mutual respect and understanding in your interview, how would feel if someone used this kind of language on you?

    “Ugh, those silly X’s. They’re so condescending and presumptuous and judgmental. And the reason they are that way is just simply because Y told them to be. I guess it’s not really their fault though because Z happened in their life.”

    Everything you criticized you yourself are guilty of. What’s more, you’re guilty of this behavior in your criticism of the behavior. You want understanding? Swallow some of your own advice and understand that it is absolutely infuriating when you address people in that manner.

    (It can also be fairly aggravating when you misinterpret verses and then use your misinterpretations as an excuse to be pretentious.)

    I came here expecting to find something different and insightful. Instead I found a stereotype. I doubt I will ever return to this blog.

  • D.M., does it surprise you that I do in fact disagree with fundamentalism? I thought I was clear in the video that there are expressions of the Christians faith which I feel are harmful to themselves and to others. There are aspects of the Christian faith which impede open discussion, and I’ve highlighted some of them here. Each of the above portions of sentences which you’ve lifted out of their context were talking about reasons why we non-believers are misunderstood. For example, it is in fact presumptuous to assume that the deity of one’s own upbringing is the only one which needs to be considered when talking about these things. Do you feel this is not presumptuous?

    I’m open for conversation about anything I said above. Will you stick around long enough for that?

  • D.M., I’m not going to pretend I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I do think you are overreacting. I am one of those who Neil discusses in his last point – an antitheist (although his posts about anti-fundamentalism have made a strong impression on me). I’m used to pointing out the shortcomings (and dangers) of theistic faith in a much more blunt and direct manner. When I saw his video, I was impressed that someone could be so effective at making the hard points while being non-confrontational and clearly empathetic. It didn’t cross my mind that Neil should have been more confrontational in the interview, since it was plain that he was speaking in front of a Christian audience that it would have been counterproductive to antagonize.

    The impression I took from the video – the sheer power of friendly rebuke – did not leave me when I read his blog posts. Yes, he is much more direct and challenging to theistic belief here, where he has the freedom to speak bluntly. But he does not wield his words like a club, and pretending he does is to miss just how skillfully he navigates these most important of issues. If you want to read someone who does discuss Neil’s points in a manner that would justify your comment, you should skip over to my own post about his video.

    http://thesecularresponse.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/what-atheists-wish-christians-knew-about-them/

    Richard Dawkins talks about being called shrill and nasty, and points out that people of faith tend to react negatively to clarity. That is what I see in Neil’s writing: a clarity that can only be called presumptuous and condescending by those who are used to fuzzy language and afraid of clarity.

  • great interview….

  • Caroline

    I am a believer of our God, and I also believe it is up to us what we believe and what we don’t believe. I think that atheist-ism is just another religion like all the other, they just go by their own thoughts and ideas of what they should be doing to live in this world. When it does come down to it there is no religion that is truly right that is why it tells us in that Holy book as you so called it, to not go by what man teaches but what the Holy Spirit teaches.

    I do tell people about God and if they don’t want to hear it then so be it and i leave it at that i don’t tell people they will be tortured or anything that is just wrong.

    But i do want to thank you for your interview as well it has taught me how to go about treating people who call themselves atheists.

  • I’m glad if it was helpful to you, although it seems from what you just said that you may have missed at least a couple of the things I explained in the video.

    Do you mind if I ask a bit of a probing question? You said: “When it does come down to it there is no religion that is truly right that is why it tells us in that Holy book as you so called it, to not go by what man teaches but what the Holy Spirit teaches.”

    Isn’t that a religion, though? I mean, having a holy book and claiming the guidance of a spirit? Maybe I’m not sure what your definition of a religion is…if you see atheism as a religion (which has neither a holy book nor does it claim the guidance of spirits) yet you do not see your own view as a religion. Could you clarify?

  • You’ve made me curious…I kind of WANT to get you started on Pascal’s Wager, now. Do you something old you’ve written that you could copy&paste for me, if you don’t feel like writing anything new up?

  • Well I can give you the short version pretty quickly: For me, the biggest thing isn’t even the more commonly cited problems: 1. That fear is a terrible reason to “believe” and that’s not the way belief works, anyway…you have to be convinced that something is true for it to even be persuasive; or 2. That believing as a way of hedging your bets would be such a disingenuous manner of faith that I seriously doubt any self-respecting deity would accept it…if she’s any good, she’ll know it’s not sincere anyway. Those are the things people usually point out, and they should be sufficient to put this terrible marketing scam away. But they’re not even the greatest weakness of this wager.

    The biggest problem is that it fails to specify which deity must be believed in, or which eternal damnation we should be avoiding. I had a Muslim friend ask me once if I would be willing to concede even a slight possibility that I was wrong about Muhammad. I said I would, and he responded that if there’s even a remote possibility that I’m wrong, I should simply follow Muhammad as a precaution because what did I have to lose?

    You see the problem, right? If I follow Muhammad, I go to Christian Hell. But if I follow Jesus, I go to Muslim Hell. I am, quite literally, damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

  • Thanks! Those are great points.

  • John Patton

    I believe there is a God out there that loves us and is inviting us into to a relationship with him. I’m in high school and I know many people my age that are walking away from the Christian faith. I’d like to respond to what you said, mainly because the truth needs to be spoken.

    Response to # 1: A Subjective Moral Standard

    I agree that most atheists aren’t moral monsters. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve ever met a Christian that believes that all atheists are moral monsters. The comment that most Christians are making is about HOW you come to your moral standard. Many atheists say that they come to their moral decisions based on what they feel is right. For American atheists, that means being kind to those around you. In some nations, that means cannibalizing prisoners of war. And that is based on feeling and what is culturally acceptable. As a Christian, I believe that God is a moral law giver. I believe that anything that goes against his nature is morally wrong. What theists are saying is that the moral standard of atheism is incorrect because it is subjective. They don’t claim that all atheists are moral monsters.

    Response to #2: A Legitimate Book Should Be Taken Seriously

    I believe that the Bible is the word of God. Every word of the Bible is inspired. Neil stated, “But they do not see how they disrespect us when they dismiss what we say about ourselves simply because an ancient book told them that we really aren’t qualified to say what’s going on inside ourselves.” If the Bible is the word of God, then we should take it seriously. I’ve been given the chance to street-preach in the past. When I do I have one main message…

    1. We all deserve hell because of our sinful actions.

    All of us have sinned at least once in our life. There’s no question. (Romans 3:23) And because of this we deserve eternal separation from God. This is the only biblical “assumption” that I’ve seen a Christian make when street preaching.

    Then I move into…

    2. Salvation

    “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”- John 3:16 There it is. Plain and simple. No assumptions about atheists in that statement.

    But how do we know that the Bible is truly the word of God?

    The Bible was inspired in two ways….

    1. Directly told prophet (Jeremiah 1:4)

    2. God superintended the writing and men wrote what he wanted

    -But how do we know that the writers were correct when it was “superintended”:

    – As Rev. Sid Litke stated, “Over 300 prophesies in the Old Testament describe the details of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. The odds of even a few of these coming true in one person are staggering – much less 300 of them.”

    – Nelson Glueck, a leading Jewish archaeologist said, “It can be categorically stated that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference”

    Charles Wesley summed this point up nicely, “The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. It could not be the invention of good men or angels; for they neither would or could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” when it was their own invention. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity. Therefore, I draw this conclusion, that the Bible must by given by divine inspiration.”

    Response to #3: It is impossible for God not to exist

    The point that these people are trying to make is that there is no logical way for God not to exist. They don’t understand how someone could believe in a non-logical idea. Let’s take a look at the cosmological argument to prove the logicality that God exists. The syllogism goes like this:

    1. Everything that has a beginning a beginning has a cause.

    Simply put, nothing appears out of thin air.

    2. The universe had a beginning.

    For a while, many atheists believe that the universe always existed. That is until we discovered the law of entropy. This law basically says that everything in the universe is slowly falling apart. If the universe always existed, then how could the universe still be intact?

    3. The universe must have had a cause.

    Many atheists claim that the “big bang” caused the universe to be created. However, where did the matter for the explosion come from? Atheists like Stephen Hawking claim it came from a quantum vacuum. Where did the quantum vacuum come from? The only logical conclusion, is that it must have come from a greater power that is eternal, outside of time, all-powerful, and all knowing.

    Response to #4: Why Deny Evidence?

    I want to start off this point by saying that I’m sorry if Christians mistreated you by dismissing your claims as “stupid” or “dumb”. The Bible calls us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). However, that doesn’t mean we should be apologetic about our beliefs. This leads me to my main point. If there is logical and clear evidence for the existence of God, why do atheists continue to deny it (at least for the atheists that have heard the Christian argument)?

    Response to #5: Agree

    Actually I think that most atheists have never heard the other side of the argument.

    Response to #6: Belief is a choice

    When talking about where beliefs come from you stated, ” It was merely a logical consequence of a series of thought processes.” Those that struggle with eating disorders legitimately believe they are fat. Most of them are actually extremely skinny. How could they have come to the “logical” conclusion that they are overweight. Logically, they’re actually starving. They have chosen to listen to the lie that they are overweight. And if belief is based on logical conclusions, how can one continue to be an atheist after seeing arguments like the cosmological argument (#3).

    Response to #7: Never a legitimate relationship

    Just because you went to Church as a child doesn’t mean that you were actually a Christian. Matthew 7:21-23 says,”“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

    Response to #8: Good Apologists Qualify the Bible

    As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the only absolute truth Therefore, many Christians use it to prove statements without qualifying it as a legitimate document. In case there is questions about biblical legitimacy, we qualified it earlier in this document (#2).

    Response to #9: Agree

    Actually, I’ve never met a Christian that has claimed this.

    Response to #10: Hell is Real

    Ultimately, hell as separation from God. During this lifetime, we are given a choice. One is to accept God’s love, and the other is to strike out on our own, by ourselves. That is what hell is. Us, on our own. God doesn’t force you to serve him because that isn’t true love.

    Response to #11: Agree

    I’ve never personally met a Christian that believes most atheists want to start a genocide that rids the Earth of all forms of religion.

    Hope this is helpful for those with doubts or questions.

  • Andrew S.

    As I read the article above I saw some problems with it and thought that I should share my thoughts below. :

    1. Atheist offers morality too!

    There are a couple of problems with this:

    a. All morality has to come from a moral law giver. Not only does it come from a moral law giver, but this moral law giver has to be higher than those following the law. (i.e. Since the people receiving the law need it because they can’t comprehend morality the law giver must be more wise than they are)

    b. If this is true, than Atheist can’t say that things like Hitler and the Holocaust are wrong. (which proves that there is morality, further proving that there really is a God)

    2. You don’t know us better than we know ourselves

    This article states that Christians make presumptions and are pushy when it comes to our “holy book.”

    This comment is double sided in several ways:

    a. Evolution is taught as truth in public schools. It could be argued that it’s pushy to teach something that not everyone believes. (Not just for Christians but other religions too)

    (While we really don’t know you as well as you know yourself the creator that made you does)

    3. We don’t deep down believe in your god.

    This article has a verse that “teaches” that every one has God deep down inside someplace.

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;(I added verse 19 for context) 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.(KJV)

    While I don’t believe that God will be deep down in you if you’re not saved I do believe that he offers an open invitation. This verse isn’t saying that God is deep down in everyone but that there is evidence for God in the world.(For more proof for a Theistic God see Cosmological and Teleological Arguments).

    4. We don’t hate (your particular) god

    This point is something that I have to disagree with upfront but I’d like to use an analogy to illustrate this point: If you were a beggar living under a bridge and someone told you, “Hey Someone just put 1 billion dollars in your bank account.” You would think that the beggar would go strait away to the bank and make the withdrawal. The same principal applies to Christianity, God is holding hand out to you to save you but you refuse to take it. (Again I strongly encourage you to look at the Cosmological argument and the Teleological argument). It is because of that refusal that the idea of hating God comes about.

    Well that’s all the time that I have now to respond to this. If you want to talk to me about this more feel free to comment on this! I also strongly recommend the book: I Don’t Have the Faith to be an Atheist. It’s a great book from where most of these arguments originated. I hope that my comments were helpful to you all!

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Hi John, I was encouraged to see a person your age articulating such a thorough reply. We may have a couple theological differences, but for a short blog comment, this was well put together. I’m curious, what apologetic resources have you used in coming to your conclusions? My family is involved with training Christian young people in critical thinking, so we’re always collecting data in this area.

  • Thanks for taking the time to interact so thoroughly. In the video I said that I wasn’t offering these as arguments for debate, I was just explaining some ways that many atheists feel misunderstood. I wasn’t really inviting debate. But I remember loving apologetics once, so I understand your desire to counter each of the things I said. Because you took the time to write all this out, you deserve a detailed reply. I’ll make it as concise as I can.

    1. “I don’t think that I’ve ever met a Christian that believes that all atheists are moral monsters.”

    I have. Once you identify yourself as an atheist, these people will come out of the woodwork. I have been told I must be an empty shell of a person, barely human. I’ve been told it’s not possible for me to love. I’ve been told I cannot possibly be trusted around children. It goes on and on. I’m glad you haven’t witnessed this bigotry yourself. If you ever switch teams, though, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    “Many atheists say that they come to their moral decisions based on what they feel is right.”

    I certainly wouldn’t put it that way myself. That would be an unacceptably flimsy basis for moral decisions, imo.

    “As a Christian, I believe that God is a moral law giver. I believe that anything that goes against his nature is morally wrong.”

    But who decides what God wants? Who can determine that for us? And why is it that people ascribe opposite moral values to the same God, using the same scriptures? If this is objective, there would be less variance between those who devote their lives to following this standard.

    2. “I believe that the Bible is the word of God…If the Bible is the word of God, then we should take it seriously.”

    And if it is not, then we should not. As for 300 prophecies, I’ve read these lists of prophecies, and most of them could only be construed as predictive under the most torturous interpretive circumstances. In other words, one would have to want very much to find things there which aren’t really there. And as for the ones that seem to more closely match the New Testament witness to the life of Jesus, has it ever occurred to you that these might just as well be reverse engineered to match the OT stories and passages? One such example would be the virgin birth story, which wasn’t even included in the earliest gospel (Mark) and seems to be based on a misreading of the original passage in Isaiah. While the Septuagint translated “young woman” as “virgin,” the original Hebrew version is not responsibly rendered that way. So this entire legend grew around a mistranslation (or at least a marginal translation) in the Septuagint.

    3. “The point that these people are trying to make is that there is no logical way for God not to exist. “

    With all due respect to Thomistic arguments (which rarely convert anyone), all this argument says is: “I cannot explain where everything came from, therefore there must be an invisible anthropomorphic spirit behind it all.” This argument pretends like there cannot possibly be any other explanations for things than what I call “The Giant Invisible Man Hypothesis.” Just because I cannot explain how matter came to exist does not necessitate that this hypothesis is the only other option. And my inability to imagine “the right answer” does not equal positive support for this hypothesis.

    4. “If there is logical and clear evidence for the existence of God, why do atheists continue to deny it?”

    That’s a big IF, isn’t it? And thank you for illustrating my point. Most Christians cannot fathom that someone else can truly not believe. It’s like it doesn’t even compute. We MUST by lying somehow, either to everyone else or to ourselves, right?

    Would it be persuasive to you at all if I reversed the accusation and said that your interest in apologetics reveals that deep down you disbelieve in the claims of Christianity? If I presumed to tell you that you don’t really believe, but that you’re lying to yourself about believing, would it phase you at all? I’m guessing it wouldn’t, because you know what you believe (and I do not). Please show me the same courtesy.

    5. “I think that most atheists have never heard the other side of the argument.”

    Do you mean by this that most atheists have not heard the arguments in favor of Christianity? That doesn’t match my observation at all. Are you suggesting that you’ve presented atheists with things like the cosmological argument and they have told you they’ve never heard it before? Really? Even at the high school level, I’d be surprised.

    6. Yes, people do believe illogical things. That does not necessarily mean that disbelief in other things is illogical. That’s a logical leap. And it’s not really even about whether or not beliefs are a choice. I think you are oversimplifying eating disorders to say they are choosing to think incorrectly. But that’s really a poor analogy anyway so maybe we should just leave that one alone.

    7. “Just because you went to Church as a child doesn’t mean that you were actually a Christian.”

    Man, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that. Why do people always assume that when I say, “I was a Christian once, too” all I meant was “I went to church for a while?” Have I said something which indicates I would feel that’s a sufficient definition of a Christian?

    8. “In case there is [sic] questions about biblical legitimacy, we qualified it earlier in this document.”

    Not really, man. Reverse engineered “prophecies” and Wesley’s flimsy argument aren’t nearly as convincing to people as you may think. My contention is that the Bible was written by fallible men. You quote Wesley as saying, “It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity.” This same argument validates the Koran as well.

    9. “Actually, I’ve never met a Christian that has claimed this.”
    I have. Many times.

    10. You restate the doctrine of Hell. This does not change my opinion that the concept is absurd.

    11. “I’ve never personally met a Christian that believes most atheists want to start a genocide that rids the Earth of all forms of religion.”

    Is that what you hear when you hear “anti-theist?” Wow. Genocide. That escalated quickly :)

    Thanks again for interacting. Since a point-by-point argument would hog a lot of space on this blog, feel free to message me through the contact page if you’d like to continue this in more detail.

  • As I stated to John above, this wasn’t really an invitation to debate. But again, since you took the time, I’ll briefly respond to what you’ve written.

    1. “All morality has to come from a moral law giver.”

    Then all morality should agree and be internally coherent. But my observation is that, not only does one “law giver” disagree with another, but these law givers even contradict themselves too often for this to make sense. Is it okay to kill your child? Depends. In one place it’s okay and in another it’s not. Is this objective morality?

    2. “Evolution is taught as truth in public schools. It could be argued that it’s pushy to teach something that not everyone believes.”

    This should not even be a debate. If my students don’t believe that ATP is necessary for cellular metabolism, should I refrain from teaching them that it is? Also this feels like a seismic shift in conversation.

    3. Paul says I secretly believe. I say I don’t. There’s not much point in me telling you Paul is wrong, is there? And yes, I’ve read the Thomistic arguments before (I learned them back when I was a hack Christian apologist myself). They’re not so great, nor do they demonstrate that what I said in #3 is incorrect.

    4. What you say in response to this is so unrelated to what I said that I don’t know how to respond. Maybe if you get more time to finish what you were trying to say?

    As I recommended for John, feel free to message me through the contact page and we can pick up where this leaves off if you like. It won’t work well on this page because the page will get bogged down with comments. Invitation’s open.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    For the record, Christians do disagree on “once saved always saved” theology, and that’s one place where I differ with John. I believe that you were a sincere Christian for many years before losing your faith.

    As for the other side of the argument, you may well have HEARD some basic Christian arguments in skeleton form, but deeply understanding/researching them isn’t the same thing as hearing of them. For example, it requires technical knowledge of philosophy and Bayesian probability to analyze the Kalam argument properly. I don’t pretend to be an expert in those areas (though I’ve completed a philosophy degree), but I’ve seen enough to know that saying you understand the Kalam because you can state the basic form of the argument is like saying you understand chess because you know seven good opening moves.

    One other comment—your argument regarding “alma” vs. “parthenos” in Isaiah is common but based on a confusion about the texts. The original Hebrew “alma” does mean a young woman or pre-teen, but the Greek translation as “parthenos” (whose primary meaning is virgin) is still a reasonable one since the birth indicated in the passage is implied to be a miraculous sign. For a young woman to become pregnant certainly isn’t miraculous by itself. Furthermore, the Greek translation comes from the Septuagint, which was produced by Jews centuries before Christ. So the idea that Christians reverse-engineered the translation at that point is simply historically false. For a more detailed discussion of this and other prophecies, see Michael Brown’s _Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus_. (He discusses this passage in particular in volume 3, pages 17-32.)

  • Esther O’Reilly

    By the way, you might have encountered the interpretation that Isaiah is referring to his own son, but since we know his son’s name and it certainly isn’t “Immanuel,” as the Hebrew says, that theory kind of falls flat.

  • “…it requires technical knowledge of philosophy and Bayesian probability to analyze the Kalam argument properly.”

    So much for hiding things from the wise and prudent and revealing them to babes ;)

    You’ve just essentially presented me with the most specific variation of the No True Scotsman argument I’ve ever heard. What I’m hearing you say is “No one who truly understands this argument would ever reject it. Since you reject it, you clearly cannot understand it.”

    As for virgin vs. young woman: First of all, I didn’t say Christians reverse engineered the Septuagint. Apparently I wasn’t clear with how I worded it. I said they reverse engineered the story of Jesus to fit the Septuagint, AND that on top of that the Septuagint used a less natural translation of the Hebrew in the first place. It seems to be your assumption that the “sign” of the Isaiah passage must be the woman giving birth, and that it can’t be anything else in the passage (the designation “Immanuel,” or the curds and honey, or the forsaking of the land). But I don’t see why that has to be the case.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    No, that’s really not an example of the fallacy. No True Scotsman involves arbitrary connections supported by mere rhetoric—the connection between being a Scotsman and putting sugar in one’s tea, or not being a serial rapist, or whatever you personally would like to assert about true Scotsmen, with no concrete reason other than your statement. A complete understanding of the Kalam argument must necessarily lead one direction or the other. This is not a subjective question. If you were to lay out your reasoning for rejecting the Kalam, an expert on the other side could point out and critique specific premises in your argument.

    Francis Bacon once said “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.” I think the beauty in the Kalam and other GOOD arguments for theism and/or Christianity (don’t worry, I don’t like Pascal’s Wager either) is that they have layers. There’s an immediate, intuitive appeal to common sense for people without the tools to engage more deeply. So somebody like John can instinctively see the logic in Kalam even though he has no philosophical background. Similarly, the design inherent in creation has very powerful intuitive appeal.

    Now, if you try to dig a little deeper, the arguments become more complex to follow. This is where many people get hung up or confused. One problem with this is that Christianity doesn’t hang on any one argument alone, so just because you’re not convinced of an argument here or there still leaves you far from rejecting Christianity as a whole. (This is why I’m concerned by the work of people like Ken Ham, who give Christian young people an “all or nothing” framework when it comes to minor details like the age of the Earth, thereby setting up a disastrous chain rejection when they discover evidence against that ONE THING.) But even aside from that, following the argument as far as it will lead with an open mind will, I believe, lead you back to Christianity, like pushing yourself to analyze one more move forward in a chess game. For example, you’ve probably read or heard of Hume’s _Of Miracles_. It’s a popular anchor point for many contemporary arguments against Christianity. But have you read any of the contemporary replies to Hume? Adams? Campbell? What about the contemporary agnostic John Earman’s technical response _Hume’s Abject Failure_?

    Sorry, yes, I did misread you slightly on the Isaiah passage. But I still disagree that “parthenos” was an unnatural translation. Rabbi Rashi’s commentary on the passage even acknowledges that other Jewish commentators have interpreted it to mean “a young woman incapable of giving birth.” And since Immanuel means “God with us,” it’s a safe bet that the sign has a lot more to do with the child’s identity and the circumstances of his arrival on earth than the curds and honey. Clearly the child is the Messiah. Now, the whole “conquering vs. suffering Messiah” question is a wonderfully fascinating, separate discussion of its own. Once again, I highly recommend Brown’s work on this.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    *chain reaction—sorry for the typo

  • John Patton

    Hi Mrs. O’Reilly,

    Thanks for your encouragement! Here are the ones that I like…

    I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist….. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek

    On Guard………… Dr. William Lane Craig

    Systematic Theology…………… Wane Grudem

    Sorry if you’ve already seen those titles… I’ve also found Frank Turek’s website crossexamined.org really helpful.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Thanks John! Yes I have—don’t agree with Geisler all the time but I’ve seen Frank speak in person and heard good things about that book. William Lane Craig is great too, very professional. I actually had lunch with him once and he’s quite grandfatherly in person. When I wrote a paper analyzing portions of his debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, I was struck by how much more courteous Craig was, though Armstrong was far from his worst-behaved opponent. That dubious honor would have to go to Lawrence Krauss, the guy who brought a buzzer to the debate and kept interrupting Craig’s remarks with it when he disagreed with something.

  • John Patton

    Hi Neil,

    I didn’t watch the video so I didn’t realize that your not open for debate. Sorry about that. I just want to respond to your arguments so I’ll keep this short.

    # 1:Starting off you stated that you don’t base your morals on what you feel is right. What do you base it on then? What is the definition of good? How did you come to that definition? In response to Christian morality you said,”But who decides what God wants? Who can determine that for us?” Quite simply, the Bible is the revelation of what God wants. Just because people debate over scripture doesn’t mean that it is subjective.

    # 2: So your telling me that men in the early church watched their children be tortured and killed for a lie that they made up or misrepresented through scripture? (See Esther O’Reilly’s Comment; Posted at 11:44 AM on January 15th)

    # 3: Under your point about how belief isn’t a choice, you basically said that you came to be an atheist because it sounded like the most logical position. Now, in response to my logical argument you say,”Just because I cannot explain how matter came to exist does not necessitate that this hypothesis is the only other option.”

    # 4: I didn’t tell you that deep down you believe there is a God. I asked a question.

    # 5: Actually, you’d be surprised by how many people haven’t even heard the gospel. And I know that from experience. Many people claim to be Christians but don’t even know what salvation is. In regards to the cosmological argument, why is it shocking that people don’t know about it? Rarely have I met people my age that actually care about their “faith”.

    # 6:See argument 3.

    # 7: The sad part is that many “Christians” never had a heart connect with Jesus. They saw him as a legalistic, self-righteous, condemning person. The sad part is that is exactly opposite of who he is. He told people that were about to stone a woman that was caught in the act of adultery to step off. That’s the Jesus I know.

    # 8: See Argument 2.

    # 9: I’m sorry about this. They’re wrong. The Bible defines what Christians should believe. Show me in scripture where God said that all atheists worship the devil. However, you still haven’t given a reason as to why morality exists through the logic that atheism provides. So “Christian Bigotry” shouldn’t be an issue.

    # 10: I answered your questions a, b, and d (If you’d like me to respond to c and e I’d be happy to.).

    # 11: You stated,”For now I’ll just repeat that not all people who disbelieve feel that we should be actively working to rid the earth of all forms of religion.” I agree with you. But for the small percent that does, genocide doesn’t seem like a huge jump to me. At least given how you described their opinion.

    Thanks for your time!

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Just a small improvement on your point about martyrdom John—first I would make a distinction between the apostles and the men in the early church, that is, the people who actually claimed to have KNOWN Jesus and the people who just heard ABOUT Jesus. When people bring up the terrorists/Kool-aid drinkers argument, the best answer is to look specifically at that group of twelve men who said “We saw this guy, we actually broke bread with him and touched him and witnessed miracles with our own eyes,” because that’s what sets them apart from people who JUST have a belief in some abstract cause.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Just a small improvement on your point about martyrdom John—first I’m not sure the apostles had children/families who were also martyred. Second, I would make a distinction between the apostles and the men in the early church, that is, the people who actually claimed to have KNOWN Jesus and the people who just heard ABOUT Jesus. When people bring up the terrorists/Kool-aid drinkers argument, the best answer is to look specifically at that group of twelve men who said “We saw this guy, we actually broke bread with him and touched him and witnessed miracles with our own eyes,” because that’s what sets them apart from people who JUST have a belief in some abstract cause.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Oh great, that one got posted twice. Sorry.

  • “I didn’t realize that your [sic] not open for debate.”

    No, I actually enjoy debate. I just wasn’t intending this post to be about that. The layout doesn’t work well for it.

    1) “Quite simply, the Bible is the revelation of what God wants.”

    But how do you know the Bible is “the revelation of what God wants?” And why isn’t it the Koran? Or the Book of Mormon?

    2) “So your [sic] telling me that men in the early church watched their children be tortured and killed…”

    First of all, you underestimate people’s ability to believe things that are incorrect, even inaccurate memories of their own personal experiences. Superstition is a powerful thing. I’ve even heard it can persuade young men to hijack a commercial airliner to kill themselves and thousands of others. Hard to understand, but true.

    3) “Now, in response to my logical argument you say,’Just because I cannot explain how matter came to exist does not necessitate that this hypothesis is the only other option.’”

    I remain open to quite a few possibilities. I don’t feel limited at all, if that’s what you mean. Perhaps you feel that atheism represents a stance which makes specific claims? As I understand it, it’s not. Just because I don’t believe in any gods I’ve heard of doesn’t mean I’m ready to say I know that no gods exist. Deism, for example, is virtually impossible to evaluate because it makes no testable claims.

    4) “I didn’t tell you that deep down you believe there is a God. I asked a question.”

    Was the question a response to my #4? If it was unrelated then I must have misunderstood your point.

    5) “In regards to the cosmological argument, why is it shocking that people don’t know about it? Rarely have I met people my age that actually care about their ‘faith’. Rarely have I met people my age that actually care about their ‘faith’.”

    It’s probably a high school thing. These kinds of things come up at college A LOT. Also religion is a big deal in Mississippi.

    7) “The sad part is that is exactly opposite of who he is. He told people that were about to stone a woman that was caught in the act of adultery to step off.”

    Maybe. Then again, how do we know what he was like? That particular story wasn’t even in the original text.

    9) “…you still haven’t given a reason as to why morality exists through the logic that atheism.”

    See this post here. I’ve addressed that before. The short answer is that most highly evolved animals display a sense of empathy and altruism. Humans just take it to the next level and codify it into a system. No spirits necessary.

    11) “But for the small percent that does, genocide doesn’t seem like a huge jump to me”

    Wow. You must really think we’re moral monsters.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Your claim that the disciples might simply have created a fake memory of the events is very weak. It’s one thing to suggest that one of them might have lost his mind, but for all twelve to give eyewitness testimony of prolonged post-Resurrection appearances by Jesus—that’s a LOT of fake memories you’re talking about there. We’re not even talking about seeing your best friend from highschool thirty years after you’d parted ways, we’re talking about the gap between Friday night and Sunday morning. And we’re not talking about “Yeah, I saw him in a crowd 100 feet away and it sure looked like Jesus!” we’re talking about whole meals and long conversations, over a 40-day period.