Monday, 24 October 2011

Reasoning with Atheists (part 1)

In September 2011 a number of people from our church went to Lisdownvarna for the annual match-making festival. We were not there to find partners but to do some street evangelism. I must admit I have very limited experience in this form of outreach. When we arrived some people from Ennis Christian Fellowship had set up a sketch-board. A couple of the more competent evangelists spoke using the board whereas most of the rest of us handed out tracts. 
Amongst the various reactions we received were some people who have clearly being influenced by the thinking of the ‘new-atheists’. There is a vocal atheism led by such public figures as Richard Dawkins. One person made a passing reference to Santa clause. I think his point was that what we believed was as ridiculous, immature and na├»ve as believing in Santa. It is assumed by such people that a little bit of education would clear up any lingering beliefs. It throws such people when they find out that many Christians actually have thought through some of the issues they would raise.
I was frustrated that the opportunity to respond was so brief in street work. As someone gives you just a second of their attention what could you say in response? I was left flat-footed. Perhaps it would be somewhat naff, but maybe a quick response would be to point out that it takes a lot of faith to be an atheist. After-all the atheist looks the vastness of the cosmos and has to believe that there is no creator; they have to look at the beauty of a nature and believe there is no designer; and they have to look at the complexity of the human body and believe that no mind stands behind its design. 
Apparently there are different concepts about the term ‘faith’. The word translated ‘faith’ in the New Testament is one that can also be translated ‘belief’ or ‘trust’, and does not imply a lack of reason for believing. Another understanding of faith comes from Immanuel Kant and involves suspending reason. Atheists often assume that Christians are people who have taken a blind leap in the dark. Yet they are the ones who have a system of belief that seems to involve giving no explanation for the origin of matter. On the other hand John Lennox (Professor of Mathematics at Oxford) declares
'My faith in God and Christ as the Son of God is no delusion. It is rational and evidence-based. Part of the evidence is objective, some of it comes from science, some comes from history; and, some is subjective, coming from experience.'
It is always assumed that Christians are the ones who have to be on the defensive. There are questions that we will be asked, and we should seek to give reasonable answers. But when it comes to our conversations with atheists there are questions that we can ask. Perhaps we need to spend more time thinking of leading questions to ask friends who are atheists and seeking to get them to give justifications for their belief!

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