“…while I ache for faith to hold me, I need to feel the scars and see the proof.” – “Two Hands,” Jars of Clay
If you want to shut down a conversation with an atheist, it doesn’t take much time or thought. Just wait for the challenge to prove that God exists, and bring the clever retort: “Prove that He doesn’t.” That’ll show ’em! But before walking away, the atheist will rightly point out that you’re demanding proof of a negative, which is notoriously hard to do.
If you have authentic faith in Jesus Christ, I hope that as a rule you’re not trying to drive atheists away. You can play fair in the intellectual sandbox and still give them something to chew on. Atheism carries some implied claims that I wouldn’t want to try defending. Here are three examples:
Humans are infinitely knowledgeable. From our flyspeck in this vast, mysterious, complex universe, we know enough to be certain that what’s physical and scientifically observable is all there is. This is similar to any categorical claim that excludes all competing claims; it implies that we know all that’s necessary to answer the question at hand. Sometimes that claim is defensible. But when you claim categorically there is no God, the question goes to the nature and origin of the entire universe. Science has an undeniable track record of explaining the unexplainable, and no one will make fun of you for believing only what can be proved by observation. But putting all of your trust in science means:
Past performance guarantees future results. If you were considering an investment, and the sales pitch included that statement, I hope you would run the other way. And yet atheism invites you to invest for eternity in the premise that because science has answered past questions, it will always answer future ones, no God required. But for all its past success, science does not answer the same questions over and over; therefore it can’t guarantee future success. And an exclusive trust in science also leads to this:
We have no free will. After all, how could we, in a purely physical universe governed by law-bound cause and effect? In such a universe, the very thought process guiding my fingers at this moment is just particles inside my skull, the ongoing ricochets of the Big Bang. I won’t belabor the point, which I’ve covered before, but I will add that one very bright atheist and I – independent of each other – traveled the same logical road to the same choice. Either abandon the notion of free will, or accept that something beyond the physical is at work. He and I made opposite choices. I dare say his requires more faith.
Certainly by human reckoning, Christianity has its share of logical fallacies. The Bible is true because it says so? God is three yet one? Sometimes we buy into the illogical because our experience convinces us that it’s true. The external experience of science gives tangible cause to trust its explanatory power, even though it’s illogical to take that experience as a guarantee for tomorrow’s mysteries. The internal experience of the Holy Spirit, which illuminates the truth of the Bible, can’t be laid on the table in the same way that science can, and so logically it holds no greater promise of answers. That’s where we come to faith, “the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).
Christians trip themselves up when they try to force faith to become sight. They might justify the quest for worldly proof as responding to those will accept no less. But if they’re honest, maybe these “believers” are revealing their own doubts. From such vain struggles come junk science, trumped-up testimonies, and children who die for want of a doctor because misguided parents tried to blackmail God into putting on a show. If we try to meet a standard of proof the world demands, we forget the definition of faith, and we will fail.
But for some who don’t believe, there are logical hurdles to clear before the real conversation can even start, and there’s no harm in trying to address them. The argument may not be strictly Biblical, and I don’t expect my words here to bring atheists to their knees. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, opening up the Word of God and convicting hearts of sin. But to the unbeliever the Bible is irrelevant, because it isn’t the Word of God, because there is no God. On the other hand, if I were an atheist faced with defending the claims above, I might be walking back my atheist declaration toward something more agnostic. And maybe then the door to belief would open a crack.