Many Christians are mystified by the mindset of atheists and agnostics. For a number of years I have thought about the difference between believers and unbelievers and have come to several conclusions.
- Non-believers are generally unable or unwilling to accept the possibility of the supernatural. As Richard Dawkins has said, “My suggestion is that you won’t find any intelligent person who feels the need for the supernatural. What you will find is the need for a sense of transcendent wonder, which I share as well.” Most atheists will only accept what they can observe (“Seeing is believing”) or quantify in some way. That is why they base their worldview primarily upon scientific speculation.
- Closely allied to this point is the matter of faith itself. Even though it can be demonstrated that most atheists have faith in something, they would not call it that. . With many this faith is taken to the extreme and can aptly be termed “Scientism.” I like Shermer’s definition that it is “…a scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations for all phenomena, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason as the twin pillars of a philosophy of life appropriate for an Age of Science.” (Michael Shermer, “The Shamans of Scientism,” Scientific American, 2002)
The fact that many eminent scientists (most notable recently: Francis Collins) are strong believers is largely ignored or inefficiently explained away.
3. Non-believers tend to place all believers in the same category. Seldom is the distinction made between various Christian believers. Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and the rest are seen as a group and the shortcomings of any one of them provides further reasons for unbelief. But it doesn’t stop there. The excesses and failings of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and the rest provide further reasons for rejection of any kind of belief in the supernatural. In their view, all religions are superstitious nonsense. Indeed, as Peter Berkowitz has written in an article “The New New Atheism,” “…by treating all religion as one great evil pathology, today’s bestselling atheists suppress crucial distinctions between the forms of faith embraced by the vast majority of American citizens and the militant Islam that at this very moment is pledged to America’s destruction” (The New, New Atheism”).
4. Unbelievers tend to be ignorant of and about the Bible. Certainly, not all atheists are biblically ignorant…some of them are ex-clergymen who know the Bible well. On the other hand, I listened recently to a comedian who was debunking religion state that he could not put his trust in something written by bronze-age people who didn’t know why their women became pregnant. I was thinking, where did he come up with this? (Maybe he was just failing to be humorous.) Many wannabe skeptics simply parrot what they’ve heard or read somewhere else.
These four points need to be understood before trying to defend our faith or persuading atheists to abandon theirs. Trying to use the natural to prove the supernatural is probably not going to be successful since atheists have their own explanations for nature. The design you observe and deem intelligent, they conclude to be the product of billions of years of trial and error. To their mind, you are simply another superstitious, ignorant, intellectually-challenged sucker. You’re really no different from a Muslim, Hindu or animist. The story of Dan illustrates the opposite.
Several years ago, I immersed Dan (not his real name) into Christ. Dan had been an atheist all his adult life. He was a brilliant mathematician and his general knowledge (name a composer and he could tell you when he was born, his life story and all the music he had composed when and why) was vast and astounding. I had studied with his wife and, when she became a Christian, Dan came along to our Bible classes and assembly to see what it was all about. We struck up a friendship and eventually we began to talk about God and what it means to be a Christian.
One day Dan told me that he was now a believer and wanted to follow Christ. We studied a few times and he was immersed. How did that happen? What wise things did I say to persuade him out of unbelief to belief? I don’t have a clue! But, when he opened his thinking to consider the possibility of a supernatural designer-creator, it just seemed to make more sense than the alternative.
I want to mention again the website of the finest Christian apologist that I know of, John Clayton. Have a look at doesgodexist.org