Answering Atheism | How Can a Christian Talk to an Atheist?

Answering Atheism | How Can a Christian Talk to an Atheist?

Updated: May 2

A followup article was written responding to objections raised against this article and can be read here.



I've been running a few Apologetics accounts on social media for around two years now and more often than not a couple of atheists stop by to engage the posts. Their comments are welcomed and I always try to present them with the proof of God's existence as well as the Gospel. Unfortunately, very few of them seem to grasp what I'm saying. This is most probably because of my lack in ability to articulate these things on a small phone screen. I therefore opted to write this article for future reference for all atheists who stop by our social media pages.


The conversations always start in the same manner,


There is no evidence for God!
Show me the evidence!
If there is a proof for God's existence why doesn't everyone believe in God?
The Bible belongs in the trash section of the bookstore!
The Bible is just a collection of thoughts of stone age people who didn't know any better
I believe in science: that which is repeatable, testable and verifiable.

Before we Continue


For the atheist reading this article, I want you to know a few things. I'm not going to be able to convince you. There is no argument I can give you that can cause you to place your faith in God. The reason for this is because according to the Bible we are all enslaved to sin and hate God by nature. It is also for this reason that we who do profess faith in God are not better or smarter than you, the only difference between us is the grace of God. Therefore, all I can do in this article is attempt to plant a seed that the Holy Spirit can cause to grow and bring you to faith.


I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36: 25-27, ESV


May I ask that you think long and hard on what is being said in the article. The concepts aren't hard to understand, they are actually things that we assume and do in our everyday lives, but this article will require that we think longer and deeper about the way we experience reality.


I want you to know that I genuinely care about you. Christians aren't bigoted when we proclaim the Gospel. We aren't full of hate when we point out sin and call people to repentance. Remember, as Christians we believe we have the answer for sin and the key to everlasting life. We have the cure that can save people from eternal damnation. It would be much more hateful if we kept quiet knowing what we believe will happen to those who do not accept the atonement of Christ for their sins on their behalf. So please approach this article with this in mind: I'm not trying to convince you, and I genuinely care about you.


The Main Thrust of Atheism


One of the central cries of atheists is their requirement to see evidence for God. This ties in with their deeply held commitment to science as the sole method for determining truth.


Science is defined as follows:

Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organises knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

Online Etymology Dictionary


The scientific method is defined as follows:

  1. Ask a question

  2. Background research

  3. Construct a hypothesis

  4. Test the hypothesis by doing an experiment

  5. Analyse the results and data produced

  6. Communicate the results.


Having laid out the above, I now want us to ask what the necessary preconditions are for the above to function as we wish it to function. What needs to be in place and valid in order for us to be able to use the scientific method, and objectively evaluate the evidence?


This is an important point to stress. We are not saying the scientific method is invalid, or that atheists cannot evaluate evidence, we are asking what must be the case for this to actually be possible. This is what is called a transcendental argument.


A transcendental argument is a deductive philosophical argument which takes a manifest feature of experience as granted, and articulates which must be the case so that experience as such is possible.

An attempt to formally define and defend the transcendental argument for the existence of God can be found here.


For example, in order for there to be a carpet on the floor, there needs to be a floor. We know there is a carpet lying there, therefore, a precondition for the carpet lying on the floor is that there actually is a floor.


In similar fashion the transcendental argument takes things that each and every one of us know and take for granted, and asks, what must be in place for this to actually function this way?


Scott Oliphint wrote in his book, Covenantal Apologetics, that

What is rational and what is evidential depend, first of all, on where one presumes to stand to make such objections and challenges.

Evidence


Let's start out by looking at the demand for evidence:


Evidence is defined as:

[T]he available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

So now using our transcendental approach, we are fully in the right to ask, "what must be the case for the above definition to stand?" I highlighted a few words that stood out.

  • Facts

  • Information

  • Truth

  • Valid


When demanding evidence, the atheist (and everyone else in every situation where evidence is used) is making the implicit assumption that we have access to objective facts (reality), we can process the facts to provide us with information, we can then reason (logically) about this information in order to determine whether a proposition is true or not.


A fact is defined as

A fact is a thing that is known to be consistent with objective reality and can be proven to be true with evidence

Therefore the concept of facts also assume that we have access to objective reality.


So the definitions of fact and evidence require us to be able to:

  • Have access to objective reality

  • Reason correctly

And it also assumes

  • Universally applicable, immaterial, unchanging laws of logic

  • That we can know truth


Why does it assume universally applicable, immaterial, unchanging laws of logic? Remember the concept of evidence requires us to reason about the facts to determine whether a proposition is true or not. The laws of logic govern the way we ought to reason. We all know that you cannot be in both the USA and South Africa at the same time by the law of non-contradiction.


Universally applicable? Because no matter who you are or where you are, it always applies that you cannot be both in the USA and South Africa at the same time. The laws of logic are binding to all of us. We cannot deny them without using them.


Unchanging? Because no matter where you are in time, it always applies that you cannot be both in the USA and South Africa at the same time. If the laws could change, it would mean that it is possible at some point in the future that someone can claim to both be in the USA and South Africa at the same time and it would be a valid proposition. This is absurd.


Immaterial? Where are the laws of logic? We can't touch or feel or taste them. They are immaterial and transcendent laws.


Can Atheism Offer a Framework in Which the Above Makes Sense?


Before we can answer this, we need to define atheism (my atheist friends reading this please be patient if you don't agree with the definition, as I know there are a lot of diverse views of what defines an atheist).


Atheism is generally defined as:

[A] disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

Atheism is generally coupled with materialism and naturalism.


So let's see if atheism can make sense of the above principles. Remember that the definitions of fact and evidence require us to be able to:

  • Have access to objective reality

  • Reason correctly

And it also assumes

  • Universally applicable, immaterial, unchanging laws of logic

  • That we can know truth


So for the atheist, do we have access to objective reality? Of those I have engaged with, most will readily answer no. And this is the consistent answer for atheism. For the atheist, his own reasoning and experience is the ultimate authority. This means that the atheist cannot really know anything except what's going on in his own mind, which might be deceiving him. Atheism has no answer to the problem of solipsism. Some atheists may rightfully point out that it's not only their reasoning they depend on, they also depend in the reasoning of other people, take peer review for example. This doesn't solve the problem, as you must first reason about other people's reasoning to determine whether you think their reasoning is valid.


So how does the atheist know that we can reason correctly? There is no way for the atheist to know he is reasoning correctly without employing his reason to reason about his reason. Therefore, for the atheist to conclude that he is reasoning correctly, he needed to use his reasoning. This is viciously circular and fallacious. Coupled with atheism is a general belief in evolution as defined by Darwin which functions on the basis of random mutations and natural selection of the traits that most benefit survival and procreation. The atheist must therefore also, to be consistent, concede that his mind has been selected and tuned for the sole purpose of survival and procreation. What this means is that his reasoning is not tuned to discover objective truth, but rather to procreate and survive at all costs. These are not compatible. It is for this reason that if Darwinism is true, it's false. The reasoning you used to reach the conclusion of Darwinism is invalidated by the conclusion itself.


The atheist materialist universe cannot account for immaterial laws of logic. Atheism in general cannot account for universally applicable laws of logic. Nor can atheism account for the unchanging nature of the laws of logic. They may attempt to do so, but to be consistent the best they can offer for the laws of logic in terms of a justification is that their are social constructs. This eliminates the immaterial, universally applicable and unchanging nature of the laws.


If they are merely created by humans, they are subject to change. I can change them now. Behold: God exists, therefore, God exists. This will generally be a fallacious circular argument, but I changed the laws of logic so it's no longer fallacious. Case closed? No of course not.


The above three points militates against the idea of us being able to know truth, and hence atheists usually in the same next sentence after being pressed on this issue do one of two things:


  1. Change the subject (usually with an out of place attack on the Bible)

  2. Say that there is no such thing as truth


For my atheist friend who falls in category 1, I implore you think through about what is being said. Any attack you lodge against the Bible will fall flat for the same reasons explained above. You can't even know whether your attack is valid or not if you don't have access to truth and objective reality.


For the person falling in category 2, yes, you are correct and that would be the consistent conclusion of your worldview, but this will require you to admit two things:


  1. Your initial charge for evidence and proof is unfounded

  2. Your worldview is absurd.


The first point is explained above, the second follows from the fact that the statement "there is no such thing as truth, or no such thing as objective truth" is itself an objective truth claim. This claim can either be true or false. If it's true, you've refuted yourself. If it's false, you've refuted yourself. In a recent exchange with an atheist he sent the following message:


Truth cannot be meaningless if truth does not exist.

This statement, of course, is a truth claim and self-refuting as explained above.


So what's the solution? Is life simply absurd? Of course not. We'll get to the answer later. But first let's talk to the second central cry of atheism: Science.

Science



Referring back to earlier, science is defined as follows:

Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organises knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

Online Etymology Dictionary


The scientific method is defined as follows:

  1. Ask a question

  2. Background research

  3. Construct a hypothesis

  4. Test the hypothesis by doing an experiment

  5. Analyse the results and data produced

  6. Communicate the results.

Can Atheism Offer a Framework in Which the Above Makes Sense?


Our previous critique of the atheist's cry for evidence will also apply at point 2 and 5. This is arguably the most crucial part of the problem as if we have no foundation to justify the preconditions that need to be in place before we can make sense of the concept of evidence, we won't be able to analyse the evidence produced by the experiment to begin with.


Point 1, 3 and 6 falls apart as well for the atheist because, as explained above, the atheist cannot trust his senses and reasoning to ask the correct questions or frame meaningful hypothesises or to reason to correct results (using the laws of logic) from the data to communicate them.


For this the next section, I would like to focus on point 4 through 6 as this is incredibly important. The conducting of the experiment to produce intelligible results. In order for us to perform any experiment and expect the experiment to produce results we implicitly assume the uniformity of nature. David Hume was the philosopher credited with the source of what has become known as the problem of induction.


The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy writes (explained simply later):

We generally think that the observations we make are able to justify some expectations or predictions about observations we have not yet made, as well as general claims that go beyond the observed. For example, the observation that bread of a certain appearance has thus far been nourishing seems to justify the expectation that the next similar piece of bread I eat will also be nourishing, as well as the claim that bread of this sort is generally nourishing. Such inferences from the observed to the unobserved, or to general laws, are known as “inductive inferences”.

In basic terms, what the problem of induction asks, is how do we know that the future will be similar to our past experience? How do we know that if we drop a ball now and it falls down, that the ball will still fall down in one hour if we repeat the same action? The most common answer for people hearing this problem the first time is usually that the future has always been like the past, therefore we can safely assume it to continue as such. This is however, again, fallaciously circular. The statement "the future was always like the past" is itself a past experience, so it falls still faces the same problem stated above.


The problem of induction has no working solution. This means that any experiment conducted and conclusion reached may actually have no bearing on both the past or the future! It means that science cannot actually provide us with any knowledge when viewed on it's own. We first need justification for each of the 6 steps in order for it to work, and this means we need to have a worldview which can solve the above problems for us.


The Christian Worldview



We will now see that the proof of the Christian worldview is that without it you cannot prove anything.


We have already seen that the atheistic worldview cannot provide a foundation for the preconditions of intelligibility. The initial charge for evidence and science as their only way to gain knowledge has been shown to be self-refuting on the grounds of atheism.


Let's quickly recap some of the things we need justify in the Christian worldview:


... the definitions of fact and evidence require us to be able to:

  • Have access to objective reality

  • Reason correctly

And it also assumes

  • Universally applicable, immaterial, unchanging laws of logic

  • That we can know truth

And we also need to justify the six steps of the scientific method which includes the above points as well a solving the problem of induction or providing a sufficient justification for our assumption that the universe is and will remain uniform.


The Christian epistemology is what is called a revelational epistemology. What this means is that revelation is the primary source of how we know what we know. God has revealed Himself specifically in his written Word, the Bible.


Does the Christian have justification for these elements where the atheist is found lacking? Indeed.


Objective Reality


It has been revealed that humans were made to know and function in creation. This requires us to be able to have access objective reality. We were also created to have dominion over creation, this means we are to be in charge or to rule over creation. This would not be possible if God created us without the ability to discern reality from fiction.


The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it

Genesis 2:15, ESV


Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27, ESV


Reason Correctly


God invites us to reason with Him. This assumes that we are capable of rational reason. This also couples in with us being created in the Image of God. God is rational, therefore, not only are we also rational beings, we are also to be rational at all times to the glory of God.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord

Isaiah 1:18, ESV


Laws of Logic (Jason Lisle's Comments)


The Christian worldview can also make sense of immaterial, unchanging and universally applicable laws of logic. The laws of logic are contingent on God. They are a reflection of the way God thinks. Thus, they cannot exist without Him any more than your reflection in a mirror can exist without you. Since God is a thinking being and since He has always existed, laws of logic have always reflected His thinking.


Notice this does not mean that God created the laws of logic, rather, they are part of who God is. They are a reflection of the way God thinks.


The Christian worldview can make sense of laws of logic. The Christian believes in universal, immaterial, invariant entities because God is himself omnipresent, immaterial, and invariant. Moreover God has thoughts, and these thoughts are reflected in the way God upholds the universe. As one example, we saw how the law of non-contradiction reflects God’s internal consistency: all truth is in God (Colossians 2:3), and God cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13); therefore, all truth cannot be contradictory. The Christian worldview makes sense of the law of non-contradiction.

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:13, ESV


Likewise, the law of identity is rooted in the character of God.  God says, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).  God is Himself, and He is truth.  Consequently, truth is itself.  Thus, for all truth statements p, if p is true then p is true.


The law of the excluded middle is also rooted in the nature of God.  God is truth, and that which is not of God is not true (John 14:6).  Any given proposition will therefore either be in line with God’s thinking and thus true, or not aligned with God’s thinking and therefore false.  Specific instances of the law of the excluded middle are found throughout Scripture. In Exodus 16:4 The Lord promises to send bread from heaven, and to test whether the people (1) will obey God, or (2) will not obey God.  The Lord’s test indicates that no middle position is possible.  Either a person will obey, or it is not the case that the person will obey.


We can also justify the universal applicability of these laws from revelation. Notice that each and every one of us is created in the image of God. This means we are created to reflect and glorify Him. Thinking logically is therefore an inherent requirement put on us by God as to not do so will equate to lying, and lying is contrary to God's character.


The Problem of Induction


The Christian worldview teaches that God is providentially in control of all events. God has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world. He providentially causes the harvest to come in due season. Nature is uniform because God makes it so. And since nature is uniform, the Christian can account for induction. And with induction, he can account for science as well. So while the atheist touts science as being on his side, the reality is that only the Christian worldview provides the precondition for science.

He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.

Psalm 104:19, ESV


Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth...

Jeremiah 33:25, ESV


God is Lord over all creation and sustains the universe in a consistent and logical way. God does not change, and so He upholds the universe in a consistent, uniform way throughout time.


He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3, ESV


While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.

Genesis 8:22, ESV


It therefore becomes more than clear that the Bible provides a framework that can justify the preconditions of intelligibility where atheism fails.


Closing Thoughts


In the beginning of the article we stated that we can't convince you. Why is this? The reason is twofold. Firstly, because of sin. Secondly, because you already know the truth but suppress it in unrighteousness.


The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

Romans 1:18-22, ESV


The Bible is very clear that all men already know God, and as this article has shown, we betray our knowledge of God when we assume the preconditions of intelligibility which are dependant on Him to know truth, but refuse to honour Him for it.


Further, to get back to sin, we love our sin and hate God by nature. We want to be our own gods. It is at this point where I want my atheist reader to listen very closely. The reason I'm a Christian is not because I'm smarter than you or can best you in an argument. I most probably can't as most atheists truly have brilliant minds (having a great mind and not honouring God for it will however only serve to further your condemnation). The reason I'm a Christian is because God in His infinite mercy has decreed to save me from my sin before the foundations of the Earth were laid (Ephesians 1).


The problem of sin is a serious one, and I want you to know that the same God that saved me, can save you as well. God permanently dealt with the problem of sin around 2000 years ago when He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who was prophesied to come since the first man, Adam, fell into the grips of sin, to die on the cross at Calvary Hill. Hanging on that cross, Jesus took on the wrath that was reserved for us so that we can stand holy and blameless before God one day. He then rose from the grave three days later, defeating death once and for all.


Jesus didn't just die to save our souls for eternity, but He also died to save our reasoning today. Jesus can make you right with God as well as He did with me. He can save you from the clutches of atheism. The Bible says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10).


God cannot just forgive your sins as He is perfectly just. Sin must be punished and righteousness must prevail, as anything less and God cannot be God. To options are this:


  • Confess your sin and believe in the Lord and King Jesus Christ, who died for your sins so your reasoning can be saved now and your soul for eternity.

  • Remain an atheist, stuck in absurdity, and when judgement day comes, which Jesus says is soon, it will be too late and God's wrath will come down on you like a heap of coals. You will have to pay for your own sins, and the price is hell.


Lingering Questions


1. But what about other religions, can't they make the same claim?

This question was answered in our article on the transcendental argument. However, for the sake of the article the question is irrelevant. The article is aimed at atheists, so the atheist would need to justify his arguments and the preconditions of intelligibility using his own atheistic worldview (or worldview which doesn't have revelation from God at its foundation). Appealing to a different worldview than their own to save their atheism is absurd, as this is the same as admitting defeating.


2. Why can't I just assume the preconditions of intelligibility?

Because if you don't have a reason for assuming them, your assumption becomes arbitrary. If the assumption is arbitrary, this means that I can arbitrarily assume the opposite and my position would be just as valid. Which is absurd. You need a sufficient reason for assuming these things, and for the Christian our epistemology (reason for believing these things) is revelational. God has revealed so that we can believe. The atheist cannot by definition appeal to revelation.


3. I don't believe in God and I can reason just fine?

This is no different than the critic of air saying, “Well, I can breathe just fine, and I don’t believe in air.” This isn’t a rational response. Breathing requires air, not a profession of belief in air. Likewise, logical reasoning requires God, not a profession of belief in Him. Of course the atheist can reason; it’s because God has made his mind and given him access to the laws of logic—and that’s the point. It’s because God exists that reasoning is possible. The atheist can reason, but within his own worldview he cannot account for his ability to reason.


4. Laws of logic are conventions made up by man.

Conventions are (by definition) conventional. That is, we all agree to them and so they work - like driving on the right side of the road. But if laws of logic were conventional, then different cultures could adopt different laws of logic (like driving on the left side of the road). So, in some cultures it might be perfectly fine to contradict yourself. In some societies truth could be self-contradictory. Clearly that wouldn’t do.


5. But I've heard presup is also circular reasoning, so you don't solve to problem of circularity by appealing to the Bible.

Read more on this here and here.



Feel free to mail any further questions to enquire@apologeticscentral.co.za or add them in the comments below and we'll get back to you.


Further Reading

Dr Jason Lisle is incredibly gifted in being able to articulate complex concepts on a basic level. The following articles are also great reads that can expand and improve on what is already said.

His book is also a definite must-read, you can purchase it by clicking the book below.


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