Sean McDowell Meets with Skeptic Group: Results from Q and A Discussion

These are questions posed by Sean McDowell (son of well known Christian Apologist Josh McDowell) to a group of skeptics during a recent casual meeting with a “freethought” group and their answers. The answers are very interesting and I have to commend McDowell for this wonderful approach of build a bridge.

Question #1: What Bad Impressions Do Christians Leave?
1.”Hypocrisy. Christians often focus on particular sins such as homosexuality while they are committing other egregious sins in their own lives.” The young man who shared this mentioned that some of his Christian friends regularly get drunk but also frequently condemn homosexuality as immoral.
2. “Christians don’t take their religion seriously. Why don’t they read, study, and follow the Bible if they really believe it is a word from the almighty God?”
3. “Christians often criticize me for not having good reasons for what I believe, but when pressed, they can’t provide evidence for their beliefs either. They should at least be consistent and admit this.”

Question #2:What Blind Spots Do Christians Have?
1.”Christians are often rational in all areas of their lives, but they stop thinking critically when they enter church.”
2.”Christians notice the faults in others, but not in themselves. William Lobdell pointed this out in his book Losing My Religion.”
3. “Christians often discourage questions once they think they have the truth. In fact, knowing truth tends to silence further inquiry.”

Question #3: How Can Christians Improve Their Interactions with Atheists?
1.Listen” (an older woman immediately offered up this response).
2. “Have more open dialogue like tonight.”
3.”Stop looking at atheists as if they are wearing a scarlet letter.”
4.”Don’t associate beliefs with the person. I criticize Christianity and Christians often get defensive.”
5.”Stop making slanderous remarks about non-Christians. I grew up in church and heard more cheap shots made at atheists than any other group.”

Question #4: What Evidence for God Would Be Compelling to Atheists?
1.”If ‘Yahweh’ appeared in 200-mile-long letters in space I might be convinced. I would still need to investigate it though.”
2.”If Christians could actually provide an argument for the existence of God that was not either wrong factually, mistaken logically, or based on emotional manipulation.”
3. “If God would eliminate suffering.”

Keep in mind that I have had several discussions with skeptic groups as well. Here are my thoughts on this issue:

Question #1: Yes, I agree with most of these.

Question #2: Yes, I tend to agree. This is why myself and others have been killing ourselves to get Christians motivated to learn about apologetics.

Question #3: I tend to agree with most of these. However, I have an issue with #5.”Stop making slanderous remarks about non-Christians. I grew up in church and heard more cheap shots made at atheists than any other group.” I think atheists do the same thing. They can and do make plenty of cheap shots. So this cuts both ways.

Question #4: This is the one I will spend the most time on.
#1 says “If ‘Yahweh’ appeared in 200-mile-long letters in space I might be convinced. I would still need to investigate it though.”

Response: This comment sounds like like what happened when William Lane Craig asked an atheist in a debate what would convince the atheist that Jesus rose from the dead. The atheist said he would have to see Jesus appear in front of him.

In his text, Logic: An Introduction, Lionel Ruby offers some helpful comments: “Every person who is interested in logical thinking accepts what we shall call the “law of rationality,” which may be stated as follows: We ought to justify our conclusions by adequate evidence…. By “adequate evidence” we mean evidence which is good and sufficient in terms of the kind of proof which is required. There are occasions when we require conclusive proof, as in mathematics, and there are occasions when it is sufficient to establish the probability of a given conclusion, as in weather prediction. But in all cases the evidence must be adequate to its purpose.” (1960, p. 131, emp. added).

In my own experience, the demand for the evidence for God’s existence reaches new heights. After all, since people are forced to face their autonomy before God, the stakes are very high. All that the follower of Jesus is required to do is offer what Ruby just said is called “adequate evidence.” Sadly, many people are expecting to arrive at what Ruby calls “conclusive proof” as in mathematics and logic. This type of proof for God’s existence is unrealistic and will never be met. So the reality is that while the skeptic waits for the “conclusive proof,” they are allowed to live a life in complete autonomy from God. So I think #1 needs to be dismissed.

#2 says, “If Christians could actually provide an argument for the existence of God that was not either wrong factually, mistaken logically, or based on emotional manipulation.”

Response: I can only speak from my own experience. A good majority of the time many atheist/skeptics don’t understand the arguments. They don’t understand the logic behind them as well. Please here me: I am not saying anyone is stupid. It’s just that there is such a large disconnect when we try to go through arguments for God’s existence. Many times theists get accused of the “God of the Gaps” fallacy. So then atheists punt to the “chance of the gaps’ fallacy. I have yet to find any skeptics that understand the difference between primary and secondary causation/natural and intelligent causes. Furthermore, when Christians try to use historical apologetics, skeptics just punt to historical skepticism. For many skeptics, a historical claim such as Jesus’ resurrection is ruled out so far in advance that no amount of evidence will satisfy them.

So what is my point? The reality is that all of us take our past and present history into looking at the God question. Faith entails three elements: emotional, intellectual, and volitional. Apologetics is an objective medium that God can use. It will reach some while it may do little for others. I have had several atheists tell me they don’t want to be a Christian…they don’t want it it to be true. Many of atheists that I deal with have also told me that they have major emotional issues with the Christian faith. So that will always play a role in how receptive they are to looking at arguments for God’s existence. I could go on and on. I have written more about this here:

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