What is the Purpose of Atheist Apologetics?

Over the years, I have seen a lot of skeptical arguments against the Christian faith.  There are plenty of websites who are written by people who claim to be former Christians who now have made it their life purpose to ‘disprove’ Christianity. While I have never been impressed by  these supposed ‘deconversion’ stories, that is a topic for another time. What are the similarities between the purpose of these atheist websites and the Christian apologetic endeavor? As I have already said before, in Introducing Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment by James Taylor, Taylor lists three kinds of people who we will encounter. If anything, if we encounter people in these categories, we should see why we need apologetics in the Church. Taylor says when dealing with people, many people may fall into various categories such as:

1. Critics: those with criticisms of the Christian faith who are not open to the possibility of its truth. Critics need to be answered to neutralize the effects of their criticisms on seekers and doubters.

2. Seekers: people who are open to our faith but are prevented from making a commitment primarily because of honest questions about the Christian claims.

3. Doubters: are Christians who find it difficult to believe one or more tenants of the Christian faith with complete confidence. Doubters need to be restored to full Christian conviction by giving them the tools to remove their doubts.

When it comes to evaluating these atheist websites and their criticisms it is clear these people mostly fall under category #1. They are mostly critics. And they are providing the info for people that have become atheists or are possibly seekers and doubters. Some of them clearly want to turn doubters into #1’s and join the fight against eradicating the Christian faith and religion in general. My friend Tom Gilson has written an excellent article called The Strangely Simple World of Internet Atheism.

What are the similarities between the purpose of these atheist websites and the Christian apologetic endeavor?

First, both have issues of confirmation bias. I have been told over and over Christians are guilty of confirmation bias. But atheists do the exact same thing. If someone is a critic (see above), and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible, in many cases they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis and dismiss evidence that might overturn their position.  Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist or comes to the conclusion that God does exist by their own investigation, when challenged, they will seek evidence to continually support such a claim as well.

This doesn’t mean there is no objectivity involved here. But in many cases the bias and starting points are the same. Both parties are looking for evidence for their position and they cite books and articles to back up their points. Also, both sides can tend to dismiss each other when they cite an authority on some given topic.

A small example is needed here: go to any atheist website and you will see the same list for the Jesus mysticism position (e.g, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Dan Barker, Earl Doherty, etc). When Bart Ehrman came out with his book on the existence of Jesus, this list of mythers and their followers trashed it because it challenged instead of confirming their position on mythicism.

Why Atheist Apologetics?

In regards to this topic there is one thing I have thought about a lot. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history. Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology. In other words, humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, no directions. Therefore, teleology has a goal in mind and evolution has been seen to run down dead ends many, many times. As Richard Dawkins says:

Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference-Scheff, Liam. 2007. The Dawkins Delusion. Salvo, 2:94.

A ways back, my friend Wintery Knight posted this on his blog:

“If you love to listen to the Please Convince Me podcast, as I do, then you know that in a recent episode, J. Warner Wallace mentioned a blog post on an atheistic blog that clearly delineated the implications of an atheistic worldview. He promised he was going to write about it and link to the post, and he has now done so.

Here is the whole the whole thing that the atheist posted:

“[To] all my Atheist friends.

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this. However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.

We are Atheists. We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself. While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not. Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time. But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past. They got us here. That’s it. All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose. Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die. That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books. We imagine ourselves superior. But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality. Have they allowed life to exist? Absolutely. But who cares? Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me. Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population. They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays. But underneath they know the truth. They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen. Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one. You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all. When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife. I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.”

And Cornell University atheist William Provine agrees: (this is taken from his debate with Phillip E. Johnson)

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.

So here’s my point: I ask atheists why they get so much meaning and purpose in trying to disprove Christianity? Look at the comments Dawkins and others make. What kind of certitude do atheists have about this issue? In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria:

(1) It cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation

(2) It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.

A judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.

In his book An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It, author Bruce Sheiman gives a general outline of how atheists account for how we got here. Human Life = Laws of physics X chance + randomness+ accidents+luck X 3.5 billion yrs. In other words, the laws of physics for our present universe arose by chance (from a multitude of possible universes); the first forms of life developed by chance (arising by primordial soup combinations that resulted from the laws of physics plus accidents); the first concept of life developed purely by chance (genetic mutations and environmental randomness); and humans evolved by more improbable occurrences.

So if we look at these comments by Dawkins, Provine, and others as well as the model here proposed by Sheiman, have  atheists arrived to certitude and now assume the need to go out and convert people to this worldview?  We can go back and forth and debate the evidence. But as I repeat again, by their own worldview, they have no purpose, goals, etc. But now they say they can create their own meaning by attempting to show others that their view of reality is rational and backed by evidence. Atheists sometimes say they are so committed to their evangelism because they view religion or Christian theism as some sort of threat to society. But as far as this issue, there has been enough written about the benefits of Christianity to the world. Jonathan Hill’s What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us? or Alvin J. Schmidt’s How Christianity Changed the World are good starting points.

Keep  in mind I am all for free speech. I think atheists can provoke Christians to be more critical of their beliefs. But these are some of my thoughts on this topic.

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