I have described my self as having once been an "AynRandianObjectivistLibertarianCarlSaganTypeAtheist".
A person e-mailed me a request for some thoughts on how I would witness to such a person. So, I have given some thought to that, and will continually jot down new ones as they come to me.
First of all, let me define my terms: Ayn Rand was a God hater, as was I. Objectivists believe that there is a non-emotional, purely logical answer for everything, and theism is stricly outside the bounds of discussion. Libertarians, at least the American breed, are basically libertines with political aspirations. Not all, but the vast majority as I know them. Carl Sagan freely admitted that he saw no necessity for a "God", and this left him free to dream up all sorts of reasons for "the way things are". Quite imaginative, but quite wrong, IMO.
Don't get me wrong, now, Carl Sagan was without a doubt one of the leading men of faith in the world. Without a shred of evidence; with nothing more than a calculator, he caused millions and millions of dollars to be spent on SETI because he "believed" that there must be life out there. That's faith, brothers and sisters, and few preachers are willing to put their reputations on the line as he did when he was alive. Please read this footnote on this paragraph.
So. Them's my terms, and I'm sticking to 'em. Anyway, on to the "tips":
The most important question of all: Do you want to know the truth?
Ask this first, or the rest will be meaninlgess. Do you want to know the truth? More than you worry about your reputation? More than your friends' opinions? More than your pride? More than your plans for the future? More than your wants and needs? If that question cannot be answered "YES!", then all else will probably be a waste of your time. If the person isn't willing to go where the evidence leads and then act once the destination is reached, then they aren't honest and you cannot have an honest dialog.
Which is the most rational explanation for what can be empirically observed in the world? Not just morally, either - the scientific world is continually uncovering evidence of design in nature, so the "scientific" explanations not only allow for God but almost require one. If the person will agree to honestly assess the evidence, you can go forward. If they have their minds made up, then you are not likely to affect them much, as they are no longer concerned with the truth. Only a committed seeker can find the ultimate truth.
Don't talk about sin! Sin is an absolutely meaningless concept to a person who can't conceive of God. To most, actions are morally neutral, and results conveniently ignored. For example: Abortion is merely a medical procedure with no moral complications. To talk about abortion as a sin is a fuse blower. There is nothing in their experience to equate to.
Don't use religious code words. Sin is one, but salvation is another. One doesn't need salvation if one doesn't believe in eternity! When I hear people on TBN or other places say something like, "Lord come in and sup with them.", I just cringe. We forget that there is no reference point for these phrases and they are absolutely meaningless to somebody who doesn't believe in God. Most of these statements are as intelligible to an atheist as "akjfieiojf thii ocncipso fiou cakdio whwchuppew adkhfawo". That is, they are unintelligible - they literally have no meaning to an atheist.
Don't argue about what God did or did not do! This is what you will probably hear: How could you believe in a God that did such-and-thus? What you are hearing is I don't like God. It is preposterous to argue about what God did if He does not, in fact, exist!Refuse to argue about God's actions (and especially His character) until you have established at least the possibility that He exists. These types of arguments are diversions from this necessary point, and will only prolong fruitless discussions.
Concentrate on Primal causes. Each and every atheist believes that something came from nothing (the Universe), which really jerks the rug out from under science, which has to have a cause for everything (or it ceases to be science, and becomes a faith-based-something-else). So, what we are really arguing about is WHAT came from nothing: God or the Universe?
There is a boundary here where all resort to faith. Period, end of sentence. This primary fact - something came from nothing - leads us to an inescapable conclusion: Each and every view of the universe is non-rational at best. The more one argues with this, the more it proves them to be irrational. The more I debate with those who claim that there "cannot" be a God, the more I realize their inability to deal with the non-rationality at the foundation of their argument. Most resort ultimately to name-calling. Others simply say, "you could never understand", as if disagreement with their conclusions obviously means that one can't possibly have followed their arguments.
The problem lies in the argument's foundation. To be accused of faith is anathema to most atheists, as it is our faith which they deride. I simply wouldn't go further with one who can't concede this primary fact from which all other arguments must flow. This reduces their science to philosophy, and philosophy is inherently unprovable in a scientific sense. Click here for a quote on this matter by Stephen Gould, a leading evolutionist (who, by the way, describes himself as an "agnostic").
Never engage in an argument where God cannot be a possibility. For instance, an atheist might say something like, "You can't have consciousness without existing first, so there couldn't be a conscious God who existed without cause". My response would be, "Well, that's true unless there is an external cause to the Universe and that cause is what I call God. In that case, all bets are off, because we can't place merely natural constraints on something which is "super" natural." If the supernatural is excluded, you have lost the only trump card in the deck.
(For my Randian readers, "A" isn't "A" until we agree on what "A" is. It is easy to build a closed system and then argue inside it amongst yourselves. To congratulate yourselves on the correctness of your conclusions is then an entirely self-gratifying act. Yes, I know that this is what you accuse Christians of doing, but it would seem that you have done it as well. We must agree upon terms before any true debate can occur.)
Once you have gotten past that point (though this will be rare) you can go on to making a rational argument: Does it makes more sense to have a "super" natural cause (creation) than a fiat act of human imagination (evolution) because the first possibility cannot be examined? Science itself is proving that it is just impossible for this to have happened "by chance", and so is making our position look better and better every day. For proof that you can look up yourselves, do some research on a book entitled "Darwin's Black Box", then find some articles about two "living fossils" - the coelacanth and the Wollemi pine. It should prove very interesting.....
Also, there is now discussion that scientists believe that "something came from nothing". This is simply not true. Click here for a very simple overview of the discussion. What they have observed, as far as I can tell, are particles that "seem" to have appeared out of "empty" space. First of all, we all know that space isn't empty. Second, if the "nothing" is capable of producing "something", then the "nothing" wasn't "nothing" after all! Don't be fooled. They have simply re-defined "nothing" to satisfy their base premise. There is obviously something there to begin with, even if it is only potential. They just can't penetrate that curtain yet. From where did the potential come? Again, in their desperation at avoiding the primal cause, many people will engage in uncritical, non-rational debate rather than re-examine their base premise. This is irrational behavior, but it is to be expected when your premises are untenable.
One cannot truly be scientific and close off a possibility. One cannot truly rule out the existence of God because we weren't there when it all started. To exclude a possibility means that you have prejudged a conclusion and can no longer consider one's self as a "scientist". The theological equivalent would be an atheist.
Along those lines, the history of science has been for tomorrow to make obsolete the widely held truths of today. Newtonian, purely mechanistic physics was blown off the map by quantum mechanics. Evolution is being disproved, not by preachers, but by scientists. So, if one says that they are a "scientist", then they had better have a very open mind. There are few things more certain than that what they believe now is hard, cold, immutable, scientifically proven fact will be shown tomorrow to be wildly mistaken and, in many cases, will be viewed as superstitious nonsense. "How could they possibly have believed that?"
"But we can't measure God". You will hear this, as well, but you can argue that this has exactly, precisely nothing to do with the reality of God. The inability to see and measure viruses and bacteria has and had nothing to do with the reality of these creatures. The inability to measure the atom has and had nothing to do with the reality of atoms. The continued inability to actually "see" a muon or boson has nothing to do with people's willingness to believe that these particles exist. We see "evidence" of these in cloud chambers, but as far as I know, no one has ever seen one. So, what we are left with is "evidence", but no material witnessing of these rascals.
So, if mere "evidence" is enough, what type of evidence would be sufficient to deduce that a supernatural entity was behind the universe? How about the universe itself? As demonstrated above, all atheists believe that something came from nothing, so that, in and of itself, ought to be enough to at least infer that something is outside the system. How one measures the something that made the system is beyond the scope of this short essay.
Morality and the scientific method: Most "scientific" atheists will claim that they will only believe in something that is "empirically testable and repeatable", or some similar phrase. This is generally a false statement, and one way to clearly show this to them is to ask them if they consider themselves to be empirically "moral", or "ethical" people... Then ask them to prove it. They cannot and most will not even attempt to, as their whole mindset denies that there can be an "empirically testable" morality. To have such a thing requires that there be an external standard against which to measure, and that (in this case) certainly means God. (Although some of them do appeal to "god" in the idea of an Ideal Observer!) See my essay/review on Peter Singer's book Practical Ethics for more on this tremendous argument against man-made ethical systems and the inevitable knowledge that there can be no ethical systems without a "god"..
When they sputter and spark, and say that the two aren't the same at all, ask them if they would buy gasoline at a station where a quart was as good as pint was as good as a gallon. Few would make that mistake more than once. From this point, it should be easy enough to show them that what they consider morality is just as valid as Hitler's or Stalin's. For without a firm and unyielding measure, unaffected by circumstance or opinion, they can only "feel" that their's is superior. Since this is their greatest "sin", there goes their argument for empiricism. It doesn't necessarily get them to God, but it takes out a crutch. By showing them that their entire philosophy rests on emotion - not logic - we can hope to pull out one support.
And it's no fair saying, "Morality is that upon which the majority of people happen to agree at any given time". If that were true, the vast majority of humanity agrees that there is (at the very least) a supernatural, spiritual realm. Further, since many will want to localize the morality to a given culture, the vast majority of human cultures worship some sort of god - historically and in the present. So, if the majority rules, there is a God, and that's that.
When all is said and done (and in the only area of human existence with more day-to-day effect on our lives than their "science") an atheist will be unable to provide a standard for his own behavior which he "insists" on for the existence of God. I'm afraid that the most one can do is to point out this inarguable inconsistency and then pray that God will allow them to admit it to themselves. For most, this is just an excuse to do what they want to with no fear of condemnation, so don't expect the knowledge to get them to God - more than likely they will just shrug their shoulders and say, "Nevertheless, I don't believe in God."
Oh yes - many will point almost exclusively to "Christians" as the offenders in crimes moral.... There are far too many instances where this is true, of course, but against whose morals were they transgressing? If one reads the Bible, they were transgressing against God's of course, and more specifically against the morals espoused and insisted upon by Christ! All this argument does is to deflect the criticism to us, as we claim that there is such a thing as morality.
See my essay on evolution and morality for a better discussion of how these two concepts are mutually exclusive.
Countering the "Do you know how many people have died because of religion?" argument: This is certainly true - many have. However, in the last 50 years alone, there have been untold millions of people killed, not in religious wars, but in purely political wars waged on a helpless citizenry. And those waging the wars were almost solely atheists. The rest weren't Christian except in some cultural, non-religious sense. Starting with Hitler and going to Stalin and Mao and the Khmer Rouge, we can count at least 60 million lost souls. Take into account Ethiopia (purely political murder), Somalia, Rwanda (and on and on and on) and we can see that these people were not Crusaders nor officers of the Inquisition. They were folks who shared the central beliefs of all atheists: There is no God and thus no morality beyond that in front of me.
Add to that the over 60,000,000 abortions each year worldwide and we have another 1,200,000,000 humans killed in the last two decades. Plus we have 12,000,000 children dying due to politically induced starvation each year. That certainly seems to give atheists the edge, wouldn't you agree?
Here is where the most resistance comes from:
The chances (however slim) that there may really be a God leaves one with the inescapable conclusion that all that they have cherished and come to rely upon is liable to change. Little do they know ;-), but this is a tremendous fear to overcome. This leads me to...
Live the Gospel! The church is invisible to those who don't wish to see it! The only sure way to show Christ to another is to be Christ to them! We ought to be in the streets and in the news so often that they can't escape us. And not just the Christian Coalition, either. I mean that when the welfare is cut off, the church had better be there to take up the slack.
I mean that the non-believers know more about the true nature of Christ than many of us! They know that He loved unconditionally; they know that He healed the sick and made the blind to see; they know that he fed the hungry and clothed the poor. Are we? And if we are, then why do we have a welfare state to dismantle? It should never have been necessary - it would never have been necessary - if the church had been doing its job.
Don't lose heart - most of the time when you hear, "I don't believe in God", what is really being said is, "I won't believe in God", and the two are entirely different propositions. If one won't believe, then nothing you can say or do is going to change their minds. When the Holy Spirit tells you to stop, then stop, and pray, and go on with your life. I will say that my own rule of thumb is that I will generally go along in a debate or discussion until the atheist quits. They almost always will, usually as soon as you have shown them that their morality is false and devoid of value and truth. You may not "convince" them in the sense that they agree, but it is easy to prove, and that will usually be the last you hear from them. We can only pray that their minds will accept what their egos cannot, and that they will start thinking again.
My second rule of thumb is that as soon as the debate or discussion interferes with my family life, I back off and devote only as much attention to the debate as is necessary to maintain the discussion. Trying to argue every specious argument and willful misapplication of what you are trying to say will take forever, so don't do it. Stick to a few points and make them argue them - allowing the debate to wander will waste your time.
I have found that CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer provide excellent works for a seeking convert or atheist to ponder. Schaeffer's exposition on "knowing" is excellent. To encapsulate it: An atheist can complain that we "can never know enough to be absolutely sure", but this is a test which applies to everything. We can't be sure that the sun will come up tomorrow, but few atheists fail to plan for the eventuality! We can know that which we can know. That is, just because we cannot know fully does not mean that we can not have confidence in that which we do know. I don't know everything about my wife, but I know enough to be able to gauge her moods and opinions with very little input.
Most atheists don't resist the outlandish assumptions underlying the mechanics of evolution, nor do they seriously question the lack of contemporary or historical transitional forms. This does not prevent them from "knowing" that evolution is a preferable theory to God. Don't let the argument of "knowing" divert you from the reality that there is a true knowledge of God. It is a given that we will never know all about Him, but that doesn't mean that what we do know is worthless, or insufficient to make a reasoned judgment that He exists. From there, one can get to Christ.
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
Quotes of Stephen Jay Gould in his book: Dinosaur in a Haystack in an essay entitled The most unkindest cut of all.
Amazingly, this was in an essay which spoke of the atrocities of Nazi Germany, and how the jargon used to justify this horror was couched in terms of Darwinism. This quote shows the inadequacy of evolutionary science to deal with the kind of terror that it (itself) engenders with its lack of a Creator. This leaves us with a lack of intrinsic worth in each and every individual, which leads us to exactly that which Gould seems to find so inexplicable and (though I can't imagine how he comes up with the term) horrible.
It is a pathetic and weak answer to the horrors we see around us, Dr. Gould, but it is, after all, the best that you can do..... Morality, sir, is the application of an external and unchanging standard to our behavior. This standard must necessarily be outside of us, and I submit that your feelings of horror are exactly the right response to the Nazi barbarism as measured against that standard -but only that standard. Without it (and this according to your gospel) their actions were merely actions, and not intrinsically evil or good - since these (as you admit) can never be defined in an empirical, scientfic way. Your own conscience tells you that both of those terms are meaningless outside the context of a standard against which to measure them.
You mention "sweetness" and "evil" yet your whole philosophy denies that there is a way to define these terms! Please sir, give up your pretensions either to honesty or morality. I don't care which, but one has to go.
I recently received an email from a person who disagreed with the statement that Sagan was a man of "faith". His argument was that Sagan had some theoretical grounds to believe that the processes which created life on this planet were the same in other parts of the Universe, and, given the vast number of possible planets, it is not unreasonable to assume that there may very likely be other planets harboring life. Some of those, it can be further speculated, might have life which has progressed to intelligence in a fashion similar to us. I agree that he was acting upon theoretical grounds which were logically derived. I disagree that those grounds are correct, but that is beside the point.
However, there is no EVIDENCE that life exists on other planets. Relying on the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is assurance of [things] hoped for, a conviction of things not seen." (as well as the definitions found in most dictionaries) I continue to maintain that Sagan was an exemplar of faith, and we would do well to stand up for our our beliefs as strongly as he did. My correspondent, on the other hand, argues that faith implies a lack of reasonable grounds for one's actions, and thus maintains that Sagan was not acting in faith, but in a purely rational manner. Thus, he believes that to call Sagan a man of faith is a libel. I disagree, but did feel that my correspondent's claims were in good faith and warranted a response. BW - 3/27/2002