Nov 11, 2011 | By

How to Talk to an Atheist

How to Talk to an Atheist

Kathy, in corresponding with me about ISAS, has shared some of her experiences in talking with atheists. She offers a succinct explanation of the causal argument for the existence of God, and I add some additional comments on the challenge of building a dialogue between those who believe in God and those who reject such beliefs.

Kathy’s observation:

People who have convinced themselves that the things of this world come into being of their own accord are neglecting to account for how the world operates. Materialism does not adequately explain or answer the operation or cooperation of systems. Existence is based on processes. Processes must work in conjunction with other processes. Cooperation requires planning. This applies to, for example, the circulatory system, nervous system, digestive system, Krebs cycle, photosynthesis, and even the seasons, to name a small number of what systems exist and work together seamlessly. Even the behavior of ants or bees has a system and order to it. A Plan requires a Planner. These systems require a design.  A design requires a designer.

Our understanding of the Planner and Designer are ever evolving as we come to new facts.  New facts do not negate the presence of an Intelligent Designer.  Far from it.  New facts that we learn substantiate that there must be an Intelligent Designer.  The more we know, the more we realize stuff doesn’t just happen without a force putting it into action.

Some additional comments:

Kathy’s explanation is crystal-clear to anyone who is inclined to see meaning and purpose behind causation and the beautiful and complex causal interplay between natural systems. Contrast this inclination with that of a writer she cited in one of her emails:

“The Insistence upon and Idea of an Omniscient Creator is, or Should be, Extinct. It has become proven that we know what we are composed of, and are from.  Why do we insist upon this absurd idea of omniscience and consciousness and design?”

This writer, using language that is quite similar to that used by other “New Atheists”, concludes; “God is a growth from the human ego: a parasitic and blinding concept that has been created for a sense of reassurance; that our brief overture in individualism and personhood will last forever….. God is the single greatest handicap to the evolution and advancement of mankind ever.  The concept is responsible for more bloodshed and violence than any political, racial, or social ideal on the planet, and has been the cause for ignorance and the perpetuity of stupidity and rash thinking…. Believing in a god is the same as being content with ignorance and obliviousness. This is the one unforgivable sin that mankind can commit….  Believing in God is the death of logic, lucidity, and the intellect.”

The most striking thing to me is the anger and vitriol of the language. Kathy observes that “materialism does not adequately explain”. In contrast, the atheist position paints belief in God as “absurd”, the “greatest single handicap”, and “the death of logic.” If we ask who seems more afraid, whose language is more egotistical, and who is failing to acknowledge with humility the limits of human understanding, the answer is obvious.

The arrogance of new atheists, such as the writer of the piece above or Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, is astounding.  Given the intemperate language they use, I’m not sure how to engage with them – or whether the effort is worth it.  But there are some very thoughtful responses for those who are interested.  The Templeton Foundation “Big Questions” series puts atheists and theists together in the same pamphlets – short articles from top-notch thinkers.

We continue to need thoughtful and direct responses to ardent materialism. One of the best I’ve read is actually from the novelist Marilynne Robinson (“Gilead” among other novels), in her nonfiction work Absence of Mind.  She is deep and articulate and gently but firmly points out the flaws of the para-scientific arguments that are being employed in support of materialism.  As she succinctly notes:  “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

2 Responses to “How to Talk to an Atheist”

  1. George Gantz says:

    Hi Elmer – Thanks for the response. You are correct, I did not attempt any refutation in this post, and, as I noted, I’m not sure how to do so, or whether it is worth doing so, given the aggressiveness of the language being used. However, I think you will find in some other posts on this site some direct responses on the issues involved. Specifically, I think many who consider themselves rationalists fail to acknowledge the paradoxical aspects of their own rationality. See, for example:

    As the last post notes, logic is actually not very helpful in achieving certainty as it is subject to its own set of paradoxes.

  2. Elmer says:

    The tone and overarching mood are notable in the atheist’s response which you commentated, but your unwillingness to refute any of it and simply focus on the arrogance and causticity of the argument’s language is suggestive. These salient remarks should be cause for a “crystal-clear” explanation of the like of your colleague whose insistence on purpose and ignorance on adaptation and the logical consistency of innumerable systems, processes, and properties in the vastness of our universe. But silly me, perhaps you wouldn’t want to make an effort to argue and points for fear of sounding ‘afraid’. Argument shows strength, not weakness, and you must understand that the absurdity of a paradoxically omniscient, omnipotent God might frustrate those who see loss of logic when convenient for reassurance and submission to what must be necessary purposefulness.

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