The ten statements and responses suggested below are inspired by a presentation by John Lennox, the famous mathematician, philosopher and Christian theist. Neither the statements nor the responses are comprehensive in the least, but they offer a quick look into the richly rational world of faith through a theistic (and Christian) lens. At the same time, they expose the shallowness of many atheistic objections to the idea of God.
1) Christians are really just atheists regarding Zeus and other gods. True atheists go one god further and reject the Christian god.
Statements like these reveal a willful ignorance. The Christian God (as with Allah of Islam and Yahweh of Judaism, for instance) is an exclusive claim: there are no other gods. That Christians, Muslims and Jews cannot all be correct in their understanding of that exclusive God does not negate the possibility that such a God exists. They might be all correct in some aspects of that one God, but only one of them can be correct in all respects. it may be that none are correct, but that does not necessarily mean they are all incorrect.
Further, the gods atheists like to prop up for the fodder of their attacks are nothing like the God of the Christian faith (or Islam or Judaism for that matter). John Lennox observes: “There is a vast distinction between all of the ancient near eastern gods and the God of the Bible. They are products of the primeval mass and energy of the universe. The God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth.” Atheists who claim they just go one god further than Christians in their atheism are simply refusing to grapple with an accurate concept of God, creator of the universe. They have lumped the one, Creator God in with all the lesser, created gods so they can dismiss Him.
2) Science explains everything, and science does not reveal there is a God.
I am reminded of the Russian cosmonaut who returned from space to say that he looked, but he didn’t find God. The worldview that would suggest that science does not reveal God is a naturalistic one. Naturalists are not really looking for God at all; in fact, they exclude God by definition. They point to the creation, like the critic looks at a painting, and says, “I don’t see a creator there!” If they are not looking for God in the right “place”, is it reasonable to think they would find Him?
Science is limited to the study of the natural world. God, by definition (the Christian definition), is separate and apart from the natural world. Though some people claim that science is the study of “all there is”; they can only do that by denying any reality that is beyond the natural world. Science does not and cannot explain things that transcend the natural world like ethics, beauty, love, personality, volition and many other things.
God who is the creator of the natural world is (by definition) not part of the natural world, though God’s attributes may be reflected in the natural world. Someone may equally see God in the natural world or fail to see God in the natural world just as someone may see my father in me or fail to see my father in me. My father and I are different, though anyone who knows my father will see the resemblance.
John Lennox adds, “God no more competes with science as an explanation of the universe than Henry Ford competes with the law of internal combustion as an explanation of the motor car.”
3) Science is opposed to God
Some conceptions of God may be opposed to our knowledge and understanding that derives from science, but the Christian God is not in opposition to science. Some gods may have been invented in the past to explain things we don’t understand, but those gods are not the Christian God.
The biblical concept of God is not opposed to science, says John Lennox. “The biblical God is not a god of the gaps, but a God of the whole show. The bits we do understand [through science] and the bits we don’t.” The common idea of God that is popular among atheists is “thoroughly pagan”, points out Lennox; and, if people will define a god that way, then, of course, there is no choice but to choose between science and such a god. But that would be an incorrect understanding of the Christian God.
4) No one can prove there is a God
This is a common statement and understanding, but it begs the question what is meant by “proof”. God cannot be proven in the mathematical science, but mathematical proof is only one kind of proof. Most things cannot be proven with mathematical certainty, but that is only one kind of proof. In criminal law, for instance, proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard by which the truth is ascertained, In civil law, “more likely than not” is the standard of proof necessary to prevail.
While God cannot be proven with mathematical precision, many things in science that we accept as true, such as evolution, are also not capable of proof with mathematical precision. Some things we accept as more likely true than not true, and some things we simply accept the best explanation with the greatest explanatory scope.
We have no law establishing the standard by which God must be proven true, unlike civil and criminal courts, and if we did it would be arbitrary. It is up to each of us to decide what that standard of proof is for us. The quantum of proof necessary to establish the existence of God may be different from one person to the next. One person may be satisfied with “more likely than not”; another person may require “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Requiring something like mathematical precision or prove beyond any doubt, I would suggest, is a standard of proof used by someone who doesn’t want to believe in God.
5) Faith is believing without any evidence (or believing contrary to the evidence)
This, again, is a willful misunderstanding of what it means to have faith. Anyone who makes this claim simply does not want to understand what faith means. Christianity, more than any other religion, is based on historical, falsifiable records. Luke says in the beginning of his Gospel that his narrative is based on eyewitness accounts and was reduced to writing so that people could have certainty about what occurred. The end of John’s Gospel contains a similar statement.
The Old Testament and New are full of names, places, events and facts that are offered as accurate records of real people, places and events in real time. Christianity was never intended to be about “blind faith”. Doubting Thomas needed to feel the crucifixion wounds of the risen Christ before he would believe. Paul instructs believers to “test everything”. Nowhere are we instructed to believe blindly without any evidence for that belief.
While belief without evidence (or contrary to evidence) is a common misconception of faith, Christianity is and always has been based on evidence. The evidence in support of Christianity is robust if you take the time to look into it and consider it. Whether that evidence is sufficient “proof” for belief for a particular person is a different story. (See question #4.)
6) Faith is a delusion on the level of someone who believes in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster
These ideas, made famous by people like Richard Dawkins, are only good for mockery and prove only that “statements by scientists are not always statements of science,” according to Professor Lennox. They make for good print, like the statement by Stephen Hawking, “Religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” to which Prof. Lennox famously responded, “Atheism is a fairy story for people afraid of the light”.
The fact is that these statements are nothing but rhetoric. They make for good sound bites, but they don’t illuminate our thinking at all. Such rhetorical statements are as true in reverse as they are straight forward, and they settle nothing. According to Lennox, “What lies behind all these delusion claims is the Freudian idea of wish fulfillment [that we believe what we hope to be true.] This works brilliantly providing there is no God. But if there is a God, then atheism is wish fulfillment.”
7) Christians disagree with each other; therefore, Christianity is false
A person might just as well say that scientists disagree with each other, therefore, science is false. The “mainline” denominations and many of the offshoots may disagree on peripheral matters, but they all agree on certain core tenets. Even so, the fact that they cannot all be “right” does not make them all wrong, especially when most of the disagreement is on peripheral issues.
As Lennox says, there are many different football teams with different philosophies on playing football, but they all play football. There are many different views on politics and government, but few people question the need for politics or government (other than anarchists). Different philosophies and theologies do not make Christianity false any more than differences and disagreements among political views and governing structures invalidate politics or government.
8) The Bible is immoral
On what basis does an atheist claim the Bible is immoral? What is the objective standard by which that morality can be determined? Naturalists who make this claim are dishonest and disingenuous.
Consider this famous statement by Richard Dawkins: “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
This is the view of the modern naturalist, and those who claim that morality has a place in a naturalistic worldview have not thought through the consequences of their fundamental “belief”. Even Dawkins finds it difficult to be consistent with his own standards, however. As John Lennox observes, “Dawkins says faith is evil, but at the same time he abolishes the categories of good and evil. That doesn’t make sense.”
Dawkins says in one breath, “There is no morality”; while in another breath he claims the Bible is immoral. In pages of the same book, Dawkins states there is nothing but “blind, pitiless indifference” and offers his own Ten Commandments to live by. But naturalists like Dawkins have no standard to judge any morality because they are left with nothing but subjective assertions or shifting societal mores without God to set an objective moral standard.
9) The Bible must be taken literally, or not at all, and literally it makes no sense
This is absurd, though even Christians get confused on this point. There are some atheists (and quite a few Christians) who apply a rigid, black and white interpretation of the Bible. They both claim that it must be taken literally or rejected entirely, but this is patently absurd.
For instance, Lennox points out, “Jesus said ‘I’m the door’. Is Jesus a door like a door over there? No. He is not a literal door, but he is a real door into a real experience of God. Metaphor stands for reality. The word ‘literal’ is useless.” And so it is. This may be the greatest red herring of all red herrings.
This rigid view of Scripture is a false dichotomy. The Bible is full of various genres of literature, including poetry and parable, that is clearly not intended to be taken literally. Scripture has to be approached like any other writing with an honest attempt to understand it for what is actually says without applying rigid, arbitrary standards on it that we don’t apply to any other literature.
10) What evidence is there for God?
This kind of statement is issued as a challenge: “Prove it!” The question likely misses the point of the person asking it. A better question might be: “If you had the evidence for God, would you be prepared to accept it now?”
All the argument and debate in the world is not going to sway a person who doesn’t want to believe. As noted in the answer to question #4, the quantum of proof sufficient to convince someone to believe is more of a subjective standard, than an objective one. We are all responsible, ourselves, for the standard we use where we end up. For some people, not even mathematical certainty would suffice because they simply don’t want to believe.
Many an honest atheist has admitted this, including C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project (reflecting back on their lives). I say “honest” because they were able to see that the obstacle was not evidence, but their own wills and desires. Both of them conceded this fact and (reluctantly) turned to faith. For them, faith was not the will of wishful thinking, but the only rational conclusion to be reached in spite of wishful thinking it was not so.
If you are interested in more complete arguments for (and against) the existence of God and want to weigh the evidence more completely yourself, the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox is as good an example as you can find.