Michael Egnor published a provocative article posted on Evolution News & Science Today: Theists vs. Atheists: Who Has the Burden of Proof? Egnor’s comments follow a debate he had with Matt Dillahunty, who is, perhaps, the most popular atheist voice speaking out against religion today.
Egnor claims Dillahunty “didn’t fare well” and demonstrated “no real understanding of any of the ten classical proofs of God’s existence”. It seems that Dillahunty’s big position in the debate was that theists have the burden of proof, so there is no real need for him to assert a position; he can sit back and take pot shots at theist’s arguments and call it a win.
I didn’t watch the debate, so I am just parroting Egnor’s characterization on my way to making a different point. Dillahunty did recently attempt to undress William Lane Craig’s favorite argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument, so perhaps he isn’t quite as derelict in his opposition as Egnor makes him out to be. (Though, again, it’s just taking pot shots at positive arguments.)
It is true that Dillahunty relies heavily on the position that he has no burden to prove the negative: that God doesn’t exist. Egnor claims this is because positive atheist arguments are “few and weak” (before putting up a strawman argument in caricature of Dillahunty’s favorite argument based on “Divine Hiddeness”, which I don’t intend to address either).
Egnor may be right, basically, in his assessment of Dillahunty’s position, though not very winsome in stating it. Of course, I wouldn’t characterize Dillahunty as winsome either. Much less so.
What caught my attention about the article wasn’t in the article at all. It was a comment about the article to the effect that anyone who is interested in truth has the burden of proof. That comment deserves some attention.
I recently read an article by Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, Waking Up After QAnon: How Can the Church Respond, posted by Christianity Today. The secondary headline is: Evangelicals disproportionately believed conspiracy theories in 2020. How do we recover?
I do not agree completely with everything in this article, but I think it is more “right” than wrong. The following assertion, for instance, certainly rings true to me:
“For years a segment of Christianity has sought to reclaim the United States of America as a Christian nation—or at the very least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values. However, they have, at the same time, witnessed the American culture (and, yes, what they see as American elites—media giants, big tech, politicians, and Hollywood) adopt a more secular and progressive agenda.”
I am familiar with the thinking of patriotic Christians because I “grew up” in Christianity in an atmosphere influenced by the Moral Majority and efforts to reclaim the Christian heritage of this country. It was a patriotic movement made “sacred” with Christian reference and fervor.
The community in which I was engaged out of college joined the effort. It seemed that some momentum was being generated in the direction of reclaiming the United States as a Christian nation…. at least while I remained in that community. When I left to go to law school, my perspective changed.
Looking back, I see that patriotic Christianity appeals to a certain narrative of faith and a desire to protect what is familiar and comfortable. It affirms a sense of place in the world as an American Christian who believes fully that the United States was blessed by God more than other nations in the world and stands like a city set on a hill for the world to see.
While I think there may be some truth to that blessing from God, we shouldn’t confuse His blessing for a time (and for His greater purpose) with our own desires for prosperity, influence, protection of lifestyle, culture and familiar life. God raises kings, and he takes them down.
The patriotic movement in the church going back in time was influenced, in part, by the “prosperity gospel”. The focus was on faith. A certain exhilaration accompanies the thinking that we are part of a sacred movement of God’s people uniquely blessed with faith. It was a kind of manifest destiny for the church.
I imagine the 1st Century Jews saw the world similarly, though they didn’t have the prosperity or power of American Christians in 21st Century. Their sense of being God’s people and being culturally “right”, however, made it difficult for them to accept that God loved Gentiles. That tribalism caused the first schism in the early church.
The American exceptionalism that is part of the allure of this politically-charged faith embraces modern Israel and the Jewish state. They see a kinship there, and I believe we are prone to the same kind of error that the early church fell into.
Moving on from that community of my early walk in Christ and seeing faith and the world from different angles changed my perspective. I loved my time in the community of my early Christian years. They did many things right, and they were eager and earnest in their faith in refreshing ways, but I have come to see that patriotic element differently. God is bigger than our patriotic ideas of Him.
(Not that all the people in the church I attended wandered down that road. I know many of them still, and many of them did not get swept up in the patriotic fervor. They have adjusted and adapted, and their perspectives have changed also.)
The real point here is that God has a global and universal purpose. We are as much a part of that purpose as our brothers and sisters in China, or India or in the African American churches in the US.
That is not to say that everyone is right about the way they view the world. We all have our own unique vantage points and perspectives, and for that reason I need to listen to others because they offer perspective that I have trouble seeing from my own, limited position.
Perhaps, if we can all come together in the shared experience of Christ who died for all mankind and learn to set aside the things that divide us, we can catch a more global and universal glimpse of what God is doing in the world. The Stetzer and MacDonald article makes the following statement regarding the headlong embrace of Donald Trump:
“Christians need to understand how this foolishness not only hurts relationships in the local church and community but diminishes our witness. In such situations, our gospel witness is at stake and we cannot afford to be passive.”
This is a major concern. We may have trouble seeing the ways in which we have wandered off the narrow path unless we take time to listen to what other believes are saying.