The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
It seems that atheism is undergoing something of a renaissance these days.
Not that it has ever gone out of style; there always has and always will be an abundance of people who don’t believe in God. In recent years, however, atheism (or the New Atheism as it is popularly known) is making a marked comeback, vehemently opposing anything and everything in its humanistic path, Christianity being its chief opponent.
Leading the fray is the multi-awarded Richard Dawkins, New Atheism’s poster child and perhaps the movement’s most outspoken evangelist. Dawkins is a biological theorist who used to teach at Oxford University until his retirement in 2008. He is the author of the best-selling book “The GOD Delusion” and a notorious critic of religion.
His disdain for Christianity is legendary. Says Dawkins in an interview with the Independent:
“…insofar as theology studies the nature of the divine, it will earn the right to be taken seriously when it provides the slightest, smallest smidgen of a reason for believing in the existence of the divine. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns. “
Dawkins enjoys pillorying Christianity. The very notion that the God of the Bible could exist is patently absurd to him. Ironically Dawkins is something of a god himself for being as outspoken, accomplished, and articulate about atheism as he is. His major scientific cred and Old Testament zeal have impressed thousands of junior atheists the world over; his teachings have been all but canonized by the Dawkins faithful.
Dawkins is one in a long line of internationally famous atheists with sparkling academic credentials and snarling arguments against God. They all raise their fingers against the Almighty, denying His existence, insisting that THEY have the right answer and that all begins and ends with science and science alone.
They pen bestsellers, engage in international debates, and draw multitudes into their web forums; they laud their own ideas while ridiculing all opposition, even if their dissenters offer thoroughly academic counterarguments to their Godless positions.
There’s nothing we can do or say to repudiate their claims, we are told; our arguments are weak and emotional, our evidences flawed, fabricated, pitiful. Darwinism is the true gospel; the New Atheists its chief promulgators. We Christians are urged to move out of their way or be steamrolled by the unrelenting “truth” of the humanist perspective.
Of course, a whole slew of rabid followers eat this up. And the result is an intense movement that’s rapidly gaining momentum across the world, spreading a particularly aggressive form of atheism that’s aimed squarely at toppling Christianity and instituting Darwinism and humanism as the only true explanations for life and living.
What are we to do in the face of this fierce opposition to the truth of God’s Word and our Christian faith?
Well for one, don’t run. While it’s easy to be intimidated by intellectuals hostile to Christianity, don’t hide, don’t cower, and don’t feel sorry for yourself if you can’t answer their every objective. We have nothing to fear (2 Timothy 1:7); New Atheism is simply an old lie screamed with renewed conviction. But like dogs without fangs, atheists are limited to barking.
Next we need to realize that while atheism is in direct opposition to what we believe and its adherents often use arguments and speech that is painful to hear and tolerate, atheists are still lost people in need of a Savior. They are on the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13) and are blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). The fact that they are so anti-God should make us realize how much danger they are in and how desperately they need Jesus.
And how are they to come to faith in Christ?
Through the gospel according to Jesus of course.
The gospel is what convicts people, exposes their sin, and smashes their sense of self-righteousness to pieces. When God sees fit, the gospel breaks men in the light of His law which they realize they cannot possibly keep. And ultimately it ushers them to Jesus Christ, the sinless God-man who lived a perfect life and offered it on the cross as a pleasing blood sacrifice to the Father.
The gospel is the story of the atonement of Christ for our sins, His dying in our place that we might never have to endure the punishment for all our wrongdoing. It is the story of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, His victory over death that completes the redemption saga and makes possible full restitution between sinful man and an infinitely holy God.
It’s the news atheists need to hear, more than Biblical apologetics and arguments for Intelligent Design. For it is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16) – the key to setting them free from sin and spiritual blindness.
Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in refuting error with truth and sound apologetics, in being ready with an answer for anyone who asks why we believe in God (1 Peter 3:15). I agree that atheism needs to be debunked and that believers should arm themselves with Biblical knowledge (as well as knowledge of what they’re fighting against) to do so.
And I totally support and dig people who have devoted much of their lives to countering the shrill cry of atheism.
The works of great apologists like Ravi Zacharias and Josh McDowell are thought-provoking and indispensable; similarly, the distinguished Oxford mathematician John Lennox (who has refuted Richard Dawkins in many an insightful debate) has much good to say on the subjects of science, philosophy, and God. His life, teaching, and example are great sources of strength and encouragement for anyone grappling and squaring off with atheist ideas.
CS Lewis made a powerful case for the faith with his classic book Mere Christianity (as well as many other esteemed works); Lee Strobel, the investigative journalist turned Christian apologist, has written several compelling works that effectively destroy common “intellectual” objections against Jesus, the Bible, and the Christian faith.
And more recently, chief Intelligent Design proponent Stephen Meyer has released a cutting-edge book on the case of Intelligent Design which has rocked the scientific community, both Christian and secular, with its arguments for a Creator God based on the unfathomable and magnificent complexities of our DNA code.
But as I said, while providing reasonable support for our faith through apologetics and thoroughly researched and well-written scientific books in favor of God is good, the arguments themselves won’t save people from their sins.
Only the gospel can do that.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of engaging an atheist via email and exchanging a few ideas regarding God, science, the Bible, and what it means to be a Christian. I was told by a mutual friend that he was open to the idea of God if only someone could produce incontrovertible proof of His existence. I sat for a while, pondering how I should phrase my first email.
Although I wanted to start with an emphatic statement, a contention that was almost as incontrovertible than the God I was trying to prove, I ended up abandoning an “opening argument” as it were and proceeded instead to narrate my statement of faith – why I am a Christian and what I believe to be true of God, Jesus Christ, and the gospel. I didn’t want to get bogged down by complex apologetical/scientific arguments (there’d be plenty of time for that later) – I simply wanted to be like Paul who declared to the Corinthians, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
He replied right away, rejecting outright the existence of God (claiming, among other things, that since he doesn’t believe in God and sin, that he is actually sinless!) We went into a short exchange, a quick 24-hour flurry of activity which ended in 16 emails, lots of strong words, and a fascinating look into the mind of an atheist.
His comments were irritating and insulting; perhaps mine were too (to his ears anyway).
And while no one was soon “converted”, I like to think that I had sowed the seeds of the gospel in his heart. If he one day responds and turns to Christ then I will rejoice with the angels in heaven. If he doesn’t, I’ll be sad but not surprised.
“The gospel is foolishness to the natural man; his mind cannot understand it” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Ultimately, atheists will reject the gospel and the God from whom it comes simply because they do not understand it. They want no part in God’s truth; their only wish is to believe worldly ideas which, although they may have the appearance of wisdom, are as valuable as goat droppings.
Yet for every thousand or hundred thousand people who mock the gospel, who spit on the Savior, who laugh ferociously at the truth of the Atonement, there will be a handful of people who’ll be genuinely saved (John 6:37). These will be penetrated by the Word, quickened by the Spirit into believing God’s truth, and they’ll abandon all hope in their faulty and humanistic concepts to embrace Jesus as Lord.
The gospel is the means by which men are saved. Apologetics and sound scientific arguments in favor of a Creator God are extremely useful tools in opening minds to Christ. But the opening of hearts is the Spirit’s work. When the Word of God is taught with clarity and conviction the Spirit moves men to repentance.
Share the gospel. Don’t be afraid of the New Atheism.
Is Christianity at odds with science? Is it nothing more than a laughable idea, a crutch that weak people need to lean on in order to get through life? Is faith in God a blind faith, a kind of intellectual suicide?
What about Atheism? Is it the best and only alternative to Christianity? Does Darwinism and naturalism hold up as better and truer explanations for life and the universe? Can a person really be moral if evolution doesn’t allow for moral absolutes?
I’m a Reformed Christian. And while I believe in God, the Bible, a 6-day creation, and Jesus Christ, along with His divinity and resurrection from the dead, I also believe that the Christian faith has intellectually satisfying foundations and is not, as some like to postulate, blind trust in an unknowable deity.
This is not a popular position, of course. I’m aware that I and thousands of others like me are laughed at, derided for our faith, and scorned as the dumb of the earth. But that’s ok. In fact, that’s Biblical. The world thinks the gospel is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). If the Bible teaches I’m gonna be ridiculed for my faith, I believe and accept it.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t confront atheism. I do so willingly, as a soldier who’s been tasked with defending the front lines. In this regard I’m a lieutenant, skilled in the Word to some degree but still rough around the edges, still making my way up the ranks, if you will. I may not have all the answers and the war on Truth may sometimes be overwhelming. But I’m hanging in here, doing my bit, battling the oppression of atheism, post-modernism, and the ugly denial of a sovereign God.
Which is why I’m grateful for people like the esteemed John Lennox, a commander in the faith who blazes the way in confronting error and defending the truth.
Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, as well as Pastoral Advisor at Green Templeton College. I recently watched his 2007 debate with evolutionary biologist and fellow Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion which was the subject of the debate.
Lennox is a brilliant mind, clear and eloquent, a man who argues his position with passion and scientific integrity. Dawkins is no pushover either; he’s keen, sharp, and argues with equal passion (it’s a shame he doesn’t come to the same conclusions as Lennox though).
Watching these men exchange ideas and grapple with deep and profound questions about God and the cosmos is an intensely gripping experience. Especially for someone who likes to know that what he believes in can be defended with the mind and not just the heart.
I believe that as a Christian I have a duty to not only tell others about my faith and be ready with answers to their questions (1 Peter 3:15), but I have a personal duty to know God (Psalm 46:10). The Lennox-Dawkins debate helps me on all these fronts. I hear the atheist/theist arguments and I walk away with answers as well as a deeper sense and appreciation of knowing the Lord God of the universe.
The hardened atheist will come to a different conclusion no doubt. But at least questions are raised. And that’s the whole point of the debate; not to convert one of the two arguing on stage but to help listeners like you and me confront our beliefs, Christian and pagan, and weigh them in the light of science, Scripture, and a few good words from a raging battlefront.