University of Oxford Professor of Mathematics John Lennox offers some concise responses to common claims by atheists.
John Lennox is also a Christian apologist who has held public debates with prominent atheists such as evolutionist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Peter Singer, and the late Christopher Hitchens (author), amongst others.
- You don’t believe in Zeus, Thor and all the other gods. I just go one god more than you, and reject the Christian God.
The problem with this idea, says Lennox, is that ‘gods’ such as Zeus and Thor are not remotely comparable with the biblical understanding of God. There is a vast distinction between the ancient near eastern gods and the God of the Bible. For example, pagan gods are products of the primeval mass and energy of the universe. By contrast, the God of the Bible created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
- Science has explained everything, and it doesn’t include God.
Science has its limits. It cannot answer certain kinds of questions, such as ‘what is ethical?’ and ‘what is beautiful?’ Science does explore and can answer many questions about the natural world, but there are different types of explanations for different things. 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.
- Science is opposed to God.
The idea that many leading atheist thinkers have of God is thoroughly pagan. Atheists define God to be a ‘god of the gaps’, and then offer a choice between science and that god. These pagan conceptions of ‘god’ might be opposed to science, but they’re not anything like the Christian God. The Biblical God is not a ‘god of the gaps’, but a God of the whole show — the bits we do understand (through science) as well as the bits we don’t.
- You can’t prove that there is a God.
This kind of statement ignores different kinds of proof. The word proof has two meanings. There’s the rigorous meaning in mathematics that is rare and very difficult to do. But then there’s the other meaning: beyond reasonable doubt. That’s the kind of proof we present: arguments to bring someone beyond reasonable doubt. This would include rational arguments from Christian philosophers, the personal experience of Christians, and the witness of the gospel accounts in the Bible.
- Faith is believing without any evidence.
People commonly think Christianity entails believing without evidence. However, Christianity is not about having no evidence: the gospels provide evidence, as the beginning of Luke’s gospel attests. Luke refers back to ‘eyewitnesses’ and writes an orderly account of things followed ‘closely for some time’ (Luke 1:1-4). At the end of John’s gospel we read “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). Christianity is an evidence-based faith.
- Faith is a delusion. I’d no more believe in God than I would in the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
These caricatures have been made famous by people like Richard Dawkins. The only thing they are good for is mockery. Statements by scientists are not always statements of science, says Prof Lennox. Atheists make statements that are easily reversible. For example, Stephen Hawking said “religion is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” However, isn’t atheism just a fairy story for people afraid of the Light? What lies behind the atheist ‘delusion claims’ is the idea of wish fulfillment (i.e. that we believe what we hope to be true.) This argument works providing there is no God. But given that God exists, then atheism is wish fulfillment.
- Christianity claims to be true, but there are loads of denominations and they all disagree with each other, so it must be false.
Why does the existence of denominations imply Christianity is false? It might imply that Christians have very different personalities and cultures – or even that Christians aren’t good at getting on with each other – but not that Christianity isn’t true. As Professor Lennox puts it, “There are all kinds of different teams in football, but they all play football.”
- The Bible is immoral.
If you want to question the morality of the Bible, what basis does that morality have? There can be a serious contradiction within atheist criticisms. Dawkins wrote: “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.”
If this is true, then why does Dawkins question the morality of anything? “Dawkins says faith is evil,” said Prof Lennox. “But at the same time he abolishes the categories of good and evil. That doesn’t make any sense.”
- Surely you don’t take the Bible literally?
Some atheists (and a few Christians) have a very black and white idea of how to interpret the Bible. You either have to take it literally or chuck it away, they think. That ignores the reality of language and how it reflects truth. For example, Jesus said “I am the door” (John 10:9). Says Lennox, “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.”
- What is the evidence for God?
You can debate the existence of God until the cows come home. It can be very interesting, especially when you go into the detail and explore the subject in depth. But atheists might be missing the point or avoiding the real issue (per the examples given above). Prof Lennox’s advice is to get to the heart of the matter and ask the most important question, then go from there: “Suppose I could give evidence for God, would you be prepared right now, to repent and trust Christ?”
There are of course deeper responses to the atheist statements given above. For more in-depth answers, see the John Lennox web site.
Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15).
The above article is a condensed version of the original article below:
Tomlinson, H. Ten Quick Responses to Atheist Claims. Christianity Today. October 8, 2014.
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(This post was prepared by Warwick Alcock, director of strategic operations.)