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RESPONDING TO THE NEW ATHIESM RICK MATTSON. Rick Mattson InterVarsity Staff Traveling apologist: 40+ campuses the past three years InterVarsity Staff,

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Presentation on theme: "RESPONDING TO THE NEW ATHIESM RICK MATTSON. Rick Mattson InterVarsity Staff Traveling apologist: 40+ campuses the past three years InterVarsity Staff,"— Presentation transcript:


2 Rick Mattson InterVarsity Staff Traveling apologist: 40+ campuses the past three years InterVarsity Staff, Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

3 What to Expect Today Learn about – Atheist beliefs – Typical objections to Christianity – Tactics the New Atheists use Gameplan for responding to atheists Images to use in conversations Q&A (brief) Suggested resources Not today: a full case against atheism

4 Rise of the New Atheism Examples of 20 th century atheist scholars: Bertrand Russell, A.J. Ayer, Antony Flew, John Mackie, Quentin Smith Postmodernism in the 80s and 90s lowered the profile of Christian-Atheist debates by dismantling the power of big stories (metanarratives). Atheism made a big comeback in the 90s and 2000s. See next slide.

5 Four Horsemen Richard Dawkins: British evolutionary biologist Sam Harris: American neuroscientist and philosopher Daniel Dennet: American philosopher at Tufts University Christopher Hitchens: (deceased). Journalist

6 Posture toward Religion Religion shouldn’t just be tolerated. It should be attacked, criticized, defeated. Religion is harmful. Believers are delusional.

7 Naturalism The natural world is all there is. No supernatural or immaterial beings exist. No angels, gods, demons, ghosts. No soul. (for newbies: note definitions of “naturalism” and “materialism.”)

8 The Presumption of Atheism – Atheism is the default starting point of every discussion. – The burden of proof is on theism to show that God exists. – Example: For the claim, “Bigfoot exists,” evidence must be provided.

9 Verificationism Only statements that can be backed up by material evidence have any truth value. Yes: Scientific statements: “Mercury levels... The rate of decay.... The speed of light... etc” No: Faith statements: “God exists.” “Jesus is the Son of God.”

10 No Evidence for God Science: no evidence whatsoever. Philosophy: no good arguments. Besides, philo doesn’t give any material evidence. History: no secular historical evidence for Jesus. Evidence from Bible and believers doesn’t count. Experience: doesn’t count as evidence. Too subjective.

11 Jesus Christ is a Myth Christ-Myth is similar to the myths of pagan religions: “dying and rising” gods such as: Attis, Osiris, Baal, Adonis, Mithris, etc. “Son-of-God” was a creation of the early church. Jesus of history is different than the Christ of faith.

12 The Bible is False Which Bible? Translations and copy errors have corrupted the original texts Contradictions abound: Geneologies, empty tomb, chronology of Gospels, etc. Archeology: no support for historical Abraham, Exodus, David, Temple, etc.

13 Ethics Whatever promotes human flourishing and happiness should be pursued. Whatever causes overall human misery should be eliminated. Anyone who can’t tell the difference is stupid. Atheists are morally upright people.

14 Evolution The true account of the origin and emergence of life Blind Watchmaker’s Thesis: Evolution has no built-in “purpose.” Intelligent Design and creationism represent religion, not science. And thus don’t belong in the academy.

15 Against NOMA Non-Overlapping Magesteria: Stephen A. Gould’s notion that science and religion are not in conflict. They have different but legitimate domans of teaching authority: – Science: the domain of empirical facts – Religion: the domain of ultimate meaning But the New Atheists say religion has no meaning.

16 Character of God “The most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser... capriciously malevolent bully.” - Richard Dawkins

17 Read the Bible “Flat” That all texts in the Bible are of equal weight. If it’s in the Bible, it applies to all times/places. Example: Wearing clothing of two kinds of material was forbidden to Israel (Lev 19:19); this law stands for all time. Since these laws are ridiculous, the Bible is false and believers deluded..

18 Theology is Meaningless Theology (the study of God) is a meaningless exercise. It doesn’t deserve academic respect. It’s a study about nothing. It’s like astrology.

19 Atheism re-defined Rather than making the positive claim that “God doesn’t exist,” many atheists are describing their atheism as a “lack” of belief: – Lack of belief in God – Same as lack of belief in unicorns. Not “active disbelieve” in unicorns. Simply don’t believe.

20 Strict Separation of Church/State Politicians who act according to their religious conscience are in violation of the public trust. Public schools should not be allowed to teach religion, creationism, intelligent design, etc. Tax-exempt status for religious institutions is wrong.

21 Posture/Attitude of New Atheists Often characterized by aggression, anger, ridicule. Dismissive (but not always. Sometimes respectful, caring, dialogical)

22 Q&A 3 questions Please be brief

23 Common Tactics Throwing sand in the air: This is the technique of making a barrage of objections to Christianity all at once. Defining “Faith” as excluding evidence and reason. Not staying on topic. Instead, returning to “attack mode” on favorite issues. Ridicule as a form of argument.

24 Throwing sand in the air: tell me the logic in believing in the infallible inerrant bible? creation 6,000 to 10,000 years ago? a flat earth; an earth which is the center of the universe and around which the sun rotates; the earth standing still? non-existent archaeological evidence for Israel in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus? Joshua leading Israel to destroy all opposing nations in the Levant? A baby born of virgin? Non-existent prophecies of Jesus which are no more than lifting verses out of OT scripture and calling them prophecies; gospels which claim to be eye witness accounts when said accounts are written decades even generations later by unknown authors; a NT for which their are no original copies, copies of copies, copies of copies of copies of any original manuscripts; gospels never referred to by church fathers until 180 CE; gospels which are inundated with contradictions, inconsistencies; a savior jesus who tells lies and makes promises which are lies...

25 Tactics (cont.) Objections based on “Christians behaving badly” (hypocrisy) – Crusades – Inquisition – Salem witch hunts – Clergy scandals – “Religion has been the cause of all the wars in history”

26 Q&A

27 Responding to Atheists Pray Show love and respect. Don’t match their posture and tone. Take things one issue at a time. Don’t try to answer all objections at once. Keep the conversation on topic. Atheists like to switch the topic. Respect their objections. Don’t assume it’s all a smokescreen.

28 Responding (cont.) Invite into Christian community Read books together (from both sides) Teach the Bible: – Speak the truth in a caring way; trust God. – Advanced: At some point, common ground is lost. Time to admit incommensurability, retreat to Christian tribal posture, teach from “true” paradigm.

29 Responding (cont.) Go on the offensive – Make objections to materialism, unguided evolution, ethics without God Challenge sweeping generalizations about the Bible, connections with mythical gods, etc. – Ask: How do you know? – Ask: How much do you actually know about (the Crusades, slavery in the Bible, etc)?

30 Responding (cont.) Insist on your own definition of faith, not theirs. – Faith can, in fact, be backed up by evidence. – No one has the right to define your faith for you (e.g.: “Faith, by definition, is believing without evidence... “)

31 Responding (cont.) Things to do together – Read books – Study the Bible – Attend lectures, debates (or watch on line) – Read articles – Discuss differences in writing (facebook, email, etc). – Invite them into Christian community

32 Images to Use Faith and Evidence – Faith is like skydiving – Faith is like getting married Hypocrisy – Don’t blame the hammer – Imposter police – Joseph Stalin – Science, geography

33 Images (cont.) Science and faith – Elephant Traps – The Novelist – The Bicycle – The Bricklayer – The Shrinking Island – The Smoking Gun

34 Images (cont.) Historical Jesus – Massive conspiracy of the early church – Muslims remain monotheists Jesus = Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns – Why believe in Socrates?

35 Images (cont.) Problem of suffering/evil – Broken World – Free will defense (not robots) – Dysfunctional family – Big Story – Suffering Christ

36 Images IVP book next summer: easy-to-use images and analogies for talking with skeptics. Working title: Faith is like Skydiving And 40 other easy-to-use images for dialogue with seekers and skeptics

37 Encouragement “The vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold... an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism.” - atheist philosopher Quentin Smith.

38 Tom Tom grew up Catholic, struggled with doubts, attended Notre Dame (philosophy), embraced atheism, became a lawyer with a deep sense of skepticism. Came to Christ through persistent, caring witness, argumentation (e.g. Case for Christ), Christian community

39 Aaron Long-time atheist Joined thoughtful Christian community that engaged the life of the mind. Remained atheist in this community for five years. Appreciated hospitality, care-giving. Finally the arguments made sense. Last February gave his life to Christ. It can happen.

40 Visiting your campus/church Evangelism, training Stump the Chump Free for InterVarsity groups %20the%20New%20Atheism%2C%20Urbana%2 012.pptx

41 Suggested Resources Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Kreeft and Tacelli) Where the Conflict Really Lies (Plantinga)* There is a God (Antony Flew) Contending with Christianity’s Critics (ed. WL Craig) Letters from a Skeptic (Boyd) The Reason for God (Keller) Philosophy of Religion 2 nd ed (Evans/Manis) The Jesus Legend (Boyd, Eddy)*

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