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How do I talk to my atheist friend?

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Presentation on theme: "How do I talk to my atheist friend?"— Presentation transcript:

1 How do I talk to my atheist friend?
A presentation given by Father Dylan Schrader Apologetics Boot Camp 2011

2 This presentation will not:
Prove absolutely thoroughly the existence of God. Prove the authority of the Bible or of the Church. Make arguments using faith.

3 This presentation will:
Give you some background on atheism. Give you the Catholic position on knowing that God exists. Give you some tips on how to have a reasonable, respectful dialogue with your atheist friend.

4 Background on Atheism

5 Background on Atheism Atheism is not new.
“The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1) There are distinct kinds of atheism. There are many reasons why someone is or becomes an atheist. There are some important positive aspects of atheism.

6 Kinds of Atheism Atheists themselves sometimes self-identify using various terminology. Some distinguish strong atheism from weak atheism. Strong atheism: The proposition “There is no god.” is true. Weak atheism: Simple absence of belief in any god. Strong atheists make a claim about the non- existence of any god; weak atheists simply make no claim about the existence of any god. These are sometimes called positive and negative atheism.

7 Kinds of Atheism Some atheists do not deny that a god exists but simply reject all belief in a god. There may be a god just as there may be an invisible unicorn in this room right now. It could possibly be true, but it makes no difference and all talk of it is meaningless. Not all atheists use these categories or terms.

8 Kinds of Atheism What is the “New Atheism” that I hear about?
In the past few years, there has been talk about the “New Atheists” or “New Atheism.” This refers to the argument, on the popular level, that belief in a god is not only false it is also very harmful. Some of the leaders within this trend are: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

9 Some Positive Aspects of Atheism
Atheism, especially in its strong formulation, has some positive aspects: It makes a claim about objective reality. Many people are perfectly content to ignore the question of God or to say that one belief system is as good as another. An atheist that denies the existence of any god is at least willing to believe that the question matters and that there is a right answer. It rejects fideism and fundamentalism, i.e., the belief that faith replaces reason or that faith can oppose reason. In an all-religions-are-pretty-much-equal world, atheists at least claim to be right!

10 Knowing That God Exists

11 How can God be known? The Catholic Church teaches definitively that the existence of God and his essential properties can be known without faith by the natural light of reason alone. She furthermore teaches that God's existence can be demonstrated. The existence of God can be known from the created world, as a cause from its effects.

12 How can God be known? Human reason seeks the sufficient explanation for everything. If a cat wandered into this room, we would all wonder where it came from, how it got inside, etc. There are two possibilities for everything: It explains itself; Something else explains it.

13 How can God be known? If everything were explained by something else, then there would not be a sufficient reason for anything. We would be trying to explain everything with nothing. Therefore, there must be at least one thing which does explain itself, which is its own sufficient reason for being.

14 How can God be known? The universe itself cannot be the thing that explains itself. Everything that makes up the universe is in a state of change, in a state of flux. The change itself needs to be explained. The thing that explains itself just is, always existing, without any change (otherwise it would depend on something else).

15 How can God be known? Something to note: When we use reason alone to prove that God exists, we cannot prove everything about God all at once. We must prove separately that there is only one God, that God is good, that he is almighty, that he is eternal, that he is omniscient, etc.

16 What about faith? Faith is a supernatural virtue by which we believe what God has revealed because of God's authority. Reason tells us that God cannot be deceived and that he cannot deceive us. Reason tells us how to know what God has said (e.g., by looking for signs like miracles, prophesies, the unity and consistency of the Church over the centuries).

17 What about faith? Most of our human knowledge is based on human faith.
I have never been to Europe, but I trust the map makers. I trust that my parents are who they say they are. When someone is credible, it is reasonable to believe them even when you yourself do not see the intrinsic reason why what they say is true.

18 What about faith? God is absolutely credible (as we can know by reason alone). Therefore, it is eminently reasonable to believe what God has told us. God is source of all truth, whether naturally discoverable or supernaturally revealed. Faith, therefore: Builds on reason. Goes beyond reason. Never contradicts reason, science, history, etc.

19 What about faith? When we exercise faith, we do not see the reason why something is true, but we take God's word for it. In the Holy Eucharist, we cannot observe the bread becoming Christ. We cannot measure that change or detect it by our senses in any way. Nevertheless, we know with certainty that the bread has ceased to exist and that Christ is present under the appearance of the bread, since Christ has told us this.

20 What about faith? Your atheist friend may think that faith means believing something unreasonably. He may think that faith is an affirmation based on sentiments, personal convictions, personal opinions, etc. Many, many Christians treat faith this way, especially in various Protestant communities. The Catholic Church condemns the proposition that faith should be based on sentiments or opinions. Faith is not my own theory about God but rather my assent to what God has said about himself. He may think that the existence of God must be taken on faith. Do not try to prove the whole Catholic religion at once!

21 What about faith? Be careful of language. There is only one faith.
We cannot in any way speak about “other faiths.” This would mean that God has revealed the whole of each world religion, i.e., that God has revealed the Muslim religion, the Catholic religion, the Lutheran religion, the Hindu religion, etc. Or, it would mean that faith is a result of man's own efforts to figure out the truth about religion. Faith does not mean “just believing”; it means “believing what God has said because he said it.”

22 Some Tips

23 Some Tips Listen. Really listen to your friend.
Try to understand where he is coming from. Be polite. Don't jump to defend the truth right away. Take a “free market” approach. In the marketplace of ideas, if given an equal chance, the truth will win out.

24 Some Tips Don't live like an atheist when you talk to one.
Pray! God is real and he desires your friend's conversion and salvation, so pray to him. Don't undermine your words by your actions. E.g., if God is so important, then why did you skip Sunday Mass to go to a softball game?

25 Some Tips What kind of atheist is your friend? “There is no god.”
“I just don't believe in god.” “It doesn't matter if there is a god.” “I don't know if there is a god.” “We can't know if there is a god.” “I never thought about it.”

26 Some Tips Why is your friend an atheist? Philosophical reasons?
He has disinterested, speculative reasons for not believing in a god or believing that there is no god. Psychological reasons? His denial of god's existence is based more on emotion and less on reason. No experience of religion? Bad experience of religion?

27 Some Tips Assume the best.
Assume the best about your friend's motives. Does your friend think religion is superstitious? Does he think faith is opposed to reason? Can't blame him for rejecting superstition and irrationality! Assume the best about your friend's character. He might be a decent person. He might be living a better life than many Christians. Assume the best about your friend's methods. Assume he is sincerely seeking the truth as best he can.

28 Some Tips Assume the worst.
Assume the worst about the way other believers have treated your friend. Assume the worst about your friend's view of God. Does he think that theists conceive of God as just a “bigger” version of creatures? What does your friend think he knows about what Catholics believe? What does your friend think he knows about religious history? Do the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and Galileo come to mind? Hopefully, you will be pleasantly surprised!

29 Some Tips Don't lump all religions together.
Atheists tend to do this. Do not imitate them! Do not act like “religion” is one thing. Different religions may be very, very different. Realize how silly it looks to a non-Christian when there are 20,000 Christian denominations. Do not act like “as long as you believe” it doesn't matter what religion you are. There is only one completely true Church (the Catholic Church) and many partially true religions.

30 Some Tips Leave faith out of it!
You know your friend better than I, but in general: “The Bible says that there is a God” may not be the best starting-place.

31 Some Tips No room for a superior attitude.
Trying to prove that Christians are better people than others is usually met with hostility and sidetracks you into arguments about history. Even when Catholics don't live up to their own rules, they uphold the rules. Stick to what the Church holds and believes, not to whether each and every person lives up to it. Hey, there are lots of saints, too! In fact, it's by living up to the Church's faith that sinners become saints.

32 Some Tips Have joy. Are you happy, grateful, and joyful to be a Catholic?

33 Some Tips Your friend is probably not Immanuel Kant.
Your friend most likely does not have a strong philosophical background. Has he studied logic, epistemology, metaphysics, etc.? Your friend may have read a few “Off-the-shelf Barnes & Noble” books on religion or atheism. E.g., books by Dawkins or Harris. Such books are usually very deficient in their understanding of metaphysics and just plain wrong about how the philosophical proofs of God's existence work. The authors of these books often present a confused “straw man” version of theists' arguments and then refute them.

34 Some Tips Sentiments, anecdotes, and fear may not help.
These can sometimes be helpful, but can often be off-putting. These are the weakest reasons to believe in God. “I just know in my hear that there is a God” may be great for you but is unlikely to convince your friend. “Aren't you afraid of going to Hell?” may not encourage your friend to give this serious thought. Your goal is to get your friend to put time and thought into what you are saying.

35 Some Tips Be open to the truth.
You want to model for your friend a humble, open attitude toward the truth. All truth comes from God and points back to him in some way. Accept the truth wherever it is found. Be really concerned with what is true not just with being right or winning arguments. If you don't know something, admit it (and find out). You can learn from your friend.

36 The End

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