You may have run into this yourself. If not, it’s at least good to be aware of it. When conversing with atheists and skeptics over the years, I’ve learned to be careful with three terms:
The word “God” can be an overgeneralization; it means too many different things to too many different people. One may be thinking of a fairy in the sky or flying spaghetti monster (one thing among many). Another thinks of the ground of all being or being itself, or the one “unconditioned reality”, or perhaps…“Father”. I have been told that is inconsequential in discussing God’s existence, and I always object because thinking matters. What we think relates to what we believe and ultimately what we do. Two people may use the term “fetus”. One is thinking of a person in the earliest stage of life just as valid as any other stage (a person exists). Another is thinking of a non-person with no right to be alive (a person does not exist). The difference is life and death.
Another allegory I use is about two small fish in a vast ocean debating the existence of water. If one fish thinks of water as just another thing in the ocean (one thing among many), then the search for water would be basically the same as the search for a rock, a sunken ship or a swimming seaweed monster. The search strategy would be completely different if the thinking was different. In general we do not think about water being in the ocean. We are more apt to say the ocean is water.
Just as there are different kinds of “believers” there are different kinds of atheists. I’ve heard the term “weak atheist”, which to me is basically the same as a lazy agnostic. When pressed with some deliberate questioning, a lot of answers from the weak atheist are “don’t know/don’t care” or “no way to know.” A strong atheist is more “evangelical” and eager to prove their point. In general, if you push with some hard questions about The Good, The Beautiful and The True, you’ll quickly find out if you are dealing with a strong or weak atheist. Lately however, I prefer the term “skeptic” to cover all levels of atheism.
Beware that general topics about The Good, the Beautiful and The True can trigger many tangents about specific Church teachings, Church history, Church scandals and things in the Bible that are positioned as not so good or beautiful or true. Jumping into these topics right away with a skeptic is like debating the interior design of a house before the basic structure of the building is thoroughly considered. All of it is important, but the foundation comes first.
Some come off as self-proclaimed authorities on evidence. Only sensory/empirical/scientific data is valid evidence. Data from metaphysics, philosophy, witness testimony, inferences and other modes of reasoning are generally dismissed. This is contradictory because saying empirical data is the only valid way to prove something is a philosophical statement that cannot be proven empirically.
Besides the inherent contradiction, please note that everyone believes things they can’t prove…at least not empirically or via a scientific method. Every skeptic I’ve ever dialogued with was both pro-choice and pro-gay to some extent…if the topics ever happened to come up. Can you name the scientist that proved human life does not begin at conception, or the science that confirmed an unborn baby is actually a non-person? You can’t because there is no such scientist and there is no such science. There is no proof, yet people accept these things as dogma. Is homosexual behavior normal? What do we learn from biology and the design of certain body parts? What kind of behavior is ordered to the design and what kind of behavior is disordered to the design? What does the evidence tell us? I’m often reminded that homosexual behavior is observed in some animals, so this proves it is natural and therefore normal. I often need to remind others that some animals will also eat their young. When we look to animal behavior as a guide for human behavior the effect of original sin that dims the intellect is easy to see.
Conversing with skeptics can be very interesting if it’s done civilly, but it is regrettable how many scholars need to spend a lot of time showing how God exists rather than taking that time to help discern God’s revelation in the modern world. It’d be like continuously debating your own existence as opposed to discerning the best way to live. Years ago I too was a skeptic, but I made a decision to enter the faith experiment in the laboratory of my life. If I had not made that decision, I may have been permanently paralyzed by wrapping my own head around a metaphysical axle, as I see many others doing today. No wonder the end of the Bible seems to push us for a decision…
“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)
This article from the New York Post describes yesterday’s Texas shooter as a militant atheist. Not to pick on atheists, but if the shooter were militantly religious, I’d bet we’d all know about it quickly. If he were militantly Christian, we’d never hear the end of it.
Top photo by Deutsche Fotothek, CC BY-SA 3.0 de