Reading and Reasoning about Atheists, Part II
As a title I’ve chosen “Reading and Reasoning about Atheists” for a couple of reasons. First of all, I think a Christian is able to tell if someone has atheist beliefs by a critical read of their remarks. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, scripture itself teaches that reasoning with atheists is pointless at best. Proverbs 26:4,5 might make how to respond to atheist’s arguments ambiguous until one understands the verses address the question of how to handle fools. It’s significant for the Christian to remember Psalm 53:1, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,” They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice;…” Their understanding and reasoning is in darkness and corrupt. The Christian believer should remember that though the atheist may display a facade of cerebral acumen as they champion reason above all, they often betray their ignorance and foolishness through faulty logic. God has given the Christian believer access to the Creative Intelligence, therefore the Christian is better off reasoning about atheists and their arguments and leaving the reasoning with them to God. Christ’s dealings with the skeptics of His time on earth demonstrate His adroit conversational ability to handle them and His exchanges deserve to be studied in that context.
One of the characteristics of atheist diatribe is that they pose straw man arguments such as Mr. O’Connell’s as a means of distraction. The rhetorical questions come in hit and run fashion, often dripping with sarcasm, while being uninterested with any direct answers. Any answers to their questions are only met with more questions, so direct responses are generally a waste of time. (See Proverbs 26:4; Matthew 7:6) And such is the case with Mr. O’Connell’s wall of questions. Take Question E for example: “I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself? Actually Exodus 35:2 states, “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.” One could suggest that judge and executioner are two different roles even in these days and that it wouldn’t necessarily require him to carry out the sentence even if he were to rightly judge some infraction of the law. However, O’Connell’s question shows his faulty logic in that it conflates the distinction between punishment of the law and the moral obligation to follow the law. But his worst and most common mistake is his simple misreading of scripture. It so happens from this particular example that his lack of context is conveniently glaring as revealed from the previous verse Exodus 35:1, “Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do:” Unless Mr. O’Connell’s neighbor is of the “congregation of the sons of Israel”, I suspect he has nothing to fear from Mr. O’Connell.
This is just one example, and I could dissect the rest of his ridiculous questions in similar fashion. Atheists simply don’t know how to read scripture, generally because they focus on the particulars without regard for the spirit of the text. Again, their understanding is corrupted and they have not the Holy Spirit who illuminates the understanding of the Word of God. To use a common phraseology, they can’t see the forest for the trees, and I suspect this is an inherent deficiency with atheism and atheists. That Mr. O’Connell chose to use scripture in his attack, and to use it in the characteristically inept fashion he did tells me he’s an atheist.
Even without such use of scripture, though, atheists demonstrate faulty reasoning. Again, their attention to the particulars is the problem. Take the Indian parable of the Elephant and the Blind men, for example. The story is used to demonstrate that all religions, Christian based ones included, are the same. The blind men each can only feel a part of the elephant and describe the part of the elephant they know. All their descriptions are different, but each is describing what they believe is the same elephant. Atheists analogize from this story that they see what the “blind men” don’t. Jesus also speaks of those who see and those who are blind in paradoxical fashion in John 9:39. “I came into the world to judge men…”, He says, meaning He is the measure by which to judge whether humanity sees or not. Actually, by Christ’s measure, it’s the atheist who is blind as well in this story. To tell it they presume to know it’s an elephant in the first place.
Proverbs 26 verses 4 and 5 may appear contradictory at first glance, but these verses taken together show how to handle atheists arguments such as Mr. O’Connell’s. Listen well, and consider a valid point made. Remember the saw about a broken clock being right twice a day, so even an atheist can make one. Correct obvious error. Don’t let someone get away with it lest they think themselves right and continue in error’s path. And on those occasions when atheists make arguments for argument’s sake without interest in true intellectual discourse, don’t respond. Better not to be like them than to be caught up in such foolishness.