Lesson 5: Christian Responses to Atheism

Lesson 5: Christian Responses to Atheism

In the last lesson, we looked at several common claims made by atheists.

In this lesson we’ll evaluate some of these assertions.

  1. Faith in God is contrary to reason

    1. We must admit that some religions have little connection to rationality. Some religions make statements that are clearly unreasonable and even ridiculous. For example, Hinduism asserts that the world rests upon an elephant and the elephant rests upon a tortoise. Zen Buddhism suggests one should listen for the sound of “one hand clapping.” Many religions include mystical, contradictory, nonsensical elements. Reason or logic has little or no place in many faiths.

    2. Christianity appeals to man’s reason; it claims to make sense and does make sense. The system of Christian thought is logical, consistent, and non-contradictory. God calls his people to “reason together” (Isa 1:18). Reason is not essential to many religions, but it is essential to Christianity.

    3. Atheists commonly allege that the miraculous accounts in the Bible prove it to be an irrational book. However, if God is who He portrays Himself to be in the Bible, miracles are within reason. An omnipotent God has the capacity to do anything He wishes to do, including bypassing or ignoring the laws of nature. Miracles may be remarkable, but they are not irrational.

    4. Religious beliefs are based on historical facts: creation, Abraham and his family, the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, David, Jerusalem, Babylon, etc. Thousands of connections exist between religious statements and historical facts. The most significant historical fact for Christianity is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If this event did not occur, then Christianity has no validity whatsoever.

    5. If religion is contrary to reason, it is remarkable that nearly half of all scientists hold personal religious views.

  1. Humanity does better without religion.

    1. Again, we must admit that some religions have caused greater suffering than they have provided comfort for humanity. Even some forms of Christianity have been and continue to be sources of persecution in some cases. These cases are well known and nobody denies them.

    2. However, Christianity in particular has been the source of incredible benefit to mankind. Many religions, and Christianity in particular, require good works as part of the exercise of that religion. It would be impossible to estimate the millions of good things done on a daily basis by people who are seeking to love their neighbors in the name of Christ. Further, many groups see helping those in need as part of their religious duty. Hospitals, rescue missions, soup kitchens, prison ministries, family ministries, substance abuse programs—all of these and hundreds more are rooted in religious ideas.

    3. Current research has shown that religious belief often aids human life in various ways. In many polls, the happiest, most satisfied people are those who hold religious beliefs. According to a 2007 Gallop poll, at least 6 in 10 Americans who attend church services every week say they are very satisfied with their personal lives and are very happy.1 Many people would confirm that their religious practices make their lives better.

    4. Thinking in evolutionary terms, religion must play some role in survival since nearly all humans have been religious. History shows that religious belief was present very early on in virtually all human civilizations. Since the fittest survive, perhaps religious belief gives believers an advantage over unbelievers. If so, then on a purely practical basis, religion is beneficial for mankind.

  1. Religion is evil and makes people evil. Belief in God is the basis of all sorts of terrible things.

    1. Atheists have no basis to make such a judgment. How can a person with no moral foundation call anything “evil”? If morality is nothing more than human opinion, then “evil” to one person may be “good” to another. Who is to say that oppression, corruption and violence is “bad”? How does an atheist make such a judgment? He cannot. Without some reference to God, there can be no way of judging whether any act is “good” or “evil.”

Atheists claim that they don’t want to be restrained by religious, traditional morality. Yet they still evaluate human behavior in terms of “good” and “evil.” This is self-contradictory and proves atheism to be irrational.

    1. Evolution teaches the survival of the fittest and the strongest. Why should anyone be criticized for asserting his strength over others? What value is there in weakness for an evolutionist? The weak, frail, unproductive or unwanted members of society should be eliminated for the benefit of mankind according to an evolutionary viewpoint. The struggle of the strong against the weak is normal.

    2. From an atheistic point of view, the “terrible things” that occur in society (e.g., war, abuse, racism, violence, etc.) should be seen as natural behavior for human animals. Complaining about such things is inconsistent with their atheism.

  1. There is no particular need for God.

    1. The Bible asserts that people often live without any concern for God; they sense no need for God. The Bible also refers to those who live wicked lives, yet seem to enjoy life and receive no judgment for their evil actions—read Psalm 73:2-14.

Ps 10:4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.

    1. It is evident that many people do sense a need for God—over half the world’s citizens are monotheists. The vast majority of humans would admit a need for God, and many of them would affirm that life is meaningless without God.

    2. Western society is swiftly moving away from the confident statements of modernity and is increasingly embracing a post-modern vision that embraces the divine, the mysterious, the other-worldly. People are finding little satisfaction and meaning in a clinical, scientific viewpoint that reduces humanity to mere chemical reactions.

    3. Evolution and science provide little comfort for those enduring the trials of life. During times of crises, even those professing atheism may admit a need for someone beyond themselves.

  1. Atheism is freeing, liberating.

Ps 2:3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

    1. Religions certainly do impose restrictions upon their followers. Religions typically include many commands to keep and duties to observe. Some people find such requirements and restrictions burdensome and seek to be free of them.

    2. Jesus asserted that his yoke was easy and his burden was light (Mt 11:30). But he also said that his followers would have to give up everything to follow him (Lk 14:33). The Christian life is not only difficult; it is impossible without the grace and mercy of God.

    3. True freedom is found in following Christ obediently. Sin is enslaving (Prov 5:22; John 8:34; Rom 6:16). Ask a drunk or a crack addict or someone with STD’s if he is really free. Many sinful behaviors result in bondage, not freedom. In contrast, becoming a servant of Christ is a path to freedom.

    4. What atheists really want is the freedom to follow their own depraved desires without criticism or judgment. They want to be free of the restrictions typically imposed by Christian values. Yet they don’t want to be free of all morality, just those rules they don’t like.

    5. Christians who think of their faith as a restricting “ball-and-chain” need revival!

  1. No convincing evidence for God’s existence exists.

    1. The Bible asserts that atheists are willfully ignorant of God. They suppress the knowledge of God, exchange the knowledge of God for a lie, and end up worshipping the creature (themselves or “nature”) instead of the Creator (Rom 1:18f).

    2. There is no lack of evidence pointing to God’s existence for those who are open to the idea (Ps 19:1-3; Rom 1:19-20). A denial of this fact is evidence that one is spiritually blind (2 Cor 4:4) and “fleshly” (1 Cor 2:14).

    3. According to the NT, Jesus did many miracles, yet even those who observed such miracles were not necessarily convinced that Jesus was whom he claimed to be. One might wonder what an atheist would consider adequate proof or convincing evidence.

    4. Evidence is over-rated. We believe many things without “sufficient” evidence. If we believed only in those things for which we had a high degree of evidence, we would believe in very little. Further what proof exists that we can believe only when we have sufficient evidence? It’s a self-defeating argument. A person may be rational in holding beliefs even if he cannot provide “adequate” proof for that belief. Proof is not required for belief to be rational.2

    5. Many people have converted to Christianity based on the evidence. Some who set out to disprove Christianity have been led to adopt it based on the evidence supporting it. Examples: Frank Morison, C.S. Lewis, Lew Wallace

    6. Evidence is not really the problem for atheists; hatred for God is. The atheist philosopher Nietzsche expressed the true reason people reject Christianity: “If one were to prove this God of the Christians to us, we should be even less able to believe in him. . . . It is our preference that decides against Christianity, not arguments.”

  1. Religious teachings are repugnant.

    1. We must admit that many religious beliefs are repugnant. Things believed by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others are repelling to Christians. Pseudo-Christian cults teach many ideas that genuine Christians find repugnant.

    2. Christianity is a received faith; Christians do not make it up as they go along. If the Bible presents an accurate picture of God, then we have to take Him as we find Him. We are not free to make God in our image. As creatures, we have no right or capacity to stand in judgment of our Creator. Further, the ways of God are ultimately beyond our comprehension (Isa 55:8-9; Rom 11:33-35).

    3. The doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked is certainly a repulsive idea if you are among the wicked. Even saved people do not find it a comforting thought. However, the justice and righteousness of God demand that sin be condemned and judged. God would be unjust if he did not reward obedience and judge sin.

    4. The Bible expects unbelievers to consider Christians doctrine to be “foolish” (Acts 17:32; 1 Cor 1:18-24; 2 Thes 2:10). A hostile reception to biblical claims is the norm.

    5. Atheism has no capacity or right to make moral judgments about religious ideas. Any such statements by atheists are no more than mere opinion.

  1. Religion is divisive.

    1. Religion does result in the creation of in-groups and out-groups, the “saved” and the “unsaved,” orthodox and heretics, faithful and infidels. Jesus stated that he would create divisions (Mk 10:34-36), so we should expect nothing less.

    2. Division over ideas is inevitable. One could equally say that atheism is divisive. Any opinion has the capacity to divide.

    3. True Christianity is tolerant of other religions. Unlike some religions (e.g., Islam), Christians do not force conversion to Christianity. Some branches of Christianity have been guilty of forced conversions in the past (e.g., the RCC), but genuine Christians have not. Toleration of other faiths does not imply recognition of them as valid or legitimate. Atheists enjoy living in free, tolerant nations because freedom and tolerance are Christian ideas.

  1. Religion has no good explanation for the presence of evil.

    1. Christians have long admitted that the problem of evil is a significant one, not one that can be easily dismissed or explained away. But a religious viewpoint is the only way to approach the problem seriously.

    2. Atheists have no business talking about “evil.” They have no capacity to judge good or evil because they have no foundation for morality. Without such a foundation, all they have is personal opinion and cultural perspective.

    3. From an evolutionary point of view, much of the “evil” an atheist complains about can be explained as the struggle for the survival of the fittest, which should be expected. Why should that be considered “evil”?

    4. God is sovereign and has the right to do with His creatures as He sees fit. He is not subject to human judgment; on the contrary, our judgment is subject to His Word. We can be assured, despite our circumstances, of God’s good character—God is holy, just and good. On that matter God’s Word is clear. God expects us to trust Him, not doubt His good intentions. The very nature of faith is to persevere despite unanswered questions. God’s Word encourages us to hold on tightly to God’s promises and not to be overcome with doubt.3

  1. Science has removed the “need” for God.

We’ll take an entire lesson to consider the relationship between science and religion.

Conclusion: Atheists are making the same claims they have made for the past several centuries, and Christians are providing some of the same answers. Atheists are not satisfied with the answers Christianity provides in the same way that Christians are not moved by the claims or counter-arguments of atheists. Ultimately, this is a spiritual struggle. Only the power of God can cut through the blindness and hatred of an atheist’s heart.

1 http://www.gallup.com/poll/103483/Most-Americans-Very-Satisfied-Their-Personal-Lives.aspx

2 Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict (Zondervan, 1992).

3 John Frame, Apologetics for the Glory of God.


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