How do I respond to this atheistic online tirade?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: [Today’s earnest seeker wanted to know how to respond to an atheist’s online tirade. His question had so many aspects that the best way to answer it was interlineally. This makes the introduction a little awkward. Just be patient with it and you will see what I am up to when you get to the question.]

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries. I want to start by talking about the following two passages.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18–20, NIV)

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)” (Romans 2:14–15, NIV)

In Romans 1:18-20, God puts every human being on notice. Even if you throw away the Bible, there is enough information in the physical creation to learn about God — and so much so — that if you miss it, you are without excuse — and you will be without excuse in the judgment.

In Romans 2:14-15, he does the same thing. Even if you throw away the Bible, there is enough information in the metaphysical creation to hold you culpable on the day of judgment. The witness of God is within us — in the form of the human conscience — testifies that there is a moral ruler in the universe.

So, when an atheist takes a philosophical stand saying that God does not exist, he is ignoring some compelling and constant revelation from without and within (from the universe and from his soul) because the universe can only be explained as the creation of a transcendent being, and an atheist’s self-awareness is testimony that he has an immortal soul.

But the witness of the Bible is different; it’s more for insiders... for people with the indwelling Holy Spirit... for those who know God personally. It is still God’s special revelation to every person, but not every person will receive it as such. This is the price of free will in human beings.

At the end of the book of Acts, the apostle Paul had reached his final destination — Rome. But even though he was officially the apostle to the Gentiles, when he entered a new area, he went into the synagogue and tried to persuade the Jews about Jesus Christ. The following passage is about the last time he did this.

“They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: “ ‘Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Acts 28:23–27, NIV)

I bring up this passage to establish a final overarching theme in answering your question. If the Jews — who were trained to study Scripture and were expecting the Messiah — didn’t “get” what God was doing because they already had their minds made up that he was doing something else, how much less the hapless pagan who is regurgitating clichéd arguments against God! I am praying for this individual right now. However, I cannot let his assertions stand.

Now, I’m going to do something I rarely do in answering your question. I usually tackle questions as a whole. But yours has so many important points along the way that I don’t know if I could accomplish that task by talking about them all in one place. So I’m going to answer it interlineally. That is, I will insert comments interspersed with your text, tagged appropriately (I hope). Here goes.

[Questioner] [Introduction] I came across a YouTube video made by an atheist that lays out what can only be described as the gutsiest attempt at refusing the existence of the God of the Bible ever devised by a non-Christian skeptic.

[Argument] [The atheists says that] the theist view of God is actually far more insulting than the atheist view. It is commonly held that the atheist is the offensive one, that the nonbeliever must walk on eggshells, and be considerate of the beliefs of others. That seems backwards to me.

[Me] Good. You’re postulating the right kind of God! By way of contrast, our skeptic is postulating a petty God like those of classical mythology. Today they are seen as silly stories... of course... which gives his insults more of an edge.

[Argument]  What if there is a god and that god is offended at the thought of people believing he desires worship and praise, demands it even, for eternity - like some petty narcissist?

[Me] The term “petty narcissist” is the best proof that he is talking about the God he has made up — inspired, I’m sure, by the gods of classical mythology. The god he is describing is not the God of the Bible, nature, natural philosophy or philosophy. The person who posted this is simply uninformed.

[Argument] What if that god is disappointed in those who expected him to torture their enemies? What if the believers and the nonbelievers are made to face their creator, and it is the believers who must answer for their offensive beliefs?

[Me] Via these “what ifs,” the skeptic has verified that he has indeed just made this stuff up. My question is, what gives him the right to define God? Is he a philosopher, a theologian or some kind of academic specialist? Or is he just a blogger turning clichés into a big internet production? Remember, passion does not turn non-truth into truth… and a big production does not turn a cliché into original material.

[Questioner] Even if that’s the case, I don’t think any of us would have anything to worry about, believer and nonbeliever alike, because any mind capable of creating this universe would be enlightened to the point of being beyond such petty concerns.

[Me] Good! You’re postulating the right kind of God whereas the skeptic is postulating a petty god like those of classical mythology. These do not exist, neither does this skeptic’s version of God. This is what we call strawmanning: he is building a “straw” version of the real God (as a person would build the straw version of a real man, hence “strawmanning”) to knock him down.

[Me] Except to identify it as such, do not engage in a strawman argument. Since no logical entity is in view with such characterizations, there is nothing to argue about! As such, it would be a waste of time to dwell on it.

[Argument] In the video, you have a hypothetical scenario where an atheist, a Christian and a Muslim die and stand before God to be judged. However, "God" allows the atheist to go to Heaven but pronounces a harsher judgment on the CHRISTIAN and MUSLIM.

[Me] Here he postulates a God that violates a person’s free will when it comes to choosing heaven or hell. That’s not at all who God is. God allows people to choose hell... and inferring that he doesn’t show that the skeptic has not thought about God or human beings ontologically.

[Me] It is evident that human beings have free will. And without the free choices of human beings, why would God have even bothered to create anything? … I mean... what would he be trying to prove — that he could make things? We know he can make things... and he knows he can make things. The creation is itself a revelation of his purposes for humankind.

[Questioner] Through this hypothetical, the atheist seems to insinuate that all of the Biblical teachings of God are merely mankind's way of projecting their man-made expectations of God onto a Being that their finite minds cannot understand, something that the atheist believes God-if He exists-would find more offensive than mere unbelief.

[Me] Again, what’s the big deal? That’s what classical mythology is... people writing mythical stories about their ostensive origins. Abraham, the father of the Judeo-Christian religions, came out of the pagan culture. Most Christians are converted from pagan cultures... and the Old Testament is laced with stories of pagan influences seeping back into Judaism. Therefore, we should expect pagan images to cross over into the Judeo-Christian culture.

[Me] Again... what’s the big deal? He is accusing us of worshiping a God that is some version of a pagan god. That is simply fallacious. Has he never read history... let alone the history of Christianity... or say, the Bible? Christianity is — by definition — not the worship of a petty God... a God that is just like human beings — only on steroids. That’s a strawman (straw-God) that he made up.

[Me] Do not engage in your mind or on the page with this notion. To do so gives credence to the straw-god — and it wastes your time! Since no entity exists except in the atheist’s mind, you are under no obligation to engage ideas about it.

[Questioner] I've struggled with the implications of this argument, which brings me to my questions regarding how to Biblically tackle this argument.

[Me] Since this is a strawman argument, you do not have to respond to it logically. (He admits that he’s making this God up for purposes of the discussion.) As such, do not spend any more time worrying about it.

[Questioner] Where in the Bible can I go to in order to start finding ways to refute this argument the next time it is raised in a theological discourse? As always, from a Biblical perspective, my biggest question is, Biblically speaking, what's the main error the atheist makes in bringing forth such an assertion against the God of the Bible?

[Me] A farmer told me that there are two reasons why you should not try to teach a pig to sing. First, you can’t do it. Second, it annoys the pig. This is why you should not quote Scripture to an atheist. First, it’s a foreign language to him. Second, you are telling him that you do not understand his position... I mean... he is an atheist... and reading Scripture feels like you are trying to cast a spell on him. Why else would you be spouting Scripture to a person who has gone out of his way to tell you that he doesn’t believe that the purported author of the Scripture even exists?

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6, NIV)

[Me] Don’t get me wrong. I am not telling you to ignore Scripture. It is the source and the touchstone for truth! But to unbelievers, we are using circular veridity: the Bible testifies that God exists, and God testifies that the Bible is true. They are right, by the way: that is circular reasoning! But it’s circular reasoning if those were the only factors — and they are not the only factors.

[Me] The Holy Spirit is the other factor — the indwelling Holy Spirit, that is. He testifies that God exists and that his word is true.

[Me] Now, the Holy Spirit works on everybody from the outside — including atheists and skeptics — but he doesn’t always prevail (… free will being what it is). Cheer up, though. We have other weapons for that part of the fight... weapons of pure logic and reason.

[Me] Have you ever heard of The Moral Argument for the Existence of God or Leibniz’s Contingency Argument? These are just two of the extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God. Reasonable Faith Ministries specializes in this type of ministry, so I will give you a link to a list of 19 five-minute videos that argue a broad range of Christian claims from outside of the Bible — because this is where you engage the atheist.

(Here is that link: http://mainsailministries.org/index.php/handy-data/756-a-list-of-short-videos-from-reasonable-faith-ministries.html.)

That’s all I have for you today. I pray that my observations have helped you more than they have confused you. God bless you.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20220110 How should we respond to atheistic tirades? ).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)