Dave Armstrong vs. the Atheists
Dave Armstrong is a braver man than I: he attended a “secular Bible study” in his native Detroit in order to answer questions about the Christian (in Dave’s case, Roman Catholic) position on Scripture. In all, 16 atheists attended to ask Dave questions.
Dave was fortunate to get a good group. They were open to dialog. Not like the group of militant anti-Christian atheists that populate the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees discussion board. (That was a waste of my time; why did I even sign up and post at all?) The majority of Internet atheists are the militant variety who refuse to listen to any Christian response to their nonsense.
Dave had a few great insights into the atheist mindset that are worth a short discussion. First:
DagoodS asked the group (17 including myself) how many believed that miracles occur. I was the only one to raise my hand. Then he asked how many believed that miracles might possibly occur. Jon raised his hand, and possibly one other. Only one or two even allowed the bare possibility. This exactly illustrated the point I was to make.
DagoodS was saying that it is more difficult to believe an extraordinary miracle or event than to believe in one that is more commonplace. True enough as far as it goes. But I said (paraphrasing), “you don’t believe that any miracles are possible, not even this book raising itself an inch off the table, so it is pointless for you to say that it is hard to believe in a great miracle, when in fact you don’t believe in any miracles whatsoever.” No response. . . .
This being the case, for an atheist (ostensibly with an “open mind”) to examine evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, is almost a farcical enterprise from the start (at least from a Christian perspective) because they commence the analysis with the extremely hostile presuppositions of: (1) No miracles can occur in the nature of things; (2) #1 logically follows because, of course, under fundamental atheist presuppositions, there is no God to perform any miracle; (3) The New Testament documents are fundamentally untrustworthy and historically suspect, having been written by gullible, partisan Christians; particularly because, for most facts presented therein, there is not (leaving aside archaeological evidences) written secular corroborating evidence.
It’s funny to me how atheists start, as Dave points out, with the three-fold notion that no miracles are possible, the New Testament documents are worthless as history, and that God doesn’t exist and can somehow say with a straight face that they are being open minded about whether the Resurrection happened and that they are examining the issues honestly and without bias. Sure.
Dave rightly concludes:
[T]hey think that such an examination of the Resurrection is an objective endeavor on their part, as if they will come to any other conclusion than the foregone one that they have already decided long since, upon the adoption of their atheism? And we are the ones who are constantly excoriated for being so “inflexible” and “dogmatic” and “closed-minded” to any other truths besides Christian ones?
Next, Dave observes:
I noted . . . that people . . . are always criticizing popes (and the Church as a whole) for supposedly declaring things by fiat and with raw power, apart from rational deliberation and intellectual reflection (which is a myth), yet on the other hand, if they take centuries to let the Church reflect and ponder important issues, . . . by not yet declaring something at the highest levels of authority, then they get blasted for being indecisive and wishy-washy and lacking authority.
He’s absolutely right. I note a variation of this theme in a reply to John Loftus. Christians (in the eyes of atheists) are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. A similar sentiment is expressed (rather crudely) in a Reddit thread of questions theists can’t answer. If we engage the arguments, then we make ourselves look bad because we’re making it all up anyway. But if we don’t engage the argument, then it means the atheist is on to something and we’re refusing to acknowledge it. As Dave continues:
If we do one thing we are wrong and stupid and illogical because of thus-and-so. If we do the exact opposite and contrary of that, we are still wrong and stupid and illogical for reasons that utterly contradict those of the prior criticism. And so on and on it goes. The only thing that critics of Catholicism “know” is that the Catholic Church is always wrong. That is the bottom line.
I like how Dave compares the skeptics approach to the Bible to a butcher approaching a hog:
DagoodS’ specialty (like that of many atheists of a certain sort; especially former Christians) is relentlessly trying to poke holes in the Bible and dredging up any conceivable so-called “contradiction” that he can find. It’s the hyper-rationalistic, “can’t see the forest for the trees” game. As I’ve often said, such a person approaches the Bible like a butcher approaches a hog. Their mind is already made up. If they go looking for errors and “contradictions” they will assuredly always “find” them.
Confirmation bias. They see a perceived error, but what happens when the Christian clarifies the perceived error, demonstrating that it isn’t really an error? They ignore us:
And if a Christian spends the great deal of laborious, tedious time required to debunk and refute these in order to show how they are not, in fact, contradictions (as I and many others have done), they simply ignore that as of no consequence and go their merry way seeking out more of the same.
It never ends. Dave says it’s like being on a boat where the atheist is drilling holes that the Christian has to patch. Each time the Christian patches a hole, the atheist happily drills another, this time on the other side of the boat.
It’s appropriate that Dave notes the new hole is often drilled on the other side of the boat. I’ve found that atheists, once having been refuted on one topic, will immediately switch to a completely different topic. For example, if they bring up three Bible “contradictions” which the Christian easily fixes, they will immediately switch to philosophical worldview arguments.
This scatter shot approach gives the atheist a big advantage. They just keep flinging charges from all categories of apologetics until they hit an area where the apologist under fire isn’t very strong. (In my case, that would be history.) Then they declare victory by default, since the apologist is forced to say “I don’t know.”
Saying “I don’t know” is the mark of an excellent scientist, according to the Reddit thread I referenced earlier, but a terrible apologist. Of course, according to that same Reddit thread, the very fact that some theists don’t ever admit they don’t know is a sign they’re full of it. So theism really loses either way, I guess!
Dave hits the goal of apologetics on the head:
In all likelihood, judging from his [DagoodS’s] past responses, any such replies will have no effect on him, but they can help Christians see the bankruptcy of atheist anti-biblical arguments, and those on the fence to avoid falling into the same errors of logic and fallacious worldviews built upon such errors.
And that is the whole goal of apologetics, and particularly the dialogical apologetics that I specialize in: to help people (by God’s grace) avoid theological and philosophical errors and to be more confident in their Christian and Catholic beliefs, by understanding solid intellectual rationales for same. We remove obstacles and roadblocks. What the person will do with that information is a function of their minds and free wills and God’s grace, and that is out of the apologist’s hands.
That’s just it. This is the reason I’ve quit the Why Won’t God Heal Amputees forum. None of those people will be affected by anything I have to say; they’ve made up their minds and are totally set in their rebellion against God. I don’t see honest seekers delving into that forum and finding my apologetics. Therefore, since my goal is to work on those who are honestly seeking truth, it is worthless to speak in a forum where everyone has already made up their minds. No good can come of this.
Dave is absolutely right. The goal of apologetics isn’t to argue someone to faith. The road to the Cross is something a person must walk down of their own volition. We can’t make them do this. But we can fill in some of the potholes on the road for them.
Posted on December 4, 2010, in Apologetics, Roman Catholicism, WWGHA and tagged atheism, Bible, Christianity, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Religion and Spirituality, Worldview. Bookmark the permalink. 78 Comments.