The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Taking on the Know-Nothing Atheists

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The Christian faith is being attacked from all sides—from classrooms to billboards. As any student of the Bible and later history knows, there’s nothing new in this. It’s not a sign that the world is coming to an end. A majority of Christians never learn how to defend what they believe. Some claim that Christians should not be involved in arguments about the Christian faith because it’s not “spiritual” or the loving thing to do. Support for this opinion cannot be found in the Bible. In fact, Christians are commanded to defend the faith: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). In Jude we are told to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

There are numerous accounts in the New Testament where such defenses—arguments and contentions—are made, even though there was a high price to pay. The apostles defended the faith and were beaten and imprisoned for their efforts (Acts 4). Stephen contended “earnestly for the faith,” and his own countrymen stoned him to death (Acts 7). Paul offered his defense of Christianity before Greek philosophers (Acts 17:22–34), his own countrymen (Acts 22–23), and Roman civil officials (Acts 24–26). He was ready and eager to defend the faith before Caesar himself (Acts 25:11, 32).

Christians are called on to “examine everything carefully” (1 Thess. 5:21). John warns us not to “believe every spirit” but to “test” them “to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Notice that we are to examine everything, not just so-called “religious” issues. Furthermore, we are not to assume that just because a person has a string of degrees after his name or has compiled what he claims is “conclusive evidence” in support of his worldview that we should fail to put his dogmatic theories to the test.

But on what does the apologist stand to make his case? He cannot use himself as the standard or even the expert opinion of others. Furthermore, the Christian apologist must recognize that his opponent is not the final arbiter of truth. We should never entertain the thought that our philosophical foes are the designated cosmic judge and jury in determining whether God is just and His Word is true. Our task is not to present the Christian faith as a debatable hypothesis, a study in probability, or just one religious option among many. We should never say, “You be the judge.” In a biblical defense of the Christian faith, God is not the one on trial. Modern man, however, does not see it this way. C. S. Lewis points out:

The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock [the enclosure where a prisoner is placed in an English criminal trial]. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.

How can a finite, fallible, and fallen being ever be a qualified judge of eternal things? How is it possible that the creature can legitimately question the Creator? God asks Job: “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (Job 40:1). Job responded, knowing the limitations of his own nature, the only way he could: “Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth” (40:4). God asks Job a series of questions that demonstrate how limited he is in knowledge and experience. God inquires of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth! Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements, since you know?” (38:4). Job was trying to figure out the world and the way it works based on his own limited frame of reference. This is an impossible and immoral task.

The Christian apologist does not have the option of taking a so-called neutral position when defending the faith. Even if a Christian wanted to be neutral, he couldn’t be. Neutrality is impossible. Even in the scientific field, where objectivity is thought to be synonymous with impartiality, neutrality is unobtainable. Every scientist approaches the facts with firmly entrenched assumptions about reality. This is why a creationist and evolutionist, while looking at the same evidence, come to different conclusions about what they see.

Given that neutrality is impossible, how is the Christian apologist to argue with someone who holds a contradictory set of assumptions? Christians are commanded not to “answer a fool according to his folly.” Why? He’ll be “like him” in his misguided assumptions and will also be classified as a “fool” (Prov. 26:4). The Bible assumes that worldviews based on presuppositions that are contrary to the Bible are foolishness. This is why Scripture states emphatically and without apology that the professed atheist is a “fool” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). How can an insignificant creature who is smaller than an atom when compared to the vastness of the universe be so dogmatic?

There’s not much maneuvering room here. If we abandon the governing assumptions of the Christian worldview from the start and argue from a supposed neutral starting point, we place ourselves in the same category as the atheist, all in the name of “defending the Christian faith”! This means that the starting point in the Christian worldview is not subjective; it’s not just one debatable opinion among many others.

Of course, the unbeliever doesn’t like to hear this. It means that he is not in control. It’s no wonder that the Apostle Paul explains the reality of unbelieving thought in stark and uncompromising terms:

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Greeks foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:18–25).

An apologetic methodology that claims a Christian should be “open,” “objective,” and “tolerant” of all opinions when the faith is defended is like a person who hopes to stop a man from committing suicide by taking the hundred-story plunge with him, hoping to convince the lost soul on the way down. No one in his right mind would make such a concession to foolishness. But Christians do it all the time when they adopt the operating presuppositions of unbelieving thought as if they were neutral assumptions about reality.

While the Bible maintains that the Christian apologist is prohibited from adopting the starting point of unbelieving thought, he is encouraged to show the unbeliever the end result of his foolish philosophical principles if they are consistently followed. As defenders of the only true faith, we are to “answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:5). That is, we are to put the unbeliever’s worldview to the test, showing how absurd it is when followed consistently. A world without God and moral absolutes leads to despair and moral anarchy. Isaiah Berlin (1907–1997), philosopher and historian, demonstrates that worldview ideas have this-world consequences:

The world of a man who believes that God created him for a specific purpose, that he has an immortal soul, that there is an afterlife in which his sins will be visited upon him, is radically different from the world of a man who believes in none of these things; and the reasons for action, the moral codes, the political beliefs, the tastes, the personal relationships of the former will deeply and systematically differ from those of the latter. Men’s views of one another will differ profoundly as a very consequence of their general conception of the world: the notions of cause and purpose, good and evil, freedom and slavery, things and persons, rights, duties, laws, justice, truth, falsehood, to take some central ideas completely at random, depend entirely upon the general framework within which they form, as it were, nodal points. [1]

There is no escape from the reality that all of life is evaluated in terms of an already adopted worldview. That evaluation comes by way of certain worldview assumptions that are shaped by religious convictions that ultimately have moral, social, and cultural ramifications, for either good or evil.

All worldviews are by definition belief systems. A person does not have to believe in God to be considered religious. “Richard Dawkins has publicly admitted: ‘I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all “design” anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection.’” [2] How would the atheist react if a Christian wrote in a similar way? “I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of a sovereign God.” John H. Dietrich admits that he is a religious humanist.

For centuries the idea of God has been the very heart of religion; it has been said, “No God, no religion.” But humanism thinks of religion as something very different and far deeper than any belief in God. To it, religion is not the attempt to establish right relations with a supernatural being, but rather the up-reaching and aspiring impulse in a human life. It is the striving for its completest fulfillment, and anything which contributes to this fulfillment is religious, whether it be associated with the idea of God or not. [3]

Since we are all limited in knowledge and restrained by our inability to be everywhere (omnipresence) and know everything (omniscience), an atheist puts forth his claim that God does not exist in terms of a faith commitment. When the late Carl Sagan wrote, “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” [4] he was making a declaration of faith, a statement of his ultimate presupposition of what he believed to be real and true. There is no way he could be assured that God does not exist based on his limited knowledge and experience and the limited knowledge and experience of others. Sagan admitted that “the size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding.” [5] Even so, he was convinced that the material world was all that existed. He believed one thing to be true and dismissed any worldview that did not conform to it without having all the facts or the ability to understand fully what he did know. Sagan’s assertions do not conform to reality. Greg Koukl describes the inevitability of belief:

Everybody believes something, and even what appears to be a rejection of all beliefs is a kind of belief. We all hold something to be true. Maybe what you hold true is that nothing else is true, but that is nonetheless something you believe.

Even if you are agnostic, you believe that it is not possible to know things about ultimate issues like the existence of God. You believe in the justifiability of your agnosticism—your uncertainty—and you have a burden of proof to justify your unwillingness to decide. There is nowhere someone can stand where he or she has no beliefs.

If you reject Christianity, there is something else that you end up asserting by default. [6]

Once a person rejects Christianity, he has not set himself free from the concept of faith. He has only transferred his faith to something or someone else.

For Sagan, the cosmos is god, a glorious accidental substitute for what he assured himself were ancient, pre‑scientific beliefs about the deity and the origin and nature of the universe. The very idea of a personal God, in Sagan’s worldview, is simply “the dreams of men.” [7] Even so, Sagan’s worldview is fundamentally religious. He did not entertain the possibility that his own worldview was simply the dreams of an atheist. Sagan’s starting point—his ultimate presupposition—evaluates all that he sees or doesn’t see in the cosmos. There is no belief more fundamental. All that follows in the Cosmos worldview is measured by his one‑sentence, presuppositional yardstick: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” William Fix doesn’t allow Sagan to get away with his claim of “objectivity”:

When Sagan excludes even the possibility that a spiritual dimension has any place in his cosmos—not even at the unknown, mysterious moment when life began—he makes accidental evolution the explanation for everything. Presented in this way, evolution does indeed look like an inverted religion, a conceptual golden calf, which manages to reek of sterile atheism. It is little wonder that many parents find their deeper emotions stirred if they discover this to be the import of Johnny’s education. [8]

Sagan worshiped an eternal cosmos that he presupposed is an evolutionary substitute for the eternal God of the Bible who gives life and meaning to the cosmos. Sagan said it like this: “It is the universe that made us. . . . We are creatures of the cosmos. . . . Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed, not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.” [9] The primordial biotic soup nourished our ancient ancestors as they emerged from that first ocean of life. These memories, according to Sagan, are eternally etched on our evolved psyche.

The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows this is from where we came. We long to return. These aspirations are not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods may be. [10]

How can anyone know this? Such a belief is nothing more than a hypothesis, and not a very good one at that. This isn’t science. It borders on mysticism. Sagan maked it clear that there are no transcendent personal “gods” in his universe, only “accidents” [11] that somehow developed into design and meaning.

At times, however, Sagan mused rhapsodic over a seemingly benign reverence for the cosmos that hints at a deep religious commitment to atheism and elements of paganism. “Our ancestors worshipped the sun,” he reflects, “and they were far from foolish. It makes good sense to revere the sun and the stars, because we are their children.” [12] But who made the cosmos? How did the cosmos get here? Why is there design, order, and complexity in the cosmos? Sagan never answered these questions. He couldn’t as long as the cosmos is all that is ever was or ever will be, and he remained a finite creature who had limited knowledge of the universe and access to it.

Defending the biblical worldview means pointing out that all of us argue from a non-neutral starting point. None of us is objective. The facts are interpreted in terms of out belief patterns, our presuppositions. The Christian is not given an option of arguing from a supposed neutral starting point. If he begins with the assumption that God’s Word is not true, then he adopts the worldview assumptions of unbelievers and is a fool, biblically speaking. And that’s the worst kind.

  1. Originally appeared in Isaiah Berlin’s Concepts and Categories and cited in the London Daily Telegraph (November 7, 1977).[]
  2. [1]“Dawkins made this remark in response to a question posed by the New York Times to a number of prominent scientists: ‘What do you believe what you cannot prove?’ The Times published the responses on January 4, 2005.” Quoted in Robert Royal, The God that Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), xii, 277.[]
  3. John. H. Dietrich, “The Advance of Humanism,” A Free Pulpit in Action, ed. Clarence Russell (Boston: 1931), 24.[]
  4. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4.[]
  5. Sagan, Cosmos, 4.[]
  6. Greg Koukl, “You’ve Got to Believe Something,The Plain Truth (January/February 1999), 39.[]
  7. Sagan, Cosmos, 257.[]
  8. William R. Fix, The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution (New York: Macmillan, 1984), xxiv.[]
  9. From the 13-hour long television presentation of Cosmos aired in the fall of 1980. Quoted in Richard A. Baer, Jr., “They Are Teaching Religion in the Public Schools,” Christianity Today (February 17, 1984), 12.[]
  10. Sagan, Cosmos, 5.[]
  11. Sagan, Cosmos, 30.[]
  12. Quoted in Baer, “They Are Teaching Religion in the Public Schools,” 13.[]

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