Bob Seidensticker over a Patheos wrote a piece a couple of years ago regarding the ten most common arguments of atheism regarding its basis for rejecting Christianity and defended those arguments. The format of Bob’s post is basically a rebuttal to the Christian rebuttal that the argument in question fails. Well, this is a rebuttal to the rebuttal.
There is no evidence for God’s existence.
This is the most common claim from atheism. To fair to Bob, he does not claim that there is no evidence for God’s existence, only that there is not enough evidence to believe that God exists or that the evidence we have is insufficient, weak, or just plain bad. Now, I will admit up front that many Christians employ lots of really bad arguments for God’s existence and a host of other claims made by Christianity. It is my goal to help you avoid making these basic mistakes when proclaiming and defending the claims of Christianity, especially, the gospel of the kingdom.
Before I just plunge into Bob’s claim that the evidence for God’s existence is inadequate, or lacking in some way, I want to deal with a presupposition that Bob brings to the discussion and ask Bob to defend his belief. That’s right, my first objective is to put Bob on the defensive rather than allow Bob to send me off to do all the work. I don’t mind doing work that is necessary and useful. And if Bob asks me a question that requires work on my part, I shall not attempt to avoid my responsibility. But no atheist who claims that the evidence for God’s existence is lacking or inadequate has ipso facto given us work to do. They must do more than that. They must give us a defense of their beliefs around the need for evidences and precisely the degree and type of evidence necessary to support a specific kind of belief. This puts the work back on the atheist. This is the first thing we ought to do with these sorts of atheistic claims.
Second, for the edification of the Christian, you must ask whether or not you have any sort of obligation, ethical or otherwise, to argue for and support the Christian claim that the God revealed in Scripture actually exists. It is one thing to proclaim God’s existence, but it is another thing to convince yourself that you have to give objective proof for that existence. What if God has said that he himself has given enough proof for his own existence? Would we be acting contrary to God if we thought that we had to do something more than simply state what God has already stated? The Christian has an obligation in these situations, but it is not what most apologists claim.
Third, providing proof and persuasion are not the same thing. I can provide all sorts of sound arguments that prove God’s existence but that is not going to persuade men to believe that God exists and that Christianity is true. You see, Christians are not interested in persuading men to believe that God exists. We are interested in seeing men come to true faith in Christ. Christian apologetics is should not be a hobby for the intellectually bored Christian seeking to entertain one’s intellect or boost an ego. The apostle Paul gave us the textbook example for doing apologetics in Acts 17. He provided a sound argument. Everything he said was true and right. But he persuaded almost no one! Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. [Acts 17:32-34]
Fourth, when the gospel is presented accurately, the atheist will examine it in light of their own criteria and always determine that it is moronic and irrational. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [1 Cor. 1:18] This is why Paul goes on to say, look around you and notice, there are not a lot of philosophers in the Christian ranks. There is a reason for that! God has deliberately purposed to call few of those types to himself. He has deliberately purposed to call few from the rich, the mighty and the powerful. Few successful businessmen are called. Few politicians are called. Few from the powerful are called. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [1 Cor. 1:20] And again, For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [1 Cor. 1:26] Yet, for some reason, many Christian apologists have as their primary motive the goal to restore the intellectual credibility of Christianity to these very elites of society. We preach Christ crucified and God alone persuades men and he does so without our sophistry, our arguments, or our rhetoric. Any persuasive attempts we make are simply demonstrated in a passionate presentation and defense of the gospel.
Now, back to the most common atheist objection we encounter: There is no evidence for God’s existence. The first thing you want to do is to respond to the atheist with two questions: 1) What do you mean by “God?” This forces the atheist to get specific about the God for which he claims there is either no or insufficient evidence for. This is important. Do not skip this step. 2) What do you mean by evidence? This is the more complex question and it gives the Christian the opportunity to dissect the atheist’s epistemology. As you can see, when this objection is issued to the Christian, the Christian ought to turn the tables on the atheist and put him on the defensive. You should know that no atheist worth his salt would claim that there is no evidence for God. The minute an atheist says that to me, I know that I am dealing with an unskilled and ignorant individual. At least I know what I am dealing with in advance.
Seidensticker goes on to say, As for atheists demanding evidence, well yeah. How else do we reliably understand something? If you sense a truth in a vague way that no one else can experience or verify, that may be important to you, but it is useless in convincing others. You wouldn’t be convinced by that argument from some other religion, so why should I accept it from you? Once again, Seidenstricker will have to do better than this. Does Seidensticker believe that all truths come with the same kind of evidence? I had a dream this week that I went sky diving. How on earth can I prove this to Seidensticker or anyone else for that matter? Does my inability to prove that I had this dream mean that I should abandon the belief or that the belief is somehow irrational, inferior, or lacking in some way? You see, Seidensticker goes too far in this statement. The question is not that our arguments have to be convincing. The question is whether or not God exists and whether or not the Christian belief that he does exist is somehow unwarranted, irrational, unjustifiable, and should be abandon. Second, if Siedensticker were given the very same evidence that Christians have for their belief in God, he would be convinced of its truthfulness. That is the claim Christianity makes. Third, Seidensticker has enough evidence to know that God exists. Even though he does not have the same amount or quality of evidence that a Christian has, he has enough evidence to conclude that God is there and that God is his creator. Romans 1:19-20 – “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” You see, according to God, I can say with the fullest authority and conviction that Bob Seidensticker indeed has more than enough evidence to conclude that God exists. In fact, I can say that Bob Seidensticker knows that God exists even though he willingly suppresses that knowledge so that in his own experience and by his own doing, he thinks that he does not know that God exists because he has truly and successfully deceived himself into thinking that he does not have this knowledge of God.
Hypothetical Exchange with Bob
Bob S – We should have sufficient evidence for all our beliefs. There is insufficient evidence for the belief that God exists. Therefore, we should not believe that God exists.
Response – Why do beliefs require any evidence, let alone sufficient evidence?
Bob S – Sufficient evidence is required if beliefs are to be considered rational.
Response – Can you provide sufficient evidence for your belief that all rational beliefs are accompanied with sufficient evidence?
Bob S – The belief that all beliefs should have evidence supporting them is self-evident.
Response – To say that a belief is self-evident is to say that its denial entails a contradiction. How does the denial of the belief that all beliefs should have evidence entail a contradiction? To say that a belief is self-evident is to say that it is a basic belief and such beliefs are not based on any other belief. But the belief that all beliefs should have evidence is based is not a basic belief. It is based on the belief that there are degrees of evidence that warrant belief and that do not. The very argument you are putting forward introduces the concept of ethics of belief. Clearly then, the belief that all beliefs should have evidence supporting them requires evidence supporting it. I don’t believe that atheism is capable of providing such evidence.
Bob S – Are you saying that beliefs do not require evidence supporting them?
Response – No, I am not saying that at all. I am saying the type of belief always determines the sort of evidence that should accompany it. There must be some standard by which beliefs are measured in order to determine if they should be received or rejected. For the Christian, that standard is divine revelation, or what you know as the Bible. Here is where you would transition to a positive presentation of the gospel. This is your objective from the start.
The practice of apologetics is the practice of proclaiming the gospel. A perfectly holy God created man. Man rebelled against his creator and as a result was cursed by God. Man died in his sin, separated from God. God, rich in mercy, sent his Son to live and die on behalf of man. Christ kept the perfect law of righteousness for us but he also took our punishment, dying on the cross for the sin and rebellion we committed against God. Faith in Christ saves man from his cursed condition. Because Christ raised from the dead we can know that faith in his name results in eternal life for us as well. Whoever confesses Christ and believes that God has raised him from the dead, that one shall be saved.
Do you want to do the work of an apologist? Then begin and end with the life-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the most potent weapon against unbelief that God has entrusted to the Church.
Clifford B. McManis, Biblical Apologetics