Questions from my Atheist Friends: Part 1 (God, Science + Hell)

Photo credit: Gregy Rakozy

Photo credit: Gregy Rakozy

Happy New Year, Lovelies!!!

I realize I’m a bit late with this felicitation, but my first week of the new year got off to a rather interesting start.

On January 1st, in honor of those who received and/or got reacquainted with Christ for the new year, I decided to repost my very first piece 5 Truths About Salvation You Don’t Want to Hear, But Need to Know.  To be sure as many Christians as possible saw it, I purchased a Facebook ad to boost the piece to a few thousand readers across the country.

To my surprise, atheists were among those readers and a few of them made themselves known by voicing their opinion of God and the concept of faith on my Facebook page. (*Shakes fist at Facebook targeting!!!*)

Then, a twitter post later, I somehow found myself in the midst of a theological debate with some upmteen atheists. I gathered most of them considered themselves intellectuals. They seemed to enjoy whittling God down to merely an “imaginary friend” and more than a few of them called me everything but a child of God (pun intended). Seriously! "Idiot", "Stupid" and "Nut job" probably got thrown around more than a little bit. One of them even called me a “sassy imbecile”! (That one still cracks me up!)

Perhaps I should have just ignored them. Perhaps I shouldn’t have even given them the satisfaction of a response.

But as mature as I’d like to think I am, I’m still a teeeeeeeeeeennnny weeeeeeennny bit PETTY! (I’m working on that.)  And, besides, THEY started it! 

Now, I did pray about the situation before deciding to address any of them. I realized, who better to witness to than atheists who were clearly INVITING me to share my faith?! (Even if their “invite” came from a place of condescension.)

In the end, I actually found the experience to be extremely rewarding. I learned a lot more about atheism from their perspective - not for my own needs, but for the sake of meeting them where they are. First, they see atheism as merely the mindset that there are no deities. They say that they don't necessarily reject God. They just simply don't believe He or other "gods" exist. They said they can't reject what they don't already believe exists (though those on my social media most certainly were attempting to refute my Faith). Second, I learned that there are no hard and fast rules on atheism. While called "atheism", they don't view it as a "faith" nor is it a finite school of thought. There is no consistency in beliefs or thought processes to which all atheists subscribe. However, most of the atheists I spoke with said they believed in the Theory of Evolution and touted science as their primary source for learning and knowing about the world around them, so that's most of what we discussed. 

I most certainly got to share with them a LOT about God and the salvation He offers through Jesus Christ as well.  I can’t say many of them truly cared about my responses by that point, though. I noticed how most seemed to backed off when I really began to share certain truths and posed questions of my own.  Even if they do consider me a “sassy imbecile”, my prayer is that at least one of them began to truly ponder what they do/don’t believe.

I was rather intrigued by the exchange, so I collected some of their best questions and statements. Considering these interactions went down on social media, I’ve combined many variations of the same inquiries/statements and I've decided to expound on my responses in a two part series for your ease of reading. This part covers questions about God, Science and Hell. Part 2 covers questions about God, Jesus Christ and Heaven.   If you’re interested in reliving all of the drama as it unfolded, check it out on Twitter or Facebook. (There was way more discussed than what is presented here - it’s just all unorganized and twitter-y.)

Photo credit: Alexander Trinitatov

Photo credit: Alexander Trinitatov

1 - There is no God because there is no proof of God!

This is an absolute statement which is, sadly, also a logical fallacy. I believe the atheists I chatted with were mostly intellectuals, so I found it interesting that such a statement was even made.  I pressed upon them to PROVE such a claim, but was told the onus was actually on me to provide the proof since the claim of God’s existence is a "positive". “Burden of proof is on the positive claim, not the negative. Disbelief is the default,” one tweeted. (Ummm...okay? That's convenient. Because God's Word confirms, and most of us would attest, that belief is actually the default. (Romans 1:18-21))

Most of them said they put their “faith” in science because science requires empirical evidence to render a matter a fact or valid.  However, if I can recall correctly from my grade school science courses, facts and validity don’t equate truth.  There are no absolutes in science - at best, science only offers theories that can be proven either valid or invalid. Further, science isn’t static because our knowledge about the world around us evolves, which means facts change and, as a result, our reality changes. There are new scientific breakthroughs each day because we simply make new discoveries. There is nothing new under the sun, only things that are undiscovered or put to new uses.  So, when met with a statement like “there is no God because there is no proof of God” I’d dare ask the non-believer to take a page from their own books and PROVE how they KNOW this.  But, if they’re honest, they’d admit they don’t KNOW God doesn’t exist simply “because there is no evidence”. I’d posit that it's because they’re not even considering any of the existing “evidence” available to them.

As long as they (as in the atheists I spoke to) only rely on science to explain life and the world around them, they are in a perpetual state of THINKING they know what they know. Again, science presents new evidence and facts each day. Who’s to say they won’t one day find the empirical proof of God they so desire?  Though, I’d suggest one merely take a look at the masterpieces that are the universe and mankind - but I digress. (Again, this is just some of the "evidence" they seemed to refuse to consider.) Until then, a more "intelligent" statement would be to say they have YET to see evidence of God. Though such a statement wouldn't be very wise.  Again, God's existence is just so OBVIOUS. Thus, "[a] fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'" Psalm 14:1.

2 - How do YOU know God is real?

This question was tied to the “There is no God because there is no evidence of God” statement so I engaged it because it drives to the heart of the matter. When I attempted to respond, however, I was met with a dry “I’m still not convinced” by the inquirer.  (Argh! I knew that was coming.) The funny thing, however, is I wasn’t attempting to convince anyone of anything. He asked how I know and I told him. How I know God is real is how I know. That’s the entire point. We should all come to know for ourselves that God is real, not merely through third-party information. To get to that level of “knowing”, however, one has to first be willing to set out on a personal “investigation”. Non-believers have chosen not to explore this level of personal inquiry and that’s totally their right. That's one of the basic benefits of being an American. Our Declaration of Independence says mankind is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Emphasis mine.) If their God-given right to not believe in God makes them happy, who am I to force the issue? (See what I did there? Ha!)

But just as they enlightened me on what atheism is, I wanted to enlighten them about the concept of "proof" when it comes to Faith: To know God is to have a personal relationship with Him. Through this process, and as we witness how He works wonders in our lives, we receive ADDITIONAL confirmation of His existence. This confirmation is supported by the testimonies of literally billions of others across the globe, what we learn about Him in His Word, and the evidence available in Creation. Until non-believers decide to try God for themselves, it’s challenging for them to emphatically say they KNOW that God doesn't exist. I’d assume that since they already believe God doesn’t exist undertaking a personal inquiry to explore the realness of God should be harmless. But that’s just my opinion.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,          but fools despise wisdom and instruction."       ~  Proverbs 1:7  Photo credit: Feng Yu  

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
   but fools despise wisdom and instruction."      ~Proverbs 1:7 Photo credit: Feng Yu  

Speaking of opinion: I learned that telling atheists they only THINK they know what they know doesn’t go over very well. (Oops!) However, I said it not to be offensive, but to attempt to summarize how I interpreted the way they reason. If they say the essence of “knowing” is “evidence” and that reliable evidence is only found through scientific means but scientific discoveries can change, how then can they say they KNOW what they know about the universe and human existence?  We once "knew" Pluto was a bona-fide planet for some 75 years before science told us, "Whoops! Our bad!

I don't discredit the contributions of science and to be a person of Faith doesn't mean we reject science (in fact, science has done much to validate much of what we know about God's awesomeness). I only mean that we've been told many things about the world around us that were later proven to be incorrect or incomplete, but atheists, at one point, BELIEVED those things to be true - and they did so without even testing these facts for themselves. This goes to show you that atheists actually have more propensity for faith than one might assume. They have the ability to accept what another man tells them is true and, honestly, the average atheist individual doesn’t likely investigate science beyond what they read (but those I spoke to put their “faith” in it?). Thus, how can they say they KNOW anything? Believers in God are both told about God AND we’ve “investigated” Him for ourselves. So who truly KNOWS what they know, and who is merely THINKING they know what they know until someone tells them something new to think? You know...? Think about it.  (“Sassy imbecile”, you say? Tuh!)

Photo credit: enterlinedesign

Photo credit: enterlinedesign

3 - How can you support a faith that teaches you people will go to hell to roast for eternity?

I got many variations of statements like this and I found it interesting that those who think along these lines have somehow made God out to be this evil overlord. Nothing could be further from the truth! Hell is real, but it is not God’s desire for anyone to go there (2 Peter 3:9). That’s the entire point of Jesus Christ. Christianity isn’t about condemning people to hell, but about living for Christ and sharing His message with others that we and others DON'T go to hell (John 3:17). God graciously makes Himself and His goodness available to the entire world and it is His desire that people accept and believe in Him. Hell, in a basic sense, is the absence of God. God is pure goodness and love. To live apart from Him leads to the opposite. CHRISTianity is founded in CHRIST, who even atheists gladly throw in our faces when they don’t believe a Christian is living/behaving according to His tenets of goodness, mercy and love. ("Tisk...tisk! WWJD, remember?") Christ is GOOD and His death, burial and resurrection forgave ALL mankind for our sins so that we all have a shot a spending eternity with God. I say “have a shot at” because YOU MUST accept the salvation Christ offers so that you can spend eternity with God. To reject salvation means you’ve essentially admitted guilt and are willing to serve the sentence due a sinner - as one who lives apart from God. But if someone just got you off for a crime you committed, why would you go back and tell the judge, “No, no, no! Your Honor...I did it! Lock me up anyway!” Wheh??? Huh?! Errr??? If you’re being offered freedom, why wouldn’t you take it?

To recap: God doesn’t desire that anyone go to hell. God is about redemption. Hell is a personal choice. (You read that correctly.) This isn’t to be intentionally harsh, but to note the reality of one of two potential outcomes for choices made.   If you’re happy and perfectly fine with living a lifetime without Him, why would you want to spend an eternity with Him after you die? Further, if you don’t believe in God, heaven or hell in the first place, why is the concept of hell even concerning?

4 - If God is real and if He’s so good, why is there so much sickness and suffering in the world?

Sickness and suffering entered the world as a result of Original Sin (mankind turning away from God's loving instruction and doing things their own way). God is real, and He is good. But satan is also real, and he is evil. Unfortunately, spiritually speaking, humanity is inclined to choose to use our free will to do satan's bidding. And what is satan's bidding but false religions, warped beliefs about God, and even unbelief in God. Belief in and a relationship with God, which is only possible through Jesus Christ, provides mankind with three things: 1) an absolute, unchanging standard for what is "good" 2) a desire to do good and a source of accountability for operating in that standard of goodness toward God and our fellow man and 3) a path with God that protects us from temptation and other evils that ail the world. To be clear, being a Christian does not mean to be immune to the human condition. It only means that you will not be overcome by it and will have God to turn to that you will still have peace and joy even in times of severe suffering and trouble. 

God is good and He loves us all (hence His sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins that we can know Him). But because He's good, He won't force any of us to love Him back. Contrary to popular belief, God is not a dictator. We have to CHOOSE God. It's 100% up to us whether we live in a way that pleases Him. He wants us to choose Him willingly. If we don't make that choice, we choose to do things our own way, which causes confusion and an inconsistent application of standards for what is good and right. This only increases our likelihood of causing harm to others and/or of being easily overcome by the ails of the human condition (which impacts us all). 

One thing I found interesting about this question is that as it attempts to suggest that sickness and suffering means an absence of God, it inadvertently acknowledges that mankind has some culpability in the suffering experienced by our fellow man. So I flip the question on atheists: If human intellect and science is the end all for what is good and making things right in the world, why, then, hasn't mankind yet figured out a way to rid the world of hunger, homelessness, sickness, disease, crime, and natural disasters?  If there is no God (and, ultimately, no need for Jesus Christ to save us from sin) one suggests that it is mankind, then, who has all of the answers for ridding the world of sickness and suffering. So why, then, can't humanity seem to do that? 

Atheists place a lot of faith in human intelligence. But from my Faith, I know that human intelligence is a gift from God and, therefore, if falls below God's intelligence. We have a marvelous way of thinking, reasoning and problem-solving that is exclusive to our species because God gave us dominion over all of the Earth (Genesis 1:27-29). This same intelligence allows us to do things in our own will. Yet, the danger is when we don't subject our will to God's, we will naturally operate counter to the unchanging standard of goodness that rests with God. We ignore all of the potential GOOD we could do in His will, and because everyone fails to agree to a single, unchanging standard of what God says is good (because you have removed God from the equation), everyone attempts to do "good" in their own way - and that's never been good.  So, to suggest that the existence of suffering and sickness is a legitimate reason to doubt God's existence, you must then acknowledge the insufficiency of humanity to do any consistent good and rid the world of all that ails us.  

What do you think of what you've read so far? Share your thoughts below and don't forget to check out Questions from my Atheist Friends: Part 2 (God, Jesus Christ + Heaven).

*This post has been updated.