Braxton Hunter, an evangelical Christian and professor of Apologetics, has 10 questions for atheists. I’ve seen other answers to these questions, but I thought I’d shine my own light on them. Since some of my answers are rather detailed I’m going to split this into two segments.
1 - What facts about reality, that you and I agree are real facts about the way that the world is, does your worldview account for, but my Christianity doesn't account for, or at least doesn't account for it well?
Well, I see that my worldview has no problem with suffering and evil in the world while Christianity doesn’t really seem to have a sufficient explanation beyond “that’s just the way God wants it”, or an appeal to mystery. Since, in your worldview, God exists, then this ought to be the best possible world, yet it certainly does not appear to be anything close to the best possible world.
The big problem with your worldview is that God can explain everything, and in doing so doesn’t actually explain anything. No matter what world we find ourselves we can always say that this is the world that God wants. I can explain why bad things can happen to good and otherwise innocent people, yet Christianity has no real explanation for why many thousands of children die every single day of starvation, cancer, and other horrific causes. Sometimes Christians will offer the trite answer of “it’s because of sin” – which doesn’t answer anything. In your worldview God created us knowing that we were going to sin, and that horrible suffering would follow as a result, but somehow that’s the best your omnipotent God could do. You don’t get to hand wave away the problems that an omnipotent and omniscience God should be able to solve.
Then you have the problem with prayer, which should be the most powerful evidence in favor of Christianity, where every time prayer has been studied we tend to find one of two things:
1. The studies have significant design flaws, making them useless
2. The studies show that prayer has no effect that is better than chance.
If Christianity were true then we should see tremendous evidence that prayers are effective, and that Christians have demonstrably better life outcomes than non-Christians. But that’s not even close to what we see. Nothing about prayer, or believers, shows that any kind of God is listening to them. Even in this current pandemic, how many Christians have died of COVID because they refused vaccination? This appears very difficult to reconcile with a Christian worldview (not that it stops them from trying.)
2 - If your definition of atheism is merely that it is the lack of belief in God, and you're just waiting to be convinced, but then you speak of [God] as if he is in some way synonymous with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or fairies, doesn't that at least send the message to your listeners that you actually believe that there is no god?
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: When it comes to the Christian God, I’m fairly convinced that such a being does not, and cannot, exist. I find that the God that Christians want me to believe in is incoherent and does not exist by definition. I can grant that it’s possible Christianity is true, but God is probably nothing like what they believe.
For many other gods I find that I’d be best described as a non-cognitivist – namely that I don’t know what they’re trying to describe when people tell me about their god(s). For yet other gods, like the gods of Olympus, we know that there are no gods on the top of that mountain in Greece, making those gods like Santa Claus.
3 - When atheism becomes part of someone's worldview they typically change their positions on other issues like abortion, sexual morality, and a number of other things. I actually have several videos of well known atheists saying there's nothing wrong with prostitution, that they hope their children don't save themselves until marriage, and that sex workers should be put up on a pedestal no different than the military. I didn't use those here because I didn't want to seem combative to individuals specifically the individuals who made those statements. But even if you didn't become an atheist "just so you could sin", and I believe you, do you at least understand why those moves could send that message to people who might say that to you?
Atheism is not the reason that I think abortion, and prostitution, should be legally acceptable, or that people shouldn’t need to wait until they’re married to have sex. I hold these positions because I think people deserve the autonomy to control their own lives and their bodies. I also think that most of the people who are against abortion, prostitution, or sex outside of marriage, primarily use their religion to justify these socially conservative positions. But here’s the thing: When I was a Christian many of my views were already quite liberal, even though I was raised Catholic. I thought it was a good idea to use birth control, had no problem with sex outside of marriage, and thought that, in many cases, abortions are justifiable. I left the Catholic church because I couldn’t agree with their socially conservative dogma, and felt out of place.
I can understand that, for many who become atheists, that these positions change as soon as they lose their religion when their religion was the only thing propping up these ideas. Losing the foundation tends to cause the walls to come crashing down, so to speak. The problem is that the religious have it backwards – I think their religion is generally causing many of the socially conservative attitudes, rather than atheism causing socially liberal attitudes.
4 - If it's a lack of belief sort of atheism what is it? Is it 50/50, 60/40, 75/25, and at what point do you feel disingenuous saying that you merely lack a belief as opposed to leaning towards "I believe that God does not exist."?
With regards to the Christian God, I’ve already said that I’m reasonably convinced that God is just imaginary. If there really is anything that could be described as “God” then such a being is nothing like what most Christians believe it to be. I’m fairly confident that the Christian God does not exist, and would probably rate that confidence near an 8.5 out of 10.
Christianity, of which I’ve been an outsider for over 30 years, looks just like every other religion and appears just as false. Having been away for so long it looks just as absurd to me as Islam, or Hinduism, is to you.
5 - Doesn't it bother you a little bit that, when we come to talk about the origins of the universe, and if there's a multiverse the origin of that too, that the only real options you've got besides God is a past infinite universe - which is impossible - or the universe coming to exist uncaused out of nothing, or something far less clear than even those? It seems that for any world view that includes atheism there's a massive blind spot when it comes to the origin of the universe and all the attempts to try and circumvent that problem seem desperate and at least far less likely than theism. ... Doesn't this issue destabilize you a little bit? It seems to fit really poorly with any worldview that includes atheism.
I’m not at all bothered by the fact that I do not have an good understanding of the origins of the universe. Unlike you, I am content to stand back and say “I don’t know, but let’s use science try to find that answers.” I also don’t know if the universe is past infinite – I certainly don’t see that as impossible like you do, and others think it’s possible. Our current understanding of the Big Bang is based on General Relativity, but we know that it’s incompatible with Quantum Mechanics, which would likely take over during the earliest stages of our universe, so the Big Bang is almost certainly not the final answer as to cosmic origins.
Unfortunately, because of the nature of the Big Bang, we may never be able to know what the actual answer is, but that’s not really a big problem, and it certainly doesn’t bother me. Whatever the answer is to why the universe exists, assuming that the question even has a meaningful answer to it, I’m pretty sure that it’s not because God wanted a place to test us before we die.
Honestly Braxton, what bothers me much more than not having an answer to the questions of origins is people who think that they do have answers based on nothing more than what is in an old book, written by men who didn’t understand a lick about cosmology, or even what stars are. That people accept these stories as literally true, when they are at best metaphorical, concerns me because they seem to have no desire to investigate and discover what the real answer is. Whatever answer science comes up with they are already closed off to that answer because they are content to accept ancient traditional stories as fact without an ounce of curiosity for the marvels of nature.
Tell me Braxton, does it bother you that many American evangelical Christians think the world is only about 10,000 years old, and that the Theory of Evolution is a lie from the Devil to lead us away from God? I hope you are bothered by this, but I don’t know enough about you. I do sincerely hope you’re not as ignorant as Ken Ham or Kent Hovind.
To be continued