An Example of Why Atheists Need to do Effective Counter-Apologetics and an Example of How Not to Do That

1. An Example of Why Atheists Need to do Effective Counter-Apologetics

You could call this post a sequel to my earlier post, “On Caring about Whether Other People Become Naturalists.”

Christian apologist Greg Koukl has released a video arguing that, yes, atheists suppress the truth in unrighteousness. For those of us who are familiar with the Christian apologetics literature, it will come as no surprise that Koukl states that Romans 1 teaches this position, a position which Randal Rauser has called the “Rebellion Thesis.” I am no Biblical scholar, but if I were to attempt to translate that meme from ‘Christianese’ into ordinary English, it is roughly the position that atheists intentionally suppress the truth of God’s existence because they are in rebellion against God and want to live a sinful lifestyle.

While I don’t care that much about whether other people become naturalists, I care much more about people who harbor the prejudice that the Rebellion Thesis are true, since that prejudice is harmful to naturalists and atheists. We are fortunate, therefore, that Randal Rauser has directly challenged Koukl online. (See also the combox on Koukl’s website for an exchange between Rauser and someone who appears to agree with Koukl.)

Of course, atheists cannot and should not rely upon a lone Christian scholar to combat this prejudice, as helpful and welcome as his efforts are. Atheists also need to provide examples of why the Rebellion Thesis is false through their own examples. Part of this is by striving to be as moral as possible and part of this is by doing (or supporting) effective counter-apologetics. This leads to my second example (and point).

2. An Example of How Not to Do Counter-Apologetics

Some atheists seem to be opposed to the very idea of counter-apologetics for the same reason they are opposed to the very idea of even using the label “atheist”: they think it gives theism credibility it does not deserve. They dismiss things such as counter-apologetics as ‘god-bothering’ and, as the pejorative term suggests, they argue that atheists (of all people) should stop ‘god-bothering.’ With all due respect to such atheists, I find such notions to be out of touch with reality. The scientific evidence suggests that humans have a widespread tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents, including gods. (And notice this is true even if–especially if–God does not exist.) I can think of no reason to think such tendencies will go away with a contemptuous sneer.

Not all atheists refuse to do counter-apologetics, however. In fact, one might argue that some of the atheists in the first group, when they let their guard down, will occasionally do counter-apologetics. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, that often the same atheists who are so dismissive of theism tend to use such awful arguments and objections against it. In a sense, this is understandable. If you’ve concluded that belief X is not only false but stupid or even irrational, then you’re unlikely to spend much if any time trying to understand the best arguments for X. Furthermore, you just might come across as rude or patronizing when talking or writing about X.

Jerry Coyne’s recent diatribe against Catholic philosopher Edward Feser is an example of this. Feser has replied to Coyne. If I were to sum up Feser’s reply in one word, it would be, “Ouch!” I think Feser’s reply is simply devastating to Coyne and I found myself in agreement with most of his points.

But rather than pursue that line of thought, instead I want to offer some positive advice. To provide an atheist twist on another Bible verse often quoted in the Christian apologetics literature (1 Peter 3:15), atheists need to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks to give the reason for why you are a naturalist or an atheist, but do this with gentleness and respect.” To this I would add (but not nearly as eloquently), “And if addressing the arguments or objections of someone who disagrees with you, be informed about their actual position, arguments, and objections.” (Cf. a related comment by Erik Wielenberg on the ‘Courtier’s Reply’ here.)