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Once I was sitting on an airplane next to a stockbroker. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was a writer. When he asked what I wrote about, immediately I faced a problem. I wanted to tell him that I write about religion, specifically Christianity, but I didn’t want him to make a mistake many people make when they think about those two things.
Lately I’ve been enjoying my nine-year-old Annabeth’s theological common sense. “Papa, why don’t atheists believe in God?” she asked. “Well, for a number of reasons,” I said. “Partly because they can’t see Him, so they don’t believe in Him.” “Can they see atoms?” she offered. “Good point. But I think they’d say that doesn’t count since they can still detect atoms with scientific instruments, something they can’t do with God. They won’t believe in anything they can’t measure scientifically.”
The billboards read: “No God? No Problem. Be Good for Goodness’ Sake,” and “Are You Good without God? Millions Are.” The point was clear: Morality in no way depends on belief in God. And why should it? Atheists can be good, too. New atheist Christopher Hitchens regularly challenged his religious opponents to suggest a single act of goodness they could perform that he, the atheist, could not accomplish with equal success.
The images are sadly familiar. Buildings ripped from their foundations. Corpses mingled with debris. Parents and friends grieving for lost loved ones. Flowers and candles and makeshift memorials. New Orleans, Newtown, New York, Littleton. In one sense tragedies like these will never be old news. And when new disasters inevitably arrive, the question on the lips of so many is an age old query: “Where was God?” One Wrong Answer
I never like the question, “Do you take the Bible literally?” It comes up with some frequency, and it deserves a response. But I think it’s an ambiguous—and, therefore, confusing—question, making it awkward to answer. Clearly, even those of us with a high view of Scripture don’t take everything literally. Jesus is the “door,” but He’s not made of wood. We are the “branches,” but we’re not sprouting leaves.
Three years ago I sat on a short bench in a small stone church on the outskirts of Oxford. In a tiny graveyard outside was a flat tombstone with the name “Clive Staples Lewis” etched into the granite. The pew my wife and I were sitting in was the same place C.S. Lewis occupied with his brother Warnie every Sunday morning for decades as they worshipped together at Trinity Church.
It seems like every time I turn around I hear of another prominent Christian thinker or theologian who has embraced Darwinism. It’s deeply disconcerting. In light of the stature of these Evangelical leaders, some people are going to ask, “What do they know that I don’t know? I thought this was a done deal. It’s either Darwin or God.”
One justification for the atheists’ claim to high moral ground is what seems to them to be the patently immoral conduct of the God of the Old Testament.
Not long ago I read a stunning (and scathing) response in a blog post by a Christian woman who was furious with those taking exception with the “Christian” convictions of a well-known Mormon media personality. “If only you would get on your knees and pray asking God to give you the wisdom and the discernment you need, you would see and know [this Mormon] is the real deal,” she wrote. “But instead you…ridicule him and the Mormon church…[rather than] doing your own research.”
I want to teach you how to assess a basic argument. How can you know if a line of thinking is a good one or not? There’s no magic to this. The tools of thinking are simple ones. Anyone can employ them skillfully with a little practice. If you have the right equipment you can make a lot of progress even if you don’t consider yourself an intellectual whiz-kid.