I’ve received some emails from atheists regarding a recent post by the “Friendly Atheist,” Hemant Mehta, so I thought it might be worth writing a response here.
Mehta’s post is titled “A Christian Bible Camp Brought in a Fake ’Atheist’ So Kids Could Stump Him,“ and it features an STR email that was sent out last weekend describing an atheist role play event one of our listeners/readers held at his camp in order to test his students after a week of training.
Here’s what Mehta had to say:
I imagine the conversation went like this:
“Atheist”: Evolution is real!
Kids: Then why are there still monkeys?
“Atheist”: Oh man! You got me! But at least I’m a good person!
Kids: You can’t be good without God!
“Atheist”: Oh no... this is hard. Uh... uh... Jesus is a myth!
Kids: No He’s not! The Bible says so!
“Atheist”: Damn! You win again! I’m gonna go eat lunch now.
Kids: Here’s a banana.
Even though the email wasn’t describing an STR event (a fact that the commenters and emailers seem to have missed), I highly doubt this is even remotely accurate. I don’t know why Mehta would assume Christian teachers would go easy on students in an exercise like this one, especially if they’re following Stand to Reason’s lead.
Our speakers, as many of you know, have done many atheist role plays with students over the years, but the goal is to stump the kids so that they realize they’re unprepared to respond to the challenges that are out there, not to make the students feel good about themselves.
Mehta says of the atheist role play:
These people are so afraid to put their beliefs under actual scrutiny that they had to bring in someone who could easily be “beaten” just for the sake of show. What does that accomplish? And why avoid an actual atheist?
It’s just odd to me that Mehta and his readers would jump to the conclusions they jumped to without any information whatsoever. Why assume it’s not possible for a Christian to represent atheist arguments accurately? As it happens, popular YouTube atheist Pinecreek Doug recently reviewed one of Tim Barnett’s atheist role plays, saying Tim did “an excellent job” role-playing the atheist (see here).
As a result of Mehta’s post, we’ve received emails from atheists who wrongly assumed Stand to Reason isolates Christian students from hearing atheist ideas. (Take a look at the comments on his post if you want to get an idea of what those emails are like. Good grief. We moved blog comments to Facebook a year ago partly because of comments like these. As I said then, “Interacting with anonymous strangers online these days has the negative potential of training Christians to not only expect incivility from non-Christians (resulting in a constantly defensive posture on the part of Christians), but also to respond in kind.” The last thing we want at Stand to Reason is for our readers to develop a negative view of real-life atheists because of anonymous internet atheist comments.)
As for “avoiding actual atheists,” anyone who has followed our work knows our philosophy is that we ought to inoculate, not isolate, students from opposing ideas. In fact, many years ago, Brett Kunkle (now with MAVEN) developed apologetics mission trips, training students for weeks ahead of time, and then taking them to Berkeley to listen to influential, public atheists (and Berkeley students, and atheist campus groups, etc.) and interact with them.
I’ve spoken for Stand to Reason for years. They are an awesome group. Really smart kids. Progressive. Kind and accommodating. Their very motto is to hear out other points of view because their religion should be able to stand to reason, i.e. if they have to avoid listening to us, then their religion is probably false, ergo they should listen to us and give us a fair hearing (“us” being any non-Christians, not just atheists, and possibly Christians of diverse views, too).
The irony of this whole situation is that it appears to be the case that the very person who forwarded the STR email that ended up with Mehta is one of those atheists who regularly spoke to students on our Berkeley apologetics mission trips.
Greg and Tim talked about this on today’s podcast, if you’d like to hear more. And if you are an atheist, we would absolutely love for you to call our podcast (Tuesdays, 4:00–6:00 p.m. PT, 855-243-9975) to interact with Greg. Of course, you’re welcome to call with your questions even if you aren’t an atheist! But if you’re an atheist out there who’s concerned that your view isn’t being heard and considered by STR listeners, please do give us a call. Greg always treats callers with respect, and you’ll have a good conversation. (If you need proof of that, you can hear a recent conversation he had with an atheist caller here. We’ve had many repeat atheist callers over the years.) We look forward to hearing from you.