When making a case against atheism, Christians have a powerful ally: reality. Greg Koukl shares an important reminder and strategy from Francis Schaeffer in an introductory video from his new Stand to Reason University course, “Atheism: Bumping into Reality.”
Of all the questions that every human being asks about what’s true, about what’s important, or about what’s meaningful, there is no more significant question to answer than this: Does God exist? God’s existence is the most decisive issue of life, because the answer you give to that one question sets an irrevocable course for everything that follows.
We don’t have to guess when it comes to answering the question about God’s existence. Instead, God’s fingerprints, so to speak, are all around us. In other words, the world around us—the real world—is thick with evidence for God. In fact, we bump into it all the time. In the “Atheism: Bumping Into Reality“ course, I’ll walk you through a thoughtful analysis of three of the key bumps that evidence God’s existence, details of reality that Christianity can make sense out of, but atheism cannot.
Someone once said that reality is what you bump into and what sometimes injures you when you don’t take it seriously. Now, in my shop, I’ve got lots of tools, and some of them are really dangerous, but the most dangerous tool in my shop is my table saw. It’s driven by a three-horsepower motor. I’ve got a 10-inch blade, and that’ll take your fingers off just like that if you’re not careful. So, how do I stay safe in my shop? I’m careful. I look closely. I pay attention. I think things through, and that’s exactly how we’re going to approach the question of God’s existence.
First, we need to define our terms. We know what theism is. It’s a belief that there is a personal God, a conviction that God exists. So, atheism is just the opposite: the belief that there is no God. King David wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.” The atheist, by contrast, says the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.
Before we go any further, I want you to notice something else about atheism. It is a standard move by atheists nowadays to say they are not asserting that God doesn’t exist, but they simply have no belief in God, and since they lack a belief, they don’t need to defend their lack of belief. Now, I don’t think that’s exactly intellectually honest, because no one writes best-selling books about their lack of beliefs. Atheists are making a case, and the case that they’re trying to make is that there is no God. That’s their belief. Certainly, they have no belief in God. Agreed. But they do have a belief about God, and their belief about God is that God doesn’t exist. So, it’s not like they don’t have to make a defense for their view since they’re not really asserting anything. They are. They’re asserting that God does not exist, and that is their belief about God that they are holding and advancing. Don’t be caught by that trick.
So, how do we make the case that there actually is a God? When my daughter was about eight years old, she asked me a question. She said, “Papa, how do we know that God is true?” How do we know that the God we’re talking about here is actually real? As I’m pondering how to answer it, all of a sudden, something came into my mind that, as I look back on it now, I think captures my whole approach to this enterprise. Here’s what I said to her. I said, “Honey, the reason that we believe that God is true is because he’s the best explanation for the way things are.” Let me just say that again because it’s so important. The reason that we believe in God is because he’s the best explanation for the way things are, and what I was doing with her, even though I didn’t explain it at the time, is, I was introducing the notion of explanatory power. What I mean by that is, you see things in the world and you’re simply asking the question what best explains these significant features of the real world. If you have an idea that explains them well and a contrary idea that doesn’t, then the first idea has better explanatory power and therefore is more likely to be true.
I want to let you in on a strategic insight for us as Christian theists. We have a powerful ally. What is that? We have reality on our side, and I want to explain what I mean by that. I got this insight from Francis Schaeffer. First, he noted that if Christianity is true, then it is an accurate view of reality, and that would mean that all human beings are really made in the image of God, and all human beings must live in the world that God made, even if they don’t believe it. Therefore, if Christianity is true, and it’s the better explanation of reality, atheists who deny God must be living in denial of reality at some point. Therefore, sooner or later, atheists who deny God’s reality are going to bump into the world as it really is. They’re going to affirm some feature of reality, sometimes without even realizing it, that makes no sense given their worldview but makes perfect sense given our worldview.
Take Richard Dawkins, for example. He’s probably the world’s most famous atheist right now. Dawkins says that, on the one hand, if you look at nature, according to him, there is no design and no purpose and no evil and no good; Nothing, he says, but blind, pitiless indifference. Now that’s totally consistent with this atheistic worldview. No evil. No good. Belief in morality, on his view, is just a trick evolution plays on us to get our selfish genes into the next generation. So, at that point, when he says that, he is making statements that are completely consistent with his worldview of atheism. However, on the other hand, in his book The God Delusion, he attacks the God of the Bible, and here’s what he says. He says the God of the Old Testament is a vindictive, bloodthirsty, homophobic, racist, genocidal, sadomasochistic, malevolent bully. Do you see the problem there? Clearly, Dawkins is not coming to that conclusion based on his atheism, which he says dictates no evil, no good. Notice, all of those challenges to the God of the Old Testament are that he’s evil. That complaint against God makes no sense in Dawkins’s worldview. But I’ll tell you something. Moral assessments like that—I don’t think they’re accurate, in his case–make perfect sense in our worldview.
So Dawkins, notice, is living in a contradiction on this issue. He talks on the one hand kind of like an atheist, and then, all of a sudden, when his guard is down, his natural understanding of morality that God built into him is coming out, but it’s a contradiction with his atheism, and that is a point of tension. Francis Schaeffer said, when we see that—when we see Dawkins, in this case, bumping into reality, when he raises those kinds of moral complaints against God, and he’s trading on our worldview, not his, that’s where we can draw attention to it and use that on our behalf.
What I’m saying is this: Christianity has better explanatory power. In other words, it fits the world and some very important issues in a way that atheism does not. And these are issues that resonate with our deepest intuitions about reality, our deepest understandings about the way the world actually is. What are some of those bumps I was talking about—those features of reality that the atheist bumps into that make no sense at all in his worldview but make perfect sense in our worldview? There are lots of different examples of that, but in this class, I want to talk to you about three bumps with reality that create serious worldview problems for the atheist but turn out supporting our worldview perfectly. I’m just going to call them “the bump of stuff,” “the bump of bad,” and “the bump of me.”
Let’s take a moment to see what we’ve covered so far. First, we defined our terms. We said that theism is a belief that there is a God and atheism is the belief that there is no God. It’s not simply a lack of belief about God. It’s a lack of belief in God, but there certainly is a belief about God that they need to defend. Here’s the second thing we talked about: I said the Christian has a powerful ally that helps him answer that question—whether God exists—and that ally is reality. I also pointed out that even atheists have to live in God’s world, which means that they must affirm certain things about the real world that are in conflict with an atheistic view. I mentioned that theism is true because it’s the best explanation for the way things are, and then the third thing I did here is, I suggested a strategy for dealing with atheism. First, we take a look at reality. Second, we show that atheists can’t explain important details of the real world, but we can as theists. These are the ways that atheists bump into reality.