“Debates” about God’s existence between famous atheists and theists must take up half of all videos on YouTube. There’s hundreds of videos, each with millions of views, and I think that there’s two common threads in most of them: 1. the atmosphere of the “debates” is intense – there’s a lot of anger and hurt feelings on both sides – and 2. neither side is good at listening to the other. Both sides seem to be playing on different fields, with the atheist seeing things only through the viewpoint of evolutionary biology and the believers seeing things only through the lens of blind faith.
I watched a lot of those debates in high school when I was testing out my faith, but it was interesting to go back and re-watch some of them after learning all the philosophy that I have had over the past three years. It seems to me that in all the videos that I watched of people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens is that their position comes down to two simple but profound beliefs:
- All that is real is empirically verifiable and testable. It’s a smart way of saying, “seeing is believing; if I can’t see it, I won’t believe it.”
- Christians believe in God because they want to believe in God. It’s easier to believe in God and heaven than it is to face the reality of mortality.
In my experience in talking with atheists and listening to them on YouTube, I’ve learned to abide by the principle that Jesus gave us: Not to throw pearls to swine (Matthew 7:6). If someone isn’t willing to listen to the truth of the Gospel or even basic truths, then don’t give it to them to trample on. The truth of God’s existence, of Jesus’s Resurrection, and of the Church he established should be the most important things in our lives. These most basic beliefs that dictate how our lives are lived shouldn’t be shared with someone just so they can be spit on and used as tools to belittle us for our faith.
The other thing that I’ve learned from those hours on YouTube and dialogue with people is that the arguments levied against believers aren’t that strong (at least the ones on stage at the popular debates).
Those two positions that I delineated above are always—and I mean without fail—contradicted by the same atheist that makes them within the same video. No pop-atheist really holds that there is nothing outside the material universe. They’ll maintain their materialism, of course, but then come right back around and say something like the “meaning to life” is the advancement for science or humanity. If all we are is cosmic accidents, and if you really push them with that belief, then there can’t be any meaning to anything or reason to care about the advancement of anything after they’re deceased. (This is an example taken from a video of famous atheist Neil de Grasse Tyson and Larry King, found here.)
Their second point, that God is just wishful thinking, an idea first put forth by Feuerbach and then rephrased by Freud, is equally un-damning. If Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov taught me anything, it’s that psychology is a stick with two ends. I think what he means is that if you’re going to use an armchair psychoanalysis of me to determine why I do something, I can do the same right back to you. In other words, if you can say that I believe in God because I have “daddy issues” or a “childhood neurosis” then I can say that you don’t believe in God for the same reason! It’s just trading ad hominem attacks and it never addresses the belief itself.
The last lesson that I’ve learned from re-watching the rants on YouTube is that Christians better be ready and well versed in defending their belief. False dichotomies like God vs. Science and Reason vs. Faith are ubiquitous and unchallenged in the contemporary culture. And, frankly, those myths aren’t that difficult to bust.
But more important than anything I’ve said so far is that the largest cause of atheism in the world is bad Christians. Nothing will make people scoff at what we believe more than being someone who doesn’t live it out. It seems to me that the only cure for the climate of atheism in the West is an army of real followers of Jesus. It’s just a matter of picking up the Cross everyday.