Sun, Apr 23, 2017
Dialoguing with Atheists, Pantheists, and Agnostics
by Aaron O'Kelley
Series: Apologetics: Defending the Christian Faith

- Remember: you will never have a conversation with a worldview but with a person.
- Listen, discern the Holy Spirit’s work, and respond to each individual.
- What are some pressure points where you might be able to destabilize unbelief?
- Remember three branches of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics.
- Non-Christian worldviews fail to offer a satisfactory account of these matters.

I. Agnosticism
- The claim of principled ignorance:
- We either cannot know that there is or is not a God
- Or we may assume God exists, but we cannot know anything about him.
- Charles Krauthammer: “I feel the way that I think Newton once said. I feel like a snail on the side of a great ocean and the idea that I can understand a notion like God or humans can as if we’re expecting a snail to understand the motion of the tides through calculus and physics. That’s not possible. So I see the same kind of intellectual gap in the capacity of humans to understand in any deep sense about theology of God as for a snail to figure out how the tides work.”

- What can we affirm in this way of thinking? That God transcends us.
- How can we challenge it? Point out what it actually claims to know:
1. That God has not made plain to us that he exists or who he is.
2. That God cannot make this plain to us.
3. And yet that somehow we know this one thing about the unknowable God.
- Agnosticism sounds humble.
- But it is actually a claim to certain knowledge apart from dependence on God’s revelation.
- It is a claim to autonomous knowledge, beginning with the limited self.

- Contrast with Christian worldview:
- God made us to know him: not exhaustively, but truthfully.
- John 1:18. God is incomprehensible, yet gracious.
- We must decide what we will do with Jesus.

II. Atheism
- Denial of God’s existence; impersonalist worldview.
- Therefore, there is no way to establish the concept of meaning/purpose. That undoes it all.

- Without meaning/purpose, there can be no good as distinct from evil.
- Affirm an agreed upon moral principle; example: racism is evil.
- Challenge the person to account for this view: from your perspective, why is it evil? (Meaning)
- Atheism has no answer: Darwinism actually supports racism.
- Neil Degrasse Tyson tweet: “Space aliens may be surprised to learn that Humans have multiple languages and cultures and we kill one another because of it.”
- My response: “It would seem that, from a Darwinian standpoint, violent tribalism is perfectly natural. If Darwinism is true, why would they be surprised?”
- Key question: By what standard?
- If no transcendent God, how can we judge whether or not something conforms to standard?

- Affirm that we can know the world truthfully, though not exhaustively.
- Challenge the atheist’s basis for claiming to know anything.
- Impersonalist worldviews have no basis for explaining how we can know anything.
- Christian worldview: we are designed to know; impersonalism: we just are.
- Example: atheists might claim religion is a coping mechanism produced by evolution.
- Response: Isn’t your theory about religion itself produced by evolution?
- If evolution led to false knowledge back then, why trust it now?

- Affirm that there are both particular things and unifying concepts that relate them.
- Challenge atheism’s ability to make sense of this; atheism has only particulars, not universals.
- Example: Helen Keller’s story: began to learn when she applied universal (“water”) to a particular thing.
- But if matter/energy is all there is, what does the word “water” represent? An arbitrary name.
- How can we relate one collection of water to another by calling it the same thing?
- If atheism is true, metaphysical unity is an illusion; language doesn’t help us really know anything.

III. Pantheism
- Belief that all that exists is god; all things are ultimately one.
- Similar critique of ethics as in atheism: if all is god, then racism is part of God.

- Affirm that we can have true knowledge of the world.
- Challenge the pantheist’s basis for knowing.
- Knowledge implies distinction.
- Example: the statement “This board is white” combines one thing (this board) with another (white). It is an act of predication, relating two things together.
- Is predication possible in a world where there is no real distinction?
- In pantheism, knowledge (like good/evil) is an illusion.

- Goal:
(1) Affirm what is true.
(2) Challenge the unbelieving framework that can’t make sense of it.
(3) Put truth in its proper context: the Christian worldview.