After a speaking event, believers often come up to ask me some variation of the following questions: Why do atheist scientists devote so much energy to refuting the existence of God? If they really believe there is no evidence or rational basis for belief in God, then why waste the time and effort refuting his existence? These are great questions that, for the sake of atheists everywhere, deserve thoughtful consideration by Christians.
Atheist scientists certainly do appear to devote an inordinate amount of effort attempting to disprove God’s existence. For example, while he was alive, particle physicist Victor Stenger wrote nine books on scientific “proofs” of God’s nonexistence and founded a program at the University of Colorado where he taught courses on scientific and philosophical atheism. Richard Dawkins has written eight books in his attempt to show that science disproves God’s existence and has been featured in numerous film documentaries that either attack belief in God or promote atheism. Lawrence Krauss, author of A Universe from Nothing and a participant in several debates on God’s existence, eschews the label atheist, preferring instead to be known as an anti-theist.
In my own personal library, which is far from complete, I have more than 40 full-length books written by scientists devoted to trying to prove God’s nonexistence. Several of them are mega-books. Howard Bloom’s The God Problem, for example, runs 708 pages.
Perhaps the greatest demonstration I have personally experienced of fervor and effort devoted to scientifically disproving God’s existence was the 2008 Origins—The BIG Questions international conference held at the California Institute of Technology and presented by the Skeptics Society and cosponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. More than 700 atheists from around the world gathered to hear renowned scientists Sean Carroll, Christof Koch, Donald Prothero, and Leonard Susskind deliver lectures focused on trying to answer the one big question: “Does science make belief in God obsolete?” The conference ended with my debate with Victor Stenger on the topic, “Does science support belief in a deity?”
I stayed and talked to conference attendees for an additional three hours after the official close of the conference. Every atheist attendee I talked to told me that my debate talk was their first experience hearing a scientific defense for the existence of God. How sad, I thought.
As diplomatically as I could, I explained to these atheists that it is not because of a lack of scientific evidence that Christians are silent, but rather because of internal disputes over young-earth creationism and theistic evolution. Their comments strengthened my resolve to redouble our efforts to produce, distribute, and proclaim new reasons from the book of nature to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior.
I told the atheist attendees that during the two-day conference I discovered yet more evidence for God’s existence. My claim aroused their curiosity. How would a conference devoted to disproving God give me more evidence for God?
I told them that I could not help but notice that the lectures and the Q&A sessions all focused on the God of the Bible. The gods of the non-Christian religions were ignored. I also said I could not help noticing the intensity and pervasiveness of the emotions being expressed against the God of the Bible.
I heard speakers and attendees repeatedly claiming that there was no more evidence for the God of the Bible than there was for the Easter bunny, tooth fairy, or Santa Claus. However, I said that I had yet to see an atheist scientist get emotionally distraught over the Easter bunny, write half a dozen books explaining the scientific evidence against the existence of the tooth fairy, or get money from the John Templeton Foundation to sponsor an international conference on the scientific case against the existence of Santa Claus. (Note: I recently saw several hundred different books on the tooth fairy for sale on Amazon’s website, but not even one book focused on addressing the scientific evidence against the tooth fairy’s existence.)
All this emotion directed against the God of the Bible and all the lectures and books focused on the scientific case against God’s existence convinced me that the conference speakers and most of the attendees really are persuaded that the God of the Bible exists. It is just that they do not like him.
I got two responses from the attendees gathered around me. First, they got my point. If the God of the Bible really does not exist and if the scientific evidence against the God of the Bible really is as strong as they assert, then they, and especially the scientists in their midst, should be treating the God of the Bible in the same way as they respond to the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy.
Their second response was especially revealing. They said, “It is not that we dislike the God of the Bible. It’s that we despise his followers.” Then, individually, they began to tell me stories about how they had either been abused, mistreated, cheated, or ridiculed by people who claimed to be Christians.
That same day, in a private conversation, Victor Stenger told me he had been an altar boy in a Roman Catholic church during his youth. Stenger’s experience is not unique. Nearly every atheist scientist I have debated has told me they had a past church experience and less-than-pleasant past encounters with Christians.
Several spiritual lessons emerge from these encounters and all the books, film documentaries, lectures, and conferences devoted to the scientific evidence against the God of the Bible:
- All the time, energy, lecturing, and book writing asserting the scientific case against the God of the Bible actually is scientific evidence for the God of the Bible.
- Atheism, almost always, is rooted in self-imposed ignorance arising from a dislike of the God of the Bible (Romans 1:18–23) and/or a dislike of certain people who claim to be Christians.
- We who are true followers of Christ need to consistently model grace, humility, wisdom, compassion, respect, and gentleness when we engage atheists. As much as possible, we need to counter the bad examples of Christian behavior that atheists have experienced in their past.
- We need to graciously correct and revise faulty science apologetics that is so prevalent in the church, especially in the American church. Without that gracious correction and revision, churches and Christians will continue to eschew science apologetics and, thus, not so subtly communicate that science favors atheism over Christianity.
- We need to be willing to listen to the hurts, abuses, ridicules, discouragements, and offenses that atheists have suffered at the hands of those who call themselves Christians, and we need to be willing to empathize with the pain they have suffered.
- We need to help atheists recognize the irrationality of allowing morally fallen human beings get between them and their morally perfect Creator. We need to help them forgive those who have wronged them. We need to help guide and encourage them to ask God to grant them what they presently lack—the desire and the power to forgive. Here, a personal testimony of how God granted us the desire and power to forgive may provide the needed encouragement.
- We need to make ourselves available to answer questions and provide sound reasons about our hope and faith in Christ in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15–16; that is, with an attitude of gentleness, respect, and a clear conscience.
Atheist scientists and their disciples may not be the easiest mission field to tackle. However, I consistently observe that when they do convert to Christianity, they demonstrate even more passion, fervor, and research energy to persuading unbelievers of the truth of the Gospel than they ever devoted to promoting atheism.