Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Responding to an Atheist Friend

December 21st, 2010, Promulgated by b a

A friend of mine shared this link on facebook as a “Holiday Message”. This snippet should give you the idea:

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.”

My response (feel free to offer suggestions or criticisms):

I am not offended by atheists and I don’t charge them with insincerity or ulterior motives as Gervais explains most Christians do. I presume good will and intellectual honesty from all people – Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, whatever. Perhaps not all “Christians” follow this rule, but I know plenty that do. So that doesn’t disprove Christianity.

But I also think most atheists have a misunderstanding of historic Christianity. Gervais proves this by saying he lost his faith when he was 8 because neither he nor his poor, blue collar, Christian mother had a deep explanation. So he’s pitting his adult atheism vs his childish view of Christianity. You’d expect his adult atheism to win out. But that’s like setting up a debate between the Pope and an 8-year old Richard Dawkins, isn’t it?

And just because you can poke holes in the theology of shallow protestant fundamentalism, doesn’t invalidate Christianity either. The best intellectual defenses of Christianity come from the traditional Churches (Catholic, Eastern Orthodoxy, even Anglicans with CS Lewis). CS Lewis is perhaps my favorite author. Read any of his stuff and you’ll get a intellectually deep reason to believe.

I also think the so-called atheist evangelists dodge the tough issues to deal w/. I read Dawkins “The God Delusion” and was utterly unimpressed. It was mostly subjective which is very much against the reasonable arguments he claims to have. He completely skips over philosophy as if it doesn’t exist and presumes a materialistic world-view (as does Gervais with his claim of “you can’t prove God with empirical science, therefore he doesn’t exist”). IMO, Thomas Aquinas made much better arguments against God (although his defense of God is stronger).

My biggest intellectual beef with atheism is this:

The question is “how do you define what good is”? If everything is purely deterministic, what is love? what is thought? what is goodness? what is beauty?

If you’re going to deny a faith that has shaped Western Civilization (essentially the Catholic Church), then I’m guessing you’d want to grasp what the best minds of that tradition actually believe.

For some modern day Christian intellectuals see:

Mark Shea
(search this page for “athei” – he’s got a bunch of good articles)

Dave Armostrong

or Patrick Madrid


10 Responses to “Responding to an Atheist Friend”

  1. Mike says:

    A few days ago I was listening to Fr. John Riccardo’s “Mary, Monica and My Mother” (highly recommended, BTW). In his opening remarks Fr. Riccardo addresses the “new atheism,” its militant advocates, and its popularity on today’s college campuses. With regards to the anti-God arguments of Dawkins, Hitchins, etc., Fr. Riccardo says,

    They way they speak is very attractive to men, at least at first hearing. It sounds – it sounds, but it’s not – very reasonable, very rational, very intellectual. It’s none of those. They dodge over and over again the person of Jesus and the historical data for Jesus and the fact that there’s no sound, rational, reasonable way to explain the rise of Christianity apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They, instead, just want to talk about religion, a very different matter. I’m not interested in talking about religion, I’m interested in talking about Jesus. (my transcription starting at the 7:15 mark)

    The historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus would then seem to be one of the best refutations of atheism. I challenge anyone who doubts the resurrection to read Tom Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” and then see how much of his doubt remains. I suspect it will be zero.

  2. Matt says:

    Except that I don’t presume intellectual honesty of people, I agree wholeheartedly. That’s largely because I’ve found that the reasoning ability and depth of thought of most atheists (and pseudo-Christian liberals) seems to stop right after “walking and chewing gum at the same time.” Intellectual honesty implies some intellect. In four years of religion (heresy) classes at UR, I found lots of self-affirmation, and very little actual intellect!

  3. benanderson says:

    Mike – interesting angle. I’ve always taken the position of holding back on the Jesus question and sticking with material vs non-material world views. I’ll have to reconsider.

  4. Mike says:


    I remember being in Greek class one day at Aquinas, sometime in my senior year (1960-61), when an off-topic discussion about God somehow got going and one of the guys said something like, “How do we really know there is a God, anyway?”

    In a scene that is still burned into my memory Fr. Peter Sheehan immediately launched himself into a 10 or 15 minute presentation of Aquinas’ five proofs. This was obviously done from memory, yet was so coherent and intellectually compelling that for the first time in my life I realized that belief actually made sense.

    A few years later at St. John Fisher (when it was still a Catholic college) I met those five proofs again in a more formal and extended way in theology class and found that they still made abundant sense.

    Now I realize I’m one of those people that can be convinced of the truth by logical, rational argument, so Aquinas’ five proofs are good enough for me. I also realize, however, that others (like Pascal) do not think the existence of God can be proved logically. These people might need something less intellectual or more “experiential” – for lack of a better word – and the argument from the historicity of the resurrection might make more headway with them. (Then, of course, there will always be those who refuse to believe, no matter how much evidence they have; we can only pray for them.)

    BTW, if you have the time, Peter Kreeft has a couple of very good talks on the existence of God available online. See here, #8 and #18.

  5. BigE says:

    I find the sticking point for most of the atheists I’ve talked to are: 1) the problem of evil, 2) perceived inconsistencies in the Bible, 3)number of christian denominations and their varying theological interpretations, 4) number of religions in general (who is really right?)

    I haven’t noticed any lack of reasoning or depth of analysis, just a lack of faith.

  6. Christopher says:

    Mike I would be curious to know how Tom Wright historically proves the resurrection. I can understand how he proves there was a movement afoot that many believed to be in result of a resurrection. However, this does not make it actual resurrection proven historically. There is no way to scientifically prove with any certainty that the resurrection itself happened.

    Check out some of the “Craig vs.” debates on here to get a feel for the counter points to the resurrection:


    I’d argue based on this reply that you are charging Gervais with childlike Christianity when you have “child like” Atheism after just reading one modern day book on it. We all know that Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens are but a mere shadow of some of the greater atheists such as Freud and Nietzsche.

    In response to how do you define “good”. I think an Atheist humanist would argue that something that is positive for society on the whole is good or something that passes on our genes. They’d argue that what we refer to as “natural law” written on our heart was developed over the course of time via evolution. Then they’d question you back and wonder why did it take God 98,000+ years (since humans are thought to have existed for a very long time) to give us the 10 commandments? Why did he need to formalize the law if we have “natural law” on our heart to not kill someone?

    The story of the good Samaritan. By definition, his altruism can’t be attributed to Christian teaching. And if anything, the bad guys in that story (the levites, priests, etc.) are the ones who were religiously devout. The atheist would argue that the Samaritan seems to have gotten his idea of human solidarity without divine or religious permission perhaps? The atheist would argue that Christianity did not give us “good”.

    In fact, Hitchens would ask you this if you think “good” comes from the supernatural, “Name me a moral action committed by a believer or a moral statement uttered by one that could not be uttered by a non-believer? If I was to ask someone though in this room if they could name a wicked action attributable solely to their faith, there isn’t a single person who wouldn’t raise their hand.”

  7. Mike says:


    There is no “scientific” way to prove that Caesar crossed the Rubicon or that Vespasian began the construction of the Coliseum either, yet no rational student of history doubts either event. Wright isn’t after scientific certainty here, but historical certainty.

    Wright’s book is 738 pages in length, plus another 41 pages of sources and 38 pages of indexes. Anything I write here could not possibly do it justice. One really has to read it for oneself to appreciate the thoroughness with which Wright takes on his task.

    That said, Wright approaches his subject as an historian (which he is) and begins by applying the tools of his trade to his source material, which is primarily the synoptic gospels. He looks at every objection every raised to the validity and accuracy of his sources and shows that they either do no apply or do not make sense.

    He then goes on to look at all the various permutations and combinations of the “Jesus didn’t really die on the cross” argument, or the “body was stolen” argument, or the “apostles made it all up” argument, or the “they were delusional” argument, etc., etc., and shows that they do not hold water either.

    He goes on to conclude that (1) the tomb was really empty on the first Easter morning, and (2) Jesus’ followers really did encounter a living, physical Jesus on and after that first Easter Sunday. As an historian, that is as far as he can go, but that is really far enough.

    An interesting aside: Online somewhere is one of Wright’s recorded lectures wherein he mentions sending a copy of his book to one of his old Oxford philosophy professors who is also an atheist. After reading it the professor tells Wright that he cannot refute any of his arguments but that he – the professor – prefers to believe that there still must be some satisfactory explanation for the “apparent” resurrection that just hasn’t occurred to anyone yet.

  8. Christopher says:

    So one of my facebook friends just put the Ricky post up as well…here was my reply… 😀


    “It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing”. How does he know what the right thing is? And where does that notion come from “scientifically” speaking?

    Unfortunately his mom was unable to provide philosophical and scientific answers for the existence of a God so he easily jumped ship rather than doing some critical thinking in the context of researching major philosophers, scientists, etc. from both sides of the issue. It is painful for most people to think (cause we’re too busy watching Jersey Shore and the latest Twilight at the theater) now a days which is why you get atheists who don’t know a thing about their own faith in “No God” (basing everything off of a single book they read by Dawkins or Hitchens) and bible belt Christians evangelicals, radical Muslims, etc. on the opposite side who can’t even sit down with an atheist without dismissing anything they say.

    If there really were no good answers to these questions of his, do you really think Judaic religions would have survived beyond 2000+ years and 90+% of the world would still be suffering from mass delusion?

    I beg to differ when he says “Oh…hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that.” Both atheist and Christian philosophers such as Freud, Nietzsche, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, etc. would also beg to differ. There is a lot more to digest perhaps if we weren’t so lazy and distracted…

  9. benanderson says:

    Peter Kreeft’s audio files are fantastic – I have listened to many of them (including the ones you linked).

    He also goes into some of Aquinas’ proofs in his Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. That’s awesome that Fr. Peter Sheehan presented it on the fly like that.

    Personally, I think those proofs (although they aren’t proofs in the sense of mathematical proofs, but more like arguments) are great and among the many reasons I believe. I tend to agree with Chesterton:

    If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, “For the same reason that an intelligent agnostic disbelieves in Christianity.” I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts


    1) the problem of evil
    best refutation I’ve read is CS Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”

    2), 3), and 4) would all be reasons to not believe in Christianity – they aren’t reasons to be an atheist. Perhaps an agnostic, but not an atheist

    I haven’t noticed any lack of reasoning or depth of analysis, just a lack of faith.

    atheism itself is a lack of reasoning. It denies even the possibility of God. A lack of faith could be attributed to agnosticism, but not atheism (which denies the supernatural world entirely). CS Lewis’ Miracles is my favorite refutation of a purely materialistic world view.


    There is no way to scientifically prove with any certainty that the resurrection itself happened.

    There is evidence. It’s a strong argument, but not a mathematical proof and it’s not empirically verifiable. So, you’re right, but that doesn’t necessarily dismiss the argument. (I just realized Mike already addressed this)

    you have “child like” Atheism after just reading one modern day book on it.

    You’re presuming I’ve only read one book – how do you know? Even if that were true, that would put me above a child level, wouldn’t it? The majority of these atheists haven’t a clue about orthodox Christianity. It would certainly put me above Gervais’ understanding of Christianity. I’m also not claiming to be an expert on atheism. I provided links to those who are if the reader wishes to drill deeper. And I wasn’t trying to give a foolproof refutation of atheism. I mostly defended Christianity and then simply asked a few questions that any atheist should be able to give an answer to

    I think an Atheist humanist would argue that something that is positive for society on the whole is good or something that passes on our genes.

    This misses the mark. The question isn’t let’s put the these actions in the good bucket and these in the bad bucket – the question is how does such a thing as goodness even exist if the world is purely deterministic. That kills free will.

    The story of the good Samaritan…

    not sure what you’re getting at here. I wasn’t saying you couldn’t have morality w/out Christianity – I was saying morality doesn’t make sense in a purely materialistic world view. Anyways, those links I provided drill much deeper into it.

    nice response to your friend – maybe the Ricky post is circulating then.. and we’re helping arm people with responses.

  10. BigE says:


    2,3,4 are reasons for atheism. The argument they present is how could an all powerful, all knowing God send unclear or clouded messages. The fact that the message is unclear (to them) is proof that man creates religion to explain things not understood. Thus, no God.

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