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Answering Atheists

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A slew of prominent atheists is pointedly attacking the foundations of Christianity and winning new followers. Are you prepared to counter their claims?

Everywhere we turn these days, we hear that a battle is raging between worldviews. Christians are not the only ones sounding the alarm. Leading atheists and agnostics paint the same picture, using the same battle rhetoric.

But who’s really the aggressor? What started the conflict? Is the fight really necessary, and what would peace even look like?

We’ll never move forward if we talk in vague generalities. We need to know the specifics and develop a plan.

Ultimately, Christians see the debate as a spiritual conflict, whereas atheists see it as a threat against rationality, decrying the forces of ignorance that pit “faith against reason” or “religion versus science.” They’re not trying to win us to their side but to convince the next generation to join them.

Atheism is not shrinking—far from it. The latest Gallup poll shows that the number of people claiming “no religion” has risen from 7–20% in just 20 years. To stem the tide, we need to know what our opponents are actually saying—all the while remembering that it is not the individuals but their philosophies we should rebut. If we become complacent in our gospel and apologetic defense, battling straw men rather than the real enemy (e.g., the “spiritual forces of evil” mentioned in Ephesians 6:12), they will only grow stronger.

Consider what the most influential atheists and agnostics are saying. They’re not just attacking Christianity in general but its foundations, which they see as our weakest point—the Bible’s account of creation just 6,000 years ago.

Do you know how to respond to their specific claims in a way that wins not just minds but hearts—our ultimate goal?

Bill Nye

Bill Nye

Bill Nye

Most people know Bill Nye from his zany Disney program Bill Nye the Science Guy in the 1990s. But few knew at the time that he was a God denier. After the new millennium arrived, however, he began to show his true colors. Foremost among his new causes, cloaked in the language of “defending science,” has been direct attacks against creation.

Perhaps the most well-known of these attacks was his decision to debate Ken Ham, founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, in a 2014 event watched by millions. Since then, Nye has continued to give speeches and write books warning about the dangers of supposed science deniers.

Nye’s Claim:

Creationists are discouraging the next generation from thinking critically.

In a post-debate interview with the New York Times, discussing his book Undeniable (2014), Nye leveled the criticism that parents who teach their children creation will rob them of the critical thinking skills necessary to thrive in a scientific age.

“My biggest concern about creationist kids is that they’re compelled to suppress their common sense, to suppress their critical thinking skills at a time in human history when we need them more than ever.”

Bill further elaborated on this theme in an interview on the news show Midpoint. “They [evangelical parents] are holding their kids back. These kids will not be able to participate in the future in the same way [as] kids from other school systems . . . because they will not have this fundamental idea that you can question things, that you can think critically, that you can use skeptical thought to learn about nature. These children have to suppress everything that they can see in nature to try to get a worldview that’s compatible with the adults in whom they trust and rely on for sustenance. It’s a troubling thing.

“What I wanted to do by going into the lion’s den there in Kentucky was raise awareness of this, that there are people in our midst who are raising a generation of kids that are discouraged from thinking.”

Answering Nye’s Claim:

Those are Bill Nye’s own words. He made the same point in his debate with Ken Ham, where it was rebutted over and over again. Yet Nye has continued to make this claim because he knows it sounds so alarming to modern audiences who are taught in public schools to trust science as their final authority.

The problem with Nye’s claim is that belief in molecules-to-man evolution is not the same as critical thinking or developing technology. Many disciplines in science have either been pioneered by people who believed in biblical creation or were heavily influenced by this view, such as Kepler, Newton, Boyle, Linnaeus, Euler, Faraday, Babbage, Joule, Pasteur, Lister, Maxwell, and Lord Kelvin. Their ability to innovate and think critically was not at all hurt by their Christian faith. In fact, in every case they remarked how their Bible-based faith bolstered their desire to learn and seek out the mechanisms by which God’s creation functioned.

This same passion has carried through to modern creation scientists. One example, cited by Ken Ham in his debate with Nye, is Dr. Raymond Damadian, pioneering designer of the MRI. To put it bluntly, Nye’s claim that creation stifles inquiry is ludicrous. It ignores the facts of history and science.

Notice the irony in Nye’s lament about the threat to free thought. Which viewpoint—creation or evolution—is accepted and taught uncritically in the public forum? Which side attempts to squash dissent with censorship and academic ostracism?

In contrast, the organization that sponsored the Nye-Ham debate, Answers in Genesis, doesn’t suppress thinking. Its publications and attractions, such as the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, encourage people to look at evolutionary science and examine its claims. It encourages critical thinking by giving both sides and openly acknowledging the assumptions behind both views.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson won fame as a science popularizer on television, beginning with PBS’ NOVA ScienceNow (2006–2011). Unlike Nye, he actually has a PhD in a scientific field (astrophysics) and has made contributions to science.

Tyson has parlayed his charisma to become today’s leading voice for cosmic evolution. Though he does not attack creation as sharply as Nye, he claims that evolution is essential to basic science, while creation is merely religion.

Tyson’s Claim:

Creation isn’t true science.

In interviews with the science podcast Star Talk, and later on the video channel of National Geographic News, Tyson has warned against injecting creation into the public schools and says it is not true science.

“I have nothing specifically against a creation museum, just keep it out of the science classroom. We live in a free country; people can say whatever they want about whatever—that’s what it means to be free. Just don’t confuse it with actual science” (Star Talk, October 18, 2013).

“What is the motivation to try to take a religious philosophy and influence what goes on in science? . . . If you substitute religious philosophy for science, there will be a generation of people who will not understand what science is, and they will be intellectually crippled from contributing to what the centuries have demonstrated to be the most efficient engine of economic growth that has ever been devised—and that is innovations in science and technology” (National Geographic News, June 6, 2014).

Answering Tyson’s Claim:

Tyson is right about some things. It would be a mistake to require both creation and evolution to be taught together in public schools, at least in our current social climate. Evolutionary teachers would have too much difficulty teaching creation accurately. While it’s true that teachers should have the freedom and be encouraged to point out problems within the evolutionary paradigm, that’s a different issue.

Tyson is being inconsistent when he argues that religious philosophy should be kept out of the classroom. By definition, secular humanism, atheism, and naturalism—Tyson’s own philosophical assumptions that drive his evolutionary interpretations—should be removed as well. All three are belief systems. Even the US Supreme Court has officially recognized secular humanism as a religion that should not be afforded special protection in the classroom (School District of Abington Township v. Schempp).

Tyson’s claim that creation is “not true science” is frankly absurd and based on a skewed definition of science that assumes you must already believe evolution in order to do science. He fails to acknowledge the vast difference between operational and historical science. When studying history, scientists must make assumptions they cannot prove. Cosmic evolution is an example; it is not an observation. When it comes to operational science, creation scientists do the same kind of exceptional work as other scientists.

When it comes to history, however, creationists just don’t accept atheistic, unobservable assumptions about cosmological, geological, and biological evolution that contradict the historical facts recorded in God’s Word. Other astronomers who believe in creation are equally as qualified as Tyson, such as Dr. Danny Faulkner, a researcher at Answers in Genesis who has several peer-reviewed and published scientific papers on binary stars and who taught at a secular university for decades. He doesn’t need to believe evolution to do “true science.”

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Dr. Richard Dawkins has been one of the most vocal opponents of creation for the past few decades. He received his doctorate from Oxford and became well-known for his book on evolution called The Selfish Gene (1976).

In his public role for many years as Oxford University’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science, he strongly advocated evolution in books, interviews, and other media. He continues to be an outspoken atheist with books like The God Delusion (2006).

Dawkins’ Claim:

“Ignorant” creationists won’t even look at the evidence for evolution.

Richard Dawkins has made many biting statements against Christians, and specifically creationists, that are often quoted. But one of his favorite mantras is that young-earth creationists refuse even to look at evidence for evolution.

“I said I’d never despise individuals, just their views. But there are limits, and YE Creationists who refuse to look at evidence pass mine” (tweet, May 14, 2015).

“Creationists . . . don’t even believe in the fundamental principle of biology [evolution], which is a fact” (Fox News Radio, October 2015).

“It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)” (New York Times Review of Books, April 9, 1989).

Answering Dawkins’ Claim:

Like Nye and Tyson, Dawkins argues that evolution is fact. His unique spin is that creationists refuse even to look at the evidence for biological evolution, that we have been brainwashed. Is there any basis to this claim?

It isn’t ignorance or brainwashing but precisely because of the evidence that we reject evolution in all its forms. The question is, What counts as evidence?

Christians believe that the Bible, the very Word of God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), is the best source of evidence we have about earth history and nature. It is our starting point for enquiring about truth. Evolutionists, on the other hand, begin with a different assumption: they reject the possibility of supernatural causation and revelation. This is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

With the Bible as our starting point, we can look at the natural laws that God created, such as laws of thermodynamics and the law of biogenesis, and we can examine whether natural selection and mutation could possibly account for molecules-to-man evolution. They can’t. Instead, they clearly show the Creator (Romans 1:18–20).

Far from refusing to look at any evidence, creationists carefully examine it all. Creationist articles, books, and museums regularly cite the specific evolutionary arguments and then test them using the most rigorous scientific and philosophical tools available. We desperately want to know the truth so we can speak accurately about the Creator and his handiwork. We have no fears where the evidence will lead because we know it all points to God’s glory.

Atheists Everywhere

Running into atheists is no longer a rarity in the US.

The number of atheists has doubled since 2007.

  • The total percent of atheists rose from 1.6% to 3.1%, according to the two latest Pew Research studies (Religious Landscape Studies, 2007, 2014).

Young adults are more likely to know an atheist than an evangelical Christian.

  • Young people (18–29) claimed to know an atheist (60%) more often than an evangelical Christian (45%), according to a 2017 Pew study.

Atheists and agnostics are now common in every region of the US.

  • “The skeptic population is now broadly dispersed across all regions” (“State of Atheism in America,” Barna 2015).

The Endgame—Why We “Fight”

In his second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul gave a thoughtful look back at his ministry as a preacher of the gospel. He uses military imagery, but he does not mean it in a literal sense. He understands exactly the challenges we face as “soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and he lays out God’s perfect plan for victory.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. . . . I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:5–8)

We don’t fight against flesh and blood but against false ideas, not because we are ignorant, brainwashed, or unwilling to learn, but precisely because we have learned the truth and see the bankruptcy of atheistic, evolutionary thought. Our weapon is the truth of God’s Word. We tell others the truth about Jesus Christ, the Creator and Savior of the world, because we care so much about God’s enemies. We were once God’s enemies, too. Christ and his apostles told us that we need to share this good news with others (Matthew 28:19–20; 1 Peter 3:15–16).

And as Peter said, we do so “with meekness and fear.” Not the fear of man, but the fear (reverence and respect) for God, who made all things and rules over them.

Our “endgame” is to do the work of an evangelist, “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). We teach biblical creation because the Creator God, who is the eyewitness of those events, wants all people to know his provision of salvation and be forewarned of the coming judgment. In his message at Athens, Paul told the Athenians that God created the world and everything in it, and then he used that truth as the springboard for the gospel.

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)

This is why we fight the good fight, because we are concerned for the souls of men and women, and we wish to see them repent, come to Christ, and be saved. Creation and the fall are the first and foundational steps in preaching Christ and the cross. Dr. Dawkins mused that he’d rather not consider that creationists are evil. What could be more evil than to know the truth that can set us free from eternal danger yet not shout a warning of God’s coming judgment?

Troy Lacey earned his bachelor of natural sciences (biology/geology) degree from the University of Cincinnati. Troy is a science writer on AiG’s content support team and is the chaplain services and prison ministry coordinator for AiG–USA.

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