A really good guy who I was good friends with in high school and I were recently discussing and debating through some pretty random and at times loosely connected topics. He is an atheist (or perhaps an agnostic) and thinks Christian thinking is at best foolhardy and at worst dangerous. I hope, nevertheless, that he still thinks of me as a friend, as I do of him.
A particularly interesting assertion he made was that atheism will eventually eradicate Christianity because the force of modern reasoning will overtake faith commitments of every kind. I thought it might be worth archiving this part of the conversation so that—if nothing else—I could make some use of it later.
At one point he said, “Well Bryan… I do take the word ‘provable’ with a grain of salt when used by a religious person. …I am amazed that religious evangelism has lasted this long after the Enlightenment and Darwin. I completely understand…evangelism because the opposition is growing. In our lifetime, both theism and atheism will endure. However, sometime after we are gone, one of the two will be hardly relevant and modern reasoning [will] take over. I am sure that we won’t agree on which one that is and that’s fine. I will just say that if I was a christian, I would be inviting some broke atheists for some Caribou Coffee.”
My response to my friend:
“I really thought you were above a swipe like the ‘grain of salt’ comment, dude. You know, don’t you, that your worldview commitments are just as deeply faith-based? You cannot prove that there is not a God to whom you are answerable. You cannot prove that this universe, despite all of its apparent organization and symmetry, is actually completely random and without any intended organization or purpose whatsoever. You cannot prove that nothingness randomly, inexplicably and without purpose generated ‘something-ness.’ And you cannot prove that your morality or your love for any other person is anything more than random chemical reactions that are completely meaningless and insignificant. And yet you feel that they are meaningful and significant, don’t you? You believe that it matters when you love someone. Why? Prove it.
I would love to hear a consistent atheist propose to a woman. ‘Baby, I have carefully studied your psychological and biological characteristics, and those of your family, and believe that we will breed well—in a way that will increase the odds of our offspring’s survival and prosperity. This is the only real reason that is quantifiable that leads me to propose to you. Will you put this tightly woven hunk of highly compressed carbon attached to this shiny malleable metal band (signifying absolutely nothing) on your finger, and be the upright-standing animal I will mate with for the foreseeable future?’
I do disagree with you that Christianity will disappear, and that’s not just a theological conviction or faith commitment. I think atheism will be seen as a passing attempt to avoid the most massive and weighty questions of the universe. I think it will be seen as a philosophy that was morally and philosophically bankrupt. Any worldview (like atheism) founded on a principle that cannot account for love, justice, kindness, truth, peace, empathy, etc., other than to call them random biochemical reactions and evolutionary biology will not long connect with the human experience, in which we all feel and know (somehow) that there is much more to these things than biochemistry. Atheism—taken to its logical conclusion where anything like morality and love (which are both unprovable and unquantifiable) are meaningless and useless concepts—is astoundingly bleak. Once it’s been around long enough and people are able to witness how consistent atheists live and die, it will completely lose its appeal.
Christianity, on the other hand, has endured and prospered for two thousand years, through massive societal upheaval, massive scientific advance, and global sociological shifts—precisely because it can take root in any human culture and help people to make sense of the world, of love, ethics, justice and morality in ways that science alone cannot. Atheism, in short, is dehumanizing. And humans won’t enjoy dehumanizing themselves for long. Christianity, on the other hand, embraces and celebrates humanity, and encourages human flourishing, precisely because it is divinely authored and crafted in the image of God.