1. Well I guessed I kicked the hornet’s nest when I wrote this article. That was not my intent. My goal was to help Christians communicate with atheists in a loving and effective way…not to anger atheists and skeptics. I guess its one of the disadvantages of the www.

    As I scrolled through the comments it seemed as though the bulk of the anger/frustration/sarcasm toward my article was the statement, “Assume that, down deep inside, they do believe in God.”

    This premise is not original with me. It’s original with Scripture. The reason I believe that, down deep inside, everyone has an innate knowledge of God is because of the passage in Romans 1:18-21, ““The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

    The last sentence of this passage makes it clear that every person knows enough about God to acknowledge him as real but some refuse to acknowledge him and, as a result, their hearts are darkened. I know that sounds harsh but it’s Scripture and, as a Christian, I accept it as truth. Now this knowledge of God may be at the subconscious level but it is present enough that those who reject his existence are, in God’s words, “without excuse.”

    Pretty intense but, if true, very sobering. Those who reject him will have no excuse on the day of judgment.

    But, having said that, this same God who created us out of love and then condemned us because of our rejection of him, sacrificed his one and only Son in our place for our sins so that everyone who puts their faith in him can have forgiveness, hope and eternal life.

    I know that these statements may grate against your mind as you read them but what if? What if it’s true? Would you be open minded enough to consider that Jesus just may have been who he claimed to be? Would you be open minded enough to consider that there is a God who created you, who was broken hearted at the fall of humanity, who sacrificed it all to be reconciled back to those whom he created (aka “you, me and everyone”)?

    My prayer for everyone reading this is that you will know the love of God. He has been the Father that I never had and he can be the same for you. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth if you trust in me you have everlasting life.” John 6:47.

    What separates Christianity from the rest of the world religions is that it rejects the ladder approach to salvation (do more, try harder, climb farther) and gives a cross instead. The ladder shouts “do!” But the cross shouts “DONE!”

    I encourage every atheist, agnostic, theist, whomever reading this blog to put your faith in Jesus right now. Whether you choose to accept God’s existence, he accepts your existence…but he longs for your salvation. Check out http://www.lifein6words.com if this thought intrigues you.

    Again, my blog was written for Christians to help them engage more thoughtfully with atheists. But, now that you’ve read it I humbly encourage you to consider Jesus as the way of salvation.

    By the way, if you are right and there is no god, then you shouldn’t worry about my belief in a God, or even my passion to evangelize atheists (and everyone else for that matter.) You should be living with reckless abandon getting the most out of life before you die. Wasting your time criticizing Christians and their beliefs is no investment worthy of your time. But, if there is even a slight possibility that the Bible is right, then will you pause and consider?Eternity may hang in the balance.

    And, like Forrest Gump, that’s all I’ve got to say about that :)

  2. Perhaps it’s semantics here, but I would put Greg’s thoughts on assuming that deep down, atheists do believe in God in a different way. I would argue that atheists simply cannot know if they are right. Can any of us number the stars in the universe? Can any of us number the grains of sand on even one beach? No. There are a great number of things we do not know with certainty even within the natural universe of things we could potentially measure if we had the ability.

    The theist has faith in their belief. The so-called atheist has faith in their unbelief. One thing we seem to have in common is that we all have faith in something! It just seems that most atheists don’t want to admit that what they have is faith. Can we know as theists 100% that there is a God? No. But it is a faith with good reason. Can atheists know 100% there is no God? No. And they have good reason for their doubt, but at the heart of it, it’s doubt an it’s inconclusive.

    The atheist would have to be all-knowing. (A god themselves–thereby disproving their own premise that there is no God. Haha!) Agnosticism is therefore intellectually more honest, isn’t it? Not knowing for sure? That the jury is out? Not enough evidence one way or the other?

    • Your whole tirade on ‘not knowing’ is the definition of agnosticism. And you make the mistake of thinking that’s it’s exclusive from atheism. It’s not. I’m an agnostic atheist. I don’t know what could possibly be out there. I’m eager to learn. I do not see evidence, however for any man made construct of spirituality. Therefore I reject them. I’m an agnostic atheist.

      Agnosticism is not ‘believing in god in another way.’ It’s the act of not knowing. Unbelief is no more a faith than bald is a hair colour. It is simply the absence of belief. Just as darkness is the absence of light and not another shade on the spectrum.

      It’s It is increasingly intellectually dishonest how every Christian here is twisting Mr. Stier’s words to put him in a better light instead of addressing the concerns of the people this article is trying to ‘minister’ to.

  3. Your friend James will be happy to know that, deep down, you think he is a liar when he say that he doesn’t believe in god(s)

    “C.S. Lewis’ Lord, lunatic or liar argument,”… So his James crazy, lunatic or a liar?

    • Lewis was arguing that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord based on what He claimed about himself. Lewis was not referring to James.

      • Wrong James. How about you read your friend’s diatribe there?

        • Not following you. Greg referred to using Lewis’ classic statement referring to Jesus. People who assume Jesus was a really nice, enlightened, humanitarian leader but don’t recognize His deity fail to see that if Jesus wasn’t who He claimed Himself to be, He must have been a liar (imposing divine qualities upon Himself) or a lunatic (just a crazy cult leader). Lewis argued that those are the only three options for Jesus’ identity.

  4. I appreciate your efforts to humanize Atheists as decent people, however every time the church addresses the issue of Atheism the always avoid the main reason for our disbelief. The Bible. I do relate & admire the Jesus you portray in your Sunday Sermons but he’s not the God of love that you sell him as. Jesus says if you do not believe in Moses then you don’t believe in me. Moses was reprehensible in the Bible citing revelation from God as grounds to commit rape, genocide & slavery. The implausible tales of the supernatural, asking us to accept the revelation of a group of ancient zealous masochistic cruel & vindictive scribes over modern day reason is a deal breaker for us. The concept of hell preached in the New Testament is also offensive to us because it promotes division & torture. Atheist or Agnostic our reasons for not accepting the Gospels have everything to do with what’s written in the Bible. I believe Pastors don’t address this because a significant portion of the Bible is awkward & largely indefensible in our modern era.

  5. 1) I don’t expect anyone to be shocked by reality. When they are, I simply feel sorry for them. 2) Why? Objective evidence. 3) Talking about your Imaginary Friend is inherently irrational. You can not connect with me rationally. 4) Yeah, like I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. 5) Sadly, your “love story,” comes with a ton of other baggage like the Pentateuch, the Gnostic Gospels, and christian history from 33 CE to today.

  6. Nice guide, I made a reversed one.

    How to discuss religion with religious people

    1. Don’t be shocked and do ask a ton of questions.

    It may come as a surprise when you first encounter a grown-up who actually believe there is a man in the sky (of course he’s got to be a man) that not only created the whole universe, but can also commuicate via telepathy (prayer) and surveil 7 billion people simultaneously and that he created us all, but still blames ur for our faults.

    Ask them why they believe this and how to they reached the conclusion that it is true. If they believe in one unprovable thesis, ask them if they do believe in other gods as well? Most likely they believe this man in the sky is alone and they dismiss all other claims of a creator, except their own, even though the other thesises are supported by just as much (little) evidence (an old book, written by multiple, fallible, human hands, that has been modified many times since it was written).

    Don’t ever ask for evidence. This will scare the religious person into a defending position, since he or she deep down inside knows there is no actual evidence to prove the thesis, just personal conviction and wishing it is true. Asking for evidence is a dead-end. In a strong (weak) religious mind, the absensce of evidence is itself the actual evidence, since while at the same time they can’t prove their claim, you can’t disprove it either.

    2. Litsen deeply to the real “why”.

    More often than not the belief is a product of growing up in a family or society that believes the same thing. Very often it is also because the person really want to believe it (wishful thinking). It just feels good believing that there are a father in the sky who watches over us and loves us, despite our failures and “sins” (being human).

    Ask them about the logic of the loving Man in the sky. Why does he have a place prepared for some of us, where we will suffer in eternity for not knowing him? It’s an infinite punishment for a finite crime. What about the people that where raised in a different culture, people that still live in nature, people that hasn’t even heard of their claim. They are doomed, simply because they didn’t get the chance to be raised up in a communtiy of “truth”.

    By now, the religious person is certainly startled by talk of logic and evidence. That is because the reason they have faith is not because of reasoning at all. That’s because religion is not even reasonable. It’s mainly the upbringing that is the cause of the belief. Ask him or her, if they were raised in another part of the world, would they still have the same religious values. Almost everyone admits that they would probably been a part of some other religion.

    3. Connect objectiviely.

    Religious people are real people with real feelings (believe it or not). They hate, condemn, and molest children more frequently than atheists but they are really real people. At least science seems to point in that direction.

    Talk science with them. Science connects and unifies us in a way our subjective world views never can. All humans share the same genetic code (99,9% alike) and so we are not, contrary to impopular belief, divided into races. We are one species. Living on one planet, alongside countless of other species, sustained by one of the countless stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.

    Regardless of what view you have on all-powerful creators of Universes in the sky, we can all agree we have the Sun to thank for life. But stars, just like atheists and theists, eventually die. And when the Sun does die, we will also die, unless we have learned more science and thought of a way of escaping the Earth for some other habitable planet.

    We almost all agree that hurting and killing each other is a bad way of living life. We would be very stressful creatures with that kind of threat constantly and stress is something we would want to reduce if we want the chance of feeling happy.

    Science has showed us fear leads to anger and hate, and anger and hate leads to irrational actions. Hitler is a good example of a charismatic psychopath that with the help of a propaganda machine and the desperation of his countrymen could one of the biggest mass killings in history. He nourished their fear and desperation and turned it into hate, directed at a whole group of people. And the threat was not even real. Many fears rises out of ignorance, for example racists claiming some other “race” aspires to take over the world by migration and reproduction. That leads to hate for the “race”.

    The theist will often agree that ignorance is a source of hate and that the way to counter ignorance (and thereby hate) is by education. Education is a product of testing and the scientific method.

    When talking science, some theists says they don’t believe in evolution. They are almost exclusively from the less enlightened parts of the US or the less enlightened parts of the Middle-East (that’s where the churches makes the most effort and spends the most money in keeping people from getting educated in the name of God).The Catholic church actually took about 2 weeks to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution when it was presented in the 19th century. For 150 years scientists has tried to disprove the theory (that’s how they work) but it all points in the direction that evolution is true. The evidence for evolution is by now as overwhelmning as the evidence for our annual circulation of the Sun.

    But these theists just don’t want to see the fact, often because they reject the “survival of the fittest”-proposal, as they see it as an animalistic way of living, where every man is for himself and they leap to the conclusion that a species formed by evolution is a species without morals. Point out that we have observed morals in other animals, like dogs and elephants. And most importantly, help them let go of the misconception that evolution is egoistical in nature. In fact, the human species became succesful because of empathy and thinking in groups. When we worked together, we traded knowledge and that leads to learning even more. We became fitter for the world, because of working together. Fitter than we could ever be working alone. Survival of the fittest is not appealing in singular form, but in plural it makes a lot of sense.

    4. Assume that, down deep inside, they *do* belive in Zeus.

    I don’t think I never met anyone who genuinely rejects the existence of Zeus. Sure, I’ve met many who have claimed Zeus’s existence to be a lie but I’m convinced that, down deep inside, they really do believe there’s a Zeus throwing lightning arrows at unsuspecting Christians.

    Why do I believe that? Because Shakespeare in Hamlet makes is clear that words can’t go to heaven.

    “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

    When you assume a Christian, Jew or Muslim really believe in the existence of Zeus it gives you the freedom not to have to prove Zeus’s existence but to share Zeus’s story. You can be sure that, down deep inside, the words of Hamlet is churning in the soul of the religous person.

    Or better yet:

    4. Don’t assume things about people you do not know, because that is stupid and pointless and usually wrong anyway.

  7. I don’t think Christians ever get that atheists don’t care what the bible says and it holds no moral authority, truth or wisdom.

  8. Is this guy serious? Honestly can’t tell if he’s just trolling or what…

    Seriously, all of these are ridiculous, but number 4 make me chuckle to myself a bit. That’s kind of exactly the opposite of what you should assume.

  9. What the deuce!? What did I just read? Wow. You’re totally a pigeon on a chessboard. No matter how well I play chess, the pigeon is going to kick over pieces and leave droppings all over the board. If you refuse to acknowledge the position of an atheist (there are no gods), then you aren’t interested in having any dialogue with them. Your guidelines are nothing more than an exercise in masturbation.

  10. I have a great idea.

    Greg, here I am, an atheist. You start up a new page, and you demonstrate how well your methods work with me.

    To an atheist, this piece looks like a huge admission of “I don’t understand atheists, or people who demand evidence for their beliefs, at all.”

    Perhaps, after you’ve given it a go with a thoughtful and well educated detractor, you’ll be ready to write this one again.

  11. If there are “no real atheists” as you claim, then by that exact same reasoning there are no real Christians, either. THIS is why faith is dying, you’d rather outright dismiss our ideas and even our very humanity (to include our existence) than to even consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

    THIS is the height of christian arrogance, “Everything outside my realm of belief is either wrong or not real.” Sorry to burst your little bubble here, but I’m quite certain and quite glad that I don’t believe in your invisible sky fairy AT ALL.

  12. The apologetics cited here (the Lord, Liar or Lunatic argument, and the Teleological Argument) are ancient and logically weak. For a succinct description of the flaws in each argument, one need look no farther than wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis's_trilemma#Criticisms

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument#Criticism

  13. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who genuinely rejects the existence of God. Sure, I’ve met many who have claimed God’s existence to be a lie but I’m convinced that, down deep inside, they really do believe there’s a God.”

    Thereby showing the crippling lack of imagination and empathy one often finds in people who need to believe in childish, irrational myths to get through life.

  14. I’m an atheist, and #4 is why I have no respect for your type of Christian.

    People, if you want to talk to an atheist, please assume that the worldview that they present to you is the one that they actually do hold. If you’re going to start off by assuming that you know what we do and don’t believe better than we do, don’t even bother.

    Yes. There are people in the world who ACTUALLY don’t have any belief in god. Romans 1:18-21 is simply wrong (a lot of the rest of the bible is wrong too, but that’s a different conversation).

    Shocker of shockers, it is actually possibly for other people to hold beliefs that are different from yours.

  15. “When you assume that an atheist does really believe in the existence of God it gives you the freedom not to have to prove God’s existence but to share God’s story. ”

    This is, quite frankly, offensive. You’re assuming that I believe the same things that you do, to try to convince me that I’m wrong and you’re right? Why do you want to convince me at all? Why do you think I want to be convinced? Can’t you just accept that others people believe differently than you do?

    Sorry, but this stereotype that atheists are just people who are ‘angry’ at God or mad at the church needs to go. I’m an atheist because mankind has worshipped over three thousand gods since recorded history, and I can’t find any convincing evidence that any of them actually exist.

    If you have some evidence that is observable, testable, or repeatable that out of these three thousand deities, yours is the correct one, then I’d love to see it. Otherwise, I’ll have to assume that you don’t believe in Thor because you’re just mad at him (but we know that deep down you really do believe).

    See how arrogant and condescending that sounds?

  16. I’ve got to weigh in on one point. Everyone keeps accusing Greg of arrogance for assuming that atheists believe in God somewhere deep down. Instead of accusing, you might try conversing with Greg on a more intelligent level. He’s not insinuating that anyone is lying. Rather, he’s addressing a philosophical issue – that maybe one of the reasons so many people worship a god of some kind, and maybe one of the reasons people make the kinds of decisions they do, is because their Creator has put it into them to struggle with this core belief.

    IF you believe there is a Creator, as Greg obviously does, then it would make sense to believe that he hard-wired his creatures to seek after him, even if only to come to the conclusion that he doesn’t exist.

    So feel free to dialog, but do so understanding that Greg’s perspective isn’t intended to insult individuals but rather to assess a philosophical issue with all of humanity, with which you might strongly disagree.

    • “He’s not insinuating that anyone is lying..”

      Yes, he is. And YOU are lying.

    • Virtually every atheist here has raised the exact same point. While popular opinion does not necessarily equate truth, you may want to consider that our offense and anger is legitimate rather than dismissing us as Mr. Stier did so effectively.

      As for dialogue, we have all raised our voices in concern, anger, and yes even contempt for how Mr. Stier talks about us. We have asked questions and posted opinions. Some of these comments have been here for days. Where is the response? Where is the rebuttal? Dialogue takes two. We took the time to rebuff Mr. Stier’s caricature of people like us. He has remained aloof and unresponsive in the comments section. I’m not saying that he’s obliged to respond to any of us, but for you to accuse us of refusing to dialogue based on Stier’s lack of response is intellectual dishonesty on your part.

    • OverlappingMagisteria December 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

      I appreciate your call to understanding and dialog, Brandon. I do not believe that Greg was trying to insult anyone, but his words were insulting nonetheless. Claiming to understand someone’s belief (or lack thereof) better than that person himself is insulting. Backing that idea up with a Bible verse that say that we “suppress the truth by (our) wickedness” doesn’t help the matter either. Perhaps he did not realize how this would sound to an atheist.
      I’m not sure that Greg was trying to express the philosophical issue that you raised. In the article, he stated that truly believe in God “down deep inside” and that we do “really believe in the existence of God.” The Romans passage that he used for support mentions that God can be “clearly seen” and that “they knew God” and, as mentioned above, “suppress the truth.” This is different that what you are saying: that everyone is wired to seek, but not necessarily believe in God. Perhaps I am misreading Greg’s words, but they seem quite different from yours.

      • Perhaps you could give Greg (and the Bible) the benefit of the doubt, just for the sake of argument, and discuss if there might be any truth to these statements. That requires a huge degree of openness and honesty. It’s not giving ground to just explore the remote possibility that there might be some truth that we can unpack and explore together. And that works both ways, of course. Perhaps there is not enough trust on this site to be vulnerable in that way.

        • You assume that none of us have taken the time to really, deeply study your theological claims. Most of us have, many of us probably more than yourself. We came to the opposite conclusion you did. That does not mean we did not study enough.

    • Somebody who possesses knowledge of something that is actually true would not need to do so much dancing around to demonstrate it.

      Here’s one of the reasons I am unconvinced that the Christian deity exists: a truly all-powerful being that wants a personal relationship with each and every human being badly enough to die for it wouldn’t need other humans to offer weak apologetic.

      • ….”a truly all-powerful being that wants a personal relationship with each
        and every human being badly enough to die for it wouldn’t need other
        humans to offer weak apologetic.”

        How can you be so sure you know God’s thoughts or how he works in the world? Perhaps he does not need anything or anyone to do anything, but he chose to create us, as a perfectly gratuitous act of love.

    • “He’s not insinuating that anyone is lying.”

      He’s insinuating that we are lying to ourselves.

      I know that it’s not intended to insult. It’s still insulting and condescending.

    • How do you converse with him on an intelligent level? By dropping that bomb, it’s officially a game of chess against a pigeon. No matter how intelligent our moves our, he’s going to kick over pieces and leave droppings all over the board. If Greg thinks everyone believes in his god, it frees him from his biggest responsibility as someone trying to convert people. Proving that his god is real. Atheists don’t believe in his god (or any others). They aren’t angry at them in the way we may be angry with our legislatures. Those who have anger at them are angry at god the way that readers of Harry Potter may be angry at Harry’s aunt and uncle. Anger at god is just as valid a proof of God’s existence as anger at Cobra Commander is a justification of the existence of GI Joe and Cobra or anger as Magneto is a justification of the X-men’s existence

      Oh, and the fact that he describes the gospel as a love story is hilarious. It’s almost like he never read the bible. Better let Jesus into your heart so he can save you from what he’ll do to you if you don’t let him in. Religion is the oldest example of a protection racket that I can think of. At least when the mafia does it, the threat of fiery doom is proven fact, not some sort of fantasy about how you hate people that disagree with your worldview so much that you wish them eternal suffering.

  17. “Sometimes it’s anger”

    This kind of dishonesty is the reason more people in the west are turning their backs on your weird death cult.

    There is no god, and no reason to think there is one. The evidence it’s made up is convincing. No “anger” required.

    • That’s probably the only part of this self-indulgent pat-on-the-back fest that I found some truth in. Anger is not how I rationalise being an atheist, but I’m self-aware enough to know that it was part of the catalyst.

  18. I don’t think I could think of someone I would want to converse with about my personal beliefs less than someone who is so arrogant, so condescending, and so self-righteous as to insist from the get go that I am LYING about my atheism.

    I do not believe in God. Yours, or any of the other 3,000 currently worshipped in human society. I have my reasons. They stem from a childhood in a country ripped apart by religious wars and Christian terrorists, high school years in a bigoted and backwards Christian high school, and most importantly from my decision to educate myself in both science and theology and come up with my own personal informed opinion.

    To say that I am not real, that my beliefs are not real, that I am merely suppressing something you know and embrace and love is not only an insult to my intelligence and worth as a person, but a disregard for every life experience that led me to a life without religion.

    You are doing nothing to enhance the cause of Christianity, Mr. Stier. In fact, you are doing the opposite. You are reminding us why we are so glad we don’t have to associate with such incredible arrogance or intellectual cowardice.

    • The anger is palpable. I think in some very ironic way, you might be lending credulity to some of Mr. Stier’s points.

      • And what point is that? That deep, deep down I’m just a poor confused little man who’s angry at God? You bet I’m angry. But it’s from being referred to in a condescending way and accused of being dishonest. Christianity angers me. Christians anger me. God angers me as much as Yoda does.

        • Easy now. Yoda is off-limits.

        • I do not assume you’re angry at God. I don’t assume this about any atheist. In fact, I choose to make very few assumptions about anyone. I still don’t think Greg’s intent was to be condescending or accusatory and that’s simply because I know Greg. He’s a guy who took a dozen people from every different belief system, including an atheist, on a hiking trip for the sole purpose of dialoging and understanding other mindsets without an agenda to convert anyone. I’m trying to see this from both sides.

          When it comes to the atheist vs. theist debate, I’m not one to spend a long time in debate over it. I believe that there is a Creator who has revealed himself through the Bible and offered His Son as a sacrifice for my sin. I know it probably sounds crazy to some people. I get that. It may sound barbaric, or superstitious. I get that too. But at the end of the day, it’s what I believe to the point that I’ve gone “all in” with my faith. I’m putting everything on Jesus.

          I know people who have made a different decision or who have come to different conclusions. I respect that. I have close family members who don’t believe and we get along just fine.

          For any Christian who has assumed things about you or who has been condescending toward you personally, I think that’s wrong. I only assume two things about you. 1. You’re an atheist (as I’ve deduced from your comments) and 2.) You’re Irish. Right next door to our church office is a sweet Irish pub called Beef O’Brady’s. If you were in my town, I’d love to buy you a drink there and converse in a non-judgmental, non-condescending way.

          I know Greg’s heart is similar to mine, so perhaps his wording wasn’t the best, but I know where he’s coming from, so I have the benefit of knowing the context of his life and ministry.

          Thanks for showing up here and asking these hard questions. I’ve left them intact because I think that Christians need to be made aware of how we sometimes come across even when we have good intentions. So thanks for keeping me in check.

          • I find it curious that you defend your own treatment and interaction with atheists when that really wasn’t the discussion. You didn’t write this article. No one here is angry at your words. You respect and like your atheist friends and neighbours? Good. But that’s not the issue here.

            When someone says “Atheists don’t exist. Deep down they believe in God,” it’s a blatantly clear statement that doesn’t require any misinterpretation. It means that when I say I’m an atheist – that I don’t believe in God – Mr. Stier thinks I am 1). Lying. or 2) Not intelligent enough to realise what he intrinsically knows. There’s no defense for that.

            Every atheist on here has raised the same point. Each and every one. Some with words of kindness, others with anger. But we’re all the same thing. Strier insulted and degraded us and called us all liars. Intentionally? Maybe, maybe not. But he did. Maybe once he actually addresses us and tries to clarify, we’ll think differently. Unlikely, but it’s possible.

            The rest of us don’t know Mr. Stier. We don’t have the benefit of your inside view of the situation. We have to take his words at face value – like we do the Bible – without the advantage of context or years of background familiarity. Not that I think it would help in this case. If I knew Mr. Stier, I’d be more angered at finding out what he actually thinks of me.

            I’ll pass on the American “Irish” pub, thanks. Being surrounded by Plastic Paddies is not how I prefer to spend my time.

          • Sat Beach, represent!

            I’m an atheist, though :/

  19. I’m very happy with your approach. As a method of bringing atheists “into the fold”, it is hopelessly inadequate and I suspect is more likely to assist the proselytiser in leaving their mythological belief system behind than doing anything to ensnare the atheist.

    And just so you know, no means no. This applies to gods too.

  20. Utter crap, stick to preaching to your fellow Christians.

  21. Mr. Stier, I have no doubt from your effort here that you are a good man with a loving heart. Wanting to understand atheists rather than passing summary condemnation on them is a worthy goal, and a refreshing change from what we atheists usually experience. I spend a great deal of time speaking with Christians individually and to whole congregations in churches, not trying to change their beliefs about the god they believe in, but hoping only to change their beliefs about atheists. Those beliefs cause very serious suffering for good, decent people, not just atheists, but also their families and friends. I speak to them gently and respectfully, giving them accurate information about what atheists actually think, feel and do, and suggesting to them that they might better reflect the best teachings of their savior if they were to reconsider and cease the fearful and hateful ways they treat nonbelievers. To do this, they have to set aside what they have been told and what they have theorized about atheists, and be willing to listen openly to many more than one atheist. It takes time and willingness.

    As of now, you are not within 100 miles of understanding atheists. You are responding only to the atheist you have dreamed up in your imagination. Although yours is more sympathetic, it is just as unreal as the evil, sub-human, monstrous stereotypes that many Christians believe atheists to be.

    I urge you to read very carefully every word of the people who are criticizing your remarks here, and to take what they say seriously. They are giving you valuable information. Yes, it will be difficult, even uncomfortable to hear, but please do not dismiss what they say just because some of them are delivering that information with an angry or frustrated tone. To do that would be to seize upon an excuse to invalidate their points, and to rob yourself of the opportunity to ACCURATELY understand atheists, which I assume is your sincere intention.

    I wish you well, and I hope after a few years of getting to know atheists more closely than a chat on a plane flight you revisit this subject, and that you will write something that will be more useful for mutual understanding between Christians and atheists.

    With sincere respect,
    Richard Wade

    • A loving heart? All I saw was an obsessive need to demonstrate ‘why I am right and you are not.’

    • Richard,
      You do realize that everything you said applies if you exchange the words “atheist” with “theist”?
      You must surely know the incomprehensible brutality of atheists toward Christians in recent history? And you must know who it is that has always stood up for the weakest and most defenseless?

      • Let me guess. Stalin and Mao. Well I can throw Hitler and Osama Bin Laden back at you.

        The fact that you believe that it is only Christians who stand up of the weakest and most defenseless shows how truly biased you are towards anyone who believes differently.

        Where were Christians during the AIDS crisis? Blocking research legislation so tax money wouldn’t go to help gay people.

        Where were they when Christian terrorists marched across Ireland? Taking collections in churches to fund the IRA

        Where were they when two Christians murdered Matthew Shepard? Trying to erect a monument commemorating the day he went to hell.

        Where were they when priests raped thousands of children? Hiding it from the authourities.

        Bad people do bad things. Very often, these people are religious. Quite often they are Christians. Good people do good things. These people can be religious, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Taoist or whatever else.

        But to suggest that your particular superstition has a monopoly on helping the weak and defenseless not only is a slap in the face to all of us who don’t need your god to help others, it’s in blatant ignorance to Christianity’s facilitation of terrorism, rape, slavery, and mass murder around the world.

      • You must surely know the incomprehensible brutality of atheists toward Christians in recent history?

        Lol whut? There’s 7 states where it has been illegal for me to hold public office for 200 years. When did that happen to you?

      • Please, by all means, show us the incomprehensible brutality of atheists towards Christians. I’m drawing a blank.

      • bbrown, your argument is so old it has a Latin name. The good behavior of people who believe something does not mean their belief is correct. The bad behavior of people who believe something does not mean their belief is incorrect. These are Ad Hominem arguments, one of the first fallacious arguments that students learn about in debating classes.

        To believe an elaborate claim about anything, I need evidence. The significance of the evidence needs to match the significance of the claim. An almighty universal being is the biggest claim ever proposed, and so far, there’s zero evidence. Only arguments.

        Arguments are not evidence. Arguments need evidence. Arguments are what people offer when they don’t have evidence. Legends in a Bronze Age book are not evidence for their own veracity. Undocumented hearsay about “miracles” are not evidence for the veracity of the claim. Warm happy feelings when someone believes something are not evidence that the belief is correct. Being emotionally moved by sunsets, starry skies, mountain vistas, soaring symphonies, and babies’ laughter is not evidence for anything supernatural. Excuses for the lack of evidence is not evidence. Complaints about the lack of evidence for a competing claim is not evidence supporting your claim. Your claim needs its own evidence. Evidence stimulates at least one of the five and only five senses. Anyone can perceive it without special esoteric communication with the supernatural, for which, again, there is no evidence.

        The person who makes the claim is responsible for providing the evidence. I make no claim that there is no god. I am simply unconvinced by people who claim there is. You’re making the claim, so please provide the evidence.

        I’m not being stubborn, or defiant, or prideful, or mulish. Please don’t try to dismiss what I need to believe an elaborate claim with more ad hominem. What I need is what I need. I’m open to credible evidence. The problem is that Christians’ standards for what is evidence are usually very different from mine.

  22. The title of this piece should be – ‘How To Demonstrate Dim-Witted Arrogance To Strangers’

  23. If this is supposed to be a guide for pastors, then let me tell you, it won’t work on me. Because I prefer substance. Do you have any?

    You’ll find a deconstruction of this collapsed intellectual soufflé you’ve offered here:

    http://www.rationalskepticism.org/general-faith/how-to-share-the-gospel-with-an-atheist-t42767-20.html#p1865055

  24. Personally, I don’t think that “James” is a real person or that the conversation on the flight ever happened…it reads too much like a caricature (or, more accurately, a reverse caricature in that you are portraying the atheist as everything that you don’t think that atheists are: i.e. reasonable, nice, and intelligent).

    However, to the substance.

    1) is good advice in just about any situation where there is a difference of position. From there, you go downhill fast.

    2) To say that you have to “Listen deeply for the real “why.”” is to say that you are assuming that the person you are talking to is lying.

    3) The sad thing about this is the apparent need to tell your fellow believers to treat those that don’t agree with them as fellow human beings.

    4) Is the height of arrogance and condescension. The presumption that YOU know what everybody ELSE believes.

    5) is just nonsense from an atheist’s point of view. Whether you frame it (wrongly) as a love story, or as the unjust and immoral story that it is doesn’t matter when talking to someone that does not accept the validity of the Bible. Your claim of “James” being intrigued by this is one of the more odious parts of your story. Why would ANYONE be intrigued by something as commonplace as this?

    • “4) Is the height of arrogance and condescension. The presumption that YOU know what everybody ELSE believes.”
      This seems like a very sore point for many of the unbelievers posting here.
      I wonder ..have you ever read C.S. Lewis’s take on this in which he uses a postal mailbox and letters as analogous to the common thoughts of mankind?
      For this reason and others I don’t see the statement as arrogant or presumptuous but rather a common observation of mankind that we all seem to, at the very least, think about the existence of God.

    • …”.it reads too much like a caricature (or, more accurately, a reverse
      caricature in that you are portraying the atheist as everything that you
      don’t think that atheists are: i.e. reasonable, nice, and intelligent”

      My first thought when I read it. It seemed fake – I did not want to say so, but it just did not ring true.

      Re. No 2: I think the point is valid, if by it the author means that we both should dig deeper and unpack as much as possible underlying assumptions that might need to be examined and challenged. Also, the clarification of definitions, which is so vital to a meaningful exchange of ideas, could fall under this step.

  25. I wasn’t very impressed by this bit:

    When you assume that an atheist does really believe in the existence of
    God it gives you the freedom not to have to prove God’s existence…

    First you assume that the atheist has lied about his lack of belief and then you use that assumption to avoid the burden of proof. Were you just not thinking clearly? Or are you so lacking in arguments for the existence of God that you deliberately employ this technique in order to side-step the issue?

    • Option 3: He is so intellectually dishonest that he knowingly uses disingenuous tactics and shell-game semantic trickery in his snake-oil sales pitch.

    • Wow. I facepalmed so hard at the beginning of that section, I didn’t bother reading to that part. I thought I couldn’t have any more contempt for this guy, but he got even worse.

  26. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who genuinely believes in the existence of God. Sure, I’ve met many who have claimed God’s existence to be real but I’m convinced that, down deep inside, they really do believe there’s no God.”

    Did that sound rude or presumptuous to you? If someone you were talking to made that assumption, would it offend you? Think about why that is, and then reconsider that point.

  27. Greg–I thought your piece to be insufferably sanctimonious and condescending. Especially your smug certainty (fairly common among evangels & apologists) that deep-down, all those who claim to be atheists actually know perfedctly well there is a God. If you really want to have a healthy dialogue with atheists & other assorted unbelievers, you better start by considering the possibility that many, or most of us, have perfectly rational, informed and sound reasons for our unbelief.

    • Im interested:
      What are some of these rational, informed, sound reasons for your unbelief?
      Or if you would prefer just one solid reason with supporting argument for why it is a solid reason?

      • It’s not just disbelief in God, but disbelief in the supernatural generally. And it’s not that I rule these things out wholesale, but that they have every appearance of being products of primitive & wishful human imagination, with no informed, rational reasoning behind them. The onus is not on the skeptic to show that the supernatural is illusory, but upon the believer to show that it is real. If someone tries to persuade you that the Loch Ness Monster exists, is it your obligation to disprove it, or his to provide sound reasons for its existence?
        But are we talking about a specific superstition, or a specific God, such as the wildly popular Jahweh? As I see it, belief in this creature is based on little more than tradition, fear, credulity, and faith. If anyone can propose a specific solid reason why they think he is real, I will be happy to provide a solid argument for why I think they are being hosed.

        • ……”they have every appearance of being products of primitive & wishful
          human imagination, with no informed, rational reasoning behind them….”

          Whenever I hear this I just have to sigh because there is no end of solid, rational, evidential reasons that bring people to know the truth of God’s existence. When someone says there is “no evidence” it’s the only time I feel like this person is not honest and willfully refuses to even look at the evidence. It’s the only time that I’ll say to myself what was said in 2 Timothy: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels”.

          The least they can do is admit that there is a lot of evidence that should be countered with argument. These arguments include historical, cosmological, personal, philosophical, archeological, scientific, teleological, etc, etc. Pick one or two and tell us why it is wrong.

          All that said, I agree with some of the above, that I did not like the tone of this article. I agree that it comes across as condescending and I disagree with some of the premises.
          I’d consider it arrogant as well if I was still an atheist.

          • OverlappingMagisteria December 3, 2013 at 7:21 am

            I think there is a miscommunication on definitions. When an atheist says “there is no evidence,” what they mean is that there is no evidence that they consider valid or sound. Most atheists are familiar with most of the arguments you listed above but don’t consider them valid or sound for various reasons. (I’m not sure that I know exactly what you mean by the “philosophical” and “scientific” arguments, but I’d wager that I’ve heard them before, just under different names.)
            As to your challenge, I’ll briefly tackle the cosmological. You can find plenty of rebuttals to those arguments that will be much more through and better written if you search online. To me, the cosmological argument seems to suffer from the Argument from Ignorance fallacy. It is essentially saying that Something Unknown caused the universe, therefore it was God. Attributes such as personal, omnipotent, and benevolent get tacked on haphazardly after that. I prefer to say that if Something Unknown caused the universe, then that thing is unknown and we are not justified in claiming that we do know about it. “What caused the Big Bang?” may be a valid and interesting question, but I think it is more prudent to say that we don’t yet know instead of defaulting to “God did it” for no other reason than that he could’ve assuming he exists. Seems like its just assuming the existence of God so that we can satisfy the answer to an interesting question.

          • “”What caused the Big Bang?” may be a valid and interesting question”

            Point of order. Since Cause and Effect are necessarily temporal events, and time began with the Big Bang, then it may not even be valid to ask “What caused the Big Bang.” Cause and Effect may be meaningless concepts when it comes to that event.

          • OverlappingMagisteria December 4, 2013 at 6:15 am

            This is true and I was careful to say that it “may” be a valid question (maybe I should’ve used “might” instead…) But I didn’t want to get too much into that aspect because it doesn’t matter either way. Even if it does make sense to ask “What caused the Big Bang?”, it is unsatisfactory to answer with “Goddidit.”

          • You say that it is unsatisfactory. I wonder why that is. It seems that it is at least a reasonable option. The Bible even declares that God “spreads the heavens out like a curtain,” perhaps indicating that the biblical writer, who could not have known about the big bang, was given insight as he wrote concerning the continual expansion of the universe. I would not argue that this is the only possibility in which one could believe, only that it is a perfectly reasonable option.

          • OverlappingMagisteria December 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

            I hoped that my longer post above explained why it is “unsatisfactory” but perhaps it did not. Let me try to elaborate:

            It is not enough to provide God as a hypothesis for the creation of the universe, there needs to be supporting evidence that the hypothesis is true as well. The Cosmological Argument (which is what I was addressing) just provides this hypothesis and assumes that because it could be the answer, it therefore is the answer. I’ll grant that God is a potential answer, in the same way that 2,000 years ago, Zeus was a potential answer to “Why is there lightning?”, in the same way that today, multiverse theory is a potential answer to a number of physics problems. However, we are not justified to conclude that, in these cases, God, Zeus, and the multiverse exists, simply because they might. It is a leap to go from God is a potential answer to this question, to God is the answer, to therefore God exists (as the Cosmological does). It’s a bit circular: assume God exists so that we have an answer to a question, and therefore, since we have an answer, he exists.

            I am familiar with the Bible verses that mention God spreading out the heavens. In my opinion, it is a bit of a stretch (ha!) to interpret this as referring to the expansion of the universe. It seems to be referring to God creating the firmament over the earth: the solid dome-like structure that ancient Mesopotamians believed separated our living space from the “waters above.” The mention of God’s spreading out of the heavens in Isaiah 40:22 follows up to compare it to a “tent to dwell in” which would support this interpretation. For this reason I don’t accept that as evidence that the biblical god caused the Big Bang.

            I know that there are many verses in the Bible that can be interpreted to support modern scientific discoveries. I find that many of these rely heavily on creative interpretation and cherry-picking. For every verse that’s says that the Earth “hangs upon nothing”, there is a verse mentioning the Earth sitting upon pillars. For every verse that can be interpreted to explain some aspect of biology, there is another that suggests that heredity is based on what animals are looking at while mating. It is an unfair treatment of the text to claim the “scientifically accurate” verses as true and the others as metaphor post hoc; once we already have the scientific knowledge and already know what scientific fact the text is “supposed” to support. Think of it this way: if the Bible was clearly explaining that the universe is expanding, why is that no Christians or Jews were making that claim before Hubble’s discovery? It was only after we discovered the expansion of the universe through scientific observation that people started applying this new interpretation to the text.

          • I’m with you. But we can make conclusions based on a preponderance of evidence. Scientists say that when t=0 (before the Big Bang) everything is unknowable or undiscoverable using any of our existing laws of physics. Other scientists, however, hold that perhaps our universe did not originate from a Big Bang, but rather that the Big Bang is merely a mirage created by the implosion of a 4D black hole.

            Either way, scientists are in the business of challenging the theories of their colleagues and testing everything. Out of testing and argumentation comes a better understanding of truth. Many scientists are convinced of the Big Bang based on the preponderance of evidence they see supporting it. So even though there could be no eyewitnesses, based on the images we have of the early universe and other factors, they’ve concluded a Big Bang must have happened.

            Why is it so unreasonable, then, that a Christian would consider the possibility of God as the First Cause, combined with the complexity and wonder of creation, combined with the voices of ancient prophecy, combined with the ontological factor of our nearly universal searching for a divine presence, etc. etc. to ultimately believe in a higher power?

            What concerns me is the insinuation that since we cannot conclusively say that God was the First Cause of the Big Bang, we therefore are not allowed to conclude that He exists.

            I’m simply arguing that intelligent people are to be found on both sides of the fence. Most of the true atheists that I’ve interacted with are quite intelligent. And most of the Christian apologists I know are fairly sharp as well.

          • OverlappingMagisteria December 5, 2013 at 7:12 am

            There are certainly plenty of intelligent people on both sides of the debate, no argument there. Of course, since the two sides are arguing opposite points, they cannot both be right. One of the sides, even with its intelligent supporters, is wrong. Hopefully, discussions such as this one can lead to figuring out which side that is.

            I agree that if there is a preponderance of evidence pointing toward something it makes sense to believe it. The evidence for the Big Bang is a great example of this. However, it is important to distinguish between a hypothesis and the evidence supporting the hypothesis. The hypothesis is just an idea: a potential explanation. The evidence is the observations, measurements, etc. that support the hypothesis and give us reason to believe that a potential explanation (hypothesis) is the correct one. Scientists did not just say “The Big Bang is a potential explanation, therefore it is the correct one.” As you said, they found evidence (cosmic background radiation, redshift of galaxies, etc.) that supported the Big Bang hypothesis.

            The reason I bring up this distinction is because I was specifically addressing the Cosmological Argument, which seems to muddle up the distinction between hypothesis and evidence. It proposes God as a hypothesis for the origin of the universe, but then tries to use that hypothesis as if it were evidence. I don’t object to God being a hypothesis for the origin of the universe (although there may be some issues regarding falsifiability and predictive power, but let’s put those aside for now.) But note that it called the Cosmological Argument, not the Cosmological Hypothesis. I cannot see the Cosmological Argument as evidence for God, which is how it is usually presented. You seemed to realize this as you presented God as a possibility for creation and then offered other arguments for the evidence.

            You brought up other evidences for God: complexity, prophecy, ontology, etc. I don’t think there is enough space in this comments section to address those, nor do I have the time. I will just have to say that I don’t find those evidences convincing. A preponderance of unconvincing evidence (in my opinion, at least) does not add up to good evidence. I am sure that you would disagree on the quality of those evidences and I accept that. That is why we have come to different conclusions on the existence of God.

          • I submit that the only reason you’re claiming that perhaps the biblical writer(s) that wrote Psalms 104:2 “was given insight…concerning the continual expansion of the universe” is because we already know via scientific research that the universe is in fact expanding.

            This is something I see quite often that troubles me – apologists using current scientific knowledge to make a backwards-claim that the concept has been mentioned in the Bible and is there possibly (I’ll give you credit for that – you suggest it’s possible instead of declaring it to be divinely revealed Truth) due to divine revelation.

            The only instance I am aware of where somebody took a passage from the Bible and used it to actually advance scientific knowledge was Matthew Maury’s drawing inspiration from Psalms 8:8 to study oceanic currents – though it’s certainly probable that people crossed the ocean prior 1000BCE and were aware of currents.

          • I’m not sure what’s wrong with this approach. To put it simply, when scientists discover something already revealed in the Bible in some way, it doesn’t give me more faith in the Bible. It gives me more faith in the scientist. All of the physical laws of this universe were written and are sustained by God’s power. They are merely ours to observe and explore.

          • Like I already said, you’re doing it backwards.

            When you claim that “scientists discover something already revealed in the Bible in some way” what you’re really doing is taking something the scientific method has been used to discern, looking through the Bible for anything that however vaguely may sound similar and saying “hey look the Bible already revealed this!”

            You’re cherry-picking poetic language and twisting it into a vaguely literal proof-texting of How The World Works. Of course when the scientific method works exactly the way it should and inaccurate hypotheses are displaced by ones better fitting our observations, the apologist claims the person doing the cherry-picking ‘misinterpreted’ divine Scripture, which is often vague enough to shoehorn nearly anything into!

            Using the technique you just attempted, here’s some discredited ideas “already revealed in the Bible in some way”:

            Lysenkoism’s vernalization technique:
            “Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lighting of thunder; To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness, wherein there is no man; To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?”

            Velikovsky’s Worlds In Collision:

            “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.” – you can take this one all the way to Psalms 18:20 if you want

            the ‘Fountain of Youth’:
            “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.”

            Geocentricism:
            “The mighty God, even the LORD, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof…He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth”

            As a former Roman Catholic, I was taught that the Old Testament ‘prefigured’ the events and concepts put forth in the Gospels, and this was exactly what I was taught to do: take something I knew from the Gospels and look backwards through the Old Testament to find something that fits it. That’s backwards rationalization, and that’s all it is.

          • Andy, I can understand why you think that’s what I’m doing. Perhaps I should rephrase. My confidence in scientists grow when they discover something that is evidently a part of the way God has either created the universe or unfolded its history, whether or not there is any particular proof text to cite or not. I realize the church has historically used Scripture inappropriately to support various theories later proven untrue – like that whole flat earth thing.

            So I’m really not trying to validate Scripture in this way. I’m simply saying that I don’t see a contradiction between the physical laws of the universe and what Scripture says about it.

          • OH REALLY, scientific proof of god, eh? Then start there my friend, what is the scientific proof of god.

          • Whenever I hear this I just have to sigh because there is no end of solid, rational, evidential reasons that bring people to know the truth of God’s existence.

            So what? The majority of people don’t use evidence or reason to come to their religion. The single greatest predictor of a person’s religious beliefs is the religion of their parents. Methodologically this is invalid.

          • “Whenever I hear this I just have to sigh because there is no end of solid, rational, evidential reasons that bring people to know the truth of God’s existence.”

            That’s funny. Whenever I hear this from theists, I have to sigh because there is no end to the logical refutations of every single one of your arguments which you think support your belief.

            “I feel like this person is not honest and willfully refuses to even look at the evidence.”

            Oh, the irony.

            “The least they can do is admit that there is a lot of evidence that should be countered with argument.”

            They have been…ad nauseum.

          • If you were really a follower of Christ you would have to kill him instead of debate him:

            “But those my enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, bring here, and slay them before me.”

            You have a lot of atheists to kill.

          • “When someone says there is “no evidence” it’s the only time I feel like this person is not honest and willfully refuses to even look at the evidence.”
            I don’t say there is “no evidence”. But it depends on what you find acceptable as “evidence”. It seems that to the believer, EVERYTHING is evidence. That is, everything we can see, touch, experience, contemplate, is evidence for their God. Because their God is the only conceivable entity that could have created everything, therefore, their God must exist. The mere fact that people (such as myself) can doubt the existence of God is evidence for their God, because only their God could have created human beings & their capacity to doubt. And so on. With logic like that, a rational discussion seems doomed from the start, doesn’t it?
            And for many believers, it seems that in all these arguments, they’re talking about something that goes beyond mere “evidence”—these things are PROOFS.
            What makes you think, or assume, that I have “willfully refused to even look at the evidence”. I’ve looked at it alright, & found it weak at best, & laughable at worst.
            If you have a favorite argument, throw it up & we can have a discussion. But please don’t think you can get anywhere in advancing your case by throwing bible verses at us.

      • I don’t believe in Yahweh for the exact same reason I don’t believe in Thor.

    • You forgot to add at the end: “…,and you DON’T have rational, informed, or sound reasons for your superstition”.

  28. I have engaged in several in-flight discussions with people attempting to share their religious beliefs with me. The most fruitful one by far began with a cold airplane cabin.

    The person sitting next to me requested a blanket from a flight attendant. There were none to be had, so I offered them an extra t-shirt I had in my carry-on bag, which they gratefully accepted and used as a makeshift covering. As we made small talk, it was stated that I was “was a good Christian man”, and I chuckled as I politely declined the label. “But it was so nice of you to help a complete stranger!” was the rebuttal, and we had an excellent discussion about altruism and morality that did not rely upon appeals to superstition. An attempt to “share the Gospel” was made, and the conversation segued into a discussion of preferred translations of the Bible, the textual history of the Gospels and the interpretation thereof. A further attempt to “save” me was turned down and lead to further discussion about my reasons for rejecting the notion that I needed a deity to sacrifice itself to itself to save me from it torturing me for eternity. As the flight ended we exchanged contact information and to this day are friends who can freely discuss our differing beliefs while maintaining respect for one another as thinking individuals. This stands in contrast to Pastor Stier’s advice, which I somewhat disagree with.

    I agree with the first point – you can’t really discuss anything with somebody until you attempt to understand where they’re coming from – and this goes for atheists too! Too often either side will begin to argue against what they think the other party thinks without even attempting to ask them first. It’s far too easy to dismiss somebody’s belief (or lack of belief) out of hand based upon prejudice or laziness – talking at rather than talking to, but actually getting to know someone will at least build a framework of mutual trust and respect even if no minds are changed.

    The second point I feel is more an attempt at laying the groundwork for a mental escape hatch – which works for either believers or unbelievers – enabling one to dismiss the other party’s reasoning. It’s a kinder-sounding re-hash of the “oh you’re just angry at/rebelling against God” dismissal many atheists who were raised to be Christian have heard as they made their lack of belief known to friends and family. I have met very few Christians who claim to have reasoned their way into their beliefs – indeed, reasoning so seems to undermine the very notion of faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.

    I agree with the third point, though I object to the last part of the statement. Again, both sides can be equally guilty of refusing to acknowledge the basic humanity of the other side – the “oh you’re just deluded/mentally ill/stupid” many Christians have heard from unbelievers who lack basic civility and seemingly refuse to treat others the way they wish to be treated. Regardless of what one believes or does not believe, at the end of the day we’re all just people. I find the final part to be condescending, dishonest, and frankly guilty of exactly what Pastor Stier just suggested not to do! ‘Don’t have anything to do with theological disagreements, because hey, they’re just trapped by the devil! Maybe eventually they’ll come to their senses if you’re nice to them.” It’s just another “mental escape hatch” that allows somebody to dismiss another’s basic humanity and ability to decide for themselves what they actually believe or don’t believe.

    Ditto part four, and more dishonesty. It’s the deliberate attempt to conflate a hypothetical conditional (“IF God is so good THEN why…”) with a statement of certainty (“When you assume that an atheist does really believe in the existence of God”) in order to be able to completely dismiss anything a non believer said because hey, they must believe in God all along! This is more mental insulation, an attempt at distancing oneself from having to acknowledge that while they believe something to be divinely revealed truth, many others believe it to be superstition.

    I’m not interested in derailing this discussion into theological arguments, so I’ll say what I said to that person on the airplane: If you want to share the Gospel with people who aren’t Christians and actually be convincing…live it as best you can. Make your life an example of what it means to follow Christ, and while you may not make conversions, you’ll have the respect of many who would otherwise dismiss you and your beliefs.

    Your own life is the most convincing testimony to the strength of your beliefs, though not necessarily a demonstration of the truth of them. Dishonesty is far and away the easiest means of turning people away from what you believe, because people who sincerely believe in the truth of a notion have no need to be dishonest in making their case.

    • I had an in-flight “conversation” with a lady about 5 years ago that sort of stands out in my memory:

      Our plane was delayed for about 6 hours. It was late at night and folks were getting very impatient some trying to sleep on the floor, etc. The airport was incredibly congested and nobody was having any fun.
      Some folks decided it was a good time to party and they could be heard at the bar making more and more noise as a number got pretty wasted.

      Anyway, when we finally boarded the plane, and as I was heading down the aisle, I saw a lady who was white as a ghost, singing incoherently , and vomiting into a bag. Sure enough I was assigned to sit next to her for a 3 hour flight. I had a decision to make and I decided that if I am the Christian I claim to be, then I will serve her and show love to the best of my ability. That meant that for the next few hours, I was attended to her needs, which meant mainly providing a constant supply of vomit bags and lots of reassurance that she would be OK. It was all I could do not to get sick myself. I just treated her with kindness and tried to imagine what Christ would do. She was very kind as well and very apologetic.

      So that was one memorable “conversation” I had. I felt that this was a metaphor for how I should be living every day and how I should be treating everyone. I fall far short all the time (!), but as a Christian, I have a standard and a compass to measure myself by, and which continually brings me back to a knowledge of where I am and where I should be. BTW, I got a standing ovation when the plane landed – I was shocked that the whole plane seemed aware of what was happening.

      • That was my point exactly. Your behavior is the testimony far more convincing than Pastor Stier’s condescending and arrogant presumption that he knows people’s beliefs better than they do. Your behavior didn’t need mental ‘outs’ to avoid cognitive dissonance. Thanks for being one of the people who helps make the world a better place to live in.

        Incidentally, I do my best to be a stand-up person, even when it’s inconvenient or revolting, because I want to live in the kind of world where people treat others the way they want to be treated were they in a similar situation, and actually living it is the only way to make it happen.

  29. I’m an atheist and I don’t think that the five steps you remarked about here would work on most atheist. The first step of asking questions is a good place to start, it is always good to get to know each other. Your step 2 is bogus in the sense of there being a other reason that no proof of deities. Yes many atheist have stories to tell about bad experiences with religion or a lost loved one. So do religious people- so the cause of their atheism is not always related to their personal experiences. Most of the atheist I know have thought deeply about all things supernatural, and have come to their atheism position after studying the question. Your step 3 is not supported by what you posted. You label it “Connect Rationally” , but then you talk about feelings, this seems like a disconnect on your part as to what your talking point actually is. Your point number 4 is most likely wrong for the overwhelming majority of atheist. Myself and most of the atheist I know do not believe in any deities. I can’t speak for all but nearly everyone I have met ( and I have met hundreds) , sincerely have no illusions about the existence of deities. Your step 5 is a blatantly an appeal to emotion. This indicates that you don’t truly understand atheist. For if you did you would realize that atheist are more analytical than emotional especially when it concerns the supernatural. And since you don’t seem actually understand atheist or their position, you will not convert many using these steps. Good luck with that though!

    • It would have been helpful, John, if you had checked your presentation for spelling, grammar, and syntax. It always embarrasses me when a fellow atheist appears to be someone who could benefit from remedial composition

      • I assure you that I am more intelligent than I type. I attempted to edit it after I posted it but there seems to be glitch when using an iPad. I hope the gist of what I ment comes though.

        • OK John–I apologize. It’s not that your message didn’t come through.

          • Just a tangential thought….
            I’m a stickler for grammar as well, and am bothered by the techno-destruction of the English language. Not sure why an ipad means folks cannot check their spelling and sentences. Slow down. Oh well………

    • To be fair, I’ve personally met one person who called themselves an atheist but was really angry at God (I’m not sure he really understood what ‘atheist’ means). But that’s only one out of the dozens of atheists I’ve met personally.

  30. “fanatic” is an apt adjective for one who does not understand that atheists are atheists. http://www.clergyproject.org/

  31. Greg:

    Love the tips. I would add from Ecclesiastes that “God has set eternity in the hearts of every man” (3:11).

    Most of the atheists I have personally encountered actually have a longing for eternity, even if they choose to believe that God doesn’t exist. Even a few, when faced with death of a friend, still seem to come away with a longing for something beyond the grave. These are the ones that I get to talk with the most.

    We love kicking around the longing for eternity, and might that not suggest a God to spend eternity with?

      • You need to stop blogging, because all you are doing is preventing there from being any real communication between atheists and christians.

    • According to most mainstream Christian doctrines, the people I know and love who have rejected Christianity and are now dead are in Hell, being tortured for eternity.

      I tell you this now: I am not necessarily averse to the idea of eternal persistence after death, though I have no good reason to believe this actually occurs. I have no desire to spend eternity praising and worshiping the kind of being who would send untold billions of people – some of whom were very dear to me – to be burned forever in a place it built for the purpose. I would rather stand by those I love, even if it’s in a ‘lake of fire’.

      • Could a perfectly Just God allow sin to go unpunished?
        Did not a Loving God provide a very easy means of redemption paying the price for one’s sins so that we may be in His loving presence rather than remaining in our sin and separated from a Holy & Just God?
        It seems to me the blame is misplaced .. these people you refer to chose to remain in their sins .. and it is their sins that have sent them to hell to be separated from God ..God desires that they fellowship with Him .. but will not force a relationship .. if you want separation and wish to be your own God remaining in your own sin .. well then “thy will be done” rather than His.

        • OverlappingMagisteria December 2, 2013 at 10:08 am

          “Could a perfectly Just God allow sin to go unpunished?”

          You seem to be viewing this in very black and white terms. The objection that Andy raised was that the Christian god is said to torture people for eternity. You seem to think that the only possible options are to punish sin in this most extreme way with eternal torment, or to let sinners get off with no punishment at all. A third option could be to make the punishment somewhere in between, proportional to the crime (the same way we do in civilized society. Ever notice that not every crime gets the death penalty?)

          “Did not a Loving God provide a very easy means of redemption…”

          Assuming your theology is true, then yes. But providing an easy method of avoiding punishment does not justify the punishment. Imagine if I were to walk up to you and say “Hey Robert, sing the ABC song or I’ll punch you in the face.” Do you think that I’d be justified in punching you if you didn’t sing simply because it was an easy request? (What’s the big deal? All you had to do was sing a silly little song!) Would you also call me “Loving” because I gave you an option to sing? Of course not.

          “these people you refer to chose to remain in their sins .. and it is their sins that have sent them to hell to be separated from God”
          People do not choose eternal torment. The people that you believe are going to hell are not thinking “Gee, given the choice, I choose hell!” These people honestly do not believe that their actions/beliefs are leading them to torment. I think it is wrong to blame someone for a choice that they were incapable of making. Imagine if I were to offer someone a choice between two drinks, clearly labeled “Juice” and “Cyanide”. For whatever reason, the person misunderstood the cyanide label (perhaps they misread it, or did not know what the word meant, or had a reason to doubt that the label was accurate). Would that person be blamed for their death if they unwittingly chose the cyanide?
          Unless you are able to get every sinner to say “I know and believe that my actions/beliefs will send me to eternal torment” you cannot blame them for choosing hell.

        • Wow, what a mealy-mouthed justification for one of the most morally bankrupt ideas ever. By way of analogy:

          Let’s say you’ve got children. Like most children, they’re curious and occasionally prone to disobedience. One of your children in particular sometimes plays with matches. You have repeatedly warned them of the dangers of doing so and like any reasonable and loving parent, disciplined them when you caught them in the act of defying you and putting themselves in danger.

          Let’s say one day you come home to find your house engulfed in flames, and hear your child trapped, screaming in terror and pain, begging you to help them. Further, let’s say you’re entirely capable of saving them from the burning building. What would you do?

          — Now, every single parent I have put this scenario to – EVERY SINGLE ONE – has responded along the line of “of course I would save my child even if they disobeyed me! I love them and would risk my own life to keep them safe!”

          It seems that Mr. Clark’s notion of The Ideal Parent would stand on the sidewalk and listen to their child burn and when asked why they stood by and did nothing would reply “Well, I warned them, and they chose to disobey me anyway. I would completely undermine my authority as a parent if I prevented them from experiencing the consequences of their actions.”:

          Of course, this isn’t the best analogy. House fires are demonstrably real things – one can show one’s child videos of house fires on YouTube, One can show them news reports of people killed in house fires due to ignoring fire safety principles. One could even show their children photographs of burn victims to drive the point home.

          Hell has none of these attributes.

        • Yes, a perfectly just God could allow sin to go unpunished. After all, sin is nothing more than whatever God wants to be a sin. A perfectly just God would let everyone know what sins actually are in an infallible method, not by informing a few jews and waiting for the information to spread where it has to compete with any other number of religions. It wouldn’t unduly punish those unfortunate enough to be born into the wrong religion. It would recognize that it’s chosen method of spreading the ‘truth’ is highly flawed, and not begrudge people for not immediately accepting unverified claims as absolute divine truth.

      • Dante, C.S. Lewis, and others think Hell is cold. Peter Kreeft, Lewis, and others think its’ most likely a state that folks want to be in, with a door that is locked on the inside, so to speak. Whilst we have no idea what Hell ‘is’, we do know that the main thing is a willful separation from God.

        • I agree with you insofar as ‘we know’ the Loch Ness monster lives in a lake in Scotland. That is to say, in absence of being demonstrably real, people are free to make up pretty well whatever they want about it.

        • So for anyone that actually read the bible, hell is actually a paradise?

    • I don’t see how anyone could give this a thumbs down. Does this mean that these folks just never had any inner longing?

      • No, it means the people reading it aren’t too stupid to see the utter lack of logic in the comment. People longing for eternal life makes it no more real than kids longing for Santa Claus makes Santa real. The fear of death and the unknown is natural. Just because the bible has a few passages that attribute self-evident truths to your ‘god’ doesn’t make a case for it’s existence.

    • Even if there are some atheists that long for an eternity, that doesn’t mean that there is an eternity to be had. We are atheists because we aren’t willing to lie to ourselves to believe in something that there is no evidence for.

      What we want to believe is simply not a factor in what we accept as true.

    • Kids have a longing for Santa Claus, but it doesn’t make Santa real.