Why Bother Arguing With Atheists?

For those who know where to look, the evidence for God's love abounds.

Wilhelm Trübner, ‘Scuffling Boys’, 1872
Wilhelm Trübner, ‘Scuffling Boys’, 1872 (photo: Register Files)

I don’t normally respond to comment boxes, but the comments in a recent blog of mine, Why We Should Be Compassionate Toward Atheists, warrant a response. My blog was about atheists rather than atheism, and I quoted Dr. Thomas Nagel, who wrote in his book, The Last Word:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-formed people I know are religious believers.  It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief.  It’s that I hope there is no God!  I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

In that post, I did not attempt to explain any proofs or evidence for the existence of God—that wasn’t the point. The point was to pose a question: Why would anyone hope against eternal happiness? Referencing a book by Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism, I posited one among many possible answers, namely that since one’s own experience with his father (or lack thereof) seems to have a tremendous sway in his perception of God, a bad father might lead a child to wish that God didn’t exist. That thought struck me as terribly sad. Thus, I made a very specific point that we Catholics should be compassionate toward atheists, hence the title. Frankly, I expected rebuttals to this statement along the lines of: “You’re wrong! I had a terrific father, and I’m an atheist! And the same goes for everyone in my college sociology class!” 

I waited for this type of rebuttal to pour in.  And I kept waiting.  But my point went largely unaddressed.  Instead, I received comments such as these:

“The reality is that there is no evidence for the existence of your god, so no reason to believe he exists.”

“Provide better evidence. But we all know you don’t have any…hence why it is called Faith.”

“…(M)ost atheists are quite familiar with the standard arguments for the existence of god/s, and we find them entirely uncompelling.”

Most critics missed (or ignored) the point, and I was criticized for not offering evidence of God’s existence.  It could have been such a column; I’ve written them before.

I could have mentioned a very basic evidence: the existence of matter.  How do you explain the existence of matter—stuff like diamonds, oxygen, and Saturn?  Atheists frequently reply that if you put a monkey in front of a typewriter for an infinite number of years, he will eventually produce Macbeth.  Their point is that given enough chances, a well-ordered universe will eventually just happen.  But even conceding the conclusions of the “Infinite Monkey Theorem”, we are left with a prior question: Where did the monkey come from?  The monkey might produce Macbeth, but nothingness doesn’t produce somethingness if you just give it enough tries.  How do you explain somethingness?  As many philosophers like Gottfried Leibniz, the inventor of calculus, have wondered: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”  Leibniz concluded that this somethingness meant there must be a Creator.

I could have mentioned the existence of not only the material, but the immaterial.  For instance, where in the world does conscience come from?  Why does man have a notion of right and wrong, and why is that notion so similar across the historical and cultural spectrum? 

I could have mentioned intelligent design.

I could have mentioned causality and the necessity of First Cause, or Uncaused Cause. 

I could have mentioned plenty of evidence, but it would be rejected by convicted atheists.  Atheists are certain God does not exist; that’s that.  Of course, it’s impossible to prove that God does not exist, since you cannot prove a universal negative.  True-believing unbelievers are, however, untroubled by that quandary.  For many atheists—the verdict is pre-determined.  Why bring evidence to a show trial?

Of course, there’s an answer to that question, and it goes back to the primary reason I wrote the original blog: we are Catholics and it is our loving duty to spread the Good News of the Gospel. Our job is to tell a sad world that each of us is loved, and that God created us to share in His perfect happiness that lacks nothing. Communicating that message constitutes, as Shakespeare might put it, “a quality of mercy.”  Whether His love is requited or not, God has loved each of us from all eternity.  His love for each of us knows no end, just as it knows no beginning. And though some have more trouble recognizing it than others, the evidence for that love abounds for those who know where to look—from a child sucking his thumb in the womb of his mother, to a five-hundred-year-old tilma in Guadalupe, to weekend fishing boats trolling through the flooded streets of Houston.  With no mere material and earthly reason, love abounds, providing the most wonderful evidence of them all.