It's time to tie some threads of thought together.
You may have wondered while reading this series of lessons on Christian apologetics: "Why the strange and unusual approach? Here you've been talking about how to evangelize those who doubt or deny the existence of God, we're thirteen lessons in and so far you haven't made any of the traditional arguments for God's existence. Not a word about an Unmoved Mover, Uncaused Cause or Necessary Being. No argument from design. No fine-tuning argument. Why the odd-ball approach?"
Well, there's a method, as they say, to this madness. In the discussion of God's existence, we who believe in God too easily accept the role assigned us by the atheist or agnostic. We're the ones who are supposed to feel somewhat embarrassed by our “unscientific” worldview. It’s our assigned role to receive the hard-ball questions hurled at us by the modern enlightened unbeliever ("Where's the evidence for God's existence?") and do our humble best to answer them.
Throughout the debate, it's assumed that we should be on the defensive.
I can't tell you how many times I've had atheists say to me, "You're the one making the positive assertion about the nature of reality (that there is a god) and therefore the burden of proof is entirely on you. I'm asserting nothing and have nothing to defend. As an atheist, I merely lack belief in a god."
Now, while it's true that in debate, as in the courtroom, the burden of proof lies with the one making a positive assertion ("Colonel Mustard did it, in the billiard room and with the pipe!"), what is not true at all is that the atheist is making no positive assertion about the nature of things. When the atheist says he merely "lacks belief in a god" in nearly every case, what he is asserting positively is that the world in which we live is a world comprised entirely of "brute physical particles." In nearly every case, he is a naturalist, a materialist. In short, he has a worldview to defend as much as we who believe in God.
Well, it's time the tables were turned and the atheist was put on the defensive.
With this in mind, our approach in these lessons has been to (a) point out that atheist's have a worldview they are setting forth as true, the worldview of naturalism, (b) to climb inside that worldview, perform what we might call an "internal critique," draw out the implications of naturalism (what would follow if materialism were true) and then (c) to challenge the atheist to make sense of his experience as a human being in terms of that worldview.
Obviously, from what we've said in lessons four through thirteen, we don't believe he can.
In other words, it's about time we who believe in God came to realize that it is our worldview that makes sense of our experience as human beings and not the materialist worldview. It’s our worldview that is reasonable---in fact, that alone makes reason possible. In contrast, it is naturalism that is unreasonable, that cannot account for even the most basic aspects of human experience, that unravels (pardon the thread-worn metaphor) “like a cheap suit” when examined and questioned.
It's naturalism that is on the ropes, not theism.
Tensions and Contradictions
But there's more. I also think the approach we've taken is more effective in evangelism than the use of the more traditional purely abstract arguments, as much as I use them and believe them to be valid. It's more effective because it's more personal. It touches the unbeliever where he or she lives.
Let me explain. When I sit down to talk with a friend who is an atheist or agnostic, I know that I'm talking to someone who has been created in God's image and likeness.
And because of this, I know I'm talking to someone who in his heart of hearts knows there is objective meaning and purpose to life, that human beings possess unique worth and dignity and the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I'm talking to someone who believes in the existence of a moral law; someone who knows that his sense of personal identity is real and not a trick being played on him by his brain; someone who believes that he is free agent and morally accountable for his choices; someone who assumes that his mind can be trusted to lead him to true knowledge.
Being a mirror of God's very being, the atheist knows these realities intuitively and cannot help living in terms of them. After all, he cannot help being what he is.
And because of this (this is key!) there's something else I know about my friend: I know that he lives in tension and that the tension is irresolvable. Why? Because the naturalist worldview he holds as an atheist contradicts each and every one of these basic and fundamental aspects of his experience as a human being in the image of God. What he "says" is true of the world conflicts at every level with what he knows to be true by virtue of who he is and has been created to be.
He's like a man who denies the existence of gravity. He may travel the world lecturing to mesmerized audiences on the non-existence of gravity. But he has no choice but to live in the real world where gravity exists and where literally every step he takes proves him wrong. And the fact that he doesn't chain himself to the floor while delivering his speeches, or glue his notes to the podium, gives evidence that he knows there is tension between what he says and what is true.
If he were to attempt to really live in accordance with what he says is true about the universe in which we live, he would very quickly discover the folly of his point of view.
The same with my atheist friend. He can say whatever he likes about the non-existence of God. He can write books and travel the world debating those who believe in God.
But if he were to really live in accordance with the implications of a consistent naturalist worldview---where human beings have no more intrinsic worth than a cockroach, where morality is an illusion, where our sense of personal identity is "no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells," where free will is a myth and our every thought and act is determined (determined!) by the laws of chemistry and physics, where thoughts are "excretions" of brain---his life would implode.
The only reason it doesn't is that his profession of faith in naturalism is more or less formal and verbal. He can say that God doesn’t exist and that the universe is particles in motion and nothing more. But then, in order to limit the damage to his own life and the lives of others, in order to provide stability to a life what would come apart at the seems if he really lived out his stated worldview with rigorous consistency, he can continue to live as though God existed.
With all this in mind, evangelism becomes for me a process of placing my finger on these tensions in the life of my atheist or agnostic friend, talking about the contradictions that exist between what he says he believes and what he really believes, and attempting to lead him to see that he cannot really live with the implications of what he says he believes.
In fact, I like to point out that by the way he does live, he evidences that he kind of already knows what I'm talking about.
Stolen Cattle and Bad Accounting
Another way to state the argument is to point out that the naturalist worldview cannot "account" for what the naturalist believes and knows to be true.
Your atheist friend lives as though life had meaning, as though people had special value, as though right and wrong were real, as though his children were more than biochemical machines, and so forth. But he cannot "account" for any of this being true on the basis of his worldview.
He's like the cattle rustler of old. Viewed from the outside, the cattle rustler looked just like the legitimate rancher. Both wore expensive hats and boots, and both could boast corrals filled with beautiful head of cattle. The only difference was: the legitimate rancher could "account" for his cattle. The rustler could not. In fact, the rustler would have no cattle at all if he had not “borrowed” them from the legitimate rancher. He only had them because he had "swung a wide rope" and taken them.
Likewise, I look at my atheist friend's corral and that it's filled with the very same sort of cattle I have in mine. He's got a high sense of right and wrong. He's committed to the equal worth and dignity of every person. Heck, he may devote his life to fighting for human rights. He's got meaning. He's got knowledge. He's got everything. And he lives each day as though these very naturally belonged to him.
(And they do belong to him---as he belongs to God.)
But for the life of him, he cannot "account" for how he came to possess them on the basis of what he says is true about the universe in which he lives. If his worldview were true, these "cattle" would not exist and his "corrals" would be empty. Essentially, he has borrowed them from a worldview that can account for them and make sense of them. He's living on borrowed capital.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias uses the illustration of a building to explain the atheist’s dilemma.
Let me say forthrightly that what [modern secular man has] actually done is smuggle in foundational strengths of Christian thought, buried far below the surface to maintain some stability, while above the ground we see humanism’s bizarre experiments growing unchecked. If we truly put into place the same principles below the ground that we flaunt above the ground, we would completely self-destruct.
Worldviews in the Crosshairs
Finally, it's important to emphasize again and again that in doing this sort of apologetics, our target is naturalism as a worldview and not the people who hold it. It is naturalism as a system of thought that is in our crosshairs, in no sense those who believe in naturalism.
In fact, here's exactly how I do this kind of apologetics. I begin not by offering arguments and proofs but by asking questions of my atheist friend. I want him to tell me more than simply that he "lacks belief in a god" and now it's my job to prove that God exists. I want him to tell what he believes. I want him to describe to me his worldview. Now, assuming it's essentially naturalism (the most common these days) I then want to step out of my worldview as a Christian and join him in his. For the sake of argument, I want to assume the truth of naturalism and begin to talk about what naturalism entails. I want to ask my friend to think with me through the implications of naturalism as a worldview.
My hope, of course, is to lead him to see that his worldview reduces to absurdity.
My hope is to lead him to recognize that his position is bankrupt. And not so that he can spend the remainder of his life staggering around in a meaningless material universe, but so that he might come to see that that the most important issues of life, the most basic and foundational aspects of his own experience as a person, become "intelligible," "make sense," can be "accounted for," but only on the assumption that God exists and that he is the image of this living God.
Apologetics is the business of assisting those we love back to sanity by helping them to see that their natural intuitions have been from the beginning pointing them in the right direction.