I turned on the TV a few years back and there was Bill O’Reilly going absolutely insane.
A new study had shown a dramatic increase in cheating among high school and college students. The young lady he had on as a guest repeatedly said that she saw nothing wrong with cheating if it was going to help her get ahead in a highly competitive professional world.
Flabbergasted with his inability to reason with this college-aged student about something to him so perfectly self-evident---that cheating is "wrong"---he cried out in exasperation to the psychologist who was also on his show, “Why is this happening? Doctor, you’re the expert, explain what is going on!”
Here's a question worth discussing: Can we teach this young woman that she is the chance product of a material universe in which morality, in the sense of something higher than personal or societal preference, is ultimately an illusion, and at the same time try to convince her that she must be moral and that cheating is "wrong"? You tell me.
I've made the point previously that the approach I've been taking in these lessons is, I think, more "useful" in evangelism and apologetics than the traditional theistic proofs.
When I say this, I'm not knocking St Thomas Aquinas and others since who've presented the classical theistic proofs for God's existence. I believe them to be valid. In fact, we're going to be looking at them over the course of the next several lessons. What I'm saying is simply that my experience is that the method of argumentation I've been presenting in this series is more "effective" in making a dent in the way people think. I believe it's more persuasive.
Why? Because it speaks to the deepest concerns people have.
The Argument from Morality
For instance, it isn't a "proof" of God's existence to point out that for objective moral duties and obligations to exist, there must we something or (more reasonably) some"one" beyond this universe of physical particles interacting with one another in accordance with strict physical laws.
It isn't a proof of God's existence to explain how in a materialist universe objective moral law would be an illusion (see lessons seven and eight). This isn't a "proof" that God exists....
But look at how O'Reilly nearly lost his mind interacting with a college student who had no problem with cheating so long as it helps one "get ahead." The idea so grated against the innate knowledge he possesses as one created in the image and likeness of God (that right and wrong are "real") that he could barely listen to such a purely utilitarian view of morality being so casually set forth and advocated.
It affected him.
And again, it's not a "proof" of God's existence that the atheist cannot account for moral law.
But it's true. And because you're discussion is with a person who in his or her heart of hearts knows this won't do and in the end cannot live with such an implication, it can be a very effective argument.
The Argument from Meaning
Another example: It's no "proof" of God's existence that if there is no God who created us for a purpose, our universe and everything in it is merely one massive, meaningless, material accident. We've come from nowhere. We're headed nowhere. We're biochemical machines, the forward edge of the sludge of evolution. Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!
This is no theist "proof". But it's a true implication of atheism (see lesson four).
And because the men and women we talk to have been created to mirror God's being, are (again) the image and likeness of God (see lesson two) and therefore "born believers" that there is meaning to life and that their lives have a purpose, drawing out this dark implication of the atheist worldview can be extremely persuasive. It can cause an atheist to think again.
Try (kindly, with wisdom) telling a young soldier dedicating his life to the defense of his country that according to his materialist worldview, his life is ultimately meaningless, as are the lives of those he's willing to die to protect. After all, you could explain, as one biology textbook put it, "the human species was not designed, has no purpose and is the product of mere mechanical mechanisms."
Watch the suddenly non-committal look come over his face.
The Argument from Human Rights
It's no "proof" of God's existence that if you toss out God you must, with him, toss out any belief in unalienable human rights. But it's true (see lesson six). And because you can be sure that unless the person you're talking to is a hopeless sociopath, he or she believes firmly that all human beings possess unalienable human rights, pointing this out can be very effective in evangelism.
Try explaining to a young atheist idealist on her way to work for Human Rights Watch in some benighted area of the world that according to her materialist worldview, human beings have no more inherent "rights" than tree frogs or trout. After all, it's not like we've been "created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights" like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." According to her, there is no Creator, and therefore no one to "endow" us with rights of this sort.
Point out (again, kindly) that according to her worldview, nature is red in tooth and claw and life is a very natural struggle for existence in which only the fittest survive and reproduce...
And watch the sparks fly.
One thing you can count on is that the conversation will not be boring or academic. Throwing into question something she cares most about will affect her. You'll be, as they say, scratching her where she itches. It may cause her to think about her presuppositions.
The Argument from Human Worth and Dignity
Again, it's no "proof" of God's existence that if there is no God and you and I really are the accidental product of swamp gas and lightning, we have no intrinsic value (see lesson five).
But it's true. It follows as a logical and inescapable implication of the materialist worldview. And just this one truth can profoundly rattle someone who assumes an essentially materialist worldview (he would probably speak of it as a "scientific" worldview, of course -- see lesson fifteen) but has never really thought through the implications.
For instance, try telling a mother and father that on the basis of their naturalist worldview the little princess they're dropping off for her first day of kindergarten, and who they would die for, actually has no more inherent value than a cockroach. Quote to them the self-esteem inducing words of atheist Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, who said, "A boy is a rat is a pig is a dog. They're all mammals."
I guarantee you the conversation will be more "interesting" than if you tell them that movement from potentiality to actuality in our universe requires a Prime Mover.
It's effective, because it touches people where they live.
It just doesn't take a PhD logician to feel that there is something strange and discordant about believing your five year-old daughter to be the purely accidental product of swamp gas and lightning when you believe to your bones that she's your "precious little angel from heaven."
When you talk about this, you're touching on the tension we've described in which the atheist lives, the tension that exists between who they really are as God's creation and who, or rather, "what" they would be were atheism really true. Talking about this creates dissonance. And as in music, so in life, dissonance cries out for resolution. Dissonance never rests easy.
And this single idea could open a window to further thought and conversation with your atheist friend about who we are as human persons, and what we're worth, and where we come from.
The Argument from Consciousness and Free Will
Finally, it's not a "proof" of God's existence to show that in a materialist universe---in which our every thought would be determined by electrochemical events taking place in our brains, the entire process governed solely by the laws of physics and chemistry---even human consciousness and free will would be illusions. In fact, hardcore atheists agree and might respond,
"Well, so what? So what if we are no more than biochemical machines who labor under the illusion that we are somebody when we are in reality nobody? So what if when we look at ourselves in the mirror we're looking at beings, as Francis Crick famously said, whose joys and sorrows, memories and ambitions, sense of personal identity and free will, 'are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.' So what? The fact that a materialist worldview requires us to accept certain unpleasant truths---this is no proof that it isn't true and that God exists!"
That's the hardcore almost inhumanely abstract atheist speaking.
Try discussing this with your garden variety unbeliever and he will be appalled at the thought. It will bother him to think that according to what he says is true of our world, his own sense of personal identity would be a trick the electrically charged lump of meat in his skull is playing on him.
It's simply a fact that as a worldview materialism entails a number of extremely unpleasant implications and leads to a number of extremely unpleasant conclusions.
I would argue that it essentially entails the abolition of the human person.
Knowing this, and being able to talk about it, can be very effective with people who would say they are atheists, naturalists, materialists---whatever---but maybe have never been asked to think through the full implications of what they're saying.
This sort of apologetic approach touches that place where the rubber of their worldview hits the road of reality, and because your atheist friend lives in reality, a reality of God's creation, there will be a friction your friend will feel---provided he thinks about it long and deeply enough.
It's your job to help him or her think about it enough to feel the friction and want a way out.
And it's not so difficult to do. Most everyone you know cares about the meaning of their lives, the value they possess as persons, morality, individual rights, freedom and knowledge.
Now, I've stated the arguments rather bluntly here. Even in the lessons where I've dealt with each individually, the arguments are stated bluntly. Obviously, I don't imagine you delivering them in this way. In fact, within a context of friendship and genuine concern, it will take all the ingenuity, creativity and sensitivity you possess (and more!) to know when and how to raise these sorts of issues and questions in a way where they will be heard and received.
But trusting in the grace of God and remembering at all times that the person you're thinking of is the living, breathing image of God, you can know that when you talk about these things the bells of truth will be tolling somewhere within the soul of your friend.