Christianity and Atheism: disconnected conversations

I think @cdods brought up a very interesting topic in an otherwise typically unproductive thread (The “Evolutionary Worldview” - #108 by RonSewell) so I want to start a new conversation about this specifically:

First of all, I would like to hear from both Christians and atheists if @cdods assessment here seems right.

Secondly, for the Christians in the group do you think we lose too much by so often stripping out the significance of the Holy Spirit and revelation in describing our epistemology or our reasoning process? As a Christian and a scientist it is easy for me to drop into a mode of discourse that is more neutral in terms of using more “secular” reasoning. It’s easier for me to take a more “objective” stance towards the Biblical text, the history of the church, and orthodox theology. But are we losing too much? Are their ways we can bring the Spirit and the idea of “revelation” (i.e. that we believe there is spiritual communication in addition to reason) back into the conversation more without offending our atheist friends or at least without tearing down the bridges we seek to build? I don’t see presuppositionalism or fideism as particularly helpful.

Lastly, for my atheist friends, I wonder if you could provide some insight into ways that Christians might talk about/through this “disconnect” in ways that are productive in terms of moving conversation forward. I’m not looking for removing the disconnect (these beliefs are core) or discussing the merits of either view, but I would like to see if we can find ways to both acknowledge (and even discuss) the differences without it totally derailing conversation. Thoughts?



Thanks for creating this thread!

I can imagine the panic a topic like this can provoke … if there is a non-rational path to knowledge, then Science will be rendered useless!

But speaking as I do from a non-Trinitarian position, it is easy for me to see that the non-rational path to knowledge is what we use when we find an area that Science is not competent to evaluate.

I don’t try to channel non-rational thought when I am trying to measure the age of a glacier, or of a rock formation, or of the entire Earth.

But when I am trying to understand the effervescent nature of how my mind works, until Science arrives there … I find a non-rational or spiritual interpretation can be very helpful, and often reassuring.

I don’t think you would offend anyone. However, I wouldn’t recognize revelation as a source of knowledge. If you want to say that you know something by revelation, by all means do so. But the conversation stops there, as there is no way to discuss it rationally. You either believe it or you don’t. By its nature, there can be no reasons, unless you subject it to empirical testing. But then it’s not revelation, it’s a hypothesis.


That’s framing imposes (IMO) a false dichotomy.

I can be content if people would distinguish between what they know from faith/revelation and what they know from (some measure of) evidence.
I think a lot of people do not understand there is a difference.

I think the fact that believers minds are illuminated to understand spiritual truths is highly important. But that is a fact that can obviously only be appreciated fully by believers.

Certainly not. If Jesus offended, why would you think you would do any less? Or should? Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but the sword.” Jesus knew his message would be an offense, and we as believers are warned that the world (ie the unbelieving world) will hate us just as it hated him while on earth.

Jesus is the one who built the bridge by dying for us. There is no further bridge needed than the one Jesus himself provided, in himself.

Presuppositionalism is not fideism, and without understanding that all worldviews rest on starting assumptions (presuppositions), we cannot understand epistemology at all, nor can we come to any understanding of how humans are able to arrive at knowledge. Atheists (usually by their own admission) do not really possess knowledge. They have probabilistic conjectures.

Similarly, mathematicians minds are illuminated to understand mathematical truths. And geologists minds are illuminated to understand geological truths. I could go on for many other areas of expertise.

However, the illumination comes from the knowledge. The knowledge does not come from the illumination.


Jesus also said "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” That’s my goal, and I’ve personally found it hard to do that when I am offending people. I think a large difference between the “offense” of the Gospel and just being plan offensive.

That wasn’t the type of bridge I was referring to. We need bridges when disparate communities want to enter into conversation, and that is one of the purposes of Peaceful Science. Sometimes the bridge is between scientific disciplines (chemistry and biology, for instance) and sometimes it’s between religious beliefs, but the idea is to foster conversation. Are you interested in conversation?

That’s why I put an “or” and used both terms. I personally, don’t find either that helpful. When I was younger I was very much into presuppositional apologetics, but I sort of “grew out of it” when I had more experience of how people actually think, live, and communicate. Some people are really into it though, it’s just not for me.


Why do you put “offense” in quotes here? The Gospel is truly offensive. I have found that time and time again. I would never water it down in an effort not to offend somebody. It was literally God’s goal to offend people with the Gospel–that is, the people whom he wants to offend. Those who refuse to humble themselves.

Presuppositional apologetics is about the realm of epistemology. A lot of people don’t get that. They think we are saying you cannot know anything if you aren’t a believer. It’s not really that–at least, not as I understand it. It’s saying “why can we know things”? And understanding that only because we live in God’s universe is it possible for us to know things. Atheism as a worldview cannot provide a sufficient foundation for knowledge on a basic level.

I did it because I believe there is a very large difference between what is, or should be, meant by “the offense of the Gospel” and what people think of when they think of someone being offensive. When we’re talking about conversations and somebody says something offensive generally that means something like being rude, nasty, discourteous, uncivil, obnoxious. It’s about tone and manner more than content.

The “offense” of the Gospel is, in my view, much more to do with the way it claims an all-encompassing hold on our lives and calls us to dependence on and unity with another being in a way that we naturally don’t like. Yes, it calls us to turn away from sin and selfishness and towards Christ (repentance), and that’s certainly not always comfortable, but that is not at all what I was talking about in this thread.

In short, the “offense of the Gospel” is not carte blanche to be rude and obnoxious to people, especially when we’re also called to be gracious, humble, and loving.



I have to agree with cdods in this regard.

One wouldn’t go to a Christian workshop, held around a forest camp fire, and start asking people to explain the Trinity. If you are at that camp fire, it is because you understand the basics and are able to discuss them from a Trinitarian perspective.

There are two tar baby topics that I will see and prod whenever they appear:

[1] Atheists trying to talk Christians out of something.

[2] Creationists trying to talk Christians into I.D. epistemology.

Both “tar babies” are divisive, breed contention and distrust, and don’t move the discussion of the G.A.E. along productively…

I don’t disagree with you entirely, but I do believe there is a different paradigm for how a righteous person presents themselves based upon whom they are addressing. Our humility is always before God, not before men. Sometimes a humble man before God may be accused of being obnoxious simply because he takes an uncompromising stance and calls things for what they are. When John the Baptist called the pharisees a “brood of vipers”, was he being humble and loving? His humility was before God, and his truth-telling might have seemed “obnoxious”, but it was the appropriate way to deal with the haughty scoffers he was before at that time.

This is what annoys atheists. On what basis do you consider yourself a “righteous person”? Sounds arrogant to me.

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First off, I didn’t apply that word to myself there. It was a hypothetical statement.

Second, a Christian is righteous by faith in Christ, not by works. So as somebody who has faith in Christ, I can call myself righteous on that basis.

But that wasn’t really the sense it was being used there. There we were talking about the “right way” that a Christian should behave. So in this context, somebody who is doing right would be “a righteous person”.

How would you know if you are merely being honest and uncompromising versus being unnecessarily rude and obnoxious?


There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. It’s a judgment call, and Christians should be guided by the Holy Spirit in that kind of thing. I know I am not always on the right side of that judgment myself.


I agree with you that the Holy Spirit should guide us in assessing our behavior when standing up for the truth. Do you think input from other Christians could also be part of that process?


Yes, I definitely think Christians should help one another in that process.


Right. I agree. Now, do you think it’s possible to be uncompromising and honest while also acknowledging some of the strong points of your opponent’s arguments, even if you disagree with them?


Yeah, are you headed somewhere with this? I don’t think there’s a problem acknowledging that there are answers you don’t have, or that an opponent may make a good point, if that is the case.

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Im not following … we might have a disconnect! :rofl: