A Tale of Two Worldviews

Christianity is fascinating. The stories of the Bible, the miracles and teachings described throughout? It’s endlessly curious, with more nuance than it is often given credit for, particularly among my fellow unbelievers.

Far too often, unbelievers pick up on caricatures of Christianity — shallow exaggerations or distortions that can be easily mocked in textbook examples of the strawman fallacy.[efn_note]In a strawman fallacy, a person claims to have bested someone else’s argument(s), but they have only responded to and “defeated” a corrupted version of the original argument, a “strawman” that is easier to knock down.[/efn_note] Adam and Eve, for example, get replaced by “a mud man and a transgender clone rib woman.”[efn_note]These sort of arguments go the other way too, with creationists mocking evolutionary theory by saying “if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?” for example.[/efn_note]

If, however, our goal is to address what the Bible says and to use what it says as an argument for why people shouldn’t believe it, we’re going to need something beyond a quick joke or meme. We’re going to want to understand why Christians believe what they do, what their theology means, and how we can best interact with them in the real world.

Christians aren’t stupid, regardless of what you might’ve heard in the seedier atheist circles, and their apologists and theologians know their religion better than most of us “on the outside” do. I promise — I’ve been there, on the inside of not only casual Christianity, but of absorbing all I could in terms of apologetics, or the art of providing a defense for something, in this case what the Bible teaches.

I bookmarked dozens of websites and read through as much of them as I could handle. The CARM apologetics notebook was a prized possession of mine years ago, and I sat attentively and excitedly for a Ken Ham presentation. Apologetics was my jam, and that’s not to mention my endless obsession with theology, both in reading it and discussing it with my closest friends.

Apologetics is the jam of many churchgoers, and despite whatever faults it has, it does one thing well: It inoculates believers against baseless attacks against Christianity.

Well, what do I mean by that? Consider the following events found in the Bible:

  • God speaking through a burning bush
  • God speaking through an ass
  • God creating Eve from a rib
  • A serpent speaking more persuasively in Eden than I ever managed in high school public speaking classes
  • Jesus rising from the grave

They’re examples of the Bible’s diverse and myriad miraculous or supernatural events.

Events which, by definition, defy natural or scientific explanation.

“I don’t see how anybody can believe the Bible! It’s full of absurdities — you can’t even get past the first few pages without being expected to believe that a snake can talk!”

I saw that sort of objection a lot as a Christian, but as an atheist, I see them even more often.

Objections of that sort, however, make no sense. They require judging the world described in the Bible from a wrong frame of reference. When I read the Bible, yes, I do so with the understanding that animals cannot speak to humans as described in its pages; however, the speaking animals of the Bible aren’t objectionable to me as the world carries with it an important assumption which I don’t have about my own world.

Just as it wouldn’t make sense to complain that “Kirk disappearing from the bridge of the Enterprise and reappearing on an alien world makes no sense!” when those sorts of events occur in a world with generally functional transporter technology, it doesn’t make sense to kvetch that “Donkeys can’t talk!” when those events occur in a world wherein a God exists that can cause that to occur.

Two Points of View

I mentioned earlier that I attended a presentation by Ken Ham, and during that presentation, he hammered repeatedly on a key apologetic principle:

Christian apologists and creationists approach the world with the assumption that God is real, as opposed to skeptics and scientists who rely more upon an evidence-first approach to the universe, of which any sort of god would be beholden as well.

Please read that again because it’s an important point, one which I sincerely wish that my fellow unbelievers would understand.

The larger part of the Christian faithful are not going to respond to strawman representations of their religion or dismissals of absurdity — from their point of view, of course their religion will be absurd to an outsider.

“Silly Christians, believing that a serpent talked Eve into eating what she shouldn’t; how can they believe that! Serpents can’t talk!” says the atheist, to which an honest and perfectly valid response from the Christian might be, “You’re right, snakes can’t talk! But Satan can, and that was him the garden tempting Eve, not a literal garden-variety snake.”

two men depicted having a conversation: Man 1: "In the evolution of species..." Man 2: "The Bible said God created Adam and Eve!" Man 1: "The Bible also condones slavery and rape." Man 2: "But that's the Old Testament." Man 1: "Adam and Eve are also in the Old Testament." Man 2: *head explodes*
Ha-ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well known is this: “Never apply generally that which was prescribed specifically!”[efn_note]The history in Genesis describes the Bible’s origins of all people; the Old Testament laws condoning slavery were given specifically to a small nation of people, not to the whole world. That certainly doesn’t excuse the slavery, but it also doesn’t mean Adam and Eve being “Old Testament” is problematic.[/efn_note]

This changes the conversation such that using hastily prepared memes and oft repeated objections just won’t cut it, and it works the other way too: If an unbeliever points out that the Earth is billions of years old, a young-earth Christian will provide the honest and perfectly valid response that God created the universe, that his account indicates that he did so far more recently than even a million years ago, and that he cannot lie, so there must therefore be something wrong in what the unbeliever knows about the world.

Does “honest and perfectly valid” mean correct, true, and representative of an objective reality? No. In using that phrase I mean only that within the framework — or worldview — which the Christian approaches reality, they are being consistent. I’m also not saying that that framework is reconcilable with secular sciences, but I am reminded that in those sciences, we have both gravity and quantum mechanics, which separately describe different aspects of the universe very well, but which conflict where they might overlap.

And where Christianity and unbelief meet, we aren’t going to reach a place of mutual edification if the most effort we can put forth is recycling the same tired memes, stereotypes, and strawman-based objections of each other’s points of view.

We Must Dig Deeper

On the Christian side, for those who choose to try to convince people intellectually of the merits of Christianity — or for having biblical history taught in schools alongside secular histories and sciences — they must do so according to the rules of those secular sciences, by following the scientific process that gives any and everyone opportunity to revolutionize our understanding of the world.

And on the side of unbelief, we must understand that mocking Christians has a number of problems.

  • First, we serve to reinforce their faith, for which the Bible explicitly tells them they will be persecuted; if your goal is to expose the problem of faith, fulfilling prophecies for the faithful isn’t going to help your cause.
  • Second, when we mock and insult the faithful, we reinforce every negative stereotype about ourselves that is held among so many within Christendom.
  • Finally, we so often show our own ignorance of Christianity, its history, or its holy book. Christians are just as human as anyone else, and humans tend to be a curious sort; if we’re willfully exposing ourselves as a source of tainted information (or FUD, if you will), why would those that we’re misrepresenting want to actually listen to us?

So What Then Can We Do?

Look, I get it. Making fun of religion or “evilution” is fun, and it’s hard to resist the attention social media gives a good insult.

But is your goal to actually make the world a better place?

It is?

Okay, then.

Dear Christians

Christians, I implore you to stop caring about creationism, the evils of atheists, the “gay agenda,” and any other “godless” left-wing nonsense that you’ve been taught to fear.

Focus on being faithful to your God, as the New Testament so often admonishes, by living your life in a way that improves the lives of everyone around you — give freely, tend to the needy, be models of forgiveness and love, and all that goes along with these things.

There are mighty needs in the world, and I promise you that if you want Christianity to grow and thrive, doing these humanitarian works will let it do just that — and I can’t imagine that anyone will object to your work!

Dear Unbelievers

Unbelievers, I charge you to hold yourselves to the same standard to which you would hold Christians — if you’re going to mock them for not understanding science or atheism, you better make damn sure that you understand the Bible beyond what a few dozen memes and recycled talking points from prominent atheists tell you to believe. To wit, Adam and Eve had more than just two sons, and the gospel writers knew what Jesus said when he was alone in the garden because God was writing through them.

If we’re going to botch simple story details in the Bible, we’ll never be able to properly discuss theology 101, let alone anything more interesting with our Christian brothers and sisters.

Oh, and if you see Christians doing good work in your community, shut up with the protesting — join up and do good work with them (if they’ll have you — don’t be a jerk about it) or get out of their way.[efn_note]This is a lesson I really need to learn myself.[/efn_note] Let good things happen, be grateful when they do, and focus your efforts where they matter: spread knowledge, encourage creativity and curiosity, and push for secularity in public spaces (healthcare, education, law enforcement, government, etc.).

So It Goes

I make no defense for Christians who seek to legislate their religion onto others as that concept is foreign to the Bible and does nothing to further the good that Christianity ought to be doing in this world, so while you don’t need my blessing to go out and oppose religious platforms encroaching into things which affect everyone, you absolutely do have my blessing regardless.

Ideally, even Christians would actively resist their religion being used in those ways.

That isn’t the case, at least not always, however, but I do know we aren’t going to encourage believers to work with us so long as we continue going out of our way to mock, deride, and insult those who think differently than ourselves while simultaneously refusing to even properly understand their point of view, we’re never going see the sorts of change we want in the world.

As an atheist, it’s super easy to say that the world would be better with fewer “thoughts and prayers” American conservative-style Christians who refuse to bake cakes for gays and place blind “patriotism” over humanitarian crises.

But a world full of angry atheists who spread only misinformation or blatant lies and hate about the religious of the world is hardly any better.

Imagine if we stopped enjoying our echo chambers and started listening to each other. Imagine if we cared less about “owning” each other in debates and more about edifying each other, encouraging the best parts possible out of both sides.

I know that’s a tough mountain to climb. Join me, won’t you?

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Worldviews”

  1. Excellently objective!
    Obviously you have many residual godly characteristics from your former Christian experience.
    I don’t believe I’ve ever read the words of an atheist with such a right heart about interaction with those of other worldviews.
    Clearly the Holy Spirit still works in your life.

    1. If the Holy Spirit is real, then that would mean God is working all lives according to his sovereign plan!

      That said, well, what you said there about never having read the words of an atheist with a heart like mine toward believers?

      That’s both encouraging and heartbreaking.

      Encouraging because that’s what I’m going for, being (as Jesus said it) a peacemaker… a reconciler, a bridger of gaps.

      Discouraging because it corroborates my own attitude toward much of the atheist community, which is similar to my attitude toward Christian apologists:

      When people are so convinced that they’re right that they must mock, deride, or otherwise devote their lives to telling others how wrong they are, they become a problem bigger than the un/belief was in the first place.

      I want to see atheists working with Christians to solve real life problems in their communities, and I want to see Christians spend their time doing the same rather than doing nonsense like building arks or trying to muck up school curricula.

      Society could be so much more awesome than it is, but it’s going to take CHANGE.

      1. “When people are so convinced that they’re right that they must mock, deride, or otherwise devote their lives to telling others how wrong they are,…”

        I think I see two different hearts here. There is the person that knows he is right, for example the one that knows 2+2 = 4.
        Perhaps there is someone who doesn’t know 2+2 = 4, but mistakenly thinks it is another answer.
        Now if the first person were to mock and deride him, I would think the problem isn’t knowing the truth, but rather having an evil heart.
        It would seem a person with a good heart who knew the truth would simply attempt to help the mistaken one see the truth.
        Now if the mistaken one rejects all reasonable demonstrations of the truth, then the one who knows the truth should simply agree to disagree and continue on in love and kindness.
        Jesus said, I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. We ought to have the same mind.

        “…doing nonsense like building arks or trying to muck up school curricula.”

        It does make sense to me, if one’s worldview is that there really was an ark where mankind was saved upon, to build such an ark to scale simply to see what it would look like and show others as well.
        I personally reject the apes to man Progression, but there are also plenty of artists that devote their time to rendering such imaginings as well.
        As for mucking up school curricula, I’m guessing you are referring to the ID movement or such.
        I’m no expert in the matter, but the more I study molecular biology, the more I find it nigh unto impossible to believe that a single cell organism can happen by chance.
        That aminos could randomly assemble into functioning machines according to what only happens with hereditary information, and that even our greatest scientists at this time can only synthesize the code in a virus, while still needing the machinery of a cell to replicate is further support to me how impossible chance brought this about. Even more suspicious to me is the new attempt to explain such luck in this universe to even have a universe that can sustain life, much less have the supposed laws to effect life, that we must propose a multiverse popping out an infinite number of universes.
        Now all of those things may be true, but I don’t think that it’s any less likely that a super powerful being just made it all.
        Nor is it any less scientific, since science certainly has not demonstrated life from nonlife happening unguided.
        And the multi-verse is based upon string theory, which is at such a dimension and level that we do not currently have the equipment to even test such things.
        All of that to say that I see nothing wrong with keeping a healthy doubt in the current scientific theories, rather than presenting them as facts, like our science books obviously do.

        Concerning your comment about change, I do agree that there needs to be a lot of change in the world.
        Unfortunately, the world is not going to agree on what is good change and bad change.
        Your colorful word of “change” does have the look of the rainbow, which seems to be part of the pride movement.
        As a Christian, of course my worldview is going to be that the LGBTQ change is a change for the worse. I would take the position that these are sinful lifestyles which bring corruption into the country and the displeasure of Almighty God.
        Now that does not mean that I hate such people. In fact by my calling such a lifestyle sin, I believe I am demonstrating love.
        When Jesus first began his earthly ministry, his message was, repent.
        He was not saying this because he was hating people, but rather because he loved people and wanted to deliver them from the wrath and punishment of God.
        Unfortunately, some Christians may present the message with hatred, and also some hearers of the message may misunderstand the heart of the messenger, if he is speaking in love and sincerity.
        After all, there was no one more misunderstood and hated than Jesus, who was and is the perfect man.
        Therefore, if we repeat his words, it should be no surprise that some people will hate us. He did in fact warn us of this.

        Joh 15:18  If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
        Joh 15:19  If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

        Anyway, thank you for your time, and reasonable thinking.
        Keep up the good work, brother.

        Merrit

        1. Now if the mistaken one rejects all reasonable demonstrations of the truth, then the one who knows the truth should simply agree to disagree and continue on in love and kindness.

          There’s a difference between religious/philosophical/personal truth and fact, though. 2 and 2 equaling 4 is a fact — it’s demonstrably true. Same with trees being plants, atoms possessing some number of protons, and so on; facts are objective, independent of circumstance or person.

          Truths are subjective, though, and are highly dependent on belief, circumstance, etc. “The sky is blue” sounds like a fact, but if I look out the window right now, it’s a dreary grey; sometimes it’s black, sometimes it’s orange. And sure, sometimes it’s blue.

          I tend to reserve my harshest criticisms for those who are objectively harmful to others — Republicans notably — because I subjectively believe that reducing harm is a moral imperative. (And I’m not alone in it; it’s a core tenet of numerous major religions for a reason!)

          I do agree, though, that as much as possible the conversation should be carried out in “love and kindness,” as you put it. Or as I put it, with patience, assuming the best of the person you’re talking to. So much animosity comes from misunderstandings, and I’d rather misunderstand toward a positive than toward a negative, you know?

          It does make sense to me, if one’s worldview is that there really was an ark where mankind was saved upon, to build such an ark to scale simply to see what it would look like and show others as well.

          I get that. However, it feels like it would run aground of other issues within the Christian faith — such as not creating idols, primarily. There’s also the issue of millions upon millions of dollars being poured into a relatively unpopular tourist attraction when the things Jesus actually told Christians to be worried about are still problems found across the country. Worry about recreations of biblical events after everyone has a roof over their head and a meal on the table, otherwise it just makes the religion look ridiculous to those of us on the outside — we know what the Christians’ Lord commanded, so when we see fortunes spent on things that aren’t that, well, it leaves a sour taste in our mouths when the evangelists come a-knocking.

          I personally reject the apes to man Progression, but there are also plenty of artists that devote their time to rendering such imaginings as well.
          As for mucking up school curricula, I’m guessing you are referring to the ID movement or such.
          I’m no expert in the matter, but the more I study molecular biology, the more I find it nigh unto impossible to believe that a single cell organism can happen by chance.
          That aminos could randomly assemble into functioning machines according to what only happens with hereditary information, and that even our greatest scientists at this time can only synthesize the code in a virus, while still needing the machinery of a cell to replicate is further support to me how impossible chance brought this about. Even more suspicious to me is the new attempt to explain such luck in this universe to even have a universe that can sustain life, much less have the supposed laws to effect life, that we must propose a multiverse popping out an infinite number of universes.
          Now all of those things may be true, but I don’t think that it’s any less likely that a super powerful being just made it all.

          The fact of the matter is that the evidence does point to those things. The universe could have been miraculously created 6,000 years ago or last Thursday, it wouldn’t matter — it was created as a universe that operates according to rules, and those rules point toward the Big Bang, stellar evolution, biological evolution, etc.

          A scientist can believe the earth popped into existence yesterday for all I care, so long as they’re still doing their job and following the evidence for how the world actually works. A miraculous creation adds nor changes anything regarding how the world operates. On the contrary, biological evolution and our shared ancestry with apes has helped us better understand so much about how life works in very real ways.

          All of that to say that I see nothing wrong with keeping a healthy doubt in the current scientific theories, rather than presenting them as facts, like our science books obviously do.

          The multiverse nor string theory are presented as fact. They’re offered as possible explanations for evidence we see in the universe. Maybe some day they are found to be factual, maybe something else altogether is.

          But I’m much more inclined to trust the lessons of those who dedicate their lives to following the evidence than those who hold up a book just to say “God did it,” squelching all inquiry into the world that might cast any doubt upon that foregone conclusion, as the churches have done all too often throughout history.

          Facts are vindicated by evidence, not borne out by the sword.

          Unfortunately, the world is not going to agree on what is good change and bad change.

          Well, sure. On the one side, we have a lot of people who want to make sure people have their needs met, can love who they love, want less war, want climate change dealt with, and so on… and on the other hand, we have the Republicans.
          Like I said in my comment, though, I want better atheists and better Christians. Better atheists who don’t spend their time sharing crappy memes about Christianity that do little else than demonstrate their own ignorance and hypocrisy when combined with their “we know the Bible better than Christians rhetoric,” who spend their time cooperating with legitimate charitable efforts by Christians, who believe more in growing society than worldview warfare…

          And better Christians who spend their time working toward making Heaven on Earth — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, etc., rather than playing scientist, inserting themselves into politics, and all sorts of other stuff that Jesus never asked nor commanded them to do.

          Your colorful word of “change” does have the look of the rainbow, which seems to be part of the pride movement.

          Actually, it’s just a rainbow. I had in mind Spongebob when I wrote it.

          As a Christian, of course my worldview is going to be that the LGBTQ change is a change for the worse. I would take the position that these are sinful lifestyles which bring corruption into the country and the displeasure of Almighty God.

          Why? No Christian was ever commanded to not be gay; however, Christians were encouraged to not be married in the first place unless they couldn’t keep it in their pants because of how much of a distraction marriage is from serving God (feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, etc.). Despite that, churches make a big thing out of marriages, young ones in the church aren’t discouraged from marrying, etc.

          Until Christians figure out their own apparent problem with horniness, I don’t pay much mind to Christians who want to fret about the LGBT community. Jesus had a problem with religious leadership, not “the gays,” so that’s where I think Christians’ priorities ought to be. Yes, I’m aware of what Paul said, and about that one thing written to the Jews back in Leviticus, but neither are part of being Christlike.

          Now that does not mean that I hate such people. In fact by my calling such a lifestyle sin, I believe I am demonstrating love.

          That isn’t love. Telling someone who is born a certain way that their very nature is wrong and they must change? That isn’t love. That much is evident in the suicide rate among those who are forced to try to change or repress who they are. Love is freeing, not damning.

          Therefore, if we repeat his words, it should be no surprise that some people will hate us. He did in fact warn us of this.

          Joh 15:18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
          Joh 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

          You’re yanking this out of its context. Jesus isn’t saying “go and tell people not to be gay, and if people hate you for it, don’t worry, they hated me first.”

          He’s saying “lay down your life for others” and “bear good fruit” and “don’t be a part of the world,” and it’s for those things Christians may be hated.

          How does a Christian bear good fruit? By feeding the hungry, by clothing the naked, etc. That’s it. By sacrificially living their life in service to others, by “taking up the cross” and suffering for the sake of others.

          Swapping all of that for “telling people to repent” and then claiming martyrdom when people get pissed at you completely misses the point. It’s the whole reason why Jesus said he would judge people based on how they treated others — because in so doing, that is how they treated him.

          Jesus’ whole thing was bettering the world with love, and those who stood against it were the ones who stood up and praised God on the streets for not being a sinner, who prayed publicly for all to see, and who knew the Law inside and out. Jesus was a “yeah, the law said… BUT…” kind of person. If there was a more loving way, he taught it.

          Find the love. The rest will follow.

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