“Hey James. I have a general question for you, if you don’t mind. I’ve recently stumbled upon a YouTube atheist by the name of darkmatter2525 who posts regular videos about atheism. I’ve also visited a Facebook group called Life After God, which I think focuses more on humanism. How do you defend your faith against these types of people?”
The atheists you just referred to, Tsang, I’d tend not to engage on their home turf. Even though a popular atheist YouTuber, for example, might promote fallacious reasoning that might, for instance, commit the genetic fallacy or a false dichotomy, I still wouldn’t challenge him on his own YouTube channel or Facebook page (even though one might feel the intellectual urge to). I used to think that this was an effective way for spreading my views. However, after some years of engaging all kinds of critics I have gained several valuable insights. For instance, engaging “darkmatter2525” at his channel would be mostly pointless (though not always, more on this in a moment). Atheists like him are already fixed in their beliefs and more often than not they have no intention of actually familiarizing themselves with opposing viewpoints. Rather they resort to ridicule and mockery while also dismantling straw men caricatures. This is why the term “village atheist” is so appropriate in capturing such atheists. It is easy to mock others, but it is not so easy to be patient in attempting to understand them. The former suggests intellectual immaturity.
Also note that these atheists make a living from their sites and YouTube channels. It would take something quite miraculous (did I say miraculous? Oh boy.) to get them to change or convert to any other worldview. It is a lot to give up especially given that some of them make a decent buck from ad revenue alone. So, the theist’s arguing on the atheist’s turf would generally not prove very fruitful.
But, to be charitable, it would be unwarranted for me to generalize all atheists in this way. I’ve seen atheist writers who are far fairer, more reasonable, and who at least attempt to understand that of which they dismiss. However, I think these atheists still present weak arguments in several ways. They present weak arguments in favour of their atheism, against religion in general, and Christianity specifically. Although I really appreciate atheists who aren’t like the common village atheist I often don’t find myself agreeing with them. However, by saying that I perceive their arguments to be weak is not the same as saying one shouldn’t consider them or concede that they give us a need for deliberation. For example, I don’t think the probabilistic problem of evil somehow undermines God’s existence, or supports atheism (as opposed to say agnosticism or some other worldview), but I don’t think we should just sweep it under the carpet.
Now, an unfortunate component to internet atheism is that whenever (or at least on most occasions) atheists conglomerate in large numbers they represent a hate group. You’ll know what I mean when you glance at YouTube comments, on their sites such as the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science & Reason, and even in their gatherings at the Reason Rally or on Blasphemy Day. I wouldn’t say that these gatherings are hateful in of themselves. However, most would think that the atheist’s resorting to deliberately offending others crosses the line of decency. This is certainly not to say that my own religious beliefs, nor anyone else’s, are exempt from scrutiny and criticism. I invite criticism but there is a line that one should not cross. I also believe that atheists, like everyone else, have the right to gather, be in community, and represent their beliefs. No-one should dispute that, however, it is the atheist himself who turns these gatherings, whether they are in person or online, into hateful movements. Now, this is also not to say that atheists are by their very nature hateful. Certainly not. I know atheists who are not at all in this way inclined, and I don’t wish for readers to perceive me as implying that that is the case.
So, should the Christian engage atheists on their home turf then he should be ready for the zealous acolytes to depart the mother nest and converge en masse. This usually renders discussion pointless. However, there are some notable cases when this has actually led people to reject atheism. In one case, Richard Morgan witnessed how atheists on Richard Dawkins’ personal site repeatedly insulted and berated a Christian visitor who only ever remained polite and humble in his responses. Morgan was repulsed at how some of the online atheists actually wished for this Christian to die; Morgan, now a Christian, explains that “I’m not condemning all atheists. I’m talking about anonymous atheists on internet discussion boards and the messages they express which are extremely negative, puerile, [and] full of hate…” (1). Other atheists have similar stories to share through how atheist hate has actually led them to reject atheism and embrace another worldview; consider Judith Babarsky and Peter Byrom for example.
So, it is not entirely impossible that one could engage atheists on their home turfs and actually win converts, but I wouldn’t be the one to say that it the most effective way to do so. It is also certainly not an effective way through which to have a substantive discussion. However, winning one soul for Jesus is certainly worth the effort and so I believe Christians should discern for themselves if such engagement is worthwhile.
Moreover, I would urge fellow believers to not stress too much over such atheists. Just because they might have a large following doesn’t somehow make their arguments good or their worldview coherent. I often feel that some Christians put too much attention on such matters of which diverts attention away from the real need of sharing the gospel and winning souls for Jesus. It also leaves some Christians annoyed and angry. I think we just need to accept that village atheists exist and go on about our own work. Personally speaking I certainly don’t tend to lose any sleep over them and so shouldn’t other Christians.
Now, with some of my preliminary thoughts out of the way we can tackle your question directly, “How do you defend your faith against these types of people?”
Simply, I put in the effort into writing about it and share my work through as many avenues as possible (sometimes with great results). Over the last few years I have built up this site with a decent amount of emphasis placed on contemporary atheism. I consider what they say and try to be fair in my analysis and I think that this is a good way to go about it. Creating a space where one is able to push back against false beliefs is important. I show why I believe that common atheistic arguments are weak in that they do not go through to their logical conclusions, that the arguments against Christianity and Jesus’ resurrection are particularly frail, and how atheism itself fails to be a logically coherent worldview. In this way atheists are welcome to engage me at my site in the comment sections below. There I try to be fair and allow them the opportunity to voice their views without others jumping down their throats (like what would happen if I visited an atheist site). Sadly, however, I haven’t always engaged visitors to my site because I often haven’t the time, or else I have no intent of engaging the critic on a matter I’ve already written about on my site.
I hope I answered the question.
1. Sun E. 2011. Former Dawkins Atheist Richard Morgan Continues to Praise God. Available.