Christian apologists should conduct their engagements with integrity and respect for others. Apologists are bound to adhere to their own religious texts and principles, one of which is to give a defense with “respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
But I observe this is not always the case. In recent news, false information regarding atheism in the United States was presented on an influential website called Daily Wire and has also been shared by at least one notable Christian apologist. I will note this apologist shortly.
The article (the link to the article is now broken) presents atheism problematically in several ways. First, the article calls atheism a “religion” now constituting “the largest religious group in America”. There are several factors to consider here. Is atheism a religion? I have applied Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions to atheism and argue that it has clear religious elements. But this point has to be argued. I argued my case by applying the seven dimensions, whereas the Daily Wire does not present an argument that atheism is a religion. This cannot merely be assumed.
Further, that the author says atheism is “the largest religious group in America” is mind-blowing. Atheists literally account for roughly 5% of the population. This is a glaring factual error that the author makes.
The article then goes on arbitrarily about mental illness. The impression I have of this is that the author is attempting to link the rise in atheism within the United States with an increase in mental illness. Where is the evidence for this claim?
The author does list a few studies saying that being religious has some benefits. If I understand correctly, the author is saying that religion is good for you and atheism is really bad for your mental. Again, I am aware that religion can be beneficial, notably in the areas of providing hope in moments of distress, community belonging, and care. But this overlooks so much. If you want to take the good about religion, then you also have to take the bad. Religion, including Christianity, has engendered good but has also produced division, violence, bigotry, fear, and much else. This is conveniently ignored by the author.
To the surprise of many, this problematic article was shared via social media by a notable apologist, J. Warner Wallace. Wallace was an atheist before his conversion to Christianity and is notable because he was a detective. He is today active in the atheism-religion debate meaning that readers should expect him to have some familiarity with atheism and religion. But this is brought into question for his sharing of the article.
Evidently a number of Christians in his thread avoided sharing or commending this problematic article. While many Christians took pleasure in beating atheism with an article containing false and gratuitous information, others could see it for what it is. Several comments are worth noting (each comment comes from a separate individual in the thread):
“This article is incorrect (at best), or is intentionally misleading. I’m disappointed that J. Warner Wallace would post this as though it is truth. First off, not having a church affiliation does not mean one is an atheist. Second, in about 5 minutes, I was able to access the GSS which the article refers to. In its data, only 5% of respondents stated that they don’t believe in God (7% responded “don’t know” – which is agnostic). Please don’t repost misleading/poorly researched articles like this. It only adds to the ammunition that atheists use to paint Christians as unthinking and unintelligent.”
“This article is misleading. The only way that atheists become the majority religion is if Evangelicals, Catholics, and main line Protestants are divided up into separate groups. But, putting these Christian groups together still comprises around 75-80% of the American population. And, the percentage of America that believes in God is still over 90%.”
“This article and poll are kind of misleading. Catholics, evangelicals and mainline Protestants seem to be separate categories, and they are describing those with “no religion “ as atheist. If you grouped the various Christian sects together and made a distinction between actual atheists and those who just don’t follow a particular religion I think it would show a much different picture.”
“No religion does not mean atheism. It usually means spiritual but not religious. I doubt that high a percent denies God’s existence.”
These comments evidence a greater awareness of atheism than both the article’s author and Warner himself. Further, I have many questions.
Where is the apologist’s integrity? What thrill does he receive from perpetuating false information? What interests is doing this serving?
Further, does this make the apologist any better than a Richard Dawkins or Dan Barker, both atheists who characterize religion in the worst possible way to suit their own agendas? Will apologists stoop to their low level?
In Wallace’s case, he must have read the article. If he did and shared it, he is either massively ignorant of the atheism-religious situation in the United States, or is willing to sharing information he knows is false. If Wallace did not read the article and shared it anyway, then that is sloppy and self-serving. Additional questions arise. Wallace has authored books on apologetics. What other false information is he presenting his readers with? Where is he getting his information from? Writers, especially in the area of religion, need a good reputation and sharing false information to suit one’s agenda is a good way to ruin it.
Wallace’s sharing this problematic article seems to suggest he cannot see the evidence right before his eyes. That’s not very good for a former homicide detective.