What Christians can learn from atheists about making truth claims
by Wintery Knight
I found this post from Simple Apologetics through Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 Twitter feed, which discusses what Christians can learn from atheism with respect to bearing the burden of proof for Christian truth claims.
For instance, many atheists also call themselves “free thinkers”, a title suggesting that they are not beholden to any one perspective, but always open to following wherever reason and evidence may lead. As the current description of “Free thought” on Wikipedia reads:
Free thought holds that individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, freethinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas. Regarding religion, freethinkers hold that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of supernatural phenomena.
Of course Christians will disagree about the basic tenets of free thought in regards to religion, but the first section of this description is one that nearly everyone should be able to gladly affirm. (We might want to broaden what counts as a legitimate basis for our opinions to include testimony from others, memories, and other ‘properly basic’ beliefs, but I digress).
In this regard, atheists (and others) who denounce a fideistic approach to religion are doing religious people a great service. Whenever the claims of faith are said to be outside of rational investigation, it creates a great challenge for everyone else. To take a small scale example, I once knew a student who would occasionally cancel Bible studies because “God told me that we should not meet today.” The truth of the matter was more likely that she was behind in her homework! Her ‘prophetic’ explanation was frustrating and a conversation stopper, but it also came across as fairly disingenuous, and it eroded the trust in our relationship.
A similar, but more significant, problem exists when Christians say “you just have to take it on faith” or “you just need to believe” or “pray about it and it’ll become clear to you” when confronted with difficult challenges to their beliefs. These words initially sound good, and pious, and noble, but upon reflection (or hearing them one too many times), they start to sound like an intellectually lazy way of avoiding the problems. When atheists (or others) criticize Christians for this, they are calling us to a higher level of reason, thoughtfulness, and conversational engagement with other viewpoints…
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