How Should Christians Respond to Atheist Friends?

by Andy Bannister

apologetics talking with atheistsEverywhere you look a resurgent atheism is on the rise: loud, aggressive and all over the media. Just a year ago, three of the top ten books on the New York Times bestseller list were by atheists. So how do we respond to atheist friends and colleagues who’ve read books by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens and are keen to beat Christians over the head with them?

It’s worth beginning our response by observing that atheism itself is not new. This is not to belittle our atheist friends, but simply to note that most answers to the challenges of the so-called “New Atheism” are ancient ones. Christians have always engaged their critics and been willing to answer the tough questions.

The intellectual peak of atheism probably came in the early nineteenth century. The rise of science, especially the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, meant many atheists thought religion was dying and they could look forward to a godless, secular utopia. The twentieth century demolished that dream. Two world wars showed the evils that mechanised scientific warfare could cause, whilst the collapse of the Soviet Union saw the end of one the biggest attempts to build a modern atheistic state. All these factors and others mean that today, religion is as strong as ever. This partly explains the anger of the New Atheists today — religion has failed to disappear as predicted. It is this that lies behind some of the features that are genuinely new in the “New Atheism”, namely its dogmatism and aggressiveness.

So how should Christians respond to atheist friends and colleagues? Let me briefly outline six broad principles.

First, don’t respond with anger or sarcasm. Show respect and take every question seriously…


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