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Commenting on an Atheist Blog [repost]

Still in Africa, back in a couple of days.  Here's one I first posted two years ago...

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I lost some of the best years of my life last month to an atheist blog.

With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net.  People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net?  A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going?  Does this shock anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways.  Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the "rat's rectum" comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins' site sound like Pollyanna.

Anyway, I thought I'd try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:

One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.

Here are some other reflections:

  1. Reason flows from the heart.  These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc.   But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument.  They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words.  "Logic" was their slogan not their method.
  2. They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one - being materialists and all!
  3. Pointing out this inconsistency didn't seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
  4. Everyone deals in circularities:
    1. I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
    2. You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what's true because it's proved itself effective when judged by science.
  5. Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources - ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method.  One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn't happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method.  There's faith for you.  Which leads to...
  6. Everyone is faith based.  We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
  7. I kept getting asked for 'evidence'.  My responses were in three broad categories, first I'd point to Christ risen from the dead, second I'd simply quote Scriptures.  But probably the most effective thing was to say "everything!  Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you."
  8. Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again.  Basically it's saying: "Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it.  Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus.  Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing?  Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis?  In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time."
  9. In this sense theology is a science.  It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate .  This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge.  Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word.  The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be.  But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren't falsifiable either.  Premises are the light by which we see.  It's their success in seeing that recommends them.
  10. The failure of "science alone" to see the world was very evident to me.  It didn't seem particularly evident to them.  That Beethoven's 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them.  That it was "beautiful" was a verdict they couldn't make with anything like the same certainty.
  11. The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of "the onward march of science", demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition.  There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts.  Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this.  All their calls for "evidence, evidence" were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm - to serve their greatest love.  They need a new paradigm, or better - a new love.
  12. The call for "evidence, evidence" in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison.  What counts as 'evidence' for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm.  This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above.  Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
  13. My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility.  I'm ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment.  I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me.  The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren't that great anyway!).  This is especially so given what I've been arguing above.
  14. Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise.  Many of the commenters were American 'de-converted' evangelicals and knew a lot of bible.  The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the "all Christians are bigots" tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
  15. On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things.  All they've heard has been from other atheists.
  16. And of course there were many more who I'm sure just 'listened'.  My time at Speaker's Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you're aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails.  Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
  17. Turning the other cheek hurts but it's powerful.  I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
  18. The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable.  The hatred that's there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me.  But if we're surprised and outraged let's get a grip - no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
  19. Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the "stinking, sliding, scuttling" floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him.  (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it).  I spent a few hours in an internet forum.  His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart.  He's the One we proclaim.  His attitude is the attitude we take.  And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
  20. There is a time for shaking dust off your feet.  Some need to spend a little longer in the battle.  But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner.  :)

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8 thoughts on “Commenting on an Atheist Blog [repost]

  1. twistedphilosophy

    Some Atheists are bad, but not all. Some Christians are bad, but not all. Some of all mankind is bad, but not all. There is no point in stating how evil or rude a certain group of people were, especially when you state it as if every person belonging to that belief is evil. I am atheist, do I hate Christians? No, I respect every person on this earth. The only time I have a problem with someone is the actions that come about from them. So, some atheists are bad, evil, etc. I agree. Would you not also agree that there have been some horrible things happen in the name of religion as well like children dying because parents thought God wanted them to "discipline them" or discrimination of other people because they don't have the same beliefs? Why do we care so much about science? For one, our country is way behind on this one in the educational system. 2. In order for humanity to survive longer with the population we have, we kind of need the sciences. 3. I don't see much of a problem with saying, "Instead of superstitious beliefs, let's try and find out what's really going on here." Otherwise, we would still think thunder was God being angry.

  2. Paul Blackham

    I always find it hard in those atheist forum discussions because essentially my atheist friends want to say "ok, well, an ordered, rational, beautiful universe filled with light and life... let's just take that as a neutral given... and then we will stand on that in order to try to join in with your rejection of superstition and then we would like to turn the guns on you also...". When I try to point out that the whole rational universe of light and life does require a slightly more rational explanation than "it just came from nothing and ordered itself...", few of my atheist friends even recognise the philosophical weight of the problem.

    The kind of understanding of scientific method assumed and often repeated on these forums is so mythological and antiquated that I almost lose the will to live when confronted by another example of "science is using your eyes and thinking rather than closing your eyes and believing". Again, nearly any discussion about science gets dragged almost instantly into young-earth-creationism [and various scientific theories associated with it] - not only by the atheists but also by Christians who want to prove to the atheists that they hate young-earth-creationists just as much as they do.

    I too have wasted far too much time on these extremely close-minded forums. Especially toxic are the 'faith' or 'sciince' ones on the Independent or Guardian websites. It is almost impossible to say anything at all even vaguely related to Jesus or the Bible without being flamed by the incredibly exclusive trolls.

    The best I got was when one person acknowledged that 'rational' meant thinking and arguing without any meaningful reference to 'god' 'jesus' or the Bible ... in fact, he conceded, rational arguments are necessarily atheistic arguments.

    If those are the terms of discussion then there literally is no possibility of any genuine engagement.

    I agree with 'twistedphilosophy' that there are a variety of atheists out there - some of whom can genuinely engage in open discussion and do not live with the bitter trolls - however, even in his post he seems to assume that we have an interest in associating with 'religion' [which we have been critiquing for a whole lot longer than any of the modern atheists] and that that science is somehow associated with an atheistic viewpoint.

  3. twistedphilosophy

    You have to remember that atheism only means "the doctrine or belief that there is no God". That's it. I wouldn't say that science is purely associated with the atheistic viewpoint that there is no God, there are many theist scientists, some of whom do conduct certain studies to try and prove the existence of a God. Are rational arguments atheistic arguments? It depends how you look at it. To me, yes. Rational means "agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible", so to a theist, talking about God is rational, but not to an atheist. Talking about God also wouldn't be reasonable to a Buddhist because they don't believe in the Christian God. I will also say, and speak for many atheists I know, that we don't necessarily assume to know how the universe began. I have no idea how the universe began. The "big bang" theory has its flaws just like any other theory. For me, the origins of the universe are unknown and I'm fine with that. Will we discover it one day? I don't know. The origins of the universe could be far beyond an understanding mankind could ever conceive of, but I won't just chalk it up to something religious. Mankind always wants to explain what they can't and when they can't find a way to explain it, they resort to religion. This is my opinion. How many times have you ever heard someone honestly say, "I don't know" and leave it at that? There are many things we don't know and probably never will know. Is this the only universe? Has our universe come about more than once? Is there life on one of the other sextillion's of planets? I am fine with these questions being left unanswered and I am perfectly capable of admitting when I am wrong. The fact is, beliefs are just beliefs, and mankind will always argue over their beliefs. You are going to have crazy atheists, christians, buddhists, muslims, etc, much the same as we are also going to have very intelligent and caring atheists, christians, buddhists, and muslims. I just give my input much the same as many other people and don't expect it to be fully accepted. Some people just let arguments get out of hand and take on a personal meaning. Oh, and thanks for calling a lot of atheists "trolls". I like that. Maybe I can find myself a t-shirt. "Watch out for the atheist troll."

  4. twistedphilosophy

    Thank you for the appreciation. I believe, although it's hard to admit, we are all hypocrites in some form; otherwise we would all be near perfect. I find it refreshing that you admit there are also "theistic trolls" as well; not to prove me right or anything, but that someone else realizes there are "trolls" everywhere, no matter what the belief. Any kind of belief in the world is going to have its fair share of individuals like this. The most we can do is try to be as aware as possible of what we are saying as a lot of what a "troll" would say comes mainly from impulse. Controlling this is hard for anyone, and I appreciate that you are aware this is just a fact of life. Will we ever all get along regardless of beliefs? I hope so, yet I don't see it happening anytime soon. This, not religion, is the main issue in our world. I am guilty of this as well and I try to watch what I say, but it is easier to talk down on the belief than it is to find common ground and be able to co-exist without drama.

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