Posted on Jan 4, 2013 by Tom Gilson
Some of us have atheists in our lives who love to annoy us with their supposedly reasonable challenges to the faith. The New Atheist movement claims reason as its watchword, and they say that faith is always automatically unreasonable. Richard Dawkins has his “Foundation for Reason and Science,” Sam Harris has his “Project Reason,” and Al Stefanelli claims to be the “voice of reason in an unreasonable world.” Reason is what they’re all about, they say.
Don’t buy it.
I don’t mean to be cruel or rude, and I certainly don’t advise you to be either, but Stefanelli’s “social experiment” (on the above-linked page) illustrates how unreasoning the New Atheists can be. This is not just an isolated problem: the New Atheist movement is rife with un-reasonability, as my co-authors and I show in True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism.
But you can’t pull out a book like that when someone challenges you. Usually it’s better anyway to ask a question than to challenge a person directly. If you find yourself in a situation where a co-worker calls you unreasonable for your belief, I suggest you just ask him or her, “What do you mean by that?” The idea there is to listen to them, to treat them as a human being, not an opponent in an argument, and to find out what they really think.
Depending on how they answer, you might follow that up by asking more specifically, “What do you mean by being reasonable, and how can you identify whether someone is reasonable or not?”
Here’s the typical New Atheist answer: reason is defined by whether a person lives according to physically observable evidence, which means that any faith in God is automatically unreasoning and unreasonable (more on that here). But that means the way to tell a person is reasonable is whether he reaches the “right” conclusion, not by how reasonably he got there. So I’d follow that up by asking, “Then the way we know whether you and I are reasonable is whether or not we agree with you, right?”
At this point I hope you’re smiling with them. Far better to have a friendly discussion than an argument!
In fact I wouldn’t suggest you carry it any further unless the person is really interested. If you make just one point like that one—if you “put a stone in their shoe,” as Greg Koukl puts it, that’s pretty good. They’re a lot more likely to come to faith in Christ by hearing about Jesus Christ himself than by losing an argument over reasonability.
If they really are interested, though, then I’d recommend you supply them with a copy of True Reason. It’s shameless self-promotion, I know, but it happens to be the best book I know of on the topic of atheism, Christianity, and reasonability.