The Best Argument for Both Atheism and Theism

I find it interesting that arguments for both Christianity and Atheism often take some kind of a parallel structure, where each side basically uses the same kind of argument, sometimes almost the exact same argument – but they start from different assumptions and therefore end up in opposite corners.

For example, there are times that it seems to me the best argument on either side, the one that most people on both sides actually feel deeply even if they don’t articulate it – that best argument is something like no argument should be necessary at all.  If I were an atheist, and many days of my life I have very nearly been an atheist, I would say something like this:

If God is real, why on earth would we need to debate about Him/Her/It/What-Have-You?  I mean, if there were an omnipotent Creator of the universe that wanted us to know Him, it’s hard to imagine that He (etc.) would rely so much on intuition and creative argument for evidence of His very existence.  So without such clear evidence, why are we debating this thing at all? You are asking me to believe that there is an omnipotent being who wants everyone to believe in Him yet, for unknown reasons, allows the possibility of honest doubt.  You are asking me to believe in a being so powerful that He can create a universe, but who yet seems absent from that universe essentially all of the time except for the occasional mild hint.  Give me a break!  Better to just admit that God isn’t there, that we’ve misread the occasional mild hint, that we’re over-interpreting the rainbow and windstorm and earthquake and fall colors, and get on with figuring out how we can muddle along as best we can.

If I were a Christian, and many days of my life I hope that I am worthy of that name, I would say something like this:

If God is not real, why on earth would we need an argument to show it?  I do not think we would ever have thought of Him on our own.  I didn’t create this vivid feeling that something beyond this world exists – a feeling I find inside of me and I can’t seem to totally shake. Why did I awake at all in the world with the sense of the Divine?  Where did it come from?   Why do the mountains cry out to me of something beyond themselves, why do I hear an echo of Heaven in my daughter’s laughter? Why do I like Middle-Earth and magic rings and stories from long-forgotten other worlds so much? Why does it seem that everyone looks up in hopes of finding lost loved ones?  Why do we seem to gravitate to eternity and cry out for Heaven in the dire crises of our lives – in those moments where everything seems on the line – where does that desire come from? So given all that, given this pervasive sense that humanity has always seemed to have, and that I certainly seem to have, of the existence of something beyond this world, why are we still debating about it?  Best to just admit that something beyond this world likely exists and get on with figuring out what in the world it is!

But both of those arguments say the same thing – they both basically assert a psychological fact about how things are and then suggest everyone should just get on board with that psychological fact.  Atheists feel we should not need to argue because they don’t see or feel God as much as they think they should; Christians feel they should not need to argue because they already feel God sometimes and assume everyone else should feel Him in the same way, too.

The ironic truth is, of course, that both of those arguments as to why we should not need to argue illustrate exactly why we do need to argue; or at least why we need to argue with ourselves.  I’m not sure you and I need to argue [Apologetic Editorial Staff Note: Seriously, this guy’s idiotic behavior suggests that he is in fact pretty darn sure he wants to argue with you…he has been known to argue with a piece of broccoli about the role of the quantum physics in digestion…for three hours…we’re just sayin’] – but I’m fairly certain that you need to argue with you, and that I need to argue with me.  At some fundamental level, there are reasons why it seems eternity exists; and reasons why it seems it doesn’t.  It would be unwise to ignore either calling, unwise to close one’s eyes to the facts on either side.

If, like me, you believe in God (and just so there is no ambiguity – make no mistake, I do unequivocally believe in God), it is foolish to pretend like it isn’t upsetting that He seems absent sometimes.  It is bad for you; it is dishonest; and it is insulting to other people who feel it, too.  (For Christians, it is also shockingly unnecessary: The Bible is replete with anguished cries wondering where God is, and many of the most venerated heroes of the Bible – David, Job, and even Jesus Himself – uttered bracingly blunt accusations against God for seeming absent).  But if, unlike me, you don’t believe in God, it is also foolish to completely shut your mind and eyes to the desire for eternity, if and when it makes an appearance in your lives.  The Bible doesn’t call thoughtful atheists or skeptics fools – but it does call the person who “says in their heart there is no God” a fool.  Honest doubt is not vilified in the Bible; but a complete closing of one’s eyes and heart to the yearnings of eternity is. That’s because it is foolish to turn away from the calling of eternity without seeking – to merely declare by fiat that there is no God.

So each of us should not be afraid of the clashing sides; but what about that internal argument?  How should we stack the absence of God against the yearnings of eternity? Here’s a brief sample of one (that “one” being inside of this guy) of how those arguments might clash:  Although they occasionally sound good when you read them out loud, neither of those arguments is super-compelling when stacked against the other; it’s almost a wash.  Almost a wash – but if that were all there was, if that’s all there was to consider in the universe, I’d probably be an agnostic with some hope of faith.  It is slightly more strange to me that God, being God and desiring belief, would go long stretches appearing absent, than it is that I would experience a sense of the Divine intermittently, if no God were present.

Of course, I’m not an agnostic, at least not most of the time, and so it’s probably not right to say that’s the best argument for theism (or atheism).  I put this whole dialogue here mostly to encourage you to seek the truth in all its aspects, to have courage for what really is, to honestly observe what you actually experience and keep your eyes open.  It isn’t my internal argument that matters – but yours.  Don’t be afraid of it!

But I also admit that I have another motive: I want to remind my readers that, at some fundamental level, I do get it.  I actually do get why people might be an atheist, and I don’t hold that against them.  I believe God is alive mostly because I believe that I’ve actually met Him, and I believe that if you seek Him long enough, you will, too.  I feel more like a prophet some days than a professor.  Intellectually, experientially, I think there are reasons to believe in Him, reasons to hope in Him, reasons to have faith in Him; but there are also reasons to doubt, reasons to give up, reasons to stop the search.  I’m not naïve to those reasons on either side.  All I ask is that my beloved atheist and agnostic readers keep their minds open to evidence and experiences that might lead to belief in God – that they give faith a legitimate fighting chance.  Really!

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