Is Debating Atheists Biblical?

FoolThe go-to verse for Biblical Christians to dismiss nonbelievers is in the Old Testament:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,there is none who does good.”
Psalms 14:1

So with this perverted view of nonbelievers, why even engage nasty foolish atheists in debate?  Well, Biblical Christians who like to debate or argue with a nonbelievers run to the New Testament’s author of 1 Peter for support:

“… always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.”
1 Peter 3:15

So it appears that it is OK for the Biblical Christian to debate Atheists if they remember the important Biblical  distinction between quarrelsome arguing and logical defense:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.”
2 Timothy 2: 24

Yet in the previous verse, the same author of 2 Timothy also says:

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
2 Timothy 2:23

So the Biblical Christian has a problem: Since Atheists are are corrupt fools, how can their arguments be anything but foolish, ignorant controversies and thus unworthy of debate – even logical defensive debates.

2 Possible Christian Solution:

  1. Figure out which objections are not foolish even though they are coming from a fool, address those objections.
  2. Don’t argue for the fools sake expecting the fool to understand, but so that others Christians who may be listening may be edified or agnostics (those not adamant about “no God!”) may be persuaded.

fool2Yet the Bible’s wisdom literature offers further checks on argumentative Christians and make it even more difficult to debate at all:

  • Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. — Proverbs 3:30
  • Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. — Proverbs 23:9
  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back. — Proverbs 29:11
  • A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence. Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools. — Proverbs 26:3-12

These verses seem to steer Biblical Christians away from dealing with foolish atheists in anyway. So being consistent in one’s Biblical approach to debating nonbelievers is a challenge for Biblical Christians.

Theology_KnotI see the possible solutions as follows:

  1. Decide that Bible is written by lots of different folks with different theologies and thus contradictions are to be expected.  The Bible is not a coordinated effort by God, but written by men (and maybe a woman or two) with their own limited insights, biases and agendas.
  2. Decide that Bible authors never meant for their sayings to be taken as literally, categorically or as universal truth applicable to all situations.
  3. Cherry pick stuff to match your personality.
  4. Try and fit all these passages together with lots of caveats into such a convoluted theological knot that no one dare waste time trying to untie it.
  5. Have faith that all this stuff fits together perfectly and that God’s Holy Spirit will guide you in understanding.   Be OK with the complications because  God tells Christians that “my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

Question for readers:  Do you see any other solutions?




Filed under Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “Is Debating Atheists Biblical?

  1. People who look to the Bible as a substitute for common sense are already in deep trouble.

    Since Christianity has been the coin of the realm in Western Civilization for centuries, and since atheism is a denial of Christianity and thus, Western Civilization, taking on atheism in civil discussion is an act of love.

    According to Jesus the entire Bible can be boiled down to two things:

    1. Love God
    2. Love thy neighbor which is similar to loving God.

    Therefore, it is our Christian duty to address atheism.

  2. Hey S.o.M.
    (1) see this post: “Build an About Page
    (2) Your comment is odd to me for a few reasons:
    (a) Weird logic
    i) Christianity is “coin” of Western Civilization for centuries
    ii) Atheism attacks Christianity
    iii) Therefore to protect Western Civilization, we must “take on” atheism

    So many problems with that logic, I don’t know where to begin. Or maybe I misunderstood you.
    (b) Boiling down the Bible: great, so we don’t need a Bible since we have common sense and your two Jesus liquors. That should be enough, right? So then, you aren’t a “Biblical Christian” — right? Wait, that takes us back to #1 — tell us who you are and what you think or next time I shall be less inclined to respond to vague comments.

    Your last comment was no better. You’ve been warned.

  3. chialphagirl

    I think it is our duty, to use your word, as Christians to talk to anyone who wants to talk about Christ. But we have to be careful not to be drawn into arguments when the person is already convinced of the contrary. Atheist conversion is rare. But it does happen. Ravi zacharias for one.

  4. So, chialphagirl, instead of just addressing the title of the post and ignoring all the content — why not try to address the post itself. Show me you read and understood my post.

  5. chialphagirl

    Sorry, I was answering from my phone and could not write a lengthy response. I did not realize that a longer one was a requirement.

    Here is a lengthier version.
    Your starting premise is flawed.
    Psalms 14 in context of the next two verses says that 2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have *all* turned aside, together they have become corrupt ; There is *no one* who does good, not even one.

    So this is not about atheists specifically but that has a whole, the human race is corrupt and we all at one point or another behave as though we think there is no God.

    Atheists are not by definition alone more foolish than anyone else. What makes a man a fool is whether or not he is teachable. If a person can learn then they are not a fool. If they are willfully ignorant then it is a waste of time to argue with them.

    Has for dealing with the complicated and seemingly contradictory Bible verses I would off a different take on option 5. Have faith that all this stuff fits together and that God will guide you in understanding but then do the work to figure out the context and reason why and how they fit together. God guides people who are looking. He doesn’t just drop stuff in our laps.

    So the answer to whether or not it is Biblical to debate atheists, I believe they fall into the mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel. But if you conclude that they are not open to accepting anything, then shake the dust off your sandals and be on your way.

  6. Sabio,

    Everything I wrote is based on tried and true and very old scholarship.

    It is atheists who have trouble with logic and reasoning since atheism itself is a 100% faith-based believe since people who choose atheism are people unlucky enough to have been indoctrinated into the postmodern worldview that is breaking mankind’s link to the ancient world where our Western Heritage was birthed.

    “Coin of the realm” is a pun. Coine is the name of the Greek language used throughout the Greco-Roman world for centuries during ancient times.

    Christianity is the coin of the realm of Western Civilization since Christianity is the dynamo religion that powered the rise of Western Civilization.

  7. @ SoM,
    We are going to take things slowly.

    (1) I repeat myself. If you are going to talk here as some flavor of Christian, it would be a good idea to set up an “About” page so we don’t have to guess what flavor you are.

    (2) Do you feel the passages in Proverbs, Psalms or 2 Timothy limit the 1st Peter emphasis in any way.

    As to all the grand arguments you are making otherwise (post-modernism, Christianity & culture etc), we can address them on your blog if you wish. They are unnecessary Red Herring here — stick with #1 and # 2 above.

  8. @ chialphagirl,
    Nah, it is not length that matters, but reflective, organized interaction. It is as I said: react to what I actually wrote (read to understand the argument of the post) and don’t just react to the title or to one phrase in the post. Please look for the theme of the post and try to respond to that. Yes, if you don’t have time to read and respond thoughtfully, then wait to respond later. Thanx.

    As you know, there are many different flavor of Christians. And I have had many Christians throw the Psalm 14:1 passage at me just as I said. So though not about Atheists specifically, certainly “Atheists” are all contained within that category. So my point still remains.

    So, what makes a man [sic] a foot is if he is not teachable — you mean teachable to doctrines you believe, right?

    So it seems you basically agree with my %5 — that this stuff may not make sense but you just hope God’s Holy Spirit will speak to you and guide you over time to do everything the best you can.

    So now the real question: Is it worth arguing her with me — an atheist and former fervent believer? Or are you ignoring God’s guidance in some of the passages above and therefor not really listening to God’s Holy Spirit? Should you be arguing here? If so, why?

  9. Sabio,

    My argument is simple and easy to understand.

    Your response is to change the subject, change speed to slow, ask about my religion, etc.

    Like I said in my first comment, if people need the Bible as a substitute for common sense, they’re in deep trouble.

  10. @SoM,
    Well then, we agree on a few things:
    (1) Substituting the Bible for Common Sense is ridiculous [depending on how you define “Common Sense”]
    (2) Post-modernism is problematic

    But this post is about how to use the Bible to determine how to talk to atheists. So our conversation can stop. You agree with me, that the Bible should not be used to determine that issue — or any other. I may be wrong, but you made me guess. Stay vague, and I will stop replying.

  11. Sabio,

    Since the Bible is a book of faith and since atheists have no faith, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to use the Bible to convince atheists about God or any of His great plans.

    In fact, most atheists will take the Bible and use it to gift wrap any Christian (especially their big mouth) who has the temerity to engage in such a useless, futile endeavor.

  12. chialphagirl

    No. Meant teachable in general. Open to the idea that they might be wrong, willing to genuinely consider another pov. Christians are terrible in this area often too. For example I was wrong about evolution but as long as I was just spouting creationism I was learning nothing. That was foolish.

  13. @ chialphagirl,
    Well, from my experience, everyone is teachable. Some of us have strongly compartmentalized areas of our live unopen to change — for the better or the worse.

    In your above comment, you wrote:

    But if you conclude that they are not open to accepting anything, then shake the dust off your sandals and be on your way.

    So I don’t find anyone closed to everything (= “not open to accepting anything”).

    So when do you “dust off your sandals and be on your way.”? Do you do it when you don’t find them open to YOUR idea of God? (check out my last post on abstractions)

    So, chialphagirl, are you open to seeing that your idea of a triune-god (in your “about” section), is doctrinal and not experiential? For if you saw that, you may then realize that is not fact but fiction — even if a useful fiction. And then you will see that your belief in the factuality of a triune god is wrong.

    So, are you “Open to the idea that [you] might be wrong” that there is a triune god? Should I dust off my sandals. And since I am trying to change your mind, should you “dust off your sandals” so as to avoid all the above warnings in Proverbs.

    See — are you really using the Bible to decide these things or just picking and choosing things as convenient to you in order to justify what you’d like to be doing anyway?

  14. @SoM,
    I’m confused. On one hand you say atheism is 100% faith-based, then on the other you say atheists have no faith. Can you please explain the apparent contradiction?

  15. silence of mind


    A confused atheist. Imagine that.

    I can because atheists aren’t able to use common sense or comprehend the obvious.

    It is obvious that people have faith in all kinds of different things.

    Atheists do not believe in God. Christians do believe in God.

    Both beliefs are based on faith.

    Please tell me that it is obvious to you that what atheists believe is different from what Christians believe.

  16. @SoM,
    I was trying to give you a fair chance to explain the contradiction but instead you chose to insult me and make a generalization about atheists. Let me know if you would like to have an actual discussion.

  17. John

    The Holy Spirit is the one that convicts hearts and we are to preach the gospel. No one is forced to listen. If they reject Jesus, then we are to move on. I can never through clever arguments make a person be born again. This is a spiritual warfare amd not a battle of wits. Dark forces are behind atheism and cannot be won by human intellect or worldly arguments. That’s why one must be filled with the Spirit of God and be armed with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word. Jesus was rejected and we will be too. Man can harden his heart towards God. Not everybody is going to believe the gospel.

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