My friend, the atheist believer

My everyday atheist friend says, "I don't believe in God because I don't see any evidence for his existence... If you claim God exists, the burden of proof lies with you, because from the moment I came into this world, I've believed whatever I've seen or been shown."

What do I say to this? My friend is not going to even show the slightest interest himself in the subject of God before I first show him real and convincing proof of God's existence.

In The Reason for God Tim Keller shows us that actually, our atheist friends here show their own unbelievable inconsistency. Turning their very question around he asks them to "look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning." Keller shows that "all doubts, however sceptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternate beliefs."
Some [say], 'My doubts are not based on a leap of faith. I have no beliefs about God one way of another. I simply feel no need for God and I am not interested in thinking about it.' But hidden behind this feeling is the very modern belief that the existence of God is a matter of indifference unless it intersects with my emotional needs. The speaker is betting his or her life that no God exists who would hold you accountable for your beliefs and behaviour if you didn't feel the need for him. That may be true or it may not be true, but, again, it is quite a leap of faith.

The only way to doubt Christianity rightly and fairly is to discern the alternative belief under each of your doubts and then to ask yourself what reasons you have for believing it. How do you know your belief is true? It would be inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than you do for your own, but that is frequently what happens. In fairness you must doubt your doubts. My thesis is that if you come to recognise the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs -- you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appear.

Tim Keller, The Reason for God 2008, p. xviii.

My friend, indifferent about God because he doesn't see him, is making quite a leap of faith; it's a faith-position as big as my own as a believer in God. Does the burden of proof remain with me? How can one belief about God require proof if another does not?

My friend believes that God does not exist because he believes that he has never experienced him via his physical senses. He has faith but in a different doctrine; he believes that reality is the sum total of what can be measured, witnessed or perceived immediately, and that nothing else does or can exist.

It's quite a claim; quite a belief-system. The question is, "How does he know that this belief is true?" It is inconsistent to require more justification for Christian belief than he does for his own. So I ask this question:

What proof do atheists have that nothing exists except than what can be measured, witnessed or perceived immediately?

Keller's challenge is out there: "I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined 'blind faith' on which scepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them."

The Trouble with Christianity: Why It's So Hard to Believe It

Tim Keller is anything but defensive. He respects the real doubts that people bring to Christianity. Although described as a Christian apologist, what makes Tim Keller so palatable is his winsome while sincere approach, his genuine interest in reason and respect for people's skepticism. And he's thoroughly intelligent.

His book The Reason for God -- in which he discussed whether of not belief can exist in the age of reason, an age of scepticism -- was born out of literally thousands of conversations with young people since the early 90s.

In 1989 Tim Keller planted a church by going throughout New York City, talking to young professionals about why they wouldn't believe in God. Most of the people he spoke to had one or more of about half a dozen troubles with Christianity: common objections that made Christianity too hard to believe.

The Reason for God is a trip through reasoning. Keller shows that all of the common problems people today have with Christianity are in fact based in beliefs - alternative beliefs about God and the nature of reality.

And here's the punch line but it won't spoil it for you: To really have integrity skeptics need to apply the same tests to their beliefs as what they are demanding that Christians apply to theirs.

I recommend the book, but perhaps what I've found even more helpful initially, is listening through a series of MP3 audios in which Keller speaks to Christians on most of the subjects he addresses in the first part of his book:

These are excellent, absolutely fantastic presentations: really polite, respectful, palatable, engaging, informative, relevant, thought out and enlightening.

Why not listen to one or all of the following Reason for God audios (I dare you):

  • Exclusivity: How Can There Be Just One True Religion?
  • Suffering: If God Is Good, Why Is There So Much Evil in the World?
  • Absolutism: Don't We All Have to Find Truth for Ourselves?
  • Injustice: Hasn't Christianity Been an Instrument for Oppression?
  • Hell: Isn't the God of Christianity an Angry Judge?
  • Literalism: Isn't the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?
  • Doubt: What Should I Do with My Doubts? (David Bisgrove)

And by the way, if you did want to read the book too, here it is: