When you're living as an "in the closet" atheist conversations, on religious matters, are pretty dicey. I find myself still trying to be as truthful, as humanly possible, without saying too much (so as to tip my hand and accidentally reveal the full extent of my current opinions).
The other day, a Christian friend of mine brought a certain article to my attention. We had a brief conversation about it and, afterward, I sent him a link that expressed "a different perspective" on the issue (this was how I framed it). My friend happened to notice that the piece was written by an atheist, which initiated a discussion that went something like the following...
Me: Yeah, I totally get where you were coming from, but I just thought you might be interested in seeing another perspective on it.
Him: It must be really difficult being a public atheist like that.
Him: Well, because you have so much to explain.
Me: What do you mean? Can you give me an example of what atheists have to explain?
Him: Like, where we came from.
Me: As in Adam and Eve?
Him: Yes, exactly. I mean, I know they believe in the "big bang", but no one really knows what came before.
Me: That's partly true, but Christians don't know what came before God either.
Him: Sure, but that's where we get to have "faith", and they don't have that.
We had another interesting (follow up) conversation, a bit later, but for now I'd like to circle back to my friend's comments about atheists, above, in terms of what he says they have to prove (and how this all ties in with faith) etc. What follows may seem overly obvious, to some of my atheist readers, but as this conversation with my (University educated) friend reminded me, we can't simply take it as a given that everyone understands the principles I am about to highlight.
Having said that, it seems to me there are a couple of fundamental problems with my friend's line of thinking here...
Firstly, he is confusing an assertion with an explanation. The two are not the same. When the Bible says that humanity started with two people, created by God to live forever in a majical garden (had it not been for "the fall"), this is simply an assertion. Nothing more, nothing less. And it doesn't actually explain a single thing. (Evolution, on the other hand, does explain plenty of things.)
Secondly, I would be willing to concede that strong/hard atheists bear a certain burden of proof, in showing how the Universe could begin without a god; but this decidedly does not mean that Christianity is true, by default, even if they don't succeed in doing so. (As it happens, I think that people such as Stephen Hawking & Lawrence Krauss are doing a pretty decent job of it though.) Actually, in this sense, hard atheists are only making one major claim; there is no god. By contrast, Christians are making dozens upon dozens of major claims; there is a god, that God is Yahweh, Jesus was his son, the Bible is God's special/perfect book, there are invisible beings called angels and demons, there are invisible places called heaven and hell that we all go to after we die, etc. etc. etc.
At the risk of over emphasizing the point let me offer a thought experiment...if I were to suggest that atoms were created by invisible space monsters, would you feel that you need to explain fully where atoms do come from in order to reject that view? Of course not. Even if you had no idea, as to the true origin of atoms, it wouldn't matter in the slightest. You need not offer an alternate explanation at all, in order to be completely justified in rejecting my space monster assertion. The same is true when it comes to atheists & Christians. Atheists may bear the burden of proof, if they are indeed making a positive claim (there is no god), but they do not bear the burden of proof in the negative (their rejection of your particular religious beliefs).
So, to review, here's how I see it...
(Hard) Atheism: Bears the burden of proof on the claim that there is no god.
Christianity: Bears the burden of proof on several dozen claims that are unique to the Christian religion (some of which just so happen to directly contravene scientific findings). Each one of these claims, by itself, is implausible, but together their implausibility is magnified many times over.
My friend was playing what I like to call "the faith card" in this conversation. The faith card says, "I don't have to really justify my beliefs logically, in such and such, because I just have 'faith' in those things".
All of this reminds me of another way in which Christians sometimes play "the faith card"; namely, in claiming that their beliefs are somehow mysteriously validated by the fact that "atheists have faith too". Is this true?
But that's another discussion, so I'll save it for my next post.
What do you think, about this conversation with my friend, is there something I could have said or done differently?