It is always amusing to hear some of the language that non-Christians, and especially atheists, use in their assaults on the Christian faith and defenses of their own position.
Presumably the atheist thinks it is somewhat problematic and perhaps even insulting to the Christian to dismiss his or her position as “man-made.” We can set aside the obvious “problem” with using “man” this way in the current academic climate. We can also set aside that the unbeliever almost always merely asserts without argument that Christianity is man-made. We may then note that the statement as it stands is no insult or argument against Christianity anyway, for there is a sense in which Christianity is man-made. The Bible, for example, was written by men. But it does not follow that it was not also God-breathed.
But turn the apparent attempt at an objection around. What is it about unbelief and atheism in particular that is not man-made? Logic is generally considered conventional. It is man-made. Science is one of the greatest tools for advancement that the human race has ever devised. It is, of course, man-made. Morality is often thought to be subjective. It is man-made. And even where different approaches to logic, morality, and science appear in the atheist bag of tricks they are ultimately reducible to the allegedly autonomous subject. Take away autonomy and you do not have atheism anymore. Everything in atheism is made up. By definition.
Of course the immediate response is that the empirical world somehow dictates our logic, science, and morality to us. But the view that the empirical world speaks to us in such a way that our thoroughly theory-laden approaches to knowledge do not come to bear upon our understanding of it is helplessly naïve. Atheists are out to set us back hundreds if not thousands of years with that ridiculous suggestion!
The so-called “New Atheists” are clearly in view here. But even articulate unbelief is foolishness. After reading about the often radical disagreements between sophisticated atheistic thinkers on the most basic questions of human experience one has difficulty denying the old (but good) language that describes such people as “lost.” Some have even taken this as evidence of the Van Tilian claim to the impossibility of the contrary. There is an undoubtedly sharp contrast between the aforementioned tattered autonomous epistemology and a biblical epistemology. Every unbeliever must enter the same “bottleneck” when they set out to create their egocentric epistemological structures. Some attempt to build magnificent mansions while others will settle for just a log cabin. But they all find that regardless of how much they spent on brick or on lumber the cracked foundations of their broken homes are sitting on shifting sands.
They are quite obviously lost. I do not mean that they are lost like a child who cannot find his father in the grocery store. They are lost like a child who refuses to acknowledge all the nice people around the store as well as the announcements from the checkout counter emphatically informing him that his father is right next to him in the aisle. The kid is a bit of a brat. He is throwing a fit, and burying his face in some product on the shelf because he is hesitant to admit that he is even in the grocery store, much less that he has a father.
The complaint from the more sophisticated atheists (of which there are many, if you take their own word for it) is that this or that atheist just was not prepared to defend atheism or launch an attack on Christianity or perhaps never will be. There are the New Atheists or “Village Atheists” or fundamentalist atheists and then there are the Academically Astute Atheists. But every time I try to draw a line between them I have someone in one party say that I did not rightly divide the word of vermouth. Where are these greater atheists when it comes time to debate the most ultimate matters in life? Perhaps they are just difficult to hear amongst the exceedingly loud jeers and cheers of the typically unthinking fundamentalist atheists.
At times I am skeptical about whether it is possible to draw a line between those atheists who can just be dismissed (that is, according to other atheists, not the Christians who actually care about such people) and those who have arguments that need to be taken seriously, but, assuming my doubts are misplaced, I think there is a decent illustration of the relationship between the two to be found in a family watching television. While the kids sit on the floor watching Peter Pan and clapping loudly so that Tinker Bell does not die, the adults sit on the couch more discreetly believing that it might actually work. Atheists may not always come across in a conversation as making things up as they go (they often do), but they have certainly made things up.