Atheists sometimes make the rhetorical point that if the existence of God were so obvious as many Christians hold it to be, then we would not have to hold debates about His existence. We don’t go around having debates about the existence of particular people, or certain types of animals, or various aspects of the world that are immediately present to our sensory experience, so why do we have them about something or someone who is supposed to so obviously exist? Is God just incapable of revealing Himself clearly enough that we might believe in Him the way we believe in many other facts of experience?
In reply it must be noted first that we do not have to hold debates about the existence of God. There are many reasons for doing so, but they are beyond the focus of this post. It will suffice for now to mention that it is not necessary that anyone debate the existence of God in the way debate is being understood here. But there are such debates, and the atheist wants to know why, since the existence of God should be obvious enough to forgo such exchanges. We do not debate about the existence of many other things which presumably enjoy much poorer attestation than God.
There are any number of answers, but here is one which becomes immediately apparent when someone bothers to look into Christian doctrine. Unlike particular people, animals, and material objects, God sits in a position of ultimate authoritative judgment over the world. There is no authority more ultimate or more original than God. Hence whatever God says carries infinitely more weight than anything anyone else says. And one of the claims God makes with no hesitation or error is that human beings are desperately wicked and depraved. We are sinners in need of a Savior, and His name is Jesus Christ the Lord.
Billy Bob may make that claim too, but he does not do so with the same authority as God. He may get everything right, even quoting the very Word of God, but the authority of his words are derivative. Recall that God is not merely the ultimate authority in everything, but also the original authority. The unbeliever finds himself under the wrath of God, but when Billy Bob tells him so, it is not Billy Bob that the unbeliever is overly concerned about. It is God. For God knows the sinner better than Billy Bob knows the sinner, and the sinner knows God better than he knows Billy Bob. The sinner is under the wrath of God, and that is much more significant than what Billy Bob has to say.
There is, then, a clear reason why the unbeliever would want to call the existence of God into question, and that reason is what God has to say about the unbeliever. The unbeliever has been tried and found guilty in the presence of God. There is no question about that. He is an object of the wrath of God. Billy Bob isn’t always so bad, but God and the unbeliever are not on very good terms. Worse yet, it’s the unbeliever’s fault, not God’s.
Of course, the atheist will scoff at this reply. But there is no reason that he should, for the objection comes to the Christian in terms of an alleged inconsistency within the Christian worldview. The Christian has no other option than to answer the objector in light of what Christianity teaches. And what Christianity teaches is that although they knew God, they did not recognize Him as God or give praise to Him; they pushed that truth down inside of them. They said in their heart, “There is no God.” So, though it is not the focus of this post, one purpose of debate is to shed light on this fact much like approaching someone in any other sin and speaking of its offensiveness to God, its horrid consequences, and its absolute absurdity. There is reason to debate, and there is reason that the subject of the debate is what it is about, rather than some other topic like the existence of Billy Bob. Billy Bob doesn’t have the power to cast your soul and body into hell, and bending the knee to Billy Bob does not result in salvation.
So much for an alleged inconsistency within the Christian position. But what about the atheist? Why does the atheist insist on debate? Why does he spend virtually every waking hour in front of his computer screen at home yapping at anyone who would dare suggest that some manner of deity exists? Why does he scoff at his family and friends who buy into the fairytale that some higher power is watching over us? Why the vitriolic diatribes against such an allegedly absurd concept that so obviously does not exist? Atheists are like the Mother who knows Santa Claus does not exist, but gets upset that if he did, he would drag soot into her living room. Aren’t there better things to do?
The immediate reply is that there are political ramifications to god-belief. But what are they? An older atheist gentleman at a Susan Jacoby lecture was quite proud of himself for having brought a Nazi belt buckle which claimed that God was on the side of the Germans. So perhaps god-belief entails Nazism. Then again, it is a well known fact that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America professed belief in some sort of deity and were a politically active lot, but I doubt the atheist would want to commit himself to the claim that they were all Nazis. Moreover, what exactly is the atheist implying about the United States as a country? Fast forwarding to the present, one finds apparently diverse political platforms among those who subscribe to some form of god-belief. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and George W. Bush are generally thought of as representing very different political positions, but each of them professes belief in a God or gods. Indeed, each one of them even claims to be Christian!
Their supporters are no different. Amongst those who profess to be Christian there are a wide variety of political beliefs. There are Republicans and Democrats and anarchists and socialists. If this one particular type of god-belief does not produce monolithic political beliefs, then it is difficult to even begin to make sense of the atheist claim above. But the atheist is much worse off than this, for the atheist does not primarily refer to himself as anti-Christ, but as a-theist. That is, he defines himself in terms of theistic belief in general. And indeed, if his reasons for lacking belief in the Christian God and his arguments against the existence of the Christian God hold with respect to the Christian God then they very likely will also hold with respect to other conceptions of deity as well. Contrary to the atheist claim above, not even Christians appear to hold very similar political beliefs. Yet the atheist is claiming something much stronger. The atheist is claiming that theists in general hold very similar political beliefs. But wait, there’s more!
Not only does the atheist claim pertain to the alleged political ramifications of all varieties of god-belief, it concerns the inherent properties of god-belief with respect to political platforms. It was shown above that neither Christian theism in particular nor theism in general appear to entail any particular political platform amongst all or even most of those who claim some sort of god-belief. But the atheist needs to provide more than this type of empirical or statistical data in support of his position, for he is claiming that there is something inherent to god-belief which results in particular political beliefs. And it is far from clear just what that is. It cannot be the Bible, because the atheist is arguing in terms of general theism, not Christianity. Not only are there a wide variety of political positions amongst those who claim to be Christian, there may be an even wider variety amongst those who are general theists. Such observations go against atheist claims to an inherent aspect of god-belief that causes widespread, negative political stances. Meanwhile, the burden remains on the atheist to explain what exactly this aforementioned inherent aspect is. That has never been done, and never will be done, especially since expressions of alleged god-belief vary so much from one conception to another.
The Christian knows why the atheist would want to call the existence of God into question in the context of a debate, but the atheist does not offer a very good explanation for why he is so often readily willing to do so.