The atheist message is everywhere these days: buses, billboards, subway stations. The ads declare, in essence, that people can live good, decent, moral lives without God. One ad in Washington, D.C.’s, Metro reads: “You don’t need God—to hope, to care, to love, to live.”
Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, which has sponsored such ads, says that the ads are aimed at dispelling myths about the nonreligious.
"One common myth is that the nonreligious lead empty, meaningless, selfish, self-centered lives. This is not only false, it’s ridiculous," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, all too many people accept this myth because that's what they hear about nonbelievers."
How should Christians respond to such messages?
First, as a quote attributed to 17th-century theologian Francis Fenelon reads, “To convince a man of his error, we must first do justice to his truth.”
Can people live moral, decent, good lives without believing in God? Of course.* As a friend of mine confessed, “My unbelieving neighbors put me to shame. They are always doing something nice for someone.”
As C. S. Lewis acknowledged, an atheist may be a better neighbor, a more concerned friend, or even a more generous and selfless person than a given Christian—sometimes depending on temperament. It behooves us as believers to acknowledge this truth, and when we see a non-believer acting in a kind and caring way, to be thankful. Isn’t such behavior better than the alternative?
But we as believers should recognize—and this is a critical apologetic—that although atheists may not know or acknowledge it, their message rests upon Easter—the very resurrection of Jesus Christ that they deny. How so?
First, the beginnings of charity as we know it stem from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan and his teaching on the sheep and the goats. Jesus taught compassion toward the poor and downtrodden. But such teachings would never have been spread throughout the world without the power and testimony of his celebrated resurrection.
“Prior to Jesus,” says Dr. Jerry Newcombe, co-author of What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? “there was no organized charity. People were kind to their families and people that they knew. But Jesus Christ unlocked the forces of charity.”
According to the research of one scholar quoted in the book, “Antiquity has left no trace of any organized charitable effort. Disinterested benevolence was unknown.”
Thus, charity itself—what the atheists are claiming they can practice without God—is only practiced by standing on the shoulders of Jesus Christ.
Second, modern science is also rooted in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Apologist Dr. Os Guinness has said, “Modern science is a gift of Christianity to the world. Though it had its roots in Greek and Muslim civilizations, in its modern form, it dates from the Reformation.”
This is because scientific inquiry depends on belief in an ordered, rational universe—the kind of universe we are taught about by the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Reformers taught that believers ought to explore God’s created universe to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” According to What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? just a sampling of believing scientists who founded whole branches of science include:
Bacteriology, Louis Pasteur; Chemistry, Robert Boyle; Calculus, Isaac Newton; Celestial Mechanics, Johannes Kepler; Energetics, Lord Kelvin; Hydrostatics, Blaise Pascal; Antiseptic surgery, Joseph Lister; Comparative Anatomy, Georges Cuvier; Electromagnetics, Michael Faraday; Genetics, Gregor Mendel; Computer Science, Charles Babbage.
So when an atheist helps to provide hospital care for an earthquake victim or reconstructive surgery for a child with a cleft palate, he or she is once again relying on contributions made by those who believed in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Third, the very freedom of atheists to speak out against religious faith rests on the freedom of conscience that is at the core of our government.
Our founding fathers did not give us a state church, which was historically accompanied by persecution of those who dissented. Instead, they gave us a system of government founded on the principles of the Scriptures, including the idea that every individual is made in the image of God and free to choose or not choose Him. Therefore, religious participation should not be forced or compelled.
It is this biblical concept that informs our political freedoms and allows for freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion—or from religion—that permit atheists to proclaim their messages on buses, billboards, subways, and even the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Would this be permitted in an Islamic theocracy? Would dissent from state-mandated atheism be allowed in a Communist country?
Thus, when atheists attack Christianity as “a myth,” or seek to undermine it, they are actually trying to saw off the limb they are standing on. Because ultimately, though an atheist can perform acts of kindness and caring without believing in God, they cannot ultimately do it without partaking of the gifts of those who have believed.
*It has been accurately argued that the idea of “good” itself cannot be defined without reference to a moral code, and thus to a moral Law Giver. This is true. However, when most atheists speak of living “good, moral lives,” they are assuming a working cultural definition of “good.’”
Ginny Mooney is a freelance writer and Emmy Award-winning television producer.
Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Chuck Colson or BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.