Thursday, May 26, 2011

Atheists Vs. Christians: Can We Treat Each Other Better?

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I have an atheist friend named David. We've had extensive discussions about my faith (and his lack of it), and various things I've posted on my blog. We've known each other since we were in high school, and I feel that despite our differences of opinion on matters of faith, we're on pretty good terms. I respect Dave and like him a lot.

Recently I posted a blog with some quotes from physicist Max Planck. I don't think Planck was a Christian in the sense that I understand it (believing that God is personal and desires a right relationship with us, which is why He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins, then raised Him from the dead as the first among many), but based on his quotes he did believe all the scientific evidence points to the fact that the material universe exists because it was designed by a creative intelligence.

I didn't reference Stephen Hawking in this blog, except in the title (which was: "Stephen Hawking: Take Note"). I wrote this title because of my annoyance at a recent very unscientific pronouncement by Hawking (whose intellect and achievements I admire profoundly) that "There is no God." Honestly, I can't see how any scientist who professes to believe in the scientific method and the principles of science can say such a thing with any degree of certainty. It would be like an ant in the Amazon, hundreds of miles from any human civilization, standing atop his anthill and pronouncing "There is no such thing as people" simply because that ant had never seen a human being.

Christians believe God exists outside the physical realm He created. We believe (with Planck and with Scripture) that physical realm itself provides ample testimony to the fact of a designer/creator; but such testimony is a different matter than scientific proof. I really don't think science can and should expect to either prove (or disprove) the existence of God. (Just as science, until they have a time machine, can't actually prove or disprove matters of history, such as origins. They can theorize all they want, but because matters of history are not scientifically reproducible/verifiable, strictly speaking, they can't be "proven.")

When I was promoting this blog on Facebook and Twitter, I confess I succumbed to the temptation (as I often do when trying to get people to read something I have written) of sensationalizing the headline a bit. I said, "Max Planck would be ashamed of Stephen Hawking." Now I'm not 100% convinced that's true (I can't for certain know how a long-dead scientist would have felt about one currently living), but I do suspect based on Planck's quotes (presented in my blog) that he would have had quite a problem with Hawking's recent pronouncement.

My atheist friend immediately jumped on my headline and responded in a way that made it seem to me that I had upset him. He in essence asked, "Why do people always feel they have to put down others with whom they disagree?"

When you disagree with someone, there's obviously a fine line between stating your case and putting them down. I know I haven't always landed perfectly on the correct side of that line, even though my desire is to respect the person I disagree with. In Hawking's case, I do have an immense respect for him (as I do for my atheist friend). I clearly think both of them are wrong, but I wouldn't want to put either of them down.

So, this got me thinking about this whole struggle between atheists and believers, which seems to be heating up even as we speak. As a Christian, I've read a lot of things written by atheists which have made me feel put down, and as David's reaction indicates, nonbelievers apparently often feel that believers put them down too.

So, I decided that this might make an interesting survey. My goal in this survey is not to convince one side of the rightness of the other, but to build bridges of dialogue and understanding and to give both sides the opportunity to feel they have been heard.

I hope to learn how each group feels we could more effectively respect one another and work together to achieve common goals ... and solicit their ideas about what some of those goals might be.

So, please take the brief survey which follows, and encourage your friends to do the same. I'll leave it up for a week, and then discuss the results.

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(Please take this survey only once. If it does not appear above, that means SurveyMonkey believes you have already taken this survey.)

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