What I wish atheists knew: Christians know the arguments
Way back when I was an annoyingly keen God-botherer and both the internet and The Simpsons were still pretty new, I remember someone finding a cartoon of annoying questions to ask your Sunday School teacher from The Simpsons, similar (maybe even identical) to this one from a Catholic group. That list, with speech bubbles put into the mouths of various children from the series, was pinned up on the church noticeboard and stayed there for months, becoming a popular topic of conversation.
Some people just wanted to read and laugh, some liked to suggest their own annoying questions, and some took pleasure in answering the questions seriously, or discussing and investigating what the answers would be, much like the responses at Cathfam.
Why do I mention this? Because it sometimes seems that atheists expect Christians to be completely floored by questions like these. Not necessarily the same ones, but asked in a similar style, with an air of “Gotcha!” as if there was self-evidently no possible answer. The truth is, questions like this are far more likely to be a favourite topic of theological speculation than a previously unknown argument that holes anyone’s belief below the waterline.
It’s true that opinions will differ on how the questions should be answered, and it’s also true that some will never have considered these issues, let alone settled on a conclusion. But by and large, people are familiar with these arguments and aren’t likely to be swayed by them.
I vividly remember the members of a Christian forum dealing with some shocking and horrifying news which brought the Problem of Evil, always lurking in the background, into very sharp focus. Everyone was wrestling with it, no one had any answers, but nothing seemed to change. Over time, once everyone had worn themselves out railing against the injustice of it all, things gradually settled down into the same pattern as ever before. No one’s beliefs shifted even slightly.
Naturally, I found this rather odd, and quite frustrating – there was no good response to the jarring reality of good people suffering, but it didn’t seem to matter. The eyes of faith had no need for an answer, just the belief (based on an existing position) that there must be one, hidden from our sight. Whether you consider this a reasonable response or not, it’s pretty typical. Christians know the issues, engage with them, and almost invariably maintain their previous beliefs afterwards. Repeating those same arguments won’t change anything.
To be absolutely clear, I’m not saying that this is an approach that should be applauded or celebrated, but neither am I condemning it. It’s just a statement of fact. For good or ill, this is the way things are. But given that fact, it would be foolish to assume that endlessly bashing away with the same well-known arguments will achieve anything.
As Einstein put it, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.