There are three ways discussions with atheists get off track rather quickly.
1. Don’t confuse moral behavior with a foundation for morality. The claim that atheists don’t have a foundation for morality (a true statement in my view) is often miscommunicated or misinterpreted as saying they don’t have morals (a typically unfair and inaccurate statement). Some atheists have better morals than “religious” people.
However, the “molecules to man” approach does not provide a foundation for morality. Classic atheist arguments attempt to read one in, but if you pay close attention you’ll see that they always bring some kind of moral framework in the back door. I think they often do it unwittingly (mainly because it is so hard to get away from moral reasoning).
For example, I’ve seen the line of thinking that says such-and-such is moral because it is good for the perpetuation of the species. But note how that assumes a universal moral good of perpetuating the species. But where is the materialist proof for that? Who cares if the species is perpetuated if we are just a bunch of molecules? In the Darwinian worldview, lots of species have gone extinct – even before these awful, awful humans showed up.
I’m not denying the innate desire to live and help others, and I’m not denying that atheists don’t have the same feelings. I’m just saying that materialistic philosophy can’t provide that foundation.
2. While atheists can’t prove there isn’t a God, that isn’t a sufficient argument for theists to make. Proving a negative in a rather sizable universe is somewhat difficult. We can’t prove there isn’t a pink unicorn somewhere in the universe, either, but that is hardly a reason to believe it is true.
I think it is more fruitful to look at the evidence for and against the existence of God the way we’d make decisions on a host of other issues. I can’t prove God exists in the sense that I can prove that 2+2=4, but I can point to a whole bunch o’ evidence that I think it rather compelling. We make lots of important decisions in life based on less than 100.000% surety.
3. Don’t mix up the general concept of God with the specific concept of the true God as revealed in the Bible (i.e., the Trinity). Sometimes Christians make good points about the existence of God but jump too quickly to him being the God of the Bible. We believe that is true, of course, but I think it is more productive to approach the argument as follows:
- Is there reliable evidence for the existence of God?
- If yes, did He reveal himself to us? How so?
It is possible to argue it directly from the Bible, but I think it is useful to distinguish between Biblical and general philosophical arguments. The Word of God is living and active and accomplishes what God sets out for it to do. But there are many times when other arguments are necessary. There is nothing wrong with being charitable and meeting people where they are. They have been bombarded with bad arguments from the Big Book O’ Atheist Sounds Bites for so long that they may need some help in seeing the truth.