From a colleague, I became aware today of a newly compiled list…of the “50 Top Atheists in the World Today,” as compiled by atheists. It is a remarkable list with a couple of surprises: Richard Dawkins is not number 1 (he’s #7), and Woody Allen is on the list (#35).
What is also remarkable is that nearly half of them (24) are academics; that is, they are current or former faculty members. In fact, 17 of the top 20 are. The first non-academic on the list is #10, Christopher Hitchens. Most of the rest are novelists or other professional writers. The vast majority have advanced degrees, even if they are not faculty.
In some way or another, I have personal connections to four or five, with secondary connections to a number of the rest.
I’m not boasting here. I’m stating the fact that as an academic, I am in a very rarified stratum with some of the most influential people in modern worldviews. Any faculty member is. Academics are viewed as movers and shakers, and the sophisticated elite of this world are highly educated and value the rationality promoted in the universities. Many of them find it incomprehensible and an anathema that Christians can exist there.
They genuinely are solidly convinced that humanity is of age and should burn the security blanket of supernatural belief. It is not a matter of belief or faith to them and they are offended when that term is applied to them. They truly believe, excuse me, view themselves as worldview neutral—that they have no worldview, that a rationalistic, naturalistic worldview is free of assumptions and items of faith.
It is because of their disproportionate influence on society that Christian research faculty in Tier 1 schools crawl out of their labs and offices and engage the world with the same evangelistic zeal as these 50. Make no mistake about it, these 50 are evangelistic—it is one of the criteria in making the list, though they obviously refrain from that term, preferring the adjectives “energetic” or “activist.”
This engagement must be led by tenured faculty with professional reputations at least as strong as these. Contingent and pre-tenured faculty are too vulnerable to lead publicly, though their involvement is critically necessary as well.
On what topic(s) should we engage? At the very minimum it is necessary to show that faith is intellectually viable. One does not, should not, and must not check their brain at the door when going before the Almighty. It is an insult to His creation of our minds. We must debunk and discourage the concept of blind faith wherever it is encountered. Blind faith is completely unbiblical. Never in Scripture does God demand faith or obedience without first giving evidence of deserving it.
Just because Hebrews 11:1 says that “Now faith is the conviction concerning those things that are in hope, as if it were these things in action, and the revelation of those things that are unseen;” it is not saying that faith itself is independent of evidence. It is the evidence of God’s existence and character that builds faith so that when we are blind in situations, our faith sustains us. In other words, because God was faithful in the past, we have confidence He will be faithful in the future. It is foolish to put faith into something without evidence. Don’t do it.
What do we do with these influencers, especially in light of Paul’s ‘wisdom’ monologue in I Corinthians 1-3? What about his assertion that it is the foolish things of the world that shame the wise and that we are fools for Christ? Paul is being both deadly serious and very satirical. God has chosen to bring down the proud through humility and all of the other paradoxes in that passage, and the elites of this world will look down on us as fools. But Paul is NOT saying we should give credence to their condescension by actually being intellectual misfits.
He even uses himself as an example. He did not come with a slick Gospel message when visiting Corinth, yet he was no fool and used his intellect greatly to tear down false arguments and reveal them for the shams they were. Yet, he made it clear that such debating was extremely limited in its effectiveness in convicting the human heart of sin and its need for repentance. We hide our inadequacies behind walls of various kinds, including intellectual ‘objections.’ Refuting those objections merely reduces the number of places the heart can hide. It does nothing to bring about a change. It is the power of God that brings that change, and it is that from which the heart is hiding behind objections. Remove the objections, and the heart has to deal with a choice—to serve God or continue to rebel.
Intellectual objections are merely the human heart’s attempts to change the subject and avoid the conflict. Removing the objection makes it harder to avoid the conflict. One of the hiding places offered generously by these apostles of atheism is the idea that it is intellectual suicide and primitive to hold to faith. As faculty, we can show students otherwise, and remove that hiding place.
Simultaneously, the light of Christ in our lives can testify to the reality of the Gospel beyond the intellect. We can show the pervasiveness of Christ in all of life, not just the academic pursuits. We can testify to the rich heritage of faith that is the underpinning and history of the university system that is working so hard to deny or marginalize it. There is much we can and must do to validate the significance of the place in which God has put us. It is time, past time, to show boldly and subtly that there is a viable alternative to the naturalistic narrative assumed and promoted by our colleagues.
Lagniappe: This is a really fun video of a church worship band doing a concert with only iPhone/iPad “App instruments.” It’s almost scary how good it is, especially not having to lug around instruments…you do still need a good mixer board and amps, but no percussion, no strings, no keyboards, guitars, basses, handbells….you can rent the smaller bus!