If Atheism Dies, So Dies Apologetics?

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Tertullian via Wikimedia Commons

In 2015 FR. DWIGHT LONGENECKER published an article on his Patheos blog with the optimistic title “The Facts: Atheism is Dying Out.”

The good Father cites a Pew Report study which itself indicates that Atheism is on the decline, whilst Christianity and Islam are rising toward a peak in 2050.

Father Longenecker also cites historical events such as revivals, mass conversions and unexpected disasters that wipe out large populations, showing that in the past these have led to a rapid spike in world religions.

Longenecker’s predictions are well argued, and almost persuasive, although one hesitates to jump to conclusions.

The current spike in Christian Apologetics is largely the result of an equally rapid spike in vocal atheism which is largely a worldwide trend at this point. So the question naturally arises: will there be any need for Apologetics if atheism falls off the map?

This writer suggests that there will, indeed, continue to be a need for the following reasons:

Other Religions

In the report that Father Longenecker cites, it states that,

By 2050, the Pew report predicted that 30 per cent (2.8 billion) of the population will identify themselves as Muslim compared to 31 per cent (2.9 billion) identifying themselves as Christian. In Europe, it is suggested that by 2050, 10 per cent of the continent will be Muslim and in the US, it will become the second-largest faith.”

While the study gives some ray of hope about the continued dominance of Christianity over Islam, it is nonetheless concerning that so much of the world population will be swayed by the competitor to the Christian faith.

Because they receive so much play and attention in the US, it is frequently assumed that Apologetics exists exclusively for the atheist. But, in fact, Apologetics aimed at Islam may actually be the largest – or most rapidly growing – field in the defense of the Christian faith.

Earlier in 2017, the Christian world was rocked by the death of Apologist Nabeel Qureshi, whose entire ministry was aimed toward a defense of Christianity to the Muslim. David Wood carries on for Qureshi over at Acts 17 Apologetics, and highlights the worldwide need for such a ministry.

Over and against the field of ministry toward the Muslim is the field of ministry toward all non-Christian religions. J. Warner Wallace, for instance, is well-known for his defenses against atheism, but he dwells almost equally well on his ministry toward Mormons. Others minister to Hindus, JW’s, Buddhists and so on. As atheism dies, these live on.

Education

It is an indisputable fact that some of the most zealous of atheists have emerged from the Church itself. The story is classic by now that a child reared in the faith graduates into atheism exactly as they graduate into adulthood.

The chorus that erupts from these atheist mouths is that they have questions for which Christianity has no answers.

Sadly, the church has gone from being the bastion of the academy from three or four hundred years ago, to being a bastion against the academy today. People who crave for emotional or spiritual support are often rewarded in the Sunday service, but those burdened with intellectual needs are frequently left malnourished by the Church, even as the Academy feeds those needs.

This is one of the reasons that the modern Apologetics movement has seen so much success – not ministering to the self-proclaimed Infidels outside the Church, but rather the intellects within.

Even if atheism largely drops off the map, the scholarly, scientific and philosophical defense of the Christian worldview will still be welcome for the scholar, scientist and philosopher in the pew.

Culture

Ever since Tertullian penned his Apologeticus in 197 AD, Apologetics has worked primarily as a defense for Christianity within the larger culture. Even if the atheist movement were to die out entirely, the world would not then suddenly become Christianized, and Christianity as a system will remain at odds to some degree with the culture around it.

In every culture since the dawn of the Church, Apologists have stood, championing the legitimacy of Christianity to the larger world, and will continue to do so even as atheism peters and dies.

Doctrine

Possibly the oldest and most primary concern when it comes to the defense of the faith is the subject of Christian Doctrine. Practically from the beginning, the Bible spends most of its pages proclaiming true belief in contrast with false and misleading teachings. If the faith is to be defended, it must be defended from within before the defense spills out into the world.

It is these very false doctrines which become the genesis of most of the doubt and bitterness that sends believers spiraling into disbelief. If the Church can clean itself up internally first, it would present a much stronger front to those external issues.


Conclusion

It may be a bit premature to proclaim the death of Atheism. In all likelihood, atheists will be with us always, even if they become less vocal and less evangelical in their non-belief.

But Apologetics as a field was neither invented for the atheist, nor has the atheist ever been its entire domain. While this may have become the case in the current day, Apologetics should not and will not die with the atheist. It is not just a curiosity of the modern age, it is an essential mechanism – a motor which will continue to hum at the core of the Church no matter what the issue of the day.

While the atheists may have primed the pump, it shall continue to pump whatever challenge may come.