Sean recently had a public discussion with Hemant Mehta, who is known as "The Friendly Atheist," and is an outspoken atheist blogger and YouTuber. They discuss common misconceptions each side has about the other, and then take live questions from the audience.
This episode first aired on the Premier Christian Radio show Unbelievable?
Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host Sean McDowell, Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Today we have a special bonus release so to speak, based on a recent conversation that I had with Hemant Mehta, who's know as the Friendly Atheist. He's a popular blogger, podcaster, a YouTuber and has become a recognizable voice in the Atheist community. And this is a public conversation we had in Portland as part of the radio show Unbelievable, hosted by Justin Brierley. And each of us came up with two misconceptions we think the other side has about our position. And then we simply discussed these misconceptions. I think you'll find it interesting, enlightening and encouraging both in terms of the content but also in terms of the tone in which the dialogue took place.
So enjoy and as always, if you find it beneficial consider sharing with a friend.
Justin Brierley: Tonight we're simply titling the discussion, A Friendly Atheist and A Friendly Christian Have a Dialogue on Faith. It's pretty open ended to be honest, but it's great to have these two who are already friends I can see from the fist bump.
Let me introduce them first of all though. A big thank you first of all to Sean for coming in and being our Christian representative on the show today. Sean you've been with me on the program a few times before. I'll give you your formal introduction though. Sean McDowell is a Christian writer and Bible scholar, Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University and regularly engages with dialogues with skeptics and atheists. He's the author of numerous books including a new edition of the classic apologetics book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which he co-authored with his father, Josh McDowell. And I think your most recent book is called So the Next Generation Will Know. Is that correct Sean?
Sean McDowell: We're working on that right now.
Justin Brierley: There ya go. And Hemant. Hemant Mehta joins us on the program tonight. He's a well known blogger on the atheist channel of Patheos. He also appears on the Atheist Voice Channel on YouTube and he co-hosts the Friendly Atheist podcast. Hemant is actually a former school math teacher. But I think it was probably the success of the book I Sold My Soul on eBay about 10 years ago that propelled you into the kind of atheist blog-o-sphere.
Hemant Mehta: It's a weird way to get into it.
Justin Brierley: Well, we'll find out about it. I'm looking forward because I think that was the first time I had you on Unbelievable years and years ago, talking about that book. But can I get a very warm welcome to Hemant and Sean?
So I think the place to start tonight is to get a bit of your backstory, both of you. Why don't we start with you Hemant. So, yeah, about 10 years ago you published a book called I Sold My Soul on eBay. Tell us the story of that.
Hemant Mehta: Which I didn't actually do, but the quick version of the story is I had been an atheist for a number of years, since high school. This is a little after college. I put up a weird auction on eBay that said right now I've been an atheist for a while, but I'd never actually gone to a church. Like not on purpose because it's not the religion I grew up in and I work with a lot of atheists a lot of whom come from religious backgrounds. All of whom kind of know what they're leaving and I don't have that same traditional experience, so look, you can bid on where I go to church and if you win, the money will be donated but I'll go to where you want me to go. And that backfired because a pastor won for $500 and I owed him a year of church.
Sean McDowell: Wow, that was cheap!
Justin Brierley: He got you cheap.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah. He really did. And we made a deal where he's like look, he actually knew the landscape better than I did. The Christian landscape. I didn't. He's like, "Well I'm from Chicago," he said, "Let me pick 10 churches in Chicago. We'll send you to the Evangelical Mega Church and a church on the south side of Chicago and a church that's in some guy's living room 'cause they just got started. That way you can experience the different flavors of it and I want you to report back to my ministry. We'll call that a deal." I'm like, "That's better than 50 weeks of church. Fine." And I had a chance to go to more churches to write that book, which they called I Sold My Soul on eBay because they said it was catchy, which I agreed with.
All right. So I did that for, after that experiment kind of ended, one of the cool things to come from that is I had written about my church going experiences, what I liked, what I didn't like, on this guy's ministry's website. And the conversations that flowed, I mean if you've seen an Internet comment thread you know what that's gonna be like. But these were really interesting conversations where you Christians and atheists chiming in saying, "I did like that part of church. I did not like this other part." Very civil dialogue. It was fun. And I just wanted to keep that going so I started friendlyatheist.com. And since then it's kind of morphed into more of a news, politics, current events sort of thing as opposed to here's why I'm right, here's why you're wrong. But that's kind of what I've been doing for the past several years.
Justin Brierley: Fascinating stuff. We're going to obviously dig into what you mean by atheism and that kind of thing as we get into the discussion tonight. Quick introduction to you as well though Sean. This isn't the first time we've shared the stage together. We did something not dissimilar to this two years ago with Ryan Bell down in California, but just remind us again for those who aren't familiar with you, a little of your background, your story, what it was, why you're a Christian right now and whether that's always been the case.
Sean McDowell: Grew up in a Christian home, which is no surprise if you recognize my father's name, Josh McDowell. He's been writing, speaking, he turned 79 this month.
Justin Brierley: Go ahead and applause, yes.
Sean McDowell: Is as energetic driven as ever, so grew up with parents passion about the faith, taught me the faith. It made sense. Believed it. Hit a point where I was like yeah, I don't know if I believe this anymore. Walked away from the Lord. Experienced the pain and the hurt of this. I was at the end of my rope. Couldn't go any further. So when I was four years old, I got down on my knees ... I'm glad you catch my sarcasm and joke! You know, honestly growing up in the church, one of the things you probably saw this visiting churches is like you hear these amazing testimonies like, "Man, God used this person out of prison and out of a gang. If God's gonna use me I got to go to prison or gang." And it didn't really occur to me that I really didn't want to. So it never really had a dramatic ... I mean to be honest, I believed it. It made sense. I probably would have told you somebody wasn't Christian because they just haven't read Evidence That Demands Verdict.
And then all of a sudden I get to college, it's like mid-90s, and the secular web is kind of starting. People that you know well. And I got on there and I'm reading these philosophers and historians and scientists who kind of started part of the secular web going chapter by chapter through my dad's book. And it was really unsettling. I thought, man I know my parents mean well. I don't know how to answer this. And it was unsettling intellectually, more so emotionally.
And we were in Breckenridge, Colorado, I think I was about 19, 20, my sophomore year. And I went with my dad and I said, "Dad, can we get some coffee. I got to tell you what I think." And we sat down. I said something to the effect the best I can remember, "Dad I want to know what's true, but I'm not sure I'm convinced Christianity's really true." I mean if you're a Christian parent or grandparent and you kid said that to you, imagine how you might respond. I kid you not, my dad, it's like he didn't even take a breath. He looks at me and goes, "Son, I think that's great." And I said, "Did you hear? Like I'm not sure I buy this faith. I don't know. I have questions. I want to follow truth. I don't know if it's true." And he looked at me and he goes, "Son you can't live on my faith. You got to know for yourself what you think is true." I need to say, he goes, "I think if you really follow truth you will be led to Jesus because Jesus is the truth. But you have to figure that out and know that your mom and I love you no matter what."
And I read your book, The Young Atheist Survival Guide. Did I get that right?
Hemant Mehta: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: And you talked about how so many times kids in Christian homes feel like if they doubt it's like, you didn't use the word sin, but the worse thing you can do, hey feel guilty. They feel terrible. And you pose in there, you said what if every parent just said, I'm disappointed that you believe differently. But I love you. And I thought that was powerful. That's essential. That's exactly what my dad said to me. I don't think I stopped believing. And to be honest with you, in the history of my life I don't want to over dramatize that experience, but it was very formative. It was very freeing for me. And it took some time to just, reading different religious texts, reading popular atheist Christian, trying to say does this make sense and why do I believe it? Bottom line is I'm a Christian because I think it's true. And I'm captivated by this person Jesus. I really am. And I fail to live out what he asks every day of my life to a different degrees. And I think he diagnosed the human condition. And I think he lived the most exemplary life ever. So I'm a Christian because I believe in Jesus, which is probably what you'd expect me to say, but it's true. That's where I'm at.
Justin Brierley: And now onto how Richard Dawkins led you to atheism. I'm only joking. I mean, that was great to hear kind of the, how that journey took place for you Sean. But Hemant, do you ever actually kind of present yourself to people as an atheist? Is that a badge you're happy to wear? What do you mean by it when you say it?
Hemant Mehta: Well one, it depends on who I'm talking to. It's not the first thing I'm going to introduce myself as when I meet somebody. It's not something I necessarily advertise. I know atheist who are proud to ... I'll go to the airport tomorrow, I'm wearing my "There's no God" whatever shirt. No, I'm wearing this, "I'm not telling you anything". But for me it's, I hear the evidence people are presenting. I don't believe it. That's it. It's not a definitive, no, God doesn't and I'll prove it to you. It's a, I've heard your evidence. I don't believe it. The world makes complete sense when I don't believe it. So, that makes the most sense to me. That's not to be agnostic, by the way. That is atheist. I don't believe that there's evidence for God's existence.
Justin Brierley: Some people have kind of distinguished between saying I believe there's no God and well, I simply lack belief in God. Do you kind of go down that kind of route at all? Is that helpful in any way to finding out if he's-
Hemant Mehta: No, it's not helpful for me because the conversations I tend to have with people don't break it down to these philosophical nuances. So just to keep it simple, no, I don't believe that stuff. That's my definition for you. It's the simplest one I could probably give to a random person I'm talking to.
Justin Brierley: Do you feel like you're open to believing if you have the right kind of evidence in front of you? That sort of thing.
Hemant Mehta: Yes, and I think every atheist would say the exact same thing. Of course we're open to it. That's the whole point. This isn't a dogmatic belief. That's the other side. You know what I mean? Of course I'm open to hearing. And by the way, I'm not just saying that to get a laugh, but I have heard Christians ask the similar question. You know, if I showed you evidence that you were wrong about your beliefs, would you change it? And they will say no. No, I believe this stuff is 100% true.
Justin Brierley: Whatever the evidence.
Hemant Mehta: And nothing will change my mind.
Justin Brierley: What would you say to that question yourself, Sean, if asked it?
Sean McDowell: I guess my question would be is are you saying our side's more dogmatic than like Dawkins' is?
Justin Brierley: Yes.
Sean McDowell: Because Dawkins and Bennett seems about as dogmatic as you can get.
Hemant Mehta: I think you're wrong.
Sean McDowell: Tell me why. I'm interested to hear.
Hemant Mehta: I think Dawkins would say the same thing I just answered you. Not to speak for him, but to say, "No, show me the evidence." I think he gets more attention and he, the people want to hear what he has to say a lot more so he comes across in a lot of ways that I don't ... It's not the way I would answer a lot of questions. So I think it's kind of easy to perceive him to be dogmatic, but I think if you ask him straight up, "Look we have proof God exists. We have proof Jesus is that, is the route to get there and stuff." He would hear it. I think he's heard it enough. I think there's no version of your story or any Christian story that he hasn't heard before. So it's like, I'm sure if you're like, "Let me tell you my testimonial and let me see if I can change your mind." I'm sure his reaction will be like, "Oh God, not this again!"
Sean McDowell: I don't understand why that makes him more dogmatic than [crosstalk 00:13:15]. I know a lot of these people and they would tell me. They're very open, you know, they try to characterize the other side fairly, would follow the evidence where it leads. I mean one of the leading Christian scholars on the Resurrection, Licona, is more committed to following truth wherever it leads. So much of his research on the Resurrection, he's like, "There's a season I didn't believe because I was absolutely committed to fall wherever truth leads." Like that doesn't strike me as more dogmatic than Dawkins.
Hemant Mehta: No, no, no. And it's not about him too. I think it's that idea that I think they're open to evidence, but when you've been doing the stuff that you do, that I do for as long as those guys have, it's kind of like there's nothing new you're bringing my way. And so, yeah, I think I'm right about this and I don't think there's a lot that's gonna change my mind, but I'm open to it.
Sean McDowell: So tell me I'm wrong about this. I think there's dogmatic atheists and I think there's dogmatic Christians. I think it's a human tendency. Whatever your belief is, to be entrenched and not consider evidence to the contrary. To me I don't think it's uniquely a Christian thing.
Hemant Mehta: No, I'm not saying it's uniquely-
Sean McDowell: I think it's a human thing.
Hemant Mehta: I agree with you on that. I think when I see, online when I see people talking about atheists or calling them dogmatic or inflexible with their beliefs, it's really mischaracterizing them in the sense that no, I think they're open to it. I think the evidence you're presenting them is just really bad.
Sean McDowell: Okay.
Hemant Mehta: That's why their not listening to what you have to say.
Justin Brierley: We're gonna come to the evidence and talk about that side of things. When it comes to the blog you run, The Friendly Atheist blog. It's a popular blog on the Patheos network, Hemant, you call it The Friendly Atheist, though you're not afraid of being quite sort of forthright, even quite critical obviously of certain aspects of Christianity.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, I mean I've said this before, which is that it's not because I'm friendly and the other atheists are not, it's because most atheists I know are pretty nice, but every time I read about them, whether it's a book from a Christian Apologist or written about in the media, the mainstream media too, it's like an angry atheist. Aggressive atheist. Militant, staunch. I could give you all the english adjectives.
Justin Brierley: You feel atheists get a kind of a bad rap in that sense.
Hemant Mehta: Oh, yeah. I'm gonna make you say friendly in front of the word whether you like it or not. That sounded kind of dogmatic. And that's the thing.
Justin Brierley: You're sounding very militant now.
Hemant Mehta: But that doesn't mean you can't be critical about what you're seeing.
Justin Brierley: Sure. I mean what do you think? I guess we're going into the territory which the conference tomorrow will be covering about how we have the conversations between the Christians and the non-Christian skeptics and so on. Do you find that atheists get misrepresented or do you find it's more Christians get misrepresented by atheists? What's your view on that?
Sean McDowell: Oh gosh that's hard. You know what? I think it goes both ways. I do. I read your book carefully, The Young Atheist Survival Guide, and the other one and it gave me a lot of sympathy and compassion trying to step inside an atheist looking at court cases the way people describe them. The drawings that you had in there, we could talk about that. And I went up to him and like wow, I don't think I realized the degree to which atheists feel misrepresented and probably people on the religious side have done this either consciously or unconsciously. I do feel the same way though, regularly, from atheists in my belief. I get Tweeted all the time. Like please believe this and you're that. And actually I'm not. Now I don't know if that's most or just the vocal ones, but I think there's just, I think there's a breakdown in communication. There's not a willingness to listen. There's not a willingness to be charitable to the other side. There's not a willingness to let people speak for themselves and try to be understood on their own terms. So I don't know that it's uniquely Christian or atheist. There's more Christians than atheists, so [crosstalk 00:17:03].
Justin Brierley: I think it's probably true that both sides are sometimes guilty of cherry picking the worst examples of the other side, if you like, and holding them up as somehow the norm.
Hemant Mehta: If I may add to that, yes, I don't think you're wrong about that. But a lot of the atheists that I've talked to and worked with, they've been on the other side. They know what, they know what regular Christians, they know what their family is like when they are Christians. They know what the good ones are like. They also know that the loud ones that tend to get the most attention are not necessarily representative of everybody, but they've been in those shoes before. So when they're critiquing, sometimes unfairly for sure, it's coming from a place where they know what they're talking about, in some aspects.
Justin Brierley: Sure.
Hemant Mehta: Not all of them. And I don't, but I can't necessarily the same, say the same thing about religious people that they have all been where I'm at and then make the same jump to accepting Christ later in life or something. So I think we're coming, most of the atheists I know, are coming from a place where they've been there, which is why they can speak about it.
Justin Brierley: Yeah. I'm really looking forward to the conversation tonight. And I just want to say a special thank you as well, Hemant, for coming and, here to West Side and Sean as well, because I think what you guys are doing is demonstrating that we can have good conversations even though we sincerely disagree about our different world views. And I'm sure that will come out as we get through what we're going to be talking about tonight.
Now we're doing something quite exciting this evening in the course of the rest of the dialogue. What I've asked Hemant and Sean to do is both come up with two things that they think the other side misconceives about their positions. So for Hemant it's two things that he thinks Christians often get wrong about atheists. And for Sean, it's two things that he thinks atheists often get wrong about Christianity. And so these guys haven't shared those with each other. I know what they are, but this will be fresh from these two. So I'm looking forward to this. So why don't we let Hemant, you go first with your first thing that you think is often a misconception when it comes to Atheism.
Hemant Mehta: I've heard so many times people say that atheists don't believe in God or because they hate God or because they had some bad experience with God or with other believers, which I, I know they don't mean it this way, but it comes across as an insult every time I hear that because it suggests that my atheism is a result of a trauma. That I never put any thought into it. That I never asked the questions. That I never did the sort of research and digging into it like Sean was saying he did.
Justin Brierley: You're just an atheist just because you're in rebellion against God.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You're just rebelling against your parents, your culture, whatever it is. It's like, no, no, no. I studied this stuff. This is the conclusion I arrived at. It's not like something that happened to me. It's something I actively thought out and this is where I ended up at. So it bothers me when someone says, "You hate God. You only have met bad Christians. Here's the book you need to read. Here's the Christian you need to talk to or listen to."
Justin Brierley: Have they heard of my book, by the way? I guess not. Yeah, I get what you're saying.
Hemant Mehta: This implying that we haven't put any thought into it.
Justin Brierley: Sure. Okay. Sean, essentially when Christians say, "Oh you're just an atheist because you had a bad experience at church or you've rebelled against God or you're ... Basically it's not because of the evidence. It's because you don't like it for some reason." What do you say to that?
Sean McDowell: I think this is interesting you brought it up. I was curious which one you were going to bring up and I think what happens is we attribute psychological motivations for somebody. You hate your father and on the other side they say, "Well you need a heavenly Father." Like it think it can go both ways. "We just need comfort. You need to believe in this so you believe in God." Well neither of those show whether it's true or it's right. It's just talking about our motivations. So I think those games can go both ways, at least in my experience, at least it's the common one.
I'm curious, do you think there's any connection in your mind for some people and motivation having a bad experience with the Father translating to their earthly father? Do you think there's anything to that?
Hemant Mehta: What do you mean?
Sean McDowell: I'm sorry. Translating their earthly father to the idea of the heavenly Father. Bad experience with a dad here so I don't want the heavenly Father in my life. Do you think there's any credibility in that? I'm not saying for you.
Hemant Mehta: Oh, like in general if someone had a bad experience with their dad-
Sean McDowell: Yeah. I'm not trying to say every atheist that's true for. But ... Well, I'll give you an example. I mean my dad wasn't an atheist he was an agnostic. And he was examining the Christian faith and he said one of the hurdles he had to go through was my grandfather, his dad, was a drunk. And he was very abusive. And when my dad would hear in church this idea of a heavenly Father, he's like, "Why would I want a father in my life? Why would I want some authority when father means this?" Like it seems to me there could be some connection between that. Not for everybody, but I-
Hemant Mehta: I've never heard it once from atheists that I know, that explanation or that sort of thing. That's not to say they didn't have something bad happen in their family, but that's sort of, this is what my dad was like therefore I don't need any dad, that sort of thing. I've never heard that once.
Justin Brierley: I mean would it be fair to say if that was going on in any case, it might only be something that someone might recognize once they had come back to Christianity or to faith or something like that? Because obviously it was something your father said was significant in his, the reason-
Sean McDowell: He was going in the other direction. And that was a barrier to him.
Hemant Mehta: I haven't heard that one, but if I can broaden that for a second. If you're saying maybe they have experienced something bad and so they don't want to do anything to do with faith or God or the church or anything like that, I think for a lot of people that may be the first domino falling, but it doesn't mean the rest are going to go automatically. It might be the case that oh, I had a father who did something really horrible or I went through this traumatic incident or I met this Christian who did this horrible thing or whatever, that might get them questioning. But then they're gonna follow that up. So it's not the direct reason they're an atheist, but it might be the thing that-
Justin Brierley: It might be the thing that triggers the-
Hemant Mehta: -that triggers the rest of it as maybe there's something not true with the stuff I believe right now that I need to explore more. That happens more often.
Justin Brierley: Sean do you find generally with the atheists you interact with that the reason they're an atheist is that they genuinely don't enough intellectual reasons to believe or do you think very often there is some kind of psychological or emotional reason why they've become an atheist?
Sean McDowell: See the one thing I try to not do is guess peoples motivations to be honest. I don't know the answer to that. I think whatever we believe there's a mixture. There's intellect. There's an emotional side. There could be a moral side, a relational side. And they probably balance for different people.
Justin Brierley: And for Christians too, I imagine there is many people, Christians do, as a mixture of emotion, spiritual experience, evidence. We're all kind of in the same boat in the things that bring us to where we are.
Sean McDowell: There's an interesting study by a psychologist named Paul Vitz. We call it the Faith of Fatherless. And he studied the great atheist in History like Marx, Nietzche-
Hemant Mehta: I feel like I've heard a version of this.
Sean McDowell: I'm not a psychologist, but his argument is that if we look at these leading atheists, they all had one thing in common. A dead, distant or harsh father. And he just asked the question, could there be a connection between how we see our earthly father and view him and import that onto Heavenly Father and God. That doesn't prove atheism is true of false or Christianity. But I think that's at least an interesting-
Justin Brierley: What do you make of that?
Sean McDowell: I know it works in the reverse for different [inaudible 00:24:58].
Hemant Mehta: I remember, I don't remember the guy himself, but I do a version of that argument. And I remember thinking, yeah, but they have a ton of things in common. A lot of these guys have been pretty wealthy relative to everyone else in their society. It doesn't mean being rich makes you an atheist. You know what I mean? You could say a bunch of people had mustaches, it doesn't mean anything. You could find a million commonalities. Just 'cause they may have had these ideal relationships, I don't know a lot of people who have perfect relationships with their dad. It doesn't mean X, Y and Z.
Justin Brierley: That's a good opportunity to move onto Sean.
Hemant Mehta: Okay.
Justin Brierley: Would you like to bring your first misconception you think atheists often get wrong about Christians?
Sean McDowell: I notice that when you want me to do something you ask me a question. It's the British way of saying-
Justin Brierley: Like politeness.
Sean McDowell: Do you want to go on stage? There's so much more polite than we are. For Americans. I'll speak for us.
Sure. So here's a misconception that's one of the biggest ones that I hear is that faith is defined as believing something without evidence. Now, I'm not saying there's not Christians who believe things without evidence and blindly. Of course there are. You know them. I know them. And I'm not saying atheists can't use whatever definition of faith that they want to use. Free country. Go for it. But the Bible doesn't teach that faith is opposed to or without evidence. So, I mean I could give a bunch of examples, like Acts 1:3 when the story of the church begins. It says, "Jesus appeared ...". Can I just read it?
Justin Brierley: Yeah, sure.
Sean McDowell: Just to give a little context. Is that cool?
Justin Brierley: Looks like you got it ready.
Sean McDowell: Ready to go.
Justin Brierley: He's always ready. It's Sean.
Sean McDowell: Acts 1:3, "After he suffered he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs. It appeared to them over a period of 40 days." In other words, Jesus didn't say blindly follow me, shows up, does miracles, appears to them. Exodus 14:31, you see a similar pattern. Where interestingly enough you know the song in a, what's the Disney movie? Prince of Egypt, it says miracles happen when you believe. Remember that song? They actually got it backwards. He didn't do miracles because the people believed. They never would have believed. They never would have gone out of Egypt. It rather says when Israel saw the great power the Lord used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and believed. In other words, God does a miracle, reveals himself and then the belief follows the miracle. This is the whole point, I think, of the story of the doubting Thomas says he did many other proofs so that people would believe. So you might reject the evidence, but I think it's a mischaracterzation of a Christian view of faith to say it's believing without [crosstalk 00:27:46].
Justin Brierley: -how you would tend if you were to define faith. What would you say faith is, Hemant?
Hemant Mehta: Well let me pull out my pocket copy of the God Delusion, right?
Justin Brierley: You always got to up me, I guess.
Hemant Mehta: Faith is ... I understand, when I hear people say faith is believing something without evidence, the way I interpret that is not that they don't have a reason to believe the stuff they believe, but that the evidence they offer is stuff we don't consider evidence because a lot of times Christians will give you their personal testimony. This, a God spoke to me. God came to me and did this in my life. Or I prayed and then this happened. It's like, no, we know ... Like not only do we know that's a logical fallacy, I could give you the name of that fallacy because of how it's misused. So I think the response I would have for your comment is it's not the faith part that's the problem. It's what we're characterizing as evidence. And I think even doubting Thomas like saw Jesus ... Right? Like he experienced him. That's a different story than ... But if you said you experienced him and then you expect me to believe it based on what you're saying it's like, that's not really the same thing.
Justin Brierley: Is that the kind of evidence you would be bringing when you say, "I have a faith that's based on evidence as well." Sean.
Sean McDowell: Well, if you read the story of Thomas it's interesting. He had evidence. He had the predictions that Jesus had made. He had the testimony of his 10 buddies who he spent three years with who said, "Hey, we've seen Him alive." That's a kind of evidence.
Hemant Mehta: It's a kind of bad evidence. That's what I'm saying. Like-
Sean McDowell: You think that's bad evidence?
Hemant Mehta: Oh, absolutely.
Sean McDowell: Are you kidding me?
Hemant Mehta: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sean McDowell: 10 people in your life that you know see something they didn't expect and come to you with personal testimony.
Hemant Mehta: Everyone in my life thinks America's Got Talent is the best show they've ever seen. Like, they're wrong.
Sean McDowell: That's totally different. And I agree with you on that, by the way.
Hemant Mehta: But the point is it's like yes, people you trust say this thing happened to me. Okay, I'm listening, but I'm not taking that as proof because it's not the same thing as me experiencing it. And I think that's a legit thing to say, like, okay, all these people saw Him, they experienced it. What was the first thing you said before the 10 people?
Sean McDowell: What's the first thing you said before the ten people? You said the other examples of evidence?
Hemant Mehta: So yeah, predictions of Jesus.
Sean McDowell: And yeah, and again, predictions. So we've heard...
Hemant Mehta: And he had appearances.
Sean McDowell: And I would say, okay predictions, but psychics. I mean, predictions that we tend to think come true if we believe that stuff.
Hemant Mehta: Okay, so if you throw out all testimony in a court of law. If you had ten people who say, we saw him, we witnessed this, you're gonna go, wow, ten?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, that's hearsay.
Hemant Mehta: That's a pretty darn...
Sean McDowell: I mean, they don't accept that in court.
Hemant Mehta: That's not hearsay evidence if you have ten people who come to you and say, we saw this, and testified for it.
Sean McDowell: Then would you say... Yeah, then you say, okay, I'm listening to all of you, I will wave that into consideration. But that alone, what you said you saw, I'm not putting this guy in jail based on just what you said. We got to take a lot of stuff into consideration. And I will say one thing I definitely appreciate about you, your father, about Christian apologists in general is that they kind of, they built their own life around this idea that we have all this evidence. We want to answer that and present it to people. I have a lot of respect for that. That's what we want to see, and then we can get into a debate about why isn't this, you know, valid evidence for other people, but that's the sort of thing, like the evidence you're talking about is stuff that I think a lot of atheists would say, that's not convincing enough for me.
Hemant Mehta: Okay, so here's my point. Obviously, if you're an atheist, you're going to reject the evidence, but that's different from characterizing faith as belief without evidence. Eyewitness testimony is a kind of evidence. Pointing to something in creation, like DNA, is a kind of evidence. Now you reject it and don't believe it, but that doesn't make faith itself without evidence. That's my only point, is to take, with a grain of salt.
Sean McDowell: Right, and we're disagreeing on the definition of what's good evidence.
Hemant Mehta: Look, I was just at BIOLA's Fall Faculty training and our guest speaker said there is no room within Christianity for intellectual laziness and not using your mind. Why? Because Jesus said, "Love God with your mind." "Come let us reason together." So faith is not the opposite of reason. Reason can't get us there all the way, but it's built upon evidence.
Justin Brierley: If I can interrupt you, I think of you both as rational, intelligent, well read people, who are both looking at the same set of data, if you like, and coming to different conclusions about it. Obviously, you've found the historical evidence, the philosophical evidence, the theological evidence, Sean, compelling and you say, this makes sense. Maybe Hemant has looked at all of that stuff and says, no, doesn't do enough for me. I've been interested to know for you, Hemant, what kind of evidence do you think might, hypothetically, persuade you that God exists or Christianity is true. What would be the kind of evidence you'd be looking for?
Hemant Mehta: I think if you're talking me, personally, at this point, I feel like I've heard enough from the apologist side. The standard arguments, you've heard, that none of that has convinced me so far as, so I'm not sure anything like, if you look at this Bible passage... Boom, that's not gonna do it. It may have to be like a personal thing I go through.
Justin Brierley: So it could be some kind of a personal experience? Some...
Hemant Mehta: But, yes, it would have to be a personal experience, but, a lot of people have personal experiences and they can attest to that.
Justin Brierley: That's the problem, I suppose.
Hemant Mehta: And that doesn't mean it's real. I mean, I've seen enough of those books, 'cause they sell a lot of copies about, I swear I died and I went to heaven and I know exactly what happens there. And it just so happens that all those stories are identical, for more or less. You know what I mean, like short, personal belief doesn't necessarily...
Justin Brierley: So it's hard for you to kind of, at this point, know what sort of weapons could actually convince you, in that sense.
Hemant Mehta: I would have, I think, a lot more questions about even trusting my own experience at that point. 'Cause I would be like, well, did I really experience what I think I did? What holes can you poke in my story right now? You know?
Justin Brierley: I suppose, though, most atheists say: I'm an evidence based person. But, is your own position of atheism, can it actually be tested? I'm just wondering, could you falsify your atheism on the basis that you can't think of anything that might...
Hemant Mehta: Well, the falsification of atheism, to me, is prove you're right. You know what I mean?
Justin Brierley: But atheism is the default kind of the way the world is unless you show me that, that God exists?
Hemant Mehta: Right, that's accurate.
Justin Brierley: And what do you think about that way of, kind of, approaching, while atheism is the default, it's your job to show me God exists.
Sean McDowell: Oh I totally disagree.
Justin Brierley: Okay.
Sean McDowell: I think both belief systems have explanations for reality, where the universe came from, where life came from, where consciousness comes from. Both explanations, what happens if you die? If anything or not. Both belief systems answer them differently, but give explanations for why we're here and for the big questions of life. Atheism offers some answer...
Justin Brierley: So you say, Hemant needs to defend his atheism as much as you need to defend your Christian faith.
Sean McDowell: If there's any middle ground, it would be agnosticism, but I think atheism has to defend that the universe can come from nothing, that it can be fine-tuned without a cause, consciousness can come from matter, life can come from non-life...
Justin Brierley: Do you think that that's something you have to do, Hemant, as an atheist? You have to give an account for those types of things?
Hemant Mehta: No, No, I mean it's... Those are good questions to ask. How did this appear? How do we explain this stuff? And we can't every one of those questions to the satisfaction, to the point where it would appear in like a science book somewhere. 'Cause there are things we don't know. The question is how are we gonna get to those answers and I don't think you're going to get to those answers through God, through faith, through the Bible, whatever. If we can figure things out, it's gonna been through evidence based reason, it's gonna be through experimentation, through theories and testing them and trying to falsify them. So when it comes to, why does the universe appear this way. I mean, you can test that to a limit, but right now maybe that's as far as we can go. We can't answer everything about it, so we have to just live with that. The fact that there aren't answers to everything. One of the problems I have with religion is that, it seems like a lot of religious people have a hard time accepting there are things we don't know, so they make up answers.
Justin Brierley: Quick response, Sean, and then we'll move on to heavens next...
Sean McDowell: I have no problem admitting I don't know something. I think one of the differences is I... Here you use the word, proof, when I read your book, "Certainty." I agree, answering these questions doesn't require proof or certainty. What I look at is, I say two different worldviews and others, which best explains certain features of the natural world? Can I prove it beyond any reasonable doubt? Not 100% certainty. But I'm a Christian because I think the Christian worldview best answers the big questions of life. That's why I'm a Christian, so I think we differ over the standard of proof that we're looking for.
Hemant Mehta: I may be one up... Maybe one issue I have is that Christians also think they have answers not just to the big questions, but also to a lot of the small ones that we do have other explanations to and that's kind of like when the religious people of shoving themselves into my world. You know what I mean? Like DNA or science stuff, it's like, we'll now you're interfering in my little arena here.
Justin Brierley: I think we might come to this a bit later. Let's go to your next misconception.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, the other misconception people have about atheists, that I thought was not really googleable, which is why I gave them to you is that I think there is this idea that when you hear about atheists in the news, if you ever see this atheist group was attacking this whatever, a lawsuit or whatever, it's because they're intolerant of Christianity or because they're trying to eradicate faith from the public space.
Justin Brierley: So the kind of, the atheists are just so intolerant of people of faith. That's the misconception.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, and the weird thing is like, I don't work for any of those groups, but I know a lot of the people who do and I talk with them all the time. I know what they're thinking is on this stuff and that's never come up. Not in private, certainly not in public, but it's kind of...
Justin Brierley: There's no hidden agenda to bring down the Christian church.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah. No, believe me, I feel like I would know about that one. They would have told me that at some point.
Justin Brierley: Yeah. Well, would you tell us then, Hemant, you know... I'm joking. But, carry on.
Hemant Mehta: I'm blinking in code, just for the people in the audience. No, but a lot of the times, what I see is that a lot of the atheist groups, whenever you see a lawsuit, the lawsuit is almost always, we want the government to play this thing neutral. I don't want you advocating for atheism, but I also don't want you advocating for Christianity or for religion. We see you doing that and we're trying to put a stop to it. And I think a lot of religious people see that as because Christians are the only ones who ever seem to do that. Like we want "In God We Trust" in all these public schools, big signs, or we want to teach creationism along with evolution or whatever. And when lawsuits say, No, you've got to put a stop to that, to me, that is neutrality. Like we're not telling you what religion to believe, but I think neutrality to a lot of conservative Christians is persecution.
Justin Brierley: Right, so the kind of atheist, who are activists for kind of make sure we keep a kind of secular space, the kind of neutral space.
Hemant Mehta: And to be clear, not atheist face, but a secular, we're not advocating anything.
Justin Brierley: Right, and that's often, in your view, misinterpreted by Christians as somehow attacking Christianity.
Hemant Mehta: You will not see an atheist group say we want a sign in every school that says, "In God We Don't Trust." We don't want them doing that, but lay off.
Justin Brierley: Okay, Sean, what's your response to that kind of view.
Sean McDowell: So we might differ as we get to some of the particulars, but in general I agree with a way that you stated that. That I've often told Christians, I've said, Look, if you care about religious liberties for Christians, you have to care about religious liberty for Muslims. You have to care about religious liberty for people who don't have a specific faith. It actually should be neutral. So, it might shock some people, but I don't know that I was ever in favor of prayers be mandated in schools. I don't know that that's necessarily the place I'm not in favor of creationism being taught. Now I think you should sell weaknesses of evolution, should be allowed in, you might differ with that, but that's very different letting kids think critically and interact and come to truth themselves. So, I think in general, we have to be consistent we have to see, try to understand where the other person is coming from and frankly as Christians, we probably haven't really done a great job at this.
Hemant Mehta: Do you say that to other Christians?
Sean McDowell: I do.
Hemant Mehta: If you know all the people that probably do a lot of those lawsuits will think. Do you have that conversation with them ever?
Sean McDowell: I have had that conversation.
Hemant Mehta: How does that go? I'm so curious.
Sean McDowell: You know what, I guess it depends on the person. People process it very differently. I'm not afraid to tell people, here's what I think, and you're stepping on toes, you're not being fair. And so, I tell them and they listen sometimes, they probably think I'm nuts and see it differently. But I think we have common ground and I think when we get to some the particulars of what it means to be neutral and fair, probably you and I would differ over what that looks like, but in principle, I think, I think religion should have a voice. I think sometimes the concern is that it feels like secular efforts are saying, religion doesn't get a seat, they don't even get a voice, they don't get to speak into it. I want to say, timeout. There can be different voices, everyone should get a seat at the table in a pluralistic society.
Hemant Mehta: It makes me laugh/cry whenever I hear people are like there's no room or atheists are trying to make sure there's no room for religion in politics. It's like, there's literally one atheist in Congress, and he doesn't even call himself an atheist, and there's like four, five hundred Christians. Different denominations, it's like what part of Christianity is out of politics, they're all in there. If you want to trade, I will swap with you any day you want.
Sean McDowell: So I think the concern and this is, this is gonna maybe take it down a different road. As I read the book that you published, I think it's called, "Queer Disbelief," and it's really...
Hemant Mehta: And it's about just religion and LGBTQ rights. That's the gist of it.
Sean McDowell: Kind of atheist and LGBTQ rights together and you edited it, wrote the forward. And the, I forget her name, I'm sorry.
Hemant Mehta: Camille is the author.
Sean McDowell: Camille.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah.
Sean McDowell: She said not the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would want them to treat you. You should call it like the Platinum Rule: Treat people the way that they want to be treated. And right now we're seeing this tension between somebody who goes: look, I wanna be able to go to a bakery and I just wanna get a cake and not be treated differently because I'm in a same-sex relationship. And you have, say, somebody like in Colorado who he says: there's a lot of things I don't serve, I just wanna be able to operate my business, according to my deepest held convictions. And we don't have to solve this now, but that's where the tension comes into play and charity on both sides trying to understand and meet a middle ground like I think happened at least now in California with AB-2943, is the stuff we're working out, that makes it not easy.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, and believe me, there's a lot I want to say about the Colorado guy too.
Justin Brierley: We probably don't have time tonight.
Hemant Mehta: I, I understand completely.
Justin Brierley: It's a huge can of worms.
Hemant Mehta: No, and I think, yeah you're right, those are the details. Where do we draw the line? That is kind of what's at stake there and again, to me, it seems like whenever people advocate for neutrality, the religious side that tends to get all the attention in these cases is saying we want a right that we would never accept if a Muslim wanted to do that to a Christian or if anyone else tried to do the stuff we're doing right now, they would be the first people in line crying foul. But they want the ability to do that sort of thing.
Sean McDowell: Here's how... I think if we would try to have some charity and understand what the other person is coming from. We can make a lot of progress on this.
Hemant Mehta: Do you think...? Sorry, I don't...
Sean McDowell: Let me throw this and jump in. So I feel like, I look at an issue contentious like say same-sex marriage and I have opinions that I've thought through. Not just from the Bible, but what I think the nature of marriage is. I don't look at people who disagree with me and go: man, you're hateful, you're bigoted. I look at them, I say, you know what, you're doing what you think is right and I'm gonna give you the respect and dignity and charity even though I disagree on the issues, of treating you that kindness and respect. I don't get treated with the same, not from everybody, maybe it's just the vocal voices. I don't often feel like that charity is extended to me, personally. Maybe you feel that people treat you the same for my side. I don't know.
Hemant Mehta: No, it's because the people who want to get... Just to take that as an example, the people who want to get married, they're not telling you what you can and can't do, but when you say you don't want them to get married, you're telling them they're not allowed to do it and you're passing laws to tell them they're not allowed to do this or that. Like, it's not just a difference of opinion, it's you get control over them in a way they don't get over you and there's a difference, it's not just a difference in opinion in these cases.
Sean McDowell: No, I don't, I don't... The point is not to have control over somebody. The question would be: What is marriage? What is it? That's a prior question that has to be answered before we even talk about legislation. We skip over that and start attributing to people certain motivations and I... It's, it's unbelievably uncharitable at times, the way I think people will treat me and my side. I go, whoa, how do you know something's motivated by hate? How do you know that's what somebody is thinking? Let's see where they're coming from and make sense of it and understand their...
Hemant Mehta: The problem is that, there are...
Justin Brierley: One quick response, and then we'll go to the final point.
Hemant Mehta: No, there are... People can smile and end up doing some really horrible stuff, so it's not that I think...
Sean McDowell: That's true, I do that.
Hemant Mehta: ...everyone who believes this stuff is hateful, but the end result's the same. So, you have to respond to it.
Justin Brierley: We can spend the whole evening debating this issue, so we'll have to leave it there. 'Cause...
Hemant Mehta: So we're not going to resolve all of the [inaudible 00:46:01] in a couple minutes.
Justin Brierley: Gay cakes and gay marriage. We're not gonna, I think, completely solve tonight. But, let's go to the final misconception that you think, Sean, atheists sometimes have of Christians.
Sean McDowell: Yes, my misconception is that Christianity is inherently in conflict with science. Now, I know you have video of this and have huge opinions about it, so make couple comments and let you go, see what you think. So, my point is not historically there, to say there hasn't been conflict, course there's has. My point is not that there's not certain positions within Christianity that come into conflict with majority mainstream held views in science. That happens at time, but I don't think when we understand the limits and nature of science and Christianity, itself, essential doctrines, there's necessarily a conflict between the two of them. I could defend it, but...
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, yeah, I mean...
Sean McDowell: Go ahead.
Hemant Mehta: ...there's no doubt there are brilliant scientists, who are also Christians and very much Bible believing and all that. They find a way to work it out, I can't say I understand that [inaudible 00:47:12] completely, but they exist. There's no doubt about that. I think, where I would respond to that one is there are times when it's... To believe in miracles, to believe in a virgin birth, to believe in things that could not happen because we don't have a mechanism for that to happen and to say this stuff happens has to go in conflict with what we know from evidence, which does require faith. But that to me, it's, these are not separate issues to say that God can override the science when he wants to. Those are going into conflict...
Sean McDowell: Okay so, so if there's a God who exists, spoke the world into existence, organized the law according to the regularity that it operates on, why couldn't this God at times act, do a resurrection, heal somebody, this doesn't overturn science. In fact a miracle can only happen if there's a regularity and a pattern that happens for there to be something noticeable to make some miracle. So I don't see why a miracle contradicts science because a miracle is a claim that God has acted supernaturally. Science is the systematic examination of the natural world.
Hemant Mehta: If there is any way to break that systematic mechanism, science is broken, but it's not. That's the whole point of it. It's that this is the rules we used to figure things out. We may get better information over time and we may adjust as we need to, but in terms of how do we figure out what's going on, these are the rules we're using, and I feel like what you're saying is he can just break the rules whenever we want, they don't matter. God wants to break them, he can break them, you're just playing a game with no rules now.
Sean McDowell: That's totally not what I am saying. I think that's a mischaracterization of what I'm saying. What I'm saying is you look at Newton and Pascal and Boyle and Galileo, down the road, some of these scientific pioneers believed that you can do science 'cause the world was rational, it was orderly, there's a regularity to it, built-in by their faith. And then God can act above or beyond just like if you drop this down the laws of nature would say it's going to fall. I could stop it as an agent, as a person prevent it from doing it. I didn't violate science.
Hemant Mehta: But at the same time, all of those guys existed way before we knew what DNA was, how genes worked. All the science that has happened in the past fifty years, hundred years, they didn't know any of that stuff. And some of these things, just simple things like how come you look like a mixture of your parents, without genes and DNA it's really hard to kind of explain that one, so what other reason do you have for it. I can understand why they would resort to the supernatural explanations for some of this stuff because they didn't have better stuff, they didn't have better tools, they didn't have better knowledge. We are getting, I mean you've heard this before because it's called the "God of the gaps," but like as we learn more, it's like oh, that thing I thought God had something to do with, it has a reason now and it falls into that systematic mechanism we were talking about. Here's the, one of the things you mentioned, with God can interfere when God wants to, is that it seems like all the stories people give, they're either are natural explanations for them, when they say it's a miracle or it happened in the past and we're relying on a handbook, Jesus resurrected. Here's the evidence we're using for that one and by the way, it's never gonna happen again. Or we haven't seen it happen again.
Justin Brierley: So, Sean, the question I think here is, given that the miracles reported in the Bible came from it, what you might call a pre-scientific age, should we accept that that was their interpretation of science probably would give us the answer to what people thought they saw.
Sean McDowell: No, these are the scientific pioneers that brought science into the day and led the scientific revolution, but if you read Craig Keener's two volume set on miracles, there are tens of millions of miracle accounts. Some are tested better than others, that are some very strongly that simply can't be dismissed with the assumption that we live in a naturalistic world. That's an assumption.
Hemant Mehta: Is it possible that with those miracles, if different people looked at them, different people accounted... I see this a lot when the Catholic Church named saints.
Sean McDowell: So I'm not talking about the Catholic Church and saints.
Hemant Mehta: No I know. No, no, no, but their explanation of how do you say Mother Theresa is a saint. She had to have performed two miracles and they say these are the miracles. It's like, well, there are actually are explanations for some of them to act naturally explain what they think is supernatural.
Sean McDowell: So this is an assumption.
Hemant Mehta: Couldn't the same thing happen with the ones you're talking about?
Sean McDowell: So, he says it's possible, anything's possible? That's not what's interesting to me, I want to know if it's reasonable. Okay, so there's a difference between how good is the evidence and is a miracle in itself contradictory to the nature of science. Those are different things, I...
Hemant Mehta: Sometimes I think when we say we don't know how this happened, there are people who jump to miracle, and it's possible we just don't have all the information.
Sean McDowell: So "God of the gaps" is when you don't have an answer you just insert God into it. The miracle claims, including the resurrection, and modern day ones, there is positive evidence for it. Now you might not accept it, but all I'm saying is it's a mischaracterization to say that science and Christianity are at odds. That doesn't necessarily follow if there is a God and he made the world and he spoke it into existence. This God can act through the world and wouldn't be limited, he wouldn't even be violating these laws or interfering because he set up these laws.
Justin Brierley: Do you believe that as an atheist though, Hemant, that science is somehow more naturally correlates with atheism than with Christianity? Or would you say the fact that many of the most vocal proponents of atheism are scientists is because somehow science validates atheism in some way?
Hemant Mehta: I think when you realize, oh, to believe in any religion, any of the major religions, and the specifics that go along with them. You have to accept at some point that supernatural things happened and will continue to happen, and will go on after you're dead, they're still happening. And when you realize, oh, all the stuff we know about how the world works, it did not come because it was written in a book. It's because we explored it, we looked into it. This is the best answers we have, these are the best answers we have, given the way, given the rules of our game, which is to say let's prove it as best we can and not because someone told it to us. I think is, I think there's an easy leap to go from, oh, we can figure this stuff out if we have the right information to, oh, the people who...
Justin Brierley: So, it's kind of, it does, in your view, squeeze God out in that sense?
Hemant Mehta: Doesn't squeeze God out, but you don't need God.
Justin Brierley: Right, sure. Yeah.
Hemant Mehta: You need better, you need better information.
Justin Brierley: What's your view, I mean, very often science is kind of held up as somehow, you know, atheists love science. Science basically supports atheism. Why do you think that's a wrong way of approaching it, Sean?
Sean McDowell: Well, I think two things, I think science requires certain presuppositions about the world being orderly, about our minds matching up with it, that are very at home and have been encouraged by a Christian worldview. And this can be documented historically. Second, I actually think the more we look into the depths of the cell and the depths of the universe, I think Psalms 19:1 and 2 is right, that the skies proclaim the glory of God. Meaning we discover DNA, it's more complex, sophisticated than we ever could have imagined. We discovered through science in the 20th century that the universe had a beginning. This seems reasonably to point to a cause outside of the universe. We discover fine-tuning, we discover certain things in science. I don't think science proves God, it's not that simple. But, I think the more we probe and look in the natural world, the more we find sophistication, we find complexity, we find beauty that makes sense if there is a mind behind the universe. And it's not just scientists from the Middle Ages, some of the leading scientists today would see it the same way.
Hemant Mehta: Some.
Sean McDowell: I agree, I agree, that's true.
Justin Brierley: By the way, we've got about 2 minutes before need to go to questions. So, did you want to come back on that quickly and then?
Hemant Mehta: No, I mean, I think there are atheists who will say those are two separate arenas. That it's theoretically possible to believe in the religious stuff, but when you're in the lab, you're not bringing the Bible into it. You're focusing on the science, but I think, by in large, the growing number of atheists, anecdotally I'm saying this, is that a lot of the religious beliefs directly contradict what we know from science and those two things cannot co-exist.
Justin Brierley: Just a final word from you, Sean, and we'll try and go...
Sean McDowell: Richard Dawkins said biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed. Well, maybe it gives the appearance of having been designed because it's actually designed. You don't have to get that from a book. You look at natural world and you see that it's reasonable and not against science to infer maybe there's a mind behind this.
Hemant Mehta: But the whole reason he wrote that sentence is to spend the entire book explaining why it's not designed. Let me explain to you why it looks that way, but it's not.
Sean McDowell: But the intuition is there...
Hemant Mehta: Right, because that's how you speak to people.
Sean McDowell: ...that people naturally have.
Hemant Mehta: You speak to people. Let me speak your language, not you guys, just in general. Let me speak your language, you think it looks designed. I know it looks, looks designed. But, let me tell you why it's not actually designed. That's the whole point of the book.
Justin Brierley: Do you want to respond and then we'll...
Sean McDowell: Do I have time? Yeah, so, my only point is the world, as we look at into it, looks designed and there's multiple other scientists and people who do the same thing. You don't have to compartmentalize your faith to do that science. You look at it and ask, okay, is it actually designed. Now we could debate with Dawkins and obviously I disagree where he goes with it, but my only point about this misconception is to say that science is at odds with Christianity and that's not the case that it's at odds with Christianity when we properly understand what it is. So if the science points away from design, so be it. If it's pointed towards design, so be it.
Justin Brierley: We'll leave it there, for the moment.
Sean McDowell: Follow the evidence.
Justin Brierley: Maybe we can follow up it up in the Q&A. So this is a, this is great. We've had a really wonderful discussion. Lively, engaging, civil as I fully expected to be between you both. And now it's time to go to some questions from the audience. Now, this is to, to either of you. What motivates atheists and Christians to argue their case about life, faith, and meaning? So what's the motivation for why you're here, having this discussion, debate.
Sean McDowell: Go ahead?
Hemant Mehta: Sure. You know, there are so few things I feel, like in own life, that I get super riled up and passionate about. But this is one of them. I mean the big questions, the fact that I think I'm right about something that most of the country I think is totally wrong about. Yeah, you get excited about that and it's not just religion, by the way, maybe it's politics, maybe it's a sports team, whatever. When there something you're really excited about you want to share it. I know Christians have said the same thing about their faith, but this is the thing that gets me really worked up. I get excited writing about it, I get excited talking about it, and meeting people whether they agree with me or not.
Justin Brierley: You're passionate about it.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah.
Justin Brierley: Okay, Sean?
Sean McDowell: Two reasons, I actually love the pushback and I love the conversation. Whether it's on stage or not. 'Cause if I'm wrong about something, I should probably change my beliefs. I'm go back and think through this whole conversation in my mind probably a bunch of times. So that's one reason, I enjoy it. Second is ideas do have confident, ideas do have consequences. I'm a Christian, I think Jesus got reality right. And not only did he call us to do this, but to me, it's an act of love to talk to people. And I think you'd probably say you're motivated by the same thing for different reasons. This loving the, have conversations with people and help them see what's true, so I enjoy it. I want to learn myself. I deeply care about ideas. I get as passionate as you do. I just enjoy the conversation and when it's all said and done, we don't spend a lot of time in the world, really weighing on issues that matter. We get distracted. These questions have consequences about science and faith, about how we treat atheists. And if we can treat atheists better, we need to be listening and we need to do that better.
Hemant Mehta: And if I can add to that note. I agree with you on that. It's funny because on my website, I don't necessarily talk about a lot of the things we've been talking about today. It's a lot of the consequences that I'm talking about because I think religion does a lot of damage and that's kind of what I spend a lot of my time doing. It's documenting it, it's saying this belief has let us down this path and that's the ba-, that's a bad...
Hemant Mehta: This belief has led us down this path, and that's a bad path to go down. Here's why. But yeah, it's the consequences of it that get me passionate too. More so, maybe than the philosophy.
Justin Brierley: Would you profile good things that happened from [crosstalk 01:00:16]
Hemant Mehta: Yes. And I have. And I do, and sometimes, even when it comes to lawsuits and stuff. This happened this week, where a group I would categorize as a very conservative legal group, they were right about something. And I wrote about that, and I said, "They are right about this." Yeah.
Justin Brierley: This one's for you, specifically, Hemant. I think it is at least. Do you think atheists should be disappointed that there's no god? That's an interesting question. I mean, and maybe another way of phrasing it, would you like there to be a god? Is it kind of a shame if there isn't a god?
Hemant Mehta: I've thought about it in different ways because part of it is who cares if I'm gonna be happy or sad? The question is what's true? Whether I like it or not, but at the same time, which god are we talking about that I want to exist? The one that's gonna send me to Hell if I disobey him? The one that is trying to command every little bit of my life, and tell me how to live every single way? Like, I have enough of that with my parents. I don't need it supernaturally, as well.
So again, it depends. Look, would it be really nice that after I die I can go to Heaven? Yeah. That sounds lovely to a point. Like, yeah, that sounds nice, except I don't think that's true. But yeah, the idea sounds nice. I get why religion is comforting, and there are times when I'm like, "That comfort would be nice to have if I believed in it."
Justin Brierley: Sure. Sean?
Sean McDowell: Yeah this is a tricky one. I guess, and I know it's bigger than this, but the way you describe God, I wouldn't want that god to exist. I think when we look at the person of Jesus, who said, "Greater love had no man than this that lays down his life for a friend." His compassion, his grace, the life that he lived, I want that to be true. I don't believe it just because I want it to be true. I think there's something unbelievable about his life, and if I didn't believe in that, or I came to the conclusion it wasn't true, I would definitely have a huge vacuum, so to speak, in my life.
Justin Brierley: Let's go to another question. Here's an interesting one. What do atheists and Christians do in a time of crisis? I mean, obviously, I guess for you, Sean, your faith sustains you in many ways when you are going through any time of crisis. I think it'd be interesting to know, firstly, from you, Hemant, where you turn when life is going wrong, when it's all coming down around you, is.
Hemant Mehta: So, the short answer is you rely on your friends and your family, and whatever brings you comfort, sure. There is a woman I know who went through the tragedy of losing her child, and she was looking for resources as an atheist because she couldn't find any, because all the resources talk about religious stuff. So she actually started a site, it's called Grief Beyond Belief, where she just tried to compile that stuff, and I will tell you so many of the messages that I've gotten over the years are people asking the same question, which is, "I went through a break up. I lost a parent. I lost a family member, someone I love. What can I do?" Because the answers are not there necessarily, and I've referred them to that website so many times. But because the infrastructure of having people there to help you out, it's so much better developed in a church than, I think, for a lot of atheists.
But the short answer is, pretty much what I think you would expect, is, you find comfort in your friends, your family. You don't have to believe that there's something in the afterlife or beyond. If you're an atheist, you don't believe that stuff. You're realistic about it from their perspective, but you're looking for comfort wherever you can find it.
Justin Brierley: Sean, you can comment on what Hemant had to say, but also, I'd be interested in what the difference is, in terms of where you find comfort as a Christian.
Sean McDowell: Honestly, for me, I think it goes back to the resurrection. Because if Jesus is not risen, Christianity's false. If he's risen, there is eternal life, and God is in control, and has a reason, even if I can't see and understand certain things that happened. I think of my friend Nabil Kareshi, who died an apologist recently. Terrible. Doesn't make sense from a human perspective. And he had a video where he walked through. He said, "I walk through what I know to be true. About God is a creator. About the resurrection. About fulfilled prophecy." He goes, "I know this is true."
With his family. With his friends that gave him comfort through the pain, and through the hurt. I haven't been through what he went through, but I think believing the resurrection where Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 15, he says, "Death, where's your victory? Death, where's your sting?" I think that's a part of the power of the resurrection, and that's obviously a difference that you and I have, but when there's hurt and there's pain, that's something that is very meaningful to me.
Hemant Mehta: If I can add one thing, which is, I don't know whether I would want God to exist, the question you went to earlier, like, even if there was proof, would I want him to. But there is a number of times, and I don't feel any shame in saying this, where I wish I had the sort of structure that a church has because when things are going wrong in your life, churches are really good at helping you through that stuff. And there have been attempts at atheist versions of that stuff. Sometimes, they're okay. Sometimes they fall apart pretty quickly, but that's a tough thing to not have in your life.
Sean McDowell: Is it the structure or is it some of the beliefs behind?
Hemant Mehta: No no. And it's not the beliefs. It's the idea that, "Wow. These people get together. They're passionate about the same stuff." They will...
Sean McDowell: Bring you chicken soup.
Hemant Mehta: Yes. They will help you through the rough times physically, neighborly. Yes. That is a big deal, and one of the things I've tried to communicate to other atheists, too, is if you think you have some arguments, the God delusion type of arguments that will take someone who believes in God and get them away from it, that's not gonna work for a lot of people because, if you're saying, "I want you to stop believing in God, and here's why." That'll work for some people, but for a lot of them, you're asking them to give up what they have in their churches. That's a hard sell. That may be a harder sell than getting them to let go of God. And unless you have a place for them to go, that's a tough thing to convince anybody to do.
Justin Brierley: Let's go to another question. This one, a slightly more technical one. It says, "Christianity seems to presume there is absolute truth that we have access to. How do you both feel about humankind's access to absolute truth?" I guess there's a few different ways you could interpret that question, but essentially, it seems to be boiling down to is there a kind of absolute truth about reality that we can have access to? Can we know the way things are? Is there, maybe that, as opposed to morality, that there are absolute moral truths and things like that? And what does that say about the nature of reality?
I don't know whether you want to kick this one off, Sean, for us.
Sean McDowell: Sure. So I do not use the term absolute truth, because I think it's confusing on a lot of different levels. When someone says to me, "absolute truth," do they mean exhaustive truth? Do they mean something that's true for everybody? Like, the term dies a death of a thousand qualifications. What I think there is, is objective truth. And I think we would agree on this. We would differ over what is true, but I do believe that we have access to truth.
Justin Brierley: So what do you mean by objective truth as opposed to...
Sean McDowell: So subjective truth is an internal feeling or belief or preference. Objective truth is something about the external world that is real, whether you believe it or not. So, if you don't believe this cup is sitting here, for whatever reason, that's wrong because that's objectively true. so, objective truths are things that we can know. I think there's objective truth in morality. I think there's objective truth when it comes to religion. I think there can be objective truth in science, in history, in a number of different fields. But to answer the question, there is a truth, and I think we can know it.
Justin Brierley: This brings me back to an episode of Unbelievable that you contributed to a while back, Hemant. I don't know if you'll remember it, but I brought you on with Leah Libresco, who was a former co-blogger on the atheist channel of the Patheos network. But she actually converted to Christianity, interestingly. And part of her conversion was coming to believe that there really was objective moral truths in the world. Moral values and duties. And for her, that was the thing that brought her across the line from atheism to believing there's a god. She felt that you cannot have a world of real objective moral facts and duties, and truths without there being something beyond simply matter in motion to ground it.
She believe there had to be a god to ground that. Now I remember when you came on to discuss that with her, you just didn't understand why that had taken her there. I don't know whether your thinking has progressed on that in any way in the few years since, but do you find this in any way, a kind of plausible or interesting argument?
Hemant Mehta: It's still not a convincing argument to me. I don't know anyone who's followed her down that path.
Justin Brierley: I know a few people, but yes. You haven't personally come into contact with her.
Hemant Mehta: And I don't think I necessarily buy into there's an objective truth about all of this stuff. It's what we bring to the table that kind of creates those.
Justin Brierley: So you're not sure there is an objective moral nature to the world?
Hemant Mehta: No, because people disagree about even simple stuff now. I don't think we're aiming towards a certain place, just like I don't think evolution has led to us. You know what I mean? It's not like it's all leading to a certain spot. It's kind of what we make of it when we get there.
Sean McDowell: But you think it's, just for clarification, you think it's objectively wrong to sexually abuse a child. Would you say that is?
Hemant Mehta: Yes.
Sean McDowell: I believe in objective moral truth.
Hemant Mehta: No hang on. Let me answer that. Let me finish my answer on that. No, I believe it's, obviously, that's horrible. That's wrong. I think, this is the thing. That, to me, seems like a black and white issue, but again, there's plenty of- I think killing people, you would think that would be an objective truth, but we live in a country where we have the death penalty. There are nations that are firmly religious that kill people because they think that's the right punishment for whatever the crime is. I mean, yes. I agree with you. Like, no, we should never sexually abuse anyone. We should punish anyone who do, but I'm saying there are a lot of things that we think are pretty hardcore. This has to be wrong. That we will find people who are arguing the other side to that.
Sean McDowell: But that's true with science. You think I'm wrong about evolution. Doesn't mean there's not a truth about evolution.
Hemant Mehta: No, when I say someone's wrong about evolution, it's they misunderstand it. It's not that they...
Sean McDowell: No, no, no. If I say it didn't happen. So hypothetically, you think I'm wrong about it because you think it did happen.
Hemant Mehta: Correct.
Sean McDowell: So the fact that some people are wrong doesn't mean there's not an objective truth.
Hemant Mehta: No, it's this is the best explanation we have right now. It is entirely possible we'll learn something different. Maybe we overturn evolution. I don't think that's going to happen.
Sean McDowell: But are there some things that are indubitably true, like two plus two equals four. The Earth is round, and it's wrong to sexually abuse a child. Like, all you have to do is have one thing, and there is objective truth, whether it's in science or morality.
Hemant Mehta: There is a difference between a mathematical fact and these moral ideas that we interpret.
Sean McDowell: I mean, only the same in sense of being objective being outside of us. I agree that they're different in other respects.
Hemant Mehta: Yeah, but I don't know where this game is going.
Sean McDowell: The question was, "Do you believe there's objective truth?" So, you're right. Some things change, and some people differ with it. But if you say, to use examples of like, say, torturing an innocent child for fun is wrong, then you have at least one objective moral truth. Or, are you saying, "Well, maybe in the future we would have a different perspective about this and we think it's okay to torture a child for fun."
Hemant Mehta: No. Obviously I think it's wrong. Obviously, I think it should- like, I would love for that to be an objective truth, but I think in terms of, we could get into a debate about how people disagree about certain aspects that are not nearly as higher in [crosstalk 01:12:39]
Justin Brierley: I think you asked, "Where is this game going?" I think where the game is going is was Leah Libresco right to change her mind about God, because she said, "If it's true, that it's objectively wrong to abuse sexually abuse children, then..."
Hemant Mehta: She's a Catholic. That church has a lot of problems with that.
Sean McDowell: I agree. You're absolutely right. So, you're absolutely right. So the condemnation of the church, you and I both stand against that and say it's wrong.
Justin Brierley: The point is you're confirming that there is an objectiveness about what's happening here. So the question is...
Hemant Mehta: Just because I think that's wrong and it seems pretty obvious...
Justin Brierley: She believes and Sean believes that to have that kind of objective moral truth about the world, means we need more than just what evolution happens to have given us in terms of socially helpful mores. There's something actually true out there, and we've discovered it, that means there's something laying down.
Hemant Mehta: I would not equate these moral truths to like a mathematical two plus two equals four, therefore God exists sort of thing. That, to me, is jumbling up a whole bunch of different ideas.
Justin Brierley: Quick response, Sean, and then we'll move to another question.
Sean McDowell: Well I, look. One of the videos you had is that Christians often say to atheists, "You can't be moral if you don't believe in God." That's crazy. Of course, and you defend it. You're like, "No. Atheists can have ethics." And your blog is regularly condemning certain behavior that religious people do, and I actually agree with you. And I read some of your blog. I grieve because these are my people. I'm like, "Hemant is right. That's an abuse of power. That's taking advantage of people." Like, it pains me. I can only read it so much, but that's because...
Hemant Mehta: Try writing it.
Sean McDowell: Well, I agree. I'm with you. So the reason we agree on this is because we do think there's an objective moral truth about this. It's really wrong, and that raises questions. Where does this come from? Is there actually a standard? Do humans have intrinsic value? Is there free will?
So I think atheists can be moral, but I don't think atheism can ground the moral project, which seems to be central to everything you do on your blog. That's why I think it's a pretty important question.
Hemant Mehta: I think you're taking it down this moral, philosophical pathway. Where, to me, I'm pointing out hypocrisy based on what you say you believe versus what you do.
Sean McDowell: Which is morally wrong, right?
Hemant Mehta: And what I'm saying is when atheists are saying, "This is morally wrong," it's not leading to this place where, "Oh this is always the right answer and therefore, whatever. It had to come from somewhere." You're taking away someone's rights and freedoms. If you're molesting a child, there's no consent involved. That's why it's wrong. They don't know what's happening. You're taking advantage of that. It's not because God created the moral truth that we shouldn't molest kids. It's because they have no say in the matter. That's why that thing is wrong.
Justin Brierley: But aren't you just saying, "Well, that's the objective moral fact?" That you shouldn't take away someone's ability to consent to something. I mean, you still got an objective moral truth.
Hemant Mehta: I think you're taking it in the place where that's not part of the equation for me.
Sean McDowell: So hypocrisy is bad.
Justin Brierley: We'll make this the final comment, and I'll come to another question.
Sean McDowell: Okay. Hypocrisy is bad. I mean, nobody has spoken out, historically, more against hypocrisy than Jesus. When you say this kid didn't give consent, this assumes that human beings have rights and shouldn't be treated a certain way. It was Nietzsche, who said, "The idea of equality, and the wield of power is distinctly a Christian value, and the basis for all human rights." Of course, he rejected that.
So, I just think we're not unpacking this all the way, but if there is a moral truth, it makes sense that there's a moral law giver and an objective standard outside of us. I don't know how you get there on atheism. I don't know. That's a question that I have.
Justin Brierley: It's a huge question. One we're gonna leave parked for the moment. I would love to do that the whole evening, but I want to get to at least a couple more questions before time runs out. So, how about a completely different one here that comes in and says, "What do you both think about death and afterwards, and why?"
Okay. Hemant, is it just lights out? Is that the answer?
Hemant Mehta: Yeah. I mean, more or less yeah. Your life is over. Hopefully you've spent the life that you have in a way that you can be proud of. Hopefully you leave behind a legacy, but when you die, that's what you're working off of, that legacy because you're not going anywhere. There's no reason to think you are going anywhere other than wishful thinking.
Justin Brierley: Let me ask the thing that might be the misconception that a Christian has. Doesn't that make life pointless?
Hemant Mehta: No. It makes this life so special because you're here. You get to experience this, and enjoy this life. You can help other people do the same thing. That is motivating and inspiring, and it makes me want to make the most of this life.
Justin Brierley: So the fact that there is nothing after this life means it makes it more special, the life that we live.
Hemant Mehta: It makes it more special. I'm not waking up everyday in an existential crisis, and roll up in the fetal position, like, "Oh God. I'm gonna die soon."
Justin Brierley: Okay. What's your view on this, Sean?
Sean McDowell: You know, a colleague of mine, Clay Jones, at Biola, has spent months studying how people make sense of death. Now talk about a depressing like study. But he studied it. How do different world views make sense of death?
And some of the attempts that he's walked through with me, I think, are really desperate. And he does say, he says, "A lot of people, especially atheists, as they get older, and death is right there, tend to view it very, very differently." It's one thing when you're 20, 30, 40, but when your world view is up against the end of it, how does your world view help you cope with death? That doesn't mean it's true or false. That's not my point, but I think sometimes it's an attempt to paint life super rosy, when life ends at the end. A lot of people take that world view, when they get to the end, they see it very differently when death is knocking at their doorstep.
Hemant Mehta: I am so curious, and I don't know the research you're talking about, but I'm really curious if one of the reasons for that is because the resources that we have now to talk about some of these things have not been available, even to atheists, for a really long time. So that, the people who are older now, and have access, not just to the internet, but people who have talked about death and written about it, and all that stuff, that stuff wasn't around even 10, 20 years ago. So I wonder if he was looking at a lot of people who were toward the end of their life who did not grow up thinking about that stuff because it wasn't really in front of them like it has been for younger people. Younger atheists too.
So I wonder if that, what your colleague found, would change in like 20 or 30 years when they have more access, and they've thought about it more.
Sean McDowell: I mean, he's writing on some of the even leading atheists today, speaking about this very differently than they did decades ago with availability to the information in front of them. Now, what that looks like in 20, 30 years, nobody knows.
Justin Brierley: Let me ask the same question, though, to you, so that you can address it from your perspective, Sean. What do you think about death and afterwards, and why?
Sean McDowell: I think it's gonna happen. Pretty confident about that. Death and taxes. Look, I mean I don't know that anybody here wonders what Christians think happened at death. Well, let me say it this way, we're all gonna die barring Jesus coming back, and we're gonna face our creator at death. And give an account for our life.
For me, I think Jesus got it right. Am I 100% certain about that? No. I'd be dishonest if I said that, but I think it makes the most sense. I think it's true. I think it fits the evidence, and because of that, that gives me a confidence to face death because I think Jesus was really God, and the words that he spoke are real and true.
So when we die, all of us will face a creator, and give an account for our life. I think that's what the Christian story teaches.
Justin Brierley: Let's go to another question. Isn't faith a terrible basis for adopting a belief or a value? Couldn't you take anything on faith? Doesn't it shut you off from evidence? So I think this one's probably firstly being directed at you here, Sean. Isn't faith a terrible basis for adopting a belief or value? Doesn't it shut you off from the evidence? We kind of started here with one of your [crosstalk 01:21:12]
Sean McDowell: Yeah. The only way to answer this question is to define what we mean by faith. So if, by faith, you mean- what did Mark Twain say? "Believe in something you know ain't so?" I think he said something like that. Either have a view of faith that goes against the evidence, or believing something without evidence, then I probably would agree with this person. But I don't think that's an accurate biblical definition of faith.
I think faith is better understood as trusting what we have reason to believe is true. So, if by faith, you mean the biblical pattern, is this true? Am I gonna act in trust based on what I have evidence for, then it's not foolish at all.
Everybody has some kind of faith. I would argue, and you might disagree with this, I think atheists have to have some kind of faith. You have faith that science will explain away all those miracles. That's a form of faith. Everybody has some kind of faith. The question is how well grounded is your faith, and does your faith make sense.
Hemant Mehta: And I would agree. I think Sean would agree with this, too, that no, we have faith in our relationships with other people. Do they really love me? Well, you base it on the evidence there, right? It's just a matter of do we agree that this is valid evidence.
Justin Brierley: I often think that sometimes what we use, as the word "faith" or what the Bible translates as faith, sometimes can be translated as trust as well. And for me, I often think of that as well. We may believe something, but trusting it is a slightly different thing. So, there's a famous story of Blondini. He was the escapologist and tightrope walker, and he would walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And he would do it with a wheelbarrow, and then put a sack of potatoes in the wheelbarrow. And one day, the king of England came to watch him do it, and Blondini said to him, "Do you believe that I could put a man in this wheelbarrow, and take him across Niagara Falls?" And the king said, "Yes. I absolutely believe it."
And he said, "Hope in then." And that's where the faith is actually placing your trust in something that you have evidence for. But of course, that's where the rubber hits the road, isn't it? That's the trust part is when you actually put your life in the hands of those you believe.
Sean McDowell: Can I ask him a quick question? I'm curious, just how you'd answer this. So neither of us have all the information. We look at the evidence and we trust what we think is reasonable. I have no problems saying, as a Christian, I have faith. Would you be willing to say, as an atheist, you have faith or is there something about that word?
Hemant Mehta: In what? Because I know the connotation of the word, so I don't like using it unless I know what I'm talking about. So do I have faith in what?
Sean McDowell: Do you have faith that atheism can explain reality? That science will explain away all miracles?
Hemant Mehta: No.
Sean McDowell: You don't have any faith in that?
Hemant Mehta: No. I think it's the wrong word to use. Science can't explain everything. Atheism isn't there to give you answers. It's, like we said earlier, it's kind of like a default position. It's not saying, "This is how the world works." It's use what you got, and let's figure it out from there. We're not making things up though, to try to fill in stuff we hope is true.
Sean McDowell: So you don't have faith that some day, science will be able to explain away life from non life or consciousness?
Hemant Mehta: It might in some cases.
Sean McDowell: So you believe it'll happen, but you just don't like the word, faith.
Hemant Mehta: Maybe it could.
Justin Brierley: Here's, maybe, where I would see it. You don't necessarily say that science will explain that, but is it fair to say that you are confident that whatever the explanation is, it's a purely natural explanation?
Hemant Mehta: Yes. I would say it's purely natural explanation.
Justin Brierley: Now is that an article of faith? I suppose is the next question.
Hemant Mehta: If we could figure it out, I have faith that science is the best tool we have to find it. [crosstalk 01:24:48]
Justin Brierley: Is your belief that, say, the origin of the universe, or the origin of life is purely natural? Nothing to do with God or any supernatural element. Is that an article of faith, in a sense?
Hemant Mehta: I don't think I have to- I'm not putting anything on the line to say that there's a natural explanation for it, even if I don't know what it is yet. It's just saying, "Okay. Based on all the evidence I have in front of me, where nothing supernatural is happening, then I'm pretty sure that's gonna work the same way."
It's not taking- this isn't the king going in that wheelbarrow. This is just saying like, "Yeah. It seems like that's what's gonna happen." But I'm not staking much on that claim right there.
Justin Brierley: Fascinating example. We'll try and get to one last question. I think this may have to be the last one tonight. Big aww. Yeah I know. Okay. Here we go.
Hemant Mehta: Don't worry. That's what internet comment threads were made for. You can keep this going forever.
Justin Brierley: We kind of touched on this early, but I think it's a good one to finish with. What can either of you imagine would cause you to doubt your faith or atheism? Maybe start with you, Sean. What would cause you to doubt your faith?
Sean McDowell: You know, psychologically, if something horrible happened to my wife or my kids, I think I'd be fooling myself if I didn't say that might make me doubt and question God. I don't know if that would make me give up my belief, but that might make me doubt. Look, the reality is, I doubt my faith all the time. I live in doubt. I doubt everything. It's the way I'm wired. If I didn't doubt, I wouldn't write books, and do research. It's just the way I'm put together.
So, I do doubt things. I think what would cause me to give up my faith is if I thought, number one, the resurrection was explained away. The heart of the Christian faith is the resurrection, and I find the evidence for that compelling. So if they found the body of Jesus, I would give up my faith. I would have to.
Justin Brierley: And Paul said he would as well. Saint Paul.
Sean McDowell: 1 Corinthians 15:14. He would.
Justin Brierley: So in that sense, yes it's entirely possible. If that happened, then, you would give up your faith, because ultimately Christianity view is based in a set of historical facts, which, if it were shown to be false, you would have to give it up in that sense.
Sean McDowell: If you're intellectually honest, I think you would have to give it up. Now, how they would actually show that that's the body of Jesus is a separate thing, but in principle, if they did, Paul says Christianity's done. So if they found the body, or better explained away the resurrection, I think I would be dishonest not to.
Justin Brierley: So coming to you Hemant, is there anything that would make you doubt, or do you ever doubt your atheism?
Hemant Mehta: If I'm being honest with you, no. I don't doubt it anymore. There's nothing that shakes my lack of faith.
Justin Brierley: Okay.
Hemant Mehta: And it's the answer I would give to the question, too. Show me the evidence, and I'll change my mind. I'm not convinced by the things people think are evidence that they've thrown my way, but hey, yeah, show it to me. I would hope I would change my mind based on the evidence, otherwise what am I doing?
Justin Brierley: What are you doing here if you're not willing to be open, at least, to having this kind of...
Can we have a round of applause for both Hemant and Sean?