Dear Dr John – A Response to a Canadian Atheist

Dear Dr John,

I received your e-mail a few weeks ago. Forgive me for taking so long to reply but apart from the usual excuses of busyness and holidays your letter made quite an impact upon me. I was not angered by it –indeed the overwhelming emotion I felt about your letter –and I have been thinking about it a lot -was sadness. How is it possible for someone so educated (a PhD) to be so blind?

Forgive me –I do not mean to be rude and I do not usually write ‘Dear John’ letters, nor do I normally respond to private e-mail in public. But since your letter is representative of a similar viewpoint expressed by other ‘educated’people,I have decided to reply to you in public. I have removed any identifying points except that you are a PhD and that you live in Canada.

Let me first  0f all remind you of what you wrote:

I live in Canada, and to some extent the situation of the churches is much the same here. Many of them are closing. What I do not understand is that all Ministers, bishops, blame everything for the cause, but never blame the real cause. I do not know if you have noticed, but education has made great strides, and the young people are not as gullible any more as we were when we were young.How long did you think that you could keep it up. Creation, Noahs Ark, and all that rubbish. Some people opted for the “Unitarian Church” and if any are going to survive, then it is them.Scotland is already dead for you and some of the Scandinavians also. And all over Europe is in decline. The Catholics are not faring very well either specially with the clerical abusing the children.Really !! I do not feel sorry for any of you. Maybe now you will be looking for an honest job!!!!!  Dr. John

pexels-photo-756790You obviously believe that the reason for the decline of the church in Western Europe and Canada is because people are becoming more educated and thus less susceptible to the ‘myths’ of Christianity such as Creation and Noahs ark. That is your first mistake. Do you really think that young people nowadays are better educated than they were 100 years ago? In my country we were noted for producing engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, writers out of our education system. We still do so but at a much lower rate and we are now faced with major problems of illiteracy and ignorance. Rather than the educating of our young people we have to a large extent ‘dumbed’ down and sought the lowest common denominator.

As for young people being less gullible –did you know that they have removed the word ‘gullible’ from the latest politically correct dictionary? Do you really think we are less ‘superstitious’ and ‘gullible’?Perhaps in Canada things are different but in America I am told that there are 250,000 people who believe that they have been abducted by alien spaceships, and in Scotland I know of people who think that where they position their toilet will affect ‘the harmony’ of their house! I think you will find that rather than being more educated and intelligent a considerable proportion of our population, having been brainwashed into the notion that God is dead, now find themselves wide open to believing anything. I think it was GK Chesterton who once said that “When one ceases to believe in God it is not that one believes in nothing, it is rather that one will believe in anything”.

Another mistake you make is to assume that to believe in Creation is somehow unintelligent and uneducated. Why? We have a large number of scientists who attend our church and they seem to manage being intelligent and believing in creation. After all it seems fairly logical when one studies the amazing design of the universe to suspect that their might be a designer?

Or let me put another question to you –going back to the question of origins we are faced with three options.

1)That once there was nothing. And then out of nothing came ‘something’.

2)That there has always been something –matter is eternal -a mass of gas or a piece of rock of ‘infinite density’ –which then exploded and then out of the subsequent chaos came Shakespeare, flowers and even Dr John.

3)That there has always been Someone. As the bible puts it an infinite personal God who created all the somethings.

The first of these options is philosophical nonsense. The second requires a great deal of faith. The third is the only really satisfying and reasonable proposition.

But let us move on to another of your points. You think that the only church which is likely to survive is the Unitarian Church. You really need to come out of the 19th century and come up to date. The fashion for the Unitarian Church died about 150 years ago. It is a tiny group of churches literally dying out. And no surprise –it does not believe in the God who is there.

Your statement about Scotland being ‘dead’ for us is also a gross exaggeration. Half a million people regularly attend Church. This is only 10% of the population but is nonetheless a significant number. Furthermore we are finding that people are very open to spiritual matters. They have drunk at the waters of materialistic secularism and found that it only makes them thirstier. And as for being dead you should be aware that the bible tells us that the whole world is spiritually dead. It is only by the miracle of God the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life that there can be new life. But then we believe in miracles.

Your point about the Catholics is poorly made –and not just in the atrocious grammar! Yes there are issues which the Catholic Church needs to face but it still remains the largest religious organization in the world. Personally I disagree with a lot that the Catholic Church does and teaches but I think it is a bit unfair to condemn all Catholics because of the actions of some wayward priests.

Please don’t feel sorry for me. I don’t want or need your pity. There are many things in my life that are a struggle but I am happy in having Jesus Christ to help and aid me in them. That is far preferable to living under the illusion that there is no God, that I am just a chemical accident and that we live in an educated society!

As for the honest job –I would love to have a job which enables me to work for 38 hours a week and pays me the average wage in Britain (about $45,000). But as it is I have a job which means that I am on call 24/7, which requires constant training, which involves continual personal attacks, a great deal of responsibility and all for the princely sum of $30,000 per year. But I am not complaining! I am happy to do this ‘honest’ job and to try and overcome the prejudices and ignorance that are exemplified in your letter.

It is always encouraging seeing prejudice over come and people coming to a real understanding of the beauty and worth of Jesus Christ. A couple of years ago a man who shared your preconception that Christianity was only for the ‘uneducated’ came to a theology course that I was teaching at the University of Dundee. At the end of the course he stated that although he was not a Christian he now acknowledged that there was much more to Christianity than he had thought and he now realized that there were many educated and intelligent people who honestly believed in Jesus and the teachings of the bible.

Not long after getting your note I received a message from another PhD–a man who had recently visited our church. Amongst other things he stated the following “I really was surprised because I had preconceptions about the Free Church but that’s been absolutely shattered by today”. Can I suggest that you consider the possibility that you might be wrong (something I am challenged with every day) and can I suggest that you get yourself along to a good contemporary biblical church where you will hear intelligent application of the living and enduring word of God.  You might be surprised by Grace.

Yours

David

28 thoughts on “Dear Dr John – A Response to a Canadian Atheist

    1. Vicklea, please don’t assume that. I have degrees in engineering science and theology with post graduate studies in quantum physics. I have always had a strong faith in Jesus as my Saviour, and preached the gospel as a minister. I have found that the more I learn and understand the most basic knowledge of science, the more I am drawn to the wonder of it all. Every blessing in Christ.

    2. I became a Christian as a graduate aged over 30. Someone else I know became a Christian after gaining her PhD from Cambridge. Other highly educated converts include C S Lewis, Lee Strobel and Holly Ordway. They were all brave enough to follow the evidence where it led.

      Others stay Christian during their education. I knew a church leader who previously worked as a university lecturer. The number of Christians in Philosophy departments has increased greatly over the last few decades. William Lane Craig is one example. Oxford maths lecturer John Lennox writes amazing books in defence of Christianity and has also beaten Richard Dawkins in a debate.

      So I don’t think formal education necessarily moves people away from God.

  1. which involves continual personal attacks,

    Maybe if you focused on the primary tenets of your faith and avoided all the ”political” issues you seem to revel in you might find the personal attacks dwindled considerably?
    Just a thought.

    1. “Maybe if you focused on the primary tenets of your faith and avoided all the ”political” issues ….”

      Shows, & certainly not for the first time, the extreme prejudice of the so-called “rational skeptic”, who imagines that, of all the various worldviews it is the Christian one which should be disallowed from its opinion being voiced in the public square of ideas. “Just stick to the primary tenets of your faith” shows a complete lack of any idea of what the “primary tenets” of the Christian faith are.

      Also, the complete & (I assume) willful ignorance of Dr John for the same reasons reflects the toxic nature of the ideologically blinkered thinking which leads to the silencing of any worldview which doesn’t agree with the ultra narrow orthodoxy now in place at our universities.

    1. “More god of the gaps bs.”

      Really?? From that kind of ignorant assertion I reckon it’s more than probable that you wouldn’t know a “god of the gaps” if he fell on you from a great height!!

    2. Mark,
      the god-of-the-gaps jibe was a devastating ripost to those incompetent theologians who thought to exploit areas of scientific ignorance as proofs for the existence of God. When universally applied, however, it becomes counter-productive. Not only is its inappropriate evocation irritating to those who know what is being talked about — and sometimes I think that the only intention of mentioning it is to irritate — it also provokes some reactionaries to promote actual fallacious god-of-the-gaps arguments as though they were the Gospel (which they’re not.)
      And then there are arguments that can be squeezed into the god-of-the-gaps mould but which — especially when advanced by scientists with clout — do not belong under that rubric at all. Such an argument is this from the geneticist, Francis S. Collins (The Language of God, p. 67. :-

      The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined begining. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.

      Collins’s eminence — not to mention the intrinsic merit of the argument — makes Hawkins’s subsequent musing that there is no need for God in explaining the Big Bang theory since there is a law of gravity, at best, something of a moot point. If you persist in labelling every account of divine intervention as god-of-the-gaps nonsense your point will lose all force because some such arguments are demonstrably not to be dismissed so readily.
      Yours,
      John/.

  2. Well said, David,

    I love the calm, humble and considered way you respond to people who don’t share your faith, as well as how you always try to respect and understand their point of view and the reasons for their beliefs; you are a great soldier and advocate for the Lord Jesus

    The $30k you say you are paid will be as nothing compared the riches you are accumulating in the Lord! 🙂

  3. The education level of Australian Christian Church members is higher than the population average. I suspect this would be the case in most western countries and perhaps even more broadly. My church of about 120 adults has about 6 PHDs mostly in the sciences and well over half the adults are university educated.

    1. And there a number of PhD holders who believe 911 was an inside job and we didn’t land in the moon. PhD is no guarantee of intellect.

    2. Much of the pushback against vaccinations in Oz comes from tertiary-educated, middle-class parents. Everyone should be given the opportunity for higher education, but the ability to reason and use critical thinking is generally acquired at the secondary level (and developed, and hopefully applied in later life).

      The fact that some church-goers have PHD’s and are university educated doesn’t always tell us a great deal about their capacity for rational inquiry. After all, some creationists are heavily credentialed in certain disciplines, but lack the skills for thinking outside of a biblical context.

      1. Agreed, Chris,
        that some successful academics seem to manage to forget or never learn those transferable skills that they could have/ought to have acquired along the way. Not to disguise my personal desire to increase my ability to think biblically by testing my world view carefully — prayerfully, also — yet, critically; I wonder if you could be so good as to list those ‘skills for thinking outside of a biblical context’ of which you speak.
        Yours,
        John/.

  4. Hi David,
    this is an honest question – do you only get paid around 2/3 of average wages, without any fringe benefits such as a manse (which obviously a person earning the average wage wouldn’t usually get)?

    I’m not sure how to put this without sounding critical, but I’m a bit sensitive about this because I’ve heard ministers families here in AustralIa talk about being on low incomes, when in our denomination while the stipend is low, there is a manse and a ‘non-cash benefit’ which is untaxed. When including all payments/benefits, ministers in our church earn similar to the average, which is significantly higher than the median wage. And it seems to me that it is a poor witness (and potentially damaging to relationships in the congregation) to complain about being poor when you’re probably doing better than many of the congregation. Of course I don’t know your situation, so I’m not saying that you’re doing that. However some clarification would be helpful if this ($30000) isn’t an accurate characterisation. Thanks

    1. Hi Caroline – yes we get ‘free’ accomodation in a manse – which is a mixed benefit. It means that if we lose our jobs we lose our homes. It also means we have no where to retire to! The Australian system is far more generous to ministers than ours. Incidentally I was not not claiming about being poor – and I wouldn’t. Because we are not. However almost every Free Church minister I know is in a situation where their wife also has to work to provide for their families. I’m not sure thats a good situation.

  5. I have long admired the patient and thoughtful way you answer your critics David. It is a good example to one who also is a humble follower of the Lord Jesus..

  6. It’s a shame Mark Gordon can’t come up with his own original material when entering into this conversation. His regurgitation of crass jibes from Dokins demonstrates that he has not really genuinely considered the historical person of Jesus Christ. At least Dokins was honest enough to admit the historicity of Jesus the man in his open debate with Professor John Lennox.
    At the very least Mr Gordon, you may wish to reflect upon Jesus claims.
    I would respectfully encourage you to detach yourself from what appears to be your preconcieved prejudices & to genuinely ask yourself why would those who witnessed the life of Jesus Christ be so transformed by their encounters with him. Even after he was meant to be dead & buried.

    Why would so many people who witnessed His life, death & resserection, choose to die horrible deaths at the hands of wicked men, because of their refusals to deny what they had seen with their own eyes? This was the case for almost all the 12.
    Please do consider the logical consistency of Rev Robertson’s 3 possibilities regarding where everything came from. Your curt dismissal of the arguments given reveal you haven’t even considered the argument. Instead you chose to repeat other people’s jibes. Can’t you see this suggests you only want to shower others who have another opinion from you, in venom.

    Please please please, consider the person of Jesus Christ and His claims.

    Respectfully

  7. David,

    Thank you for the kind words in defence of the CC. IMHO, Christians of different affiliations would be doing a lot of good if they defended each other against unjustified criticism, and assisted each other in other ways. Not for any ulterior motives, but because we ought to care for each other’s interests & well-being. I also believe that Christians should stand up for atheists, especially where they are persecuted, as they are in Muslim countries.

    Such an attitude would be worlds away from the antagonisms of the past, but that IMO is a very good reason for adopting this attitude. It would be deplorable if the bad attitudes and hostilities of the past were to be inherited by future generations.

  8. Alexander Pope once famously said:

    A little learning is a dangerous thing,
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
    And drinking largely sobers us again.

    Knowledge and wisdom will lead us to God, not away from Him. Pseudo intellectualism will do the opposite.

  9. You truly are a most exasperating person. You know that neither yours nor Dr John’s intellect will get either of you any nearer to eternal life at God’s side. Yet you set out three points and seek to, intellectually, defend one of them. The door opens and in walks Mark Gordon and the comments head off in the direction of the value of having a PhD.

    I re-read Dr John’s email and I cannot fathom why you would respond to his “honest job” jibe by referring to your stipend. I suspect Caroline’s question is not as honest as she would have us believe. Yet it results in you regretting the need for the wives of Free Church ministers having to work. While I appreciate your point, I wonder if I would be as sympathetic if my wife and I were parents struggling to bring up children while holding down low paid jobs. It don’t think it came across well.

    Finally, would your posting have lost any of its value if you had cited the response of a man who had related to you his experiences after attending a theology course, without having to reference that it was delivered at the University of Dundee by you.

    Exasperating! However, you have already brought more people to God than most of us will in a lifetime. And I always need to remind myself that what annoys us most about other people is when we see our own faults in them.

    God bless.

    1. ‘Old Rocker’, my question was quite honest in the sense that I truly had no idea of the arrangements in the Free Church, and in that I bear David no ill-will, but did want to gently pull him up if he was mischaracterising his situation (is that the sense in which you think I was not being entirely honest?). I would have preferred to do this privately, but had no means to do so. Actually I agree with him that it would be preferable for minister’s wives not to have to work, but if the situation in Scotland is like here, most married women do have to work outside the home, not just those married to ministers. I felt very awkward making my comment as however I had phrased it, it could have been misconstrued, and if I erred in the way I expressed myself, I am sorry. I do not intend to bring up such a topic on a public forum again.

      1. Caroline,
        thank you for plunging in on this subject. Having been in pastoral ministry (for seventeen years) and having been away from it for twelve I’ve got to hear the misconceptions that people share with their ministers and some that they don’t share. David is right, a manse is a mixed blessing; we couldn’t have lived in London without one being provided but we are very grateful that we kept our house in Liverpool against the day we would no longer be in London. For some strange reason, people imagine that a manse in a high cost housing area is worth far more to its ministry family than would be a manse in a run down estate. Why? the minister can’t sell it when he leaves so the amount taken from a stipend when a manse is provided tends to be the same all over the country and rightly so.
        My own experience was that the church secretary — a man beloved for his faithfulness in keeping the church going, by the way — would every now and again apologise that the church couldn’t manage the minimum amount expected for a minister provided with a manse. No problem, it wasn’t as though there were enough of us working to make that amount feasible. Then he would say, ‘But then there’s the manse.’ I believe this is called double counting and is not good practice.
        Our testimony is that God provides. My wife is an early years teacher and at first she would occasionally be offered work at the local infant school. It became a fairly regular occurence that the work would come along, closely followed by the unexpected bill that the work paid for.
        As for the ‘honest work’ jibe: it’s one thing when an academic says it; who displays ignorance of almost all other realities in the case; but quite another when church members indulge themselves in such liberties as I’ve heard of happening. The more local the unjust complaint, the more likely it is that it is the minister’s wife that has to bear the reproach.
        Yours,
        John/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *