I debate many atheists…. Some of them insist that atheism is just non-belief in God. And they deny that man is inherently religious. But my main obstacle is to prove that atheism is not simple non-belief.
If it is not settled after some initial attempts, it could be misdirected effort to insist on arguing out whether atheism is one thing or another. Whatever they wish to call it, just let them tell you what they believe and then refute it. An accurate description of the belief is essential, but the name is not. If you are stuck on arguing about what they should call their position, or on arguing about what their position should be given what they call it, then you might never engage what they believe. You will be spending all your time trying to match their position with the appropriate label.
The relevant issue here is the claim that their position is mere “non-belief,” or a lack of belief in God as opposed to a definite assertion that there is no God. This is what you must deal with. The tactic might be that if they could turn their position into a phantom, into something nebulous, then it will become difficult for you to attack. However, what they affirm is in fact definite and concrete — you only need to take one step closer. In reality their position is that non-belief in God is rational or correct. In other words, even if there is such a thing as mere non-belief about God, underlying this is a positive belief that non-belief is the correct position. This is something that you can confront and refute with ease.
Of course, one response is to argue that their position is not mere non-belief about God in the first place, but we do not need to get into that right away. We can begin by taking them at their word for the moment, and deal with them from that angle. What is their reason for non-belief? Is this non-belief rational and justified? If the non-belief is justified based on a lack of evidence, then what is evidence, and why is this kind of evidence correct or relevant? And since they claim that there is a lack of evidence, a lack of rational justification, they must also refute all the arguments that Christians present to them. Once they commit themselves to the stance that atheism is mere non-belief, seize it and beat on it again and again. Rain fire and brimstone on it. Kill it, resuscitate it, then kill it again. Analyze it from every angle, so that even they become sick of it. And then do it some more.
We can go further. Besides confronting their position that non-belief is correct and justified, you may also attack them for taking such a position. After so many centuries of philosophy and science, including thousands of guesses, speculations, and random musings, this is as far as they got? As the people of God, we have been sure of the truth for thousands of years — indeed, since the beginning of the world — and there was never any need to change our answer. What unbelievers call “progress” is just a nice word for revising previous answers. Such progress does not denote advance in knowledge, but it indicates that they never had any to begin with. Continual “progress” in this sense means only that they are moving from one error to another. But with God, truth is one, constant, and forever. So what is wrong with them? Do they lack the intellectual courage to commit to a position? Do they lack the competence to attain an answer to anything at all? And is atheism nothing more than non-belief in God? Good, then it also means that atheists are nothing more than cowards and idiots. They have been so since the beginning, and by their admission, nothing has changed after all these years.
Now, logic textbooks will tell you that personal attack is a fallacy. However, if Christians accept this without qualification or a proper understanding of why and when it is a fallacy, then they must also call the Bible itself a book of fallacies, since it constantly accuses and attacks sinners in its arguments. In fact, in teaching apologetics, many Christians have blasphemed Scripture on precisely this point because they have accepted an anti-biblical standard for debate and discussion. And so they urge believers to never employ personal attacks. But this is to betray a vital aspect of preaching, of evangelism and apologetics. No, personal attack is only a fallacy if the person is irrelevant to the topic. The fallacy, when it is a fallacy, is not in attacking the person, but in saying something irrelevant to the debate. However, when confronting non-Christians, we are indeed interested in talking about who and what they are before God. So at some point in the conversation, we must make it our topic to talk about them. Once we have done this, personal attacks are not fallacious, that is, if the attacks are accurate. Of course, in saying this, we also open ourselves to being attacked by them. We welcome this, since if they fail to make accurate accusations that they can support with sound arguments or to use rationally justified standards in making these accusations, then their attacks will backfire against them, and serve to illustrate what we assert about their competence and character.
It is not my approach to insist that atheism is “religious” or to say that man is inherently religious, although this language is sometimes used by both Christians and non-Christians. Rather, I affirm that every person has an innate knowledge and awareness of God, with enough content to condemn him as a sinner to everlasting extreme torture in a fiery hell. But this is different from saying that man is inherently “religious.” This language is rather weak and imprecise. In our intellectual confrontations with unbelievers, we should charge ahead with a bolder and more specific thrust. The Christian system is able to back it up and put down all oppositions against it.