When I talk to atheists or ‘anti-theists’ online sometimes I try to keep in mind two goals: giving clear, reasonable answers to their questions is important–these answers do exist, and more than a few atheists really are looking for honest answers to the above questions–and being friendly and happy is important. Being argumentative and testy make the discussion a loss even if you’re right.
This was my answer when an atheist online asked me about why God allows evil:
“Well, carry out that thought. What if God didn’t tolerate any evil at all? All His creation is forced to love Him, has no choice but to be in perfect communion with Him–absolutely, unceasingly and eternally?
We’d be robots, filling out a pre-programmed, eternal instruction.
Love is a matter of will; neither can exist without the other (in God’s perfection the two are really one and the same). If God takes our will, he takes away our ability to love.
In short our free will, which is intended to be oriented at love, is important enough to God that he allows us the option of choosing lack of God, aka evil.”
Pretty similar to yours actually. Really, the problem of evil is a flaw in a simplistic idea of a straw-god, but not in Christian theology.
For the second question, I think this quote from Peter Kreeft is just plain great:
“If I were an atheist, I think I would save my money to buy a plane ticket to Italy to see whether the blood of Saint Januarius really did liquefy and congeal miraculously, as it is supposed to do annually. I would go to Medjugorge. I would study all published interviews of any of the seventy thousand who saw the miracle of the sun at Fatima. I would ransack hospital records for documented “impossible”, miraculous cures. Yet, strangely, almost all atheists argue against miracles philosophically rather than historically. They are convinced a priori, by argument, that miracles can’t happen. So they don’t waste their time or money on such an empirical investigation. Those who do soon cease to be atheists — like the sceptical scientists who investigated the Shroud of Turin, or like Frank Morrison, who investigated the evidence for the “myth” of Christ’s Resurrection with the careful scientific eye of the historian — and became a believer. (His book Who Moved the Stone? is still a classic and still in print after more than sixty years.)”
I eventually used it in a talk with an atheist, but then I said:
Keep in mind miracles are not intended to be the whole foundation for one’s Christianity. Now, this is only possible epistemologically if there is another kind of evidence, which there is: what I call personal evidence… Which is also the “other way” I mentioned as well as the key to understanding the Christian worldview–and how it differs from your worldview.
In a way your worldview is correct. Attempting to understand reality on one’s own, through purely rational objective material study, only by one’s own epistemical efforts, does not and should not lead many to theism. There are curiosities, yes, in Kreeft’s quote above and especially in the fact that pure naturalism must eventually involve an infinite regress of causes. But the truth is, epistemically, these are dead ends. The above link undoubtedly merits exploration, but inherently cannot be explored. Speaking purely objectively, Christianity does not even follow absolutely from many of the miracles mentioned above for which there is still evidence today.
The fact is that 0% of Christians became Christian by their own epistemical efforts alone. …I’m telling you nothing new when I say your worldview as it is is incompatible with Christianity.
No Christian came to believe in God through their efforts alone, each and every one of us can tell you about how we were pursued, or called, or wooed. It’s not at all like studying evidence and choosing the most probable hypothesis, it’s like gradually giving in to a persistent admirer. Christian faith isn’t something I do at all; it’s something I receive. If I was alone in this, I would be called a lunatic… but the fact that a third of the world’s population makes a similar claim suddenly makes the whole thing dead serious. At the very least, this claim merits honest exploration.
I have really and truly known God’s love–this is inarguable; it’s my own experience. But this is immaterial to non-Christians until, who could have known, it happens to them too.
The third argument isn’t really an argument, it’s just pointing out a historical trend. In fact, how long a philosophy exists or how many people believe in it doesn’t have anything to do with how true it is. That being said, from a historical standpoint, the Christian’s position is far stronger. Comparatively, no other religion or philosophy has come even close to being close to how prosperous Christianity has been for so long. Certainly not secularism. There’s nothing new about new atheism–you can find very good refutations of ‘God of the gaps’ and similar pseudo-arguments of Hitchens and the like from 1700’s secular France. You could say to the atheist: your arguments have already been tried and failed. People didn’t buy into them for very long then and they won’t now. Here’s a link to a speech by Fr. Robert Barron for examples.
Hope this helped,