Q. Patrick, I loved From Creation to Catholicism. How did the idea for this project come about?
Patrick: I don’t remember who began the process, but I do know Trent and I “flow” well as guest and host, and he’s very sharp on a wide range of topics. We began strategizing a few months ago about producing some really great audio that didn’t involve one person basically giving a lecture. We settled on a simple Q&A format in which I play the gadfly and Trent plays resident guru. We scripted it only in the loosest sense of knowing where we wanted the conversation to end up. It’s very interesting that those conversations naturally fell into a three-act structure, as all good stories do.
Q. It seems that a significant number of resources that deal with atheism have been released over the last couple of years in the Catholic market. I know both of you have books and audio and visual products on the topic, and we’ve seen other high-profile releases by Jennifer Fulwiler, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Patrick Madrid, and a number of others. Given that, do you think we’re making any ground against the prevalence of atheistic thought in our society? What more can we do?
Trent: I think we are making significant gains in giving young people good answers to the questions atheists used to think were unanswerable. Indeed, on my radio show Why Are You an Atheist I’m surprised by the number of atheists who can’t articulate one single good argument for the existence of God they disagree with. They’ve simply ignored the evidence but are increasingly having to confront it when informed Christians arm themselves with the arguments people like myself and other apologists make.
Patrick: I’m not sure what measure we would use to chart “progress” in debating atheism and agnosticism. The numbers are harder to come by than, say, anecdotal evidence, which is much easier to find. I will say that open-minded atheists tend to appreciate our willingness to step into the ring with them, so to speak, as opposed to protest them or to “pray away” the problem. And there’s always more to do, because new arguments come along. Same with new advancements in science. No single approach will reach atheists, just as no one “way” of arriving at atheism will attract adherents. This is an effective imitation of the greatest evangelist of them all, St. Paul, who wrote, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Q. It seems like atheism has been on the rise for quite a while now. How do you account for this?
Patrick: Many factors overlap and amplify one another. One factor is the crisis of fatherhood. Former atheist psychologist Dr. Paul Vitz wrote an insightful book about this titled Faith of the Fatherless. The sexual revolution has provided a distorted lens through which to view women and the relationship between men and women with respect to sexual behavior and family. A kind of social chaos has appeared, which makes it harder to see God in the disorder. The Internet has also enabled whatever atheists are out there to find a forum to share their beliefs—or, rather, their lack of beliefs.
Q. I notice a number of projects you’ve done in the past have been aimed at atheists. Why is that? Do you hold a special place in your heart for this ever-growing segment of our society?
Patrick: I do, yes. The number of atheist organizations, books, and websites represents a challenge to Christians, but more so an opportunity to confront their questions, engage them with intelligence and wit and—this is key—heavy doses of charity. Atheists and agnostics are not necessarily expecting answers from us that are rooted in science, philosophy, and logic. One of the ironies in the debate is that atheism can often be a form of fundamentalist faith.
Q. God has made covenants throughout history with his people, Christ being the most recent as the New Covenant. Why do you think God interacted with his people using this covenantal model?
Trent: God understands that human beings seek kin or familial relationships. Orphans, as well as children who don’t know one of their parents or siblings, seek a relationship with the missing family member. God does not call us solely as individuals but invites to be a part of his divine family, to become his children by adoption (see Romans 8:15) so that we might be siblings of one another in Christ (see Romans 14:10).
Q. Scripture puts it best: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Would that suggest that no matter what factual evidence you put before someone, no change will occur in that person before they have a conversion of heart?
Patrick: A very good question. Certainly, no argument, no matter how elegant and valid, will convert someone without the action of grace. This is a mysterious thing, the interplay of disposition, bias, temperament, sinfulness, openness, and so on. Some atheists have dramatic, seemingly unbidden conversions to Christ. Others remain unimpressed with our arguments. The best strategy is to overlay every word we speak with as much kindness as we can. We need to show that our faith makes a concrete difference to everything about us.
Trent: Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who convinces people of their need for God’s grace. Stephen rebuked the Jewish leaders for being stiff-necked people who resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), so anyone, regardless of the evidence given to them, can still find a way, however implausible it might be, to resist it. That’s because they don’t want it to be true. Therefore, along with reasons we present for the Faith, we must always pray that those who disagree will have open hearts and be willing to reconsider their worldview at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.