Last week at the 500+ Pastors Conference in New Zealand (see separate post for further details), there was an evening debate on the topic: ‘Is God a Delusion?’ Pastor Allan Meyer from Careforce Church presented the Christian viewpoint, looking at some of the most common evidences for the existence of God. Dr. Bill Cooke, a leading skeptic from New Zealand, presented his perspective on why he does not believe in God. The event was held in a small historical church building in the heart of Queenstown, New Zealand.

Dr. Cooke is the author of The Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism and Humanism. He is an Honorary Associate of Rationalist International and the editor of The New Zealand Rationalist and Humanist. He was born and raised in Kenya, educated there, in the United Kingdom, and in New Zealand, where he now lives. He is a senior university lecturer in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Dr. Bill Cooke and Pastor Allan Meyer each spoke for 20 minutes, then responded to each other, after which there was a time of questions from the audience that had gathered. The discussion was amicable, though it was clear that both had very different perspectives on the topic, with neither being prepared to move from their personal convictions.

As a Christian and a pastor listening in to the conversation, the saddest thing for me was to hear Dr. Cooke begin his speech by referring to two experiences he had had with Christians and churches in his younger years that were very hurtful. In fact, they turned him away from any notion of God and towards a pursuit of atheism, skepticism and humanism.

No wonder Jesus said that the world would recognise that we are his followers by our love. When people encounter love and grace through Christ-followers they are usually drawn to God. In contrast, when they encounter harshness and legalism they are often repelled from God. What a responsibility we have, those of us who carry the name of Christ.

Nicole and I had dinner with Dr. Cooke and a few others after this event. It was clear that his views of Jesus and Christianity were extremely negative. I chose not to focus on the debate or on our different perspectives, but rather to listen and learn where he was coming from. I wonder how different this man’s life may have been had he had interactions with Christians characterised by genuine kindness and warmth. I went away praying that this man will somehow have a supernatural encounter that will show him how very real God is. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.

10 thoughts on “Dinner with a Skeptic

  1. Well done Mark and Nicole. You are so right Mark. No one is too hard for God to save or within the reach of God’s love. Praying in agreement with you for Dr. Cooke. Placing him on our Tree salvation prayer list. Glad to hear you had a wonderful time in NZ. God bless your heart and all that you do for the love of our Lord.
    Much love in Christ, Marija

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more Mark. Remember I had a classmate at Uni who was a real intellectual…the kind with eyes that almost popped out of his spectacles. Anyway, we used to have these discussions about Evolution and I took the chance of inviting him to a Christian camp where there was going to be a workshop on the Creation / Evolution debate. Remember vividly the theme of the camp was “Love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:18). He came for the camp and had a lot of questions for the workshop speaker but what really blew him away was Christian love expressed during the camp. He committed his life to the Lord after the camp and is still following the Lord now. Past the intellectual arguments, it was love that changed his perspective.(Probably why I love the Alpha Course for the opportunity it presents not just to engage people intellectually with their questions but demonstrate Christian love over simple things like a meal or a cuppa. Glad it’s happening at CityLife!)

  3. “I went away praying that this man will somehow have a supernatural encounter that will show him how very real God is. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.”
    Can’t you accept that he has honest beliefs and may well be right? It’s a bit patronising to suggest these beliefs may have arisen through a negative interaction with Christians in the past. Many people have been able to look at the objective evidence and make up their own mind about the existence or otherwise of a god.

  4. You make a good point Ken. Many people (although not as many as I would like) take the time to examine the objective evidence and weigh up the possibility of God existing.
    In Mark’s defence, I think if you re-read the post you may see that he is addressing the hurts themselves that Dr. Cooke experienced rather than judging his belief system. I didn’t see him suggesting that by the removal of those hurts Dr. Cooke will abandon all reason and criticality of thought. He was simply considering how much those hurts had played a part in the Dr’s current world-view when he said: “I wonder how different this man’s life may have been had he had interactions with Christians characterised by genuine kindness and warmth.”
    Often Atheistic sceptics carry a world-view that is Naturalistic in nature, and therefore somewhat limited in scope, much the same way that some of us religious folk can carry anti-science world-views. Mark’s good natured prayer for a super-natural encounter was simply expressing a wish that an experience with a cause outside the naturalistic realm (or scientific, if you prefer) would reveal the existence of concepts beyond the naturalistic and possibly relieve him of those hurts.
    I personally think Mark set a good example in listening and praying, rather than preaching and judging. One I will try to emulate more.
    Thanks for your thoughts Ken, I hope to see you here again! The world needs more inquisitive and thoughtful people.

  5. Stuart, I’m agreement with you. Mark’s presentation here is marked by genuine kindness and a warm listening ear, to the Dr’s views, while not compromising his stand for Jesus.. Well done Mark! You are a wonderful godly example to us all. God bless you.
    Much love,

  6. Hi Ken. Thanks for your feedback. I definitely didn’t intend to be ‘patronising’ in my comments, but I can see how it may have come across that way. I guess as someone who has had a personal experience with God that has been quite life-changing, I want others to experience the same. However, I do realise that we shouldn’t seek to force our views on those who are content with their own. Mark

  7. Mark,
    It is so true, non-believers view of christianity is influenced by the behaviours of Christians they met, and I have met a lot on people who became non-believers because of the Christians they met… is so sad.

  8. Hi Jeff. I can’t understand why people would want to punish themselves, by rejecting God, on account of what some Christian people do, and miss out on so much blessing from Him. That is just so sad. God bless you.
    Love in Christ,

  9. Hello Marija,
    It is not so much as these people punishing themselves, as Christians giving them a wrong impression of what God is. Remember we are ambassadors for God, so people see God thru us and how we are.
    God Bless

  10. Hi! Marija,
    I just had to add my comment on what you said. The God we know and love does not always appear the same to everyone, I believe. All humans see their world through glasses that have been tainted by life experiences, whether good or bad. Our current ability to love our God depends on those experiences and how willing we are to embrace a way of life through the knowledge that a man born of God actually cared enough to die for all mankind. It’s a message that is brought to the world through those who believe. Depending on the messenger, and the audience and the kinds of hurts or life experiences the audience has had and also the style of the messenger, it can be a real put off. I’m sure you know what it’s like to have an over zealous Christian expound a message of hope that just grates you.
    Here is a true story. A man is about to have open heart surgery who has a believing wife but he himself is a buddhist. A “well-meaning” Christian comes along and gives this buddhist the “Message” using sentences like, you may not make it out of the operating room and you want to accept Christ in case that happens. I am sure there will be readers out there who can relate to similar experiences and I assure you, the “well-meaning” Christian just approached this man the wrong way. To this day, nearly 20 years later, whilst surviving the operation, as far as I know, this man is lost to eternal life. Now that is sad.
    I believe that whether a person accepts Jesus Christ as their personal saviour is a decision that takes time and understanding and finally, when that person experiences first hand, the love of Christ, it becomes a natural progression to want nothing else but to have Christ in their lives. I hope I am sensitive enough to know when to keep my mouth shut and when I should share my faith with someone because I saw first hand the damage it can cause when Christians feel it is their “duty” to “force” Christ on someone.
    This is not an attack on you, Marija, please do not misunderstand my reason for having my say. I hope what I’ve posted gives you an idea of why people sometimes just do not want to accept a God they are told of but have not experienced themselves.
    Bless you.

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