One of the major debates with Atheists is the question of inerrancy. Now to be clear, I do not bring up inerrancy or inspiration when arguing with an atheist – inerrancy is a later theological conclusion derived from my faith, or to simplify further, I do not accept Christianity because I believe the Bible to be inspired, I believe the Bible to be inspired because I have accepted Christianity. The question when witness is not whether Scripture is inerrant, but whether it is historically accurate.
However, atheists make inerrancy a major focus of their discussion. This is fair, or would be if their arguments were on point. In most cases, they make statements about inerrancy that are based in a poor understanding of inerrancy. A number of years ago, based on these strawman arguments, a number of Christian theologians got together and stated a definition of what inerrancy is, the statement is called The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, the text of which can be found here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html.
One of the key statements in the Chicago statement is this:
“So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.”
The problem with many arguments from atheists is that they are arguments that require scripture to be taken in ways other than intended. For example, metaphors are treated as if they are history, generalizations as if they are intended to be precise, and summaries as if they are intended to be direct quotations. In a sense, this is because most atheists have very little understanding of the literature of the Bible’s times, and most can’t be bothered with fact gathering to back up their positions – its much easier simply to insult the poster and move on.
While many atheists will therefore raise points that are of no actual value to the discussion because they are strawman arguments, it also means many will not listen to a reasoned answer. At best they will accuse Christians of playing with Semantics.
It also means that when Christians to answer certain questions will have to go beyond surface level analysis.