Secular Sunday: Atheist Q&A!
So I actually can’t find my copy of Case for a Creator right now. I picked it up to have it with me to write this week’s entry and now I can’t remember where I put it, and with a new job taking up ten of my daily waking hours, I actually don’t have a lot of time to look for it.
It probably sounds like I chucked it in the bin, but I didn’t — I’d tell you if I did. So please, nobody send me another one. I will find it.
I may address his answers another time, but I am led to think that maybe I’ve been a little harsh on the guy. I’ve accused him of intentionally obscuring or distorting the truth, but it appears quite possible that he really just has poor critical thinking skills, no doubt atrophied from years of disuse. It seems like he may honestly believe that the things he writes and relays in his books really are logically sound.
To paraphrase Gandalf: a fool he may be; but perhaps, at least, an honest one.
But as I said, that’s not what I’m going to post about today. In response to the atheist questions posed to him, he and some of his apologist buddies came up with some theist questions they would like to hear answered by atheists. Other atheist blogs have addressed them, but I thought I’d take my own crack at it.
What I say is not the “official atheist answer,” as no such thing can exist. Atheism has no tenets or dogma and thus cannot have an “official” position other than the non-belief in gods. These are only my responses to these questions.
By the way, some Harry Potter spoilers slipped in there by means of comparison. If you haven’t read the books, particularly the last two, then you should have by now, but I’ll still tag it in case you want to avoid.
Christian apologist Mike Licona: “What turns you off about Christianity? Irrespective of one’s worldview, many experience periods of doubt. Do you ever doubt your atheism and, if so, what is it about theism or Christianity that is most troubling to your atheism?”
Licona’s first error, of course, is in assuming that the only alternative to atheism is Christianity. I might ask him what “turns him off” about Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. Perhaps he would give reasons that regarded the behavior of certain of those religions’ adherents, but ultimately I think it would come down to “I just don’t buy what they’re selling.” As the saying goes, we are both nonbelievers in Apollo, Thor, Mithra, Shiva, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, among thousands of others. I only take it one God further than he does (or three, depending on your perspective).
My issue, first and foremost, is not that Christianity has “turn offs.” It is that theism in general lacks sufficient evidence to indicate the existence of any god, much less any one(/three) in particular.
Though I both experienced and continue to research theistic beliefs, I have yet to come across any evidence that has “troubled” me with regard to my current lack of belief. I would be more than willing to acknowledge such evidence, should it ever be presented, but I’m not holding my breath.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot about what’s written in the Bible that I find repulsive, and I’m pretty sure from a literary standpoint that God is actually the villain of the story. And there’s a lot about the intolerance and arrogance that Christianity has a tendency to engender in its followers that “turns me off.” And I think that it damages critical thinking skills, and does not allow for sufficient questioning or doubt. But none of that has anything to do with the reason I don’t believe in it.
Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig: “What’s the real reason you don’t believe in God? How and when do you lose your faith in God?”
Well, first of all, I object to the way this question is phrased. Asking for the “real reason” implies that I have or would give a “fake” one.
That aside: I don’t believe in God because I have not been shown any compelling reason that I should. It’s the same reason I don’t believe in unicorns, faeries, goblins, or Lord Voldemort.
The second question is equally presumptuous, as it assumes that the atheist being questioned has ever had faith in any god in the first place. It happens to be true in my case, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a very loaded question.
I’ve already written my answer to this, but the short version is that I lost my faith in God when I went seeking for evidence to strengthen my faith, and sharpen my apologetical skills, and found at every turn that none existed. And so I was forced to determine — against my heart’s desire, at the time — that God, too, most probably did not exist.
Author and Christian pastor John Ortberg: “How can you create a meaningful life in a meaningless universe?”
My question in return is: how does the meaningfulness of the universe impact the meaningfulness of one’s own life?
Sure, the fact is that millions of years from now, not only will I be long gone, but the entire human race will be gone. There will be no one left to remember my name or my deeds, and the universe will continue to do what it does as if humanity had never existed. But that’s true whether God exists or not, isn’t it? The fact that my life doesn’t mean anything to the dust of Mars is a fact, whether there is a God or isn’t.
Does that really preoccupy anyone on a day-to-day basis?
Quite honestly, I think life has more meaning when that meaning is ours to determine and create, rather than just fulfilling a grand “plan” in which our every action is already anticipated and accounted for. Where is the meaning there, when your part to play is given to you by some outside entity rather than self-determined? How is this life “meaningful” when it is supposedly the lesser of the two lives one will live?
I create a meaningful life by making use of my life to improve and enhance the lives of those around me. It is fleeting for all of us, and that should make us more determined to make it as enjoyable as possible. Meaning is whatever we make of it.
Resurrection apologist Gary Habermas: “Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.” “These historical facts are:
-Jesus was killed by crucifixion
-Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them
-The conversion of the church persecutor Saul
-the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother
-The empty tomb of Jesus.
These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t enjoy quite the same universal consensus, nevertheless it is conceded by 75 percent of these scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.”
That’s a lot of assertion, and a lot of bandying-about of the word “fact” without actually backing it up.
Who are these “contemporary scholars”? I want names, and the reasons that they “concede” these “historical facts.” Better yet, skip the appeal to authority and just tell me what the evidence is that makes those assertions “facts.” As far as I can tell, they are not facts at all, just a semantical ploy. Borrowing from another atheist blogger’s answers, I will rephrase your “facts” in the form of questions, because that’s really what they are: questions to be answered.
Was Jesus killed by crucifixion? Skipping the questionable nature of the very existence of Jesus at all (and yes, it is questionable), it is reasonable to believe that he might have been crucified. It was an actual method of execution, so it is not outside the boundaries of possibility that a rabble-rouser named Jesus was executed by means of crucifixion.
Did Jesus’ disciples believe that he rose and appeared to them? Again granting that he existed at all, sure. His followers may very well have believed that Jesus rose and appeared to them. But the Aztecs believed that human sacrifice made the sun rise. Scientologists believe that our bodies are filled with alien ghosts. Just because a person or group of people believe something does not mean that it is true.
Did the church persecutor Saul convert to Christianity? Once again, the first assumption is that such a person ever existed, although admittedly it is likely that he did. Saul of Tarsus may genuinely have converted to Christianity, and may genuinely have believed that he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. But again, because someone believes something does not make it true. As no one was with him when he had his vision, it seems perfectly possible that he hallucinated the experience. He was walking in desert heat, maybe he got sunstroke. That he genuinely believed it happened does not mean it really happened.
My pet theory, on the other hand, is that Saul realized that he could benefit much more by conning believers than by killing them. Paul realized he could make some serious cash off the whole “tithing” thing if he got in at the high levels of the church, which he did. He’s also the one who invented the notion, out of thin air, that Jesus’ salvation applied to Gentile as much as Jew. Sounds like he was trying to add more members to swell up the coffers.
I have no evidence of that, but it’s certainly a “natural explanation…that makes better sense than [resurrection].”
Did the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother, convert to Christianity? As I hope is clear by now, I find this point irrelevant. Doesn’t make it true even if he did.
Was Jesus’ tomb empty? So what if it was? The best and most sensible explanation you’ve got for a dead body not being where it’s supposed to is that it un-died? Grave-robbing is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, if there in fact even was a Jesus and if in fact there even was an empty tomb. I might as well say that [HARRY POTTER SPOILERS]Dumbledore’s cracked tomb is evidence of Voldemort’s return[/SPOILERS]. If we can’t even establish the existence of the tomb, much less its empty or cracked state, then it’s fatuous to claim that its emptiness is evidence of supernatural events.
In fact, of all explanations for all the so-called “historical facts,” even if their historicity was totally undisputed, the resurrection explanation is the one that makes the least sense, is the least reasonable, and has the least evidentiary support.
These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975.
Name them, and their writings. Don’t just say “there’s lots of them, srsly.” Doesn’t fly.
Christian philosopher and apologist Paul Copan: “Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?”
“And, second, granted that the major objection to belief in God is the problem of evil, does the concept of evil itself not suggest a standard of goodness or a design plan from which things deviate, so that if things ought to be a certain way (rather than just happening to be the way they are in nature), don’t such ‘injustices’ or ‘evils’ seem to suggest a moral/design plan independent of nature?”
Well, to the first question. I’m not sure that the belief that all matter and energy began a finite time ago is “commonly recognized.” Certainly the universe as we know it had a “beginning,” which we call the Big Bang, but it was not a sudden creation of matter — just a sudden expansion. It represented a change in the state of matter and energy, but not necessarily the beginnings of them.
I’m sure the “fine tuning” argument will come up later in Case for a Creator, so I won’t go into it now, but I have a counter-question: if the universe is so “finely tuned” for life, why is there remarkably little life in the universe? Why is so much of the universe hostile to life as we know it? The vacuum of space does not support life, nor does any other planet of which we are currently aware. Even our own planet has large swaths of its surface that are hostile to life. It’s a bit like finding a single silver atom in a 20 ton granite boulder, and saying that the boulder was “finely tuned” for silver.
A universe “finely tuned” to support life should presumably be teeming with it. It seems to me that life as we know it has finely tuned itself to survive within the constraints of this universe, rather than the reverse.
As for the question of evil, it’s an easily observable fact that there is no universal morality or concept of evil that transcends boundaries of culture. We believe the actions of Muslim terrorists are evil; they in turn think the same of our actions. Who is right?
Everyone defines evil in their own way, and cultures create a consensus, one that can shift drastically (see, for example, the shift in Western culture from considering homosexuality “evil” to merely “undesirable,” and now very nearly to “acceptable”).
The notion of something being “bad” or “wrong” is not remarkable when each culture, and each individual, ultimately defines it for themselves.
Radio host Frank Pastore: “Please explain how something can come from nothing, how life can come from death, how mind can come from brain, and how our moral senses developed from an amoral source.”
Okay, one at a time:
How does something come from nothing? Atheists aren’t the ones that say it does. Theists are, and they have no answer for how other than “magic.” In the beginning God created etc.
I happen to think that all the matter in the universe has always existed in some form. So I can’t answer the question because I don’t believe the assertion I’m being asked to defend.
How can life come from death? Life doesn’t come from death. Life, as we define it, comes from natural chemical processes that occur in various reproductive cycles.
How can mind come from brain? Dunno how. It’s a fascinating question currently without an answer.
But despite the fact that we don’t yet know how it does, we do have strong evidence indicating that it does. With MRI and other scanning technology, we can see brain activity occurring when a person engages their higher functions of thought and reasoning, and the areas of the brain triggered have a consistent correlation with the types of thought processes occurring. And we have plenty of documented cases in which brain damage has drastically altered a person’s personality and thought patterns (aka what we would call “mind”).
How did our moral senses develop from an amoral source? This is a question that would be done a disservice with a short blog answer. Entire books can be (and have been) written on the subject, and I suggest you look into them for a more comprehensive answer. But for the sake of the Q&A, the short-to-the-point-of-oversimplification version is that humans are pack animals, a cooperative species. In our evolutionary past, we would have survived better working together than against each other, and so it would have benefitted us as a species to evolve a sense of how to get along with each other. Hence what we call “morality.”
Not to mention basic empathy. There’s nothing mystical about “I don’t want it to happen to me, so I won’t make it happen to others.”
Christian apologist Greg Koukl: “Why is something here rather than nothing here? Clearly, the physical universe is not eternal (Second Law of Thermodynamics, Big Bang cosmology). Either everything came from something outside the material universe, or everything came from nothing (Law of Excluded Middle). Which of those two is the most reasonable alternative? As an atheist, you seem to have opted for the latter. Why?”
The first question implies that there is a “why,” and also that “nothing” being here is even a possibility, neither of which we have reason to claim are or could be the case. As I mentioned above, just because the universe as we know it is not eternal, does not mean that the matter comprising the universe is in some way finite. On what basis would you expect there to be “nothing” here?
The “two” options are not only a false dichotomy — they are actually saying the same thing. If everything has to come from somewhere, then the “something outside the physical universe” had to come from somewhere. Or else it came from nothing. So if you believe that something outside of the universe created the universe, you’re still stating that everything came from nothing, you’re just pushing that “nothing” back a step. What’s the point of that?
Neither of the two options presented is particularly reasonable, and as a result, I have not “opted for” either one.
What about the third option, that the universe has always existed? That’s the answer you would give to “where did God come from,” isn’t it? “He’s always been there.” So why can’t that answer be true of the universe, and just skip the tacked-on anthropomorphized “cause”?
Well, that was fun. Presumably back to Case for a Creator next week.