I think it’s important to look at what the theists are saying, to evaluate their arguments and point out the fallacies and failures of their claims if we’re ever to understand the task before us. In that vein, I came across an article written by Neil Shenvi, which once again flew by on Twitter, that I thought it would be something interesting to respond to. While I’m not going to respond to everything he has to say, I thought it was important to examine some of the concepts in his article.
First though, I wanted to point out that this kind of faulty reasoning is commonplace among Christian apologists. They seem to have this bizarre belief that atheists, skeptics and freethinkers, people who were, at one time, religious, but have since rejected it as irrational, couldn’t possibly have come to that conclusion logically, they must have been hurt by someone, they must have been harmed by the church or the ministry, examining the actual evidence for the religious claims and finding them completely lacking is just not a remote possibility in their eyes. No one who has ever believed their religious claims could ever reject them later, wholly on the basis that they simply do not bear up to rigorous scrutiny.
I invite people to read the rest of Neil’s challenge, if for no other reason than as an example of how far outside the real world some of these people live.
In reading the work of the Neoatheists, and in talking to many agnostics and skeptics, I’ve found that very few were raised in some kind of religious vacuum.
That is certainly true, but it’s not something that’s surprising either. In a country where the overwhelming majority of people have been traditionally Christian, it’s hardly a shock to realize that most atheists started out life indoctrinated into one of the many Christian worldviews. Even though the demographics have changed in recent years, this is still a very Christian-heavy country. It should be of no more surprise than the fact that most vocal atheists are white and male. It really means nothing though.
Consequently, their atheism does not derive purely from intellectual considerations, but is often mingled with deep personal disappointments, tragedies, and betrayals.
Here, he casts a net wide and completely misses the target. He’s trying to convince he audience, primarily Christians, even though he’s addressed his article specifically to “agnostics, skeptics, and atheists,” that atheists have as much, if not more, faith and emotional baggage as Christians do. I’m not going to argue with what he says because, speaking of atheists as a whole, not all of their atheism derives from pure intellectual considerations. I’m sure some percentage of them do include personal emotional problems and the like, just as many Christians came to Christianity through personal emotional problems. However, the idea that atheists do not come to atheism through intellectual considerations alone is absurd. I am one of those people who did, who rejected Christianity after examining it critically and finding it logically, evidentially and rationally lacking. I had no personal tragedy that drove me from the faith, I was never harmed by the church or molested by a minister, in fact, I can look back at my time in the faith fondly, where I had many friends and much in the way of positive feelings. It just wasn’t factually true, that’s why I left. Neil, however, tries to imply that every atheist who came from a Christian background is somehow a broken, damaged individual who has some person or event to blame for their loss of faith. He even apologizes on behalf of the whole of Christendom. A nice sentiment, Neil, but one that is wholly unwarranted. Your premise is simply untrue.
I can personally testify (as can some of my close friends) that when I put my faith in Jesus Christ, my whole life was radically transformed; I became more loving, more joyful, more patient, and more faithful than I had been.
That’s nice for you, Neil, I’m happy for you. However, you need to understand that your experiences are not unique to Christianity. Just about any religion that worships a god has followers who can and do make the exact same statements, they claim to have transformed lives and are much better people after they converted to those religions. He needs to realize that some supernatural force did not magically make him a better person, unless all supernatural forces make their adherents better people, and that their personal subjective evaluation of their character is simply biased. In fact, I’d argue that there likely isn’t a single person on the planet who has undergone a positive transformative change in their lives, religious or not, who doesn’t consider themselves to have become a better person as a result. God didn’t make you a better person. You did.
Unlike other religions, Christianity does not teach that God loves and accepts us because we are good, but that He loves and accepts us on the basis of what Jesus did for us on the cross in spite of the fact that we are bad. It is this grace, this unmerited favor, that transforms us.
Actually, it doesn’t teach anything of the sort. The Bible, taken as a whole and not read conveniently as most Christians do, teaches that man is a horrible, awful creature which cannot redeem himself, even if he never does a single thing wrong, for he is born damned. It isn’t man’s fault, it’s something that a supposedly loving God imposed upon him for all eternity. Then, he sent himself to have a bad weekend so that he could wipe out sins that he, himself created in the first place and take people who blindly believe in him to a magical land in the sky while everyone who actually uses the free will and inquisitive mind that God supposedly gave to him, gets to roast in a lake of fire for all eternity.
Believing that is not something to be proud of.
And so, he offers a two-part challenge to agnostics, skeptics and atheists. In the first part, he invites people who have been harmed by religion, which he goes on at length about, assuming that the majority of former-Christians must have been hurt and didn’t just realize that, like Santa Claus, there’s no reason to think God is real.
The second part, however, is where we really need to focus our attention:
Second, rather than focusing on the behavior of Christians, it is far more important to focus instead on the truth claims of Jesus himself.
That would be fine if there actually were any demonstrable truth claims of Jesus. I could go into a long, long list of all the reasons that believing in the Biblical Jesus is irrational and absurd but I’ve done that many times in the past, the most recent in this monster post. In fact, while I doubt Neil would care, it was exactly the fact that I did focus on the supposed truth claims of Jesus, that I did a deep, intensive search of the actual, demonstrable evidence for Jesus, God, the supernatural claims of the Bible, etc. that I ended up rejecting Christianity as nothing more than mythology. Yes, by all means, exhort people to focus on the facts, we need more rational people on this planet.
Either Jesus was a real historical human being who taught the things recorded in the gospels, died on the cross for the sins of the world, and was raised to life to show that we have been forgiven or he was not.
That’s easy, clearly from the evidence that we have at hand, he was not. That doesn’t mean there may not have been a man upon whom all of these absurd supernatural stories were draped after his death, in fact, it’s likely to have been an amalgam of several men, but the story of Jesus, the son of an imaginary friend in the sky, performing miracles and the like and ascending into heaven is simply irrational gibberish.
These statements are either objectively true or objectively false. If these claims are objectively false, then it does not matter how kind, loving and compassionate his followers are. If these claims are objectively true, then even the misbehavior of his followers doesn’t make them false.
That is very much so, but since the statements are largely demonstrably false, or at the very least, unsupportable by any objective evidence, there is no reason to think any of them are actually true. The behavior of believers has nothing to do with the facts of the case and neither, much to Neil’s disappointment I’m sure, does his claim that his life was transformed by his new-found beliefs. Either the story in the Bible is demonstrably factually true, supported by significant objective evidence, or it is not. Clearly it is not. As such, there is no reason for a rational, intelligent, skeptical individual to buy into any of it.
I’m really not sure where this is a challenge though. Don’t be hurt by Christians and examine the evidence for Jesus? Why do you think many of the most rational and skeptical people out there are atheists? That’s exactly what we’ve done! By all means, encourage others, particularly Christians, to do the same. The non-theist sector of the American population isn’t growing nearly fast enough, the more Christians who look at their beliefs with a critical eye, the better.