Every now and then, someone posts a long screed on one of the Google+ Atheism Communities I’m a member of. Usually, they’re nothing worth paying attention to but this time, I think this list of ten complaints about religious/irreligious debate is something I’d like to respond to. It was written by someone named Johnathan Peter Lauridsen and while this isn’t especially impressive, it does deserve a response. Because I’m actually presenting the bulk of his claims, I am going to split this into two posts, lest it become absurdly long, or more absurdly long than it already will be. Therefore, look for the first part today and the second in a couple of days.
So let’s get started.
1. There is no evidence for God’s existence.
There are a couple of problems with this line. Starting with the idea of ‘evidence,’ what exactly does one mean by evidence? What is sufficient evidence for one person is often not sufficient evidence for another. A court of law provides innumerable examples of how two parties can possess the same collection of data, the same power of logic and reasoning, yet argue for completely different interpretations of the data. The old saying is true: the facts do not determine the argument, the argument determines the facts.
When confronted with the charge that there is no evidence for God the Christian often does not know where to start with a rebuttal. It’s as G.K. Chesterton once said, asking a Christian to prove God’s existence is like asking someone to prove the existence of civilization. What is one to do but point and say, “look, there’s a chair, and there’s a building,” etc. How can one prove civilization by merely selecting a piece here and a piece there as sufficient proofs rather than having an experience of civilization as a whole?
Nearly everything the Christian lays eyes on is proof of God’s existence because he sees the ‘handiwork’ of God all around him in creation. But this is hardly sufficient evidence in the court of atheist opinion, a court which presupposes that only what can be apprehended by the senses rightly qualifies as evidence. For the Christian who believes in a transcendent God, he can offer no such evidence; to produce material evidence for God is, ironically, to disprove a transcendent God and cast out faith.
The second part of the line is equally short-sighted. What does one mean by ‘existence’? If one means, ‘that which has come into existence,’ then surely God does not exist because God never came into existence. He always was; He is eternal. This was a famous assessment of the matter by Soren Kierkegaard (dealing with the incarnation of Christ). The argument is a bit involved, so for times sakes I’ll just have to state it and leave it there.
This is a misunderstanding of what “evidence” is. It’s why I always specify “objective evidence”, that is, evidence which can be freely examined and evaluated without having to hold any belief in it or faith in the meaning thereof. It is, in fact, very easy to prove the existence of civilization, not just through its products but through a clear and demonstrable presentation of the evidence of society. You can show a direct and demonstrable causal link between a group of people living together in relative peace and harmony, and the products that they produce, both physical and ideological. You can point to real people producing real things, without any question as to who is actually doing it. You cannot do that with gods. You cannot produce any evidence to support a real, demonstrable god that exists in factual reality and anything that god supposedly does. One proposition is supported by the existence of objective evidence, the other is not. One is credible, the other is not. Chesterton is simply wrong. Now this theist fails because they cannot separate what they claim is proof of gods with what is demonstrably proof of gods. Nobody is really interested in what they claim, we’re only interested in what they can prove. I’m not impressed with Kierkegaard either in this case because eternal existence is, once again, a wholly manufactured characteristic of God that cannot be demonstrated to be actually so. This line of reasoning will not impress anyone who lacks the blind faith necessary to be a theist.
2. If God created the universe, who created God?
This is one of the more peculiar arguments I’ve ever come across. Those who use this charge as some sort of intellectual checkmate have simply failed to grasp what Christians understand as ‘eternal.’ Its like asking what blue smells like…In the same way blue does not have a smell God does not have a beginning.It is an argument usually levied once a theist posits that a ‘first cause’ or an ‘unmoved mover’ is required for the existence of the universe (a ‘necessary’ Being upon which all other things exist by way of contingency). Some atheists then shift the weight over to the theist saying, “Well then who created God?” What is a Christian to do but smile at such a question? God is the antecedent of all things in creation and is eternal. If God had a Creator then His Creator would be God. God is God precisely because He does not have a creator.
The actual argument presented by theists is that because there cannot be infinite regression, there had to be something that was a “first cause” and they arbitrarily define that as their god. Of course, it is all arbitrary, even if there does have to be a first cause, that doesn’t mean that first cause is any god, much less their particular one. Again, this is just an unjustified claim, based on nothing but faith, they have no way of demonstrating that their particular god even exists, much less has any of the characteristics they arbitrarily assign to it. The idea of a first cause is borne, not of evidence and reason, but of faith and wishful thinking. It makes assumptions about the world that simply cannot be rationally justified. This is even more true in the modern world where multiple universes seem more and more likely and once that becomes true, all of the previous assumptions that theists base this argument on disappear in a puff of logic. Causality may not be applicable outside of our particular universe. We just don’t know and because we don’t know, we cannot make any arguments based upon something that very well might not be true.
3. God is not all-powerful if there is something He cannot do. God cannot lie, therefore God is not all-powerful.
Not so fast. This argument would be fantastic—devastating maybe—if God was more of the ancient Greek god persuasion, where the gods themselves were subject to fate and limited to their specific roles in the cosmos. The Orthodox doctrine of God is much different. Christians (at least Orthodox Christians) view God’s ontology as subject to His perfect free-will. Why is He good? Because He wills to be good. Why does He not lie? Because He wills to be honest. Why does God exist as Trinity? Because He wills it. He could just as easily will to not exist. And yes, He could just as easily will to lie. The fact that He doesn’t is no commentary on whether He could.
(Note: Due to the immense amount of discussion that this point has raised, one clarifying statement is worth noting. An argument based on strict logical word games can render the idea ‘all-powerful,’ or ‘omnipotent’ self-defeating. When one considers the juvenile question, “Can God create a rock so big that He can’t lift it?” this point becomes clear. But in reality, such an argument winds up further solidifying what Christianity means by calling God all-powerful. For the Christian it simply means that all power and authority are God’s. Following the logical word game above forces the believer to make a redundant proclamation in order to remain consistent: “God cannot overpower Himself.” But this fact is anything but confounding, it merely stresses the point that there is no power greater than God, so much so that one is forced to pit God against Himself in order to find His equal.)
I’ve yet to see that particular formulation but I understand the sentiment. Again though, we can see that our apologist is simply assigning characteristics to God that they simply have no way of determining if they are accurate or not. Absolutely no characteristics that are typically understood as applying to the Christian God can actually be demonstrated because no one has ever actually proven the Christian God is real. Without direct observation, you cannot show that these claimed characteristics actually apply. Faith is not a substitute for fact.
About the only place I might agree are arguments which require God to be logically inconsistent or contradictory. The “rock so big” claims, etc. fall into this category. However, truth be told, if God is all-powerful and able to perform miracles, which are defined as supernatural violations of the laws of nature, then certainly he could do that because he could simply suspend logic entirely. You guys are the ones who choose to define your god this way, you need to be able to deal with it when said definition causes problems.
4. Believing in God is the same as believing in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
What I love about this well-worn atheist ‘argument’ is that it actually serves to demonstrate how vastly different a belief in God is to these myths and imaginations. When one honestly assesses the Judeo-Christian doctrine of God he will find multiple thousands of years of human testimony and religious development; he will find martyrs enduring the most horrific trauma in defense of the faith; he will find accounts in religious texts with historical and geographical corroboration; etc (these fact are of course not ‘proofs,’ but rather ‘evidences’ that elicit strong consideration). Pit this against tales of the Tooth Fairy, Santa, and Spaghetti Monsters and one finds the exact opposite: no testimony or religious refinement, no martyrs, no historical and geographical corroboration, etc. Instead, one finds myths created intentionally for children, for point making, or for whatever. It’s strawman argumentation at its worst.
Essentially it is. Oh sure, the details are different, but people believe things because they are indoctrinated to believe, not because they have evidence that what they believe is actually true in demonstrable reality. Granted, most kids outgrow these childish beliefs before they reach adulthood, unlike the religious who desperately cling to these unjustified and undemonstrated beliefs, often throughout their lives. That religion is a particularly pernicious mental virus is nothing to be proud of. Whether or not belief in gods has a longer history than belief in the Tooth Fairy says nothing about whether or not those beliefs are factually true. People have believed the earth is flat for longer than they’ve believed in the Christian God, that doesn’t stop flat earthism from being a completely false belief. Also, the fact that people are willing to die for false beliefs doesn’t make them any more true. A belief is true or false based on its claims, not its believers. The existence of God has not been demonstrated to be factually true. It doesn’t matter if every Christian on the planet is willing to die for the belief or not.
5. Christianity arose from an ancient and ignorant people who didn’t have science.
Indeed, those ancient, ignorant people who believed in the virgin birth of Christ must have believed it because they did not possess the knowledge of how babies were born. Goodness. The virgin birth of Christ was profound and of paramount concern to the ancients precisely because they understood that conception was impossible without intercourse. Ancient man considered the virgin birth miraculous, i.e., impossible without divine action (and at the time most people scorned the idea), and the same could be said with every miraculous story in Scripture.
Indeed ancient people did not have the Hubble telescope, but they were able to see the night sky in full array, something almost no modern person can claim (thanks to modern lighting which distorts our ability to see the full night sky). On average, ancient people lived much closer to nature and to the realities of life and death than many of us moderners.
In terms of a living relationship with these things the ancients were far more advanced than we are today, and this relationship is essentially the nature of religious inquiry. If people lack religious speculation today, maybe it is because they spend more time with their iphones and Macs then with nature. Maybe.
But the claim that Christianity was viable in the ancient world because it was endorsed by wide spread ignorance is a profoundly ignorant idea. Christianity arose in one of the most highly advanced civilizations in human history. The Roman Empire was not known for its stupidity. It was the epicenter of innovation and philosophical giants. I would wager that if a common person of today found himself in a philosophical debate with a common person of first century Alexandria, the moderner would be utterly humiliated in the exchange.
Factually, not just Christianity but all ancient religions did exactly this. I don’t know how anyone can disagree. They arose from ancient peoples who had no clue about modern science or the modern scientific method. That doesn’t mean they were completely ignorant of everything, but knowing where babies come from and knowing the details of human embryology are two entirely different things. Ancient peoples made observations about the world around them, but because they had no way of knowing what actually caused things to work, they invented stories. This is why there are so many god stories from around the world. It isn’t evidence that gods really exist, after all, different cultures didn’t all come up with the Christian God, they came up with their own gods with their own mythologies to explain similar observations that people made. Multiple gods were the norm, in fact, a single god was a latecomer to the theistic scene. Even the early Hebrews were polytheistic and elements like the trinity are direct callbacks to the polytheistic roots of Judeo-Christianity. The idea that just because ancient man were not complete savages, that they can be directly and favorably compared to modern scientifically-literate man is ludicrous on its face.
Just because ancient man could gaze at the sky doesn’t mean they understood what they were looking at. Ancient Hebrews, after all, believed in a flat earth, with the stars being suspended on a semi-spherical dome, above which existed the heavens. All of these concepts are completely false, the earth is not flat, it is not suspended on rocky pillars, the sky is not a dome and there are no heavens up there that we can see. The fact that modern religions have completely abandoned these ancient beliefs is evidence that even the religious know better today. The idea that God breathes life into babies is as absurd to most people today as the idea of souls will become in the future. These are simply indefensible in light of a modern scientific understanding of the world.
Rome might have been relatively advanced for its day, but compared to the modern day, Rome is incredibly primitive. It made some developments, but none that remotely compare to what we can do today, and none that have not been repeatedly improved upon in the many centuries between that day and this. The idea that somehow, ancient man knew more than modern man is absurd on its face. They were wrong on almost everything and even where they were on the right track, their knowledge was woefully incomplete. They might not have been complete savages but they certainly were not as knowledgeable about the world around them as we are today. That’s why we’re seeing right through claims of the supernatural today. It’s why more and more people are leaving the idea of religion behind. It just doesn’t make sense anymore. It isn’t necessary anymore. We have actual answers instead of invented platitudes. Religion is a dinosaur that deserves to go extinct.
More to come soon…