Google+ Apologetics Part 2

To be honest, I often find Google+ to be a waste of time because there aren’t very many good discussions. Occasionally though, something worthwhile pops up and I have to respond, but as I’ve said before, it isn’t easy to get into much depth and detail because of the format.  Often, when that happens, I bring the claims here to dissect, but, of course, that means that whoever originated the argument and those who might otherwise want to take part, they are often excluded because they don’t want to leave Google+ and travel elsewhere.

Ah well.  Here goes part 2 of my response to 10 arguments against Christianity that this apologist thinks aren’t true, but actually are completely accurate.  I posted the first part a couple of days ago, you can find it here.

6. Christian’s only believe in Christianity because they were born in a Christian culture. If they’d been born in India they would have been Hindu instead.

This argument is appealing because it pretends to wholly dismiss people’s reasoning capabilities based on their environmental influences in childhood. The idea is that people in general are so intellectually near-sighted that they can’t see past their own upbringing, which, it would follow, would be an equally condemning commentary on atheism. But, this is a spurious claim.

Take the history of the Jewish people for example. Let us say that to ‘be’ Jewish, in the religious sense, is much more than a matter of cultural adherence. To be a Jewish believer is to have Judaism permeate one’s thinking and believing and interaction with the world. But is this the state of affairs with the majority of the Jewish people, whether in America, Europe, Israel, or wherever? One would have to be seriously out of touch to believe so. The same phenomenon is found within so-called Christian communities. Indeed, being born in a Jewish or Christian centric home today is more often a precursor that the child will grow up to abandon the faith of his or her family.

This is actually extremely true.  People are much more likely to adopt the local religious customs than they are to adopt beliefs that are foreign to their cultures.  This is especially the case because the majority of religious believers are indoctrinated into their faith by their parents, just as their parents were almost certainly indoctrinated into their beliefs as children.  Certainly, someone can change religious beliefs as life goes on and would therefore pass along their new religious beliefs to their offspring, but religious beliefs, especially strong religious beliefs, tend to cluster for a reason.

And of course, the stronger those religious beliefs are in your culture, the more likely you are to remain that religion because questioning the dominant religion is less likely to be tolerated.  You don’t find a lot of open Christians living in strongly Muslim cultures.  I’m not saying it never happens, but the majority will remain Muslim because non-Muslims tend to be ostracized and even killed for their disbelief.  Often, as our apologist notes, being born into a religious home is a good sign that children will abandon the religion.  This is because there is no need for religion and as children are educated to see reality as it actually is, not as the religious wish it was, they wander away from the beliefs that their parents might hold.  This is why a lot of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are so dead set against a secular education.  They know the facts will only destroy faith.

7. The gospel doesn’t make sense: God was mad at mankind because of sin so he decided to torture and kill his own Son so that he could appease his own pathological anger. God is the weirdo, not me.

This is actually a really good argument against certain Protestant sects (I’ve used it myself on numerous occasions), but it has no traction with the Orthodox Christian faith. The Orthodox have no concept of a God who needed appeasement in order to love His creation. The Father sacrificed His own Son in order to destroy death with His life; not to assuage His wrath, but to heal; not to protect mankind from His fury, but to unite mankind to His love. If the reader is interested to hear more on this topic follow this link for a fuller discussion.

But that doesn’t make any sense.  If you have a supposedly all-loving, all-powerful, all-good deity, he doesn’t need to destroy death, he can just make it vanish.  There is no sacrifice needed.  In fact, since he supposedly knows all, why did he create death in the first place?  Why does the Bible depict God as throwing temper tantrums?  The very existence of wrath in a supposedly omnibenevolent deity makes no sense at all.  It is an oxymoron.  Besides, you’re still just making assertions about the character of God that you cannot possibly know.  There is no way at all that you can know what God is actually like, what God thinks, what God wants, etc.

8. History is full of mother-child messiah cults, trinity godheads, and the like. Thus the Christian story is a myth like the rest.

This argument seems insurmountable on the surface, but is really a slow-pitch across the plate (if you don’t mind a baseball analogy). There is no arguing the fact that history is full of similar stories found in the Bible, and I won’t take the time to recount them here. But this fact should not be surprising in the least, indeed if history had no similar stories it would be reason for concern. Anything beautiful always has replicas. A counterfeit coin does not prove the non-existence of the authentic coin, it proves the exact opposite. A thousand U2 cover bands is not evidence that U2 is a myth.

Ah, but that doesn’t address the fact that some of these stories were told before the Biblical accounts. True. But imagine if the only story of a messianic virgin birth, death, and resurrection were contained in the New Testament. That, to me, would be odd. It would be odd because if all people everywhere had God as their Creator, yet the central event of human history—the game changing event of all the ages—the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ had never occurred to them, in at least some hazy form, they would have been completely cut off from the prime mysteries of human existence. It seems only natural that if the advent of Christ was real it would permeate through the consciousness of mankind on some level regardless of their place in history. One should expect to find mankind replicating these stories, found in their own visions and dreams, again and again throughout history. And indeed, that is what we find.

The fact remains that there simply isn’t any good evidence that these stories are actually true.  You can argue all you want that you want it to be true, that doesn’t mean that it is objectively or demonstrably true and that’s really what’s important.  In fact, having all of these elements pre-existing the Christian myth are a pretty good reason to doubt that this story is just a reimagining of pre-existing mythic elements.  We see that happen throughout history, that stories get broken apart, mixed around and recombined into a new story.  Just because you are emotionally invested in this particular story doesn’t excuse you from following reality.

But it really makes no sense to say that the advent of Christ would ripple through history, it is literally impossible for someone born today to affect people who lived hundreds of years ago, which is essentially what’s being claimed.  These stories came up hundreds, sometimes thousands of years before Jesus supposedly lived.  They were widespread and were well known in Israel before the supposed birth of Christ.  Is it more rational to think that Jesus just so happened to fit into the exact same mold that everyone already believed, or that Jesus, if he existed at all, was mythologized with these pre-existing stories as tales of his teachings were passed down via word of mouth?  Theists simply are not thinking rationally here.

9. The God of the Bible is evil. A God who allows so much suffering and death can be nothing but evil.

This criticism is voice in many different ways. For me, this is one of the most legitimate arguments against the existence of a good God. The fact that there is suffering and death is the strongest argument against the belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God. If suffering and death exist it seems to suggest one of two things: (1) either God is love, but He is not all-powerful and cannot stop suffering and death, or (2) God is all-powerful, but He does not care for us.

I devoted a separate article addressing this problem, but let me deal here with the problem inherent in the criticism itself. The argument takes as its presupposition that good and evil are real; that there is an ultimate standard of good and evil that supersedes mere fanciful ‘ideas’ about what is good and evil at a given time in our ethical evolution, as it were. If there is not a real existence—an ontological reality—of good and evil, then the charge that God is evil because of this or that is really to say nothing more than, “I personally don’t like what I see in the world and therefore a good God cannot exist.” I like what C.S. Lewis said on a similar matter: “There is no sense in talking of ‘becoming better’ if better means simply ‘what we are becoming’—it is like congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining destination as ‘the place you have reached.’”

What is tricky for the atheist in these sorts of debates is to steer clear of words loaded with religious overtones. It’s weird for someone who does not believe in ultimate good and evil to condemn God as evil because He did not achieve their personal vision of good. So, the initial criticism is sound, but it is subversive to the atheist’s staging ground. If one is going to accept good and evil as realities, he is not in a position to fully reject God. Instead, he is more in a position to wrestle with the idea that God is good. This struggle is applauded in the Orthodox Church. After all, the very word God used for his people in the Old Testament—“Israel”—means to struggle with God.

I will admit that God’s character has nothing to do with God’s existence.  God could be the biggest, most evil dick in existence, that has no bearing on whether or not God is actually real.  It would have everything to do with whether God is worthy of worship, but existence has nothing to do with character.  Hitler was a sadistic bastard but he was certainly real.  But the problem of evil has nothing to do with God’s existence and everything to do with God’s claimed characteristics.  You simply cannot have an omnibenevolent and omnipotent deity and have evil in the world.  You can’t.  It is logically inconsistent.  It is an oxymoron.  If God is capable of creating anything that can be evil, then God cannot be without evil.  The Bible even says that God creates evil, thus invalidating the characteristics that Christians want to believe in.  So regardless of whether or not God exists, and he is logically inconsistent based on the claimed characteristics that Christians assign, he certainly is not worthy of anyone’s worship.  He is a monster, a sick, sadistic bastard that ought to be reviled, not revered.

10. Evolution has answered the question of where we came from. There is no need for ignorant ancient myths anymore.

This might be the most popular attempted smack-downs of religion in general today. It is found in many variations but the concept is fairly consistent and goes something like this: Science has brought us to a point where we no longer need mythology to understand the world, and any questions which remain will eventually be answered through future scientific breakthroughs. The main battle-ground where this criticism is seen today is in evolution vs. creationism debates.

Let me say upfront that there is perhaps no other subject that bores me more than evolution vs. creationism debates. I would rather watch paint dry. And when I’m not falling asleep through such debates I’m frustrated because usually both sides of the debate use large amounts of dishonesty in order to gain points rather than to gain the truth. The evolutionist has no commentary whatsoever on the existence of God, and the creationist usually suffers from profound confusion in their understanding of the first few chapters of Genesis.

So, without entering into the most pathetic debate of the ages, bereft of all intellectual profundity, I’ll only comment on the underlining idea that science has put Christianity out of the answer business. Science is fantastic if you want to know what gauge wire is compatible with a 20 amp electric charge, how agriculture works, what causes disease and how to cure it, and a million other things. But where the physical sciences are completely lacking is in those issues most important to human beings—the truly existential issues: what does it mean to be human, why are we here, what is valuable, what does it mean to love, to hate, what am I to do with guilt, grief, sorrow, what does it mean to succeed, is there any meaning and what does ‘meaning’ mean, and, of course, is there a God? etc, ad infinitum.

As far as where we come from, evolution has barely scratched the purely scientific surface of the matter. Even if the whole project of evolution as an account of our history was without serious objection, it would still not answer the problem of the origin of life, since the option of natural selection as an explanation is not available when considering how dead or inorganic matter becomes organic. Even more complicated is the matter of where matter came from. The ‘Big Bang’ is not an answer to origins but rather a description of the event by which everything came into being; i.e., it’s the description of a smoking gun, not the shooter.

To a certain degree, our apologist here is right.  While we no longer need mythology to explain the basic facts about the world around us, a lot of believers don’t believe because they need reality explained, they believe because they want comfort and coddling that a belief in a magical man in the sky provides.  Evolution isn’t a magic bullet that kills religion dead, most religions have no problem with evolution and the other natural sciences because their faith isn’t based on the real world, but on emotion.

That said though, there are plenty of Christians out there, particularly the evangelical and fundamentalist varieties, who fight tooth and nail against any modern scientific theory that seems to disagree with their theology. Their attacks on evolution are blind and mindless, they don’t really understand what they’re attacking because they really don’t care about reality, they only want to protect their own interpretation of theology.  This needs to be strongly opposed because these people want to teach children mythology as though it was reality, which demonstrably it is not.  If you can manage to work your theology around reality, that’s fine.  If you have to try to tear down demonstrable reality to fit around your theology, hell no.

But the argument here that we just don’t know everything, therefore you can still stuff God into the gaps is a bit ridiculous as well.  Every single gap we look into scientifically, we don’t find gods.  Theists are running out of gaps to hide their gods in and over the years, theists have simply redefined their gods to be fundamentally undetectable as a means of keeping them away from science’s prying eyes.  We still have no rational reason to think that gods are real.  It’s a wholly emotional question for which no objective evidence exists, yet you have apologists, like this one, trying to explain their way around the complete and total lack of evidence that has presented itself for the existence of their gods.  They say that someday, maybe, we will find evidence that gods exist.  Great, then someday, maybe, it might be rational to believe in them.  We don’t make decisions based on what we might find someday, we make decisions based on what evidence we have at hand right now.  And right now, there simply isn’t any evidence for gods.  We keep coming back to the undeniable fact that people believe in gods because it provides them emotional comfort, not because we have any good reason to think gods actually exist in the real world.  So long as that is the case, so long as we have no objectively verifiable evidence for any gods, anywhere, it is still foolish and irrational to believe. I don’t care how much you wave your hands or make unjustified pronouncements, you believe for really illogical reasons. You might not care but in the scheme of things, it matters and you’re just not going to impress anyone who actually cares about what is real.  Believers do not.  That’s a problem.

So what do you think?  Let me know in the comments if you think any of these explanations make any sense, or if it is just more desperate theological wishful thinking.  I find people with “answers” to atheist objections all the time and they never rise above the level of “maybe, could be” hypothesizing in order to rescue their unsupported beliefs from the jaws of objective reality.  They always fail, but when you point out that they fail, they have their fingers in their ears, their eyes clenched tightly shut, yelling “I can’t hear you!”  They can’t rationally respond to the objections because, as I keep saying, they don’t care about reality, they care about emotional comfort.  Sorry, nobody is impressed by that.

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