Posts Tagged 'God'

Another One for the Idiot Files

I’ve said before that anyone who uses the ‘Atheists actually believe in God!’ argument is an idiot, something which most atheists would agree with me on. Well, today I’ve got someone else for the idiot files:

So, people don’t really need to be convinced through science of the existence of God. Anti-theists wouldn’t accept it anyway. The real issue is one of trying to push God away. Incidentally, in case you are a Christian reading this smugly, chapter 2 of Romans is for you. It says that if you know what God wants you to do and conveniently push it to the side, then you are no different. I suspect many have dismissed the truth about God because of churchgoers who push the truth away from themselves and do whatever enters their mind. The bottom line is this; we all need God and we all need to quit suppressing the truth. Lets face the music, and acknowledge that our natural desire to do our own thing. While we call doing our own thing “freedom”, it is anything but. We become slaves of our own desires and we only want more and more. Th law of diminishing returns requires it. Christ can fulfill that hunger. It is ours for the asking.

Conratulations, Doug Wildman, for turning Christian apologetics on its back and displaying its rotted underbelly for all the world to see.

What I really don’t get about people like this is that there are much better arguments for God out there. It’s true, I’ve studied them! All right, they’re not necessarily fantastic themselves, but at the very least they aren’t so embarrassingly stupid. I’m guessing this one wins out so often because of the ‘warm and fuzzy’ factor.

Obligatory Survey Celebration

Have you heard? Atheism is definitely on the rise in the USA, and it seems to be gaining traction with incredible speed. I’m a bit late to the party on this one, so I’ll just quote some of the big sources that have already weighed in with their opinions:

Among the key findings in the 2008 survey:

• So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes.

• Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants, retirees and young job-seekers have moved to the Sun Belt. While bishops from the Midwest to Massachusetts close down or consolidate historic parishes, those in the South are scrambling to serve increasing numbers of worshipers.

• Baptists, 15.8% of those surveyed, are down from 19.3% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations, once socially dominant, have seen sharp declines: The percentage of Methodists, for example, dropped from 8% to 5%. (Source)

Note that this makes atheists and agnostics among the largest religious groups in the USA, second only to Catholics and Baptists. That’s a pretty staggering thought, and one that indicates the strength of the ‘New Atheist’ movement. While I may have my doubts about some of its tactics, you can’t argue with progress like that. (Although, if I may put a mild dampener on the festivities, I have to wonder how many of the atheists who responded to the poll are of the frequently-juvenile ‘I just read The God Delusion and you all suck’ variety.)

You can find the ARIS report itself here, although it doesn’t add much to what’s already been reported elsewhere: Catholicism is losing ground fast, while atheism and agnosticism continue to grow. The geographical breakdowns are quite interesting, though, and you can track the grown of ‘No Religion’ by state on this Google map.

Needless to say, not everybody is overjoyed that those who predicted the death of atheism were apparently way off. One commentor on the Friendly Atheist blog had this to say (and yes, he was apparently being serious):

Yeah, go ahead and yuck it up right now you immoral liberal fornicators. Know that your ways of spreading global iniquity will fall in 2012 when the GOP leads America and the world to a new age of morality via Sarah Palin.

The numbers you celebrate here are the same numbers that will all be sharing the same fierty eternal fate if you don’t change your perverted atheistic ways!

His username links to a conservative Christian website with more vitriol, but it’s just a little bit too psychotic and deranged for my tastes. If you’re really curious, do a Google search for ‘christwire.org’ – among the site’s recent offerings is an article called ‘Michelle Obama’s Sinful and Unholy Prom Dress’. Just letting you know what you’re in for… (Upon closer inspection, I cannot for the life of me work out whether that site is a prank.)

This is all welcome news, but it does not mean that the ‘battle’ (if you want to call it that) is anywhere near being over. The great majority of Americans are still theists, and a majority of those theists still seem to be more than willing to oppose gay rights, stem cell research, abortion and the teaching of evolution in high schools. Only a very small percentage of Americans are ‘out’ as atheists – we might be gaining ground, but we are still very much in the minority.

UPDATE: The humorously well-disguised ‘Reverand Right’ predicts that the rise in atheism will soon mean that the USA becomes ‘like Denmark‘. Good heavens. Unfortunately, there probably are plenty of right-wingers out there who would view this as a bad thing.

Atheist’s Doubt

I came across a rather fascinating post this morning, in which various questions are posed to atheists. I have a problem with how more than a few of them are worded, but there’s one in particular that I wanted to address. Go and have a look at the others, though, as they’re well worth reading. One of them is from Gregory Koukl, who I’ve complained about here before, and there’s also a hypothetical question from Alvin Plantinga. I’ve read a few of his papers, so it would have been great to see an actual question from him.

Historian Mike Licona: “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?”

Firstly, I’d object to the word ‘troubling’. It’s a near-universal practice to assume that any ‘challenge’ to one’s worldview should be considered a source of intellectual anguish, which seems like a rather weird way of looking at things. Whenever I come across something that makes me doubt my atheism, I pursue it as far as I can out of interest and the possibility that it may change my mind, but I can’t say I’m ever troubled by it.

Probably the most potent theistic argument I know if the ‘fine-tuning’ one, for the simple reason that no easy rebuttal to it exists. Many atheist would claim otherwise, but a full explanation for the apparent ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe would require scientific knowledge far beyond what we currently know – indeed, it may require scientific knowledge beyond what we can ever know.

That is not to say that I find the fine-tuning argument convincing, obviously. It makes too many unwarranted assumptions itself, and rather swiftly runs up against certain aspects of the universe which would seem to contradict the idea of a divine creator – or at least one which cares about our well-being. I also dislike the jump from ‘God is an explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life’ to ‘God is the explanation for the apparent fine-tuning of the universe for life’; I’m certainly willing to grant that God is a possible explanation, and perhaps even a fairly decent one, but that’s not enough for me to make the jump to theism. (In case that doesn’t make it obvious enough, I see the issue of theism as probabilistic rather than going for all-or-nothing certainty, which I don’t believe anyone can honestly lay claim to when it comes to the question of God’s existence.)

In case you’re wondering, I don’t think most of the anti-theistic arguments are particularly strong either. Some formulations of the evidential problem of evil seem to be lacking strong theistic responses, and one of them in particular is, I feel, a very strong argument for atheism, but they mostly seem to make the same mistakes as their theistic counterparts.

Uh…Wow

So, I recently came across this website thanks to a commentor on Pharyngula. ‘Christian Science?’ I thought, naievely expecting more Creatonist drivel. ‘Hey, it can’t be that bad…”

Their FAQ section quickly set me straight:

Why is it called Christian Science?

It’s Science because it’s based upon a set of spiritual principles—laws relating to the nature of God and His creation—that can be applied with expected, consistent results.

Uh…huh. I think most scientists would bring in the distinction between ‘science’ and ‘psuedoscience’ here, and this reeks of the latter. Unfortunately, these people aren’t just harmless quacks. It took me a little while to realize that the website is run by the ‘Christian Science’ group who believe that illness and injury can be treated by prayer alone. Again, from the FAQ:

Why do you lobby for exemptions to health laws that allow you to keep your children from going to doctors?

Christian Scientists aren’t seeking exemptions from the law, but accommodations within it. Meaning, they’re trying to ensure that laws provide every citizen a choice of healthcare, including the system of spiritual prayer that Christian Scientists have found to be effective.

Have you ever visited a website that made you feel vaguely unclean, as if just viewing certain arrangements of text on a screen could be morally wrong? Obvious jokes aside, the Christian Science website makes me feel like that.

Hands Tied By The Bible

Domestic abuse is obviously an issue in any community, but one would hope that a church would take steps to protect or at least support any of its members who are going through such an ordeal. And indeed, that does seem to be the case – it’s not uncommon to see posters or leaflets for domestic abuse helplines or support groups that are backed by a local church, at least where I live. But things get a bit more complicated if that church supports the idea tha women should be subservient to men, or at least see their husband as the ‘head of the household’.

The Saddleback church, home of the ever-controversial Rick Warren, recently drew attention to itself when one of its pastors argued that domestic abuse is grounds for separation and counseling, but not for divorce. Unsusprisingly, this rather dubious advice comes from the Bible, which apparently does not give permission to end a marriage because one partner has grown violent towards the other. One would think that even this rather weak condemnation of spoual abuse would include one-off incidents, but no – according to pastor Tom Holladay, it doesn’t really ‘count’ unless someone is being beaten regularly or semi-regularly.

Keep in mind that Holladay does not seem to be insane or misogynistic (although that might be debatable). He also doesn’t seem to be particularly happy with what the Bible has to say about domestic violence:

“I wish there were a third in Scripture, having been involved as a pastor with situations of abuse,” Warren said. “There is something in me that wishes there were a Bible verse that says, ‘If they abuse you in this-and-such kind of way, then you have a right to leave them.'”

Warren said his church’s counseling ministry advises separation and counseling instead of divorce in abusive marriages, because it’s the only path toward healing. “There’s an abusive cycle that’s been set up,” he said. “Separation combined with counseling has been proven to provide healing in people’s lives.” (Source)

(Note: I can’t seem to access the original article, and the version quoted here erroneously identifies the source as Rick Warren rather than Holladay.)

What’s striking about this is that Holladay is almost amitting that he sees a problem with how the Bible treats domestic violence – his reason, his compassion, something in him is saying that there’s a problem here. I’ve seen this before, when a depressingly small minority of Christians admit that they don’t see why homosexuality should be considered a sin, or when someone attempts to justify the Biblical idea of slavery. (And before I get a snide comment, I’m aware that the slavery described in the Bible isn’t like what most people think of as slavery.) But, almost without fail, Christians will supress or ignore the nagging voice at the back of their head and assume that the problem is with them rather than the Bible.

I shouldn’t have to point out how wrong-headed this seems to someone who isn’t religious. If the ‘word of God’ seems unfair or suspect, so much the worse for the word of God. Atheists are often accused of condemning theists for acting like sheep or for lacking the capacity to think critically, but those criticising this practice very often don’t realize where that opinion comes from. For many of us, it isn’t that believing in God is necessarily ‘stupid’ or something that only the ignorant do. We simply can’t stand to see people prostrating themselves in front of a book, particularly if doing so requires that they forfeit their intelligence.

The urge to just accept what the Bible says regardless of any problems with its message can be seen with particular prevalence in Creationists, who must literally delude themselves in order to continue believing that the Bible is the inerrant, literal word of God. Why is it such a taboo to suggest that this particular book might be mistaken on some subjects? Surely a person’s faith is not so weak that it will collapse if they admit that that the scientific evidence for evolution is strong, or that the Biblical prohibition against homosexuality could actually just be the product of an ignorant age?

Christians, don’t use the excuse that your hands are tied by the Bible. If you believe that God gave you your intelligence and ability to reason, then honour him by using it. Ask yourself seriously whether divorcing your spouse if he or she physically assaults you might not be justified, or whether homosexuality is actually something we need to be warning our children against. I’m not asking that you become atheists, but at least try really, truly looking at your religion in a critical way for a change.

If God Is Not?

I found this while tag surfing:

If God is not, then there is no accountability in our universe, no ultimate day of justice. The atheistic regimes who have done unimaginable things to other human beings in an attempt to create a secular (without God) utopia will never be brought to justice. If God is not, genocide is permissable. There is not, nor will there ever be cosmic justice.

If God is not, then you are not important. One person may do to another person as they wish. There is no sense of innate, moral value, no ascribed value. If God is not, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are permissable. If God is not, life is not sacred. If God is not, there are no ultimate moral values to guide how I treat someone else. (Source)

It goes on like this for several melodramatic paragraphs, but I want to briefly elaborate on two ideas contained in the above quote: firstly, that there ‘must’ be some greater cosmic purpose to human life, and secondly, that our default way of being is to act in completely amoral self-interest.

The first paragraph reveals an extremely common ‘argument from consequence’ that a lot of theists fall for, but whose absurdities can be easily revealed:

  1. If God does not exist, there will never be any ‘cosmic justice’.
  2. That would be bad.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

That wasn’t a parody; that’s actually all the argument (if you could call it that) says. (I’m sure someone reading this will immediately think of the phrase ‘G.E. Moore shift’, but it wouldn’t work here either – think about it.) I’m fully willing to accept the first premise, that God’s non-existance would mean that horribly evil people are capable of ultimately getting away with their crimes. I’ll even accept the second premise, although it could be argued against. What I don’t accept is the conclusion, and for a very good reason: even if the truth is sad, it is still the truth. It is entirely possible that the universe really is an uncaring, amoral collection of matter in which our lives will pass in the blink of an eye before disappearing into meaningless oblivion. That idea frightens a lot of people for some reason, but that doesn’t mean that it’s incapable of being true. You cannot just claim that your assertion is true because things would really really suck if it isn’t.

This kind of mindset also sometimes gives rise to the idea that atheists revel in believing the kinds of things I just described, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t particularly like the idea of a ‘judgement day’, but I’d also be extremely relieved to discover that some sort of (favourable) afterlife also exists. I don’t believe what I do because it makes me feel good, I believe what I do because I genuinely think it’s true. But if you are someone who thinks that the Universe is here ‘for us’ or that there’s some force for ‘cosmic justice’ at work, let me ask you something: where is it? Where in the vastness of the universe do you detect the slightest hint of concern for our well-being or moral choices?

Another, curiously celebrated feature of monotheism is tha idea that humans are naturally evil and can only be redeemed by religious belief. It’s not overly difficult to see where this kind of thinking came from, but my own experiences certainly contradict it. In the post I linked to above, the author suggests that without God he would react to hearing his child being beaten on the street by indifferently reading his newspaper. This is bullshit. In a situation like that, nobody reacts based on whether they believe in God or whether they subscribe to Kantian ethics or any other philosophical or religious worldview. I’m not going to pretend to know what exactly gives us basic moral impulses, but it’s not belief in God. There are theists who have committed atrocious acts of child abuse, sometimes in the name of the God they believe in, and there are atheists who have dedicated their lives to protecting vulnerable children – whether a person believes in an omnipotent deity is not the deciding factor in what they’ll do if their child is being beaten.

(Incidentally, I’ve just looked at the comment page for that post and the author is a bit of a nut. Still, nothing I’ve quoted here is especially unusual among theists.)

Atheism/Nihilism

I’ve read more than a few blog entries around WordPress that compare atheism to nihilism, arguing either that they’re one and the same or that the former neessarily leads to the latter. Of course, most atheists would disagree with this, for various reasons. Rather than bore the internets to death by describing my own view (that will come later), I’d like to pose a question to any atheists or theists reading this:

Assume for a moment that God does not exist and that everything you and I ever experience, feel and build will eventually cease to be. What is the point of living?

(Or, if you prefer, ‘Why then should we not be nihilists?‘, but keep in mind that something like Nietzschian nihilism does generally  mean more than just believing that life has no objective or intrinsic value.)

Feel free to challenge yourself a bit by arguing the opposite side of what you usually would – so if you’re a theist, argue that we life does still have worth without God, for example. Seriously, it’s fun!