December 6, 2006
As a Christian believer, I am quite content to let the atheist believe what he or she wants. My rationale for this and other pieces on the subject of atheism is a response to the often hostile and aggressive charges made against Christianity as a system of thought.
Some time ago, I was contacted by the proprietor of some irreverently named atheist website. Apparently he took issue with a certain piece I had written months earlier regarding my conclusions about a biblical passage from Matthew chapter 6 (one can only wonder why an atheist would want to dispute about biblical exegesis). I responded to his inquiry thinking that was the end of the discussion. The next day, I got a wave of E-mails making rather disparaging remarks, which had little to do with the topic in question. Based on what I could glean from the responses, their apparent Modus Operandi , was to roast a selected individual in an attempt to solicit an angry visceral response. If that didn’t work, they would bring in their “cleaner” to finish the job, as I discovered yet the following morning. Here was his “love letter.”
“As an unrepentant blasphemer, you see me and those like me as damned. Good for you! Enjoy it, Bob. But what you need to know is that all atheists see you as a delusional, intellectually inferior, weak-willed, gullible sucker who’s incapable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality, and we laugh at you because of it. I would never hire an evangelical Christian. They believe in nonsense and as such can’t be trusted with things of importance. If I were a customer prospect, I’d never buy a thing from you. (I wouldn’t trust your ability to support your customers in an effective and intelligent manner.) If I were a loan officer, I’d never put a dime in your hand. (I wouldn’t trust your ability to manage your finances or maintain a job through which you could repay me.) If you were a daycare owner, I’d never leave my child with you. (If I couldn’t trust you with money, how could I possibly trust you with my child?) In fact, I wouldn’t even trust you for the time of day if I had to catch a plane. Your intellect, and that of people like you, is sorely compromised, and I’d never allow your kind to affect me personally in any way shape or form. If the rest of the “god-believing” world wants to trust your intellect, then good for you. You shall have their trust, their employ, their business, their money, and their respect. Kudos!
Enjoy your delusion.”
At first, since I did not recognize the author’s name, I thought it was a prank that came from an adolescent child. Then I realized how it fit in with the other comments I had received from that group. Just about every survey taken to measure the religious beliefs of the U.S population concludes that 15% or less of the total population are infidels. It made me wonder how tolerant a society we would have if such people were ever in charge. It made me ask myself if this was a display of the logic and reason atheists so often claim to have cornered the market on. It gave me no reason to think that the implementation of their “enlightened” utopia would produce a better society than the one created in spite of the “rampant religious abuses” that they so bitterly condemn.
We might ask the question, how would things be different if atheists were in charge in terms of consensus? I wonder about this: what will happen to those who dissent against the prevailing zeitgeist? Will such people end up as subjects inside asylums for the criminally insane? Will they be done away with in some other fashion? Letters such as those above, though they likely represent a vitriolic minority, don’t give me pause for confidence that the virtue of tolerance will be better established under the “enlightened” canopy of atheism.
What will become of scientific investigation? Early scientists saw their inquiries as a method of “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Without a construct in place which binds technology to ethics, what limits on social and scientific experimentation will inform the distinctions between what can be done, versus what ought to be done? Will we see the continued incorporation of the naturalist philosophy and dogmas girding the structure of scientific inquiry? We see this scenario placed out in the current “stem-cell” debate.
Atheists often complain that people of religious faith say that you can’t have morality without religion. They will go on to say that there are many “non-religious” people who are moral. Some religious people might well make such arguments, but that’s not the precise indictment against atheism’s perspective on morality. The point is that the atheist has no transcendent foundation for his claims of what is moral or amoral in the first place. A materialistic universe offers no unmistakable moral absolutes of right or wrong. What happens is determined by the random movement of matter in motion, or a chain of cause and effect, the source of which is often unknown.
Of course, the atheist may stipulate a morality based on some popular construct; i.e. Natural Law, Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, “Do anything as long as it doesn’t hurt others” (a truncated version of what is often referred to as the minimalist ethic), a preference to pleasure over pain, etc. These are merely constructs based on some individual preference. What ultimate authority confirms their truthfulness, besides the coercive power to enforce the adaptation of a particular view? The person who discovers such morality to be fiat, such as Marquis de Sade, is positioned to promote self-serving exploitation. The sadist may get pleasure from pain, the masochist may enjoy torturing and bringing about pain, but on what basis can the atheist declare these alternative perspectives to be “morally wrong” only because they differ from his selected social construct?
The same is true when it comes to the attribution of atrocity to certain systems of thought. Christianity often is accused of mass atrocities in the past. While this is a legitimate criticism, the Christian in turn can say that non-theistic worldviews acted out, caused more mayhem in the 20th century, then all the religious misdeeds throughout history. The question is not whether atheism will always cause genocide, or whether your local atheist will wake up tomorrow and become a serial axe-murderer. The real question is on what basis can the non-theist condemn such crimes and atrocities given a lack of transcendent moral authority, and his own materialistic assumptions? The atheist will protest against such attribution of atrocities, saying people such as Mao, Pot-Pot and Stalin were fanatics, but they didn’t commit atrocities because they were atheists or because of a non-believing ideology. Still, they certainly had a worldview that enabled them to carry out and justify their purges.
There is yet another distinction here between atrocities in the name of God and those of the non-theist camps. As a Christian, I can stand beside the secularist and condemn the wrongs in God’s name. However, I can theoretically correct these wrongs through a proper application of the Christian worldview. On the other hand, if Lenin says, “you’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet,” and Stalin accomplishes that mandate with his purges, how do you correct his evolutionary perspective on the sanctity (or lack thereof) of human life? Stalin acted consistent to his non-theistic, evolutionary prospective. The atheists who condemn Stalin and other mass murderers are simply borrowing from a Judeo-Christian perspective in order to condemn such acts.
How does someone with a metaphysical narrative depicting humanity as a meaningless speck on a clump of dust in a vast universe, suddenly derive the concept of human dignity when it comes to protesting the arbitrarily disposing of some of the specks?
I expect we will get some answers when we read the responses after this piece is published.
Why I can’t be an atheist, Part 2: Appeals to reason and logic
December 11, 2006
It is quite possible that atheists as a group are more intelligent than the community of theists at large. I don’t have statistical evidence to support this claim, but anecdotally, I can believe that it is quite likely. Many, who become atheists, probably arrive at a crisis, where there are points of tension in reconciling Christianity with their own constructs of logic and reason. The atheist may say that this migration occurs because intelligent people gravitate toward a worldview distilled from logic and reason, as opposed to one conjured from superstition and unquestioning acceptance. That seems a bit self-serving and laced with hubris, though. Based on my observations, both groups are intellectually stratified – ignorant theists, astute atheists, and vice-versa. You realize that apologists for theism are themselves intellectual giants, when the best are pitted in debate against their atheist counterparts.
The positive argument about intelligent people is easily reversed. I could conclude that greater levels of intelligence present a pitfall of conceit that the atheist steps into. High levels of intelligence can cause a belief of invulnerability and hubris – that humanity will solve all problems and eventually gain a comprehensive knowledge of the universe – thus God is, or will become, unneeded and unwanted. This is the faith (though they might call their faith claims “confidence based on experience,” if that is a distinction with a difference) of naturalism. That “faith” is justified according to its devotees, in that once upon a time, empirical knowledge existed as a small corpus of information, yet today it has snowballed into a juggernaut. While is it true that empirical knowledge has grown exponentially, few are sagaciously differentiating between that which is presently unknown and that which is by definition unknowable (as theists might say, hidden in the mind of God). The atheist’s confidence to comprehend the “unknowable,” comes from a belief that empirical investigation can eventually explain everything conceivable. This impression must assume that there is no truth outside the realm of empiricism.
Atheists often claim their belief system is based on logic and reason. Again, this is almost a tautology that goes something like this.
We believe that logic and reason is the only revelation of truth.
Theism isn’t logical or reasonable.
Therefore, theism must be false, hence, atheism is reality.
We could throw in some corollary statements, also. What they infer is structurally sound if the premises are true – but are they?
Many atheists I’ve dealt with, only accept empirical evidence as proof for the existence of anything. “Logic and reason” are defined as tantamount to empiricism. But what justifies this position? Where does that put us when we want to prove the existence of things like love, self-awareness, personal identity throughout life, the mind, or even the very concepts of logic and reason themselves; all of which are abstract entities? In a materialistic universe, these abstractions would be mere sensations caused by the reactions of nerve endings and chemicals in the brain (essentially, this is what Francis Crick claims in his 1994 book The Astonishing Hypothesis). That is where the atheist must reside, if held to his metaphysical truth claims.
In a world where only empirical evidence is allowed, we must eventually ask how we empirically prove that only empirical evidence should be allowed. The universal solvent dissolves the container it is stored in. Notice I didn’t deny that empirical evidence is a way to prove certain things; I merely questioned whether it was the one and only meaningful way.
The other night, I asked my wife if we had any ice-cream. She opened the freezer, took out the container, to show me that there was less than one serving remaining in the carton. The question was answered through the simple “look and see” process. The atheist/empiricist makes the mistake of assuming that all factual questions can be distilled to this simple observational analysis.
Let’s test this philosophically with an assumption about my own hypothetical experience. One night I walk out to the mailbox for the mail. As I am about to return to the house I hear the audible voice of God telling me to write this editorial. For a minute, presume this actually happened. Exactly what empirical fingerprint can I show you to verify my talk with God, thus proving I’m not a crackpot? None. That is my point. Empirical methods cannot test for all truth or truth claims, because of the metaphysical nature of the entity subject to investigation. Any truth claim can be philosophically cross-examined for logical cogency, however. I have shown theoretically, that truth can exist outside the parameters of empirical analysis. A denial of this claim is not based on objectivity, but a presupposition and bias toward empiricism.
The problem with appeals to logic and reason, are that they mistakenly become a devise for questioning whether supernaturalism is credible, yet seldom are used to critique the internal coherence of atheism as a system of thought. We examine that in a future installment.
Why I can’t be an atheist, Part 3: Expedient definitions and bogus illustrations
December 17, 2006
Defining atheism is a daunting undertaking. It can be an elusive moving target, with constantly varying definitions and ramifications. The dictionary of philosophy defines atheism as: “Belief that god does not exist. Unlike the agnostic, who merely criticizes traditional arguments for the existence of a deity, the atheist must offer evidence that there is no god or propose a strong principle for denying what is not known to be true.”
Yet when this definition is applied, the atheist objects profusely. The atheist wants to instead define his position as merely lacking belief in a God, not one that positively asserts there is no God. The atheist will sometimes say that the proofs given for the existence of God are insufficient – they are unproven not disproved. The atheist clings to this standard because he realizes the utter difficulty, if not, virtual impossibility of proving a universal negative. In a sense, he has pulled the rug out from under himself by taking this minimalist approach. One must rightfully ask how atheists who define themselves this way constructively differ from agnostics, and we ought to chide him for his own insufficiency – satisfaction with a willingness to prove less than he ought to prove.
First of all, he has reduced the question of God’s existence from an objective to a subjective standard. By calling the proofs offered for God’s existence, which are to him ”insufficient,” he actually makes no claim that can be universally acknowledged. What one person calls insufficient evidence, another will find to be quite sufficient. That leaves us in a position where we are almost forced to conclude that any such claim of insufficiency is necessarily arbitrary.
Also, by taking this subjective posture, he assumes the default position, which declares that the existence of God must be assumed false in the absence of positive evidence which he will find persuasive. No such evidence of an evidential nature will likely suffice, since the atheist often begins with the biased presupposition that God doesn’t exist. Any evidence presented will be impermeable to his reality filter, because it violates his foundational assumptions. All evidence is reinterpreted to fit his dogmatic perspective. This is practically a tautology. Atheists demand proof that God exists, yet when it is presented, they casually disregard it as proof they can accept. What justifies this default position on burden of proof in the first place, other than that in the structure of formal debate, the theist will generally occupy the affirmative position? Such is an academic stricture telling us nothing about ultimate truth.
Often atheists contend that the “God idea,” is not significantly different from a belief in The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or Gebo the omniscient flying wombat. But how many websites or organizations do you see dedicated to the disproof or ridicule of those who believe in these listed symbolic figures? If they were all equivalent, there should be a more even distribution of critiques proclaiming the fictitious nature of these various cultural icons. There should also be a faithful contingent of superstitious disciples in similar proportion defending the existence of the same. But do you see any notable examples of that phenomenon? We can’t neglect observing that it is most frequently the Judeo-Christian conception of God which is attacked with a heaping surplus of vitriol and sarcasm. Comparing belief in God to belief in Zeus might be comic relief for the converted choir, but it is sermonized ignorance to an astute congregation. Atheists don’t have the same intensity of distain for the small minority of folks who actually are devote followers of obscure deities. That should tell you something significant about the implied similarities or the true objectivity for critics of the supernatural. The atheist/theist dialogue suffers unnecessarily, for the gratuitous use of this “Believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus” comparison. It is difficult to take seriously anyone who insists on using it.
I remember how I came to disbelieve in the Easter Bunny as a child. First, I began to question his existence. Then one year my father went out the side door. A moment passed and the doorbell rang. On the front porch were Easter baskets from the Easter Bunny with a note in my father’s handwriting. I then put two and two together.
It would be foolish to believe in the Tooth Fairy once I had determined how money got under my pillow, or how the baby tooth I placed under it also disappeared. But you can’t replace something with nothing. We shouldn’t readily accept an answer that refutes a current belief, only to be displaced by a myth of greater foolishness. Is the Tooth Fairy any more mythologically unreasonable than a belief that the tooth merely dematerialized and the coins under the pillow suddenly materialized out of nothing? When the atheist claims that he does not need to offer a cogent explanation for the origin of matter, he is displacing the “myth” he despises with his own tale of greater credulity. Even given the existence of matter, he must explain how it acted upon itself to produce morality and intelligence. If his metaphysical legend is truly the historical case, I am going to check my pockets more often for the sudden appearance of gold bullion coins.
An atheist once told me that he didn’t know for sure how the universe came to be, but knew for certain it wasn’t the way that I believed it had happened. Can that sort of logic span the narrowest philosophical crevasse?
I think not.
Why I can’t be an atheist Part 4: some philosophical considerations
by Robert E. Meyer
Many of the critiques I have received so far, have focused on debunking analogies I have used, more so than refuting specific points against atheism. If you are an accomplishing logician, you can probably find logical fallacies in virtually any polemic. It is simple to explain why this is the case. Whenever two things are compared which are not identical, or at least not substantially similar, someone opposing your perspective who wants to maintain the antithesis between the two views, will
critique the analogy by only citing the dissimilarities. The individual making the argument, on the other hand, is emphasizing the commonalities.
Now I will focus on some of the philosophical elements of this topic.
Why should someone be an atheist? Some who want to take the intellectual high ground will say they are forced into that conclusion because religious beliefs are inherently irrational. But are they really? They are only irrational if one must try to prove them using the presuppositions held by the atheist. If you get aboard another traveler’s tour bus, you will go to his destination. The quintessential question in examining either atheism or theism as a system of thought, would be determining
whose presuppositions are justified.
For me, atheism has a logical problem of philosophical cogency. The atheist worldview has an epistemology that won’t comport with its metaphysical narrative. If the universe is actually nothing but matter in motion, Francis Crick is right when he says that abstractions would be mere neurological sensations caused by the reactions of nerve endings and chemicals in the brain. The concepts of morality, meaning, self-awareness, personal identity, logic, justice, etc. would also be the result of
specific stimulations of nerve endings and eruptions of brain chemicals.
If this is stark reality, then atheists must borrow from the theistic worldview to account for the existence of anything non-material by nature. In denying the Creator, the atheist ought to throw out everything that is contingent on a theistic worldview. In effect, by using abstract concepts, they have thrown out the baby, kept the bath water, and now try to explain why the bath water is meaningful.
Whenever the atheist tries to insert teleology back into his worldview, as if it belongs there, I think of my friend at the Kentucky Derby. His rider is thrown off the mount at the starting gate, but his horse dutifully runs around the track, and bolts down the home stretch, appearing to win by a nose. My friend dances with glee, boasting that the replay will show his horse won the photo finish. Then I wonder if he has had too many Mint Juleps, since he didn’t realize a horse without a jockey
is automatically disqualified.
I find atheism dissatisfactory and inadequate because it cannot deal with the outworking of four critical concepts in a way that I find humanly essential. On the issues of origin, meaning, morality and destiny, I can find no copasetic conclusions with atheism.
What can the atheist offer us about the origin of the universe or our own origin? He is likely to conclude that matter is eternal, or that the universe doesn’t need an explanation. How might that be functionally different then saying that the universe just popped into existence? The existence of something rather than nothing shouldn’t be thought irrelevant. Many atheists are also evolutionists. If humanity’s ancestor crawled out of an ocean of primordial soup on an insignificant speck of dust
within a vast universe, and is not created in the image of God, why should our contemporary existence be esteemed greater and more dignified than our beginning?
How does the atheist build a moral code on a materialist reality? “Hume’s Gap,” also known as the “naturalistic fallacy,” claims that it is impossible to reason from what is, to what ought to be. We can’t proscribe morality from describing the case of human discourse. Simply because people behave in certain ways, doesn’t mean they should behave that way. That is why no theory of natural law can by itself imply a system of morality.
Is our death the final reality-the end of our relationship with a friend or loved one? Many atheists believe that a hope of a heavenly life after death is an emotional crutch. But this is a double-edged sword. It would also be a hopeful advantage for the atheist if there were no sweet hereafter, since he knows that if the Christian is correct, he wouldn’t partake of that eternal bliss.
Once I was debating with someone who told me they weren’t impressed with Pascal’s Wager. I am sure this individual was sincere in his claim. The problem is that, even so, he can’t escape its implications. If I find my life’s fulfillment through a Christian worldview, and am no worse off in death than the unbeliever, why would I become an atheist?
In that stream of thought, I often hear the argument that theists are weak-minded, and need a psychological crutch to comfort them through the harsh realities of life. But let’s look at it from another perspective. People don’t seek God so diligently when everything is going well. Could it be that our struggles in life, our moments of brokenness, and our observation of human tragedy, are all really innate designs of the Creator to insure that his creation seeks him? The normal yearning for
truth, the bitterness of injustice, the quest to understand the hidden mysteries of life, the manifold sorrows, may be the natural cries from the heart of people seeking their God. Those viewing such searching as a crutch against bravely facing the despair of ultimate meaninglessness, could be the ones in denial and guilty of suppressing their natural proclivities.
Some atheists will say that Christians try to obey God, either to get eternal rewards or to avoid eternal damnation. This is an oversimplification, if not an entirely false impression. Christian theology already asserts that Jesus Christ has taken care of the issue of final judgment for he who believes. Christians obey God, because, according to the scriptures, that is how we show our love for Him.
Along these same lines, the reasoning goes further, asserting that the non-believer may be even more commendable than the believer, since the non-believer behaves morally without the impetus of either a reward or punishment for his actions. The problem of course, is how one derives a specific system of morality from a paradigm of materialism in the first place.
Do some atheists have a motive for their belief or lack of belief? Why do many react as though they are religious and dogmatic in their positions? Two quotes I find interesting are posted below. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.
NYU professor Thomas Nagel in his 1997 book The Last Word, “…I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally, hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
The novelist Aldous Huxley, in his treatise, Ends and Means, says the following: “For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”
Other than the fact that I will be accused for taking these two men out of context, what do I expect from this piece? No doubt it will end up on some atheists’ blogs. There it will be dissected and analyzed in such a fashion that the piece is distorted and misconstrued so that even I would agree with the critique, provided that most of the mischaracterizations were actually true. Then the multiple disciples of this erudite atheist guru will all offer their profuse adulations for their mentor
while castigating and belittling the superstitious and ignorant writer under discussion.
Robert E. Meyer is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.