Author Archives: Debilis

Plug: The Experience of God

If you’ve not already heard the buzz about David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God”, be sure to have a look. It is a book worth reading: both for the thoughtful theist who wants to draw clear lines of distinction as to what she means by asserting that God exists, and for the thoughtful atheist who wishes to know exactly what it is that she’s rejecting.

Hart takes the New Atheists to task for their deep misunderstandings of what theists actually claim–and points out that their arguments all hang on making these errors.

I don’t, of course, agree with everything that Hart writes (I suspect it would worry him if I did), but he’s definitely right about this much: the current, often shrill, popular debates over theism are only very rarely ever talking about God at all.

God, as educated theists have always understood him, has simply been ignored–and thoughtful people will seek to rectify this in their own thinking.


Total Meaninglessness

quote-the-man-who-regards-his-own-life-and-that-of-his-fellow-creatures-as-meaningless-is-not-merely-albert-einstein-312313“If where you came from is meaningless, and where you’re going is meaningless, then have the guts to admit that your whole life is meaningless.”
-Timothy Keller

Materialism demands that there’s no truth outside of physical truth. And, yet the materialists I encounter also demand that their lives are meaningful. Of course, they recognize that this is a purely subjective statement. Still, it’s hard to see what it is the materialist could call a subjective truth when he insists that all truth is physical.

I’ve been told, many times, that one can have a sense of meaning without there being objective meaning and that subjective meaning is something altogether different from physical reality. Apparently, the two are simply not the same. But this leads one to wonder, is the materialist proposing something other than physical reality? Or is he simply using “subjective meaning” as a polite term for a chemical reaction inside the skull?

Presumably, the latter. Indeed, materialists, in my experience, have insisted upon this. Their only real complaint here is with my idea that we should be concerned about this fact. Apparently, there’s nothing unhappy to be found in the statement that meaning is simply a chemical reaction that induces a feeling–and that any notion of actual meaning in life is simply a lie.
The problem, they say, is with my idea that this is even remotely unhappy.

It is unhappy, of course; it is tragic. But I’m not concerned about happiness. Not here. Rather, my concern is with logical consistency. And there is something deeply inconsistent about finding meaning in a life that one announces to be meaningless. To set-aside questions of meaning, and reduce one sense of purpose in life, and all the decisions that entails, to a matter of feeling, of emotion, is not rational.

Likewise, to insist that those of us who are concerned with true meaning should simply abandon the question is bluntly anti-intellectual. It is disbelief, not on the basis of thought, but on the basis of a lack of thought.

Simply put, anything short of  nietzschean abandonment of all meaning is out of touch with pure materialism. Those who claim to have a “scientific mind” contradict themselves to speak of meaning, right, wrong, or any other value.

To say, then, that religion is evil, and that materialism is good, is to abandon materialism.


Materialism vs. Science

science-vs-pseudoscience_box-300x125“Now they [DNA molecules] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.”

– Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

“Now they are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blindly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me; we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.”

– Denis Noble (in response to The Selfish Gene)

The point Noble was making, and one which even so staunch a materialist as Dawkins was willing to concede, is that there is no scientific test to decide between these two views. These both speak to the facts as they stand, and no amount of extra empirical data could alter this situation.

Unfortunately, Dawkins seems to have missed the larger point here.

That is, this shows that there are at least some (and probably a great many) questions that are about subjects other than science. Like many (but by no means all) scientists, Dawkins tends to assume that only those methods he’s personally comfortable with and trained in is the only means of getting at truth.

He seems to have no idea that this assumption is, itself, a philosophical (rather than scientific) position.

This is the basic contradiction of scientism: that it is, itself, not established by science. But there is another point to be made here. One that is, in my view, much deeper and more significant.

For those that know a bit about metaphysics, Noble’s description of genes is vaguely aristotelian, whereas Dawkins’ is basically cartesian. This is significant in that it illustrates, contrary to popular opinion, why talk of aristotelian teleology isn’t answered by appeals to science. Science simply has no way of testing whether or not teleology exists in a particular system.

That is, whether or not a thing in the universe “points toward” something else (say, a match pointing to the creation of fire or a day-dream pointing toward Paris) is basically ignored when doing science. It has never been genuinely ruled out as a possibility.

But I say “basically ignored” rather than simply “ignored” because science (at least as it has been practiced in the last four centuries) tends to presume teleology in the same way that it presumes math and logic.

That is, as David Hume pointed out, the modern materialist has no basis whatsoever for believing that science works. Inductive reasoning is, to such a person, simply a kind of magic that has created all the wonders of the modern world.

Induction, and therefore science, assumes that there are patterns to reality: that like situations will produce like results. This is perfectly explicable in terms of teleology: all things have particular effects that they “point toward”.

The idea that science opposes teleology (and the rejection of materialism it implies) is more an accident of history than anything like a rational argument. Like so many things, it enjoys credibility by a vague association to the mythos of science without actually having been supported by evidence.

And when people begin to assert that teleological systems (such as our minds and wills) can be explained away by science, the fact that scientism is being confused for science becomes all the more obvious. Dawkins is simply a relatively recent example of those who have fallen into this trap.

What is less obvious is that this would be science “explaining away” its own foundations. And, for this reason, real science will never do this. Science is, and always has been, anti-materialist.


From Here to Eternity

Deborah-Kerr-and-Burt-Lancaster-in-From-Here-To-Eternity-19531In discussing the problem of evil, Mackie touches on the fact that those who experience the most evil and suffering in their lives seem to be the most religious. Mackie, of course, makes the very reasonable point that this is not a logical answer to the problem of evil.

It is, however, a significant issue.

That is, those who are most familiar with evil seem to be aware that religion is the only way to explain the existence of evil at all. Atheists, after all, dismiss the matter as merely subjective, simply denying any ontological truth to evil.

As such, evil really seems to be evidence in favor of theism, not against it.

Of course, the materialist can go on denying the existence of evil as such, but this puts him/her in an awkward position in presenting the problem of evil. Of course, I’ve just addressed Mackie’s attempt to show that it is an inconsistency within theism–without claiming that evil actually exists.

And that seems the only alternative to presenting a secular explanation for real evil (and not simply subjective evil).

But, Mackie, in seeking a contradiction within theism, questions whether or not religion can point to genuine goods which both require and outbalance the evil in the world. But this is trivially easy.

Mackie has already agreed that humans would have no concept of good were it not for our experience of evil. So, it seems that he implicitly agrees that humans would have no basis for choosing goodness (which is, on the theist view he’s considering, synonymous with God) if we had no experience of the difference between good and evil.

Of course, Mackie ostensibly insists otherwise–that God’s omnipotence would allow him to do this. But this is far too glib. Not only does it take back, without explanation, the concession that was just made, but it seems to require forgetting an earlier issue.

That is, Mackie agrees that omnipotence does not entail the ability to do the logically impossible. And it is a logical contradiction to make someone freely do something. As such, omnipotence is of no help to God in creating a world where we choose him without any real, existential concept of what choice we’re making. We need to experience “not God” before we can rightly be said to have a reason to choose God freely.

And this more than answers Mackie’s question.

If one is asking about the internal consistency of traditional theism (which is, again, the only challenge a relativist like Mackie can make), it is no small point that choosing goodness (which, given theism, is God) would be an infinite good, stretched over infinite time.

It seems very straight-forward that this would counterbalance any evil in the world as it is (as that evil is finite). And it seems that only a very short-sighted perspective, like the child who can’t see what good doing homework could possibly bring about, could keep one from seeing that the value of a religion can’t be entirely judged by this-world thinking.

This is the truth that those who suffer greatly can see, and far too many (comfortable in our wealth) cannot. We, it could be argued, so rarely think about eternity because we simply don’t want to see it.


Forget the Experts; What do the Most Ignorant People Think?

bad-teacher-filmI’ll continue to clarify the difference between a transcendent God and the basically physical god that many atheists think Christianity teaches (or try my best to clarify, anyway).

In the mean time, I’d like to move on to another very common misunderstanding among the New Atheists:

If you’re dismissing a more academic version of theism by claiming that “most” Christians see God the way you do, you aren’t talking about Christianity.

There are essentially three reasons for this.

First, it isn’t true.

It may be true that “most” Christians don’t see God in exactly the way I do. In fact, I expect that each of us has our own unique perspective. But I’m not sure how the atheist knows that his/her view is any better a representation of what the average theist believes.

I’ve never heard a theist affirm the idea that God is flying around in space somewhere, that he’s a complex arrangement of physical parts (as Richard Dawkins assumes without giving a reason), that he’s humanoid, or most any of the descriptors that New Atheists delight in mocking.

Really what “most Christians” seems to mean here isn’t actually most Christians. It isn’t even “Jerry Falwell” (bad as that would be), but “what Jerry Falwell’s opponents take him to be saying”.

Yes, if you ask the typical Christian “do you believe in a literal God, heaven, hell, angels, etc?”, she’s likely to answer in the affirmative. But this doesn’t contradict anything I’ve said.

To do that, you’d have to follow up with an “And by ‘literal’, I mean ‘physical’. Do you believe that God, heaven, etc. are all physical parts of the universe, made out of sub-atomic particles?”. The idea that most Christians would agree to that is highly questionable, to say the least.

And, getting to the second reason, it’s irrelevant what most Christians think.

In any field of study, most people are going to be largely ignorant, and have some strange ideas. To demand that we judge a view based on the popular idea of it is completely strange.

No one, for instance, would argue that, while some biologists might have a pretty defensible view of evolution, what’s really important is what “most evolutionists” believe. If you ask the average person who believes in evolution if people evolved from the Cro-Magnon, she’ll probably agree that we did.

That is a fairly easy view to discredit, but it doesn’t refute evolution. And it wouldn’t make any sense to simply assert that all biologists do is, in spite of denying that they believe it, come up with more elaborate excuses for believing that humans evolved from the Cro-Magnon.

The same is true for theism. Of course the average person is going to have a less well-thought-out position than an expert. This doesn’t mean that the expert view can be ignored, or is “really” just a rationale for the average view.

This is why Dawkins, who has confessed to being ignorant of theology, is forced to interact with the lay-level view. He simply doesn’t know enough to engage actual experts. And that would be fine, if he were willing to admit that it is only the crudest forms of theism that he’s refuted. It is when he starts boldly declaring that “religion”, in a much broader sense, should be dismissed that he’s making ignorant proclamations.

That being the case, demanding that theists offer proof of the God that “most Christians” believe in is no better than demanding that Dawkins, as a biologist, should prove that people evolved from the Cro-Magnon because “most evolutionists” believe it.

But for the third, and most important, reason: the New Atheist caricature is not the view being defended. The form of theism I’ve defended simply isn’t the view being attacked.

That leads to the very simple conclusion that the attacks of the New Atheists are simply talking past my actual beliefs, and are therefore irrelevant. In general, I get a lot of arguments being made against things that I’ve never actually believed, let alone said.

And, if that is what it takes in order to have one’s argument work, then it was never a good argument in the first place.


These Goal Posts are Heavy!

football_players_moving_the_goalpost_450In attempting to use the problem of evil as an argument against theism, you’ll recall, Mackie agreed that he has no basis for saying that evil actually exists. Rather, he’s (purportedly) pointing out a logical contradiction between the theists’ position. We believe that evil exists (in some form or another), and he means to show that this contradicts our belief in a good God.

And this is important to keep in mind, because Mackie frequently argues by requesting evidence for the theist’s position. Thus, he seems to be shifting his goal posts as the momentary need arises.

Similarly, he argues from his own inability to picture reasons why a claim might be true. He answers the claim that freedom, in the end, brings about more good than bad with “whatever the valuable, other, aspects or consequences of freedom may be, it is at least logically possible that they should exist without such variation, that is, without bad choices actually being made”.

This section is peppered with this kind of thinking, and it is (whether he realizes it or not) an abandonment of his argument. Simply saying that something is possible does not mean that the theist has contradicted herself.

There are answers that could be given (such as the idea that our having knowledge that our choices are of moral significance is deeply important to God). But the point isn’t whether the theist can show that these are, at the end of the day, good answers. To show a true logical contradiction, Mackie needs to show that they can’t possibly be correct.

He also thinks that the theist needs to prove that we need libertarian free will to make real choices. Some people (the compatiblists) are convinced that one can be said to have free will, even though one’s decisions are completely determined by one’s brain chemistry and the corresponding laws of science.

Most people don’t see that as free will at all. Mackie is allowed to disagree if he’d like, but he is not allowed, in “pointing out a contradiction within theism” to insist that the theist needs to offer evidence that compatibilism is wrong. Yet he does exactly that.

To be fair to Mackie, he does, after a couple of pages on this, admit that this argument is fallacious. But this leaves one wondering why he included these pages at all. Certainly, it serves no purpose but (whether intentionally or not) to act as a rhetorical flourish, leaving the reader feel that theism has other problems that aren’t being answered by the free will defense.

Of course, theists have answered those problems elsewhere, but Mackie includes no two-page digression on those answers.

Instead, he offers an incorrect view of what theists mean by free will.

I don’t think this is intentional, but it is a problem nonetheless. Mackie seems unable to envision any description of human choice other than determinism and randomness (a la Copenhagen quantum mechanics).

He goes on to say that none of these help the believer in libertarian free will. Indeed, they do not for the very simple reason that he has left the actual position of libertarian free will off his list of possibilities.

Essentially, he’s still thinking like a materialist. He’s left out the possibility that the mind could be something other than the interaction of neurons (as materialists envision the interaction of neurons). Of course this leaves him with only these options, but this is precisely what the libertarian denies.

Mackie continues on for a few more pages, ostensibly trying to figure out what is meant by “free will”, but arguing at every turn that such things need to be proved.

And this is, again, shifting goal posts. Mackie is claiming to have seen a logical contradiction in the theist’s position. He, therefore, needs to show us a contradiction, not merely request more proof of the sub-points within that position.

At this point Mackie returns to the main argument “confident that it is not logically impossible that men should be such that they always freely choose the good”. But this, itself, a misstatement of the argument. It was never about logical impossibility, but about the logical fit to the goals of God.

Nor do I see anywhere that Mackie has actually given a reason for the confidence anyway. What he has done is insist that the theist prove that his position is impossible–and completely misunderstood the arguments given.

But, Mackie isn’t quite finished; he then moves to Plantinga’s (well-known) version of the argument. I’ll discuss that in a later post.


The Hooked on Phonics Approach to Deities

fullContinuing on with the ways in which New Atheists misinterpret theism, we get to the argument from other religions. This is a popular meme within the group, and I think it touches on one of their most fundamental mistakes.

So, the topic for today:

If you think “God” and “god” mean the same thing, you aren’t talking about Christianity.

Simply because the words sound alike, are spelled (nearly) alike, and we could draw a few dubious parallels, does not make them the same. The idea that it does usually takes the form of “we’re both atheists with respect to every other god…” or “but, even if that showed that God exists, which god would it be?”.

Or, it simply comes in the form of someone repeatedly failing to capitalize the term “God” in writing. I suppose this is meant to squeeze in another insult to traditional theists, but it really only shows off one’s lack of understanding. And poor grammar doesn’t make for a good argument.

All this is to say that, asked by someone who’s genuinely interested in which particular religion might be true, the question of gods can be an important matter. As a reason to be an atheist, it’s completely worthless.

The only reason it isn’t instantly recognized as worthless is because there are many who simply don’t understand that gods are completely irrelevant to the arguments monotheists actually give for belief in God. Presumably, these same people understand that different proposed scientific theories, political philosophies, and ethical systems can be different–and that we can’t simply dismiss them all because most ideas will turn out to be false, but this same knowledge doesn’t seem to extend to deities.

Of course, I’m aware that it is often demanded that “there is as much evidence” for all gods. But, I’ve been over the “no evidence” argument. If there’s any point in bringing up ancient gods at all–that is, if it is supposed to be a legitimate point, and not just an emotional/rhetorical debate trick–it is to suggest that the reasons for rejecting God would be the same as the reasons to reject Thor or Apollo.

As such, it seems that anyone making this argument simply does not understand why the same reasons don’t apply.

The God of monotheism is transcendent–the ultimate explanation of all things. The gods of ancient temple religions were proposed physical entities, seen as immediate causes of physical events (and so overturned by science in a way that monotheism simply is not); God is an explanation as to why there are any physical events in the first place. The gods are (poor) explanations of the patterns in nature; God is an explanation as to why nature has patterns at all. The gods  (purportedly) exist within the universe, and depend on it for existence; but the universe exists in God, and depends on him for its existence. The gods are subject to moral judgement; God is the paradigm of the good.

And so on it goes. Anyone who can’t see why arguments for God don’t defend the gods, and that arguments against the gods don’t refute God, simply doesn’t understand the basic terms of the conversation.

Nor does it do to simply respond by claiming that these ancient deities aren’t actually scientific either–that they are invisible or otherwise beyond scientific test, as if this somehow defended the point that all deities are the same.

Many have given me exactly this response, and it is easy to answer. If one is simply going to change, step by step, what is meant by the word “Zeus” until it perfectly matches a monotheist view, then one has abandoned everything about Zeus that discredited the idea in the first place. One could, I suppose, alter the meaning of “Zeus” until it is exactly like gravitational theory, but this wouldn’t discredit gravity.

Likewise, this doesn’t discredit monotheism.

What it does instead is drill home how different monotheism actually is from the religions it displaced. The difference between magic and spirit is hard to overstate. Magic is failed science; spirit is another topic altogether.

Of course, I’ve encountered those who, hearing this, insist that I’m simply altering the definition of the monotheist God. And there are two very obvious answers to this:

First is the fact that it simply isn’t true; anyone making this retort is simply unaware of the history of theology.

Second is the fact that it doesn’t, in the end, matter. Even if this were some completely new understanding of God, all this response would be is an admission that I’ve hit upon an idea of God that, while remaining an explanation for everything I’ve said (here and elsewhere) that God explains, is immune to the objections of the New Atheists.

Of course, I can’t claim to be anywhere near that clever. I’m really just presenting the traditional view of God, and pointing out what geniuses of the past have said. But the point is that the “you’re changing definitions” retort is a tacit concession, not a rebuttal.

In the end, one can believe or disbelieve in transcendence. But, if one is going to be rational, one must avoid the sloppy, fallacious thinking that the existence of a monotheist God can be tested in the same way that Poseidon would be.


Blurring the Lines of Distinction

blurred_focusGetting back to the discussion of J.L. Mackie’s “Miracle of Theism”, we come to the famous problem of evil. Here, Mackie seems to alternate between a very reasonable and a very sloppy approach.

He begins with the reasonable, laying out the argument and agreeing that there is no explicit contradiction between the idea of a good God and the existence of evil. But there is, he claims, a contradiction when one adds the idea that a good and omnipotent God would be both able and willing to remove evil from the world.

This strikes me as already a bit sloppy, in that Mackie has endorsed a moral subjectivist position–and hasn’t otherwise presented a theory of objective morality to rival theistic explanations. As such, he cannot actually claim that evil exists in an objective sense, but only things that humans find personally distasteful.

As a non-human, God is not morally bound by human opinion, however.

But Mackie seems to understand this. Swinging back to a reasonable approach, he clarifies that he is arguing that there is an internal inconsistency in traditional theism. It doesn’t matter, then, whether or not evil actually exists. The point is that theism claims that it does, and this (purportedly) contradicts the notion of a loving God.

This is a key move, however, because it is only by shifting this goalpost that Mackie can make a case against theism.

First, however, he agrees with the theist that omnipotence doesn’t include the ability to do the logically impossible. I’ve met quite a few who demand otherwise–and have even insinuated that this “limit” on omnipotence is simply a retreat in the face of the problem of evil.

To those that know the history of theology, it is no such thing, but set that aside. The real point is that it isn’t needed to address the problem of evil. In fact, it is only because the theist agrees that God can’t to the logically impossible that there is any problem of evil at all.

Even if it could be shown that evil is a contradiction of a good God, all the theist would have to say is “sure, that’s a logical impossibility, but God can do  the logically impossible”.

The point isn’t that theistic philosophers say this (with the exception of Anslem, I can’t think of any who would). The point is that, for the problem of evil to even get off the ground, one has to assume that God is bound by what is logical possible.

And this is perfectly reasonable. Logical contradictions aren’t things–such as acts that simply can’t be done–they are meaningless arrangements of words.

Mackie does not dispute this, but he does throw out another straw man. I’ll not get into it here, as I’ve never heard anyone actually give the argument. But it is very significant that Mackie, after pointing out the silliness of the argument, also claims that (even if it were true) it would only defend necessary and minute amounts of evil.

This is important because Mackie is drifting away from the claim that there is a logical contradiction here, and into a different (though similar) argument. Generally called the “probabilistic problem of evil”, it is the claim that, while there’s no logical issue, there’s just too darn much evil in the world to believe in God.

I agree that this issue should be addressed, but Mackie doesn’t seem to be aware that it is a different issue. As such, he immediately begins confusing issues. Theists have offered many explanations, one of which is the pointing out how often good things come from evil.

But Mackie insists that this does not address the contradiction named earlier. Indeed it does not, because it is not addressed to that contradiction, but rather to the probabilistic argument he’s switched to making. And, while I hardly think it is a complete answer in itself, it is a significant point to raise in that discussion.

Mackie claims directly that all evil can’t be accounted for in this way, but neither offers a reason to think this, nor addresses the other reasons theists have given for the existence of evil.

And this last is important. Though he immediately goes on to discuss the free will defense, Mackie insists that it relies on the idea that absolutely all evil is the product of free will–and nothing else. This seems a sort of divide and conquer rhetorical trick that offers no real reason why these arguments can’t be taken together.

So, it is only because he has blurred the lines between the logical and the probabilistic versions of the argument, while simultaneously insisting that explanations which are typically given together must explain every case or be utterly rejected, that Mackie can dismiss the traditional answers to the problem of evil.

As to his discussion of the famous free will defense, I’ll get to that next.


The Theology of Scientism

If there comes a point when one’s view of an idea is so distorted that one can’t be said to really be talking about it anymore, then Dawkins and his fans have long since reached that point with respect to religion.

But I’m increasingly convinced that it is helpful to go over the reasons why their understanding of Christianity is wrong. The subject is well-worth considering.

The topic for today:

If you’re using the phrase “the God hypothesis” you aren’t talking about Christianity.

God is not a hypothesis for the very simple reason that questions about God are not empirical questions.

This is the most consistent mistake of Richard Dawkins: the unquestioned assumption that the issue of theology is, somehow, a question for science to answer pervades his writings.

It is currently popular, in some circles, to say that all questions are scientific questions. The reasons why this is false have been pointed out many times in the past. Still, there are many in our culture who are so used to thinking of science as the paradigm of all inquiry that they seem to find it difficult to understand the thinking behind logic, metaphysics, or ethics.

But to speak of a “God hypothesis” is no more accurate than to speak of a “Modis Ponens hypothesis”, a “the universe is not an illusion hypothesis”, or a “people shouldn’t be selfish hypothesis”.

God, like many of the things that Dawkins himself takes for granted, is simply not subject to the experiment-observation method employed by science. Rather, God is a transcendent entity who is the ultimate explanation of the universe, not a finite, measurable entity within the universe.

And it is for this reason that God is not a scientific theory. A theory is a general description of a causal chain stretching backward in in time up to the present moment. God, by contrast, is (among other things) an explanation as to why such chains can exist in the first place–why the universe has regular patterns so that it can be studied by science at all.

Nor, to address the tired memetic response, does this make the concept of God untestable or unprovable. It only means that the necessary tests are not lab experiments.

So, whether or not one believes in such an entity, it is no more reasonable to demand scientific evidence for God than to demand scientific evidence that an argument isn’t fallacious. It is the wrong category.

If one starts one’s search with the assumption that everything is scientific, it is no wonder that one only finds the scientific. It would be completely obtuse to conclude that this, somehow, discredits the idea of a transcendent God.

And this is where the New Atheists are often accused of a certain intellectual tone-deafness. They seem to believe that, because they cannot imagine anything other than the scientific (or a test other than scientific tests), there must be no such thing.


Debating Pseudo-Religions

ScarecrowAs far as I can tell, Richard Dawkins has never said anything about Christianity

This is not simply to say that he’s never said anything true about Christianity. Rather, it is that everything he’s tried to say about “religion” is so distorted, so obviously based on a caricature, that he’s not actually talking about Christianity at all.

Nor is this, I hasten to add, because he has not read some complex theological treatise (though he clearly hasn’t). It is because he gets even the most basic points about Christianity (and Islam, for that matter) flagrantly wrong.

I’ve noticed similar mistakes in his fans, as well as their confusion when they encounter actual theology. In fact I’ve recieved quite a few complaints that my views are not simple enough for some to understand.

I’ve long suspected that there are ulterior motives behind the demand that I state my view in a sentence. Still, I thought it might be good to write the occasional post on some of the things that the New Atheists get wrong about the Christianity they claim to have refuted. It is my hope that this will help to clarify, for theists and atheists alike, why the conversation needs to move past anything simple enough to fit on a demotivator.

There is a lot to say, but let’s start with an obvious one:

If you’re using the phrase “sky daddy” you aren’t talking about Christianity.

I want to be clear: it isn’t that this phrase is pointlessly rude (though it is). It is that it is wrong. As such, using it doesn’t prove that theism is silly. It shows us that the one using it is speaking out of ignorance.

How so? Let’s go through the words. (And, to those eager to debate, please keep in mind that I’m merely outlining Christian views, not making a case for them here.)

1. “Sky”

God isn’t in the sky any more than he is anywhere else. Those that use this term seem to be picturing some physical thing flying around space somewhere.

And this is completely unlike the Christian view of God.

That is, God doesn’t exist as part of the universe–or a thing inside the universe. This is part of what it means to be transcendent. While God is aware of, and causally active at, each point in the universe, this is not a physical interaction. It is for this reason that the ancient Romans charged Christians with atheism–Christianity doesn’t believe in gods in anything like the way that they did.

But it’s a bit late to be arguing that ancient Roman gods don’t exist. Monotheists believe in a completely different kind of God.

2. “Daddy”

Presumably, the physical thing flying around space is roughly humanoid. While the Bible does use the concept of fatherhood as analogous to one part of God’s relation to human beings, there is no implication here that God either has a body, or is a “daddy” in anything like the sense that it is used here.

The phrase suggests that theists think of God essentially the same way that very small children think of their fathers. Of course, the Christian view of God is not a glib picture of some divine caretaker or wish-granter, but a far more nuanced vision–as intellectually complex as it is emotionally potent. It would take quite a few books to explain that nuance, but the point is that is a far more sophisticated view than this silly phrase implies.

Again, the problem seems to be the failure to grasp transcendence. The New Atheist appears to think of God’s activity on the model of magic, reading this into all talk of spirit. But magic is physical; it is failed science. Spirit is non-physical, existing outside of the realm of science. It addresses deeper questions than efficient causes.

Of course, one is free to reject the idea–and even to boldly proclaim that there are no answers outside of science. The point is that, if one doesn’t understand the difference between this view and the “sky daddy”, one can’t claim to have understood Christianity well enough to have rejected it.