Tag Archives: God

“Shoot the Messenger” in Reverse

e7d6shoot_the_messengerAs we’ve already seen, many of the attacks on Christian theology are centered around terrible understandings of what it is that Christians actually believe. And none of them justify atheism.

In his “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Athiest”, Smalley continues to make these mistakes:

6. If the Christian god[sic] created humans as sinners, how could it rightfully expect us to believe the corrupt messengers it[sic] has sent to teach us the way of life?

On the one hand, I don’t doubt Smalley’s sincerity. On the other, it is very hard for me to imagine how he could have made even a half-hearted attempt to find the answer to this question without finding it. This seems more like something that occurred to him as he was writing, rather than something he’s actually asked of a person educated on the subject.

Most obviously is the fact that I don’t know what believer in God actually claims that humans were created as sinners. Rather, God created humans with the choice to sin or not. But, as far as who is to “teach us the way of life”, Smalley doesn’t even consider the idea that a Christian might think that Jesus Christ and God’s spirit would help with that. He can argue that such things don’t exist, but this isn’t a reason to disbelieve in them.

Yes, Christians are often corrupt, immature, and hypocritical. But the personal life of a corrupt scientist, counselor, philosopher, or inspirational speaker doesn’t keep people from realizing it when their words are correct, even if their actions don’t fit with them.

Jesus himself spent quite a lot of time criticizing the religious leaders of his day. He instructed his followers to do just as the Pharisees said, but not as they did. This is necessary advice in any generation.

So, again, we see why someone ought to understand a topic before presuming to pronounce wholesale judgment on it.

But many do seem to have trouble differentiating between “I don’t like how you’re living” and “Your claim is false”. This is why so many have listed bad things done by Christians as if that were evidence that God doesn’t exist.

But Smalley isn’t exactly doing this. Rather, he seems to be blaming God for the fact that people often commit this logical fallacy. Somehow, he thinks it is God’s fault if people don’t realize that a statement isn’t untrue simply because the speaker isn’t perfect.

Personally, I find “God doesn’t exist because people reject him for irrational reasons” a little hard to swallow.

But, if this is a terrible objection to theism, the next is much better. I’ll get to that soon.

Taking a Stand for Relativism

Batman-vs.-Relativism-Part-4“Good and bad are simply concepts in your mind.”

I’ve long since lost count of the number of times I’ve encountered this sentiment. Obviously, I disagree with it. I’ll explain why in a later post. For now, I’m more interested in a particular fact about the people who make the claim.

No, it is not that these people are committing themselves either to open nihilism or a large amount of irrationality in their daily actions. True as that is, there’s something else that is pointed out far less often:

This statement, in the context of debates on religion, almost always comes from people who insist that they are not claiming that God does not exist.

Many atheists have put a lot of energy into defining their position as “a lack of belief in God”, rather than a belief that there is no God. Such people tend to be very insistent that they need not make a case against God’s existence. Since they aren’t claiming God doesn’t exist, so the argument goes, they needn’t support their position–that is for the theist to do.

I’m not one to argue definitions, so I’ll not comment on the validity of this one. But, under any definition, there are severe problems with this tact. Most pertinently, the claim that morality is subjective presumes that God does not exist. Such a statement should, therefore, be supported by reasons to believe that God does not exist.

Of course, the atheist in question could simply avoid making such claims. She could simply introduce moral relativism as a possibility, rather than state it outright. This would be a perfect solution, so long as she is solely interested in winning debates without regard for behaving in a logically consistent manner.

This is to say that, unless one is abdicating all right to make any statement in a moral discussion or hold any position about morals at all (even in daily life), one is going to have to take a position on God’s existence. One simply has no room to say that this or that religious moral is wrong, even in a subjective sense, until one has shown the religion in question to be false.

One’s position may be tentative, of course, but simply “not believing” isn’t enough.

Battleground God

BattlegroundGodBattleground God is an online game that tests the logical consistency of one’s beliefs about God. It is designed to trap people, believers and unbelievers alike, in contradictions in order that we might sort out more consistent views.

As often as I disagree with its conclusions, I highly recommend the game. Trying to give logical reasons why the creators are wrong on certain points has been a great help in provoking thought and spotting areas where I need to clarify/clean up my thinking.

And, of course, conceding that I was wrong on a point has been a help to both my rationality and my emotional maturity.

If you do play the game, please feel free to post your score and/or disagreements with the creators below.

What is Evidence?

Scientific_Evidence_God is real(1)

I’ve been told, ad nauseum, that there is no evidence that God exists. Over the past few years, I’ve considered quite a few concepts of evidence, and asked a great many atheists, only to be left wondering what this statement actually means.

It’s actually fairly easy to summarize the matter. The definitions are as follows.

1. Evidence as any factual support

If the term “evidence” is to be applied to something non-physical, like God, I’d assume that we are using a broad definition. Such as “any fact counted in favor of a claim being true”.

The problem with that definition is that, by it, there is evidence for God’s existence. In fact, there is evidence for nearly anything. Certainly, the fact that science turned out a success after western monotheism’s prediction that the universe followed regular patterns is, on this view, evidence in its favor. The question wouldn’t be “is there evidence?”, but “is there sufficient evidence to accept the claim?”.

2. Scientific Evidence

I then considered the idea that the term “evidence” was being used in a stricter way. Such as is applicable to the physical sciences.

The trouble with this is that it is so obvious to most that this is simply bad reasoning. To claim that there is no physical evidence for the non-physical is hardly earth-shattering. And, in fact, it may not even be true. The evidence of the origin of the universe definitely counts in favor of the idea of the non-physical, even if it doesn’t in any way prove it conclusively.

3. Experience as Evidence

Trying to get back onto the topic of the non-physical, I briefly considered the idea that direct experience was being demanded. Of course, the prevalence of spiritual experiences made the claim of a lack of evidence untrue under this definition.

4. Evidence must be “Sharable”

Some have, in contrast, emphasized that experiences needed to be “sharable”. That is, testable by other people, in order to be considered evidence.

That struck me as simply pushing the problem back a step. If one demands that “testable by other people” means that a thing must be testable via the senses, then this is simply another claim that there is no physical evidence for the non-physical. If, however, one simply means that it must be experienced by others, the theists need only point out that it has been.

5. “Evidence” is for the theist to define

Mostly, the answer I get when I ask those who make this claim what is meant by “evidence” is even less helpful. The reply is generally a simple “you tell me”, followed by a rant about how theists can’t give an answer that they would accept.

Of course, it seems perfectly obvious why this might be: any answer that comes to mind undermines the claim being made. I wouldn’t expect someone making such a claim to be eager to accept any of them.

As such, I honestly have no idea what is meant by the claim that there is no evidence for God’s existence. And, to be perfectly honest, I doubt that most of the people making the claim have a terribly precise idea what it means. At least, that is what they’ve told me when I’ve asked.

As such, I don’t find the claim nearly so compelling as its proponents seem to expect. To me, “there is no (undefined term here) for God” doesn’t strike me as a reason to abandon my position.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Everything we know is rooted in experience.
If this is a simple conclusion, I can only say that it is easy to forget. In the midst of arguing over philosophy and science, religion and worldview, there creeps in an assumption that some ways of knowing are completely divorced from direct personal experience.

Experience Precedes EverythingThere is no exception. We may say that we accept something, not due to experience, but due to science. But why should we accept science unless it reflected experience? The person born without any functional sensory organs has neither a concept of the physical world nor a rational reason to believe in one.
This is not to say that experience cannot be misunderstood. Certainly, there are contradictions between the content of our lives and the content of our dreams. In such a case, we must either call one to be false, or believe that the two experiences occurred on different planes of existence. Depending on how one defines the terms, either approach could be used in the case of dreams.

All this is to say that I see no reason to discredit my experience of moral truth, of beauty, or of meaning in life simply because they are not scientific. My sensory experience is not confirmed by science; rather, science is confirmed by it.
So far, so good. The controversy is in seeking to explain the existence of such things. Personally, I know of no theory which covers the experience of reality more completely or elegantly than certain forms of theism. The concept of God makes sense out of such a (when I think about it) strange combination of experiences.

Many object, of course. Lately, it has been the fashion to respond that materialism can explain the psychological reasons why I might come to believe in these things. This may or may not be true, but is beside the point. Materialism can explain none of these things as extant. It does no more to explain the existence of the universe than the existence of objective moral values. It gets out of the latter only by denying their existence, and is left simply to avoid the question of the former.
There seems no more reason to deny that morals exist, however, than to deny that the universe exists. Both are experienced, and, when I am done pondering cartesian questions, I am prone to trust my experience over a possibility asserted without support.

Roots of MoralityOthers object that these things can be accepted as brute facts without need for an explanation. I suppose that this is true, in the same sense that one can accept “things fall” as a brute fact without bothering about a theory of gravity. Clearly, this does nothing to undermine the credibility of any explanation. On the contrary, it becomes immediately obvious that an argument based on avoiding thought is both weak and, in some sense, dishonest.

The most astonishing of currently fashionable responses to this argument, however, is the demand for an explanation of God himself. This is a variation on the “who designed the designer” argument. It strikes me as obvious that one need not explain a thing in order to realize that it explains something else. Indeed, demanding an explanation of the explanation leads immediately to an infinite regress. And an objection that works equally well for all explanations, regardless of content, is no objection at all.

Rather, it seems that, in all forms of experience, we are left with the fact that finite and contingent reality (which is the whole of our experience) is based on absolute, infinite reality. It is both intuitive and rationally inescapable that all experience with reality points to something greater: the physical universe to immense power, moral truths to ultimate good, beauty to sublimity, and meaning to divine purpose.

One can escape this only by demanding, based on one’s own worldview, that some category of these experiences is invalid. So long as one realizes that this claim is arbitrary, one is allowed it. For my part, I am inclined instead to believe that our experiences are of something real. It follows from this that they do point, in their own finite and meandering way, to something far greater than any of us can now imagine.