Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Offering from the Opposition

I wish I could say I enjoy the ideological insulation of the yes men echo chamber that I’ve painstakingly assembled, but I don’t. You jerks still disagree with me--but that’s a good thing. The marketplace of ideas shouldn’t be one-stop shopping. For this reason, I’m shocking your system this week with a shot of Christianity courtesy of the last apologetic blogger I enjoy. Let me tell ya, I disagree with nearly everything this guy says, but I like how he says it. The Apologetic Professor is well spoken, seemingly sane, and has made me laugh on more than one occasion. I hope you don’t thoughtlessly dismiss what he has to say. Thoughtful dismissals only.

If you want more of me, the Apologetic Professor is posting the longest piece I’ve ever written on his site. Please comment here, there, everywhere and check back for our follow-up posts in which we will show that we’re in complete agreement on everything...I said sarcastically.

Do Not Wait on God

An atheist once gave the following advice about belief in God: “Wait and see. Or wait and don’t see.” The implication is that if you wait around long enough, you will finally decide that God does not exist…because He doesn’t. You cannot see a ghost.

It may surprise you, but there is a sense in which I completely agree with our unnamed atheist. Namely: I believe that if you wait around passively about the question of God, that you will likely not ever see Him.

You see, Jesus did not say “wait and you will find.” He said “seek and you will find.” Jesus openly encouraged you to explore the truth with an open mind.

Seeking is active; waiting is passive. If you just sit around on your hands, without ever truly exploring whether God actually exists with an open mind, you will be like someone who never sees Italy because you waited around in Montana.

Now, if you are the thinking person that I take you to be, you may reasonably say: Well, shoot, Mr. Christian-Pants (ok, please don’t call me that), God is God, right? I mean, if there is a God, why doesn’t He come to me? It’s all well and good to talk about not seeing Italy. But I have no reason to believe that Italy would come to me. Yet, I do wonder why the omnipotent Creator of the universe would make me seek Him to find Him? Shouldn’t I see Him anyway?

My answer to that perfectly reasonable question: I don’t know either. I could speculate (and indeed I have speculated about this question a bit on my blog). But the truth is: I did not design the universe. I certainly would not have allowed mosquitoes (or Michael Bolton or the Dallas Cowboys or 98 degree weather on Christmas day) if I had. I am not trying to claim I fully understand why the universe is what it is, exactly – though, as you’ll see, I think Christianity offers the best explanation that I know of. I am only trying to tell you that, until you have actively sought the truth about God with an open mind – and have not given up the pursuit until the day you die – you have not really followed the advice of Christ, and therefore should be cautious in claiming that it is invalid. I myself spent 4 years in a fuzzy state of half-Christian agnosticism – sometimes believing, always wondering – with apparent silence from Heaven before I became convinced of God’s existence. But during that time, I actively sought God. Granted, I sought God sporadically, imperfectly, stupidly…but I sought Him nonetheless.

So all I am asking of you is what I believe God is asking of you at this moment – I mean, this very
moment, the moment you are reading this, right now – and that is to honestly consider, with an open
mind, the legitimate possibility that He exists. With an open mind, I said. Not with the prejudice that
many of you have no doubt acquired. Maybe you’ve met religious hypocrites; well, I’ve met them, too. Many days, I no doubt am one of them. But stop thinking about them. They are irrelevant. Only the truth matters. If I’m right, then one day you will be standing, you alone, naked before the Creator of the universe…and you will have to answer for your life. The many dumb and mean hypocrites you and I have encountered will not be an excuse, in that moment, for our own choices. And deciding to simply close your mind to the possibility of the miraculous is a choice.

Now, it is in the spirit of open inquiry that I present three things for you to think about below. I do not present these as arguments designed to convince you of God’s existence. (If you read my blog, you will know that I do not believe there is such an argument). That would be ridiculous. Rather, I present these as things for you to ponder, openly and honestly, in the beginning or middle of an intellectual pursuit. Being in academia as I am, I have met many atheists, and indeed many of them I count among my best friends (ok, did I really just say that? Well, it’s true anyway). And many of them are open-minded, wonderful folk – and I have more in common with a seeking atheist than with some of the people that go to my church. I respect that kind of atheist. I am quite sure that many of my atheist friends will get into Heaven before I will. But I suspect that some of you have simply closed your mind to the issue because you have believed a lot of essentially myth-like statements about Christianity, or have never honestly challenged yourself to think hard about why people might actually reasonably believe in God. Maybe you are saying to God: OK, I’ll wait around and see, if you do something incredible, sure, I’ll believe then. But you aren’t seeking God like you mean it.

So I present these as food for thought – things to ponder as you decide the plausibility of God’s
existence or what Christianity is actually like. Many of these are issues I have elaborated upon in my own blog.

1. Religion is built into us. Let’s start with one of the few things that atheists and theists seem to agree on: People have religious instincts. Indeed, modern research (by atheists) in my own field suggests that people are, without higher-order thinking, by nature religious. Some other neuropsychology work with FMRIs suggests that religion is literally built into our brain. Other work in developmental psychology suggests that children, even children from secular homes, have something like an intuitive theism. Yet more work studying atheists suggests that most of them go through a kind of “religious” phase.

Now, I really don’t care about this research, because I find it unnecessary – it is obvious to me that people are primed in some form to believe in the supernatural. That’s kind of our unthinking default. We wanted Santa Claus to be real as children, whether we believed in him or not. The real question is: Is this some kind of primitive system that evolved by chance and does not correspond to anything real, or does it reflect some reality of religious truth? Does this intuitive system need to be overridden (as some claim) by higher-order processes, as when we cease to believe in Santa, or does it simply need to be understood by them and integrated into them? Is our religious instinct like our hunger instinct – does it exist because there is a real food to satisfy it? Or is it like our instinct that the sun moves around the earth – when in fact the opposite is true?

Well, I think both theories are plausible – both can account for the way we are. But that means that the theist theory is in fact plausible. That’s my point. I find many of the atheist arguments against what I believe intellectually as strange as you no doubt find many Christian arguments. Not because they are always bad, but because they are obviously false when stated as absolute proofs. I think probabilistically. Probabilistically speaking, I see no reason up front to choose between these two theories, if we are trying to explain why we have a religious instinct. Thus, contrary to what a lot of high-brow academics seem to think, theism certainly is a plausible theory of why our religious instinct exists. Indeed, it is clearly the straightforward, front-door answer to the question; much like a straightforward answer to the question of why we have hunger is because there is such a thing as food. That doesn’t make it true; but it ought to at least make blithe, unthinking dismissals of it the intellectually vapid things that they actually are.

2. Theism provides a more coherent view of morality than atheism. If you are an atheist, you are faced with the following intellectual problem that I, as a theist, do not have: Namely, you believe in a universe that has absolutely no moral will. Materialist atheism assumes that we are all atoms…and nothing but atoms. That universe cannot have a moral will. A chance physical process cannot, by definition, exist in order to produce morality. The materialist must assume that I have a moral will for the same set of reasons that I have blue eyes or a love of the Indigo Girls, or that the sky appears blue or rocks are solid substances – they are the result of a long chain of purely physical events guided by physical laws or chance or what-have-you. I presume none of you believe that, at the Big Bang (or whatever), the atoms there assembled in the way they did so that someday they could produce the thought I should not kill my neighbor for fun inside my head. Such a thought exists because of chance physical processes. And if those chance physical processes had happened to produce the thought killing for fun is cool in all our heads, then that’s what we’d believe, and that’s what morality would be…because there is no actual morality.

Indeed, that much is elementary – and certain. The atheist universe isn’t an immoral universe, as some have claimed. It’s an amoral universe. Morality isn’t bad in the atheist universe; morality doesn’t exist in the atheist universe. (Philosophically speaking, I mean – atheists themselves are typically highly moral people – indeed, that’s the reason for the dilemma. More on that in a second). Morality has no meaning in that world.

Now that would all be well and good, except for the other fact: Pretty much every atheist I know actually believes in morality (including all of the “new” atheists, e.g., Dawkins, Harris, etc.). And they don’t just believe in it in a “well, that’s nice” kind of way; they don’t believe that it’s wrong to kill people for fun is just a chance-y neuronal deal and they’d be fine if it had turned out the other way around. No; they really believe in it – like it matters that it turned out this way. In fact, they believe in it so much that they often use moral arguments against theism, as a reason to get rid of it.

But the atheist philosophy is not at all a comfortable fit with this practical atheistic moralism. Atheism actually provides no real reason to suppose morality has any meaning. It’s like trying to build a science without believing in the scientific method.

Well, my philosophy does not have this intellectual incoherence. My philosophy says that God built morality into the fabric of the universe; that the moral law that exists in my head to avoid killing my neighbor for fun exists because, well, it really is actually bad to kill my neighbor for fun. This intellectual coherence does not make my beliefs true – and Christianity has its own intellectual difficulties, to be sure – but I am not trying to provide a proof, only to open a door for sound thinking. Atheism may digest some facts about the universe more easily than Christianity; but this is not one of them. And the thinking person should consider all sides of the facts when deciding on the possibility of a theory being true or not.

3. Christianity is a highly intellectual enterprise. One of the most curious things about much of the modern atheist attack on Christianity is its bold assertions of how stupid and unintellectual we all are. These sorts of things make me laugh, not just because I am an academic whose research has been featured in USA Today and the Washington Post...and who has been interviewed on BBC Radio and NPR…but also because they are so historically and comically indefensible. I gave a whole talk on this topic which the curious can access on my blog, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it in this already-too-long blog post. I will limit myself here to saying that (a) even secular historians credit Christianity with creating the very icon of intellectualism, the modern university system, (b) a large number of intellectual disciplines (e.g., chemistry, a lot of mathematics, genetics, existential philosophy) were founded (and understood by everyone to be founded) by Christians, (c) Christianity has spread literacy and education pretty much everywhere it has ever taken root, and (d) contrary to the idea that “faith” is unintellectual, all thinking people recognize that some elements of their most cherished beliefs require faith in something unseen that cannot be directly proven. (The primary difference between thinking and unthinking people is the thinking person recognizes their untestable assumptions and can defend them; the unthinking person is simply unaware of them).

All of this to say: Some of you may have the idea that you are smarter than Christians because you are atheists…as if that is enough. But that’s just a stereotype (one of the things I’ve studied in my career) – a stereotype with little basis in reality. Christians are a highly intellectual group as a whole, historically-speaking. It’s tough to argue that Christians are opposed to intellectualism when we created so many intellectual disciplines, and indeed created many of the very mechanisms by which intellectualism itself grows and advances (the university and the scientific method, to name a couple).

Now, I partially blame this rather bizarre view of Christianity on Pat Robertson and some truly anti-intellectual elements of the modern North American church…so don’t think I’m blaming you. There’s plenty of blame to go around here. Nor am I saying that I’m smarter than you because I’m a Christian. That would be ridiculous. Atheists as a group also have much to be proud of in terms of their intellectual contribution to the world’s body of knowledge – for example, a disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners are atheists. This isn’t in any way intended to denigrate atheists…only to remove what I believe is a completely indefensible view – a view that in my experience, many atheists hide behind without facing the real intellectual issues head-on – a view that suggests Christians are just stupid, so why bother with them? Well, we aren’t stupid at all; having faith is not stupid; and there’s an end to that.

17 comments:

  1. Hi,

    Being an atheist, I'd like to offer a few responses.

    1) Which religion? If religion is built into us, then which religion is it? Monotheism? Polytheism? Thor and Odin? Coyote and Eagle? God? Allah? etc?

    Saying that religion is built into us is not a good reason to believe in the Christian God. I have an appendix built into me and it's not that useful either.

    I'd like to see the research, because while you don't care about it, scientific research is the only thing that we can point to that unambiguously correct.

    2) I totally disagree that Christian morals are in anyway less incoherent than any other system of morality. The Biblical morals included enslaving one's enemies, selling ones daughters, shunning widows, destroying the planet and various cities, etc. None of that is acceptable in our modern age, even by Christians.

    What this means is that morality is a product, not of your religion, but your culture and society. Religion is only a small part of that.

    I found this example on the internet and have used it often. "If God came down to you right now and said, 'To properly worship Me, you must kill and consume a human infant.' You have three possible answers A) No way. B) God would never say that. C) Pass the ketchup."

    If you choose A, then you are accepting that God is not the source of morality. Why need him then? If you choose B, then you are saying that there is a moral framework that even God must obey. Why need Him then? If you choose C, then I suggest you check yourself into a home before you hurt someone.

    3) The study of Tolkein's Middle Earth is a highly intellectual enterprise. Does that make it a valid belief system? Should you worship Eru Il├║vatar instead of God or Allah?

    Of course not. I submit that studying any mythology is an intellectual exercise, but it doesn't mean that it's correct.

    And yes, I know many very intelligent people who also believe in one massive delusion. That God exists. I can't understand the cognitive dissonance myself.

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    1. Similodon:

      Thanks for your thoughtful and fair comments! Actually, I don't entirely disagree with you. A few hastily-written responses:

      (1) You are totally right -- and I've made this same comment before on my own blog -- this argument from shared experience gets us nowhere near Christianity. I completely consent that the argument is not a win for the Christian God. That's a fair point. But my point is that, while it is not a complete win for Christianity, it is a near TOTAL loss for atheism. It is a further question to ask "what kind of God are we talking about?" But the first and primary question is "is there a God to talk about at all?" And I think the argument from shared religious experience clearly, on balance, is an argument in favor of God's existence. Not a perfect argument; but a piece of evidence that the thinking mind should weigh in the equation.

      (2) I never said morality was a "product" of my religion. I said my religion teaches that morality came from God. Those are fundamentally different statements. Christian morality, for the most part, is the same as atheist morality and Hindu morality and Jewish morality. Those systems mostly differ at the edges, on (mostly) small questions, but do not differ much on the "love your neighbor" kind of stuff. And you are wrong if you think morality is entirely a product of your culture; the science in which you put so much (somewhat blind) faith would say differently (including work from mostly-atheist evolutionary psychologists). Some kind of common morality seems built into us.

      Now, with that said, the issue you raise is a fair question about some of the specific bits in the Bible, and I've written about it on my own blog in a piece entitled something like the "Leviticus problem." All thinking religious people ultimately come up against the problem you raise, and I myself don't have a fully comprehensive answer. I actually don't care too much about it because I don't worship the Bible, but the God of the Bible; I don't follow Moses but Jesus. So most of the issues you raise are simply not that relevant to my own faith.

      But, for what it's worth, I actually wonder if you've really read or understand the thing you are attacking very well. Imagine I said to you "Einstein said in paper A that principle X is true; but later, in paper B, Einstein said that principle X is only true in some contexts, and in other contexts it doesn't operate at all." Well, it would hardly be an argument against Einstein to say "Ha! Dumb ol' Einstein! I can prove that principle X does NOT operate all the time." I mean, Einstein said that himself...so you have really only said what he said.

      Well, the Bible is a thinking person's book. The New Testament explicitly tells me that most of the Old Testament laws were culture-bound and not universal -- it TELLS me that I don't need to follow them. Jesus repeatedly said to people "only focus on the big things about loving your neighbor and ignore the small things."

      More in a second...

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    2. Sorry: I'm so long-winded that I had to divide this over two comments! Goodness.

      Now back to it: Don't get me wrong -- I totally don't understand why at least some of the Old Testament laws are there in the first place. I'm not saying there aren't troubling statements in the Bible, even in the New Testament. So I concede the difficulties. But the question I was actually raising was farther back than that -- it was why do we have a shared moral system at ALL? Why are people born in some sense with a "loving your neighbor is better than killing your neighbor" attitude? I mean, we can argue about some moral questions, but even Richard Dawkins admits that there is a kind of loose consensus about morality and we should trust it. And atheism can certainly explain WHERE it came from, but doesn't offer a really good reason (that I can see anyway) that we should believe it is meaningful. Whereas a theistic belief system CAN offer a good reason.

      About your dilemma: Classic! Very clever. But I would say my own answer would be (d)I don't know what I would do. I would probably want to be DARN sure that this really was God. I would, like almost all the heroes in the Bible do, ask "why would you ask such a dumb thing?" If I was sure it was God, then I hope I'd trust that He was good and had a purpose for His command that I could not see (as in the actual story you reference, He did -- the child did not die). Experience sadly suggests, though, that I'd disobey the Divine command and get into deep trouble as a result!

      (2a) About your comment: "I'd like to see the research, because while you don't care about it, scientific research is the only thing that we can point to that unambiguously correct." My response: NOTHING is unambiguously correct; no thinking scientist would agree with your statement. I LOVE science and probably OVER-value it, but there is no way it is unambiguously correct -- that statement doesn't even make sense, because one of the glories of science is that it is SELF-correcting. How can it always be unambigiously correct if it constantly needs correction? Really, I think you need to be far more skeptical -- I myself do not trust the Bible with the blind faith you attribute to scientific knowledge in this statement.

      (3) About the Tolkein argument: Touche! You are correct. However, I was not attempting to say "believe Christianity because we are intellectual," but rather "stop disbelieving in us because you think we are NOT unintellectual." If Christians WERE all stupid, then I'd be fine dismissing us. Since we're not, let's get on with a reasonable debate. But you are right -- it doesn't make anything we believe true, that some of us are really smart. (But I would note that I'm not talking about STUDYING mythology, but believing in it -- at least one part of it. Thus, my point is that you can BELIEVE in Christ and be really intellectual. That's clearly true. Anyway, I think the same principle still applies regardless, and I think we agree on that principle. So I’m going to quit this unnecessary parenthesis while I’m only SLIGHTLY behind!)

      Thanks for your fair comments, though -- I appreciate the dialogue! I actually don't have all the answers myself, and it's fun to be reasonably pushed on what you believe!

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  2. Let's start off by answering those questions, shall we?

    1. No, humans are not religious by nature, we are answer-seeking animals. It's built into our brains. We don't like not knowing the answer to things and when the answer is not easily forthcoming, we will often simply make up an answer as a placeholder to avoid feeling uncomfortable. That is the very basis of god-beliefs, when primitive man asked questions that he had no means to answer. Around these primitive god-beliefs grew religions, but this revealed a problem in man's mental makeup, once we accept an answer as true, we don't like to admit that we're wrong, we cling to things, just as man has clung to religion, because it's emotionally comforting. Religion has changed over the years, it's retreated from the things we've actually found answers to into the dark recesses, the ever shrinking gaps in our knowledge. People with a vested interest in the emotional comfort that religion provides cling desperately to faith, but that's the very reason that it ought to be opposed. Faith has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with emotional coddling.

    2. Morality, like it or not, is subjective, it is a view that human societies give on what is acceptable and not acceptable within them. This bothers a lot of people who are looking for a quick and easy set of rules that they don't have to think about nor justify. "God said X, therefore X is true" is not fundamentally different than the old "the king said X, therefore X is true". It's a shortcut designed to keep from having to think about why we ought to be moral to each other. It's interesting, isn't it, that people who assert that God has a particular moral code, that code almost invariably mirrors the morals that they, themselves, favor. It's nothing more than the ultimate appeal to authority fallacy. "I'm right, everyone else is wrong, my God says so!"

    3. That's simply false. What early Christians did instead was create a system whereby scribes could be trained to transcribe the Bible and, largely after the invention of the printing press, that work became unnecessary, but the system was already in place so they had to find something to do with it. The system that Christians created was never intended for the general education of the masses, that part only came along after secular society looked at these schools and decided that society could be better served than it had been under the Christian of educating only the rich and religious zealots. I see apologists trying to overplay their hand on this regard far, far too often.

    The real problem with statements like these is that it doesn't address the only question that really matters: is there a good reason to believe that any god actually exists? I'm not asking for emotions, I'm not asking for wishful thinking, in fact, I'm rejecting those out of hand as a reliable means of determining factual reality. I'm asking for evidence, logical and critical thinking, three things that seem wholly alien to modern-day religious thinking. The fact remains that there isn't one single theist on this planet who can produce a single shred of demonstrable, objective evidence that their god actually exists. they wave their hands around, they move their lips a lot, they make plenty of claims and rationalizations why they can't actually do it, but in the end, they really have nothing but a desire for gods without any evidence for gods. Then they wonder why rational people don't take them seriously.

    They should stop wondering.

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    1. Cephus:

      Thanks for pushing my comment! Some fair points. I’ll address each in the order you raise them. I'll have to divide this over two comments...

      (1) What do you believe in? You say that I am not a thinking person. OK, fine, maybe I’m not – I mean, I admit that I like Billy Ray Cyrus and Air Supply, for crying out loud – but what I’m asking for here is something beyond your asserting by fiat that humans are not fundamentally religious. You offer no proof that I can see; whereas I did offer proof (much scientific proof, for example). So if you believe in science – if that’s your gold standard – I think, as things stand, you are likely going to lose this debate, because the current state of science is pretty much on my side. Or are you going to ignore that scientific evidence, much of which was produced by atheists?

      But if you don’t believe in science, I can respect that – I’d just like to hear an argument; because you haven’t made a very compelling one yet; only provided one speculative means by which people might have invented God to satisfy some other need. And actually, I agree with you up to a point about that need – I just don’t know if it answers the question I was asking. But surely you are at least partly right. We do have a need to know and understand, and Christians themselves have argued against just using God to “fill in the gaps” in our knowledge, and surely at least some religion (and perhaps all) has come from a need to understand. I would also go further and add another need – the need to belong – that has contributed to religion. Indeed, when I teach social psychology, I explicitly make this point myself about those two needs contributing to religious systems…so I certainly agree on that score.

      But I think it perfectly reasonable to also ask the next question in the chain of reasoning: Why God AT ALL? I mean, there is no reason that we should necessarily have used GOD to EVER fill in a gap. There is no process in evolution or chance that necessitates GOD as an explanation. As atheists themselves often assert, there are lots of ways to explain things without even once considering God. I agree. So that line of reasoning leads us back where we started – certainly the processes you raise are possible; but they are not the only explanation.

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    2. Cephus,

      (2) I have written an article – one of the first articles I ever wrote on my blog – about the dangers of treating one’s personal preferences as morality. I do agree that we all tend to do that. I do it sometimes, too. The only thing that ever STOPS me from doing that – the only thing that motivates me enough to do something BETTER than that – is religion.

      Still, I grant that this is more complicated than I made it out to be. It is also in my opinion more complicated that you make it out to be. For example: Sure, of course it’s the same whether God said X or the King said X, from the epistemological point of view of the listener. I realized that when I wrote my piece. But my point is that people believe X – that is, both atheists and religious people believe X – and which system best makes X a plausible belief? If your argument is that it isn’t a plausible belief because it’s COMPLETELY subjective, that’s one way out of the circle – but it isn’t very satisfying, and few atheists take that route (Dawkins & Dennett, to name a couple, who would oppose that argument). Rather, most folks acknowledge that some moral principles ought to be treated as things we really OUGHT to do. Given that, theism better integrates that practical view than atheism – in my opinion. And I haven’t read anything here that really challenged that fundamental argument; only stuff picking at the edges of the argument.

      (3) Well, probably I did overstate the case, and I agree with you that a lot of early Christian education was not for the masses, so to speak. Still, you haven’t really offered much of a rebuttal to the evidence on the table. My point is that, even when it was not for the masses, what defined and guided Christianity was actually a pretty intellectual process. Sure, most people could not read St. Thomas Aquinas…but his philosophy is still regarded by even most secular people as brilliant. And his philosophy was accepted by the church. And I could name a thousand examples like that off the top of my head. And BTW, a lot of the people who spread education to the masses weren’t secular atheists – they were rebellious Christians (e.g., Luther) who “believed in the Bible” more, not less, than their forebears. So I do grant that part of what you said was correct, but if you truly believe that only secular people spread education and Christians were always against it, then I really don’t think you have read much of what historians actually say. In fairness, I haven’t either! The reason is I, like you, I don’t care much about it, because:

      I agree totally with you about the irrelevancy, in a sense, of point #3. (See my prior comment). So we’re on the same page there. The real questions still remain at the end of the day, and they have little to do with whether Christians are smart or not. Of course, after saying that, you based part of your argument on the fact that critical thinking is “wholly absent” from modern religious thinking. I agree this isn’t a glory age for the church in terms of intellectual production, but maybe you should look Francis Collins (to name one of a hundred examples), the current head of NIH and former head of the Genome project, in the face and say that – and see what happens!

      Thanks for the comments!

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  3. 1. "Religion is built into us."
    Not true! Curiosity is built into us, and it is this curiosity that has led us to create religious beliefs about those things that we once did not understand. Man, both pre and post Christianity have worshiped pretty much everything and anything under the sun. But he mostly did so out of trying to find out about the origins of his existence and the world and the universe in which we live in. Another motivating factor to worship the unseen is also due to fear of the unknown such as death, natural upheavals such as tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, etc.

    2. "Theism provides a more coherent view of morality than atheism."
    Yet another fallacy!Apparently if we were to take the bible as a moral guide the only thing you would learn is that morality is subject to the whims of God. For instance while stating in the commandments that "thou shalt not kill" he then authorizes killing as he directs the Hebrews to take the land he had promised them by force. The Old Testament is full of orders supposedly given by God to kill men, women, and children.

    Finally, I completely agree with Smilodon that morality is a product of culture and society and therefore has nothing to do with God. Before Judaism came along there were others who wrote similar laws against killing and treating others as you yourself would like to be treated.

    3. Christianity is a highly intellectual enterprise.
    I disagree. I don't agree with the idea that Christians are stupid people. I have met many challenging theists that demonstrate high intellect and seemingly coherent arguments in favor of their beliefs.

    Although its true that theists have contributed learning institutions and even scientific discoveries I don't think it has anything to do with their faith. Studies have shown that scientists who are believers are able to compartmentalize or separate their beliefs from their research. I just think that when it comes to the unknown theists make too many assumptions based on faith and so called "divine revelations" which are both in my opinion two invalid ways of obtaining knowledge.

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    1. Chatpilot,
      A very fair comment. I think I dealt with #1 and 2 in my first comment above, so I’d refer you to that. About #3, I’d add that you are right in a way. Being a theist does require some faith in assumptions that cannot be directly proved. So does science – a faith in observation and logic, for example (both assumptions have been radically challenged by really smart people forever); so does essentially every great enterprise. But theism does require a bit more, I grant you.

      I would only add that this faith, while belief in the unseen, is not unthinking. I have reasons for what I believe that are based on evidence – they are not based entirely on feelings or intuition (though there is that, too). I think hard about and am skeptical of even my own faith. The difference between the thinking and unthinking person is not that the thinking person has no faith and the unthinking person has faith; both have faith in something. The difference is that the thinking person is AWARE of their unspoken assumptions and can intelligently defend them. The unthinking person is simply unaware of what their unspoken assumptions are.

      And you may be right about the compartmentalizing argument – a fair point! One possible explanation for why Christians created so many intellectual disciplines is that there were so MANY Christians that some of them were bound to do something. I mean, if the whole world were Christian, then by definition Christians would be the best at everything – say, ballet – but that hardly means that “Christianity produces ballet.” That’s a fair point, but also leaves the question of why did a disproportionate number of those intellectual disciplines come from within Christian societies and not other societies. Still, I grant your point – that is a plausible explanation. I myself do compartmentalize my science and my religion, though my own Christian belief system tells me to do that: I mean, Christianity has pretty much always said (for example) “the Bible is not directly about most scientific questions.” No one but a lunatic would claim there is an intellectual problem in saying “the Bible does not teach me about the laws of motion, so I am free to study those as a separate issue.”

      Thanks again!

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  4. You started off by saying we should seek Jesus

    "Jesus did not say “wait and you will find.” He said “seek and you will find.”"

    I'm curious what you would say to someone like myself who grew up Christian and at some point had a crisis of faith. I spent years trying to find the truth. And I wanted to believe God was real for a very large part of that search, if Jesus was indeed real, he would have had to do very little to make me a life-long Christian. And yet nothing happened. I did seek, I did not find.

    I imagine I might find your answer here

    "until you have actively sought the truth about God with an open mind – and have not given up the pursuit until the day you die"

    It strikes me as a bit of a tall order to have to keep up the search until the day I die.

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    1. Hausdorff:

      Thanks for your fair comment! Yes, that would be my answer – but I do realize it is very, very poor fare. I am not in any way invalidating the genuineness of your search or the difficulty involved. I have actually felt that way myself in my own life, wondering why I didn’t find answers. And yes, it is a tall order, and I was sensitive to that when I wrote my original (and somewhat intentionally hyperbolic) piece. Your response is more gracious than I deserved!

      The truth is, I don’t completely know why God does what He does. His sense of timing seems radically different than mine. That’s been true in my life and in the life of pretty much every believer that I know. The consolation I have is that the Bible repeatedly tells me to expect this…

      Sorry – that’s about as poor an answer as anyone can give. But it’s all I’ve got! I do want to emphasize again, though, that while I don’t know why our experiences have been different, I’m not suggesting mine are “genuine” and yours are not. I know they are both equally genuine…and as I’ve said on my own blog, I concede that it is a point against theism that some people clearly don’t experience God when they seek. (I mean, if even ONE genuine seeker does not find God, that would suggest to me He isn’t real). My only answer is that your life isn’t over yet! An incredibly irritating intellectual answer, I know.

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  5. Religious sects have distinctive ways of annoying me. Roman Catholics annoy me with their bureaucratic legalism draped in pseudo-philosophical grammar; Anglicans annoy me with their post-modern vagueness; Eastern Orthodoxy irritates me with their damn beards. And the quirky American sects annoy me because of their manipulation.

    The guest post is designed to implant an idea. Its uses repetition extensively. The word “seek” is mentioned ten times in first half and usually anchored to a phrase like “open mind” or “without prejudice” or “really ask”. The writer never really states what these prejudices are but it’s not hard to infer the prejudice and closed minded position is ‘God does not exist’.

    The line “I believe God is asking you at the moment - I mean, this very moment, the moment you are reading this, right now” is jaw droppingly blatantly manipulative. First, the stage is set by laboriously suggesting that a God-thing is asking us, right here, right now, at this moment, yes at this moment God-thing is asking us to consider if it exists.

    Once the stage is set, the main act begins. Having been told God is real, we are asked “to honestly consider, with an open mind, the legitimate possible that he exists. With an open mind, I said. Not with the prejudices that many of you no doubt acquired”. Again we have the repetition of ‘seek/ask’ words coupled with ‘honestly/open minded/legitimately possible etc’. And that is just a single line of the post.

    There’s an old PR saying “We can’t control what people think but we can control what they think about”. Critical thinking applies not only to the answers but to the questions. Who is asking the question and why? Who is forcing your thoughts down this path and what are they trying to sell?

    It came as no surprise when I clicked on the guest posters blog and saw his background was in psychology. He claims to have spent “4 years in a fuzzy state of half-Christian agnosticism”. I have no idea what half-Christian agnosticism is but it does not take four years to decide Christianity is nonsense. It may however take four years for a Christian culture to overcome the rational resistance of an otherwise intelligent mind. Especially if they are told daily that “God is asking you to really really ask the legitimate question if God exists with an open mind”.

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    1. The Observer:
      Mercy, sensei! Actually, I quite agree with you about the modern church being overly manipulative – it’s totally true. I dislike it even more than you, because it distorts what I believe.

      I don’t do a lot of self-analysis, but I don’t really think I was trying to be “manipulative,” but rather to prod you to think in as cheeky and annoying a way as I possibly could (because that’s my “style,” I guess). That said, I can certainly understand your reaction! I was actually kind of concerned it would come off that way, so accept my apologies – I probably should have taken that section out. It didn’t really add much, as you correctly note, from an intellectual point of view.

      And to answer your implied question – I was mostly raised in the church (Baptist, mostly). Even during the years I doubted God quite a bit that I referred to, I would have called myself a Christian and still did some “Christian” stuff. So I wasn’t trying to mis-represent the truth, only describe my own experiences as briefly as I could. Even today, sometimes I doubt God. I think such doubt is natural and expected.

      Finally, I don’t think asking the question is a bad thing, and thinking about the possible consequences of not asking the question is good. Any critically-thinking person should do that. If the question is “are bananas better for you than apples” – the thinking person should feel fine ignoring it. But if you have reason to suspect there is arsenic in THIS banana that you are considering eating, then the thinking person ought to spend more time evaluating the evidence. So while I respect your rejection of my “framing,” I do not feel guilty for honestly asking the question and explaining why I think it is important! Though the stuff about “you will be standing before God,” yeah, ok…maybe that WAS overkill!

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    2. Truce accepted. Bygones :)

      But asking atheists to consider if the Christian God is real* does seem strange. We have asked the question and decided the answer is 'no'. That is why we identify as atheists.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. Your post was worth reading.

      *As I understand it, God cannot be said to exist because existence is a property of a material universe which God cannot share.

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  6. Apologetic Professor:

    "But I think it perfectly reasonable to also ask the next question in the chain of reasoning: Why God AT ALL? I mean, there is no reason that we should necessarily have used GOD to EVER fill in a gap. There is no process in evolution or chance that necessitates GOD as an explanation."

    I think there is, and much has been written about this (See Emile Durkheim's work, for instance). People are highly sensitive agency detectors. We have evolved to assume that the rustle in the grass is a lion waiting to pounce, or an enemy waiting to strike, because we're more likely to keep ourselves alive on this assumption than if we think it's merely the wind that's doing the rustling.

    And so humans have teleological thinking built in, for good evolutionary reasons. This means that we also used to think that things like lightning and earthquakes had some sort of purpose and agency, because that's what we ourselves are like - we are purpose-driven agents.

    And what conclusion other than "God" can you reach, when you think that lightning and earthquakes and rain have purpose - that there is an agent acting to perform these feats of nature? God falls easily out of the equation - he is simply defined as whatever agent we believe is behind things that no human being could do.

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  7. OMG! I just read all the post and all the comments and I know no more than I did before I read any of it.

    I think the thing that stuck out the most was that you all refer to the "Christian" God...and ignore all the others. Don't they count? I don't know if any God exists but I'm not willing to claim I'm so intelligent I can say for certain there was not a Divine Creator of some sort. I researched religion for many years after I gave up trying to be a Catholic and I now kinda feel like the old Eskimo did who questioned his priest:

    Eskimo: "If I didn't know about God and sin...would I go to hell?"
    Priest: "No, not if you didn't know about them."
    Eskimo: "Then why did you tell me?"

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    1. Religious folk always use standard arguments for the existence of some God or Gods then stick in a premise like "Christianity is the one true faith because of the empty tomb" or "Islam is the one true faith because of the miracle of the Koran".

      Religious people have no means of deciding who is right and who is wrong. How can they when everything boils down to appeals to faith and authority? How can two theologians decide who is right and who is wrong? They might as well flick a coin and let the 'holy spirit' decide.

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  8. Your third point that "Christianity is a highly intellectual enterprise" is not supported by the evidence. You argue that because Christians were responsible for the founding of the modern university system and because Christians were at the forefront of the development of many intellectual disciplines. therefore, Christianity is somehow the source for these accomplishments. I would argue that these accomplishments, admittedly done by Christians, happened despite their Christianity and not because of it. You further raise the issue that some atheist think they are smarter than Christians. I admit that some atheist do this and it is shame on them. But smart Christians do not overcome the problem that Christianity seems to vaccinate its adherents with ideas that are not smart. Christians who are very smart can hold to ideas that are very stupid because of their religion.

    For example, abstinence only sex education has been repeatedly shown to produce almost no change in the behavior of teenagers concerning sexual activity. Abstinence only education is the equivalent of doing nothing at all. Those pushing for abstinence only sex education are mostly Christians, and at the same time, many of these same Christians would be thought of as smart people in their field of expertise. It is Christianity that seems to be driving mostly smart people to propose and support a stupid program.

    Further, in 1982, 40-50 percent of Americans believed the earth was created mostly in its present form less than 10,000 years ago. A 2011 Gallup survey reports that 30% of US adults interpret the Bible literally. Many, if not most of these people, would be considered smart or very smart. While they may be smart, it is Christianity that seems to have infected them with ideas (i.e., the earth is less than 10,000 years old) that are not smart...might I say, ideas that are stupid.

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