Oh, those crazy Christians
A year or so ago I was interacting with an atheist blogger, and after reading his list of objections to faith in God I boldly asserted my intention to answer each of them. Well…it became clear, as I worked on my rebuttal to one of his alleged biblical discrepancies, that my self-imposed apologetics assignment was going to take more time and effort than I could invest at the time, or even now. It takes me hours just to write one blog post, and that’s without having to study or research, and my multitudinous (love that word) responsibilities make that alone difficult to commit to.
But I am committed to completing my more recent self-imposed assignment to try and remove some specific stumbling blocks to faith in Christ. It may take me awhile but, God-willing, it’ll get done. My list was not exhaustive and did not include one of the most obvious ones…the lack of conviction that God even exists. But as I have addressed that in multiple previous posts, though I don’t presume that my arguments have demolished that boulder, I will refer the reader there for now and not commit to tackling that in this assignment.
Except to address specifically the view that faith and intellect are somehow mutually exclusive. That anyone with the least bit of smarts will reject the notion of God and more specifically Christianity as a needless crutch at best and mind-numbing nonsense at worst. This perception, though certainly nothing new, has grown in influence in the last few decades with the advances in science, as more and more of our world is observed and understood. The greater our knowledge and understanding, the more inclined we are to think ourselves “all that” and assert our independence as masters of our universe. For many, knowledge feeds pride, and pride is insatiable and demanding. The more we feed it the bigger it gets and the more combative when threatened.
Since true faith requires humbly submitting to God as sovereign Lord, pride is the antithesis of faith, not intelligence. One doesn’t need to look very hard to find crazy-smart men and women who believe in the God of the Bible, both in centuries past and this very day. One listen to philosopher-apologists Ravi Zacharias or William Lane Craig, or a quick perusal of any list of scientists who are Christians (as opposed to Christian Scientists, which is a whole ‘nother thing) should put the kibosh on the idea that only mentally inept people believe in God.
So since it can be easily demonstrated that intelligence is not a determining factor in who acknowledges and submits to God, it’s worth considering what underlies the attitude of superiority and derision held by many skeptics and atheists about believers. Could it be that they’re actually quite insecure about their position and feel the need to bolster it by bullying the opposition?
I recently viewed a debate from three years ago between William Lane Craig and well-known atheist Sam Harris. You can see the video or read the transcript here. Harris initially tries to lay down a defense of his contention that the foundation of morality is natural, which was the debate topic. But he quickly resorts to red herrings and an attempt to denigrate Craig and his position with charges that it’s “psychopathic and psychotic” and “completely delusional.” He tries to soften the blow by claiming that he’s “not saying that Dr. Craig, or all religious people, are psychopaths and psychotics,” but then goes on to, in effect, call them “lunatics” as well.
It seems clear to me, as this debate demonstrates and multiple assertions by popular atheists today corroborate, that the failure of atheism to satisfactorily answer life’s greatest questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny weighs on them like a boisterous bully’s sagging sense of self-worth. And just as a playground bully ridicules and derides from an irritating insecurity, the average antitheist today is compelled to seek to establish the validity of his argument by calling into question the sanity of those who disagree with him. To shore up his own shaky foundation by throwing “sticks and stones” at his opponent’s.
Origin? As in origin of the universe? Honest answer? “We don’t know.” Anything else is simply guessing and guessing is not better than being honest.
Meaning: The question for an (absolute) meaning implies the existence of such an absolute meaning, in other words, it includes the answer you want to hear. But if you start with “IS there an absolute meaning”, we can simply answer “Nope” and go from there, to the simple concept of finding meaning on your own. It’s pretty pathetic to expect meaning being given to you like a birthday cake anyway.
Morality: Many ways of deciding moral questions are known. Some are good, some are worse (and sometimes both, as there are obviously different ways of determine which one is which). I don’t count “Because some guys 2.000 years ago wrote this book which claims god’s answer is …” among the better ones. We all have our own morality, Christians cannot even agree on what god tells them, so why should your personal answer somehow be absolute, if you can’t even get all your fellow Christians to agree – much less Muslims, Buddhists, etc.?
Destiny: Same as “meaning”. Start by asking if it exists and not, what it is.
The irony in accusing atheists of needing to bash other people while calling them names, insecure and dumb is obviously lost on you. Some guy once had something to say about that, something about sawdust and logs… If I could just remember who it was…
Atom…ant. How are you? Regarding morality, certainly different people can come to different conclusions on what is good and right. Even among Christians. The question is…can there be an objective morality apart from the existence of God? Without objective morality we’re forced to admit we have no basis for judging between everyone’s personal morality. Many atheists are not comfortable with this but have not been successful in establishing a basis apart from God.
With different conclusions, you have no idea what this mysterious absolute morality could be. So, if it exists, you have no idea what it is, because you can’t even agree with your fellow christians, much less with me. Which makes the idea, that it doesn’t exist not really scary – because nothing changes:
We need to find a better way to determine a good morality. And THIS would be a great moment to start reading philosophical texts to stop having to believe that there is no “basis apart from god”. But do you really WANT to lose that belief? I highly doubt it, sorry. The truth is out there, but you WILL need to open your eyes, unfortunately, because it’s not your own voice, which you can declare to be god’s (like everyone else who hears god’s voice that’s conveniently telling them what they wanted to hear anyway).
To make it short: The main difference between your morality and another one is that you CLAIM it to be absolute. Nothing more. You cannot prove this claim and your fellow christians will not even agree to all of it, making your claim highly doubtful, or, let’s say, hypocritical.
“Up and at ’em…Atom Ant!” Sorry…Atom Ant was a cartoon in the 60s here in the States. And every time I see you I think of it. (That may lead you to believe I’m older than I really am…we’ll just leave it at that.) Anyway, that’s my pet name for you now.
Question…is the forced genital mutilation of little girls morally wrong? And if your answer is ‘Yes’, please answer a follow-up question: Is it wrong for everyone in every culture at every time?
You can call me whatever you like, honestly, I really don’t care.
The much more interesting question is… Which answer was better?
So, for who and where and when is it not wrong?
Obviously for some people in africa it’s not wrong (some of them were also Christians, btw).
Come on, let it out, what do you really want to say? I’m making it easy for your, so get it of your chest…
Well…if it’s not wrong for those people in Africa, why reference that some of them were Christians, as if to cast aspersions on the Christian faith? If it’s not wrong for them, what difference does it make if they were Christians or atheists? It needn’t cause either of us any embarrassment or consternation because they aren’t doing anything morally wrong.
No, your conclusion is wrong. It is wrong for me (and most people from western states). The big question is, as I already mentioned… Which view is better? Am I right? No. But are there ways to “measure” different systems, compare them? And of course, how can we decide? Obviously it’s not enough to check if one view claims to come from a god – because many varying views claim that and not all of them can be right. Afaik, there is no proof for any of them – you must believe them or not.
So, the “comes from god” part is simply undecidable. Nobody knows. One view could come directly from god, but we have no way to know which one. For all you know, the Muslims could be right. Or the jews. Or some obscure sect, that was destroyed thousands of years ago. People were convinced that slavery is ok (because that’s in the bible), but some today don’t even agree on “Give Caesar what’s Caesar’s” – even if it’s in the bible.
So, as we have no way to test if a specific system really comes from god or not, we are back to step one and every religious system is just like any other system – and we need ways to compare them. These ways may not be perfect – but chances are good, that there ARE better ways than choosing one random religious system and claim it to be absolute – because then we have to case, that one guy claims that his absolute system allows it and another guy claims that his absolute system forbids it – and ironically, both may think it’s the SAME system.
But see, Atom…the minute you ask “Which view is better?” you are assuming that there is a standard by which to measure them, even if you don’t know how to go about doing that. And on naturalism, there is no standard.
Christian, Jew, Muslim, whatever…the point I’m trying to make is that without a supernatural moral law-giver, morality is purely subjective and we have no right to judge anyone for what we consider immoral.
And I already refuted the point. Even if you assume god existed as a law-giver, obviously reality shows us, that people are not able to determine what he is saying – otherwise all people would agree and nobody would wear mixed fibres (or all of us). So, you have thousands of groups who all claim that their interpretation of one specific religion contains somehow “absolute morality”. And they all disagree on various aspects of that morality.
And yes, there are standards – notice the plural. Many. The trick is to find good reasons which standard is better, by choosing useful premisses. The result will not be absolute and not perfect – but much better than “I am right, because my random morality is absolute.”.
For example, you could choose a stable society as your goal. Or the maximization of human freedom or happiness. Or a combination thereof. And then you can measure how good a specific moral system helps that goals. Neither absolute nor perfect. But perhaps good enough to work.
I’m sorry, Atom, but I don’t believe you refuted the point at all. I’m not arguing now what is moral and what isn’t, but rather is there a universal standard to determine that? And you seem to be equivocating, at once saying you can have many standards and that we can seek to find “which standard is better.” If by “better” you mean more useful, then we’re talking about something other than what is morally right or wrong.
The first question you have never answered is: IF there is an “absolute” moral standard – HOW would we know?
The answer is simple: We cannot. Nobody has ever done it and probably nobody ever will. Many people claim to know the absolute standard, but as long as it’s just a claim, it’s worthless.
And from that, the simple truth is, that morality HAS TO BE a choice. We have to choose what we want to use as morality. And from that, again, comes another truth, that we can choose the benchmark to measure against. Of course, most people simply choose to use whatever society around them defines as morality.
You are trying to confuse morality and absolute morality, but sorry, that doesn’t work as long as you can neither prove that absolute morality exists nor how to determine it, if it existed. You cannot ask for a moral absolute without having any prove that one such exists. That’s like asking for the REAL rules of football and claiming that everyone who plays football does it WRONG. Yes, you can say, something is morally right, you just can’t say something is absolute morally right. And you can argue that one moral standard is better than another, because of argument x, y and z. What you cannot do is prove that one standard is absolutely right and another absolutely wrong.
It’s simple, in the end: Christians don’t have absolute morality. Nobody has. So it’s always a choice. And for that we should strive to make the best one.
Atom…you’re a software developer. So am I (not really…but let’s pretend). We live in a society without laws. You come up with a killer app…one that’s sure to be very profitable. I steal your design and market it as my own. According to my own morality, whatever contributes to my flourishing is good. What would be your response?
I am bigger then you. I could simply kill you. No laws, right?
Fortunately for us, such a society would probably never be stable enough to reach the level where computers would be invented anyway. A working (not necessarily true or absolute) system of laws has proven to be pretty useful for societies. Perhaps a true lawless society COULD work, but history seems to favor societies with laws.
And… So what? Laws are required for a society. Does that make any law absolute? As we have seen in history, the actual CONTENT of the law can vary wildly and still work.
Atom…as I’m sure you realize, you did not answer my question. Isn’t it intriguing that we all have this innate sense of right and wrong that we feel is applicable to everyone? This is how we were created and it speaks to the goodness and justice of our creator. I urge you to consider making an honest effort to investigate whether he does indeed exist. And I will be praying for you.
So true. I experience this often with my sister who is an atheist. She covers her Facebook page with offensive memes about the stupidity of Christians and will occasionally post similar statuses inviting friends to comment and discuss. However, the few times that I joined the conversation and made attempts to respond to the concerns voiced, I was personally attacked for expressing a different view.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Angela. I really do believe that kind of response – attacking instead of respectful debate – is just lack of a real “faith”, if you will, in one’s own position.
Hello Caroline, I haven’t visited here in a while and I hope you are well.
I’m somewhat uneasy about your comparison of atheists to playground bullies. I can see how Harris looks to go off on a tangent in the Harris/Craig debate, however he is asking a sincere question: given that God does horrid things in the Bible, can we really be sure that It is the correct grounding for morality? And, as a deeper question, how can we possibly know what “morality” is when it clearly isn’t the jealousy and pride of God?
In terms of what atheism can offer as answers to questions of purpose, origins and morality, it can’t. We all know this; atheism simply means not believing in a god. To come up with answers to questions, we have to rely on something more that atheism and our investigation doesn’t have a safety net of assuming gods if other lines of enquiry fail.
Thanks to the Hubble telescope and thousands of peer-reviewed articles and experiments since we are getting closer to the answer of the origins of our universe. “We” are not atheists, we are all people who have been given the gift of sharing in the scientific discoveries we have made as we bound into the cosmos. We don’t know yet. Guess work doesn’t help.
The question of purpose has perhaps the least satisfying of all answers: we have no reason to believe we even have a purpose. I can’t even imagine how we could discover whether we have a purpose.
Morality is the question I find the most interesting. You may have noticed that from my blog. In my last two posts I call into question what religion really offers the moral discussion: with God all things are permissible so long as you accept Jesus and ask for forgiveness; surely “good” means more than servitude to a god; can morality really be divorced from wellbeing, or is it actually our description of actions and the effect on wellbeing?
Hello, Rhys (I see you’re using your name on your blog now). I am well…thank you. Hope you are also. We discussed quite a bit last year, so I’m not going to go over the same explanations about understanding God (I have all my responses in a file that I can email you, if you like.) Except to point out that your assertion that “with God all things are permissible so long as you accept Jesus and ask for forgiveness” is a clear misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches, as is how you represent the Christian faith in your latest blog post. But I will address your points about morality.
You ask, “can morality really be divorced from wellbeing…?” The problem with using wellbeing as a determining factor is that, 1. there is not wholesale consensus on what that looks like, and 2. what contributes to the “wellbeing” of one often takes away from that of another. As I demonstrated in my comments to Atomic Mutant, stealing his design contributes to my wellbeing, so how can you say it’s immoral? Or suppose I claim that my adult children are just scraping by, or the poor and underprivileged in my local community, and I need this design in order to make enough money to contribute to their wellbeing. Whether I’m stealing for my own wellbeing or others’, we would both agree that this theft is morally wrong.
And consider the practice of forced female genital mutilation in some Arabic countries. Those who are perpetrating and condoning the practice claim that it’s beneficial for the young women and for their society. For their wellbeing. On what grounds do you condemn it?
I condemned FGM on the grounds that it does not heighten, protect, foster or lead to heightened wellbeing. In fact, on all counts it lowers wellbeing. The same is true of theft: it might make you happy, but the victim won’t be and the longterm effects on trust would be devastating too. The issue is one of net wellbeing, not the wellbeing of whatever community you choose. But the question was about whether morality could be divorced from wellbeing, not whether it solely relied on it.
As for my misunderstanding of the Bible (and the Abrahamic religions generally) I am curious as to how all things in fact are not forgivable with God.
The personal, societal, and net wellbeing are still subject to opinion. Those Muslim clerics would disagree with you (and me).
Your implication here about God and forgiveness seems to be that it doesn’t matter what you do because God will forgive you. Which doesn’t seem right. But in your blog post you’re asserting that his forgiveness is irrelevant. Do I have that right? So I’m unclear about what you’re curious about.
Wellbeing is objectively measurable. The clerics would simply be wrong.
There are two separate issues in the post: God’s forgiveness is the wrong forgiveness to seek; with God all things are permissible. Neither of which I see as bring wrong.
How is it objectively measurable?
It is God’s right and place to forgive because all sin is a transgression of his moral law and/or a rebellion against his will which he has a right as our creator to require our conformity to. Of course, we definitely should also ask forgiveness from those on earth against whom we have transgressed.
Your portrayal of God as forgiving everything as long as we “ask nicely” is not accurate. Perhaps you’ve gotten the same mistaken impression that some of my Catholic family and friends have had regarding the belief that we are saved by faith alone. Being saved by faith alone doesn’t mean that everything is permissible. Saving faith is a surrendering to God…a submitting to his lordship. The one who truly believes in this way enters into a new relationship with God and is given his spirit. He or she is a “new creation.” One who claims to have believed but continues to disregard God and his moral law gives evidence that there has been no change, no new life, no rebirth.