Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recent Struggles

After debating vigorously with a so-called Christian philosopher, I must admit that I was moderately enticed by the way he put some of the central issues which concerned me in regards to Christianity. I also took the liberty of reading Kenneth Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God. There was a part of me that still wanted everything to be real. I think it may take some time before I completely rid myself of all emotional attachment to Christianity, or the allure of its mystic. There’s still this longing for the afterlife, and a time where I might revisit lost loved ones and, perhaps, talk to some famous people along the way. It’s the fantasy of it all that seems most attractive and the possibility for immortality. The fear of death is a plague of the human mind, and the sometimes misfortunate result of being able to ponder one’s existence and eventual demise, which can easily make implausible outcomes more appealing.

My adversary continued to hammer home the notion of Progressive Revelation, and I was certainly enticed by it at times. My number one, and original, detraction against Christianity was the brutality of the Old Testament’s Yahweh. Progressive Revelation seemed to place the blame on the Israelite’s “backwardness” while placing Yahweh in the only apparent position he could be in—as a god who had no choice but to discipline a stubborn people who were incapable of living in a more civilized manner. This was meant to be a step up from other neighboring civilizations and their religious practices.

The laws put forth by god were “the best he could do” considering the immorality of the people he was dealing with. Stoning, although horrendous, was something that the Israelites brought upon themselves because of a rebellious and sinful nature which was far too deep-seated to be drowned out in one fell swoop. Of course, the ultimate and, perhaps, final revelation would come in the form of Jesus Christ. His teachings would unveil god’s full revelation to humanity and the way we all should treat each other. He fulfilled the law and, thus, the old law should be discarded as Jesus’ final draft emerged. This is why, according to the Christian philosopher, Christians are no longer obligated to practice the O.T. laws.

I pointed out some comments that a friend made in response to Progressive Revelation which were not too far removed from what I had already discussed. The Christian philosopher stated, during our discussion, that these people could not understand an advanced system of morality. But, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that people are incapable of living principled lives if they are brought up in an environment conducive to higher ethical standards. From an evolutionary perspective, people haven't changed much in the last 40,000 years. They certainly haven't changed much in the last 10,000 years. They were, at best, victims of the culture in which they were raised and suffered unspeakable consequences for their evil ways that they couldn’t help and god, presumably, couldn’t change. My opponent stated that I had to prove that god could have done it in a better way that didn’t result in the brutality of the Old Testament. Otherwise, my argument failed to hold any weight. I stated that god could have avoided this whole debacle in the first place by not creating these people since he already knew what their future consisted of. I also stated that god, who is supposed to be infinitely wiser than myself, should be able to think of something besides brutalizing an ignorant people. He just continued to emphasis that it was their own doing and god did all that he could do for them. He suggested that I was making an argument from ignorance since I couldn’t think of a better way for god to deal with his people.

We also argued incessantly about who was responsible for the burden of proof. I stated that Atheism was a lack of belief in god(s), but he insisted that a negative claim can still be proven. I’m assuming that the person making the positive claim, that there is a god, has some substantial evidence to back that up. Instead, he wanted to assure me that I was in the same boat and had to have some kind of evidence against a god. He stated that an agnostic position—a neutral position claiming that you don’t know— is the only one that doesn’t have to come up with some form of proof.

I read Kenneth Miller’s book and wanted to concur with the assessment, at times, that science and religion need not be at war with each other. You could accept all the naturalistic explanations about our origins and the universe while still embracing god—in fact, god was able to exert the notion of free will most effectively by remaining mysterious and just beyond our reach. Miller seems to argue that we would lose our free will if god was constantly intervening in unnatural ways that would coerce our belief. He also speaks about Quantum Theory and how that points to a creator because, regardless of how good science gets, we can’t make accurate predictions on the smallest molecular level. I sort of liked the idea that a believer could stop trying to disprove science while still holding confidence in god. There are many Christian’s who end up disproving themselves when they argue against scientific claims like evolution. Science mocks and laughs at them because they already know that evolution is a fact and that science, therefore, disproves the Christian position— who try to fight a losing battle with rhetoric and political clout. Instead, the Christian could go along with science and religion in a harmonious fashion.

Kenneth argues against the idea that the Biblical text is meant to make any scientific claims. He says that stories like Genesis are not meant to be taken in their “extreme literal sense”. I have to wonder who sets the standard for how these stories are to be taken then. Are we going to have to keep changing what—some think— is to be taken literally as more and more Biblical text is contradicted by science? Kenneth also fails to mention the variety of religions across cultures that all make “factual” claims about their god and his influences on the world. I made that point to the Christian philosopher I was debating, he said that it just shows that people know that there is a higher power out there and these various religions are expressions of this knowledge.

There was a part of me that wanted to give god the benefit of the doubt and make a bunch of concessions on his behalf. I could call everything in the Bible that didn’t agree with my moral sensibilities as allegorical, hyperbole or just a condition that the people were responsible for. According to my opponent, the genocides of neighboring countries could be explained away with hyperbole or any other seemingly viable explanation. But, how do I know that I’m making the right judgment on a given scripture or story? Is the story of the flood any less likely than the story of the crucifixion? As far as that goes, are the stories of genocide and infanticide any less probable than the crucifixion? You could make a very reasonable argument that killing babies is far more probable than someone coming back from the dead after rotting in a tomb for three days. The ultimate point I’m trying to make is who makes the judgment about what is true and what was just a convenient exaggeration? The flood account is just as heinous, if not more heinous, than the accounts of infanticide but my opponent considered the flood story to be apparently accurate.

Obviously, theologians have wrestled with these difficult issues over the centuries and have come to a variety of conclusions, often opposing conclusions. Why would a god create a work, that was meant to be his message to humanity, replete with confusing and contradictory information? The only reasonable explanation is that it wasn’t written with any divine inspiration, but by the hands of a many different ordinary undivinely inspired people. There work has been copied and recopied so many times that it probably doesn’t even say what It originally intended to. God seems to be the “author” of confusion. Much like Jesus of the N.T. who would speak in parables so certain people couldn’t understand, god seems to do the same on a grandeur scale throughout the Biblical text. My opponent seemed to think that the Noah account was true but the infanticide accounts were exaggerations. I guess I need more education on how you are supposed to decipher what is real and what is fictional. By the way, there’s no geological evidence that the flood ever occurred anyway. There’s no archaeological evidence that the Israelite’s ever made a voyage through the Sinai Desert or that they were enslaved in Egypt either. But I digress.

This dissonance brewed in my mind for about a day, but I woke up the next morning as the same Atheist I was before this whole debate occurred. I let go of the fantasy, the special pleading and the wishful thinking to embrace reality once more. I’m an atheist because there is insufficient evidence to convince me of there being reason to believe in a god or gods. The burden lies on the person making the claim that there is positive evidence for a god to provide the necessary evidence. In reality, there’s much more evidence against a god than there is for one.


  1. Argh... I hate that whole notion that because supernatural belief is ubiquitous, it's evidence of a supernatural reality. The utter lack of homogeneity among supernatural beliefs is a glaring issue. Many indigenous cultures don't even worship "gods" the way we understand them, but nature and/or ancestral spirits. We're pattern-seeking animals, and we impose patterns of intent on the randomness of nature. Religion is a by-product of evolutionarily favorable traits... nothing more.

    I'm encouraged by your last paragraph. You're right to call this clown out on the special pleading. It's utterly comical to suggest that you have to "prove" god could have done a better job. That presumes god actually, y'know, EXISTS. All you have to do is posit a logically cogent alternative.

    And I totally hear you on the emotional attachment to religion. It was hard for me too. It passes. And when it does, you're a million times happier for being free of those shackles.

  2. I need a WWMS bracelet when I go into battle with these religious philosophers. Stands for "What Would Mike Say".

    He kept on with the shifting the burden of proof fallacy, and I kept feeding into it because I was taking the bait for the whole "Progressive Revelation" idea.

  3. The Progressive Revelation nonsense has another problem. While god was authorizing and approving the wholesale destruction of entire tribes, in another part of the world, people like the Buddha was finding completely peaceful and compassionate ways of living. Funny that.