Six Answers to Give a Theist
March 31, 2012 in Religion
…that they won’t listen to.
I noted a tweet with a link pointing to an article over by a user by the name of Cameron over at Ravi Zacharias’ site which contained this mess, another bevy of rehashed theist arguments that apparently they haven’t gotten the memo not to use anymore (to be fair, it was written in 2010). It’s hard to believe they haven’t heard the answers to these before, so it strikes me that they either refuse to listen to them (most likely) or believes that this will make an effective field manual for less-sophisticated Christians to attack unprepared atheists. Sure, the six questions posed by him have been done to death, but again, this blog is about sharpening up my own writing and thinking, so I’ll provide some answers.
1. If there is no God, “the big questions” remain unanswered, so how do we answer the following questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? This question was asked by Aristotle and Leibniz alike – albeit with differing answers. But it is an historic concern. Why is there conscious, intelligent life on this planet, and is there any meaning to this life? If there is meaning, what kind of meaning and how is it found? Does human history lead anywhere, or is it all in vain since death is merely the end? How do you come to understand good and evil, right and wrong without a transcendent signifier? If these concepts are merely social constructions, or human opinions, whose opinion does one trust in determining what is good or bad, right or wrong? If you are content within atheism, what circumstances would serve to make you open to other answers?
First off, wasn’t this supposed to be “six questions”? I’m counting seven right here, and we aren’t even past number one yet. That gripe aside, let’s try to untangle the rest.
- “God” is not a method for determining good and evil, especially when he has perpetrated so much of the latter. The bible contains and endorses genocide, slavery, incest, rape, and more, and the Koran has quite a lot of the same nonsense. Biblical morality is the same morality you’d expect to see out of bronze-age desert-dwelling myth-makers. This has (partially and impefectly) been addressed in another article here (highly recommended to skip my writing for the time being and have a look at the linked further viewing and reading section). To keep this as tl;dr as possible, I’d like to know that if theists cry so much about fallible, subjective, and changing human morality, why are they willing to live in fallible human houses with their fallible building codes? What about fallible human planes with their fallible human design specs?
- Why is there intelligent life here? – First, because conditions were right. Second, because sentience and intelligence have proven to be evolutionary advantages.
- Is there any meaning to life? If there is meaning, how is it found? – We provide our own purpose or purposes (or don’t). Some people find it in their families, others their community, still others work. Something Christians can’t grasp is that death doesn’t invalidate our purpose. Think of it this way: I have a cell phone for a two year contract. I get some utility out of that phone for that time period, then move on. It is impossible to say that phone served no purpose, despite its limited life span.
- Does human history lead anywhere? – It leads us to today, giving us a causal chain for why things are the way they are. It serves as a reminder of what we’ve done wrong, and what we’ve done right (or just what we’ve done period).
- If you’re content with atheism… – Good, solid evidence would help.
2. If we reject the existence of God, we are left with a crisis of meaning, so why don’t we see more atheists like Jean Paul Sartre, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Michel Foucault? These three philosophers, who also embraced atheism, recognized that in the absence of God, there was no transcendent meaning beyond one’s own self-interests, pleasures, or tastes. The crisis of atheistic meaninglessness is depicted in Sartre’s book Nausea. Without God, there is a crisis of meaning, and these three thinkers, among others, show us a world of just stuff, thrown out into space and time, going nowhere, meaning nothing.
Nevermind that belief in Yahweh is presented as fitting self-interest (believe in him and get eternal life, don’t do it and you’ll go to hell), why do we need transcendent meaning? What are we transcending? Why is it good to transcend it? How does Yahweh (or any other similar god) provide meaning, other than “kiss my ass for eternity”? That’s not meaning; that’s slavery. What a horrible aspiration.
Atheism is not intended to impart purpose to life. Again, we need to do that on our own, and no god can do that. Sorry it’s a little hard to answer this one on its own at length, but it’s rather ambiguous.
3. When people have embraced atheism, the historical results can be horrific, as in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who saw religion as the problem and worked to eradicate it? In other words, what set of actions are consistent with particular belief commitments? It could be argued, that these behaviors – of the regimes in question – are more consistent with the implications of atheism. Though, I’m thankful that many of the atheists I know do not live the implications of these beliefs out for themselves like others did! It could be argued that the socio-political ideologies could very well be the outworking of a particular set of beliefs – beliefs that posited the ideal state as an atheistic one.
How many times will theists pull this out? Does it seriously need addressing when it’s been debunked as often as it has? Le sigh. The least I can say is that Cameron didn’t stick Hitler into the mix; his record has decisively shown his support of Christianity (and for, at least in part, Christianity’s support of him) – something Christians continue to try and foist onto atheists because of the utter embarrassment and discrediting he does to them. For the last time: these people didn’t kill in the name of atheism. They replaced religious dogma with political dogma, and killed in the name of that. I doubt they busted down doors, pointed guns at people, and screamed “be an atheist or we’ll shoot you in the face!” They ordered people killed due to resisting their “cultural revolutions” or flat out bigotry (some cases of antisemitism in Stalin’s case).
This whole “conclusion” is not a logical one; it’s an appeal to emotion. What this “question” is intended to do is to attempt to smear atheism, not really refute it. Christians love trying to make these people out to be atheist boogeymen, and conveniently shut out any and all examples of “good” atheists. They then act surprised when people point to badly behaving Christians and ask why they should adopt Christianity if it produces such horrors coughcough Westboro Baptists coughcough. Cue Christians crying how unfair it is to compare all of them to those hatemongers. Cue me saying “I accept your apology and trust you won’t try that bullshit again.”
Do you know why not just atheists, but most decent people oppose and condemn all of these dictators? Because these dictators were assholes, forcing their unquestionable dogma on others. Do you know why many atheists oppose and condemn Christians? Because too damned often, Christians are assholes, forcing their unquestionable dogma on others.
4. If there is no God, the problems of evil and suffering are in no way solved, so where is the hope of redemption, or meaning for those who suffer? Suffering is just as tragic, if not more so, without God because there is no hope of ultimate justice, or of the suffering being rendered meaningful or transcendent, redemptive or redeemable. It might be true that there is no God to blame now, but neither is there a God to reach out to for strength, transcendent meaning, or comfort. Why would we seek the alleviation of suffering without objective morality grounded in a God of justice?
This is partially an attempt at shifting of the problem of evil in an attempt to offload the cognitive dissonance the problem has elicited in Christians. The problem of evil (theodicy) can only be solved by either taking away Yahweh’s omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience, or taking him out of the picture entirely. Removing Yahweh solves the problem and admits we must take responsibility for the wrongdoings we commit.
It is a sad and regrettable fact of life that many who suffer will not receive the justice they deserve. As a species, we should work to amend that as best we can. We should seek out that alleviation on our own terms because it often improves our collective lot, and is the way we continue to function. We can’t do it by answering problems with “god” and letting them be.
5. If there is no God, we lose the very standard by which we critique religions and religious people, so whose opinion matters most? Whose voice will be heard? Whose tastes or preferences will be honored? In the long run, human tastes and opinions have no more weight than we give them, and who are we to give them meaning anyway? Who is to say that lying, or cheating or adultery or child molestation are wrong –really wrong? Where do those standards come from? Sure, our societies might make these things “illegal” and impose penalties or consequences for things that are not socially acceptable, but human cultures have at various times legally or socially disapproved of everything from believing in God to believing the world revolves around the sun; from slavery, to interracial marriage, from polygamy to monogamy. Human taste, opinion law and culture are hardly dependable arbiters of Truth.
If this is true, then Christians have no standard to critique any other religion involving deities of their own. However, this is really an equivocation fallacy where the idea of Yahweh is conflated with Yahweh himself. We can critique the idea of Yahweh without him actually existing, just as we can ridicule any ridiculous idea without having it exist. If I said “Hey let’s go run this car off a cliff” while driving and you were my passenger, you would rightly say “That is a very bad idea” without that incident actually occurring.
Again, I’ve dealt with the morality issue. No, we aren’t perfect (and neither is Christianity, despite claims otherwise). We don’t have perfect standards, and we don’t always have perfect actions to live up to them. It sucks, that’s life, work on improving it. This is another “oh no what will we do if everything isn’t black and white” cry for help. My answer: COPE. To quote Matt Dillahunty on the question of “Who are we to judge?”: “Who else could?”
Also: There’s that Truth with a capital T again. Hello Plato, I wasn’t missing you. At all. NOW GO BE SAD IN THE CORNER.
6. If there is no God, we don’t make sense, so how do we explain human longings and desire for the transcendent? How do we even explain human questions for meaning and purpose, or inner thoughts like, why do I feel unfulfilled or empty? Why do we hunger for the spiritual, and how do we explain these longings if nothing can exist beyond the material world?
Again…transcend what? If I want to be better at something than I am today, the answer is not “god”. If I ask “How do I write better?”, “god” would not be a helpful answer. And feeling unfulfilled? People get bored. If that’s evidence for god, the bar has been lowered so far as to be completely laughable. What does it mean if I feel…ambivalent? Jealous? Ecstatic? One can only imagine.
“Spiritual” has languished into being a very ambiguous and almost useless concept; I would say we long for it only insofar as we’re culturally conditioned to look for it…er, whatever it’s supposed to be. Otherwise, it’s fairly hard to talk about.
A little less serious answer: If Yahweh has to put every “human longing” into our brain, why do we then need advertising campaigns? Can’t he just pop the idea that we want iPads into our heads automatically?
There’s six answers for you, so how about six questions in return?
- Why should your god be the default one to plug into your situations above? Why not Mithras? Why not a magic talking Atari 2600 cartridge? Why not (ugh, yes) Zoidberg?
- Why can’t you produce real, tangible evidence for your god claim? Why continue to use sophistry and lies? Are poorly constructed inferential arguments the best you can produce? If you can’t produce this evidence, why should we accept your claims, and why should you have any power?
- If Yahweh is the ultimate standard for goodness, why does he act in demonstrably evil ways multiple times throughout the bible? Why is the entire mythology of Christianity corrupt and destructive of the concept of personal responsibility? Having one guy get killed for the wrongdoing of others is not moral, it is ridiculous. Creating beings that you know will fail and anger you, then condemning them for doing so is not moral, it is ludicrous.
- If Christianity has such excellent moral standards and training, why do Christians act in immoral ways? We know that in states with greater religiosity, crime does not go down; in fact, it usually goes up. Oh, no “not a true Christian” fallacies, please. “Free will” is a ridiculous answer as well.
- If you continue to believe that atheism has produced only bad people or that we have no morals, why do you act shocked when we get offended? Why do you continue to ignore the evidence that more secular nations are more prosperous?
- Will you continue to ignore the answers presented here as well as several other places that answer your questions? If so, why? If you had something that stands up to scrutiny, that’s fine, but I’m not going to hold my breath.