Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rantings of a Young Fool

I suppose some may assume that the title of this post refers to myself, though I'm not so young anymore, and the days when I would still get carded for alcoholic beverage purchases seems to be long past. I have recently been called a fool repeatedly by a Christian at another blog, but by his own definition, he's the fool and intellectually dishonest (one of his favorite labels for anyone who doubts the veracity of the Christian fairy tale).

But no, the title is inspired by this young man, a sincere believer, no doubt. He is appalled by the news of a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life report that let's us know that 52% of American Christians and 37% of self-described evangelicals, believe you don't need Jesus to get to heaven. Sounds like progress to me. I wonder if our young Christian has seen this. If so, he must truly be dismayed. A survey conducted by The Barna Group shows that of those that consider themselves Christians

-Almost half believe that Satan does not exist.

-One-third say that Jesus sinned when he was on earth.

-Two-thirds say they do not have a responsibility to share the Gospel with others.

-One-quarter dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.

Again, just more progress in my book!

I once encountered a young fool on the issue of Antony Flew, and I've resurrected an old post from my archives below detailing some of that exchange.

Many Christians are very pleased these days by the "conversion" of Antony Flew, a noted, if not "notorious," atheist. The good gentleman who writes the blog on which I posted the comments from which this post is derived asked why, in light of Flew's new opinion, Many atheists look to Flew's work and admire him for it. I asked "why not?" Any opinion that Flew has now does not alter the force of his previous arguments. No theist has ever adequately answered his Theology & Falsification for example. And of course there are many questions about the validity of the Varghese/Flew book that records what Mr. Flew supposedly now believes.

This individual concludes, however, that atheists are simply stubborn and refuse to believe, stating that it is funny that so many atheists look to his [Flew's] work and admire his work as an atheist, but completely reject the conclusion of that work. I suppose it doesn't occur to our theistic writer that Flew was not the lone atheist philosopher on the planet, for the point he makes would only make sense if suddenly the majority of professional philosophers who have an atheist perspective changed their minds in mass. Then any atheist would indeed have to look at the question of God and examine it again to find why so many informed thinkers have switched positions. It still would not prove God's existence, but it would make any honest person consider the possibility. But of course no such thing has happened, and I shall not hold my breath waiting for such a miracle. If Flew is the best that Christians can produce after all the paper they've wasted on their worthless (sorry, but try reading some Lee Strobel if you think this too harsh a judgment) apologetic arguments, and he is still not a Christian, then I don't think it is "funny" at all that anyone continues to reject god-belief in spite of Flew's change of mind.

This old time religionist then makes the following stunning claim. He writes: They [atheists] make up a battle between science vs. God and yet, as Flew brilliantly points out, science points to God. Science proves that there must be a creator, an intelligent designer, a God!

I didn't know Flew was now also a scientist, though it is nice to know one can change careers so late in life. This person needs to do a little more reading before he does any more writing. Has he never learned of the case of Galileo, or the affair of Franklin's lightning rod and the clergy's reaction to it, or the opposition of Christian leaders to the findings of science on the age of the earth or the evolution of life? Did atheists "make up" such incidents? You'll notice he doesn't even make the more humble claim that there might be evidence of a creator (not that there is any) but that science has proven God exists! We all know Christians are given to hyperbole, but really, this is just embarrassing. Then again, maybe I speak too soon, as I will hopefully soon be receiving from our Christian friend the peer reviewed scientific papers that reveal this "proof."

Our Christian blogger then goes on to say that atheists have no answer for the problem of evil. But the problem of evil arises from the postulated Tri-Omni (Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent) nature of God, and so is not in any way a problem that atheism needs to solve. The world is exactly the mixture of good and evil we should expect if an all-good god did not create it. In other words, no god, no problem. But perhaps he meant the problem of death, or ultimate justice, or cosmic purpose or some such. The problem with the Christian is that he also has no solution to any of those, he only thinks he does.

But Flew is not even a Christian (at least, not yet) so what exactly is he? The most precise label would probably be that of deist. Flew has stated he still does not believe in any afterlife, and seems to believe God does not actively intervene in our world. Most atheists primarily argue against the Tri-Omni God of traditional theism. Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnibenevolent gods are contrary to the evidence and Flew's current "theism" is compatible with a rejection of all three attributes of the God of mainstream religion. This view does not, therefore, differ much from that of most atheists. Of course, Christians don't want to make explicit what they truly believe, for if Mr. Flew does not accept Jesus before he dies, then he will go to Hell, in spite of his conversion to a weak form of god-belief. On the atheist view, Antony Flew has nothing to fear from death itself, and so atheism is ultimately superior to the fear-based Christian vision of eternal suffering for all non-Christians.

Our blogger takes issue with my view and says that I do not understand the Christian faith, despite the fact that I was an evangelical Bible-believing Christian for over ten years. He also says that The message of Christianity is not follow Jesus or burn in hell forever. The message is that God is perfect and holy and we humans are sinful, which is obvious... Because of our sinfulness we deserve to pay the price for our sin. However, I think a straightforward reading of the following verse clearly indicates that the choice of believe or burn is exactly what the Christian message states: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16

He says God is perfect and holy. How does he know this? Because the bible tells him so? How does he decide what constitutes good and holy? Atrocities such as those found in Numbers chapter 31 indicate that the God of scripture does not meet a high moral standard. Even apologist William Lane Craig has said here : "Since God doesn't issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are."

How then is God a moral being at all? The truth is that a being that has no needs or wants, that exists independently of any external reality and has no necessity to take action in order to survive and continue existing, and that cannot die, cannot possibly be the source for any values at all. For where would these values come from? Values arise in the context of life's contingency and the fact that we have needs and goals to fulfill.

Our Christian states that According to Atheism there is no purpose or meaning, for anything. How can a hopeless, meaningless, lack of purpose belief be superior to anything? He here capitalizes the word atheism as if it is as much a religion as his Bible Baloney, a common Christian theme. Atheism is, of course, simply a lack of god-belief, and not a philosophy of life or world-view in and of itself. But no matter, getting facts right is something Christians have difficulty doing, so I won't make an issue of something our God deluded friend probably can't help. As to "purpose," the computer I'm using as I write these words has a purpose, but not one of its own choosing, so I don't see how getting my purpose from an imagined creator should be something to celebrate. The purpose of life is to survive and continue to live and within that, of course, are many other purposes. To love, to have and raise children (if one wants them), to do whatever makes one happy and fulfilled, and so on. No gods are needed for life to have meaning.

He says 90% of the world believes in God, as if (even if true) that would mean anything. There was a time when the majority believed the earth was the center of the universe, but that didn't make it so. This is a classic (and very common) example of the fallacy of appealing to said majority, so we can safely ignore it.

As to atheism being superior, I was of course referring to Flew and his eternal fate under Christianity's doctrine of salvation. Does he really propose that the Christian view is more comforting to those who, because they died without Jesus, now have no hope of heaven? Is Mr. Flew, assuming he does not accept Christ as savior before he passes away, better off suffering the torments of hell forever, instead of simply passing into an eternal, dreamless sleep? What comfort can Mr. Christian give to someone whose loved one has departed this life as a Mormon, or Muslim or Buddhist or atheist? Atheism is certainly superior in the sense that it takes away all fear of the infamous greeting "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Surely all those otherwise condemned to hell for eternity by the Christian God are better off if atheism is true.

Mr. Christian responds that we all "deserve" hell. Well, he can speak for himself. Only those blinded by religious dogma could seriously believe that such an assertion makes any logical or moral sense. But again, please don't judge him too severely. After all, Christians are burdened 24/7 with the impossible task of defending nonsense, and such a duty must come with a price, in this case an impairment of the reasoning faculty.

Now if only Christianity at least gave people the hope (however unfounded) of a life of future happiness unencumbered by eternal torture chambers where billions scream in agony forever, well, then maybe it might really be a comforting, if nevertheless imaginary, world-view.

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