Posts Tagged Atheism
A man stood on a street corner and waived a bible in the air as if a mug at Octoberfest proclaiming the “eternal truths” of that bible as he saw them. He was wearing the same clothes he had slept in and worn the last several days. He had a story that was full of sorrow about drugs and loss, pain and regret, and sin and consequence. He had given up a home, a wife, a family, and his health for moments of pleasure centered on small crystals and a small tube. He had changed all that but unfortunately it was a little too late for many of those broken things to be fixed. His name was Roger. I felt for him and offered him some food and water; he gratefully accepted and rewarded my kindness with a healthy dose of his beliefs. He said the world had taken so much away from him but couldn’t take away his beliefs.
Humans have an innate ability to hold onto their beliefs regardless of circumstances. They may be strong, they may be weak, they may be caustic or fluid, they may be centered on a god or an anti-god or a god in absentia or even no god at all, but they are held on to like they are the last breath in our lungs. Even when they are crushed, they are soon replaced with more beliefs. They serve as almost a personal accomplishment or validation of a job well done. Once we have secured them, they comfort us by their existence, whether right or wrong. We act as if the belief itself makes us knowledgeable whether or not we have ever studied the subject we believe something about. We present and defend our beliefs attempting to provide them as fact we have proven and at the same time reduce opposing beliefs to rubble offering the superiority of our own. It becomes almost a game. Walt Disney was a master at this. He caused a world of children to “believe” so Tinkerbelle would come back to life when the film already contained the conclusion whether children believed or not.
I used to take my mother to the doctor who was treating her for Parkinson’s and it was almost funny how he would relate to me. I have a 10,000 foot understanding of the neurochemistry involved in that disease so when he would describe how the neurotransmitters Norepinephrine and Dopamine are inhibited when neurons die or are impaired, I would understand. But it was almost like he was asking my opinion on his diagnosis and treatment. I am positive that was just his way of making patients and family members comfortable but it illustrates the point well. Just because I have a small amount of knowledge about that disease my beliefs about treatment and diagnosis are worthless.
Our understanding of belief redefines the word to agreement. We hear something, see something, or experience something that we cannot explain or rationalize in our current belief system and we either agree with it and import it into our system or we dismiss as not being valid enough to be agreed upon. Somehow we gain internal approval by filtering items through our belief system and filing them where appropriate. We do this with God most of all.
But does God really care what we believe?
God is not something we should believe in, he is something we should follow whether or not our experiences, systems, or beliefs tell us we are right. God is really not concerned whether or not we agree with his practice. An assessment of his instruction whether concluding for or against is similar to me telling my mother’s doctor I concurred with his diagnosis and treatment protocols. I could have gone to school, learned everything about medicine I needed, evaluated here test results myself and then offered my sign off but if I had done that, she would have passed away sooner and long before I completed medical school. With God, all lifetimes combined would not be enough time to draw in the education needed to offer a valid opinion.
God does not care if we believe in him; he cares if we follow him. I think I get that. If I am starving and in need of food, a person believing that God will take care of me is far less valuable at the moment than a person doing what God requires and offering food. Tangible action outweighs philosophical belief any and every day. Character is not affected by belief, it is defined by action. I for one prefer a strong character over a strong opinion.
If I were to say that Atheists are stupid, I would be labeled intolerant, disgruntled, biased, arrogant, and many other things that frankly I do my best to avoid. However some militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins feel that I as a theist am stupid, dimwitted, foolish, and many other things that frankly I do my best to avoid. But do they have a point? I mean realistically I am asking Atheists to have an open mind so I should as well. I believe in something that has no empirical evidence, requires me to act in ways that are completely contrary to my normal thought process, asks me to sacrifice myself for the sake of others, and ensures that I will be persecuted to some extent while alive. I have to admit the evidence weighs against me.
Historically my kind have offered responses to this that I would love to grab hold of and swing for the fence against these heinous accusations but I find they leave me empty at times. If Christians are going to respond to views like Dawkins, we need to be able to provide a defense for the hope that is within us. This is not just a theoretical polemic based upon the advent of the Spirit in time of need; it takes thought and preparation ahead of time which Dawkins feels we do not use.
Dawkins argues in his book The God Delusion that “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe discoverable in principle if not in practice”. He feels that even if we cannot prove for or against the existence of God, we should be able to do much better than a 50% chance of being correct. I disagree with these hypotheses. If human science is able to open the door and find the man behind the curtain, then there must be a curtain, a door, and a place for the man to stand. In other words, if we are using tools common to the human realm, how can they determine something outside the human realm? If the best we can offer is not 100% accurate, than replacing faith with reason is faulty.
Dawkins argues that the existence of an advanced being that is more complex than human beings would require either an even more advanced being to create him or that a more advanced process would need to create that being. This starts with an assumption that all things need to be created or evolved. This is a carefully constructed false alternative fallacy. For a mind to be truly open about God, we need to be willing to accept options that are outside of our parameter set.
He argues that the Bible is “just plain weird”. It is “a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents”. I would have to agree. It was clearly not written by a single author or even complied by one. It has structural elements that span two millennia and was complied over the better part of one. But what does that have to do with God or Christianity. If my intention was to do a Book Review on the text I understand his concerns, but whether the ancient writings are collected in a book, online, PDF’s on my laptop, or scrolls in jar somewhere, that really doesn’t address their information. He says that the God of the Old Testament is “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak”. That sounds an awful lot like a schoolyard bully trying to control a conversation through an ad hominem abusive argument, not a scholar looking to gain wisdom. I guess my challenge is I don’t see much explaining why my beliefs are stupid, dimwitted, and foolish. I do see an awful lot showing Dawkins doesn’t like them. I can live with that.
There are arguments that have validity that question my views. I am nowhere near arrogant enough to dispute that. But questions do not make me stupid, they actually should help to either reinforce my beliefs or help realign them. I believe in the God who communicated his message for man through scripture. Unless I am willing to say that I have a lock on all scriptural understanding, which I am quite unwilling to do, I have to accept that questions can only help me.
One question centers on Theodicy. It centers on the problem of evil and destruction in our world and the question of how an omnipotent and omniscient God could allow this. It argues against the assertion that God is all powerful, all knowing, or benevolent if he allows these things. This question calls out the same issue with Dawkins original hypothesis above. For us to claim God is not these things that befit the character of God, we are saying we fully understand how God is involved with the world, how he interacts, and we are judging that as not correct thereby claiming dominion over God and reducing his godhood. The question appeals to an outside governing agency to determine that God’s actions are either right or wrong. The problem is that if they are truly able to determine that, he is not God.
Another question comes from the idea that Jesus is the only way to get to God. The idea is that it is narrow minded to require all people to accept this single view point when there are a plethora of religions to choose from. A young pastor I once new felt that this argument had weight. He began to accept the idea that as no concrete scientific evidence exists for the assertions of the Biblical texts, than no religion should be excluded and all ideas should be embraced. He felt this larger more inclusive view better represented a god he would want to believe in and gave up his pastoral role and began to build out his own religion centered on this new god. Redacting the text by virtue of what is popular is nothing more than creating fiction. Calling it loving and inclusive makes it sound nice but does not reduce the fact that it is still creating fiction. The biblical text requires faith in God to be in right relationship with God. Emasculating that God on the account of our inability to reconcile his justice with our desires is rebellion and not faith. We can call it harsh, we can question the purpose, and we can even say we don’t like it. The moment we choose executive privilege to rewrite it is the moment we stop believing in it and elevate ourselves to godlike status.
Many other questions exist but none prove the idea that Christian belief in God is sub intelligent. The answers may be difficult and may not even best represent the God they are meant to represent. But believer are not less intellectual because they exist. If we are unable to openly discuss the idea that God exists outside of our ability to control, we only discuss what we control and that will never be God. It is not wrong to question God, in a lot of ways it makes sense. If we do however, we need to be ready for the answers and not expect they will fit in the boxes we want them to. Abusive rhetoric will not change that. Asking God why makes sense, listening to his answers makes even more sense.
How do you prove the un-provable? How can you describe the indescribable? There is a large question in modern philosophy regarding the existence of God. Theists and Atheists argue the point using carefully constructed arguments. Theists use Ontological and Cosmological arguments. The Ontological argument starts with the assumption that there is a supreme existence even if that is measured only by determining that whatever man can think of, something else must be better. Cosmological arguments start with the assumption that something had to cause the existence of everything. Even if it was an explosion of atoms at the start of time, something caused that to occur and that thing must be God. Atheists use Logical and Evidential arguments. A Logical argument would be similar to “God is perfect, perfect things are usually made up by people seeking validation for their imperfections, therefore God is made up”. An Evidential argument would be similar to saying that “God is perfect and good, and a perfect and good being would not allow evil to exist, therefore God does not exist”. These approaches whether internally consistent, fallacious, or truly logical are not the problem. The problem is in the argument itself.
Both of these approaches start with assumptions that require external validation to reach their given conclusions. Whether the arguments for or against God are logical, evidential, ontological, or cosmological, they all start with the assumption that we have the ability to define the parameters of the indefinable. If I discover something scientifically, I will weigh it, measure it, examine it, describe it, and provide my evidence for my conclusions using pre existing tools. Assuming my evidence holds true, my evidence becomes fact. I become the master of that evidence. That fact is disputable only by someone who can disprove my evidence or use of the pre existing tools in which case they become the master of that evidence. All of this would be subject to the scientific community for validation. That cannot work with God. By definition of the job, God is the supreme source and not verifiable by outside sources. Human logic can never encapsulate something that is outside the realm of humanity.
We approach the concept of God with a mindset that says we can understand him, we can figure him out. This is not just an atheist view. Christians approach God the same way. We assume the ability to understand God. So even in the most heinous circumstances, we force information into boxes to let ourselves sleep at night. We make claims on God by claiming we understand. Here is a perfect example. The story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac is utterly disturbing. It has historically been seen as a way of testing Abraham’s faith. We put an asterisk on the story by stating that God never intended to go through with it. I want that to be true as much as the next person but that is a conclusion inside a box initiated by the author of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. The story does not give God’s motivation. It only provides circumstance. If anything, we should look at the story and say “Wow, I don’t get that. I will need to relay on my faith and know that God is just, but wow, I still don’t get that”. Instead, we package it, seal it, and pass it off as theology rather than accept the tension. That is the same thing Atheists do.
A relationship with God is based on faith. This faith says that no matter what we may see, feel, understand, perceive, or think, God is still God and worthy of our trust and eternal service. If we place conditions on the fealty, we switch roles and try to usurp the throne. If we try to do that philosophically through argument, the only thing we prove is that we become our own god, whether we conclude he exists or not.