‘He was only an atheist.’

‘I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,’ said the Inspector, politely.

‘He only wanted to abolish God,’ explained Father Brown in a temperate and reasonable tone. ‘He only wanted to destroy the Ten Commandments and root up all the religion and civilization that had made him, and wash out all the common sense of ownership and honesty; and let his culture and his country be flattened out by savages from the ends of the Earth. That’s all he wanted. You have no right to accuse him of anything beyond that.’

~ G. K. Chesterton
The Crime of the Communist

Ethics: The Case For A Good God

If God Is So Good, Why So Much Evil?

In the last post, we saw why the undeniable existence of evil does nothing to undermine the case for the existence of God. On the contrary, the fact that we can identify evil in the world is proof that there must be some kind of objective standard for calling it so — and that objective Standard is what we call God.

But that doesn’t end the debate (in case you haven’t noticed). There’s a reason this whole topic is usually referred to as “the problem of evil.” It’s a problem for sure. But remember, it’s a problem for everyone and everyone wants an explanation. The point of the last post was to show that evil eliminates atheism as an explanation because atheism can’t explain the basis for judging anything as evil in the first place. It turns out atheism has no basis for saying anything is wrong, or bad, or evil beyond the fact that atheists don’t like it.

Evil is proof that God exists.

Theism is the only game in town but it leaves us with the burden of trying to understand — with all the evil things we see go on in the world — why a good God is more plausible than an evil God?

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Thinking About The “New Atheists”

Engaging The Belief Police

[This is a re-post from several years ago that I think is still completely relevant today]

Two books on the NY Times Best Seller list share a common thesis — that religion in general, and Christianity specifically, is not just wrong, or off-base, or a subject worth debating — but that it is evil, deluded, dangerous, and the righteous target of the thinking man’s scorn. Sam Harris’, “Letter To A Christian Nation,” (# 31 on the list) and Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” (# 14 and on the list for 24 weeks) don’t just want to appeal to their atheistic brethren, but want to question the sanity of religious belief itself and suggest that we would all be more safe if religion were forcibly banished from the public square.

This view of religion is nothing new to Dawkins who, blasting the intolerance of Creationists in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” claimed that …

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

With an incredibly ironic inability to see the intolerance of those two ideas existing in parallel, Dawkins denies any respect to those who happen to disagree with him — and instead offers them nothing but contempt. Disgusted by the proselytizing of religious folk, he engages in a little proselytizing of his own when, on the fifth page of his most recent book he claims that, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

For all the bluster these two claim about their own “healthy” and “vigorous” minds as compared to the mental midgets who oppose them, it is a little too convenient that they fail to even mention the significant input to science and philosophy that has been contributed by theists throughout history. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that most of the greatest scientific minds — Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler — were all devout men who studied the physical universe because they believed it was ordered and a reflection of the mind of God. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the great philosophers throughout history — Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, C.S. Lewis — who were not only Christian theists, but that began as atheists and reasoned their way to faith. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that the Bible itself challenges us to “test everything” and that the scientific revolution began with Christian scientists who did just that.

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Two Knockdown Arguments For God

In a conversation about how we reason to the idea of God as Creator, a student once asked me a great question that I thought others might also find worth thinking about. His question was this:

I have always been curious and bothered by the fact that whenever I ask where God came from I have been given the answer, “He was just always there,” and assume we have won the argument. But that answer doesn’t sit well with me. It seems like a copout. When atheists and scientists are confronted on what came before the ‘Big Bang,’ they’ll respond that it was just matter and energy. If we then ask, “Well then where did the matter and energy come from?” the scientists will respond, “Well they are just there.”

How can we say that the answer, “the matter and energy were always there,” isn’t a suitable answer if we say the same thing about our God? It just doesn’t make very much sense to me. Please offer any insight you might have on this subject. It has been bothering me for a long time.

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Faith of the “Faithless”

To see how this whole misapplication of what faith means plays out, I offer the assertions of the new atheist, Sam Harris, as an example.

Sam Harris was compelled to pen The End of Faith on September 12, 2001 and wrote his Letter To A Christian Nation a few years later. He is adamant about the fact that religious views, because they are not based in “evidence” (remember that the new atheists define “evidence” as “scientific data” and scientific data alone), are irrationally held. He is one of a growing number who equate the travesties perpetrated by Muslim terrorists with anyone who claims what he calls a “rigid” religious view. According to Harris, rigid thinkers are dangerous in this world because they become too extreme.

Keep that idea in mind as you consider some points of agreement that Harris claims to share the hard-core “Christian right.” In summary, Harris agrees that (p. 3-4) …

  • If one of us is right, the other is wrong.
  • The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t.
  • Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation, or he does not.
  • True Christians believe that all other faiths are mistaken and profoundly so.

For all the relativists out there I would like to point out that Harris, like me, appears to believe in the existence of objective truth. That being the case, we each must admit that one of us is right and one of us is wrong. It has to be so. We cannot hold completely contradictory views and both be right.

In other words, in taking the opposite view of the nutty Christians, Sam Harris is actually admitting to hold some “hard-core” beliefs himself — beliefs that are exactly contradictory, and just as rigidly held, as those of his Christian opponents. He demands that Christians are wrong, that the Bible is not the word of God, that Jesus in not the one true path to salvation etc. He writes books meant to convince you that he is right and you are wrong if you disagree with him.

In short, Sam Harris has described himself as a rigid thinker who, according to his own allegations, must also be dangerous.

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Nothing To Believe In

When it comes to spiritual issues, I am always amazed that people will accept and defend things that they would never, ever accept when addressing any other subject. People will convince themselves (and try to convince you) that the most illogical, nonsensical claims make perfect sense as long as they are attached to religion, spirituality, or questions surrounding ultimate meaning for our existence. Case in point: Nica Lalli, who wrote a book entitled, Nothing: Something To Believe In. In an interview about the book, Lalli proclaimed that:

I am an atheist. I have never joined, or been part of, any religious group or organization. I was raised without religion, and without much understanding of what religion is. I have never had much of an identity religiously, and I stayed away from much thought or discussion on the matter. It is only recently that I have really explored the many options for religious beliefs and have decided that rather than saying, ‘No comment,’ I now call myself an atheist.

Though she admits that she has had little training in religious matters and that she really doesn’t even understand what religion is, she seems to feel comfortable making judgments about religious ideas — especially those attached to “organized religion.” What Ms. Lalli fails to see is that by calling herself an atheist, she is in no way laying claim to a neutral position. Contrary to the deliberately provocative title of her book, she is most definitely not believing in “nothing.” Ms. Lalli is, by definition, making an explicitly religious claim.

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Relativism: Living In Candyland

I want to start off by making a startling personal admission that you may find shocking. You may continue at your own risk but consider yourself properly warned. Here goes ….

I hate Candyland.

Always have. Always will. The game drives me nuts. When my kids were little, I used to find any kind of excuse to not play it with them. But, because I did not want to hurt their feelings or make a big deal about it, I was sometimes trapped into participating in the game that never seems to end. It requires no skill, no memorization, no strategy. It has no point.

It is simply a mindless game of chance in which your only claim to victory is the random drawing of the right colored card. Mindless that is, unless you are the Dad who pre-stacks the cards so that your happily oblivious kid always seems to randomly draw the exact cards he needs, in the exact order he needs to draw them, in order to reach the pinnacle of Candyland achievement – the coveted “Candy Castle.”

Whatever.

Yes, I cheated at Candyland. And yes, I know I shouldn’t be cheating. But please — I only practiced “positive” cheating. And yes, I know that playing Candyland requires no skill or strategy because it is a game for little kids. I get it. But any game that: discourages actual thinking so blatantly; is so unsystematic and muddled that rule violations go unnoticed; can be so easily manipulated by those in positions of power; and that offers such a vacuous and unsatisfying payoff — any game like that is a colossal waste of my time. I boycotted it years ago.

I thought I had put my disdain for Candyland behind me, until I began reading Douglas Groothuis’s book, Truth Decay, a defense of Christianity “against the challenges of postmodernism.” One of the postmodern philosophers Groothuis repeatedly quotes in the book is Richard Rorty, the former Stanford professor who died last month. Rorty’s death has prompted a rash of articles about him, many of which I have read over the last few weeks. In short, these events converged in my realization that we have people – serious, educated, intellectually gifted people – who live their lives based on a worldview that effectively treats morality, ethics and the pursuit of truth no differently than a rainy afternoon game of Candyland.

Let me explain …

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New Atheists (6); Apples To Oranges

Sam Harris despises religion — so much so that he has blinded himself to an intellectually honest assessment about the differences between them. To put that claim in context, Harris (as discussed earlier here), misunderstands the concept of condemnation to hell and, because of that misunderstanding, believes his in-your-face his chest beating has some force behind it when he says:

The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.

His serious delusion regarding the public impact of his own views aside, Harris’ taunt (p. 4) rings hollow. I can only speak for myself of course, but it seems that Harris fails to realize that we Christians don’t hold our view based on the popularity or reputation of those who may, or may not, share it with us. To be honest, most Christians had never heard of Sam Harris before his book hit the stores. But this kind of misunderstanding on his part leads him to make what can only be described as completely baseless associations like this:

Assertion (p. 6-7):

Every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe … The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are not making claims about reality that can be corroborated

Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.

Response: To put it is nicely as I can, Harris’ complete ignorance about the nature of religion in general, and the relationship between Christianity and Islam in particular, is stunning.

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New Atheist Rebuttals (5)

Hitchens’ Childhood Epiphany

Christopher Hitchens begins his screed against God and religion by recounting his awakening, as a 9-year old “insufferable little intellectual,” to the “overreaching” comment of his grade school teacher, Mrs. Watts. The statement that is burned into Hitchens’ memory from that day is this: In an attempt to …

fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, ‘So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to the eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be.’

Assertion: I have to note that Hitchens is charitable in his assessment of Mrs. Watts. His only description of her is as a kind and loving woman with sincere motives. But Hitchens’ memory of this incident is that he was “appalled” by what she said. Knowing nothing of the argument from design, the claims of Darwinian Evolution, or any of the related issues, Hitchens remembers that he “simply knew, almost as if [he] had privileged access to a higher authority, that [his] teacher had managed to get everything wrong in just two sentences. The eyes were adjusted to nature, and not the other way around.”

This epiphany led him to notice other “oddities” over the next few years, such as:

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