Category Archives: Atheist Books

Shermer’s Summary of Christian Belief

I’m dumbstruck by the number of former believers, people who say that they were passionate Christians — read the Bible, prayed often, and even engaged in door-to-door evangelism — that can’t seem to articulate their former belief system correctly.

They are atheists because they believe that the God they once served never existed.  And that’s a real possibility.  Based on Michael Shermer’s summary of his former faith, I can confidently say that that god doesn’t exist.

This is Shermer’s summary from the forward to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists:

  1. Christians claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenovolent — all knowing, all powerful, all present, and all good, creator of the universe and everything in it including us.

  2. Christians believe that we were originally created sinless, but because God gave us free will and Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, we are all born with original sin as a part of our nature even though we did not commit the original sinful act ourselves.

  3. God could just forgive the sin we never committed, but instead he sacrificed his son Jesus, who is actually just himself in the flesh because Christians believe in only one god — that’s what monotheism means — of which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just different manifestations.  Three in One and One in Three.

  4. The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son — who is actually himself — as our savior.  So …

God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.  Barking mad! [p. 11-12; ellipses and emphasis in original]

Let’s take it one at a time.

There seems to be little to with which to take issue in (1).

(2) is basically right; however, original sin represents the propensity to sin rather than an actual sin itself.  Sin taints the whole earth and everything in it, including mankind.

So we are born with a sinful nature, and that is abhorrent to God.  If we remain on that course, we will sin and we will move further and further away from God.  The solution can’t, therefore, come from ourselves and must come from God.

(3) has two problems with it.  First, I hesitate to say that God can’t simply forgive sin.  What God cannot do is behave inconsistently with his own nature, because God is perfect.  So I’d prefer to think of it as God won’t simply forgive sin; but a price or a penalty must be exacted first.  In the Old Testament, we see a sacrificial system in place to make propitiation for our sins.

Why?  Because there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  God killed a bear to cover Adam and Eve’s shame — the example we draw from!  The High Priest would make propitiation once per year by making an offering and entering the Holy of Holies by the blood of it.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

The second problem is the description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “manifestations” of God.  There is only one essence of divinity in Christianity, and this essence is simultaneously shared by God the Father (the Creator, described in the OT), God the Son (the Savior), and God the Spirit (the Helper).

Characterizing these Persons as “different manifestations” of God is heresy.  The Athanasian Creed, one of the three foundational creeds of Christendom, defines what the Trinity is and is not, and it doesn’t leave room for modalism:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Each Person of the Trinity shares the power, glory, majesty, and titles with all other members.  However, each has different roles not shared with the others:

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

As for (4), it suffers from the fundamental error identified in (2): sin is both action and nature, and the fact that we have a sin nature is itself abhorrent to God.  But, left on that path with no aid, we will sin.  So we’re born sinful, we follow that nature — no surprise there — and God punishes us.  Not for sins we didn’t commit, but for ones we absolutely did.

The way out is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  This recreates our flesh anew and removes the sin nature; it removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  We are regenerated.  We are no longer enslaved to sin, and so we are able to choose life instead of inevitably following the path that leads to death.

The conclusion suffers from all of the problems I identified — misunderstanding of the Trinity, misunderstanding of sin, misunderstanding of what the Savior does for us when we accept him as such.

So good for Shermer in not believing in this god.  He clearly doesn’t exist.  The God described by the Bible, however, does exist!  Let’s hope there’s an argument against him somewhere in the rest of the book.

Advertisements

Sam Harris’s Challenge

Prolific atheist Sam Harris put an intriguing tweet up yesterday:

I’d love to take Sam’s money.  What do I have to do?

Anyone who believes that my case for a scientific understanding of morality is mistaken is invited to prove it in 1,000 words or less. (You must refute the central argument of the book—not peripheral issues.) The best response will be published on this website, and its author will receive $1000. (source)

All right.  I’m game.  I wanted to read that book, anyway.  I also wanted to get some more material for this blog.  So starting in about a week, I will blog my way through Dr. Harris’s book.

Then, I will consolidate the best of my replies into one executive summary of about 1,000 words.  That I will send to Dr. Harris on the due date next year.

It’s on!

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Sixth

The final Way of Atheism from Geoffrey Berg is the Some of God’s Defining Qualities Cannot Exist argument.  After tackling this argument, three things remain with this project.

First, I will contact Geoffrey Berg via his website to see if he is interested in rebutting my points.

Second, I want to reread the Fifth Way just to see if there are any points I missed.

Finally, I will start replying to the comments I’ve received thus far on all Six Ways.

All right, Mr. Berg, so far the arguments are stinkers.  One final shot: impress me…

  1. God must have certain characteristic qualities (such as providing purpose to life), otherwise he would not be God.
  2. But it is impossible for any entity to possess some of these qualities (such as providing purpose for life since we can find no real purpose and therefore in practice we have no ultimate purpose to our lives) that are essential to God.
  3. Therefore since some of God’s essential qualities (such as being the purpose provider to life) cannot possibly exist in any entity, God cannot exist.

I agree with (1).

Ooooh… I have to take some exception with (2).

On pages 156-157, Berg outlines that there is no purpose to life based on the fact that he’s never gotten a good answer from a theist.  That’s a terrible reason to conclude that there is no purpose for life.

The answer, I think, lies in two prongs.  First, we exist because God has purposed an outcome to this universe and we are to play a role in it.  As Isaiah points out, God has declared the end from the beginning (Is 46:10).  Human history is building to a final outcome purposed by and brought about by God.  We are agents of that by God’s design.

We do not know what ultimate part we play, and that leads us to the second reason we exist:  the journey of discovery that is life.  This journey becomes the foundation for our eternity.  If life on earth is a geometric plane, then life in eternity is geometric space.  If our life takes the shape of a circle, then in eternity it will inevitably be a sphere.

Which means that we need to take the time to investigate what it means to live a “good life.”  Because the foundation we are laying now determines the shape of our lives to come.  The foundation is irreversible; we want to lay the best one we can, and that means living right by God’s standards.

As Berg says, “to worship God” isn’t a very good reason to exist.  It is part of what we are to do, but it isn’t the end of the story.  God created the first humans to tend the Garden of Eden — to superintend and care for creation.  We perverted our own purpose when we first chose to disobey God, but the corruption of a thing shouldn’t be confused with the thing.  Meaning, we should recapture our original purpose by realizing that life is (as Berg points out) about the journey as much as the destination.

And, keeping with the superintendence idea, leave the Earth a little better than we found it.

None of this, of course, is possible apart from God.  And that renders premise (2) faulty.  Meaning (3) is not a correct conclusion.

Now, essentially, I’ve left the purpose of life open for each individual to find his or her own.  In so doing, I have actually made an objection that Berg anticipates; though he phrases it quite differently.  His basic answer to reassert that there is no ultimate purpose for life, even if you’re searching.  Berg gives the general objection that each purpose one finds leads one to ask what the purpose of that purpose is.

To that, I remind everyone that there is no need to explain an explanation.  If we would have concluded that the purpose of life is to have kids, then that’s the purpose of life.  Asking, “Why have kids?” is redundant because it’s the purpose of life.

Showing that the purpose of this life is to lay a foundation for an eternal existence, however, does not fall prey to the infinite regress of asking “For what purpose?”  If I’m right, there is no need to ask for additional clarification because starting eternity off right is an end in and of itself.

UPDATED

  • September 25, 2012 @ 10:45pm: Added the proper citation from Isaiah.

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Third

Next from Geoffrey Berg’s Six Ways of Atheism we have the God Has No Explanatory Value Argument:

  1. God if he exists must be the ultimate being and provide the answers to all of our ultimate questions — otherwise he is not God.
  2. Yet even supposing as a hypothesis that God exists the questions that God was supposed to finally answer still remain (though in some cases God is substituted in the question for the Universe).
  3. Therefore hypothesizing is only unnecessarily adding an extra stage to such problems and has no real explanatory value.
  4. Therefore according to Logic (Occam’s Razor Law — ‘that entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity’) we should not postulate God’s existence and there is no adequate reason to suppose that God exists.
  5. Therefore we should suppose that God does not exist.

Starting with (1), I agree that God should provide the answers to all of the ultimate questions.  When explaining the argument, however, Berg lists attributes of God (eternal, absolute good, purpose-giver) rather than explaining what big questions he means.  He only ends up asking one: How did the universe arise?

… [T]he answer for theists is, of course, God created it.  How did God arise?  Well, God has always existed.  But, why then, has the Universe not always existed?  Thus God can be cut out as an unnecessary extra.  Poor God, always being cut out as an unnecessary extra that contributes nothing to understanding except complication.  God is no more than a valueless extra intermediary stage in explanation.  (p. 64)

This didn’t work for Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, and it isn’t going to work for Berg now.  “Who made God?” is not a valid retort. Read the rest of this entry

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the Second

Geoffrey Berg’s second argument states that since God is so far outside the realm of human experience and comprehension, that he is simply unknowable.  Therefore, you shouldn’t believe in him.

This Man and God Comprehension Gulf Argument is formulated as follows:

  1. Man is finite (in time, space and power etc).
  2. God if he exists in infinite (in time, space  and power etc).
  3. Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God or even know that God exists.

I have no issues with either premises.  Man is finite per (1), and God is infinite per (2).  Neither is a problem for me.

As a conclusion, (3) overreaches; Berg should have stuck with the first clause: “Therefore mankind cannot possibly recognize God … .”  That would have been a far more reasonable conclusion given the data.  Still a demonstrably false conclusion, but a much more reasonable one.

As for “… even know that God exists,” that is simply not true.  God is the inference to the best explanation: we see design, order, natural laws — the universe makes sense.  It works together like a machine, and machines are designed and built by an intelligent mind for a purpose.

Therefore, God is a reasonable conclusion from natural philosophy (even if a controversial one).  So I disagree that mankind cannot “… even know that God exists.” Read the rest of this entry

The Six Ways of Atheism: Way the First

Geoffrey Berg’s tome, The Six Ways of Atheism, is a small volume but it requires some unpacking to get at the core of what he’s trying to say.  I’m going to tackle one argument per post and we should get through the book by Saturday.

Let’s dive in to the first argument, the Aggregate of Qualities Argument:

  1. If God exists, God must necessarily possess all of several remarkable qualities (including supreme goodness, omnipotence, immortality, omniscience, ultimate creator, purpose giver).
  2. Every one of these qualities may not exist in any one entity and if any such quality does exist it exists in few entities or in some cases (e.g. omnipotence, ultimate creator) in at most one entity.
  3. Therefore it is highly unlikely any entity would possess even one of these qualities.
  4. There is an infinitesimal chance that any one entity (given the almost infinite number of entities in the Universe) might possess the combination of even some two of these qualities, let alone all of them.
  5. In statistical analysis a merely hypothetical infinitesimal chance can in effect be treated as the no chance to which it approximates so very closely.
  6. Therefore as there is statistically such an infinitesimal chance of any entity possessing, as God would have to do, all God’s essential qualities in combination it can be said for all practical and statistical purposes that God just does not exist.

This argument fails to disprove God as Christians defend him.  Berg states repeatedly that there is little chance a being in this universe possesses any of these qualities, let alone all of them.  Agreed.  But we never argue that God is part of the universe.  Which means all of Berg’s statistical analysis and posturing about how language glosses over reality is moot.  His rantings only apply to beings originating in and living in the known universe.  God transcends that universe, and therefore isn’t subject to laws that define the universe.

Berg anticipated seven potential responses; this was (oddly) not one of them.  All of the objections he considered were pathetic and require no rejoinder from me.

So Berg and I agree that God doesn’t exist in the known universe.  That is only equal to “God doesn’t exist at all” given metaphysical naturalism.

Six Ways of Atheism: On Personal Qualifications

Geoffrey Berg has written a book with six new or improved arguments against God.  I disagree — not one argument is new and nothing is improved.  In fact, even atheists make fun of this guy (see Daniel Florien’s post here).

I am only writing on this for one reason, and one reason alone: my new resolution to finish things that I start!  I already wrote on the First Way of atheism.  Then I said I’d move on with the other disproofs Berg offered.  I never did.  I gave up, just like I give up on lots of things.

No more.

I am going to finish that which I start from now on.  This comes in two parts: previous posts and projects.  Regular readers will undoubtedly have noticed the first part of this resolution — I am far more active in the comments section than I ever have been.  I’m actually responding to challenges, instead of letting them slide!

The second part is projects — posts that I said I’d write but never actually did.  I was saddened when I read back through my blog, deleting posts that I no longer agreed with.  Whenever I got to something tagged “Site News,” there would be a list of posts I planned on writing.  And none of them ever materialized.  I was a tad horrified.  To rectify that, I’m going to write some of those posts, and finish some of the projects that I said I’d do.

One of the projects I started long ago was making a website with responses to all of the most popular atheist books.  So what I’ll do is continue with this project, and the first victim book I’ll visit is The Six Ways of Atheism.

Before I get started dismantling this piece of crap, I want to address one of Berg’s comments in the introduction.  He said:

Nor do I really wish to deal with my own personal status.  Essentially the arguments I put are valid or invalid irrespective of whether they are original to me or not.  It is the arguments I want to be considered, not the person putting the arguments. (p. 12)

He then goes on to complain about intellectual elitism in philosophy, and how you can succeed in business with no degree, but for philosophy, you need a Ph.D. or they won’t take you seriously.

Well, not surprisingly, I disagree.  It all depends on the arguments.  If you make good arguments and do your homework, people will take you seriously — even academics with tons of letters after their proper names.

Take me.  I have an associate’s degree in business.  That’s it.  I have no training in theology or philosophy, not even a 101 class.  However, I’ve had opponents ask what academic journals I’ve published in.  Once, I made a silly (but logically valid) argument to get out of doing something at work, and my boss said snidely, “I can tell you have a degree in philosophy.”

Despite my lack of formal training, I have been recognized as a thinker in philosophy of religion.  I have detractors as well — most famously Austin Cline of atheism.about.com said I do not possess the intellectual honesty to even claim the title of “armchair philosopher.”  A hit-and-run commenter on this blog said that were I to publish a book on philosophy of religion or Christian apologetics, it would be an insult to people who actually bothered to go to school to get degrees.

There are people who think Plato and Aristotle are hacks, too.  As I frequently say, any idiot can start a blog.  Any dummy can self-publish a book.  My overall point still stands: it doesn’t matter where the argument comes from as long as it is a solid argument.  If it’s good, people of all stripes will take notice.  Your book will sell.  Your blog will gain a following.

In that spirit, I am not going to consider Berg or his qualifications, only his arguments.  I will not make any snide comments about how Berg is obviously not a philosopher, because his arguments are as naive as Steve Carrel’s character in 40-year-old Virgin.  Nor am I going to make a comment about how arrogant he is; how the hubris drips off of every page leaving you with the same sticky feeling you have after a workout in high humidity.  You won’t read about how he would benefit from hiring a better copy editor than his 10 year old nephew who only worked for Mountain Dew.

No sarcasm.  No cheap shots.  From now on!

I will only consider the arguments.  If the arguments stand, then the source won’t matter.

Idiotic Argument Against Christianity

A side project that I’m working on, in addition to everything else, is to re-read (in their entirety) the books that are supposed to destroy not only Christianity, but theism in general. I’m creating a site, currently empty except for some cool pictures, where I will post my thoughts and links to the thoughts of others on these “masterworks” of atheism.

I’ve started with Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, which is the shortest of all of the books. Harris makes a huge error in the opening pages of the book. This mistake might hold the title for the most idiotic argument against Christianity ever purported, and I’ve noticed that other atheists have propagated the error. Like a virus.

Although I will develop the argument more succinctly later, I wanted to take a moment to address it. Neal, a user who commented on John W. Loftus’s reactionary piece to The Infidel Delusion, stated that atheism cannot provide an objective moral standard, but Christianity does. Neal makes a serious philosophical error, though I don’t think he intended to. I think that he intended to suggest that Christianity, as it points to God, provides that as the ground for morals. Atheism isn’t able to posit objective morality, as much as it is synonymous with metaphysical naturalism. If the universe is all there is, then there is no transcendent realm to appeal to when looking for the ideal standard. The ideal standard ought to be, it does not exist in point of fact. “Ought to be” has no meaning in a universe where only the natural exists: nature is what it is.

The first reaction to Neal’s lengthy piece was from Jim, who said:

Neal,

And atheism provides no objective criteria whatsoever. So even here Christianity is superior in that it provides objective foundations for society.

Sorry, Christianity doesn’t provide any objective foundations for society, either, except perhaps purely “within” Christian society.

There seems to be no evidence of any actual absolute objective morality. The universe doesn’t care what Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, or the Inquisition did.

Within human society, we have determined certain “objective measures.” Take the length of the meter, for example. The length of the meter is only as good as HUMANS desire to accept OTHER HUMANS declaration of the standard.

If a group of humans decides to have a different standard for length (the “foot” or “yard”) they are free to come up with their own objective standard for their group. Or they can redefine the length of the “meter” for their own group. What they CAN’T do is redefine the “meter” for a different group.

What Christians have done, allegorically is subjectively decided on the nature of a GOD who decides what the length of the meter is and then claim that they have the ultimate OBJECTIVE foundation for the definition of a meter.

You see what Christians are doing? They are simply using the creative power of their mind to invent something (SUBJECTIVELY) and using that creation as a foundation for OBJECTIVITY.

It’s quicksand . . .

Both Neal and Jim fall into the same trap, propagating the same error that I’m accusing Harris of: Christianity is not the foundation for morals. God is the foundation for morals.

To his credit, Jim corrects himself (kind of) midway through the post, shifting the source of morality back to God. This is the correct view. Christianity is, with qualifications that I won’t get into here, a series of interpretations of the same book. Being subjective in nature, therefore, Christianity cannot provide an objective ground for morality. As such, it is not the source of morals.

Jim, however, makes many serious mistakes. The underlying assumption of his comment is that philosophy and theology cannot provide any objective insight into who God is, and what he would command. That is, philosophy and theology don’t consist of real knowledge, just mere opinion. He also rejects the authority of Scripture, and in all probability, the very existence of special revelation. He also implicitly accepts relativistic morality, which is also false.

I hate it when people say that Christianity is the ground of all morals. That’s patently false. God is the ground of all morals. Christianity is, with some qualifications, subjective and therefore cannot be the ground of morality. God, who is the good, is immutable. Therefore, God is our ground for morals. Atheism cannot account for the existence of the material universe, much less provide a ground for objective moral standards.