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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.

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Do Apologists Employ the “Humpty Dumpty” Defense?

When Alice meets Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, she finds that he uses words very creatively.  In fact, a word means exactly what Humpty wants it to mean, no more and no less.

Christian apologists are sometimes accused of employing a “Humpty Dumpty Defense” by the atheists we argue with.  This particularly is seen with faith, which is understood as a form of loyalty to a patron based upon that patron’s proven ability to deliver on his promises.

Following the link, you will read a robust defense of why faith is understood this way, as opposed to the popular use of the term to mean “belief in the absence of, or in the teeth of, evidence.”

However, both militant atheists and uninformed Christians use faith in the Richard Dawkins/Mark Twain fashion to “cover up” a lack of evidence for God or the action of the Holy Spirit.  A majority of people believe faith to be “blind faith” — trusting when there appears to be no reason to.  Belief in the absence of evidence is a virtue to these people.  The less God shows himself, or (better) if the evidence actually leads one to believe that God is fictional, the more reward there will be in heaven for believing God does exist.

This is a serious mischaracterization of true Christian faith.  And when I — or others — argue for the traditional understanding of faith, we are accused of employing a “Humpty Dumpty” Defense.

And that is wrong.  Now let me tell you why. Read the rest of this entry

Top 10 Reasons Why Religion is a Negative Force in the World (part 1)

Kieth Murphy, a user in the ThinkAtheist Forums, posted his Top Ten reasons why religion is a negative force in the world.  Not surprisingly, every single reason is a non-starter.  Let’s dive in with #10:

Religion and religious persons impose their faith into public policy and politics. Where it clearly doesn’t belong.

There’s a problem with this line of thought.  Faith is more properly thought of as loyalty, not blindly accepting premises without proof.  So if one is loyal to God, then religion “done right” is going to affect every single decision you make, and that includes what public policies to vote on.

For all the talk about religious hypocrites and how they make religion look like a sham, it seems that this objection is asking the genuine follower of a religion to become a hypocrite when voting.

In other words, “You religious people are wrong, so vote like us.  Conform.”

Number 9:

Religion is still very much mediatory in the schools of nations such as Republic of Ireland, where it has no place. Churches were built for a reason. This makes many members of other faiths and no faiths feel uncomfortable and excluded during a time when young persons find it difficult to fit in as it is. It isn’t a matter of talking about religion, but actively telling young persons to practice it mandatory.

This is a hypocritical complaint.  Atheists generally defend the position that society creates morals.  Well, if society feels its in their best interest to teach the practice of a state religion in schools, then who are we to judge or try to change that?

On the other hand, if morals are independent of society (a position theists most often defend), then a moral reformer can come along and challenge society’s mores and act as a catalyst for change.  There isn’t a place for that in moral relativism; there is only what society decides is right for its situation.

To issue this complaint makes the defender of relativism a hypocrite.

If the complaint is made by the rare atheist who defends objective morality, then it begs the question.  Why is it best to leave to religious education in churches, but not in schools?  True religion done correctly changes the core of your being; you are a new person through the power of the Holy Spirit.  That should touch every facet of your life, even your schooling.  Therefore, a society primarily Christian should teach Christianity in schools, a society primarily Muslim should teach Islam in schools.

Moving on down to #8:

Many nations make it difficult for the non-religous to have any sort of successful career in politics (and being honest about their lack of faith at the same time)

This is my favorite.  This is roughly equivalent to an ardent supporter of Nazism complaining that he can’t get elected to represent a Jewish borough.  The people will elect a representative that will vote as they would.  So if you are unlike your community in some way, then you aren’t going to get elected.

Then we have #7:

Many religious groups impose their views of abortion on others and seek to make abortion illegal. Because of religion in other nations it now is or has been for sometime, outlawed medial practice. Abortion is not murder, murder is the illegal killing of a human being, not a pre-human being.

This begs the question.  First we need to prove that abortion is the best alternative and that life doesn’t begin at conception.  There are, in fact, many reasons to think the opposite of both points.

Number 6:

Religion demonises many educational fields in contrast with its doctrine, such as certain aspects of history and many accepted theories

I’d love to know what he’s talking about here.  Most likely Creation vs. Evolution.  But there are many documented cases of Intelligent Design proponents being bullied, terminated, or forced to resign for supporting ID.

In my experience, our side is much more open to free inquiry than the other side.  Question evolution respectfully and reasonably on PZ Myers’s blog and see if you get a polite education on the fundamentals of evolutionary theory and how well it’s supported in multiple branches of science, with helpful links and suggested reading.  (Spoiler alert: You won’t.  They’ll try to make you cry by calling you names with crass descriptions of bodily orifices combined with colorful metaphors for excrement.)

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what this user put at the top of his list.

More Dumb Tweets: Belief and Morality

Juan A. Raposo put up a fascinating tweet:

The implication being that theists are only moral because our belief in God keeps us moral.

So if not for that belief, we’d be vicious killing machines.  That thought misses a grand contradiction: Ask yourself, “What restrains the atheist from raping and pillaging?”  Belief that those things are wrong.

Is that belief fundamentally different from belief in God?

The atheist would say yes, but if he were consistent he’d be forced to admit that it differs very little.  After all, the Atheist Mantra is that there is “no evidence” for God and  God can’t be scientifically proven, right?

And that means that belief in God is worthless.  The underlying principle is a form of logical positivism, variously called empiricism or scientism.  It accepts only that which can be proven scientifically (scientism) or that which can be experienced by the senses (empiricism) as valid evidence.  Most atheists use this to disqualify evidence or argument that God exists.

The flip side is that morality can’t be scientifically proven, either.  So the belief that it is immoral to rape and pillage local towns is on the same grounds as God.  If one accepts the implied tenet that only that which can be scientifically proven is worth believing, then one cannot be consistent and also believe that raping and pillaging are morally wrong.  One has to prove that case.

So we both believe, without empirical evidence, that something restrains us from committing grievous harms against our fellow humans.  And that, by Raposo’s estimation, means neither of us are moral — but that’s the whole point of needing a Savior, isn’t it?

On Rational Discussion

The following meme is making the Facebook/Twitter rounds that shows how to have rational discourse:

rational-discussion

As usual, I think that this is incredibly simplistic.  When you unpack some of these, red flags start to go up.  The person who created this, I think, has an agenda and is so focused on that agenda that he is no longer concerned with truth.

Can you envision anything that will change your mind on the topic?  The key word here is “envision.”  I can’t envision anything that would change my mind on the existence God.  That, however, doesn’t mean I will be irrational in a discussion.  Perhaps during the conversation we can find something I had not thought of that would change my mind on God.

Just because I can’t envision it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  I have an open enough mind to accept that I may be wrong about the existence of God, while being confident that I’m not.  Aristotle observed, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  I can entertain thoughts I don’t accept — my goal is truth, not comfort.

As a further point, I think that it is easy to use this as a crutch to end an inconvenient discussion by equivocating irrationality and passion.  I passionately believe in God, which is why I can’t envision anything changing my mind on that.  But that is not the same as irrationality.

Are you prepared to abide by the basic principles of reason in discussing this topic?  Two rules are given as an example:

  1. The position that is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence should be accepted as true.
  2. The person who asserts a position bears the onus of demonstrating its truth.

With regard to (1), “evidence” is (as it always is with atheists) left undefined.  Empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence aren’t the only forms of evidence.  Only accepting empirical or peer-reviewed scientific evidence is a form of logical positivism called either empircism or scientism (depending on which form you accept).  Neither position is consistent with itself, since there is no empirical or scientific evidence that would support a belief in those position.

Both positions, in fact, rule out the knowledge we gain from history, mathematics, and philosophy.  They also exclude eyewitness testimony from discussion.

Meaning that we accept things as true without “evidence” all the time — if that’s what is meant by “evidence.”  Remember that when we get to the farcical rules of discussion below.

I agree wholeheartedly with (2) provided you understand atheists share a burden of proof.

Once entered, four additional rules are given to govern the discussion:

Do not introduce a new argument while another argument has yet to be resolved.  I don’t, but every atheist I’ve had a discussion with has done this to me.  So, I won’t start doing this but please, atheists, don’t do this to me, either.

Do not move on to another argument if it is shown that a fact you have relied upon is inaccurate.  I’ll just admit my mistake, but this doesn’t happen to me often.

Provide evidence for your position or arguments.  Again, atheists should be doing this, too.  Atheists seldom back their own unbelief in God up with evidence or arguments.  This is both lazy and a direct violation of one of the basic principles of rational discussion (that the true position is more reasonable and has more supporting evidence).  Argue it’s reasonable.  Give me the evidence.

Do not argue that you do not need evidence.  Again, the obsessive requirement for evidence is logically inconsistent, because there is no evidence for accepting it as a true premise — and atheists say they only believe that which we have evidence for.

While I accept the spirit of this meme, I still find it the product of a simple mind concerned with winning online debates rather than seeking truth.

The Best Way to Decide the Existence of God

I think that this is the best way for atheists and Christians to finally settle our differences.

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 Fourth

The Fourth Way of Atheism (This is Not the Best Possible World Argument) runs thus:

  1. God if he exists must be omnipotent, supremely good, and our ultimate creator.
  2. Therefore an existent God (being supremely good and competent) would have created the best possible world.
  3. As the world is inconsistent (between ages and people) it cannot all be the best possible world.
  4. Therefore as the world is not the best possible world, God cannot exist.

This would be true if not for one pesky little detail that Berg never addresses.  Let’s trace this argument from premise (1) to its conclusion to see where it goes awry.

I absolutely agree with (1).  No doubt that a being who wasn’t omnipotent, supremely good, and our ultimate creator would not be God in any sense of the term.

I agree with (2) in the sense that God did create the best possible world.  See Genesis 1:31 — creation is described as “very good” from God’s perspective.  It is doubtful that an omnipotent, perfectly good being would describe anything but the best possible world as “very good.”

(3) is true, but it skips a step — the Fall!

The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12-13, emphasis added)

After dealing with the serpent and Eve, God turns to Adam:

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19, emphasis added)

So now the world we see today is a punishment because of the transgression of Adam.  So this is not the best possible world; it was, now it is cursed because of the actions of humanity in defiance to God.

Once we understand that God created the best possible world, but cursed it to punish humanity, we realize that this argument doesn’t hold water.

All of the anticipated objections that Berg deals with are softball responses and so require no comment from me.  My objection, as always, is not anticipated.

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