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Monday, June 9, 2014

A Response to David Smalley’s Top 10 Reasons I’m Atheist





A Response to David Smalley’s
Top 10 Reasons I’m Atheist

(my comments are in white and his are in red highlighted)

Lists like this are becoming ubiquitous in the atheistic blog-o-sphere. Every few months I run across a new one and often hope to find something truly novel or challenging. In fact often I hope to find any of the 10 reasons to be, well, reasonable.[1] Sadly that is few and far between and this list is hardly the exception. I was told by numerous people that The Dogma Debate Podcast was fair and balanced and that the hosts were charitable and well researched on the topics they debate on the show. With that recommendation I decided to look them up. No sooner had I sat down with my cup of coffee and opened their home page that I saw this article. After quickly skimming over this article and several others on the site, I realized that the recommendation was false advertising. Maybe they are better on their show than on the blog, but if this list is anything to go by, the prospects are not very promising.
Here I will give a brief rejoinder to each of the 11 points (yes he threw in an 11th on his list of ten instead of just calling it his Top 11 Reasons) and let the reader decide for themselves if his reasons are all that reasonable. Because I have addressed most of these issues at length,[2] brief is hardly even adequate enough to describe what is about to take place. To anyone even remotely familiar with Christian theology, this will be a strange trip through the mind of this atheist, and for those who find the kind of “reasons” in this list to be rational, well, maybe I have become pessimistic over time but I think I could probably write a whole dissertation on each with flawless reasoning and cite scholars on all sides and you would still likely not see the problem with these points as he states them. I often wonder: if this is the kind of Christianity that atheists like this blogger have rejected, have they really rejected Christianity at all or just a strange distortion of it that only the most theologically weird type would ever endorse in the first place? For anyone who has followed my blog or Facebook groups for very long, you will be familiar with the question that I often ask atheists about their religious background. I know that this is anecdotal but after asking it probably over 1000 times, I have noticed what appears to be a strong correlation between how atheistic and hostile to religion a person is to them being raised in an overly legalistic, fundamentalistic, anti-intellectual kind of church where question are not allowed and dogma is shallow and legalistic. They don’t learn how to reason about their faith and so they learn the most vapid and indefensible kind of theological systems that, as Terry Eagleton put it in his review of Dawkins’ book The God Delusion, only theological weirdos would believe.
So let us look at the 10 reasons why this atheists claims are rationales for holding to atheism.

1. If we truly had one creator speaking to prophets, it would do so consistently, not contradictory as thousands of different religions have proven.

This is a strange way to start. If we had a Creator speaking to prophets, why should we expect that all religions would be spoken to? I mean if he were to try and put this point in the form of a logical syllogism it would hide so many enthymemes[3] that it would die a death of a thousand qualifications and make the reason, as stated, a complete non sequitur. Let’s imagine for the sake of argument that Christianity is true and the world is exactly how the Christian says that it is – created but fallen, and populated by believers and unbelievers alike. Would it follow then that all religious movements and self-proclaimed prophets would all rightly hear God? Doubtful. In fact we would expect to find false prophets and teachers. This diversity admittedly doesn’t argue in favor of Christianity but it certainly doesn’t militate against it.
In addition to this, a contradiction between different religions is hardly a problem for any one religion. For example, it is not a problem for Christianity that it contradicts Islam anymore than it is a problem for the Big Bang that it contradicts the Steady State model. They are true or false on their own merits. The existence of diverse and opposing and indeed contradictory positions is not a reason to say that all are false or even that one is more probably false. This is just completely incoherent for the author to maintain.

2. Living by the means of man helping man, and realizing time on earth is not a practice run, creates an urgency of life that requires fulfilling.

Again why would this make atheism more plausibly true? Even if this statement is true (which I will argue in a moment patently is not) what would this show? Since when does a sense of urgency make something more or less true? Or even more or less beneficial? And even if we argue for a sense of urgency as a virtue, then Christianity which holds that Christ could return at any moment would (and does) create a sense of urgency for many believers the world over. Would the blogger say that this adds to the truth quotient of Christian theism? That is highly unlikely.
Beyond that, the main problem with this premise is that it just seems horribly inaccurate. First of all, under Christianity this life is not a “practice run.” This is just rhetorical tom foolery. Christianity has never held that this life is a “practice run.” This life is the first chapter of the story. It is no more a “practice run” than infancy is a practice run for adolescence. Furthermore, we know from countless studies that it is religion and not atheism or secularism or humanism that is one of the biggest contributing factors in determining how much one donates their time or their money to charity. If religion were to vanish of the face of the earth tomorrow, so would the overwhelming majority of charities and worldwide aide work around the world. This “reason” is simply at odds with the real world.
To add insult to injury for this “reason,” hidden in it is the assumption that there is a real moral good in helping man. But why should this be the case on naturalism? Why ought we help each other? We have no moral foundation on naturalism for that to even be a meaningful sentiment and have every reason to adopt moral nihilism and impose our own will to power. So not only is this premise misleading and inaccurate, but it is also completely unjustifiable on his own worldview.


3. I asked my four-year-old daughter where the stars came from. She confidently said “The moon made them.” I followed by asking “Then where did the moon come from?” She strongly asserted “Daddy, the moon is the boss. Nobody made the moon.” This is an unmistakably familiar mindset; and rightfully embarrassing for an adult to hold such similar thought.

        The last I checked, we do not look at our children to be the pillars of reason and nuanced thought and this 3rd point is prime evidence for why that is. We could ask the same child where humans came from. They might answer that they come from mommies and daddies. Then we ask where mommies and daddies come from. The stork. Take that evolution?
The major problem with this “argument” is that it just makes a massive category mistake. It is simply not the case that the moon and God are even analogous concepts or entities. The moon just is a finite, contingent, material object. God, if he exists, is an immutable, necessary, immaterial entity. To compare the two is like saying that playing too close to PacMan will kill you instantly because he is round and yellow just like the sun. The unreasonableness of this third point may reveal why the author takes logic notes from his 4 year old…

4. Demeter, Jesus, Apollo, Horus, Zeus, Mithra, Yahweh, Tammuz, Ganesha, and Allah are only 10 of the thousands of gods recorded in history. An Atheist is not one that refuses to read religious doctrine; it is often one who reads too many.

       “Aether, Steady State Models, Lemarkism, Evolution and countless other failed scientific theories are recorded in history. A creationist is not one who refuses to read religious literature; it is often one who reads too much.” I wonder how he would feel about question begging and throwing evolution in with those other demonstrably failed scientific theories just because they have some vague similarities as being “scientific” and generalizing to all of them? Probably not so happy about it. This kind of Jesus Mythicism is so nonsensical that it’s bizarre anyone who claims to be rational actually defends it. It is like he has only listened to Zeitgeist and loved it without ever actually being “skeptical” and checking the sources and the claims.[4] This kind of “reasoning” is so uneducated and absurd that it is almost astonishing that the writer actually published this to the public. I have trained my junior high school students to reason better than this and to be more skeptical than this! If this kind of argumentation was turned in, I would give the paper and F without a second thought. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I do not like the conclusion. This is just shoddy thinking with zero research to support it. Pure and simple.


5. In the technicalities of most religions, there is no difference between a believer that dies before having time to repent, and a nonbeliever that rejected the doctrine altogether.


For Christianity this is literally meaningless. A believer just is one that repents and an unbeliever is one that does not. There are no “technicalities” (whatever he even possibly means by religious "technicalities") to the Christian position on this. Since I have no desire to defend religion generally, and am not even convinced that "religion" is a coherent unified concept, the fact that this quite literally has no traction with Christianity is enough for me on this point.


6. If the Christian god created humans as sinners, how could it rightfully expect us to believe the corrupt messengers it has sent to teach us the way of life?


        Under Christianity, God did not create humans as sinners. So this is just a flat out strawman and thus again has no traction with anything even remotely related to historic orthodox Christianity.

7. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?” – Epicurus


        The Logicial problem of evil has been solved to nearly every philosopher’s satisfaction by Alvin Plantinga. This is true of even the most atheistic philosophers who were the strongest advocates of the argument such as Mackie and Rowe. Mackie writes, "Since this defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another. But whether this offers a real solution of the problem is another question." To simply throw out this quote by Epicurus without any acknowledgement that even most atheistic philosophers believe it to be resolved is either due to utter ignorance and irrationality, or else due to complete deceit. Either is inexcusable for someone who wants to be known  for clear and educated thought on these issues.

8. All babies are Atheists. Religions are taught depending on the location and era in which you are raised. Being born in the U.S. in 1974 does not make you right, it most likely just makes you another Christian. That’s no better or worse than the person born in Tibet in 1955, who proudly worships the Dalai Lama.

        Babies are not atheists. Babies do not have belief forming faculties. They do not say “give me more evidence” or “I disbelieve in God” or “Godtards are all deluded.” Babies have no beliefs. They cannot have beliefs. They simply don’t have the rational capacity to form them yet. So in that case, babies are “atheists” in the same way that rocks, dogs and lobotomy patients are “atheists.” If your position has the same logical foundation as getting a full frontal lobotomy, then that is on you my friend. But when I was an atheist I actually had reasons and arguments for my disbeliefs and was more rational in my disbelief than a baby or a person suffering from irreversible head trauma.
What can we say about the position that we are just the product of how we are raised? Besides the fact that many convert to belief or disbelief showing that we are often capable to think for ourselves, this “argument” is problematic for two main reasons. The first, and most basic, is that this just is the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is where someone tries to discredit a view but discrediting how a person came to hold that view. So let’s imagine that he is right. Christians are only ever Christians because they were raised that way. So what? Nothing follows from that which has any affect on the truth or falsity of the Christian belief system. I could come to believe that the earth orbits the sun because I read it in a comic book. That would be a pretty silly reason to come to that belief but would the silliness of it make the belief less true? Not at all. Second, this argument cuts both ways and would hold true of atheism as well and theism. If the blogger were not born in a late modern, western nation like America, he would likely not be an atheist. If he was born in Tibet in 1955 he too would probably worship the Dalai Lama. So does that make his atheism less plausible? No it doesn’t. Because it commits the genetic fallacy.



9. It is better to find your own answers and make an educated decision, than to intentionally remain uneducated and make a fearful one.

        I’m not sure what this has to do with religion. Studies show that more education one achieves the more religious they are. Sociologist Christian Smith wrote in his ground breaking work,

However, something very interesting emerged when scholars took a second look at the question more recently. They found that the religiously undermining effect of higher education on recent generation of youth disappeared. Most of the older research was conducted on baby boomers for whom college did indeed corrode religious faith and practice. But many studies more recently have shown that conventional wisdom about baby boomers does not apply to today's youth. Higher education no longer seem to diminish religion in emerging adults." "In every case, emerging adults are slightly more religious than those who are not in college, although only the differences in overall religiousness and service attendance are statistically significant. In short, if anything, it is not attending college that is associated with lower levels of religious practice, though those differences are slight.[5]

This is supported by other research that shows that while an undergraduate degree may be a factor in some diminished belief, graduate work and post graduate work actually increase religiosity.[6] Possible proof for the cliché that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Another study finds that,

"The effects of income become insignificant, however, the impact of education actually reverses in the United States: it is the more educated who attend church most frequently. It therefore appears that the typical socioeconomic profile of churchgoing is indeed somewhat distinctive in the United States when compared with other wealthy countries."[7]

Sociologist Philip Schwadel in his metasurvey found that it was actually higher levels of education which are most determinative of increased religious participation and religious practice in daily life. And not only that but it was also a factor in generating greater tolerance for atheists' public opposition to religion (such as the current list under review) and greater skepticism of "exclusivist religious viewpoints and biblical literalism."[8]
Other studies have repeatedly confirmed this finding. “Our study suggests that the less educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market," said lead researcher W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.[9] In fact some studies have shown that while the religious “nones” tend to have high levels of education, it is actually the agnostics who are driving up the average and that by in large atheists have a relatively low educational average.[10] There is a whole mass of studies that have been performed that flat out disprove the myth that high education will lead to high secularity and less religiosity.[11] It may make this blogger feel good but to equate religious belief with fear of finding answers and intentional remaining educated is so absurd that it itself is evidence that the author is likely fearful  of education on this issue.


10. Only for the sake of argument, if I were to astonishingly find myself face to face with a supreme being, I would expect to be judged on my life as a humanist, and how I treated others, (just as most Christians plan to be judged on character, not on the actual Ten Commandments). If my positive actions were ignored, and I was instead judged on using my intelligence to doubt religious doctrines created by human sinners, I would rather be eternally punished than bow to such an unfair tyrant who made things seemingly impossible for humans to succeed at this horrific game.

        This is a weird reason to be an atheist because it isn’t a reason to BE an atheist. It is the position that “well if I am wrong, then God better damn well do what I want him to do!” It assumes his positive actions can merit grace (which is unmerited favor), that it was his “intelligence” that got him into trouble (rather than his sinful desire for autonomy) and that the doctrines were “created by human sinners” – all basically saying, “If we assume that atheism is true and that this strawman that I am presenting is what Christianity is, then look how reasonable it is to be an atheist!”
In addition to this, Christians don’t believe that we are judged on character OR the Ten Commandments. The fact that he thinks that this is what Christians believe is not really his fault. The sad reality is that American Evangelicalism has largely lost its Biblical and Protestant moorings of salvation by grace and, following Finney, ran headlong into legalism and a kind of American Pelagianism of works based righteousness. Many sadly agree with the lie of the Nazis that "work will set you free." But the fact that he thinks that this is a critique of Christianity as a worldview rather than a critique of a specific heretical theological and cultural phenomena again shows that the author just does not know what he is talking about.

            The author  then writes:

After more than 5 years of responding to comments on this and continuing my debates and investigations into religion, and my own psychology, I realized there was an 11th, and most important reason for my atheism…


11. I simply refuse to be a hypocrite. I refuse to be disingenuous. I refuse to fake it. I could go through the motions, attend the churches, shake the hands, follow the rituals of whichever religion or denomination of Christianity I liked the best, sing the songs, and help with the luncheons. That still wouldn’t make me a believer. It would make me a pretender. I am honest with myself and those around me that these things don’t make sense to me. That doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me an atheist.

This is the first “almost” reasonable thing he has said because it is so trivially true that it is a wonder why he feels the need to add it. No one asked him to fake it. This “reason” isn’t really that reasonable as an objection however since it isn’t really an argument for why one should BE an atheist. It just says, “Since I’m an atheist then I’m not going to fake not being an atheist.” Okay…. No one asked him to. But this is his list to explain why he IS an atheist. This doesn’t explain why he is an atheist. It just says that he is an atheist because he is an atheist and couldn’t fake to be anything else.
Again if we use that same rationale, I am a Christian because I am a Christian and I couldn’t fake to be anything else. So would that trivial statement of autobiographical blatancy merit a “here! here!” from our atheist blogger? Again, it is doubtful.


[1] Here I am willing to set aside for the sake of brevity the Transcendental Argument that argues that without God as the necessary precondition, we wouldn’t have laws of logic to begin with and thus no atheistic arguments are every consistently reasonable.
[2] You can find most of these addressed in my review of David McAfee’s book here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/154151833/Book-Review-of-Disproving-Christianity-and-Other-Secular-Writings-by-David-McAfee
[3] An enthymeme in logic is an unstated premise
[4] I recommend two sources for this: Ronald Nash’s book The Gospel and the Greeks, and Glenn Peoples podcast in which he responds to Zeitgeist found here: http://www.rightreason.org/2010/episode-038-zeitgeist/
[5] Smith, Christian; Patricia Snell (2009). Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging adults. Oxford University Press. pp. 248–251. ISBN 9780195371796
[7] Norris, Pippa; Ronald Inglehart (2011). Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 267-268.
[8] Schwadel, Philip (2011). "The Effects of Education on Americans’ Religious Practices, Beliefs, and Affiliations". Review of Religious Research 53
[9] Fowler, Daniel. "Less-educated Americans turning their backs on religion". American Sociological Association. Eureka.
[10] Edited by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. "Secularism & Secularity: Contemporary International Perspectives". Hartford, CT: Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), 2007. p. 36.
[11] Smith, Christian (1998). American Evangelicalism : Embattled and Thriving. University of Chicago Press. p. 76-77;

2 comments:

  1. When you understand why you reject all other possible God's you will understand why I reject yours

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which is one of the silliest responses possible. I dont reject other gods for the same reason that you reject mine. My rejection of other gods is largely based on the positive case that I think is present for classical theism, my beliefs about the sin of idolatry, my belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and my belief that God is the best (and only) possible explanation for features of our world like the laws of logic, objective moral values and duties, why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe is finely tuned for life, the existence of persons, minds, purpose, intentionality, specified complexity of naturally occurring information, etc.

      Plus I was an atheist until well into my college years. I understand atheism. So no, your reasons for rejecting God is not even remotely the same as my reasons for rejecting polytheism unless you simply mean in the broadest of terms that we both reject positions that we think are false.

      But then again... would you then defend that atheism is a rejection and denial of the existence of God or are you one of the ones that adopts the silly cliche (like you do with the one you posted) that atheism is just the biographical lack of belief? Because then you actually dont even reject God's existence as false and your two cliches would contradict each other - which would make you even MORE irrational in your blind parroting of atheistic fundamentalist cliches.

      Wanna try giving a reasonable response to the content of the article then or just going to troll by posting ridiculous sound byte cliches?

      Delete