Friday, 27 February 2015

What Is Atheism?

You might think that to say "I am an atheist" is a stand alone statement. You might think that to say that draws a line where your stance on the existence of God is and that's it. You'd be wrong.

Firstly, let's be clear. Atheism is different to agnostic non-theism. Atheism is to believe that the statement 'there is no God' is true.

You might be one of those that sees agnosticism as a type of atheism, and all right whatever, stick with that if you like, but just for the sake of this article, let's go with the proper definition. Let's do that simply because this article has nothing to say about agnostic non-theism. It only speaks to atheism. If you're an agnostic non-theist who (mistakenly) calls themselves an atheist, then this isn't about you. Some of it might cross over, but generally it's about atheists.

Right so the start point is that atheism is the belief that there is no such thing as God.

A lot of people will stop there and say 'end of story'. That's not the case. If you believe that there is no God, who have to believe that the universe can get by without one. So you have to be a naturalist or a materialist.

A naturalist might be able to somehow believe in a spiritual or immaterial dimension, but it would have to have an explanation that came through physics, biology, and chemistry.
A materialist is someone who only believes in physics, biology, and chemistry with no possibility of spiritual stuff.

Which is why the above meme is pretty accurate. Atheists have to believe that the universe was somehow created from absolute nothing. Well, they don't have to, they could go against scientific and philosophical consensus and believe that the universe has always existed.
For atheists, as there is no divine intelligence to guide, create, and design, everything that has ever happened has to be the result of time plus random chance. No purpose, no meaning, no reasons. Just blind luck.

I'm not saying any of this is false (I don't believe it is for several reasons), I'm simply saying that atheists have to choose between these options.

So once an atheist has chosen to be either a naturalist or materialist, and decided if they think the universe created itself or is eternal (or is withholding judgement until one makes more sense than the other), there's one more thing that they have to accept.

To be an atheist, you have to be a moral nihilist.

Now this is one a lot of atheists hate hearing, but unfortunately not liking something doesn't make it untrue. Have a look over The Moral Argument to see why. Without God there is no possible perfect moral standard and so that would mean moral values are all subjective - down to individual opinions. Opinions don't actually have any truth value. So atheists can have the opinion that murder, theft, and rape are bad things, but it doesn't amount to much more than that they don't like them. To build a society atheists could come up with rules that they all agree on and maybe try to base them on the best way to survive and that might be practical and actually work out fine for them. But behind it all they have to admit that all the rules and laws are just things that they have chosen and there isn't any actual real thing that makes them really 'right' or 'good'.

So to sum up. An atheist must believe that the universe either created itself or it has existed forever. They have to believe that the elements and atoms randomly arranged and by pure luck formed into stars and planets. They have to believe that elements on those planets randomly arranged into something we call life. They have to believe that seeing as everything is run on time and chance, that nothing has any real meaning or purpose beyond opinions.

A materialist further has to believe that there is no such thing as intelligence and we are all just advanced robots that follow our natural programming that was randomly generated through evolution. A naturalist could be working under the assumption that immaterial intelligence could somehow arise from unintelligent matter.

It's all bleak, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

I think it's not true because of a few absurdities, but if a materialist or naturalist can find a way to fill those gaps I'm happy to hear them. To me atheism comes from the assumption that everything in the universe has to be explained bottom up. Theism lets you explain some things, if not everything, from the top down. Atheistic science is limited to breaking everything down to smaller, more basic parts until you get to nothing. Theistic science can start with everything being there that was needed to get it all going. It leaves more doors open. Methodologically it's better.
So as a final thing to think about, I'd love to know how atheists even begin to explain these things:
  • Existence from Non-existence
  • Life from Non-life
  • Intelligence from non-intelligence
Saying "science will figure it out" is not answer. That's called 'naturalism of the gaps' or 'scientism' and we're not interested in fallacies.

Finally, I'll restate that this doesn't apply to non-theists. If you're undecided about your answer to the question 'is there a God?' then you don't have to commit to naturalism or materialism. However, it might be worth considering the absurdities atheism offers that you have to face if you were to reject God.

Cos you know, Christians have to believe that God incarnated himself as a man and proved it by walking on water, healing the sick, and raising himself from the dead, but atheists have to believe that a mud puddle got struck by lightning and came to life.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Reading The Bible With A Study Guide

It's surprising how often some atheists make this suggestion. (Or is it? A lot of them are trolls. I doubt a reasonable atheist would ever do this).

They tell you it's a good idea to just read the Bible from front to back, without any study aids, with the condition that you can put it down when you're sick of it and announce yourself an atheist.

They'll tell you it's so full of immorality and prejudice that you'd have to be crazy to think it deserves the nickname 'the good book'.

What they don't realise is that they're simply showing how weak their intellectual hand is.

Sure you could read the Bible without a study aid. That would be fine. You'd just have to figure out the bits you didn't quite understand for yourself, which might be fairly difficult without any knowledge of things like ancient Hebrew cultural history, or how to recognise literary differences between poetry, prose, and historical texts, or to take notice of contexts and references.

Before diving any further into this, I'd also simply have to question whether or not the atheist making this suggestion had read the Bible themselves. My initial suspicion would be that they had been visiting an atheist-infidel type website who enjoyed taking Biblical quotes, pointing, and saying "Haha, look how bad and stupid this stuff is". Precisely the kind of people that study guides are for! Not that I'm exempt from that. There's been plenty of passages I haven't understood and needed someone with more training and expertise to explain for me.

Belief Based On Faith

Another commonly heard thing from atheists is that 'faith is an irrational reason to believe in anything'.

What they mean is that it's mad to believe something when there is no evidence for it.

Right. That's what a Christian calls 'blind faith'. 'Faith' is a completely different thing altogether. The word 'faith' comes from the Latin word 'fides' which means 'trust' or 'confidence'.

So when a Christian says that they have faith, it means that they trust God and Jesus. Trust and confidence is something that is earned, which means it requires some amount of evidence. Christian faith is based on evidence. It's the complete opposite of what Dawkins and his followers think it is.

Everyone has faith in something as Christians use the word. Faith in your family, faith in your spouse, faith in your leaders, faith in yourself.
We agree that blind faith is irrational, which is why we don't have it.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Auschwitz and God

I'm so far removed from this. My parents generation were born well after the wars were over. I'm in the UK. I'm a Christian. So it's hard to really get to grips with an understanding of what happened at Auschwitz. The best I can do is watch the movies, the documentaries, hear the testimonies. Even then I doubt I can fully grasp the horror of the death camps. I wonder if even those who were there to suffer in them had a full picture of the terrible place they were in.

I've been a little flippant dealing with the Problem of Evil. My only defence there is that generally I treat it as a logical problem. A philosophical argument that gets a thorough debunking. What I (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) often forget is that the strength of the Problem of Evil and Suffering is not in its philosophy, but in its emotional weight.

When you see, or worse, suffer hurt, sadness, loneliness, let alone the horror of being reduced to whatever subhuman category the Nazis treated people as, it's very understandably difficult to keep a level, logical, philosophical head about it all. It's no surprise whatsoever that a person who has gone through a bad time is going to struggle with looking at their situation with the passionless outlook of Mr Spock.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? - Matthew 6:27
It's so easy to ask "Where was God when I needed him?", "Where was my guardian angel?".
It's so easy to think that the answer to the question is that he was never there to start with. And it's very understandable to not be comforted at all the by the answer "God has a sufficient reason to allow this".

Moral Argument From Evil

To the philosophical Christian it's as obvious as a bright red smacked arse wobbling two feet from your face that the Problem of Evil is a non-starter. However, some atheists won't let it go. They try to rework it so that it makes sense and can avoid the hurdles that it falls at (if you think it even gets out the gate).

Here's one complicated attempt that I found recently. It's set up a little differently that I'm used to, but it's not a big deal. It's 'The Moral Argument from Evil' from Dean Stretton:
  1. A1. The most rational theists know (i.e., have a justified, true belief) that God exists.
  2. A2a. For any possible world W, if God exists in W, then every instance of evil in W is objectively justified.
  3. A2b. If God exists, then there is objective justification for any actual instance of evil, including those evils for which there is a human onlooker
  4. A2. If God exists, then there is objective justification for every actual instance of evil, justification that will occur even if no onlooker intervenes to stop or prevent that evil.
  5. A3. Some members of the class of most rational theists (as I have defined that class) are theists who know A2.
  6. A4. Some of the most rational theists (namely, those who know A2) know that there is objective justification for any actual instance of evil, justification that will occur even if no onlooker intervenes to stop or prevent that evil.
  7. A5. If human person P knows that there is objective justification for evil E, and that this justification will occur even if P does not intervene to stop or prevent E, then P is morally justified in allowing E to occur.
  8. A6. Some of the most rational theists (namely, those who know A2) are morally justified in allowing any actual evil to occur.
  9. A7. If the most rational theists know that God exists, then some of those theists (namely, those who know A2) are morally justified in allowing any evil to occur.
  10. A8. Even the most rational theists (including those who know A2) are not morally justified in allowing just any evil to occur.
  11. A9. Even the most rational theists do not know that God exists.
  12. A10. If the most rational theists do not know that God exists, then no theist knows that God exists.
  13. A11. No theist knows that God exists.
  14. A12. For any given theist, that theist’s belief that God exists is either false or unjustified.
  15. A13. If God exists, then some theists are justified in believing that God exists.
  16. A14. If God exists, then no theist has a false belief that God exists.
  17. A15. If God exists, then some theists know (i.e., have a justified, true belief) that God exists.
  18. A16. It is not the case that some theists know (i.e., have a justified and true belief) that God exists.
  19. A17. God does not exist.
Look how long winded it is. These are the lengths that have to be gone to to try and salvage the wreckage of The Problem of Evil. Oh boy.
Let's check it out.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

If Bad Things Happen To Good People Then God Does Not Exist

You might have heard something like this being said by non-believers. Something like it, I haven't actually heard it put the way it is in the title, but it amounts to about the same.

I'll sketch out the basics here as to why 'the problem of evil' is one of the worst objections to believing in God. (Aside from it having been covered to death by loads of philosophers all through the ages, starting with debate in the Book of Job).

The classic Problem of Evil goes a little like this:
P1) If an all-loving, all powerful being exists, it would destroy evil.
P2) Evil exists.
C) Therefore an all-loving, all powerful being doesn't exist.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

Some atheists seem to love the following phrase:

Carl Sagan said "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

I'm going to ignore the "Carl Sagan said" bit. Let's not bother with the obvious appeal to authority there and pretend it didn't happen.
The bit I really want to look at is the catchphrasy sound bite.

This appears on the list of Atheist Clichés That Need To Stop Being Said. Anything on that list is something we hear a lot, and tells us that the person saying it hasn't really thought it through.

Not saying Carl Sagan is a moron. Just that when he came up with this particular often-shared phrase, he was having a lax day. Probably watching some daytime TV and was a bit hungry but couldn't be bothered to get up.

Now, if you can figure out for yourself why the phrase "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is nonsense, good on you! You have no need to read on.
If you can't see the problem, go ahead with the next bit. We won't tell anyone and you can kick yourself later.