Posts Tagged ‘atheism’

Ask Dr. Olson a question? You bet I will!

June 2, 2016

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know how much I admire Roger Olson, a historical theologian at Baylor (not to mention an Arminian Baptist), and his blog. He has a new post this week, “Ask a Theologian a Question,” in which he’s fielding questions from readers.

My question was of a nagging apologetic concern that I’ve had. Dr. Olson was gracious enough to answer. The key, I believe, is that God doesn’t merely want us to know that he exists. Mere knowledge hardly produces love, or self-sacrifice, or worship. Doesn’t it seem likely that many convinced atheists wouldn’t submit to the kind of loving, trusting relationship that God wants us to have with him, even if they had more tangible proof? Both the late writer Christopher Hitchens and English actor Stephen Fry, among others, have said they wouldn’t want the Christian God to exist, and if he did, they wouldn’t bow down to them.

Besides, as James says, even demons know that God exists—and shudder. As I imply in my question, I agree with Olson: Believing that God exists is our natural state of affairs. Evidence from history, not to mention scripture, bears this out.

(Click on graphic to expand.)

olson

New atheists’ remarkably candid denial of free will

December 22, 2015

On their Reasonable Faith podcast for the past several weeks, William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris have been discussing a recent dialogue between “new atheists” Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris. In this fifth installment, Craig and Kevin Harris tackle the new atheists’ discussion of free will—specifically their denial of free will. Free will is an illusion, they say, and moral responsibility doesn’t exist.

Not only do Coyne and Sam Harris deny free will, they express frustration with fellow “free thinkers” (there’s an oxymoron!) who try to salvage free will through “compatibilism.” From what I know of compatibilism, I actually agree with Coyne that it’s a “semantic game.”

To understand why they and many other atheists deny something which is obviously true to all human beings—that we have minds capable of making choices—let’s consider the following: From a materialistic perspective, what we experience as our “mind” is merely the projection of unthinking, unguided physical processes of cause-and-effect, which take place within the brain. At every moment the brain is “creating” the mind—including the inescapable sense that we are free agents making choices. The created thing (the mind) can’t, in turn, “create” its creator. That would be like asking a movie actor to act independently of the film that is projecting his image on a theater screen.

If a mind had the power to exert such an influence back onto the brain—and thereby control one’s thoughts and actions—then we would be conceding that there is at least one purely non-physical substance in the universe. And if you concede that, you may as well concede that there’s a God, too!

Regardless, if you listen to this Reasonable Faith podcast, you’ll notice how Coyne and Harris repeatedly contradict their assertion that free will is an illusion. They say that while no criminal is morally responsible for his actions, we can still have prisons and punishments for criminals because these things influence and deter bad behavior.

Fine, but whether we have prisons and punishments or not isn’t up to us: it’s up to unthinking, unguided processes over which “I,” along with Coyne and Harris, have no control. The very idea, “We should have prisons and punishments for criminals,” for example, isn’t something I’ve chosen to believe; it’s merely happened to me, along with all my other beliefs, thoughts, and choices.

Near the end of the podcast, we hear Coyne and Harris talk about understanding the reasons that they have certain desires (“I want a steak.”) and not others. Harris says that he can’t ultimately say why he wants a steak. Coyne disagrees: he says we can analyze the stimuli that have influenced our desire for a steak—for example, I saw a commercial for a steak, and that produced the desire within me. Harris then seems to agree.

But if they’re right about our ability to “analyze,” then they’re wrong about free will: because whether or not we perform such analysis isn’t something we do; it’s something that’s done to us.

As Craig says, “There does seem to be that so-called transcendental ego that is never fully objectified, that stands above the train of experiences and surveys them and judges them.”

Of course!

And in my view this is a serious problem with atheistic materialism. The atheist says, “We can account for all of reality without resorting to anything beyond the physical” (which is itself metaphysical claim but never mind that for now). But the atheist obviously can’t. Because he can’t account for something that, as I suggested earlier, literally every person of sound mind who’s ever lived experiences: that we have a mind that stands over and above our bodies, which directs it to some extent.

“In the cross, God puts himself on the hook of human suffering”

February 9, 2015
Andrew Wilson talks about why God allows evil and suffering.

Andrew Wilson talks about why God allows evil and suffering.

A British comedian and actor named Stephen Fry, who has been an outspoken atheist for many years, gave an interview on Irish TV recently in which he said, in so many words, that if God existed, he couldn’t be considered good or worthy of our love or worship because of the existence of evil and suffering.

As I’ve said before on this blog, this is the strongest reason not to believe in God: objecting to God on moral grounds.

My favorite contemporary theologian (who is also a pastor), Andrew Wilson, reflects on Fry’s words in this blog post, citing various defenses that have emerged in the blogosphere. In Wilson’s opinion, many of these responses fall short because, while they go out of their way to argue that God doesn’t necessarily cause suffering, they fail to grapple with a larger one: Why does God allow it in the first place? Wilson then points us to a 30-minute talk he gave on the subject entitled, “How could a loving God possibly allow so much suffering?”

Wilson’s main answer is, “We don’t know.” Yes, Wilson agrees, there are good reasons that explain some suffering: our ability to make free choices; the constancy of physical laws that enable us to live in a predictable world; the influence of Satanic forces; the development of character; punishment for sin. But he agrees with skeptics that these reasons alone can’t explain all suffering.

He then turns his attention to an argument that Fry and others like him would undoubtedly endorse (I’m paraphrasing):

Argument 1:

1) If God exists (and he’s all-good and all-loving, as Christians say), he would not allow evil and suffering in the world.

2) Evil and suffering exist.

3) Therefore, God doesn’t exist (at least not one that we’d want to worship)

Or perhaps:

Argument 2:

1) If God exists, he must have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering.

2) God doesn’t have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering.

3) Nevertheless, evil and suffering exist.

4) Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

As Wilson points out, even contemporary philosophers see the impossibility of justifying the first premise of Argument 1 or the second premise of Argument 2. The reason is that we human beings are limited in knowledge. We simply aren’t in a position to know whether an all-good and all-loving God would have good reasons for permitting evil and suffering. (In the wake of the Enlightenment, we were far more confident in what we could know than we are today.)

wilson_suffering02

We can’t know what God knows. In our finiteness, we can’t begin to foresee what alternative world would exist if this instance of suffering or that instance of evil weren’t allowed to happen. As Wilson points out, this is the main theme of the Bible’s one book devoted to the question, the Book of Job.

This all makes logical sense, of course. But we humans aren’t Vulcans (as yours truly is constantly reminded on this blog or in real life when I try to defend our denomination’s traditional stance on human sexuality). The biggest moral objection to God’s existence is emotional, not logical. But even on this point, Wilson makes a far stronger case for Christianity than any secular alternative.

In the secular story, you lose a child, and in the secular view of the world, without God, there is no basis for declaring anything to be objectively evil. You can say you don’t like it—you can say it’s not very nice if it happens to you—but you cannot say it’s evil. It just simply is. That’s true of everything. There’s no objective basis for saying there’s anything evil—or good—in the world. Creatures are born. Creatures die. The strong eat the weak. There’s no reason to say any of that is wrong, with no shoulder to cry on, and no hope that it will ever get better or be undone, and evil wins. That’s the reality. In the end of it all, you just go back in the earth, and all the evil things that happen remain totally unjustified.

That’s simply not how the world works. There’s no emotional solution at all. There’s nothing satisfying—there’s nothing emotionally or existentially satisfying to cling on to in that story. You have got nothing.

The way the Christian story works, there is a very clear basis for saying that things are good and evil. God is good, is love. Creation is good. Suffering is awful. God enters into our pain as a man in the person of Jesus. He takes human evil upon himself. Human evil is renounced. Human evil is then forgiven. Death and all of the stuff that goes with it is defeated and undone. Death is swallowed up in victory. The world is made new and love wins.

The contrast of the stories when framed that way, you say, “One of those stories has immense emotional power to sustain and undergird someone who’s going through suffering and the other one simply doesn’t.” And as such I think it’s very important to see that the Christian gospel does give us the emotional resources we need to cope with the bleak suffering that takes place, because it pivots on a God who lives and dies as one of us to rescue us.

He concludes by reminding his audience that while he doesn’t know the answer as to why people suffer, he does know what the answer isn’t: It isn’t that God doesn’t love us. Not if the gospel is true.

It’s not that God is distant and says, ‘Well, that’s your problem.” He has made himself as involved in the problem of human suffering as he ever could be. Christians don’t try to get God off the hook for suffering because in the cross, God puts himself on the hook of human suffering. He said, “This is how much I want to show you that I care, and I’m with you in your pain.” He became like us to live through exactly what we go through, and then rose again to defeat its power and inaugurate a new kind of Creation that one day everything gets filled with glory, and there’s nothing of the evil and sin left…

I don’t know why this is happening, but I know it isn’t happening because God doesn’t love me… God will fix evil and somehow turn it into something good.

Amen.

Missing the point

May 30, 2014

Last week, I blogged about a recent episode of The Good Wife in which a philosophical materialist—one who believes that nothing exists beyond the physical universe—was tripped up by his own philosophy. One commenter linked to this YouTube video of celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins rejecting the idea that you need God (or any transcendent being) in order to be a moral person.

On the one hand, of course that’s true: atheists can certainly be—and usually are, I imagine—about as moral as anyone else—religious or otherwise. On the other hand, as I said in my reply, Dawkins’s response misses the point of the question he was asked in the video:

For our purposes in this post only, it hardly matters whether we “agree” on what is right or wrong. It is more important to have a right or wrong on which to agree or disagree. [Dawkins] seems to fail to grasp the question. So he likes modern Western secular values. What is his rational basis for doing so? How does he prove in any scientific way that these values are best? He doesn’t. And that’s the point.

The commenter responded: “Do you feel values in the western world are not superior to others? If you could choose a nation with the best values, or system for us to live by, which would it be? Just curious.” To which I replied: “To a philosophical materialist, words like ‘best’ and ‘superior’ are meaningless except insofar as they express one’s personal tastes, shaped as they are by blind forces…”

In other words, if materialists can agree on what counts as “good,” then they can work out what is better or best, superior or inferior. But a materialist who’s true to his values doesn’t pretend that the “good” means what we human beings usually mean when we use the word, at least insofar as it relates to justice—as in, “This is right, and that is wrong.” We are appealing to a universal standard that transcends opinion and taste.

To the materialist, by contrast, the good is entirely subjective—which is fine, of course, so long as you live among people who agree with you. But if you’re being tortured by people who disagree on the question, there’s no sense saying, “This is wrong. This is evil.” Because based on your own philosophy, your torturers’ sense of right and wrong would be no more or less justified than yours.

In a series of blog posts this week, Roger Olson put the problem with materialism in sharp relief. (He refers to materialists as “naturalists,” but same difference).

He issued this challenge to anyone who wanted to defend naturalism as a worldview:

So let me put it this way. I’m not a naturalist, but here I will adopt the “voice” of one:

I am a young naturalist, having adopted a purely naturalistic worldview, such that I believe nature is all there is and there is no transcendent meaning or purpose to my life or anyone else’s life. I am here by accident and when I die I am simply gone. There is no God or gods, only matter, energy, space and time.

I have decided to live for pleasure; I will do only what pleases me. I happen to find that treating others as means to my end is advantageous to me. I do not find that compassion or empathy or cooperation are of any value to me except insofar as they happen to enhance my own happiness. More often than not they don’t. I use them as tools for my own advantage–to enhance my own pleasure.

However, I have discovered certain ways in which I can mistreat other people, take advantage of them, through deception and manipulation, and not at all be disadvantaged by it. You can’t convince me otherwise. I see other people doing the same and I follow their example and am perfectly happy.

So long as I am not socially or personally disadvantaged, why should I not manipulate, even oppress, others?    My life plan is to live entirely for myself and my own personal pleasure. It brings me satisfaction. I am very smart, smarter than the majority of people, and am confident that I can get away with my chosen path of life. If it leads me to commit crimes, I will do so–so long as I am sure I will not be caught.

Some people tell me that I have some kind of altruistic gene and that I ought to live a life of cooperation and compassion. I do not feel that; if there is such a gene I didn’t inherit it. Don’t tell me I’m not normal; I don’t care about being normal. I care about being happy and I am happy taking advantage of others and living solely for myself.

My life philosophy is “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” I am a hedonist and don’t see any reason not to be. Life is what it is and its only purpose is survival, reproduction, and happiness. Those are my only values.

Try to convince me, on naturalist presuppositions alone, that I am wrong. Good luck.

Read the comments sections of these posts. Given that his follow-up posts were called “Adventures in Missing the Point” and “Further Adventures in Missing the Point,” you can see that he didn’t get very far.

The Good Wife on the “problem” of our moral intuition

May 20, 2014

A recent episode of my favorite TV show, The Good Wife, included a couple of scenes that highlight a potential problem with atheism: If there is no God, there is no objective basis for saying something is right or wrong, or good or bad. Is this a problem? Maybe not for some people, but for most—including even professed atheist Alicia Florrick, Julianna Margulies’s character—it is, as you can see in the following scenes. (The first scene also touches on materialism and the illusion free will.)

Tim Keller writes about this problem in his most recent book:

It is inarguable that human beings have moral feelings. A moral feeling means I feel some behavior is right and some behavior wrong and even repulsive. Now, if there is no God, where do such strong moral instincts and feeling come from? Today many would say our moral sense comes from evolution. Our feelings about right and wrong are thought to be genetically hardwired into us because they helped our ancestors survive. While that explanation may account for moral feelings, it can’t account for moral obligation. What right have you to tell people they are obligated to stop certain behaviors if their feelings tell them those things are right, but you feel they are wrong? Why should your moral feelings take precedence over theirs? Where do you get a standard by which your moral feelings and sense are judged as true and others as false? On what basis do you say to someone, “What you have done is evil,” if their feelings differ from yours?

We call this a conundrum because the very basis for disbelief in God—a certainty about evil and the moral obligation not to commit it—dissolves if there truly is no God. The ground on which you make your objection vanishes under your feet. So not only does the argument against God from evil not succeed, but it actually has a “boomerang effect” on the users. Because it show you that you are assuming something that can’t exist unless God does. And so, in a sense, you are relying on God to make an argument against God.[1]

In this recent interview from the New York Times, philosopher Philip Kitcher makes the case for what he calls “soft atheism,” one which recognizes the worthiness of religion insofar as it promotes the humanist values he champions. There’s much to argue about in the piece, but let me focus on these words:

In the end, a thoroughly secular perspective, one that doesn’t suppose there to be some “higher” aspect of reality to serve as the ground of values (or as the ground of assurance that the important values can be realized), can do everything refined religion can do, without becoming entangled in mysteries and difficult problems. Most important, this positive secular humanism focuses directly on the needs of others, treating people as valuable without supposing that the value derives from some allegedly higher source. The supposed “transcendent” toward which the world’s religions gesture is both a distraction and a detour.

Let’s be clear: his “thoroughly secular perspective” can’t do everything that religion can do, refined or otherwise. Because it can’t explain our strong intuition that good and evil are things that actually exist. Only God can do that.

Of course, wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. But let’s concede that we all want it to be true—at least the non-sociopaths among us. We want our incredibly strong intuitions about right and wrong to be based on something more substantial than our personal feelings, proclivities, or tastes. Why? A philosophically materialistic answer can’t scratch that itch.

David Bentley Hart deals with the same question in relation to philosopher Joel Marks.

1. Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (New York: Dutton, 2013), 85.

David Berlinski on evolution and the pretensions of scientific atheism

December 21, 2013

devils_delusionYesterday, I read The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski. It’s a polemical, savagely funny response to the new atheism of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, et al., whose unlikely author is himself an agnostic and secular Jew. Why did he, of all people, write a book mostly for Christians like me? Because he noticed that no one else had written it! One’s soul can only withstand so much indignation, after all.

The book clarified my thinking on several ideas I’ve blogged about in the past, including Dawkins’s argument against God, necessary versus contingent things, the mulitverse (or “Landscape”), the universe’s apparent fine-tuning, and attempts by Stephen Hawking and others to explain it away using quantum cosmology. Of the latter he writes the following (which gives you a sense of his writing style):

The details may be found in Hawking’s best-selling A Brief History of Time, a book that was widely considered fascinating by those who did not read it, and incomprehensible by those who did. Their work will seem remarkably familiar to readers who grasp the principle behind pyramid schemes or magical acts in which women disappear into a box only to emerge as tigers shortly thereafter.[1]

After describing the work Hawking did to explain the origin of our universe, Berlinski says that the universe that Hawking found is, unsurprisingly, just the universe Hawking assumed he would find. “If what Hawking described is not quite a circle in thought, it does appear to suggest an oblate spheroid. ¶ The result is guaranteed—one hunnerd percent, as used-car salesmen say.[2]

Berlinski continually highlights the same problem with these guys that I’ve highlighted a few times on this blog. Even if what they say is true (which he doesn’t believe for a moment), they haven’t answered the question, “Why something and not nothing.”

That’s all well and good… What I wasn’t prepared for in this book was his frontal assault on something that I never talk about on this blog: evolution.

In part, I don’t talk about it because I don’t understand it. No one I know understands it. I mean, we may remember some things from our tenth-grade biology textbook, but nothing that would pass muster these days. When the average person says he believes in evolution, all he’s really saying is that he takes on faith that really smart people haven’t misled them on the subject. And none of us wants to appear to be stupid.

Or sometimes when people say they believe in evolution, they’re saying something about a God they no longer believe in, or a church whose doctrines they’ve long since abandoned.

Even before reading this book, I’ve wondered why it’s necessary to talk about “believing in” evolution in the first place? Either it happens or it doesn’t, like any other phenomenon in the realm of science. Why use religious language to describe one’s assent to its “doctrines.”

Berlinski has an idea: because the theory makes little sense, and it’s supported by little evidence.

If the facts are what they are, the past is what it is—profoundly enigmatic. The fossil record may be used to justify virtually any position, and often is. There are long eras in which nothing happens. The fire alarms of change then go off in the night. A detailed and continuous record of transition between species is missing, those neat sedimentary layers, as Gould noted time and again, never revealing precisely the phenomena that Darwin proposed to explain. It is hardly a matter on which paleontologists have been reticent. At the very beginning of his treatise Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution, Robert Carroll observes quite correctly that “most of the fossil record does not support a strictly gradualistic account” of evolution. A “strictly gradualistic” account is precisely what Darwin’s theory demands: It is the heart and soul of the theory.

By the same token, there are no laboratory demonstrations of speciation either, millions of fruit flies coming and going while never once suggesting that they were destined to appear as anything other than fruit flies… If species have an essential nature that beyond limits cannot change, then random variations and natural selection cannot change them. We must look elsewhere for an account that does justice to their nature or to the facts.[3]

Berlinski also argues that computer simulations of Darwinian evolution fail “when they are honest and succeed when they are not.” When the results of one such simulation came in, a reporter for the New York Times wrote, “with solemn incomprehension, ‘the creatures mutated but showed only modest increases in complexity.’ Which is to say, they showed nothing of interest at all. This is natural selection at work but it is hardly work that has worked to intended effect… What these computer experiments do reveal is a principle far more penetrating than any that Darwin ever offered: ¶ There is a sucker born every minute.”[4]

In a recent paper published by an evolutionary biologist named Joel Kingsolver, the author said, “Important issues about selection remain unresolved.” “Of those important issues,” Berlinski writes, “I would mention prominently the question whether natural selection exists at all.”

Finally, I had a laugh at this:

Although Darwin’s theory is very often compared favorably to the great theories of mathematical physics on the grounds that evolution is as well established as gravity, very few physicists have been heard observing that gravity is as well established as evolution. They know better and they are not stupid.[5]

1. David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 98.

2. Ibid., 106.

3. Ibid., 188-9.

4. Ibid., 190.

5. Ibid., 191.

“Who created God?” isn’t a meaningful question

December 3, 2013
William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig

I recently watched this debate between Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig and a British biologist and outspoken atheist, Lewis Wolpert. If we score the debate as objectively as possible, then it’s hard to imagine anyone saying that Dr. Wolpert “won.” It’s disappointing how lazy Wolpert comes across—as if wit and sarcasm count for actual arguments.

And if you know Bill Craig, you know he was as square, earnest, and intellectually rigorous as always, God bless him. What did you expect? This is supposed to be an actual debate, not Prime Minister’s Question Time.

One philosophical point that Craig made several times—which neither the moderator nor Wolpert seemed to grasp at all—is that if we assume that God is who Christianity says he is, then it’s meaningless—indeed, a category mistake—to demand an answer to the question, “Who or what created God?”

Unlike all physical realities in the material universe, God isn’t the kind of thing that requires a creator or cause. This isn’t a sleight of hand or debater’s trick: Christian theology has always maintained that God is absolute, eternal, infinite, without beginning. As Dr. Craig argued, only things that have a beginning—like our universe, for instance—are contingent, which means their existence isn’t necessary, and so require a cause. If God is who Christians say he is, then he is necessary and therefore uncaused.

How convenient! the skeptic might reply: We Christians have insulated our faith from requiring an answer to the most demanding question.

Well, as Dr. Craig correctly points out, God isn’t the only thing in the universe that’s like that. Abstract realities like mathematics and logic are also absolute, non-contingent, uncaused, and necessary. Two plus two equals four, for instance, would be true whether or not the universe existed. Its truth doesn’t depend on anything else for its existence. God is more like that—although God is personal rather than abstract.

I don’t say this to prove that God exists, obviously. I’m only saying that if God exists, he’s like that kind of thing and not the other. Feel free not to believe in Christianity’s non-contingent God all you want, but don’t act indignant (as Dr. Wolpert does repeatedly) because you think we’re avoiding the question, “Who or what created God?” The question, according to Christian theology at least (as opposed to, say, Greek mythology), is only unanswerable because it’s meaningless.

I’ve touched on this idea before, or at least I’ve let David Bentley Hart do it for me.

My blog readers are smarter than people who don’t read my blog

September 5, 2013

Do you think this headline is true? If so, would you conclude that people are dumb if they don’t read my blog?

Yet many people are reaching a similar conclusion (HuffPost: “Religious People Branded As Less Intelligent Than Atheists In Provocative New Study”) about a recent population study. Get a load of this headline from the British Daily Mail (click to enlarge).

religion_headline

This is wrong on so many levels. The Daily Mail article goes on to conflate intelligence with atheism and make all kinds of errant conclusions.

The actual study, whose abstract you can read here, does not prove that atheists’ intelligence “makes them more likely” to do or be anything. The first fact about statistics that every informed reader must remember is that correlation does not equal causation. The negative correlation between belief and intelligence in this case is very small. What would you conclude, by contrast, if you saw a study of the intelligence of cat lovers versus dog lovers? (The following graph, from Scot McKnight’s blog, is hypothetical, but it “looks” like the graph that emerges from the study.)

Normal-Dist

You wouldn’t conclude that intelligence makes someone prefer cats over dogs. Because you would think of all the really smart people you’ve known who’ve loved dogs, and you would say, “That’s a nonsensical conclusion.”

It just so happens that the correlation in the case of atheism and intelligence corresponds nicely to the story our modern culture tells itself.

One possible explanation for the difference in intelligence, according to the study, is the question of conformity. This makes some sense to me. The path of least intellectual resistance in America, at least, is to believe in God. (Atheists account for less than five percent of the population.) People believe in God, in other words, almost by default. That hardly makes believing in God wrong, just something that most people do—and “most people,” by definition, are going to be of average intelligence—whereas it’s easy to find a small segment of the population that exceeds the average.

Suppose a study compared the average intelligence of communists in America (a vanishingly small number of people, I imagine) with capitalists and showed that being communist was correlated with higher intelligence. Would that prove that capitalists are less intelligent than communists—or that they’ve chosen communism over capitalism because they’re smarter? That would be laughable. But, you know… lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Now go read the comments section of the Huffington Post article, and you’ll probably feel like crying!

Here’s a nice article on the subject in Christianity Today.

A good reason to believe in God

January 16, 2013

For a few months now, Scot McKnight has allowed a philosophy professor named Jeff Cook, a Christian, to guest-post on his Jesus Creed blog. Cook’s first series of posts was the Top Ten best reasons not to believe in God. The second series, which finished up today, is the Top Ten best reasons to believe in God. As interested as I am in apologetics, I found most of these reasons to be persuasive (why wouldn’t I, right?), if a bit mind-numbing. Not being a philosopher myself, all those P’s and C’s make my eyes glaze over. I prefer my arguments to be more narrative, if you know what I mean.

Still, even I thought the argument for today’s reason—love and freedom—which ranks #1 on his Top Ten reasons to believe in God, was straightforward and easy to follow. You might think that “love and freedom” are two reasons, but his point is that love is only possible if we are also free. (This should be uncontroversial, except to the most hardened Calvinist!)

Anyway, I’ll excerpt the argument and then add a few words to his.

P1  If materialism is true, love is a chemical reaction in your skull.
P2  Love is not simply a chemical reaction in your skull.
C1  Materialism is false.

Very few of us are able to look at our beloved, at our child, at our comrades and actually believe that our connection to them is *exclusively* chemical activity. Certainly some of it may be. But I would suggest many of us experience something more.

P3  If materialism is true, all our thoughts and actions are determined by the unthinking, non-rational movement of chemicals in our skulls.
P4  If P3, then if materialism is true we have no freedom of thought and action.
P5  We experience freedom of thought and action (we are in fact free of total coercion in both our thinking—what we believe—and our behavior—what we do).
C2  Materialism is false.

We think the human beings around us ought to do certain things (“avoid abusing children” for example) and believe certain things (“other human beings are valuable”). But if materialism is true our beliefs and actions are all determined by the unthinking matter in our skull over which “we” have no control.

He goes on to argue not only against materialism but for God. See the post.

In my view, this is a strong argument. Human freedom is a major problem for the philosophical materialist. Why? Because they live their lives as if freedom and love (and justice and any number of other things) have real meaning. In fact, we all do. We want badly for love and freedom to be real.

As far as I know, we can offer a strictly scientific or materialistic account for why we have the (illusory) experience of love and freedom, but this account is unsatisfying to those of us who aren’t complete nihilists.

And I know the counterargument: So what? We can want love, freedom, justice, beauty, God—and anything else—to be real and objectively meaningful, but our desire, no matter how strong, doesn’t make it so.

And of course that’s true.

But I used to hear the late Christopher Hitchens (and probably Richard Dawkins) talk a lot about “Occam’s razor”—the idea that the simplest explanation is best. So why resort to the “God” hypothesis if the atheistic hypothesis works just fine: Darwinian processes explain everything, so why bother with God?

I disagree that Darwinian processes “explain” everything, for a number of reasons. One thing it doesn’t explain, as Jeff Cook’s post pinpoints, is this desire. Throw the Christian God back in and suddenly that makes sense, too.

“Atheist church” is an opportunity, not a threat

January 10, 2013

I completely understand why Britain’s first “atheist church” feels threatening to many Christians there. (If it didn’t have at least a little shock value, why else would HuffPost pick up the story?) In fact, the pastor of a nearby Catholic church doesn’t like it at all:

“How can you be an atheist and worship in a church? Surely it’s a contradiction of terms. Who will they be singing to?

“It is important to debate and engage with atheists but for them to establish a church like any other religious denomination is going too far. I’m cautious about it.”

Having read Andy Stanley’s Deep & Wide, however, I’m thinking of these things in a new way: Why see the atheist church as a threat? Why not see it as an opportunity? Just think: here are all these unchurched people who obviously feel such an unmet need for love, community, and companionship that they’ve gone to the trouble of gathering here in the first place! What a mission field!

What can nearby churches do to welcome them to the neighborhood? How can they show hospitality? How can they bear witness to Christ’s love?

Maybe, for example, a real church can use its experience and resources to help the atheist church get involved in service projects to the community. I bet they could partner with them in any number of ways. Who knows?

One thing’s for sure: being angry about it—as many members of the atheist church expect Christians to be—won’t help anyone.