Today, I’ll be addressing this fun little YouTube clip, made by a guy who apparently loves to use big words in all his videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KxHD6o259I.
Now, atheists will differ on what they consider to be the “greatest proof that God doesn’t exist,” but here’s one such claim. According to the maker of this video:
“I have come to the realization, that this may be one of the greatest, if not THE greatest argument for the non-existence of not just the Judeo-Christian God, or Creator Gods, but ALL Gods!!”
Wow, juicy claim. Let’s see if it lives up to the hype! I’ll type out his words in bold/italics, then respond afterward.
0:23: Is your God infinite?
Yes, but not in a mathematical sense. He is not infinite in number, space, weight, or any other measurable quantities. He’s not even technically infinite in TIME. What I mean by that is, God is time-less. He is outside the bounds of time since time itself didn’t exist before the big bang about 14 billion years ago. So it’s not entirely precise to say he’s infinite in this quantitative sense, but rather qualitatively.
This is admittedly hard to wrap our minds around…something before time. But logically and scientifically, that’s precisely what there was.
0:48-1:26: [If God is NOT infinite, he could not be the creator of the universe.]
I agree with this part…that God must be “infinite” in some sense to qualify.
1:27-1:36: “If they say ‘yes,’ that their God IS infinite, then their God does not exist, since actual infinites cannot subsist within this universe.
Mathematical infinites do not exist, that is true. For instance, there cannot be an infinite amount of time in this universe because scientists know that within a finite time, our entire universe will die a “heat death,” which describes a state of maximum entropy (based on laws such as the second law of thermodynamics). If there had been an infinite past, then our universe would have reached that point by now. Or even logically, it’s impossible. Tomorrow will amount to a greater number of days that this universe has existed, but if the number of days leading up to today is infinite, how can anything be greater than infinity? If you concede a finite past and count from there, you will always have a countable number of days and never reach infinity in the future.
Infinite quantities of anything cannot exist. Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel is a great illustration of this.
But as I stated before, God is not infinite in this quantitative sense.
1:37-2:00: “They will likely offer up three predictable rebuttals. 1) God is spiritual and therefore not bound by the realities of non-spiritual entities; 2) God created the universe, so he is not bound by the laws and limitations of it; and 3) God is outside the universe, and is therefore not bound by the realities that being inside the universe, would be subject to.”
I actually agree with all of these rebuttals (#1 is the weakest one of the bunch, though). He took the words right out of my mouth. Let’s see how he attacks them.
2:05-2:16: “This rebuttal (#1) fails since it’s irrelevant whether [God] is spiritual or nonspiritual. If their spiritual God is real, then it does not and cannot exist in the universe.”
Huh? I don’t see an argument in here, just a statement of fact that is unsupported by any proof. How does this YouTuber know the properties of a spiritual being and whether it’s bound by the realities of non-spiritual entities? For instance, gravity is a law of the universe, yet no one would claim that spiritual beings—if they exist—would necessarily be subject to this force.
Does he know this by science, which is specifically designed to observe the natural, observable world? Who proved anything about the spiritual realm?
Weird. But for the sake of argument, let’s move on and pretend like what he said was true.
2:17-2:28: “This (#2) fails because anything that exists within the universe is logically bound by the limitations of it, and positing otherwise, will violate the law of non-contradiction.”
This statement fails for a number of reasons.
First, as mentioned already, God is not quantitatively infinite, so his existence or properties don’t violate any known laws or limitations of the universe, other than the fact that he’s wholly unique in his infiniteness.
Second, why would God—the creator of the universe—suddenly become bound by its limitations? That’s like saying if I were to create a world inside a box, made entirely of red objects and nothing else, I would suddenly be bound to being red myself. I’m the one who decided what the properties of that box world were, so why am I somehow prohibited from wearing a blue shirt? Plus, even if I can step into the box world to become part of that “universe,” I also have the ability to step outside of that box. I don’t magically become bound to the box rules (i.e., only red) when I create or step into it.
In the same way, God can be in this universe, but can also exist outside of it. Omnipresence entails existing in both the natural and supernatural realms. An obvious example would be heaven, which is not an observable place within our physical universe.
Third, I don’t think this guy knows what the law of non-contradiction is. There’s nothing contradictory about the necessary cause of the universe being outside of it. BTW, in his description section, he addresses this point:
“To say that something can exist outside the Universe, is to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept. The Universe is that which contains existence(things that exist). To claim that something exists outside of the Universe, is to steal the concept of existence, and apply to something external to itself. Which is
fallacious, since one could only appeal to existence again, REDUNDANTLY!”
Toss around more terminology if you want, like “stolen concept,” but they are completely irrelevant and misapplied here. “Something” cannot exist outside the universe, only God can because He existed before the universe was even created…so by definition, he existed and can exist outside of it. I don’t understand what is so hard about this concept.
2:29-2:42: [Addressing #3] “There IS no outside the universe! The universe IS existence. This rebuttal fails because it’s trying to basically assert that God exists outside of existence. Something that exists outside of existence doesn’t exist.” (*Oops, this is basically the same as #2, just a different part of it…so I apologize for overlap.)
This is his refutation? Something that sounds like a bad application of Webster’s dictionary?
Universe = existence? Since when? The universe is all matter, space, and time. It is not somehow metaphysically equivalent to the state of being. Whether you believe in the creator God, he is by definition (and the cosmological argument) immaterial, spaceless, and timeless. What do the rules of the universe have to do with him, really?
Even if this were the definition of the universe/existence, it might only be true in 99.9999999(…) percent of cases. There could be one possible exception (i.e., God), and it would still be a valid definition. But definitions or laws based on observation don’t have any actual power over what can be, only what is—as far as we know. These are separate from rules dealing with logical consistency (e.g., it’s impossible for a bachelor to be married).
For instance, say that throughout all history, someone had observed, “No one can jump straight up and stay in the air for more than one full second. Gravity will pull them down too quickly.” They call it the Law of One-Second Vertical Limitation. It holds up perfectly for thousands of years. Then modern times come upon us and someone can jump straight up (and float) on the moon for more than a full second. Or some amazing shoes enhance vertical ability. Can observations and “laws,” in and of themselves, actually enforce what can be possible? No, they cannot. If exceptions or unforeseen conditions arise, definitions and laws must be tweaked accordingly.
Or imagine a world where Superman exists. It would be equally invalid to say, “Because nothing can fly without wings, and Superman over there is flying without wings, he does not exist because he contradicts the Law of Must-Have-Wings.” You must tweak the observational law to state that nothing besides Superman can fly without wings (or drop the law altogether, depending on whether it is still generally true enough to be useful in application). Maybe Superman is the exception.
Maybe God is one, as well. After all, if there is a God, wouldn’t he be the sole exception to a LOT of things? If we have other reasons to believe he exists, common definitions or probabilities don’t have any way of magically stopping that reality. You can’t use a rule that “nothing exists outside of the universe/nature” to prove that God doesn’t exist because it presupposes his nonexistence. If God exists, then he can exist independently from the universe, which was created.
Using big words, misapplying terminology, and failing at basic logic do not make the “greatest proof that God doesn’t exist.” Sorry, but nice try.
Please don’t be offended by the title of this post. This is not to boast or to bash, but to take a practical look at what I believe sets Christianity apart from the other major world religions. I am going to try to leave the substantive merits of each religion’s theology out of the picture. For the sake of discussion, I will assume (rather than try to prove) the following two things:
a) God probably does exist.
b) Based on the fact that God created us and endowed us with the ability/inclination to ponder His existence and character, the truth about God has probably been revealed to us in some form.
Now let’s compare Christianity to its alternatives. I’ll break it down into three very basic categories:
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
I could discuss more or break it down further into more specific areas, but I think these three summarize some of the practical differences well. By the end, I hope it will become clear why thinking Christians believe their religion to the best candidate for God’s revelation to mankind, even apart from the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
1. A living, perfect founder vs. dead, imperfect founders
All other major religions have a founder who is now dead and in the grave. Muhammad enjoyed some success in his lifetime, but then he passed away. Buddha and Confucius left their mark then succumbed to death. Hinduism doesn’t really have a founder, but rather centers on worshiping a huge multitude of unseen and unmet deities. Joseph Smith died while firing a gun that had been smuggled into prison.
Christianity claims to have a founder who is the savior God, and with Jesus Christ, there was no dead body left behind to rot and decay. Christians claim that Jesus moved about with us, died, then rose again…only to continue revealing himself for some further time to over 500 people. Then, He ascended to heaven in plain view of many followers, leaving nothing behind to bury. We believe that our founder was God in the flesh, not a mere man or even a messenger.
This means that Jesus, as God, is the only founder of a major religion that claimed to be perfect and sinless. Buddha never made such a claim, and even Muhammad admitted he was in need of forgiveness (in addition to the obvious faults he had). Joseph Smith? Don’t get me started. With regard to Jesus, other than heresy, there were no charges levied against him throughout his lifetime. Of course, if Jesus really was God, then even the heresy charge is false. Now, would you trust the teachings of God, or an imperfect man who has shortcomings, ulterior motives, or both?
(Of course, this is all dependent on the credibility of the founder himself, but we’ll get to that later.)
No other religion would dare make these bold claims of a perfect, living founder. Why not? Because there’s no way such radical claims would survive long enough to not get laughed out of the courtroom of public opinion. Honestly, I’d love to see another religion try. Ancient religions and modern cults alike have not dared to do the impossible by tricking people with such obvious lies.
The words we live by were given to us by a perfect, living being who defeated death, thereby setting an example of what’s to come for us as well. While other religions may have been started by an imperfect and mortal man, we believe ours was started by an eternal person of the Trinity. This is a risky thing if Christianity is false, and uniquely powerful if it’s true.
2. Christianity’s success is difficult to explain if it were not true
I’ll start out by saying that the popularity of a view (or in this case, religion) does not necessarily make it true. I’m not going to argue that. What I’m going to show is that the wide popularity of Christianity—and the rapid rate at which it initially spread—is very difficult to explain practically unless it were true.
Consider Islam for a minute, the second-most popular religion and the fastest-growing. How did it get so popular? Well, first of all, it piggy-backed off of Christianity and took credit for all of its teachings and people. Abraham? A Muslim. Jesus Christ? An overrated Muslim prophet. Even Adam—that’s right, THAT Adam—was a Muslim, by their definition. This is how Muslims claim that their religion is the oldest in the world, when really it began about 600 years after Christianity. The foundation—largely based on Christianity/Judaism—was already in place, so there is a ring of truth to it.
Furthermore, Islam is characterized by a lot of violence and threats. Yes, there are peaceful parts of the Qur’an, but much of it speaks about killing infidels who will not proclaim Allah as the true God and Muhammad as His messenger. Early Islam was not spread with reason and love, but rather with military conquest and a “believe or die” approach. It’s not hard to see why early Muslims believed Muhammad was chosen by God, and therefore his words were truth. He was winning battles, and they figured that God wouldn’t allow this to happen if he were a fraud. But really, this is shabby proof for truth. Anyone can win military battles, religious or not. If anything, it’s a powerful motivational tool to teach that fearlessly dying for Allah will earn you 72 virgins in the afterlife.
Consider this criticism from a 13th century Jewish philosopher: “That is why, to this day we never see anyone converting to Islam unless in terror, or in quest of power, or to avoid heavy taxation, or to escape humiliation, or if taken prisoner, or because of infatuation with a Muslim woman, or for some similar reason. Nor do we see a respected, wealthy, and pious non-Muslim well versed in both his faith and that of Islam, going over to the Islamic faith without some of the aforementioned or similar motives.”
In modern societies, my subjective view is that some groups of people around the world are already closed to the idea of accepting the so-called “white man’s religion”: Christianity. (This is kind of odd because Christianity didn’t originate in America or Europe anyway.) So they will naturally gravitate toward Islam. To be fair, I think that’s also why a lot of Americans have a bias against Islam. They are repelled from a religion that led to horrors like the September 11 terrorist attacks. In the same way, a huge chunk of the world is decidedly anti-American or anti-white, based on some of the evils perpetrated in the past, such as the atomic bomb. Islam is the much-welcomed alternative among the available flavors of religion.
What about something like Mormonism? Well, again, the piggy-back charge comes into play. The smart thing is, Joseph Smith knew that there were real flaws in the Christian church and perceived weaknesses in the Bible. So he used those chinks in the armor to convince people that there had to be a better truth out there, which incidentally, was revealed to him alone through golden plates. Simple people who were dissatisfied with what Christianity had to offer them assumed that this new guy knew what he was talking about since he shared some of their same complaints. The inerrancy of the Bible is still a hotly debated topic today, and it’s easy to see why doubt in its inerrancy would make some people gravitate toward new ideas or cults.
Christianity, however, sticks out like a sore thumb compared to these other religions. Here, you have a founder who appeared to be a mere carpenter—and not an especially attractive one at that. He didn’t win any military battles, and he was even mocked, beaten, and crucified. Jesus had nothing to gain if he was lying and even knew he was expediting his own death. His ministry only lasted three years. Most of the early proponents of the church were commoners without any position of authority from which to coerce. Paul—perhaps the greatest evangelist/missionary ever and the original apologist—spread the Word by logic, reason, and argumentation.
Early Christianity flourished in spite of severe persecution, martyrdom, and heavy Jewish bias against Christian teachings. In fact, Christianity flew in the face of many established norms of the time. Its teachings were not the kind that would easily resonate with people hearing them. I’d imagine it’s much harder to convince a wide group of people that you ARE God, rather than just hearing from Him!
There must have been a compelling reason to believe and to force change upon centuries of ingrained customs and ideas. Jews were expecting a conquering king, not a crucified savior. Teachings like “turn the other cheek” instead of exacting revenge were considered offensive or cowardly. Yet Christianity somehow spread at an unprecedented rate with this most unlikely of styles. Something about Jesus was undeniable…
3. Christianity opens itself up to scientific and historical scrutiny in ways other religions cannot
There is almost a universal pattern for creating and spreading world religions. Someone claims to have a vision, shares it with others in a convincing fashion, it sounds good enough to believe, then others follow suit. Even Hinduism, which doesn’t have an identified founder, probably came up with stories about their 300,000 gods from various people’s dreams, which have been passed down. Especially in ancient times, there was a tendency by people to misinterpret dreams as divine revelation. (I’m not ruling out supernatural dreams completely, but in the vast majority of cases, they are probably just our uninhibited imaginations running wild. I admit I am highly skeptical of dreams as visions, even when they come from Christians.)
Think about this for a moment. How can you disprove a person’s exclusive vision or dream? If I put my head under a bucket, shook around a little bit, then came out wide-eyed claiming to have seen the “truth,” how could you really prove me wrong?
Atheists always like to say, “The mark of a good argument is that it is falsifiable.” What we have in most religions are unfalsifiable stories and claimed truths. The main proof people are going to have for their faith, then, is that it feels right and makes sense to them. This is almost entirely subjective.
But what about Christianity? Well, our holy book happens to come with writings of real historical events that were being circulated within the lifetimes of the actual people involved. And these historical events are not merely peripheral issues that place things within some known context to give it the air of veracity…the MAIN EVENT is told as a historical event. Namely, a man named Jesus Christ walked upon this earth during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at specific times and places and died under Roman law, leaving behind an empty tomb.
I think people who look into the issue themselves will agree with John Dickson when he says, “the beliefs and texts of Christianity become uniquely open to public scrutiny. It is as if Christianity places its neck on the chopping block of academic scrutiny and invites anyone who wishes to come and take a swing.” (Please see this excellent excerpt: http://www.rzim.org/justthinkingfv/tabid/602/articleid/10746/cbmoduleid/881/default.aspx.)
In 2,000 years, NO ONE has been able to disprove the empty tomb, and only recently is there some effort by Christ-mythers to claim that Jesus never existed at all. (I’ve looked into these…move along people, there really is nothing of worth there.) There are a number of alternative theories bandied about, like the disciples stole the body, but they are woefully full of holes. Maybe I’ll address them in a later post.
Think about this: what could be the ultimate sign that Jesus was God in the flesh? Miracles? Sure, he did some of those. But then again, miracles have been recorded in other instances as well. Rising from the dead is the ultimate sign, and it just happens to be one the Roman government could not deny. They had every reason to parade Jesus’ body around town and squash Christianity immediately…but they couldn’t do it. Jesus really was gone and ascended.
By contrast, Muhammad won military battles, but so have countless other men who did not claim to have divine revelation from God. Muslims actually need to believe that Jesus was never crucified at all, but ascended beforehand (even they cannot deny that Jesus is not dead or buried). In other words, they need to deny one of the most obvious facts of ancient history, the crucifixion, to maintain their beliefs. Christianity, on the other hand, is completely in line with recorded history.
Buddha and Confucius may have been wise and thoughtful, but really, they’re just limited men trying to do their best. Joseph Smith? Even if he really did believe what he was preaching, there is no way to verify the truth of anything he said. In fact, there is ample reason not to trust him, considering his hypocrisy (he would fight, smoke, and drink, despite telling others not to do so).
Jesus can be trusted because of what he showed us: a perfect life without sin, power over the natural world, and even power over death. This person could not have been a mere wise teacher. It’s like C.S. Lewis famously said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”
So historically, Christianity stands up to the test better than any other religion. What about science?
Well, again, I may need to address this further in a separate post. But very briefly, I’d say that for an ancient book (that was never intended to be about science), it shows itself to be surprisingly accurate. Don’t believe the hype about Genesis 1 contradicting modern science.
There are numerous prominent scientists who are Bible-believing Christians today. Some figures suggest the number is growing, as our knowledge expands. Consider this account of Dr. Hugh Ross, a man who started with no religious leanings whatsoever and actually came to be a Christian based on science:
Not all of Hugh’s discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and “holy books” and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious “ground zero” and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking evidence.
Now, this isn’t to say that visions or spiritual experiences are all invalid. In fact, the most important factor that leads most people to faith is the witness of the Holy Spirit, not proof or logic. But during the dry times and when our sin muffles the voice of the Holy Spirit, I’m thankful that we have history, science, and reasoning to back up our faith.
This is a simplistic proof—one of many—that recently sprung to my mind, and the more I think about it, the more valid it seems. I apologize if it’s been mentioned before elsewhere (and more eloquently). Let me retrace my steps.
I’ve mentioned William Lane Craig numerous times before (in this blog and to people I know), and I’ve become quite familiar with his arguments for God’s existence. A sub-point Dr. Craig makes is that the cause of the universe must be powerful and personal, in addition to being timeless, spaceless, and immaterial (because all of these properties came into being with the universe itself). Very briefly and simply put, there are only two things that exist outside the bounds of natural and physical reality: abstract objects (like numbers) and an unembodied mind. Because abstract objects, by definition, cannot effect anything in themselves, it follows that the cause of the universe must be a mind. He calls it “personal” because unlike other causes, this mind that caused the universe chose to bring it into existence, evidenced by the fact that the universe didn’t always exist, whereas the timeless cause did. So it wasn’t a necessary result of the cause itself. I apologize if I’m butchering this, but I don’t want to spend too much time elaborating on this. If you’re interested, please do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with Dr. Craig’s work.
His elaboration about how the mind exists apart from the physical brain struck me. True, we as humans on earth wouldn’t be able to think without a functioning brain, but our minds and thoughts are actually independent from the matter of the brain. When we have certain thoughts, it may be reflected in certain electrical impulses in our brains, but that’s really only a simultaneous effect with the cause (the thoughts we willed to existence). In other words, our minds control the physical reaction of the brain.
Perhaps this analogy might be helpful: a driver, steering wheel, and a car. The driver represents the mind, the steering wheel is the brain, and the car is the outward (or even inward) results of the choices made upon the steering wheel. You can watch the expressions of a car, such as turning left, and link it to the steering wheel…but it doesn’t really tell you much about the driver or her purpose in turning the wheel that way. The driver seems to exist independently from the wheel and car, even if she needs the steering wheel to put her will into action.
Our thoughts, feelings, imaginations, artistic expression…they all spring to life seemingly out of nowhere, apart from any discernible natural cause.
There are only two possible explanations for the human mind
1) Human minds are endowed with autonomy, purposes, and will from God.
Christians believe that God created us in His image. This doesn’t necessarily mean that when we finally see God, He will be walking around with two legs, two arms, nostrils, etc. It means that we have been given spiritual and immaterial aspects that are wholly unique in resembling Him. We have souls, for instance. But we also have minds that defy all explanation.
In a way, we are able to act upon our own brains, which can subsequently act upon our bodies or not. I could sit here and will random thoughts from nothing, much like God can will things into existence from nothing. Of course God has no limits…we are the vastly weaker demo version “made in His image.”
Now, I must point out that this mind-brain interaction, as science as demonstrated, can be a two-way street. The brain, for example, can be acted upon to induce certain thoughts. Controlled electrical manipulation can make you think you’re smelling something that’s not really there (of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s illusory when you actually do smell it in the real world). On the flip side, the mind, while immaterial, can act as the origin of “messages” to the brain itself.
I could decide to type booglybooglybooglyboogly here in my blog. I could take out my violin or guitar and produce music, pre-written or not. Where does this autonomy come from? My thoughts do not magically spring to life from carbon atoms. The electrical impulses that might result can be naturally observed, but they are not the explanation or the source. Reactions do not cause themselves from nothing, they are only the natural result of certain preset conditions. We are a continual flux of such “reactions” that arise with no prior cause, other than the fact that we were endowed with this capability and potential.
Honestly, how can anyone explain this? Can even the smartest human being alive take a stab at this? Well, let’s take a look at one such attempt now.
2) Human minds are the result of naturalistic causes.
Stephen Hawking—theoretical physicist and cosmologist—is one of the greatest modern minds in existence. He is arguably “today’s Einstein,” and while his intelligence is admirable, he also resorts to using science as the sole explanation of everything in the universe. To him, there is no justification for theology or even, shockingly, philosophy (even though he is employing philosophy in his thoughts, and science itself is its offspring). He enthusiastically and diligently spends his life searching for the complete theory, or “Theory of Everything,” that promises to explain much more about the universe, including its origins.
In his latest book, The Grand Design, we get a glimpse into such a theory. Specifically, he argues that the human mind is not autonomous or purposeful at all, but rather, it is simply a conglomeration of matter and laws that have predetermined our every thought until we die.
Wow. Think about that for a moment, really try to grasp it…
…1, 4, 100, -36, 24.32671516543…see those numbers? That was all predetermined by the laws of nature. Even the times I hit Backspace on the keyboard to try different numbers instead, that was not my will or autonomy. That was the inevitable path I would take based on the laws governing the universe and everything in it.
The matter that existed before I was officially born, to the plums my mother may have eaten, which contributed to the matter of me in the womb, to where I am today…and the interplay of every other person in the world who has affected my life, the environment, events, situations…that ALL was just part of the natural path to me typing those numbers or even this blog. It even led to me contemplating the absurdity of it.
Brilliant minds really are capable of all kinds of craziness, aren’t they? Maybe Hawking is an example of being too smart for his own good. A “smarter” theory, such as scientific determinism, is not necessarily a correct one.
Now, the first possibility makes a lot of sense to me. In my heart AND my mind, this resonates clearly and fits together.
Does this naturalistic explanation really make any sense at all? I don’t know about you, but my common sense, intuition…even my humanity is already screaming “DOES NOT COMPUTE.” Perhaps it makes more sense to Hawking because he feels a little dead inside, like his life is going through the motions. I say this without condescension or derision, but I just find it hard to understand how someone could believe this determinism if they were living a fulfilling life.
Now let’s try a fun little exercise. I am going to be very generous and assume Stephen Hawking could be right. I am going to assume that he knows the feeling of artistic intensity, freedom, and expression when engrossed in an incredibly intricate section of a violin concerto. I am going to assume that he is so smart that he doesn’t make mistakes. (Being wrong and losing the black hole bet publicly? Forgiven.) I am going to assume that WITHOUT PROOF of any kind, his ideas that seem illogical are in fact, logical.
Where does that leave us? Well, funny enough, that leaves us with even higher implausibility of our brains being the product of evolution and natural process in the first place. Mathematically, you’ve just gone from impossible to even more impossible. Keep in mind that science estimates the universe’s age to be “only” about 14 billion years old, and the earth is newer at about 4 billion years. That wasn’t enough time to get to our evolved state without guided assistance, let alone this unfathomable thing we call a brain.
Think about it. Allowing for the supernatural along with the natural, we Christians are able to say that the brain is complex enough to house our thoughts, send signals to our legs to kick, to develop tendencies, and to learn and memorize. But the rest of it is accounted for with our immaterial minds, given to us by God, that allow us to generate thoughts from nothing, contemplate things beyond us without provocation, experience love in a real way, or to even appreciate humor. (If you don’t think God has a sense of humor, you obviously haven’t seen a parrot talking to a stuffed bunny or seen them dancing.)
Only allowing for natural causes means the brain needs to be additionally complex to be able to do all those things on its own. The brain, under this view, also needs to be able to account for every possible contingency, and be prone to both randomness/spontaneity and predictability. When you look out to a beautiful sunset and feel yourself in awe, that’s just an evolutionary trait instilled in you (for who knows what reason). It’s really quite unthinkable.
Let’s say that the multiverse theory (again, no observable proof) pretty much makes up for the probability issue. Even if every possible complexity-increasing beneficial mutation were to be passed on from generation to generation, would it still be enough to reach this level of development in 4 billion years? How is it that our brains are more complex than the universe itself, which is really just matter and natural laws of gravity and such? How is it that an infinitesimally small speck of the universe, like one human brain, is qualitatively greater than the whole?
Are theists really the ones with “dumb” faith?
Well, it’s been a heavy week, talking about Hell and such. So let’s go into the weekend with a joke! =)
An old man is sitting on his porch, when suddenly someone drives up in a jeep, yelling, “Quick! Get into my jeep! The dam just burst and this whole place is going to be flooded!”
The old man says, “Naw, you just go on ahead. The good Lord will take care of me!”
The guy in the jeep zooms off. The water starts pouring in, and the old man has to move up to the second floor of his house. Someone paddles by his window in a canoe and says, “Quick! Get into my canoe! The water is going to keep rising!”
The old man says, “Naw, you just go on ahead. The good Lord will take care of me!”
The guy in the canoe paddles off.
The water keeps rising, and finally the old man is sitting on the top of his chimney, with the water lapping at his ankles. A helicopter flies overhead and lowers a rope ladder down. Someone in the helicopter says, “Quick! Climb up! The water’s still rising!”
The old man says, “Naw, you just go on ahead. The good Lord will take care of me!”
The helicopter flies off. The water keeps rising. The old man drowns.
The old man finds himself before the Lord in Heaven. The old man says, “How could you let me drown! I trusted you!”
The Lord says, “Hey, I tried. I sent a jeep, a canoe, and a helicopter for you!”
(Credit to: http://www.britneyisdead.com/ReligiousJokes.html)
Some of you may have heard this joke before. I think it’s both funny and enlightening. When we pray to God and ask for things, sometimes we impose an answer upon him. When He answers in a way we don’t like or expect, it’s like we sometimes cover our ears and eyes to God’s will.
Let’s take the earwax out of our spiritual ears and really listen. Let’s never forget to put on our spiritual glasses before we trek out into this world. And let’s be prepared for any answer God gives us, even if we don’t like it!
I’m currently looking (carefully!) into whether our traditional view of “Hell” is accurate. Namely, is it directly and compellingly confirmed with Scripture? I want to be very careful before I even attempt to conclude anything, but I’ll post my thoughts shortly. I have a bad habit of adding more thoughts to my posts after they’re published because my mind keeps racing on the topic. Hopefully, with a day or two to digest at least, I can avoid rushing to a hasty conclusion.
I will say upfront, though, that this traditional view of Hell as a place of eternal suffering and burning…is possibly in error. It’s no question that ancient pagan ideas and art have seeped into Christian culture in early times and have persisted. For instance, it took me a bit of time to discard the idea of Jesus with a halo around his head. Halos came from pagan art, which inspired some well-meaning Christian artists to copy the imagery. This is a pretty trivial thing to discard, so imagine how jarring it can be to rethink my concept of Hell!
But some of my research into this topic is starting to suggest that perhaps our idea of Hell is tainted in this same way. For instance, the idea that souls are necessarily eternal was an ancient Greek one, not a Christian one. Who’s to say that God can’t destroy souls? Anyhow, I’m saying too much now. I’ll write a fuller entry in short time. Hopefully, God will open my eyes and lead me in the right direction.
I’ve seen this charge levied against Christians all the time. I think it’s very misguided, and I’ll briefly discuss four points, though more could be said.
My first and longest point is that we need to establish whether it’s wishful in the first place. I would maintain that atheism, for example, is just as wishful, if not more, when compared to Christianity. On atheism, mankind is pretty much the boss. We define our own good and we answer to no higher power, because after all, who wants to be subjected to authority? On atheism, no one has to give up their precious time by attending church, studying the Bible, or sharing the Gospel. You aren’t compelled to give your hard-earned money as offering. There are hardly any restrictions on sex or the number of sexual partners you can have. In fact, even secular psychologists have posited that the issue of sexual freedom is the biggest factor in people’s reluctance to accept certain religions. I don’t know if I’d wholly agree with that, but it’s hardly a trivial point. So with atheism, you’re the boss, you face fewer “restrictions,” you get to save your time and money, and you needn’t feel guilt over much at all besides big, obvious transgressions.
Christianity, by comparison, is decidedly inconvenient. You might argue, “But what could be better than the delusion that you’re going to eternal paradise after this life?” Well yes, that could be considered one of the “perks,” but you could just as easily point to clear indications that people prefer the NOW rather than the later. If everyone actually lived for their futures and subscribed to this way of thinking, you would probably see a lot more people studying much harder in school. After all, everyone knows that if you study harder, you’ll improve your chances of future success. You’d see people diligently watching what they eat, and exercising to prolong their lives. Sure, there is a minority subset of the population that does these things–whether religious or not–but it’s not a common trait. It takes above-average individuals to live this way, and judging by the vast numbers of Christians (many of whom are not exemplary in character or discipline on their own merits), you have to conclude that there’s more to belief than hoping for a nice future in the afterlife. In fact, I know a good number of Christians who earnestly say that they would believe and follow whether there was a heaven or not. In my earlier walk, this was hard to believe, but I can see the truth in that statement now.
Well, isn’t it wishful for Christians to think that their sins are all forgiven just by accepting Christ? Isn’t this a too-easy “get out of jail free” card? Only if you believe in the concept of sin in the first place, really. It’s more convenient to believe that sin doesn’t exist at all than to acknowledge it then seek forgiveness. Plus, TRUE Christianity is anything but easy.
Second, even if Christianity is more wishful than not, that does nothing to prove its falsehood. As William Lane Craig might put it, this is “Philosophy 101.” Namely, this is committing genetic fallacy because the origins of a conclusion do nothing to determine whether it’s true or not. What matters are things like proof and logic.
For example, people fervently hope that their loved ones will return safely from war. This has no bearing on the chances of survival for that loved one. The mere fact that it might be wishful doesn’t affect the probability of it being true.
Third, wishfulness could be attributed to pretty much any belief in existence today. As I mentioned, even atheism is not exempt from this. Something’s got to be right, and chances are, whatever’s right has some wishful elements to it. After all, there’s got to be some positives or benefits in it, right? So this charge of “wishful thinking” is just irrelevant.
Fourth and lastly, one might argue that wishful thinking will cause a person to stick to a belief despite evidence to the contrary. This may be the case sometimes, true. But again, changing one’s beliefs might just be trading in one set of perks for another. You could say this for holding to any position.
What this argument really boils down to is the ability to disprove Christianity in the first place. If you can show that its teachings are demonstrably false, but people are clinging to it out of wishful thinking, you’d have a more valid point here. In that case, you don’t even need to show that it’s wishful thinking because you’ve proved Christianity false on the merits of evidence and logic.
But honest atheists will admit that it cannot proved false, at least by any scientific means. So why bring up the “wishful thinking” claim in the first place? It’s like going in circles. You can only say “they believe because of wishful thinking” if you’ve shown the belief to be false beforehand.
Sorry, now I’m the one who might be going in circles…
Q: Does [blind faith] have to be a negative thing?
Dawkins: “I think in general, the idea of blind faith, the very idea of ‘blindness’ is negative.”
Notice how Dawkins slyly—to be fair, perhaps unknowingly—equates blind faith with blindness. This is classic straw man at work. He takes blind faith, which could be good or bad (it hasn’t been established yet one way or the other…note the question, “Does it have to be a negative thing?”), then compares it directly to something that everybody already knows is negative: blindness.
This implies that an ignorant person (with blind faith) cannot possibly see the truth (blindness). Having blind faith doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. A person with blind faith could very well stumble fortuitously across the truth. This is a subtle but important distinction.
I have to agree that blind faith can be a negative thing. One could argue both ways…it could be better to be blind and right than informed and wrong.
We as Christian believers are told to have a reason for our faith and to be able to defend it. That entails some learning and probing for answers. But it doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers before we can believe.
Q: “Well maybe that’s the wrong word, ‘blind faith,’ maybe it’s just faith.”
Dawkins: “Yes, well I use the word ‘blind’ because it is in the absence of evidence. If it was in the presence of evidence, you wouldn’t call it faith.”
It almost sounds like, to Dawkins, there is no such thing as faith by itself. It is always, by definition, blind. Why does he think this?
First of all, there is evidence for the existence of God. Unless you want to restrict the definition of “evidence” to something that can be tested and confirmed in a test tube, there is plenty of support for belief in God. Plenty of what Dawkins believes—say, that there is no God at all—is based on his own conclusions, not by any testable means.
Second, he seems to forget that most of the knowledge humans live and operate by is based on experience, personal conviction, intuition, and logic. These are all outside the exclusive domain of science. How do I know this world is a real one, or that my past is not an implanted memory? How do I know that my wife loves me or that my favorite color is blue? How do I know that my guinea pigs, Suzy and Nellie, are too hilarious and cute to have come about by naturalistic processes alone? How do I know that lying is wrong, even if I would never get caught? None of this is based on any evidence at all, but it’s valid nonetheless (or at least some of it is). I wouldn’t call these “blind” assumptions.
Finally, I would differ on his definition of faith. He seems to think that faith is believing in something without ANY evidence, or at least some compelling amount (“if it was in the presence of evidence, you wouldn’t call it faith”). I would say that faith is believing in something—often WITH evidence—despite the fact that we cannot ever be 100% sure, so the last bit needs to be assumed and trusted. Much of what we live by could be considered “faith.” I start my car every morning believing that it won’t blow up, even though I don’t check it for bombs, leaks, etc. Someone who believes in God may feel 99% convinced, or maybe just 51%…and the last remaining 1% or 49% could be covered by faith, but this doesn’t make it blind or in the absence of evidence at all.
Dawkins: “People say ‘if it’s true for you, then it’s true for you.’ But I think there’s something more absolute about truth than that and I care about truth. I don’t mean I wish to impose it, I mean to people who really don’t want to learn about what’s really true, then far be it from me to force it on them. But I want to give them the opportunity. I don’t want children brought up sheltered from the truth by a wall of separation from the truth, which is deliberately erected by tradition and authority in their particular culture.”
Funny, Christians feel the exact same way as this statement, yet we’re accused of being narrow-minded and dogmatic for thinking we have the truth and not being relativistic. We want people to have the opportunity to learn about the faith and to accept it, and aside from extremists and strange cases, we’re not trying to establish mandatory Christianity upon everyone. School systems are teaching purely naturalistic explanations, like evolution, without even a mention of an alternative, like creationism, so what is he complaining about here? Why does he presume to have the answers despite the lack and impossibility of positive evidence against the existence of God? Remember, science can only explain the natural world, not anything existing outside of it.
[The rest of the video pretty much talks about how atheism is gaining momentum, and whether Dawkins’ approach is too direct, disrespectful, and arrogant.]
I would say that atheism isn’t going away and will probably grow stronger with time. Why is this? I think believers and atheists alike can agree that part of the reason is the further development of science.
It’s pretty much a given that some people are content to attribute unexplainable things to God or a god of some form. In the old days, a thunderstorm was perceived as God’s wrath because they had no known explanations for it. Then, people discovered the science behind it and suddenly, some people shoved God out of the picture for that occurrence. People discovered how a rainbow is formed, then decided that it wasn’t some sign from God after all.
The bottom line is that some people think scientific explanations replace the need for God completely. Is this really true? I don’t think so at all. Sure, we may be able to observe and explain what’s going on a hidden, molecular, or chemical level. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a God behind it in the first place. We could simply be learning more about the processes He put in place. Learning how something is built, for instance, doesn’t mean there wasn’t a builder. Learning how this universe works—which is what science does—doesn’t prove one bit that there isn’t a creator behind it. In my view, we’re just analyzing his handiwork.