Let’s take a look at a YouTube clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27pDmWOO73c) with atheist Sam Harris discussing the Bible’s relevance and veracity in modern times. More than other extreme atheists, I can respect Harris’ willingness to concede certain points or to at least maintain an air of respect toward believers during debates and interviews. He might be mocking us inwardly, but at least he has manners, which I think is conducive to understanding.
So per usual, I will quote from the video and comment with my thoughts. I will obviously be approaching it from the Christian/biblical perspective. I’ll try to touch upon all of the main points.
0:04: “Do atheists take a literalist approach to scripture?”
Harris, 0:08: “Well, this is a common criticism: the idea that the atheist is guilty of a literalist reading of scripture, no better than the reading of fundamentalists. It’s a very naive way of approaching religion, and there’s a far more sophisticated and nuanced view of religion on offer and the atheist is disregarding that.”
I’d pretty much agree, though I don’t think we can wholly blame atheists alone. Interpreting scripture can be a tricky thing and it takes people a lifetime of study to grasp it better (but still not perfectly). With our finite minds, all we can do is try our best.
What irks me, however, is that a lot of people encounter something difficult in the Bible and write it off immediately, as if they have figured it all out with just a glance. A lot of things that seem off or contradictory could actually be cleared up with the slightest bit of research and the tiniest crack of openness.
Harris, 0:32: “…few problems with this. First is, anyone making that argument is failing to acknowledge just how many people really do approach these texts literally or functionally, whether they’re selective literalists or literal all the way down the line, there are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively.”
Yes, a lot of people differ on when things are literal, but what does this have to do with the integrity of the Bible itself? Here’s the best part of this quote, though: “…there are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively.”
Does Sam Harris presume to know which is which with absolute certainty? How did he come to this level of expertise in the Bible? Perhaps he can shed some light onto theologians who have been wrestling with interpretation for many years. Even if something is literal and happens to be unsavory, that doesn’t rule out taking things into context and exploring the deeper, true meaning of certain passages. Sorry for speaking in generalities for now, but I’ll get more specific as he does.
Harris, 1:13: “It’s true that you can cherry-pick scripture and you can look for all the good parts and ignore what it says in Leviticus that if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, you’re supposed to stone her to death on her father’s doorstep. You can ignore that and, to my knowledge, all Jews and Christians do ignore that….most religious people ignore those passages, which really can only be read literally, and say that ‘oh, they were only appropriate for the time and they don’t apply now.”
There are two funny things to this quote. First of all, if anyone is culpable of cherry-picking, it’s Sam Harris. Almost any debate or interview you see with him in it will have a guaranteed reference to Leviticus or Numbers in them. It’s like clockwork. He’ll ignore all the good parts and focus on the difficult, troubling sections as a way to strengthen his argument.
Second, I think it’s funny that Harris knows the answer to his qualms about Leviticus—i.e., they are not appropriate for today—but chooses to brush it off. It’s not some convenient tactic we Christians are using, it’s very obvious why some points in Leviticus no longer apply. Jesus came to us and basically unbound us from the legalism and strict rules Jews needed to follow in order to be “righteous.” The “wages of sin” are no longer death because of Christ’s victory over sin. He gave us salvation that is apart from works, and we are in a different spiritual era.
There is a strange but common misconception that the entire Bible is supposed to be directly applicable to everyone’s lives in the 21st century. Why is this? A lot of the Old Testament is supposed to serve as history and background information. When we are told the age at which someone died, that is not meant to change our behavior or shape our personalities. All the rules in Leviticus don’t apply directly to us anymore in the modern age, but it serves to show us what we would be bound to (almost impossible standards) apart from Christ. The sensuality in “Song of Songs” is intended for married couples and wouldn’t be appropriate for children. We need to get it out of our heads that either everything applies or nothing does. This is a gross simplification and oversight on the part of bible critics.
Harris, 2:10–4:36: [He goes on to describe some current state of affairs, human rights, ways modernism trumps scripture. Then he offers an example in the mother of the Virginia Tech shooter taking her son to religious leaders who performed an exorcism on him rather than taking him to a psychologist. In his view, modern science and knowledge would have been superior to appealing to God.]
I don’t have a lot to say on a lot of current events because frankly, I’m just not that informed or involved. But I think human rights activists would be foolish to ignore the profound influence the Bible has had in ingraining into us the importance and dignity of every human being. The Bible espouses love and fair treatment, and did so during a time and culture of great inequality. If modernism seems somehow more “advanced” than the Bible, it’s only because it used the Bible as a step ladder to get to where it is today. But I would maintain that modernism isn’t more advanced anyway, just more specific and catered to our current culture. I would agree that in some ways, the Bible is more general and broad.
As far as Harris’ example of the Virginia Tech shooting, I have a few things to mention. It’s simply not accurate to imply that Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter, was only brought to an exorcist for his obvious issues. Mental health professionals tried to reach him, but he basically denied everything and refused treatment. It wasn’t for lack of availability of modern psychology (painted as a sort of regrettably bypassed hero in Harris’ illustration) that Cho succumbed to his evil intentions.
More importantly, I think this whole idea of religion and God failing to prove effective is misinformed. There is another widespread misconception in popular culture that ALL evil stems from Satan and his demons. While the devil may poke and prod people in a certain direction—and he is enormously clever in deceiving us into doing wrong—that doesn’t remove all responsibility from us human agents. There are a number of reasons Cho might have been inclined to murder, and it’s not something an exorcist could necessarily fix. The root of the problem may have been Cho’s personal inclinations and environmental shaping. Plus, what’s to say that a psychologist would have been able to fix the problem? Are they suddenly 100% effective?
While we humans are spiritually helpless without God’s grace, as I have said in the past, we are not his pets. We have generally been given the ability to feed ourselves, figure out some of our own problems, and to appeal to medicine and psychology. We have been given the gift of discovery and invention, and I think God appreciates the efforts of hard-working doctors and researchers who help people. Contrary to skeptics’ belief, God is not a dictator who runs every aspect of our daily lives with an iron fist.
4:38: “Is it possible God was speaking in metaphors?”
Harris, 4:41: “Let’s just grant the possibility that there is a creator God who is omniscient who occasionally authors books. And He’s going to give us a book—the most useful book, he’s a loving God, he’s a compassionate God—and he’s going to give us a guide into life. He’s got a scribe, the scribe’s going to write it down. What’s going to be in that book? I mean, just think of how good a book would be if it were authored by an omniscient deity. There is not a single line in the Bible or the Qur’an that could not have been authored by a first century person.
I beg to differ, and I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re going to read the whole thing wrong, then of course you’re going to miss its grandness and uniqueness. More than ever, I am continually amazed by the words of the Bible as they speak to me. They seem to come alive and dig into deep heart issues like no other book I’ve ever read. The teachings of Jesus far surpass the very best that philosophy has to offer.
I admit, there was a large chunk of my life when the Bible sometimes felt old, dusty, and boring. (Heck, for most of my life, I found politics and history incredibly dull as well.) But as I grew in emotional and spiritual maturity, my eyes were opened to the inspiration of the word of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 anticipates this perfectly: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”
As I read the Bible today, I find myself constantly marveling at it. The power of God can be seen in those pages if you trade in the spiritual blindfold for a nice pair of spiritual glasses. Remember when those old “Magic Eye” books were popular? They would have pages of jumbled images in them, but if you looked at them just right, you’d see a cool 3D image. Some people just couldn’t see it no matter what…
In my opinion, there is no way anyone (let alone multiple authors over centuries) in ancient times could have made up such profound and consistent truths. Some books today that seem to resemble or surpass the Bible in truth might be unwittingly using some of the scripture’s truth as a base and catering its message to a more specific audience (i.e., modern society). Christian teachings have permeated cultures around the world so greatly that it’s impossible to separate it out from mainstream thinking today.
Harris, 5:32: “There’s nothing about electricity, there’s nothing about DNA, there’s nothing about the principles of infectious disease. There’s nothing particularly useful, and there’s a lot of iron age barbarism in there and superstition. This is not a candidate book. I mean, I can go into any Barnes and Nobles blindfolded and pull a book off the shelf which is going to have more relevance, more wisdom, for the 21st century, than the Bible or the Qur’an.”
Did God not create us with inquisitive and creative minds to discover things for ourselves? Is the Bible supposed to teach us about technology? How about insights into fixing engines or leaky faucets? Why not? That would seem pretty darn useful to me.
A mechanic might find a automotive manual more “relevant” to his everyday life, but how does that prove that it’s more important and containing more wisdom? How exactly is this supposed to detract from the Bible?
The Bible does not claim to have every important fact for us to live by. It does not claim to teach us or warn us about every future possibility. But what it does claim to do is teach us about the nature of God. It also tells us how to find salvation and ensure our eternal destiny in heaven, saving ourselves from utter destruction. But yea, I guess that’s not really “useful,” right?
Harris, 6:08: “I mean, it’s really not an exaggeration. Every one of our specific sciences has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of scripture from cosmology to psychology to economics. We know more about ourselves than anyone writing the Bible or the Qur’an did, and that is a distinctly inconvenient fact for anyone wanting to believe that this book was dictated by their creator of the universe.”
Let’s not forget that much of what we know about ourselves today was kick-started by the Bible anyway. Give credit where credit is due, and that’d be a modest start.
There’s nothing “distinctly inconvenient” about any of Harris’ points. The Bible does what it sets out to do, and it succeeds with flying colors. It gives us the word of God that can be understood and digested by simple and learned minds alike. It tells us truths about love and human dignity in ways that do not go obsolete. It clearly and unambiguously shows us the way to save ourselves from perishing…
…but it has nothing to say about the economic laws of supply and demand. =( Phooey.
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.
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.
Many people have seen her viral YouTube video…the extreme “Christian” girl who was thanking God for the tsunami in Japan. When I saw it, it was another facepalm moment of “oh great, another Christian who makes the rest of us look crazy to the world.”
Well, at least we have one less embarrassment among our ranks. Turns out, she was only trying to be humorous by imitating a “Christian”:
I have to admit, I was fooled.
One down, thousands of misguided extremists to go.
When people use examples like this girl to confirm their belief that Christians are idiots, and then it turns out that she’s a tasteless faker, does it perhaps nudge them toward giving the benefit of the doubt next time? Hardly. They’ll just move on to the next example to fuel their anti-Christian sentiments.
I fear that there are sincere Christians out there who may have even agreed with some of this girl’s points. There may have even been people watching the video thinking, “Way to go sister!” I hope not, though.
Really, I think these types of believers are the ones who appeal to the emotional side of religion to a fault. Isn’t it sad and a little disturbing that someone who doesn’t believe in God can pick up on these expressions—verbal, facial, even tonal—so well that it’s hard to tell the difference between her and a “real” believer? This is partly why I have a distaste for people at the church who act and speak this way. To me, it doesn’t seem like a fully genuine way to communicate and to live out one’s faith. Be mindful, sure, but overall just be real…that’s always the best.
If this tragedy somehow does lead some Japanese people toward belief in Christ, then we can rejoice in that when/if it happens. But don’t dare celebrate the loss of countless lives or the destruction of homes, memories, and well being.
Dawkins: “For me, what matters is the truth.”
Q: “The scientific truth?”
Dawkins: “What other truth is there when we’re talking about the universe, when we’re talking about the nature of life?…I think when we’re talking about the universe, what reality is, what life is, then ‘truth’ means ‘scientific truth,’ yes.”
This is what some people refer to as the arrogance or hubris of science. Namely, that outside of science, there is no real truth. Wow, way to claim a monopoly on truth there. I guess the fact that science is the only source of truth when it comes to the universe is true because science says it is. Oh wait, isn’t that a little bit of circular reasoning?
What is this airtight science that Dawkins is leaning on anyway? Is it testable, repeatable science so that we can confirm its veracity? No. Last time I checked, there’s no way to really test whether the universe and the things in it came to be the way we think. All we can confirm is that various tests and experiments give us the results we expect within the confines of our current knowledge–with the large assumption that the conditions of the experiment accurately portray unseen events.
Is it observable science? Not really. We can’t observe how the universe came to be (with or without a creator), nor can we observe macroevolution in a laboratory. So far, it’s all extrapolation or fitting observations into prevalent theories. Sure, we might be able to change an organism by some selective means of breeding, then decide to call it a new species because the antennae look diffferent. But is this really evidence for anything other than the fact that we’ve been given the ability to adapt temporarily or by some limited amount? How is this proof that a distinctly different form or “kind” can happen by natural means alone?
I love my wife, I exist in this universe, but science might not be able to prove that my love is true. Does the fact that science can’t prove something negate its truth? Science has its useful place in this world, but it also has its limits. If you want to ONLY believe and know what science can prove, then you’re going to be sure about precious little in this world.
Dawkins: “Of course, there are other sorts of truth like moral truths…maybe they’re not truths at all…but they are not scientific.”
Aw, darn it. He started off sounding rational–acknowledging that there are moral truths–but then he saw the potential pitfalls of this admission (i.e., that there must be a moral lawgiver) and hedged. Maybe they’re not truths at all, because after all, science cannot prove the existence or validity of moral laws. Therefore they are fictitious. (Because this is a blog and my tone cannot always be accurately conveyed, I’ll point out that the last two sentences were sarcastic. I’m a pretty sarcastic guy, sometimes, so use your best judgment.)
Let me go off on a tangent for a moment here. Skeptics are always pointing out that Christians “arrogantly” claim that their Bible is the only truth. Does anybody smell something suspicious about a scientist claiming that the only valid truth in the universe comes from science? That would put them in quite a superior position in this society, wouldn’t it? The Purveyors of the Only Real Truth.
The difference between (genuine and mature) Christians and Dawkins (or Dawkins-like scientists) is that Christians want to spread their teachings from the Bible based on an earnest belief that people’s souls are in danger without it. They genuinely believe–rightly or not–that they are helping people; in some sense, handing out a much-needed cure. Contrary to conspiracy-minded skeptics, there is no dark-hooded brotherhood of Christian furtherance that hands out fat checks to followers who espouse these beliefs.
What is Dawkins’ motivation for believing that science alone possesses real truth? Perhaps it gives him a sense of great importance or an elevated status. Or, if I can assume the best of his intentions, maybe this idea motivates him to work harder at unraveling the mysteries of the universe for us. In the process, he can combat ignorance and improve the human condition by “bringing people out of the Dark Ages.” If materialism is actually true, you naturally have to wonder where he gets this sense of civic duty to help the world or to enrich people that have no usefulness to him. If we’re just a bunch of chemicals turned to living cells from an impersonal universe, why bother?
The more plausible explanation is that Dawkins has something to gain from his position: a loyal following of people who applaud at his every witty insult, bestselling books, academic and scholarly fame, self-satisfaction, a feeling of superiority (the fact that he grasps things that the commoners, or “hoi polloi,” cannot), a little thing called “money,” not to mention being in the elite group of the Purveyors of the Only Real Truth…the list goes on and on.
[A little further into the video, Dawkins goes into this very topic of motivation for writing this book. I hope it’s OK that I don’t address it again. Nothing is “tragic” about ignorance if there’s no real purpose in the world anyway. Besides, there are plenty of Christian scientists who treat their vocation as separate from their spiritual beliefs. This myth that Christianity is somehow holding the world back is unsubstantiated in this modern world setting. Maybe it was true before any of us were born, but come on. Are people referring to the extremists or something?]
Dawkins: “The need for religion? Everybody has always had a need to understand, I suppose. Before science was fully developed, they filled that need to understand with perhaps superstition or religion, other things like that. There’s also a need for consolation, and religion probably gives consolation or that’s a bit of a mixed blessing. The fact that something’s consoling, by the way, doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it probably is a human need. So, it’s easy enough to think of reasons why religion has persisted.”
OK, I’ll try to stay focused and address his points one by one.
“Everybody has always had a need to understand.”
True, Dawkins, but did you ever ask yourself why this is true? Why do we have this need in the first place? It’d be just as easy to imagine purposeless creatures made by natural processes to simply exist and not ponder these matters, or even to think much at all. Maybe we’re brought to this world with the inherent knowledge that there is something greater than us, and there is more than simply living and dying. We ponder things because we feel there are answers.
“Before science was fully developed, they filled that need to understand with perhaps superstition or religion, other things like that.”
First off, is Dawkins implying that science is “fully developed” now? Does he have some proof of this? Things we know for sure today could very well change tomorrow. Theories that are almost universally accepted today could become a page from the “world is flat” book tomorrow. There are things that are still unknowable, and even the things we know aren’t 100% certain. This is like a teenager’s mistaken belief that he has reached the pinnacle of intelligence and wisdom–that suddenly, he is very much smarter than his parents. Considering that science is at the highest point it’s ever been, it’s natural for some to assume that it’s the highest (or close to it) that we’ll ever go. But who knows what remains above the clouds?
Again, that “need” he refers to…seems very real, considering mankind seemingly has always had it. The fact that we have a newer explanation for things, i.e., modern science, doesn’t make all older beliefs obsolete. Some people say that they like science’s ability to admit its wrongs and change with the times, whereas religion is stagnant dogma. But on the flip side, why place so much faith in something that has definitively been proven wrong many times in the past? Is it based on the belief that after eons of human existence, we are just now in possession of the real truth beyond any doubt? Sounds like quite a leap to me. I prefer to believe in something that has survived the test of time. If there is any real truth out there, wouldn’t you expect that truth to be constant and unchanging? What we currently believe or feel in today’s culture doesn’t affect the reality of unchangeable truth–it only affects our opinions of it and willingness to comply.
“There’s also a need for consolation, and religion probably gives consolation or that’s a bit of a mixed blessing.”
Geez, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but where does this need come from? Sounds like this need serves no practical purpose to me. Just for fun, let’s imagine a back-and-forth conversation on this topic:
Naturalist: “This need for consolation might have arisen naturally because of the fact that in ancient times, groups were more likely to survive than individuals. In these groups, the early hominids learned to draw support from each other, which strengthened their resolve to survive. Greater mental health promotes greater physical health, and therefore, these consolation-seeking forms were the winners of the natural selection race.”*
*I just made this up on the spot, so please excuse any similarities or discrepancies to existing theories on the matter.
Creationist: “Interesting theory. Can you back this claim at all?”
Naturalist: “No, but neither can you with your fairy tales of God.”
Creationist: “Well, what I don’t understand is why or how this need could have arisen in the first place. Seems to me that neediness for consolation would be a weakness, not an advantage. What’s the chemical composition of this neediness for consolation anyway? Why isn’t this need for consolation present in all other surviving animals today?”
Naturalist: “Not sure, but maybe it was a unique feature of the human evolutionary line. Maybe because we are physically weaker than, say, a tiger, we needed to come up with ways to work together to make up for this.”
Creationist: “Come to think of it, it sounds like you’re merging the need for consolation with interdependence. Groups fighting off an outside attack is much different than needing a pat on the back or a way to cope with fears and disappointments.”
Naturalist: “We just don’t know, but I’m confident that science could–if we wanted–eventually give us the truth.”
Creationist: “I’m confident that given enough time and thought, researchers could come up with a better story, yes. I believe that, too…until a newer, better story came along. I think a more plausible explanation is that we have this need because we were designed to seek comfort and consolation outside of ourselves. People around us can help, but ultimately, it is only God who can fully satisfy that need.”
“The fact that something’s consoling, by the way, doesn’t make it true, but nevertheless it probably is a human need. So, it’s easy enough to think of reasons why religion has persisted.”
Very true, and by that same token, the fact that something’s consoling doesn’t make it untrue either. There are many reasons why Christianity persists, but these reasons generally don’t affect the likelihood of its truth.
[Concluded in part 3 here.]
It baffles me when atheists watch a video on YouTube, swallow it wholesale, and believe it to confirm their disbelief. Ironically, the same people that accuse Christians of basing their beliefs blindly on unreliable information (the Bible, history, logic, etc.) will easily watch a video and parrot those views without even attempting to confirm or ponder its accuracy. Poking holes in these videos’ arguments is sometimes laughably easy. I guess the standards of proof go way down when something tells you what you want to hear.
Anyone can make a video about anything, and YouTube doesn’t care if it’s true or false. Pretty much all they check for is to make sure it’s not inappropriate for children (i.e., sexual content) and that it doesn’t violate copyright laws. As long as you seem confident and insert a little bit of condescending, sarcastic wit, you will appeal to most of the YouTube commenting audience, which is composed of unusually negative and critical people.
Let’s take this video, for example…”Richard Dawkins — The God Delusion” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM). Now, this is a little different than the types of videos I’ll probably address in the future, being that it’s just an interview about a book (not necessary someone telling you their beliefs directly). But it’s broad enough and discusses a bestselling book that has undoubtedly left a mark on the religious world, so I think it’s worth going over. [Quotes from the video are italicized, my responses follow.]
Q: “So right off the bat, what’s wrong with, in your opinion, believing in a God, regardless of who the God is?”
Dawkins: “I think it’s false. I think it’s a matter of belief without evidence, and as a scientist and an educator, I like the idea that we believe things because there is evidence.”
Well, at least in this interview, Dawkins is admitting it’s his opinion with “I think.” In a lot of other interviews and settings, you’ll hear him treat it as fact.
He is partially mistaken, however, that all religions are beliefs without evidence. Many religions are, but not all. They are generally stories and “truths” written or passed down, and their truth can only be supported internally within their own boundaries. The Qur’an is truth, Muslims say, because it says so and they “know” it to be. People learn these stories and believe in them because they were raised in a household that did, and/or the stories resonate with them and make sense. Not exactly reliable proof, so Dawkins has a good point here.
But Christianity is not like this. It is not just a collection of stories written far removed from the events that supposedly transpired, and they are not just ideas spoken into a person’s mind (where no one can go and confirm their honesty). Much of the Bible, and in particular, the New Testament, puts itself to the test by citing historical events, locations, people, specific times/dates, and other details. The more archeology finds, the more we confirm that these books were, in fact, written within the lifetimes of the authors as well as the general public that were witnesses to these events.
We learn that this man named “Jesus” almost certainly did exist and claimed the things mentioned in the New Testament. Even secular historians acknowledge this. As a matter of fact, there was no serious discussion about the existence of Christ (the man) at all until maybe 1800 years after he died. It took that long for the statement “maybe Jesus Christ didn’t exist at all” to be taken seriously enough to not be laughed out of the court of public opinion and academia.
The people in these Bible accounts are mentioned and verified outside of the confines of the Bible itself. Researchers–Christian and non-Christian alike–confirm that the gospels were (almost certainly) written in the purported authors’ lifetimes. These texts were widely circulated at a time when the public could have easily stomped them out as ludicrous falsehoods, but instead, we see that the gospels proliferated and spread rapidly. The New Testament, in fact, comprises the most confirmed pieces of literature in antiquity ever–by a long shot. If we question the authorship and time for these books, then we might as well question every other work of antiquity (which are far less compelling, but almost never doubted, oddly).
OK, so let’s say a man named Jesus did exist and that many of the significant events described did actually happen. The evidence is there for that much. What makes this person more than a mere man, but God himself? There, we have to take a small leap of faith. I say “small” because we have enough evidence to draw reasonable conclusions. There is corroborated eyewitness testimony (again, close enough to the events to be reliable); the changed lives of the disciples, who believed so strongly that they saw the resurrected Christ that they went from hiding in fear to dying willingly for their faith; and no other satisfactory explanation for Jesus’ missing body other than a true resurrection. This is in a very compact nutshell, of course.
As for the existence of God at all, even science and logic now tell us that the universe had a definite beginning (the big bang theory is the most supported/prevalent explanation), which at first went against the prevailing scientific thought that the universe was infinite. The law of causality will tell you that anything that came to be or had a beginning must have had a cause. That cause must exist outside of time, space, and matter because those things did not exist before the universe came to be. So what we have here is an original, infinite cause outside the bounds of time-space…outside natural laws, even. Even Julie Andrews knew this as she sang in The Sound of Music, “nothing comes from nothing.”
Anyway, I could literally go on for pages and pages (mouse wheel scrolls?), but my point is that Christian faith is not baseless or completely blind. It is corroborated by external sources, even science. It may depend on your perspectives, but the reason for belief is there nonetheless.
Dawkins: “It’s a tragedy to base your life upon something for which there is no evidence, and never was any evidence, when the real truth is so wonderful.”
I agree that this is a tragedy, especially considering my conviction that other religions (and even atheism) are the ones lacking sufficient evidence. I mean, how does science or Dawkins claim to disprove God anyway by observing the physical and material world, and God would exist outside of the natural world to begin with?
But again, I disagree with the “no evidence” claim when it comes to Christianity. This is usually because atheists’ standards of evidence are enormously and arbitrarily high. When it comes to their own beliefs about science or anything else in life, these people will look at apparent facts, draw reasonable conclusions, and feel satisfied and sure. Doesn’t sound too bad, actually. But when it comes to Christianity, they demand something they can touch and see. Why will they so easily believe Alexander the Great existed, but when it comes to Jesus (for whom there is equal or much more evidence compared to many historical figures), they practically require a miracle? Where does this double-standard come from?
And I’m not sure what he means about “real truth is so wonderful.” If this “real truth” is believing that in the beginning, there was nothing, then something out of nothing (the universe) for no particular reason, then a bunch of inorganic, inanimate matter somehow came together to somehow form life by some means not known to man even today, then somehow formed an extremely complex single-celled organism (much more complex than Darwin could have imagined during his time), which somehow had within itself the capability to reproduce itself, then adapt countless times over to form a new kind of lifeform, working toward no purpose but somehow directional and growing more advanced toward order…eventually leading to us…where joy, love, triumphs, music, humor, art, and sense of purpose are all a construction of chemicals and natural processes…
…then I don’t see anything wonderful (or logical) in that at all.
[Continued in part 2 here.]