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Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 3)

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

[Continued from Part 2 here, based on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM.]

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.

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The 7 common tactics that atheists (and Christians) use (part 2)

April 6, 2011 12 comments

[Continued from part 1 here.]

Tactic #4: Using exaggerated and ridiculous comparisons to mock the other side’s beliefs.

A famous and widespread example of this would be the allusion to the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Atheists like to claim that believing in God is on the same level as believing in unicorns, leprechauns, and of course, the aforementioned culinary deity. By making this comparison, they are trying to automatically discredit the side of believers by implying that we are naive, immature, ignorant, and without evidence or logic backing our claims. All of this is done in one fell swoop without a single thoughtful argument.

Consider this stylized mockery of the Christian faith: “Does this make sense? The belief that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree?

Talk about a play on words and juicing up the cartoony level to the n-th degree. Words like “cosmic,” “zombie,” and “magical tree” bring the level of Christianity down to a bad fantasy (sci-fi?) flick. Defending this kind of faith would be a tall order indeed, but of course, any reasonable person knows that describing it in such terms is unfair and ridiculous.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Making it harder for Christians to defend their faith with any level of confidence?

Tactic #5: Stating things as fact or “just because” with nothing to back it up, even inaccurate claims based on memory or assumption.

Christians and atheists are probably equally guilty of this. It’s just human nature, and it has little to do with religious beliefs or lack thereof.

People often feel sure of wrong information—from trivial matters such as which celebrity was married to whom, or the not-so-trivial details of a witnessed crime. It comes from recalling things you may have seen or heard incorrectly, and sometimes, it’s quite harmless. A simple “oops, I guess I was wrong” might be the extent of the consequences.

But when people make the same kinds of sloppy assumptions or claims of fact in religious discussion, something greater is at stake here. The truth can easily be lost and a good discussion can be derailed by one wrong fact.

A skeptic might wrongly state with confidence: God has already been proved false, you Christians are just behind and need to catch up,” or, “Hitler was a Christian.” [God cannot be proved false because He exists outside the natural, observable world. A plethora of biblical misinterpretations can also be used here. Besides, we Christians have the same information available to us that everyone does. Hitler may have claimed to be a Christian, probably to gain favor, but his actions belie his true beliefs. In fact, he wanted to get rid of bibles and replace them with Mein Kampf, hardly an indication of a true believer. He once referred to Christianity as a “poison.”]

A creationist might ignorantly claim: Even Darwin confessed on his deathbed that he believed in God,” or, “There is no proof for evolution, it’s just a theory.” [There is no clear indication that Darwin came to faith, so perhaps this is just wishful thinking or some false rumor. Evolution, to an extent, has been proved true—at the very least on the micro-evolution level—and the word “theory” in science is a strong assertion of truth, though not airtight.]

Tactic #6: Ignoring their own holes and shifting the burden of proving an endless supply of further challenges to you.

I’ve often heard, “I’m an atheist, which is a belief in nothing. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the believer to prove that there is a God.”

I have to ask, why?

Consider these simple facts:

– There are more people in this world who believe in God (or a god) today, and exponentially more throughout the history of man. Since when do the vast majority need to solely convince the small minority?

– If atheists are wrong and God exists, they are going to face far worse consequences–even possibly into eternity–than a believer would face if there is, in fact, no God. So atheists have a higher burden of proof when you consider that de-converting a believer is “riskier” than the other way around.

– Atheism isn’t a belief in nothing. In most cases, it comes with a belief and reliance upon naturalism, which is harder to believe for some people than to believe in God. I have a hard time believing that love is merely chemical or an evolutionary feature, or that art and music are solely manipulations of the physical world.

Christians should try to convince atheists out of concern, but it’s not our “obligation” to prove anything in the sense that our position is inherently more untenable. Don’t just stay on the defensive the whole time. There are just as many unanswer(able?)ed questions that the atheist should be required to address. At the very least, both sides may have to concede a few “I don’t know” moments, which is at least fair and honest.

Tactic #7: Requiring an overly high standard of proof, while calling all Christian sources “biased.”

Consider this: the issue of whether or not Jesus existed on this earth—at least as a man—was not even seriously debated for maybe 1,800 years. It was a given. But somewhere along the line, skeptics started demanding more “proof” and wondering aloud why there wasn’t more direct evidence of Jesus’ existence. This got easier to do since enough time had passed, but unlike science and technology, history tends to be more reliable when it’s closer (older) to the events.

Forget the fact that even emperors in ancient times were written about less, with scant documentation and archeology. Forget all of the historical analysis that makes the Bible, particularly the New Testament, the most confirmed work of antiquity man has ever seen. Or the many reasons why the resurrection could not have been faked…

Forget science and philosophy that seem to agree more and more with the claims of the Bible, such as a distinct beginning point in our universe rather than an infinite past. Or the experiences and personal convictions that scream that we are obviously not a random assortment of matter over time.

Videos, books, and other forms of communication that espouse atheistic beliefs are accepted without so much as a blink. And when they make a claim that seems damning to Christian beliefs (such as the comparison of Horus to Jesus, essentially calling Jesus a copycat/fictitious savior), people will believe it without investigating the matter outside the confines of like-minded Christ-mythers.

Who would then attempt to verify the accuracy of these claims? Well, obviously Christians would want to get to the bottom of it because they care about their faith and want to know if they are basing their lives on reality or myth. But then any of those Christian findings that show the falsehood of the Horus comparisons are dismissed as “biased.” The skeptic or Christ-myther might say, “I’ll wait until a non-Christian proves the comparisons to be false, thank you. Not some biased Christian with an agenda.”

Simple fact of the matter is, most people don’t have a vested interest one way or the other, so of course such works are going to come from a Christian.

There is no such thing as totally unbiased work anyway. Everyone has presuppositions and personal leanings. Writing off anything by Christian authors and researchers as “biased” is closing your mind to any contrary positions regardless of their validity. Heck, many skeptics set out to prove Christianity wrong only to realize that they’ve become convinced of the Bible’s truth—then they write about it (e.g., Lee Strobel, countless others). I guess these people are biased as well, despite their original intent.

I can understand that some people don’t want to give up their feeling of autonomy and authority over their own lives. But making the burden of proof prohibitively high is doing a disservice to the truth.

Christianity is not pretending to be a faithless pursuit that can satisfy a person purely on logic and facts. Faith is a big factor, no doubt. All we’re asking is that you weigh one side against the other and to give us a fair trial. Don’t use tactics, don’t make assumptions that we’re idiots. Go where the preponderance of your reasoning take you, rather than setting up an impossible task so that the other side necessarily fails in your view.

After all, in the end, it’s not really about “winning,” as is the goal in formal debates. That’s why I hesitate to use the word “debate” at all, since actual truth is secondary to the arguments in that context. What’s important is that we all get to the bottom of this and try to convince the other side by sound reasoning. If that isn’t possible, then at least a slight crack in the wall of dogma might lead to a change of views down the road.

Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 2)

April 4, 2011 1 comment

[Continued from Part 1 here, based on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMqTEfeqvmM.]

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.]

The 7 common tactics that atheists (and Christians) use (part 1)

March 31, 2011 8 comments

After many hours of perusing religious/anti-religious forums, engaging in debate, and reading comments made by atheists, I can honestly say that things start to blur together after a while. Arguments start sounding the same and the common tactics used against Christianity can almost be coalesced into neat categories—though with any human behavior, things are not always so cut and dry.

Truthfully, many of the same generalizations can be made against Christians. Not every atheist is antagonistic, and not every Christian fights fair. Pretty much everyone is guilty in some way, and I’ll try to point out how by giving examples from both sides. But my subjective view is that atheists use the following tactics to a greater degree. If both sides would focus more on the issues at hand rather than simply trying to “win,” we might have more productive discussions.

Tactic #1: Insulting the intelligence of others.

Tactic #2: Citing some “higher authority” on the issue and restricting further discussion or evidence.

Tactic #3: Attacking strawmen or going off-topic (includes attacking people as evidence against the faith).

Tactic #4: Using exaggerated and ridiculous comparisons to mock the other side’s beliefs.

Tactic #5: Stating things as fact or “just because” with nothing to back it up, even inaccurate claims based on memory or assumption.

Tactic #6: Ignoring their own holes and shifting the burden of proving an endless supply of further challenges to you.

Tactic #7: Requiring an overly high standard of proof, while calling all Christian sources “biased.”

Let’s take a closer look at each one and some examples, including real quotes I’ve seen.

Tactic #1: Insulting the intelligence of others.

“Christians are stupid, mindless sheep who ignore all the obvious evidence out there. There’s no point in arguing with these idiots.”

There are many problems with this one. Where to begin?

First of all, it seems to imply that atheists are smarter, and when it comes to arguments of reason, the smarter person wins by default, right? Who decided that atheists are smarter anyway, the atheists themselves? And is the smarter person always right?

Now, I admit, this is where my pride is tempted to say something mean and boastful to these people. Statistically speaking, very few people making these kinds of comments would objectively be smarter than me, at least in terms of IQ or something. But a better way to go about this is to point out that brilliant scientists, philosophers, and other great minds have been Christian. For every smart atheist, there is usually a smarter Christian, and vice versa. How does this kind of statement account for the intelligence of many believers? Is that atheist smarter and more knowledgeable about science than, say, geneticist Dr. Francis S. Collins—the leader of the Human Genome Project who is a devout Christian?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that atheists are in fact, on average, smarter than Christians. After all, intelligent people do tend to question things and seek knowledge for themselves, as many atheists do, rather than believing anything blindly. Does this really prove that they’re right about everything regarding the reality of God?

By this reasoning, one could conclude that a higher IQ spouse—whether the husband or the wife—should always get to be right. No arguments allowed, just submitting to the greater mind. Does this make sense at all? No, of course not. People are smart in different ways, and sometimes, the most obvious things to a common man can be an enigma to a learned man. Heck, Einstein could fathom things about this world that no one else could, but he couldn’t even reliably memorize his own home address.

A funny (and fictitious) example would be Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. It’s pretty clearly established that he is the smartest one out of his friends. He is a genius physicist. But there was a running joke for a while where he would ask his friends during a conversation, “Was that sarcasm?” To everybody else, it’d be obvious and in plain sight. To him, despite his attempts to research sarcasm and break it down into logical components, his accuracy rate of detecting it was very low. Why is this? Because high IQ and thorough training in science and other subjects can’t grant you the ability to form a complete knowledge of this world. Even things that are obvious to lesser minds can elude the great ones.

Tactic #2: Citing some “higher authority” on the issue and restricting further discussion or evidence.

This is another cop-out technique, and we Christians are guilty of it, too. Atheists might cite the works and ideas of a great scientist or philosopher, and then challenge you by saying, “Do you think you’ve studied these things as deeply as him? If not, how can you challenge his conclusions?”

Christians might resort to the credibility-killing argument of, “Well, God and the Bible tell me it’s true, and therefore I believe!” [Sometimes, at the most basic level, this is indeed the reason we believe something. But we first need to establish why God and the Bible are trustworthy to begin with. Naked circular reasoning helps no one.]

Problem is, these discussions shouldn’t come down to a contest of who’s swinging the bigger sword of authority. The point should be to argue both sides and consider the merit of the points discussed.

The atheists’ assertion that a point can’t be debated—based on your lack of credentials or your weaker sources—is faulty to begin with. Why? Well, as I mentioned, the smarter person is not always right, and neither is the one with better credentials. Furthermore, there is the simple fact that it is exponentially easier to point out errors in something than it is to create/develop it in the first place.

For instance, I’ve seen a number of typos and grammatical mistakes made by superior writers in various forms of media. Even if I can’t write as well as these people, it doesn’t preclude me from being able to correct them. It doesn’t matter very much that my own writing wouldn’t hold a candle to theirs, as long as I’m competent overall.

This happens all the time in sports, as well. Every time we yell at our TVs, wondering how a coach or coordinator could make such an obvious blunder, are we saying we could do a better job ourselves? Not really (we might think it, but we’d be woefully wrong). These professionals have spent much of their lives and countless hours learning the ins and outs of their respective sports. But that doesn’t keep a competent layman with far less knowledge from being able to see the professional’s mistakes clearly sometimes.

Having too much knowledge and being deeply engrossed in something can dampen common sense and narrow one’s field of vision. Like Dr. Sheldon Cooper or Albert Einstein, brilliant people simply might not see what lesser minds do. You can’t discard the refutations of a Christian because his credentials seem less impressive than the atheist originator of the work. You have to judge the conclusions made based on their own merit. Besides, many of us have access to the same information. At some point, it’s how you interpret that information that can cause such divergent views, and interpretation is hardly set in stone.

Tactic #3: Attacking strawmen or going off-topic (includes attacking people as evidence against the faith).

I guess I should start by clarifying what “attacking strawmen [arguments]” means. I can’t really say it better than Wikipedia, so I’ll just quote it here: “To ‘attack a straw man’ is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the ‘straw man’), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”

For instance, consider the following hypothetical exchange:

Christian: “All you have to do is allow Christ to come into your life and accept Him as your Lord and savior. Then you will be saved for all eternity. I think that’s the greatest and most generous gift imaginable.”

Atheist: “So I have to allow an invisible dude to take over my life and become his slave? That doesn’t sound like a good deal at all to me, I prefer to be free.”

This is a straw man because the atheist is equating Jesus with just some “invisible dude” and leaving out his God nature. Allowing Jesus into your life is a good thing, whereas the atheist is taking the leap and comparing it to slavery, which everyone can agree is a bad thing.

Another example:

Christian: “God sent his own son to earth to die for us.”

Atheist: “What a contradiction. Doesn’t the Bible say ‘thou shalt not kill’?”

Pretty off-the-mark, I know, but not that far from what I’ve heard from some people. God sending his son to die (and Jesus willingly dying on the cross) is heroism and true sacrifice. If you twist it to mean sending someone to his death and equate it to murder, you ignore all of the good behind it. It becomes an act of malice instead of love.

Straw man arguments happen almost instinctively when we argue because naturally, we want to be proved right. Christians are guilty of this, too.

Atheist: “It’s clear that humans and apes were descended from a common ancestor.”

Christian: “If humans came from apes, then why are both humans and apes still here?

This Christian is making a straw man argument (kind of) and also a logical/factual error. He is first using the assumption that humans are further along in the evolutionary process than apes. Then he is trying to state that being descended from a common ancestor is the same as being on a lineal progression. Since apes clearly exist today, this twist of logic makes it apparent that since apes are not extinct or superseded by humans, the atheist’s assertion is wrong. Of course, what the atheist is really saying is that evolutionists believe that in the past, there was a common ancestor that branched off into modern day apes and humans—so both can exist without being mutually exclusive.

I lump together straw man arguments with attacking the actions of Christians as evidence against the faith because both tactics attempt to sidetrack the main point by turning to imaginary or exaggerated side issues. A Christian misbehaving is no more damning for Christianity than one person of a certain ethnicity committing a bad crime. It is not representative of the whole group.

 

[To be concluded in Part 2…]

Countering YouTube: “Richard Dawkins–The God Delusion” (part 1)

March 30, 2011 2 comments

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.]

What’s the benefit of good apologetics?

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Christian apologetics is the discipline of defending our beliefs through the systematic use of reason. In the Bible, 1 Peter 3:15 states: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

The problem is, many Christians either do not know the reasons for what they believe, or they do more harm than good by spreading half-truths and weak arguments—most often unknowingly or with good intentions.

Now, I am certainly not claiming or implying to know it all when I write here. Even after many more years of diligent study, I’d imagine there’s no way to cover every possible topic with sufficient depth. But the important thing is for me to know my own limitations and admit when something is beyond my current base of knowledge.

Why bother, anyway? I believe there are number of direct benefits that can come from good, solid apologetics:

– Skeptics can sometimes be “won over” to the Christian faith.

This is probably a somewhat rare occurrence, at least as a direct result of apologetics. People generally do not convert based on reasoning alone. This is because, whether or not we realize it, we come to our beliefs based on a mixture of factors such as upbringing, personal experiences, emotions, social pressures, and other influences. Christians also happen to believe that people come to faith based on the beckoning of the Holy Spirit.

However, sometimes everything else falls into place in a person’s life and the last thing that remains is some mental barrier. When apologists provide reasonable answers to skeptics’ most piercing questions, that almost-believer may find that making the final, small leap of faith isn’t so hard after all.

– Christianity and its claims can gain credibility and respectability.

Sadly, the prevalent opinion of the secular world seems to be that Christians are some kind of naive, mindless sheep. “If only they’d THINK for themselves,” some point out, “these Christians might see how ridiculous their beliefs are.”

Consider this one comment I’ve seen from a skeptic: “Who would you believe? The Christians with an IQ of 95-100, or Richard Dawkins with his 160-165 IQ?” Other than the sweeping generalizations and the likely inaccuracies in his statement, this skeptic points out the unmet need for healthy Christian minds to represent the faith in a respectable fashion.

If we are publicly informed and make arguments for our faith that are at least plausible—if not convincing—then there might not be so much of a bias that is pre-formed in unbelievers’ minds. They might be more willing to open their minds and explore the possibilities of a Christian savior, rather than rule it out completely by default.

– Current believers’ faith can be solidified and strengthened.

Blind faith is faith that is standing on shaky ground. It’s true that sometimes, believers can make it through an entire lifetime without facing any serious, earth-shaking doubts and challenges to their faith. But this is kind of like a lovey-dovey relationship that has not experienced any painful fights and arguments. There is a depth that can only come from going through hardships, coming through to the other side, and being stronger than ever before. No pain, no gain.

Besides, the fact is that most believers will encounter serious obstacles at some point in their lives, whether from difficult experiences, science, the world’s views, or some combination of everything. It is prudent to become well-equipped to handle these spiritual ordeals beforehand.

***

Personally, I’ve found that being an intellectually satisfied Christian means being a happier one who is eager to explore further. Being more informed has revitalized my own faith and helped address some of the doubts that I didn’t even realize were in my subconscious mind.

The bottom line is that apologetics matters. Obviously, there are other good reasons to defend our faith to the world, but this is probably a good starting point.