Scott McKnight over at the Jesus Creed blog on patheos.com has posted a piece titled, “They Don’t Believe Because Your God Isn’t Desirable” by Jeff Cook, who makes the case that the reason more people are becoming unbelievers these days is not because atheists are carrying arguments with logic but because believers are not touting the desirability of belief in God.
Cook said that during a debate between that stalwart of all things rational, William Lane Craig, and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, he said that for part of the debate, he thought Craig was winning, but Harris began getting off topic and addressing other things like “the problem of religious diversity, the problem of pain, reflections on the character of God in the Bible,” and Cook then thought Harris was winning. He said Craig didn’t really identify reasons that someone might want to believe in God. Presumably, since the topic of the debate was about morality, had Craig spoken on the desirability of faith, that too would have been off topic.
In any case, Cook then calls the new atheists “hopelessly naïve about ethics and epistemology” (Epistemology? Really?!?) and says that non-believers are winning the argument because people like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, etc., specialize in ridicule:
And that means the new atheists excel on the only evangelistically – effective playing field that matters — that of human emotion and desire. Most Christian apologists conversely seem content to surrender that ground in their preference for mere rationality.
Not to mention the fact that Christians have been taking advantage of human emotion (fear of hell) and desire (hope of heaven) for 2,000 years, did Cook just really suggest that believers have been previously “content” to use arguments based in rationality? So let me get this straight: a fantastically complex being existing in some other realm with a host of angels and human souls, a god who is nonetheless able to crash through our atmosphere and interact with millions of people simultaneously, is an argument that believers can make on rational grounds?
But Cook goes further:
We have not established that Christianity should be revered, nor that it is attractive, nor that it is worthy of affection. We prefer to pull out our five proofs for its “truth” and argue our misguided interlocutors into the Kingdom cold.
I do agree that believers have not showed that Christianity should be revered, but I think many non-believers will agree that there’s not much worth revering in a god who is obsessed with blood sacrifice and who is so uncreative that he couldn’t have thought of a more humane way to satiate his thirst for red blood cells than by slaughtering innocent animals, and later, an innocent human.
If Cook had actually read Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, John Loftus, former pastor Dan Barker, John Dominic Crossan and many others, he would know that these writers do present concrete, reasoned arguments for why there is almost certainly no god and why Jesus most likely did not utter all of the things attributed to him in the New Testament. In fact, in Dawkins case, the evidence against a god was so clear to him that between 1 (100 percent sure that there was a god) to 10 (100 percent sure that there isn’t), he was solidly at 9.5. Loftus, a former pastor, makes about as exhaustive a case against God as I have ever read in “Why I Became An Atheists,” and in parts, even addresses some of Craig’s tired arguments, while Crossan in “The Historical Jesus” dissects the gospels verse-by-verse to uncover which parts are probably original and which were embellishments or later additions.
To my knowledge, Hitchens is the only one of the “new atheists” who was an active and vocal anti-theist. Most of the rest, at one time or another, wanted the biblical stories, God, Christ, etc., to all be true but when faced with the evidence, or the lack thereof, simply could not believe.
There is one final part in Cook’s essay that needs addressing. Near the conclusion, he had this to say:
One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).
I think that is exactly the other way around. Assuming that Christ is real, the advantages of belief are clear: the hope of heaven and a new “spiritual” life, less fear in this life and strength in times of need. People want a reason to believe; for many, the desire is already there. However, praying every night for decades without hearing or feeling any sense of a god and then objectively investigating the claims of the Bible and finding that your faith was built out of sand might be powerful reasons to give up belief. This is the path so many people, like Loftus and Barker have taken. I would imagine that it might, indeed, be time for a “radical rethinking of apologetics” here in the year 2012. Because all the arguments that apologetics has put forward thus far have failed. (I addressed many of them in this series: Response to Apologetics I: faith, reason, the purpose driven life.)
The desirability of faith, strong as it is, might be all that religion has left.