Archive for the ‘reason’ tag
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.
On the advice of a friend, I recently began reading a book titled, “Handbook of Christian Apologetics,” which, at least in its initial chapters, attempts to weigh reason against faith and make the case that a person can be very reasonable in his beliefs. And since this isn’t the first apologetic book I’ve read as a skeptic, I thought it would be an interesting exercise, and in the future, I may investigate and blog about more books that defend the faith.
In this post, I begin with Chapter 2, in which authors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli wed faith and reason as inevitable and necessary partners. After describing four different types of faith — what they call emotional, intellectual, volitional and heart faith — the authors then distinguish between a personal act of reason and the actual object of reason. A personal act of faith is the belief itself, while the object is that which is believed (e.g., God).
In the middle of the chapter, the authors describe three kinds of possible truths:
- (a) truths of faith and not of reason
- (b) truths of both faith and reason
- (c) truths of reason and not of faith
And it’s here that I first take issue with a portion of the text, which says:
Truths of both faith and reason (the second bullet) are things revealed by God but also understandable, discoverable or provable by reason (e.g., the existence of God, or an objective moral law, of life after death).
The authors then come to the conclusion:
If this is the correct position, it follows that the Christian apologist has two tasks: to prove all the propositions in class b and to answer all objections to the propositions in class a.
And all the propositions in class b include using reason somehow to prove the existence of God and life after death? Perhaps I may learn more about these revelations as I get further into the book, but reason or any other of our faculties can’t prove or disprove God or life after death. As for objective moral law, that can, indeed, be proven by reason and no god is needed to set out a code of morals as outlined in the Bible. Author and thinker Christopher Hitchens has challenged believers in the past with the following wager:
Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever. I am still waiting for a response to this. It carries an incidental corollary: think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what? There is no tongue-tied silence at that point. Everybody can instantly think of an example.
I, for instance, have no inclination to steal, kill, rape or break the law in any way. In fact, I have given to various charitable organizations, am currently adopting a kid in Honduras via Children International and plan to do more as money allows. I care about folks in need, and if I make a few people’s lives on this planet better while I’m alive, I feel I’ve served a significant purpose. Yet, I’m not a believer. I don’t need a god to make me that way. I care for people innately. So, there’s your purpose driven life, to borrow the Rick Warren mantra. I just leave out the bit about a god. It’s, indeed, not about me, as the first sentence in Warren’s book states.
I have more thoughts on this chapter from the previously mentioned book, but I’ll save them for tomorrow. Hitchens, one of my favorite authors and a fierce intellectual is currently battling esophageal cancer (Of course, he wouldn’t and did not describe himself as “battling” anything, for with cancer, there is no battle. Just a waiting game or a rigged game or end game. He called cancer an excruciatingly boring disease), and I feel a post on him is more pressing …
I could comment on this story on many levels, but first, I think it’s important to mention that folks tend to gravitate toward psychics or spirituality in times of hardship.
It’s telling that Donna Artuso, a former journalist, would be duped by these claims:
“Randy thinks I’m going to reinvent myself and have a new career.”
Randy is not a prophet. That would make him possess some level of knowledge that transcends what naturally comes with his abilities as a human. While he’s not a prophet, he is quite clever. He does have a decent idea of what folks would like him to say. Randy thinks you are going to reinvent yourself and get a new career. That’s what you wanted to hear, wasn’t it? That’s what you paid him to say, right?
Later in the story, we hear Dr. Stanley Krippner say, “There’re psychological and anthropological literature on this topic showing that people do go to psychics more and more freely during times of economic distress or national emergency.”
One doesn’t need a psychology degree to come to such a conclusion. Rather than spending less, using coupons, refusing to buy on credit and living within their means, people generally gravitate toward something they perceive to be above themselves or outside of themselves to ease the economic (and other) pressures of life to rescue them. It would be more expedient and sensical to cease looking for answers around every corner, at every soothsayer (The construction of that word is telling, since a soothsayer, a prophet predicts the future in such a way as to alleviate the fears of her client or subject. Simply, she says that which soothes the senses.) because answers aren’t there. Answers are in the wise handling, spending and saving of money. They are in building a reputation as a diligent, proficient worker, thus creating job security and creating a stable flow of income for your family. Wishful thinking only gets a person so far; reason and common sense must carry the load the rest of the way.
Note: This is not to suggest I’m going to begin posting quotes I find every single day. (Though I may) I do have a life, you know, albeit, not much of one.
The hinting and intimidating manner of writing that was formerly used on subjects of this kind [religion], produced skepticism, but not conviction. It is necessary to be bold. Some people can be reasoned into sense, and others must be shocked into it. Say a bold thing that will stagger them, and they will begin to think. — Thomas Paine / Letter written to Elihu Palmer
Shew. It’s been a rough week. What with spending time with my family, work, eating, sleeping, Counter Strike:Source and the like, it’s been a challenge to get in as much reading as I would have liked. Right now, among other things, I’m reading Bertrand Russell’s “My Philosophical Development,” and Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason.” Those aren’t the types of volumes one can just hop down to Barnes & Noble to pick up, so I went to the local university library and got them, which is something I hope to do more often.
I’ve concluded that for one to develop a reasoned worldview (What other sort of worldview should we seek that ultimately governs our entire journey through life?), the set of ideologies, beliefs or understandings that largely guide how a person conducts his or her life (my definition), one must, first, in this age of religious fervor, read the Big Three in full: the Hebrew Bible (which is the Old Testament in a different order; see Jack Miles: “God: A Biography” for more information), the New Testament and the Koran. This is essential for understanding what might cause someone’s son to annihilate himself via a car bomb or to hijack a jet plane and aim it at a skyscraper or massacre millions of Jews, outright unbelievers, disabled people and gays for the false assumption that they are inferior or drown and burn hundreds women for the false assumption that they are witches. It’s also essential in understanding the opposite: What causes someone to give to the poor, devote one’s life to missions work and build safe houses for the derelict. Is it pure by inspiration, command or calling from God or do some people simply lean toward faith and/or good works as character traits, as others lean toward abuse or bullying?
Second, one must delve into philosophy: Bertrand Russell, Thomas Hobbes, Hume, Heidegger, Hegel, Derrida, Habermas, Nietzsche and scores of others. One must investigate science, as one’s educational capacities allows, since this is weighty stuff: String theory, the universe, etc.
When one takes all these steps then one make a reasoned assessment of how we fit into the cosmos. Some say we fit perfectly: that we are as much a part of it as it is of us. That we are home here in this place. Some say we are not at home here: That this place is merely a stepping off point to eternity. That, for those who accept God or Christ (depending on the belief) can look forward to eternity in a place free from sin, pain and guilt.
One of my favorite poets, John Milton said, “The end of learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love Him and imitate Him,” which seems to imply that if one gains all knowledge that is possible to know (Which is impossible because our knowledge of the world and the universe changes daily and one would have to research day and night without sleeping to continually soak in new discoveries.) it will lead to a knowledge of God. Symbolically, this works and is a profound statement, since Milton is clearly stating that all knowledge that can be known points to God. Literally, it would only lead to a learned individual who has a better grasp of these weighty concepts than you or I. My point is this: Many of us spend 20, 30, 50 years or a lifetime floundering in beliefs, and more so, living and dying for beliefs, and giving no evidential proof . Truth-seekers must analyze these works meticulously and obtain a firm knowledge of the great intellectual breakthroughs in our history for a reasoned worldview to surface. All else is conjecture. If, after reading the holy books, investigating the sciences and philosophy, one concludes there is no god or if one concludes God is unmistakable and evident: the same conclusion stands: At least that person has put in the effort. At least they cared enough to find out why they believe as they do. The tragedy today is that most are too lazy or busy to do the work. Perhaps this is where our modern, hustle, bustle society skipped a disc.