Regular readers of the blog know that a while back I promised
to start a series of posts on atheism and, more recently, that I began
such a series. I have, so far, been rather pleased at how this has been going. Alas, I recently realized that amidst all this warm and fuzy affect I had overlooked something I should not have. While writing this series may well help me explain atheism to the genuinely curious it is also likely to make me stick out like a halogen spotlight to a variety of internet cranks. Such is the life of a blogger who allows his blog to be indexed by google
Which is what brings me to today's post. My first post on atheism has garnered a comment
from an individual calling himself "Bob Bag of Doughnuts." The comment is less a comment and more an essay purportedly in response to my post. I say purportedly because it is evident, as you shall see, that Bob Bag of Doughnuts has grievously misinterpreted rather a lot of what I said. So, today for your reading pleasure, we're going to go through Bob's essay bit by bit and analyze it, both in terms of the arguments he makes and the manner in which he makes them. And hopefully, when we're all done, we'll understand a little bit better why appeals like Bob's are almost always counter-productive.
Below, Bob's essay is in block quotes while my responses/commentary are in regular script. All bolding is original.
Hello, I've read your argument and I'd like to put forth my own Counter-argument. What is the web if not a place for a discussion? So I will begin:
Hi! You're more than welcome to advance your own arguments and, frankly, I agree that the internet is a good place for discussion.
The most basic need for Man is to reconnect to his Creator. To try and understand and bond the temporary with the eternal. My argument, and my rejection of your statements, is meant to lay out some fundamental axioms of my own interpretations of this need.
Well, already you're running into trouble. Your first sentence presupposes the existence of a creator being. This is perfectly fine for you but for me, an atheist, it is highly problematic. Since I don't believe in a creator god, any claims based on such a being are pretty much automatically going to be discounted. Put another way, if statement B relies upon statement A and someone doesn't accept statement A, then they're never going to accept statement B.
God is Love
Man must have faith that a loving God exists in order to bridge the gap between the temporary and the eternal. I don't believe that God created the universe, and us, to love and protect just to ignore us.
I don't believe that god created the universe at all (since I don't believe god exists) and thus the issue of whether or not a hypothetical being is or is not ignoring us is more or less irrelevant. I also have to point out that there are logical possibilities other than "God created the universe and loves us" and "God created the universe and ignores us." It's also possible that, were there a god, he or she created the universe and dislikes us. We could be, for all intents and purposes, like the mold that grows on leftovers in the fridge. Sure we as humans are responsible for the conditions that produced the aforementioned mold, but that doesn't mean we're pleased to have it around. Similarly, humans could be an unavoidable and undesirable byproduct of whatever it is god is really trying to do, much as theologians argue that evil is an unavoidable byproduct of free will. I, personally, don't think that humans are intrinsically bad or anything (not least because I don't believe in original sin) but it's a logical possibility.
Weak vs. Strong?
You mention this conflict quite a bit. Weak vs. Strong? Might makes right? This makes right and wrong?
Okay, now we have a problem. I didn't talk about a conflict, I talked about a typology. "Weak" and "Strong" are terms used to classify types of atheist thought. I was in no way referring to coercive force, which appears to be where you're going with it. Moreover, this is so obvious from what I wrote that I can only assume that you didn't actually read my post. If you're genuinely curious, no, I do not think that might makes right. Sadly, however, I'm pretty sure you're about to indulge in a rather foolish stereotype about atheists.
That's like saying Hitler had some army - so it was cool for him to conquer people that didn't have an army. That is Fascism. No matter how you frame a slaughter - it will always be fascism. You are applying the law of the jungle to spirituality.
My amusement at this demonstration of Godwin's Law
aside, my post never states or implies that might makes right. Moreover, no offense, but slaughter does not automatically indicate fascism since pretty much every type of government ever used has, at one time or another, engaged in actions that could be classified as slaughter.
How can the sick ethos of a child rapist (weak vs. strong) apply to your frustrated attempts to understand a universal super being? It's not "only natural" for humans to take advantage of one another - it's wrong. Really wrong.
Okay, now you're just embarrassing yourself. Seriously. In the last two paragraphs you've compared me to Hitler and a child rapist based solely on a trivially incorrect reading of my argument. This is the written equivalent of a kindergartner screaming, "Well you're a poopie head!" at a peer. Go read my original post
- and then we can talk about the typology of atheism if you want to.
God is Moral
The fundamental wrongness of say, running over elderly women in your bitchin' Mustang - is something that no man or father had to teach us. Ever. You know it is wrong - so, how?
This is an interesting argument given the preoccupation of religious education with inculcating a particular type of morals. If your contention were correct, wouldn't it be the case that humans would have to be taught how to be immoral? In any case, I somewhat agree with you to the extent that humans are predisposed towards behaviors that are pro-social because such a predisposition is an evolutionary advantage for a group-species like ours. What that means in terms of actual behaviors, however, depends rather strongly on the structure of society as a whole.
It seems that God has wired us up in such a way that we understand all these things at the moment of conception. His Laws are in our bird brains from day one. We are taught, in our hearts, that hatred is wrong by our Creator - naturally, genetically and perpetually.
Are you even serious? Leaving aside the incredible difficulty of showing that morality is inserted into a collection of cells that lack even a rudimentary nervous system, hatred is a pretty widespread and even natural emotion. It's common to pretty much all types of intolerance, including the religious intolerance that provides the foundation for crusades and jihads. Having said that it is natural, however, do not interpret that to mean "good." Sepsis
following a serious wound is "natural" but I wouldn't say it's good. What is more human than attempting to change ourselves, and our world, to be better?
How can an Atom understand an Amoeba?
If, in this example, Man is an atom and God is an amoeba, how can we (as a single celled organism) be able to ask the right questions let alone to find any larger cosmic answers? We sense His movements in our lives with a limited capability of seeing the waters of time and space that surround us.
Okay, first off, an atom is not
a single celled organism. If you think it is you are a bitter disappointment to your chemistry, biology and physics teachers. Second, this is one of the most often repeated arguments about god and one of the least convincing. One of the amazing things about science is that the longer we study the world the more sublimely elegant it appears to be. What is confusing becomes less confusing. The answers, of course, are far from simple or easy to comprehend, but they at least make a kind of sense. Yet, the longer we study the concept of god and the assertions made about it, the less sense it makes. Contradictions pile up and are shielded behind the handwaving defense that god works in mysterious ways. I see no reason to believe that a creator would be infinitely more irrational than his or her creation.
Agnosticism is the refuge of an unworthy vessel.
God hasn't spoke to you as a torched bush or handed you any stone tablets lately, huh? Get over it.
This is a pretty interesting, and funny, rhetorical strategy. You're implying that requiring some sort of proof for god's existence is more or less just being petulant. Yet, that's really all you've got going here- just an implication. I might as well have said, "You haven't seen an amphibian evolve into a reptile this week? Get over it." It's an equally condescending remark and just as ineffective. Now, that said, there happens to be considerable evidence for the evolution of life. Yet, when it comes to god, unicorns, and bigfoot,* matters are somewhat different.
Perhaps, He has been even more active in your life than your realize or dare to admit? In the book of Job, Elihu, a friend to Job during his trials, says to him, "God speaks once, twice, even three times to us - although we hear him not."
Ah yes. And we're back to the "god works in mysterious ways" schtick again.
Bunnyists and Santaists (yes as in Claus)
Why is it that when a middle aged man glues on a fake beard and hops into a chewed up bright red suit no one shakes their head? Why do they shake their heads when some mentions Christ or the prophets? Why is it that egg bearing rabbits are more welcome to us than the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount? Why is the Information Age so full of useless information? I have no use for this. I do have a use for wisdom.
What the hell are you even talking about? The rituals of your religion are not my problem to explain. Moreover, if Christians are more preoccupied with the Easter Bunny than with scripture, how is that something an atheist must answer for?
Jesus was an Uncool Terrorist
I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think any terrorist could be described as "cool." My opinions on Jesus aside, I also don't think he could be described as a "terrorist." A rebel, perhaps, but not a terrorist.
Even at the most skeptical point of view you and I can admit this: Two thousand or so years ago, a profound and brilliant dude walked in a dark world.
No. No we can't. I think the stories told about Jesus are often full of considerable wisdom BUT those stories were, by and large, written down a century or more after his purported death. I rather suspect that the actual man Jesus was not nearly as brilliant and profound as the stories about him would suggest. If it makes you feel better, though, I also have my doubts about Buddha.
Butchery and barbarity was the way of the world he lived in. Savage cults and terrible slaughters defined the ancient world. He was a poor man from poor people who lived in an occupied backwater city at the edge of an empire. His life and his peoples lives where defined by poverty, punishment and backbreaking toil for their oppressors.
This is a staggering simplification of the ancient world. The Roman empire was, by comparison to many other ancient cultures, quite reasonable and dignified. In many ways it was superior to the nation states of Europe that emerged centuries later. Additionally, while the Israelites were under the dominion of Rome they were hardly the enslaved people you depict them as.
And do you know what this uncool weirdo said?
I am the Prince of Peace.
So the Strong folks - the Romans and the Pharisees, didn't like that very much. How could they? This was a dangerous concept to their authority. Interesting to note here that the word fascism comes from a Latin word "fasces" - basically a big ass nightstick that roman centurions would use to beat the snot out of the locals at this time.
You know, interestingly, the Romans objected much more to the monotheism of early Christianity than to any claims about peace.
Now. After this "dangerous" renegade was betrayed he went to his horrible death. And no one forgot him. In fact, men and women followed his example of spiritual strength and faith for many hundreds of years. They built hospitals and formed orders just to take care of the "weak" because some uncool terrorist asked them to.
The most emotionally resounding work of our civilization is based on faith. And not the faith that a light bulb will turn on when you flip a switch or that your car will start when you turn a metal key. I mean Faith in humanity. Faith that we as a species will overcome our fear and doubt and disease to be something better than an animal.
And here we have at least one point of agreement: we have achieved much through faith in humanity. We are capable of great things and we have done great things. We will continue to do great things. This is what it means to be human- to constantly struggle to become more than you were before. If Jesus has provided the inspiration for some people to carry through with this great work, I have no objection.
That faith is rewarded with Love. Love that comes from one source and one source only - God. The love of our fathers, our brothers, our friends and wives begins and ends with God.
And for that I pity you, for you apparently believe that you lack the capacity to love whereas I believe that you do not.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present another view.
So do I have any summary at the end of all this? Well, just this: if you're going to try and convert an atheist you should remember two things at a bare minimum. First, pay attention to their actual statements. I said nothing in my post to imply that might makes right yet Bob gave me a lengthy discussion about how I was like Hitler. If you want to discuss my faith with me, that's fine, but discuss it. Don't pretend to listen to me and then unload with your own pre-digested pap. Second, if you want to try to convert an atheist you need to bring your A-game. You are not, in all likelihood, the first person to try and convince me that god exists. I am likely already familiar with the common arguments. Do you seriously think you're the first person to try to convince me that Jesus was teh awesome? Either be creative or just give it a rest.
Otherwise we're not discussing, you're preaching at and I'm being preached to. If that was gonna work, I don't think we'd be having this little chat in the first place.* Actually, in perfect honesty, I think I have to admit that the case for bigfoot is a lot stronger than the case for god.
Labels: atheism, crazy, Drek is Annoyed, internet, religion