Category Archives: Atheism
Dinesh D’Souza does a good job critiquing attempts to explain morality in Darwinist terms. Morality, along with consciousness, remains one of the stubborn features of reality that we all know intuitively, which cannot be explained in purely naturalistic terms. The lack of explanatory power in Darwinism is called “the grounding problem.”
One key point about the catalog of evolutionary arguments D’Souza cites is that evolutionary explanations always change the definition of what we’re talking about in morality. D’Souza notes one way this is done by pointing out that the morality we want explained is prescription; but any scientific explanation, by the very nature of science, will be descriptive. Science can only observe and explain what occurs in nature. It doesn’t have the capacity to explain why morality has a prescriptive incumbency on us that the laws of nature don’t have. We have moral duties that are quite different in nature than the law of gravity, for example. We follow the law of gravity, but we don’t have a prescriptive moral duty with the subsequent moral guilt if we don’t obey it.
Here’s another way the terms are changed in evolutionary explanations. Note in the article that each and every attempt to give an evolutionary account for morality has to change any self-sacrificial and altruistic act a selfish explanation because that’s the only way evolution works. Survival of the fittest produces “selfish genes,” as Richard Dawkins coined it. But if so-called self-sacrificial and altruistic acts actually have a selfish explanation for how they evolved, then they really aren’t sacrificial or altruistic, are they? The definition has been changed because evolution can’t explain morality.
From the New York Times online:
Starting next Monday, a coalition of local groups will run a monthlong advertising campaign in a dozen Manhattan subway stations with the slogan “A Million New Yorkers Are Good Without God. Are You?” The posters also advertise the website BigAppleCoR.org, which provides a listing of local groups affiliated with the Coalition of Reason, the umbrella organization that coordinated the campaign.
This campaign is intended to 1) heighten awareness of the atheist movement in New York City, and 2) to coincide with the release of Greg Epstein’s upcoming book, Good without God. Though the table of contents for Epstein’s book isn’t posted just yet, I sure hope that he addresses what’s known as the “grounding problem” for atheists when it comes to morality. Before I explain this a little bit more, there are a couple of things that I think need saying.
- I believe that the Coalition of Reason has every legal right to post these signs, and no one (especially Christians!) should rob them of their freedom of speech.
- I do not believe that one must believe in God in order to be a morally praiseworthy person. Too often non-Christians seem to think Christians believe atheism automatically leads to a life of depravity and evil. Sadly, many Christians do believe this, but the best Christian thinkers have never stated the case this way. The issue of dispute is the grounding problem (more in just a second).
- The reason I believe atheists often lead better ethical lives than their position would seem to imply is because I believe in common grace.
The grounding problem. Naturalism/atheism denies the existence of the Triune God of Scripture. On a Christian worldview rightness and wrongness, what brings glory to God and the flourishing of human beings is a) that which is consistent with the being, character, and nature of God, and b) that which is in accordance with His verbal revelation (made known to us in the Bible). That’s all to say Christians have an objective standard for what is good and bad. Our standard isn’t rooted in personal preferences or the rule of the majority.
So the question isn’t “Can someone perform good deeds if they don’t believe in God?” The question is “What are the grounds for making a distinction between good and bad in an atheistic world?” The Why be good? question simply will not go away, no matter how long it is ignored or mocked. As a Christian, the fact that atheists are often stand-up citizens isn’t a challenge to my worldview. Despite their denial of the Triune God, he is still the Creator and the One who inscribed His moral law on their hearts (cf. Rom. 2).
It’s because the world is precisely what the atheist denies (i.e. under the rulership and direction of the sovereign Lord) that they can act in ways that they deceive themeselves into thinking are independent of God.
From Between Two Worlds:
Interesting article here from atheistic philosopher of science Michael Ruse, who says that Dawkins’s The God Delusion makes him “ashamed to be an atheist,” that the New Atheists are a “bloody disaster.” In particular, he thinks that the New Atheists are doing a “grave disservice” to (1) the cause of science, (2) the cause of scholarship; (3) the cause of fighting Creationsim, and (4) the cause of fighting to keep Creationism out of schools. On Dawkins in particular: Ruse says that he would fail any introductory course in philosophy or religion.
He also doesn’t like Ben Stein!
Here are some recent titles that have been released in response to the work of the New Atheists. Obviously, I can’t say I agree with everything in these books, first because they come from multiple points of view, and second, because I haven’t read them all!
Often times we give credit to atheists that we shouldn’t. One of the reasons why this happens is we’ve essentially allowed atheists to determine and dictate what is considered “rational.” This isn’t to say that all atheists are irrational. Far be it from that, a great many atheists alive today are brilliant and far more educated than Christians. On the other hand, this is exactly what we should expect if we read our Bibles (Cf. 1 Cor. 1-2, James 2). God chose the things that are reckoned low and of disrepute in order to ultimately demonstrate that “finding” him isn’t about our gifts, strengths, or achievements. Again, 1 Cor. 1 says that God structured his plan to save sinners in a such a way that “the world through it’s wisdom would not know Him.” So, if this is true (and it is), we shouldn’t expect thinking based on strictly atheistic assumptions to be the kind of thinking that recognizes the evidence for God in this world (at least not explicitly, cf. Rom. 1).
Nevertheless, while a great many atheist people may indeed be sane, healthy-minded people, Christians give them a “get out of jail free” card when we allow that atheism itself is a rational position to hold.
My point here is this: the discussion is open and shut if we allow, explicitly or implicitly, the atheists to determine rationality. As others have argued, a justification for rationality that undermines trust in rationality is not rationality at all. While Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris can claim that rationality evolved, at the end of the day, their argumentation doesn’t fly. One of the chief reasons for this is that these authors have all shown in their work a gross misunderstanding (or a lack of understanding) of epistemology. I can’t get into the details here, but it suffices to say that since they’re atheists, they’re going to define rationality in accord with atheism. It’s a simple point, but it’s worth noting. All people interpret data (evidence, etc) in light of prior commitments.
We all have anchors for our thought. There’s always something that guides and directs the flow of our beliefs, desires, and hopes. Elsewhere I’ve called this an ultimate presupposition, but here I’ll call it a “centering belief.” Only what finds harmony with our centering beliefs may we consistently label as rational. So, as a Christian, If I believe that God is the creator of the universe and is the ultimate reason why I can trust my perception of the outside world. He created both the world around me and my faculties of perception in such a fashion to be generally reliable. Any view that denies this, while it may seem perfectly “rational” to the atheist, is completely foreign from my way of thinking and will be considered irrational to me.
Am I being unnecessarily narrow? I don’t think so, after all, most atheists clearly believe that Christian belief is irrational when they characterize it as a fairy tale for adults.
In the brief first part of this series I disclosed a bit of personal information about myself. Now, I’d like to give the reasons why I believe that the study of atheism is a good thing. Now, for the record, what I mean by “study of atheism” is not reading books or article against atheism by Christians (though that is good, helpful, and ought to be done). What I mean here is actually reading books and articles written by actual atheists.
Here I’d like to list some benefits of reading atheists, some of the things to look for, and then list of few books worth looking into.
Benefits of reading atheists. Here are some of the positive things one gets out of reading works on atheism:
- It exposes us to attacks against the faith
- It forces us to deal with real objections by real unbelievers (reading too many books about atheists usually causes us to think we already know what they’re going to say, and that’s not listening. We don’t like it when they do it to us, let’s not do it to them.)
- It prepares us for real-world engagement with unbelief.
- Through careful examination of atheist argumentation and objections we come to confidently learn that our faith isn’t a blind leap. Atheist arguments in defense of their stance really aren’t good arguments (My atheist books are thoroughly marked with red ink).
Things to look for when reading atheists. Now I pick up from point 4 above. What kinds of fallacies ruin atheistic arguments? Here’s where things go bad:
- Lots of emotion-raising language instead of actual evidence and argument. In other words, many atheists like to depend on flash rather than substance. (Richard Dawkins is really good at this, especially in his latest work, The God Delusion). For instance, compare these two types of statements:
a) To believe in a God who allows and even ordains the amounts of evil in our world is rationally unacceptable.
b) Who in their right mind would believe there’s an invisible man in the sky who arbitrarily decides to allows children to be tortured?
Notice the first claim is something we can discuss and debate fairly. The second statement is loaded with lots of emotional baggage which first needs to be addressed and in fact turns the audience against anybody who would make a Christian defense. After all, no one wants to be told they’re not “in their right mind.”
2. Ignorance of Christian theology. I’ve addressed this problem elsewhere. How can the atheist attack Christian belief if he or she doesn’t even understand what they’re talking about?
3. Double standards. It not a good argument to say something against your opponent that with a few word changes can be said right back to you.
Objection by Atheist: “Christianity cannot be true, look at all the evil done by ‘Christians.’”
Response by Christian: “Atheism cannot be true because of all the evil that’s been done by atheists (such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Nero, Mao, and Vlad the impaler, to name a few).”
If it cuts both ways, just drop it.
4. Appealing to notions which lack any foundations in an atheistic worldview. If a naturalistic, atheistic worldview cannot provide a foundation for the objective existence and value of logic, the uniformity of nature, moral absolutes, etc., how can it appeal to such things in it’s attack against Christianity? Answer: It’s shouldn’t. (I’ve also dealt with this here and here).
Books promoting atheism. Here’s list of books to keep in mind when wanting to hear “the other side”:
1) Atheism: A Very Short Introduction- by Julian Baggini. This is a great little introduction to atheism, and is one of the few books on the subject written by an atheist who actually admits atheism is a worldview.
2) Why I am Not a Christian- by Bertrand Russell. This is a classic work in atheistic literature and is made up of short essays, so you don’t have to read the entire thing straight through (for an excellent Christian response to Russell’s main essay see here).
3) Atheism: The Case Against God- by George Smith. Many atheists believe this remains the classic work on the subject. Herbert also fails prey to many of the logical and argumentative errors noted above.
4) The God Delusion- by Richard Dawkins. In this work, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins steps outside of his area of expertise and unto the court of apologetics and philosophy of religion. If one were to remove all of his emotionally charged rhetoric this 374 pg book would probably be reduced to a 100 pg booklet. And when you examine the material left you’ll discover nothing new that hasn’t been responded to before. Of course Dawkins, with Sam Harris, is the most outspoken contemporary atheist, so knowing this material when speaking to atheists is helpful.
I read atheists because they strengthen my conviction that only Christianity provides meaning, and atheism is irrational. I don’t cling to my Christian faith out of blind, irrational faith. I’ve weighted and considered the other side and come to the conclusion that atheism rests upon poor, badly construed arguments. We need not be afraid of atheism’s poor logic.
Exposing oneself to a bit of atheism can indeed be good for the soul.
These are the closing statements made by Kelly of the Rational Response Squad in a recent debate on ABC’s Dateline.
Christian beliefs are irrational and do not harmonize with the type of rigorous thinking that is required in science, so it is said. According to Kelly (at the 40 second mark), Christians can act as valuable contributors in scientific studies (or any other field in which intelligent Christians participate) only because they mentally “compartmentalize.” According to Kelly, Christians who do engage in science do not operate with these religious convictions within the four walls of the laboratory. Christians have a “God-box” where they won’t “let their logic seep into.”
Is this true? Do Christians secretly operate on atheistic grounds when intellectually contributing to the world in general, or doing science in specific?
I think not. In fact, what’s most ironic to me here is that Kelly’s statement is the exact opposite of what is the case.
The naturalistic worldview believes one way about reality (all is matter in motion), yet it adherents function in their everyday lives based on beliefs that contradict their atheistic philosophy. When Kelly argues that Christianity is irrational, how does he account for rules or laws of rational thinking? Are they merely things that people agreed on? If they are, then we’re free to break them. Are these laws of logic universal abstract “things”, objective features of the universe we live in? But in the naturalistic worldview all things are physical. Are the laws of logic physical things that we can touch or taste? And why ought we to obey these “laws”? What ethical obligations do we have to either a social convention or physical matter? If Kelly and her partners cannot account for rules of logic, how then do they even begin to make sense of the notion of debate?
It’s the atheist that “borrows” aspects of their thinking from the Christian worldview. It’s the atheist that “compartmentalizes” in their thinking. Why do I say that? Because the atheistic scientist accepts beliefs about the nature of reality (the uniformity of nature, i.e. that the future will be like the past), knowledge (the validity of the inductive principle), truth and ethics (we ought not to lie in the recording of data) and logic that simply cannot be made sense of in a naturalistic worldview.
- UPDATE: In a disturbing turn of events, it turns out that Kelly now works as a pornographic film actress. Please pray for Kelly. Pray that God would open her eyes to her real value as the image of God. Pray that God would open her eyes to the glory and beauty of Christ. Pray that she would not go through with her plans to market her body for Mammon. And pray that she would be surrounded by mature Christians that can love her well and point her to Christ.
- For more on how my claims here actually play out in an apologetic dialogue see my piece Faith vs Faith at Reformed Perspectives e-magazine.