I often trip up over some rather strange claims being promoted by people who are in reality both decent, reasonable, and intelligent. This week’s example comes from a piece written by Jerry Fogltance, a retired Air Force chaplain and lieutenant colonel. Within his column he writes …
Atheists take pride in claiming that what they believe is based on scientific evidence while religious dogma is based on myth.
I’m not convinced that “take pride in” is correct, nor is “believe” really appropriate. Most, regardless of their belief or non-belief, will generally accept the prevailing scientific consensus and so a specific belief or lack of one does not generally become a deal breaker for that.
But the atheist’s position that “I don’t believe in God because science has not proven that God exists” is not a default position. The position that “I believe in God because science has not proven that God does not exist” is just as valid.
… well no not really. If you have a claim that has no evidence, then the default is the null hypothesis. There is no requirement to disprove something that has never been proven … ever, these are not binary positions
The question then becomes: Which position carries the greatest risk if in the end proves wrong? Obviously, the atheist takes the greatest risk for the very God he has denied may hold him accountable.
… and this is Pascals Wager, a rather common bit of religious apologetics that has a few very fundamental flaws, namely …
- Belief in things that you know are not true is not really a choice. Try this – see if you can truly believe that you are really a magical pink unicorn and not actually human at all.
- Pascal’s Wager also assumes it is a binary choice, either you believe in god or you don’t … except of course that there lots of distinctly different gods to select from, so if you opt to believe simply because you think you might be better off doing so, then which specific god will you believe in? In other words, given the vast diversity of religious beliefs, there is a very very high probability that you will end up picking the wrong god, and so your supposedly less risky path and equally risky, would it not be far better to strive to believe as many true things as possible?
- If the foundation for your belief is rooted in fear, then you are simply not being rational.
He goes on to claim …
atheism is also embraced as a crutch by those unable to live up to their own moral standards and afraid of being accountable to God.
… except this is not actually true at all, and so once again we find a belief that fear plays a part. People generally reach the position of no belief after a great deal of thought over a long period of time, and they reach that conclusion, not because of fear, but because that is the most reasonable rational position they can find. You can turn this coin over and perhaps observe that people are religious because they can’t live up to their own moral standards and so they turn to god as a quick easy “get-forgiveness-for-free” card, but that would be equally untrue as well, because that is not why people believe. We could also perhaps make the observation that the religious generally tend not to be associated with holding the high moral ground, but there are of course plenty of decent honourable people who are religious. Morality in general, as manifested within most human lives, is not a religious attribute, but rather a social attribute that is quite independent of any specific religious belief or lack of it. When religion gets into the mix then you tend to find that morality goes right off the rails (LGBT rights for example).
Furthermore, rejecting belief in God because one cannot explain who created God begs the question. Christians believe God is transcendent; that is, he exists outside the system of the universe, beyond the reach of microscopes and telescopes. That’s not to say that real knowledge about God cannot be known. The complex forms of the universe reveal that he is personal (an intelligent designer) and the immense size of the universe that he is all powerful. But because God is infinite and we are finite, we may never know some of the deepest mysteries of his nature.
Either there is a god that manifests in our reality (which is basically the claim), and if so then that is measurable and detectable, or there is not. If indeed god does not manifest in our reality in any measurable or detectable way, then that is in no way different than a fantasy. As for the “intelligent designer” claim, there is exactly zero evidence that verifies that. This religious hand-waving is perhaps summed up as “here is stuff I don’t know anything about, therefore god did it by magic” … and that is basically the exact same Palaeolithic thinking that enabled our ancestors to conclude that the sun and the moon were gods.
None can explain by natural evolution where the personal qualities of humans came from – like love, creativity, the ability to communicate thought verbally, musical expression, moral motions and free will.
This is not really true at all, we do now have a good understanding about rather a lot of that, and how we have been naturally selected to manifest such attributes, these are not mysteries.
The worst consequence of Nicholl’s atheism is that it leaves humans without meaning.
Well no (have you spotted the pattern here yet?) …
We all find meaning in a vast diversity of quite different ways in what we do and from those around us, no religious belief is required for any of that.
And of course what comes next is the old Hitler / Stalin card …
Professor Nicholl is quick to blame religious people for killing others while ignoring the fact that atheists like Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot are responsible for history’s greatest atrocities. These committed atheists get credit for killing millions of innocent people. The atheist idea that death ends it all implies that they will never be brought to justice for their evil, an idea that is morally reprehensible.
Stalin, Hitler etc … were not inspired to do what they did because they did not believe in a god, but rather were motivated by fanatical irrational political beliefs. When humans come to the realisation that we only have one life makes us far more responsible, far less willing to slaughter. It is often those who think life is a dress rehearsal that are sometimes more inclined to diminish the value of life.
A better basis of ethics is to acknowledge that universal moral laws, some of which Nicholl references, have been written on the heart of every human being by the creator. When, however, humans deny God’s existence, their accountability to him, and suppress the inner witness of his laws, evil then has no constraints.
If this assertion was factual then the lest religious societies should be the most lawless, but the facts reveal the complete opposite. It is the most religious cultures that are the most violent and lawless. I should perhaps also point out that despite the claim that “universal” moral laws “have been written on the heart of every human being by the creator”, and yet strangely enough, no specific religious faction appears to be able to provide any evidence that this is actually true, or even agree with any other religious faction what those supposedly “universal” laws actually are.
He is 100% sure
We all perhaps are quite sure that the specific views we embrace are the right ones, and will hold within ourselves a justification for why it is the best “truth”.
Clearly, only a little bit of scrutiny reveals that the philosophy embraced by Mr Fogltance does not withstand any critical analysis at all and soon rapidly falls apart. To retain his emotional investment in his belief he would in turn offer rebuttals, which in turn would, if reviewed, fall apart as well, and it would eventually all boil down to, “Well I just know”. You would of course ask, “How do you know”, and he would reply, “I just do”, and so would have in effect retreated into something completely untestable and unverifiable, which is how such conversations usually pan out.
In all probability, Mr Fogltance is a decent honourable human being who is simply striving to do what he believes is right and so when he writes a column in which he claims that people who do not believe exactly what he believes are evil immoral people on par with Stalin and Hitler, then he is himself a victim of his belief, not a champion. Should I be content to let him believe whatever he wishes? Sadly no, such rhetoric should not go unchallenged without being debunked, because it demands a response, one that demonstrates that his assertion that he is all about peace and love in Jesus is anything but that if at the same time he insists on demonising other decent honourable people. Bad ideas should be challenged with the things that they simply cannot withstand – facts and better ideas.