Saturday, March 31, 2012

Is God Just a Human Invention - Chapter 1 Is Faith Irrational?

So last week I saw a post on apologetics 315 that they are doing a series on the book Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. I thought it sounded like fun and I was going to read along with them. Well, as I was reading it today (actually yesterday, it took me longer than I thought to put this together) I realized I have a whole lot to say. I am not really sure what proper blog etiquette is, but leaving incredibly long posts in their comments is probably not super cool. So I figured I would do a series of posts of my own along side theirs and just pick a few short things to talk about in the comments over there.

Intro Section

New Atheists believe the religion is blind, irrational and stupid. The take home message from "The God Delusion is clear "those who believe in God are fools who have been hoodwinked into believing something absurd. Dawkins thinks religious people are deluded." (emphasis mine)

I don't think this is a fair summary of Dawkins' message. Yes, he does think the believer has been hoodwinked, yes he thinks they believe something absurd, yes he thinks they are deluded, but he does not think they are fools. Many people in the atheism movement used to be believers, does that mean they used to be fools and now they are not? No. They just used to believe something silly which they do not believe anymore. There is a difference between calling an idea stupid and calling the person who believes that idea stupid. 

Why are the new atheists so staunchly opposed to religion? "Why resort to attacking those whose lives are enriched by belief in God?"

This is the same problem, there is a difference between attacking the people and attacking their beliefs. Furthermore, my understanding of Dawkins is that he thinks the average believer is incorrect that their life is truly enriched by belief in God, that is his motivation. Not to attack them, but to help.

The New atheists are clearly not a fan of faith, several examples are given of new atheists saying things to this effect including a long quote by Sam Harris. The section is ended with the following "The New Atheists regularly proclaim the irrationality of religious faith, and yet they offer no evidence to back it up."

This statement seems totally bizarre to me, I feel like the majority of what the new atheists talk about is such evidence. Every time they talk about contradictions in the bible, counter-apologetics, or ridiculous things that come out of the church they are providing such evidence. You might disagree with the evidence, you might think none of it is valid, but to say they don't provide any evidence at all seems to be to be simply dishonest. I would also like to point out that immediately following that statement is an attempted debunking of such evidence, proving my point.

What About Doubting Thomas?

Dawkins claims Thomas is evidence that christianity is about blind faith. He refused to believe Jesus was risen from the dead until he had evidence while the others believed on faith and they were held up as worthy of imitation. However, in the context of this story it isn't just blind faith. Jesus predicted on multiple occasions that he would come back from the dead so Thomas should have been expecting it. Second, Thomas heard eyewitness testimony and still refused to believe, almost all science is based on eyewitness testimony. Third, Jesus did miracles proving who he is which Thomas witnessed.

Interesting argument, it is important to put things in context and I am glad we are doing that here. I don't completely agree with the analysis in the book however, let's take them point by point. 
1. The fact that Jesus predicted he would come back from the dead. If a good friend of mine says he will come back from the dead, and after he dies another friend says he did when I wasn't around, I am no more inclined to believe it than if I was never told in the first place.
2. In a sense, science is based on trusting experts, but that is a bit of an oversimplification. Given any experiment, you can always doubt it and try to replicate it yourself. You are supposed to question it. To say he heard eyewitness testimony and then citing it is like science as a reason he shouldn't have questioned doesn't seem right to me.
3. This last one is a little more interesting and the only one that holds any weight at all for me. The fact that Jesus performed miracles in front of Thomas does show that he has some amazing powers and it did give him reason to believe. However, apparently Thomas thought that healing people and feeding 5000 people was much different from coming back from the dead. He wasn't ready to believe that one necessarily proved the other. I still think Dawkins' interpretation of this is valid.

Biblical Faith

Some Christians have blind faith, but that does not necessarily mean that Christianity values blind faith. Faith in supposed to be belief in light on the evidence, not in spite of it. Several examples are given from the bible where evidence is given that would be a reason to believe, such as miracles by Jesus. And several examples are given of Christian thinkers through the years who say things to the effect of "we shouldn't have blind faith"

I really like the message in this section. I like the idea that Christians don't have blind faith but something more like 'faith with reason'. My experience growing up around Christians is that people do simply have blind faith, but I have learned over the years that I can't necessarily extrapolate that to all Christians. I was disappointed however that all examples given for reasons to believe were from the Bible. What would the author say to someone like myself who does not believe in the bible a priori.

Everyone Has Faith

It is not just religious people who have faith, everyone has faith in things. You have faith that the pilot in your plane is properly trained and won't crash the plane, you have faith that other drivers won't swerve into your lane, etc.

This is true, but it is really a different use of the word faith. I have faith that the pilot is trained and will do a good job flying my plane, but I also know there is a chance we could crash. Based on previous data the chance is low but I'm not sure. I have faith that someone won't swerve into my lane because it generally works that way, but there are accidents all the time so I know I might be wrong. This is fundamentally different from when people say "I KNOW there is a God".

The new atheists have faith, some say more faith than christians. Here are a few examples

I really have to take the author to task here, a few of these statements are complete misrepresentations of the new atheists positions. Let me focus on 2 of them

The have faith that the universe came into existence from nothing

Given the evidence, we know what the universe was like an extremely small amount of time after the big bang. We do not know what it was like before that and I have never seen a new atheist say they do. As far as I know none of them are astrophysicists and I always see them defer to the scientists. Nobody says they know it came from nothing, they say they don't know (or maybe we don't know if the sentence even makes sense because of the way space and time are connected).

They have faith that multiple universes exist

This is a cool idea that people like to throw around as a possibility. I don't think anyone would claim they think it is true with any kind of certainty.

The Evidence for God

The following arguments are given: The cosmological argument, design from physics, design from DNA, the moral argument.

All of these have been addressed by atheists countless times. I've even done one version of the cosmological argument.

Imparting ourselves

Whether you are Christian or Atheist, have you ever gotten to know a thinking person from the other side and learned how and why they think what they do?

I have, and I hope to have more discussions like that with Christians in the future. I think it is interesting to see why people think what they do. It is one of the reasons I started this blog.


  1. I always believe that its a really good idea to read the other arguments from the source itself. I think one of the things that surprised me the most when I began to read some atheist books, was that the arguments were not at all as they were presented by my teachers and other Catholics when I was told about atheism as a teenager. It was a lot of straw man. I don't think this was really deliberate, but rather them just repeating the arguments that they had heard from other people. If the arguments were really still presented the way I was told, it would be much easier to dismiss them. I try to keep this in mind when things come up that go against what I know or have learned, like intelligent design for example. I went to websites that were arguing for that particular stance and tried to read it with an open mind. I know topics like that can get distorted when people repeat what other people heard other people repeat etc etc. It's kind of like that game of telephone as a kid where the first person starts with a message and each kid repeats what they heard and then you get a different message. It also tends to happen when someone has an agenda on an argument. They might omit facts or distort other facts or data. I think its pretty awesome that you are going and talking to people who disagree with you. When it comes down to it, that's the only real way to pursue the truth.

    You brought up a good point about science. Science never claims to “know” anything. It really bothers me when people say strange things like atheists worship science. It's more of a method of trial and error, looking for the truth. When someone does a study or does an experiment they submit it to a peer reviewed journal where other scientists can examine what they did, how they did it and the results they got. They have all the information they need to perform the experiment themselves. I've heard that math and science are tough fields to go into if you want to publish stuff. You have you develop a tough skin as people will pick apart your methods and results. The reason for this is that the truth is what's important, not what makes someone feel good. I think they are really admirable fields.

    There is trust and faith and I think they are two different things. I like your example of the airplane. One can surmise that the pilot went to a good pilot school and had to log in hundreds of hours in training and flying just to get his license. He in all likeliness has probably flown numerous times and has a lot of experience. As you pointed out, also looking at flying statistics, its more likely you will get into a car crash than a plane crash. That's not to say that something can not go wrong, and I don't think anyone would say that. There is also the old analogy about “you must have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow.” Well, knowing what we do that we've learned about from science and physics, its not likely it won't. I would never say that we know that it will come up tomorrow, but billions of years of daily sunrises and knowing a bit about the sun and how it's probably halfway through its life (based on other stars' lives), it will probably happen. In both cases, based on evidence and experience we can draw likely conclusions.

    The last thing I want to bring up is your point of evidence. I'm glad you brought that up. It's interesting when you hear someone say “it takes evidence to be an atheist.” I don't think atheism actually makes any positive claims of anything. It just means you don't believe there is evidence for a God or Gods. When you make a positive claim, you need to present arguments and evidence for your claim. It's not really the burden of someone to try to disprove you.

  2. Thanks. I agree that it is important to read the other side directly but I recently realized I haven't done that very much. When I was a kid and a Christian I only ever heard the opinions of people who agree with me. I thought about it a lot and became an atheist on my own and didn't really think about it much for years. Then as an atheist I mostly just read atheist opinions. Since I started this blog I've been trying really hard to interact with people who disagree with me and I think it has been good for me. There is really no better way to find out where your ideas are weak than talking with people who fundamentally disagree with you. I also really like the idea that we are understand each other better. I think when this happens it is really good for both sides.

  3. I was thinking about how Dawkins calls people's ideas foolish. I think that there is a difference between saying someone is a dumb person vs dumb about a particular idea. He's cleared this up on so many occasions. If I was to talk to a physicist about quantum mechanics, clearly, on that topic I'd be probably considered dumb since I really don't know a whole lot about it. But, for argument's sake, lets set this straw man aside and pretend that he is attacking Christians (and every other religious group) for being fools. Let's for arguments sake say that this makes him a dick, making an ad hominem argument against someone. Fine.. but the sword cuts both ways. In fact, I hear this quoted quite a bit, (the first part anyway). I'd say Christians go a few steps further. Emphasis added by me.

    Prom Psalm 14:1-3: "1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,there is none who does good. 2 The LORDlooks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one."

    It's really a double standard. I really do think that this is something that should be pointed out. If someone says this is an acceptable argument, they need to realize that it goes both ways.

  4. Wow, that is pretty powerful. To say anyone who doesn't believe God is a fool puts them on par with what they are claiming dawkins is a dick for saying. But then it goes a step further and says that not a single person who doesn't believe in God does good. That is a pretty strong statement.


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