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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label atheists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheists. Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't Be Afraid of Questions about Evil



One of the most difficult objections a Christian faces is what to do with the problem of evil. They claim the Christian God doesn't make sense given all the evil we see in the world today. Some non-believers play the objection like a trump card, thinking this proves the irrationality of believing in a divine being.

I would encourage the Christian to not shy away from the question of evil in the world, but embrace it. That's because the problem of evil is a problem not simply for the Christian, but for everybody.

There are a lot of things on which people of different political and social viewpoints disagree, but I think everyone can be in agreement that the world isn't as it should be. When atheists complain that all the evil in the world shows there is no God, they are admitting there is a right and wrong, and there's too much wrong in the world. Social justice warriors on college campuses try to silence what they deem as evil speech while those on the other side see the act of censorship itself as evil. ISIS, people suffering in the inner cities, regimes ruled by tyrants, kids starving in underdeveloped countries are all serious issues in need of thoughtful solutions.

Because the problem of evil is a serious one, no one is off the hook. Every worldview needs to be able to at least begin to answer the question "what can be done about it?" How does the objector's worldview correct the problem? All seem to agree that the world is out of sorts and things aren't the way they should be. But what can be done to make evil less than it is now? How do different worldviews solve the problem of evil?

Three Choices for a Broken World

When a man on an expedition finds he has damaged his only transport vehicle to the point where it isn't running reliably, he is faced with choosing one of three options. He may try to fix it himself. This is certainly the quickest way to solve the problem, but it isn't as easy as it sounds. Repairing a vehicle is complicated. It requires the proper diagnostics, the proper tools, the right replacement parts, and the proper knowledge. For example, modern vehicles equipped with computers and sensors cannot be fixed without high-tech tools. And the risk of assuming one is more capable than the person's skill warrants could lead to making things worse.

A second option is the man may ignore the issues and continue to drive the vehicle. He may place a piece of tape over that warning light and hope all the stalls and grinding won't get too bad until he arrives at his destination. But when survival is at stake, this is certainly not a prudent idea. There's a high risk the vehicle will fail completely, leaving him stranded and in danger for his life. Or perhaps the brakes fail or the accelerator sticks and the vehicle could then cause his death.

The third option for the man would be to return to the company from which he obtained the vehicle and ask those responsible for it to correct the defects or replace it. Once his vehicle is running as it should, he may proceed to explore the wonders of the unknown without concern for his travel. These strike me as the only options available and the man must choose at least one of them.

What's the Solution?

The options we face with the problem of evil are much like those the explorer faces. Some believe we can fix it all on our own. However, not everyone is agreed even on what constitutes evil. Hot button issues such as abortion, immigration, dictatorial regimes, persecution of people of faith, or persecution of LGBT people are just a few of the many, many, difficult and contrasting viewpoints we face today. How do we fix that?

Further, what are the proper diagnostics to use? Everyone may say certain issues are obvious. Going back to our analogy, a fuel leak would certainly be a problem in need of repair. However if the vehicle you're diagnosing is an SR-71 plane, the plane is designed to leak fuel while on the ground. In the air the tanks expand and seal. If you "fix" the fuel leak on the ground, they will burst in operation.

The second choice is to try and ignore the issue. One may hold this world as ultimately meaningless. In the final reality, one must not love too much or hate too much. All desires equally lead one astray. One must simply retreat within oneself in order to find Nirvana and become like a candle that has been blown out.

Interestingly, there is a contingent within modern atheism that has chosen this second option in a different way. Given that we are all simply electro-chemical matter that happened to evolve over time by chance, good and evil don't really make sense. Nature is red in tooth and claw and that is simply the way it is. Black widows devour their mates, male chimps cannibalize male infants, and cone cannot assign a moral value to those acts. As animals, we are simply acting upon our urges, too.

The third choice is to try and seek out the one who made the world in the first place.

Certainly, there are people who don't fall neatly into one camp. They try to balance two or three of the options based on the situation at hand. But Christianity holds the high ground here. The Christian worldview holds that we cannot fix it ourselves, nor should we ignore evil. Christianity teaches that God must come down and fix the problem himself. And since it is God is the one who grounds all good, he can be relied upon to properly diagnose and fix the problem. This makes perfect sense.

We've not yet come to the end of all evil. That will happen. But of all the different worldviews available, Christianity offers a rational solution to a pressing need. But remember the next time you may be asked "What about all the evil in the world," the problem of evil is as much of a problem for the atheist as it is for anyone else.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Atheists, Evidence, and Unreasonable Demands



Yesterday, I tweeted a link to my article "Is There Such a Thing as Rational Faith?" The point of that article was that faith and reason are not contradictory. One reply to that was a tweet by The_Apistevist, who identifies himself as an atheist on Twitter. He asked: "how can belief without evidence be considered rational?" Now, I had never claimed Christianity had no evidence, nor did I argue that one should never seek evidence in matters of faith.  Belief without evidence was his assumption.

Because I've engaged in these kinds of conversations before, I didn't want to retread the evidence for Christianity.  It's well-documented on both the ComeReason.org web site as well as this blog. Most of the time, atheists will simply reject the evidence I offer, stating it doesn't count for some arbitrary reason or another. For example, testimony is evidence, but such is usually dismissed out of hand because the content of that testimony is "religious."

So, I decided to take another route. Is it true that no one should believe anything without evidence other than a person's word? Could such a standard work in the real world? Below is the full conversation with The_Apistevist . You can see how his own criteria quickly devolve into an unworkable position.
Of course, at this point, The_Apistevist is caught in an intractable position. I am both demanding evidence AND I'm the one who rules whether or not whatever he offers me counts as evidence. This is exactly the game many Internet atheists play regarding the existence of God. He has no way of satisfying my criteria, so according to his own rules I am justified in stopping the conversation because I cannot believe him when he tells me he is honest.

How would the world worked if everyone took up this position? How could you drive if you couldn't trust other drivers to obey the traffic laws without first demanding evidence? How would commerce work?

I don't believe his claim that he demands evidence for every statement another makes. He simply couldn't function this way. However, he would rather be relegated to an unreasonable position than admit he holds beliefs where he has no evidence other than the word of the person to whom he's speaking. That truly is unreasonable.

Image courtesy Flickr.com/paurlan and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) license.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Illogic of Atheist Christmas Billboards

It's that time of year again; Christmas is coming. You will see all kinds of people decorating their homes, shopping for presents, and attending company parties as they do every year. Another yearly event now seems to be the anti-theist billboards put up by groups like the American Atheists. Fox 21 reported on the billboards appearing on Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs. They carry the message "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness sake. Happy holidays!"1 Here's an example:



What should Christians make of these billboards? Is it an attack on Christianity? It clearly holds a message contrary to Christian teaching, but the American Atheists claim they aren't trying to undermine Christmas. According to the channel, American Atheists spokesman Randy Gotovich said "We're trying to be inclusive of everyone in Christmas and saying that anyone can celebrate it. It shouldn't be viewed strictly as a Christian holiday."2

What?

Perhaps Gotovich missed the common referent in the words Christ mas and Christian—the word Christ. While people who are not devout or even Christians may celebrate Christmas, the concept of Christmas falls apart without Christ. The holiday makes no sense. The refrain of "Peace on earth, good will toward men" is a call for every human being to replicate the selflessness and mercy that God showed by sending his son to save sinners. That's why taking the entire quote of Luke 2:14 is important: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (ESV). Only in the Christian worldview does this kind of selflessness make sense. It certainly doesn't work in a world based on survival of the fittest.

Gotovich's statement unwittingly displays something. Atheists ideals cannot exist on their own. Imagine if the American Atheists were more honest and sought to abolish Christmas entirely. Why not say, "We don't need this holiday infused at every turn with religious implications and mythicism. We have Darwin Day. Let's celebrate that instead." How many followers do you think they would attract?

The Confused Message of "Be Good for Goodness' Sake"

Instead of promoting atheism by its own virtues, the American Atheists want to keep Christmas, but corrupt it. AA President David Silverman tried to redefine the holiday on their website by saying "The things that are most important during the holiday season—spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry—have nothing to do with religion."3 Again, what? Where did he get that from?

First off, ideas like spending time with loved ones should not be seasonal. Charity and altruism are good things. But atheists don't think so if the altruism carries religious implications. In instances such as those, they'd rather shut down food pantries than allow a church the freedom to help the needy.

But the biggest problem with the billboard is whose idea of "being good" is being adopted here? What standard or scale are the atheists using to weigh whether an action is in itself good or bad? They obviously believe that skipping church is a good thing and going to church is a bad thing. But what if they're wrong on that point? Then how can they "be good for goodness' sake" when telling someone to skip church, which is bad?

When the atheists borrowed that line from the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," they misrepresented it. The line is using "for goodness' sake" as an emphatic device, just as you might hear a mother say while scolding her son, "Why do you have to take your brother's toys? For goodness' sake, you have plenty of your own to play with!" By changing the meaning to try and make it say that goodness has its own ontology, that is that goodness exists outside of anything else, they beg the question.

One cannot be good for goodness' sake without knowing first what defines goodness. And therein lies the problem. Atheism has no grounding for goodness. There is nothing to give their pronouncements about what is good or bad any value at all. Everything becomes subjective, like Silverman's claim that "being merry" is an important holiday value. Being merry is nice, I guess, but it isn't a virtue. All it takes to be merry is an open bar at the company Christmas party.

Without the transcendent source of God to anchor goodness, there is no way anyone can be good for the sake of goodness alone. Where does one start? By seeking to leverage the inherently religious principles of Christmas (in which God establishes the foundation of sacrificial love) to try and undermine the practice of religion, the American Atheists have set up a contradiction.

Let them present their own worldview. Let them hold their own holidays. For goodness' sake, why do they keep trying to take the Christian ones? That's simply naughty.

References

1. Fisher, Kody. "Controversial Billboards along I-25." FOX21Newscom. KXRM-TV, 07 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. http://fox21news.com/2015/12/07/controversial-billboards-along-i-25/.
2. Fisher, 2015.
3. "Santa Says ‘Just Skip Church' in Atheists' Holiday Billboards." American Atheists. American Atheists, 7 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. http://news.atheists.org/2015/12/07/santa-says-just-skip-church-in-atheists-holiday-billboards/.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Discovering God the Way Sherlock Holmes Would



I recently received a comment on my post on how the origin of life creates a significant problem for the naturalist. I was charged with making a "God of the gaps" argument. While a reading of the actual article displays no such breech in logic, it did begin an exchange with my critic that proves all too familiar: any logical argument that ends by inferring a supernatural actor as the best explanation of the facts at hand is easily dismissed as "God of the gaps" while any assumption that "science will one day figure it out" is supposedly rational.

This is an old canard that I've dealt with before (here and here), but I tried to take a different tact in this engagement. I wanted to place the burden on my objector, so I asked "Can you tell me the distinction between a valid inference for God and what you would classify as a God of the Gaps argument?" His reply is telling:
I'm not sure there is one. Abduction seems to be little more than a guess until a better explanation comes along. Science may well provide an answer to the origin of life in the future. (Which is something we may conclude through induction, a much stronger epistemology than abduction.)
There's so much wrong with this statement that it's hard to know where to being. First, let's unpack some terms. There are two ways we can draw conclusions based on reasoning, known as deductive reasoning and inferential reasoning. In deductive reasoning, the conclusion is inescapable from the facts presented. The oft-used example is given the facts that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, one is forced to conclude that Socrates is mortal.

Understanding Inferences

While Sherlock Holmes is well known for what's Doyle's books called "the science of deuction," he actually didn't deduce things. He used inferential reasoning. An inferential argument takes what is generally understood to be the case and applies it to the greater whole. For example, people have observed that like electrical charges repel each other and opposite charges attract. Thus, when English physicist Joseph John Thomson saw that cathode rays would bend certain ways based on whether a positive or negative magnet was placed near it, he inferred that the cathode ray was made up of negatively charged particles. The electron was discovered.1

The argument that Thompson used is known as abduction, which simply means reasoning to the best explanation. We take the facts that we know and try to get at the truth. Usually, that means applying a rule we already understand, such as the laws of magnetism, and seeing if it does a good job of explaining the specific circumstance we see. Your doctor does this all the time, such as when he prescribes penicillin for your bacterial infection. Prescribing penicillin isn't "little more than a guess" but is based on what is most likely, though not necessarily the case.

Abductive Arguments Drive Science

Because deductive arguments are few and far between in the real world, most of science is built on inference to the best explanation. Ironically, my critic got induction and abduction kind of backwards; induction in this sense is actually the weaker of the two. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clarifies the difference:
You may have observed many gray elephants and no non-gray ones, and infer from this that all elephants are gray, because that would provide the best explanation for why you have observed so many gray elephants and no non-gray ones. This would be an instance of an abductive inference. It suggests that the best way to distinguish between induction and abduction is this: both are ampliative, meaning that the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises (which is why they are non-necessary inferences), but in abduction there is an implicit or explicit appeal to explanatory considerations, whereas in induction there is not; in induction, there is only an appeal to observed frequencies or statistics. 2

Closed to the Best Explanations

I explain all this to make sure you understand that the arguments like the one inferring God from the origin of life are not merely guesses or "God of the gaps" claims. They are just like those abduction arguments that are the cornerstone of scientific and medical research. Human beings have observed life throughout our history. Never once in all of that time observing life have we ever seen life come from non-life. In fact, Louis Pasteur's science shows life doesn't spontaneously arise from non-living material. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that all life comes from other living beings and therefore the first life came from a living being. That's abduction.

Notice that when asked for a distinction as to what would make a valid inference for God's existence, my critic replied "I'm not sure there is one." That answer is as telling as the rest of the conversation. He has rejected any argument that leads to the conclusion that God exists at the outset. That's his prerogative, but doing so is anti-logic, anti-science, and inconsistent.

References

1. Douven, Igor. "Abduction." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Aug. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/#UbiAbd.
2. Douven, 2011.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Must You Be an Expert to Criticize Evolution?



Who's allowed to comment on a topic like evolution? Are only those who are professionals in the field capable of drawing conclusions given the neo-Darwinian framework that drives modern evolutionary theory? That was basically the question poised to me after I received some feedback via Twitter on my article "Is the Origin of Life Part of the Evolution Discussion?" The article makes the case that the problem of how life begins cannot be separated from the evolution question and those who offer Blind Watchmaker-type solutions need to account for this issue in their theories.

Instead of responding to the arguments raised in that piece and its companion, I received several tweets by atheists who criticized the article on wholly unrelated grounds. One was from godFreeWorld who tweeted:
This kind of reply staggers me. It reminds me of people like pro-abortion Wendy Davis saying men cannot comment on abortion because they can't get pregnant and it's equally as much nonsense. I answered his tweet with one of my own stating that not being a biologist is completely irrelevant and it's an inherently biased position to dismiss God as an explanation a priori. He responded by stating:

Is Experience Always Necessary?

So, godFreeWord claims that I must be a biologist to comment on evolution. Does this make sense? Of course not, and for several reasons. First, there are many very good biologists who dismiss the Blind Watchmaker hypothesis as untenable. Michael Behe and Fazale Rana are just two of those, but it's obvious that this person rejects these biologists' conclusions. More importantly, though, to hold a criterion of expertise as the bar one must meet before commenting on any facet of an issue is ridiculous.

Even if his claim is that one must be an expert in a particular scientific field to comment on that field is demonstrably false. Unless the question at hand is one of a technical nature, well-informed people who are rational can draw rational conclusions without being experts. For example, I don't have to be an expert in biology to know that in the entire history of human existence we don't have a single observable instance of life coming from non-life. Thus the claim that such has happened before demands some kind of evidence. I don't have to be a biologist to know that consciousness has never been observed to spontaneously appear from non-conscious material. Because I know these events have no observable evidence behind them, it is well within my purview as a rational being to ask for a model of just how these things came to be. Without them, one leaves a gaping hole—a science of the gaps if you will—in one's theory.

The Demand for Expertise is Illogical

But there's a bigger problem with his objection. The demand for expertise as a criteria for commenting on evolution undercuts its own standards. On his Twitter profile, godFreeWorld claims to be a professor of biology. I will take him at his word. Perhaps that's why he feels that he can demand anyone speaking about evolution be so credentialed. Given that, I simply asked him:

You see, when godFreeWorld to objects to my argument, he is criticizing my philosophy on the subject. But according to his own standards, only experts are allowed to do that. As a biologist, he would be attacking a field he "has no experience in" to use his own words. The critique is self-defeating.Therefore, it cannot be taken seriously and be ignored.

Image courtesy Martin Pilote and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.

Monday, August 03, 2015

God, Atheists, and the Problem of Suffering Children



I've noticed that for some people commenting on social media is a lot like driving in a car alone. Certain drivers do things like pick their nose they would never do in polite company. It isn't that they don't know their vehicle's windows allow others to see inside as much as they can see outside. They simply feel protected and they haven't given their actions a second thought.

Similarly, people will say things online that are not thought out seeking to prove a point. One such statement was a conversation I witnessed on Twitter yesterday where a couple of atheists were making claims about how God couldn't exist. Their arguments were pretty pedestrian to begin with, but then they devolved to this:
So, let's take stock of what just happened here. All parties seem to know that children in areas across the globe are suffering. (The tweets seem to conflate children starving with suffering from certain medical maladies, two separate questions.) Given that they are accusing God of being silent, they seem to believe this situation is wrong and it needs to be rectified.

The question of why does God allow suffering is one with a long history. I've written about why God doesn't suppress all evil, Explained why evil must exist if we are to be loving creatures, and gone into longer answers on the problem of evil here and here. Of course when these atheists point out children suffering as wrong, they are themselves appealing to that which points to God's existence. But that isn't what bothered me.

Why Not Applaud the People Reducing Suffering?

What bothered me was the callous way these suffering people were being pointed to and how those pointing seemed to feel that it is God's fault and responsibility to do something about it. I don't think these commenters are really that concerned with the plight of those suffering. In the conversation they distance themselves from what's really going on, using and confusing the starvation of real human beings as a chip in their self-congratulatory position that God does not exist.

For example, when a Christian countered that Christians are actually on the ground feeding thousands starving in the poorest parts of the world, he received these responses:

Really? Instead of applauding that someone is trying to do the right thing, they turn and criticize God for not doing more? Of course wanting God to come in like some cosmic genie and clean up the mess that human beings have made in allowing their fellow man to suffer is a pretty easy out; it requires no work on the part of these Twitter commenters. Such a response is too slick.

What if the Lord is calling people to help but they're refusing to acknowledge him? He isn't going to force people to do what's right. Even much of the "natural" suffering we see isn't natural at all, but merely the ultimate outcome of immoral people doing immoral things, and it's the evil in men's hearts that allows such suffering to continue.

I really don't know if either Sandra or "ArtDeco" have contributed to alleviating the suffering of these children they so easily parade as proof of God's non-existence. But I do know that it's demonstrable that those who are religiously active don't just pray. They do more, give more, and work more at alleviating suffering than any other group. Arthur C. Brooks writes:
Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent) and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent). And, consistent with the findings of other writers, these data show that practicing a religion is more important than the actual religion itself in predicting charitable behavior. For example, among those who attend worship services regularly, 92 percent of Protestants give charitably, compared with 91 percent of Catholics, 91 percent of Jews, and 89 percent from other religions.1
Brooks even sought to eliminate religious-compulsory motivations like giving due to social pressure or giving to the church in order to "have rewards in heaven." He looked at giving to nonreligious charities such as schools or civic groups and still found "religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent)."2

It isn't the theists that are the problem in the plight of suffering children; it's the secularists. Thus, an argument could be made that by trying to convince others there is no God, one is actually increasing the inaction of support for alleviating the suffering of children in the world. As to the charge that a God should do something about it, Brooks' article leads with an apropos quote by the American Puritan John Winthrop:
...When there is no other means whereby our Christian brother may be relieved in his distress, we must help him beyond our ability rather than tempt God in putting him upon help by miraculous or extraordinary meanes. (Emphasis added.)
That's the best response to the problem of suffering. Let's each one of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work reducing it rather than acknowledging it then chastising God for not doing his part.

References

1. Brooks, Arthur C. "Religious Faith and Charitable Giving." Hoover Institution. Leland Stanford Junior University, 1 Oct. 2003. Web. 03 Aug. 2015. http://www.hoover.org/research/religious-faith-and-charitable-giving.
2. Brooks, 2003.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should an Atheist Sit on a Jury?



Should an atheist suit on a jury? The question seems bigoted; why should anyone want to exclude atheists simply because of their denial of the belief in God? I wouldn't disqualify someone simply because he or she identified as an atheist. Atheists as much as anyone else should be able to do the things jurors are called upon to do: weigh testimony, weigh evidence, and deliberate with other jurors to seek a just and impartial decision for the case at hand.

In order to do those things a juror must be have some kind of criteria for what counts as evidence and what doesn't. But upon what standards do they rely in order to accomplish this? What is the juror's understanding of evidence and is it important? Of course it is, which is why our legal system has a practice of voir dire in selecting the jury. Voir dire is a French term for the preliminary portion of the trial when potential jurors are called to the courtroom and the attorneys for both sides ask them questions to see whether they may be biased or somehow otherwise disqualified from serving on that particular case. If a potential juror would say something like "I won't accept a verdict of guilty through eyewitness testimony; I must have physical evidence or see the crime committed myself!" you can expect that person to be eliminated from the jury.

A Strained Epistemology

I bring this up because I recently had a conversation with an atheist that led me to question his understanding of what is reasonable evidence for belief in anything. He claimed that while he was an atheist, "I can think of lots of things that would make me believe - nothing too difficult would be needed." When asked for an example, he replied that saying "hello" would do and a chat with him and his wife would be better. I then asked if God appearing only to his wife and having her relay the appearance to him would be sufficient. "No I don't think that would do. I'd want more than second-hand evidence." I pressed and asked what if his wife's claim was corroborated by multiple others. He replied, "I can't really tell, but I doubt if the claims of the other people would really make any difference. Lots of people think they know when someone is lying. But they can't. It's why evidence is essential." He defined his term , too. "I meant corroborating evidence. E.g. photos, DNA, records."

This is where I would ask the gentleman to be excused from the jury. There is nothing appropriate about holding to criteria where knowledge on big questions can only be gained from direct, first-hand experience. The criterion isn't even consistent within itself. First, how do you know the evidence wasn't faked? Must one follow the chain of custody personally to prove it was gathered, stored, and analyzed without tampering or is he going to accept the testimony of the witness presenting the evidence that this is so? Even if one grants the evidence is factual, how do we know that it actually points towards the defendant? Is my atheist friend an expert in DNA and genetics or is he taking the word of someone else? Why does he know that DNA analysis cannot provide a false positive? How does he even know which genetic markers were tested and how unique they are? All of this is trusting in the testimony of another person!

A Faulty Deliberation

Another issue arises once the trial is concluded and the jury is sent to deliberate the case. Now, you have to listen to the opinions and thoughts of eleven other jurors who are also weighing the evidence and the testimony. Will he discount their views on what makes up convincing evidence if they believe in God? Is that appropriate to do? The skeptical stance of rejecting testimony because "people can lie" is unreasonable. Worse is characterizing those who believe in God as "believ[ing]in magic," and dismissing their testimony or opinion in the jury room. This is in no way a reasonable foundation upon which to weigh truth claims.

 Now I want to be fair and note that he did later qualify his answer. He said, ""[It] depends on the claim being made. If someone says they had toast for breakfast I believe them." That's fine. By what criteria does one judge where testimony is no longer sufficient? Unfortunately, we had to end our conversations before I could ask that question. But the problem doesn't go away. My guess, given the "belief in magic" comment, is only discussions about the supernatural rise to that level of incredulity. But such a distinction is arbitrary; there's no reason to exclude the supernatural from being evidenced by testimony. It simply shows bias on the part of the atheist, and as a biased party he cannot be relied upon to provide an unbiased verdict on the question of God. The juror is excused.

Photo courtesy CALI - Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Misunderstanding God's Complexity



This summer, Disney/Pixar released the movie Inside Out. It's a great animated portrayal of the inner workings of 12 year old Riley's mind. In the film, the mind is an ever-expanding land of complexity, where emotions are personified, one's train of thought is an actual train, and memories are discrete balls stored in rows upon rows of shelves, catalogued and available for retrieval and playback.

The movie was a lot of fun to watch but it shouldn't be taken too literally. Most people understand that they don't have real little people in their heads causing feelings of joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. While Riley is capable of displaying each of these emotions, they are not discrete entities, but aspects of a single mind.

The film falters in not showing how the person Riley chooses to interpret and govern her emotional inputs. A person acting on pure emotion would be unintelligible; they would be nothing more than an animal. There's something governing her understanding of herself and her feelings. Rationality, reason, and self-understanding are also parts of Riley the film doesn't show. Emotions cannot be responsible for virtue. It is the person of Riley who is responsible for these things. Emotions are not building blocks of the mind. They emanate from the mind, they don't comprise it.

I bring this up because I want to highlight a mistake in thinking that many atheists make in assuming God is a complex being. As I explained yesterday, some atheists hold the design argument to be something along the lines of the complex nature of the universe argues for a creator. They raise the objection that if the complexity of the universe points to God, then God—who is infinitely more complex than the universe itself—must also have a creator. In my last post, I highlighted two ways this kind of thinking runs awry. But the biggest problem with the objection is it simply mischaracterizes God.

God is a Not a Constituent Being

The primary breakdown in the atheist's argument is the claim that God must be somehow more complex than his creation. Such an assumption is unnecessary and it runs counter to the concept of God that Christians have held for nearly two millennia. Christian theology has held that God is ultimately a simple being, one unable to be divided or separated into parts.

The word simple may be used to mean "easy to understand." In other contexts it can also mean ignorant or uninformed. But philosophers use the term simple to mean something that is a total unity; it implies there is no way to break the essence of God into "building blocks" that together comprise who he is. A car is a complex machine that can be broken down into sub sections (drivetrain, electrical, suspension, braking system, etc.). These systems can be broken down further into parts. The parts are made of specific materials, and the materials are made from elements, the elements from molecules, and so it goes.

Augustine grounds the unchangeableness of God to his simplicity. In City of God XI, 10 he writes, "There is, accordingly, a good which is alone simple, and therefore alone unchangeable, and this is God. By this Good have all others been created, but not simple, and therefore not unchangeable."1  Here, Augustine sets out the argument that anything that can be broken down into smaller parts like the car implies it is contingent. God is a spirit, a divine mind with a unique nature. He cannot be divided "God parts" so-to-speak.

God cannot be subdivided this way. The divine mind is a single entity, not something composed of building blocks. Just as our human minds are single entities capable of developing complex emotions, ideas, and thoughts, so God can be the source of a complex creation.

References

1. Translated by Marcus Dods. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120111.htm.
Image © 2015 Disney/Pixar.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Atheists and Unreasonable Objections

Most apologists are well aware of the command in 1 Peter 3:15 to "always be prepared to give a defense to those who ask for the hope that is within you." In fact, they will point to it as an example of God commanding Christians to engage with an unbelieving world. Yet, I've seen Christians think that in order to be faithful to 1 Peter 3:15, we must field every objections thrown at us, regardless of what it is. But there are some objections that are themselves unreasonable, and part of offering a defense is calling out the objector who offers frivolous complaints.


As an example of what I mean, let's look at an article I published last week entitled "Why Would a Loving God Allow the Earthquake in Nepal?" The article explained why plate tectonics, the movements which cause earthquakes, are crucial to support life on earth. One commenter on the post offered the following objection:
What a pile of drivel. So this god isnt to blame for all the deaths from quakes because they are necessary to stop the earth becoming desolate lol.

So this omnipotent god couldnt make a planet without plate tectonics?

The only reason we need a magnetic fields protection is because this god is slinging cosmic rays everywhere.

This god cant control biodiversity, chemical balance ,raise mountains from the sea(bible claims he can) without the use of earthquakes ? lol

If this omnipotent god cant create a world that works well without the need to kill thousands of people every year then its a very poor god indeed.
One will quickly notice that the objector doesn't doubt that plate tectonics do all the necessary things I said they did. His objection boils down to simply, "Surely, God cold have done it some other way!" Really? Exactly what way would this person suggest? Does he have another model that he would like to offer?

Perhaps he is arguing that if God exists, then no one should ever die from any natural accident. Natural laws should never endanger human lives. But, the implications of that are staggering. If no one should be harmed because of natural processes, then what do we do about the law of gravity? No one should fall off a cliff and nothing should ever fall on anyone. Is that a reasonable model? What "other way" is there for these kinds of calamities? His objection boils down to either repealing the law of gravity (which means that life on earth is again impossible) or human beings themselves become indestructible. That second choice was exactly what God did not want to happen, because people were in a state of sin. He never wanted a sinful human being to live in his sinful condition for all of eternity (see Genesis 3:22-24.)

Gainsaying Is Never a Path to the Truth

The primary issue I have with objections like this, and I see such objections all the time, both online and in personal conversations, is they aren't honest. The person asking isn't really looking for an answer; he is simply taking a contrary opinion to the evidence offered already. He was simply doing what is known as gainsaying, taking up a contrary position to discount my evidence instead of interacting with it. It means he ignored the evidence presented and complained that he didn't like the conclusions that followed.

Gainsaying is not thinking. It's simply negating whatever you don't like. I find it interesting that certain atheists will fall into what I call the outrageous objection such as the one above ("if God can do anything, then I want the world to look like this…"). But if one upholds reason as a central virtue, then such tactics should strike him or her as repugnant.  It proves that one isn't open to following the evidence wherever it leads. In fact, offering unreasonable objections isn't a sign of free-thinking, but of closed-mindedness. 1 Peter 3:15 doesn't say that the Christian has to answer every objection, no matter if it's a good or bad. We are commanded to defend the reality of the resurrected Jesus and the reasonableness of the Christian worldview. Because Christianity places a very high value on reason, it is appropriate to identify an unreasonable objection and demand that the objector offer something more concrete. By so doing, you demonstrate how much you value reason yourself.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should Christians be Ashamed to Believe in Hell?

I recently read a question that was posted by a non-believer to a board that both Christians and atheists follow. There, someone posted a simple question: "Christians, Do you ever feel ashamed that you believe in Hell?" The question is a provocative one. It seems to assume that the doctrine of hell is something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Yet, there are Christians who may never have felt uncomfortable with the concept of hell react to such a charge in just that way.



But there's no good reason to be embarrassed about the concept of hell. If one starts with the premise that God exists, then hell becomes something that makes a lot of sense. I'd like to examine both sides of this issue to show just why Hell offers nothing to be embarrassed about.

Shame Implies Moral Failing

What is it about the idea of hell that makes people feel ashamed? Shame is a feeling normally associated with moral failing, that is it is properly invoked when the person believes or does something that's in error. For example, one may be ashamed that he or she didn't know the answer to an elementary math question. The implication here is that the person's education was deficient. However, I don't think the questioner has this kind of shame is directly in view. Because he addressed the question to Christians, the fact that they believe in Hell as a real place would follow. It's a belief that has been established since the beginning of the faith. To invoke that kind of shame, the questioner could have just as easily asked "Do you ever feel ashamed that you believe in God?" Notice that the response Christians would have to that question would be different; it doesn't illicit shame in and of itself. Therefore, I think the shame that is meant by the questioner is different than a shame of ignorance.

It seems clear that the shame implied by the question is one of moral failing. The questioner is implying that by believing in hell, the Christian is holding to something that is unconscionable, the torment of other human beings in the afterlife. The unstated premise is that such a view is itself immoral. But is it? If one holds to the atheist caricature of hell being a place of torment for those who don't "believe like me" or "believe the right beliefs," then perhaps shame would come into play. But that's a straw man that doesn't resemble the Christian doctrine of hell at all.

The Need for Justice

Because the questioner presupposes the belief in Hell can be something to be ashamed about, he is implying some type of moral standard in his question itself. Yet, moral standards mean that good and evil exist. To be ashamed of believing that people will be tormented is saying that tormenting people is wrong. It shouldn't be done. But, that forces the question, "What should be done to the person who inflicts torment on another person?" If inflicting torment is wrong, then shouldn't the person inflicting torment be punished for his or her wrongdoing? It wouldn't be enough to simply remove the tormentor out of range of the victim. That isn't justice. The victim's suffering requires that the perpetrator be held accountable for his deeds.

Christianity holds that God is a just God as well as a loving one. That means that God must deal with those individuals who have done evil in the world. Think of Stalin. He was a tyrant who was responsible for the deaths of millions of lives, yet he lived comfortably in power until the end of his days. Isn't the idea of Stalin getting away with his crimes an example of the moral failing of the way this world works? Hell appeals to a concept of moral rightness and justice. Rejection of hell implies the moral principles that the questioner wishes to draw upon are themselves nonbinding. They can be dodged without repercussions. And if they can be dodged without repercussions, then why should anyone adhere to them?

Of course, Christians talk about hell in a much larger context than only the destination of the most evil. God never intended for people to go to hell, but because of his love and justice, he must quarantine them there. You may read more about that here. But for my purposes in this article, the idea that there is a hell is nothing that should cause feelings of shame on the part of the believer. A world in which a perpetrator never gets caught in this life and then simply ceases to be is unfair to his victims. It minimizes the real suffering and pain they've experienced as simply a part of an uncaring, unjust world. If there is no hell, then the universe itself is unfair. The atheist may choose to believe in such a world, but they have no grounds upon which to claim that Christians should be ashamed. If there's no justice, there's no need for shame.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Atheists Disbelieving of Impostor Christianity

I'm in the middle of leading a group on an Apologetics Missions Trip to Berkeley, CA. One of the things we do on these trips is to invite prominent atheist speakers to come and address our students. They will speak on a topic and then we have a time of Q &A so the students can probe the atheist worldview and see how well it can support itself a cohesive theory.



We've had a couple of different speakers present so far on this trip. Both gentlemen said they had been raised in traditional Christian homes and both said they left Christianity because it simply didn't make sense to them. The first speaker was raised a Southern Baptist, but at the age of twenty lost his Christian faith. Most of the reasons he offered for this were personal; he had built up an arsenal of ways to argue with Mormons or Muslims about why those faiths were untrue and engaged in these types of personal debates throughout high school. When a woman confronted him and told him that Hinduism was a much older faith than Christianity, he first went into debate mode. Just as he was getting ready to tell her she was wrong, he stopped, realizing that he didn't really know if Christianity or Hinduism was the older faith. This caused immense doubt in him about Christianity; he was stating facts that he didn't know and in his mind Christianity became just as fake as all those other faiths.

The Christianity he described turning away from was foreign to me. For example, he said that he felt closer to people as an atheist, stating "I no longer looked at people and thought, 'You're going to hell,' or 'you're part of my group.'" That isn't what Christianity is. It isn't about being in the right club or if you can take down someone else's beliefs. It is first and foremost recognizing that you are a sinner who needs to reconcile yourself to a holy God.

Our second speaker told us of how he was raised in Christianity by church-planting parents. He volunteered, started urban youth programs, and even went to seminary. Yet, he said that he never felt he had any type of personal relationship with Christ. In fact, the idea seemed foolish to him. He saw Christianity as being a good person and treating others with kindness. He fought for civil rights of African Americans during the civil rights movement in the 1960's, and he objected to the killing in the Viet nam war. But when he discovered that family members who taught him that "Jesus loves the little children, black and yellow, brown and white" were also themselves racists, he decided that he could be good without the need for what he called "the extra layer" of religion.

As you can see, he too missed the central aspect of Christianity. He thought being a Christian was being good and treating other well. He never talked of his own sin or his need to reconcile himself to his creator.

I find it interesting that both atheists reviled an impostor Christianity. I can understand their discontent; if Christianity is only keeping rules or winning arguments it would make sense that it feels fraudulent or superfluous. But that isn't what Jesus taught. His focus was always on how to reconcile human beings to the God who loves them. People will by nature choose their passions over God's holiness, yet God still seeks to bring them back to Himself while still remaining holy! A completely holy God cannot let any sin go unjudged. That's why Jesus came to die for us, so that the judgment of our sin may be met and we can still enter into that relationship with God.

I quoted Pascal in yesterday's post where he said, "it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it." As you can see from my experiences above, he was right. Apologetics without the cross helps no one.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Taking Advice from an Atheist

I recently ran across an article entitled "How to Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist "on the WikiHow website, offering fifteen steps atheists should follow if they wish to "deconvert" their friends or simply put up a proper argument for their atheism. The article is interesting and a bit controversial given some of the comments in its discussion section. I think some of the points are forced, some are wrong, and some show a bit of bias. Yet there are some pieces of advice here that I actually agree with and would encourage people to follow.


Become an Educated Objector

One of the first pieces of advice the article offers is that atheists seeking to defend their view is to:
Educate yourself. The key to reasoning with someone is to understand their position as well as your own. Read everything you can about atheism, Christian apologetics and religious history. A number of Christians, for example, don't know the origins of their religion outside of a biblical context so having an understanding of the history can be beneficial.1
I think this is actually a good piece of advice. I have too many times run across people who object to my beliefs but hold to a caricature of both Christianity’s history and what the Christian faith teaches. Historic claims such as religion is the cause of most wars, Christianity expanded through violence, Christians in the Middle Ages believed the earth was flat, and the supposed pagan origins of Christmas and Easter can all be dismissed if one were to dig into the historical sources.

Asking people to read about not just atheism but also Christian apologetics and religious history is proper and important. I would add, though, that in order for this task to be effective one shouldn’t limit themselves to atheist authors and what they have said regarding those subjects. Read about Christian apologetics by reading the articles of Christian apologists. Find religious history articles by religious historians. Go to the sources. I have read popular atheists like Carrier, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Peter Boghossian, but I’ve also read sophisticated works by David Hume, Michael Ruse, and others.

Reading from the "horse’s mouth" if you will can cut down on misunderstandings. One can see the argument in its larger context. By educating yourself on the arguments of views contrary to your own, you are in a better position to argue for or against that point. Both Christians and atheists should follow this rule. It’s interesting that in the very next step the article advises, "Learn common arguments leveled by theists and the best rebuttals" yet links to only Wikipedia articles and Internet Infidels responses. Such reading may reinforce one’s view, but you won’t really learn much about the beliefs of others.

Guard Against Bias

In offering steps #4 and #5, I think the author tips his hand a bit. Step #4 reads "Examine your own myths, urban legends, and superstitions and learn why people believe stories backed by anecdotal evidence. Understanding something about belief as it pertains to psychology will better prepare you for the challenges ahead."2 Notice that he or she is attempting to bias the reader into grouping beliefs with "myths, urban legends, and superstitions." But belief isn’t as simple as a psychological response. People will believe things based on facts, too. In fact, most beliefs are not psychological responses but rationally based. Christianity is a belief system that roots itself in history, not psychology.

A better suggestion would be to "Examine your own biases." Since everyone has biases, perhaps recognizing what those are would give you a clearer picture of others’ beliefs and why they can reasonably hold to a certain view. It would also help clear up problems that may arise from step #5: "Read and understand their holy book cover to cover. The Bible contains not only contradictions, but also stories that have historical people, places and events that are still up for debate as to their authenticity. For example, the story of Tyre and how the city was destroyed."3

I’m not certain what kind of debate there is over Tyre being destroyed (it was), but reading the Bible would be a good start. Cover to cover may be ambitious initially. How about reading the New Testament to get a better understanding of Christian theology? The claims of Jesus, the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13, the command to pray for those who persecute you all can help the non-believer understand the heart of Christianity and who Jesus really is. But one shouldn’t read with the sole intent of seeking out contradictions. That mindset will lead you to many misunderstandings, not only within the biblical text, but in most historical or literary works.

There are ten mores steps listed in the article; some are short-sighted and others I disagree with. I'm still not sure why #13 advises atheistrs to "stay away from love." Why is love so scary? But those that focus on building relationship and understanding are appropriate if they are taken in an honest spirit. Both Christians and atheists need to see one another as real people and not simply adversaries or opportunities to show off your argument skills. By sincerely seeking to understand the other's position, both sides will go a long way to better interaction, better comprehension, and being better people.

References

1. "How to Persuade a Christian to Become Atheist." WikiHow. WikiHow, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2015. http://www.wikihow.com/Persuade-a-Christian-to-Become-Atheist.
2. WikiHow, 2015.
3. WikiHow, 2015.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Miracles Don't Contradict The Laws of Nature



Miracles are a big topic. The skeptics dismiss then, faithful believe in them, many pray for them to occur in their lives. However, a lot of atheists seem to mis-define them. I was talking with an atheist friend who stated "By definition, a miracle violates natural law." By violate, I think he means "contradict." He isn't alone in that definition. The 18th century Scottish skeptic David Hume also sought to dismiss any claim of miracles as unreasonable in his Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding. He wrote:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.1
That definition has become popular with hose seeking to debunk any miracle claims. However, Hume was wrong. A miracles doesn't violate the laws of nature, it suspends them. That's a big difference. The suspension of a law isn't a violation; it's simply an intervention. If you were in your kitchen and saw an egg rolling off the counter, you would know that gravity will pull that egg to the ground. However, you can intervene and catch the egg to keep it from falling to the ground. You've exercised your power to stop what would by the laws of nature produce a mess. So if God can intervene in our world to keep a man from falling into the sea, allowing him to walk on water, we would see it as a miracle.

Some may object that the example above isn't fair. After all, catching an egg is just as natural as letting it fall. While this is true, the concept of intervention holds if the one intervening is not limited to the natural world. As an example, think about computer programs. If you are a programmer, you write a computer program to perform certain tasks in a certain order. Perhaps you are creating a shopping site and you wish customers to enter their names, address, credit card number, expiration, and card verification value (that little three digit number on the back of the card) before you process the sale.

You've created these rules and any time the customer checks out, they will always follow this pattern. But, as the programmer you sometimes have to test certain portions of your code. When you are running sample transactions over and over, it becomes too time consuming to enter all that information each time. Yet, because you are the programmer, you can choose to initiate your code at any point. You can write a script that will bypass all these requirements and process a transaction with no data whatsoever. Then, when you are satisfied with the code, you remove the test script and allow the page to function as it normally does.

"Back-Door Code" to the Universe

There is nothing illogical about this kind of suspension of the computer program's rules. They weren't violated, they were bypassed. Similarly, God wrote the rules for how the world works. Therefore, he can write "back-door" code to bypass the normal systems and it is perfectly appropriate to do so. Just as a computer programmer can still not violate the operations of his programming language but suspend the laws of submit a blank transaction, so God can work within his own abilities and suspend the laws of nature to achieve his desired result.

Philosopher Richard Purtill defines a miracle as "an event in which God temporarily makes an exception to the natural order of things."2 That's a pretty good definition.
  1. A miracle is a temporary (the natural course of order will resume upon the miracle's completion)
  2. It is an exception to the ordinary course of nature
  3. It requires us to know what the limits of "ordinary course of nature" are.
A miracle is not God contradicting Himself or His laws.

References

1 Hume, David. "Of Miracles. Part I." An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Bartleby.com, 1993. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://www.bartleby.com/37/3/14.html#12.
2   Purtrill, Richard L. "Defining Miracles." In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. 62. Print.

Monday, January 05, 2015

You Can't Be an Atheist Without a Belief

It all started with a tweet.

Yesterday, I tweeted:
The idea was to provide an example of the distinction between the terms agnostic and atheist. As I said before, this idea that one can be both an atheist and an agnostic makes no sense. Of course, not everyone who identifies as an atheist or as an agnostic believes that one can be an "agnostic atheist," but the concept has become more and more popular, even though it’s nonsense. My tweet was what I thought a simple way to demonstrate that.


Then the atheists responded.

One tweeted:
Uh, sure. But that doesn’t solve the problem. Breaking down the prefix of the words does nothing to show how an atheist can also be an agnostic. The "without" of agnosticism doesn’t mean "without a positive belief in," it means "without any beliefs for or against." It means you either don’t know or cannot know. Either way, one cannot be an atheist and hold that God does not exist.

Philosophers understand that claiming to have any kind of knowledge about a thing, you must hold to some beliefs about that thing. Using my football example, if I claim to know that  Team X will not make it to the Superbowl, that knowledge must be predicated on the belief that they will not be victorious in the conference final against Team Y, or something like that. If I have a belief it is either that they will win or they will lose. Knowledge requires that I have some kind of belief. Therefore, if one holds no beliefs, such as my neutrality regarding football playoffs, then one cannot make a claim to know about them.


Give that background, I received this response:
What followed was an extended Twitter conversation where I tried to show how knowledge requires belief. Feel free to read it. I think a lot of this confusion stems from how many "atheists on the street" mis-define knowledge and belief. They seem to confuse knowledge with facts and belief with feeling.Thus I had one atheist tell me:

That's confused. If you believe that your team will win the Conference finals, you may hold that belief based on their previous record, the analysis of the opposing team, and other factors. You may know know they will will, but you can certainly believe so, based on the facts.

Yet, some people persist in mis-defining agnosticism, atheism, knowledge, and belief. It’s why one atheist actually said:
To which I replied: "You believe that you don't have any beliefs! That's at least one."

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the 'Atheist Invocation' Really Demonstrates

Isn't it interesting that offense can be used as a weapon by atheists in so many different ways. The push by college campuses in banning Christian clubs is supposedly based on being non-discriminatory so as not to offend a non-Christian who may want to be president of said club. (Huh?) Atheists are offended as seeing crosses on city property so they threaten lawsuits to have them removed. Atheists see this danger of offense as so great that peoples' freedom of assembly, freedom of beliefs, and freedom to their livelihood are considered fair game. But what if it's the atheist who is doing the offending?

Ridicule in the Guise of Prayer

According to the Sun-Sentinel, atheist Preston Smith petitioned to give the opening invocation at the Lake Worth City Commission Meeting in Florida. You may ask yourself how in the world can an atheist offer an invocation when they don't have anyone to pray to? The idea of petitioning a higher authority is absurd on atheist, which makes the request contradictory on its face. Yet, Smith felt that he had something to say and the City Commission obliged him and provided him with the time to open the proceedings.


You can watch Smith's speech here, however, a transcript of it appears below:
Our collective atheism — which is to say, loving empathy, scientific evidence, and critical thinking — leads us to believe that we can create a better, more equal community without religious divisions.

May we pray together.

Mother Earth, we gather today in your redeeming and glorious presence, to invoke your eternal guidance in the universe, the original Creator of all things.

May the efforts of this council blend the righteousness of Allah with the all-knowing wisdom of Satan. May Zeus, the great God of justice, grant us strength tonight. Jesus might forgive our shortcomings while Buddha enlightens us through His divine affection. We praise you, Krishna, for the sanguine sacrifice that freed us all. After all, if Almighty Thor is with us, who can ever be against us?

And finally, for the bounty of logic, reason, and science, we simply thank the atheists, agnostics, Humanists, who now account for 1 in 5 Americans, and [are] growing rapidly. In closing, let us, above all, love one another, not to obtain mythical rewards for ourselves now, hereafter, or based on superstitious threats of eternal damnation, but rather, embrace secular-based principles of morality — and do good for goodness' sake.

And so we pray.

So what?

Not an Invocation

Some people were upset that several commissioners and the mayor walked out of the room before Smith delivered his diatribe. But what I'm not hearing is the fact that what Smith delivered was in no way an invocation; it was a mean-spirited attack. In the recent decision by the Supreme Court that invocations are constitutional, Justice Kennedy wrote, "Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief." Clearly, Smith's mess of a speech violated Kennedy's caution that access to invocations should not be used as disparagement. Smith didn't want to offer a prayer, he wanted to mock and offend as many people who believe in prayer as possible and he chose this as his soapbox from which to try.

Atheist Hemant Mehta (who bills himself as "the Friendly Atheist") said "To be sure, Smith's invocation is not the one I would've given, but that's not the point. The point is that if the commissioners aren't happy with this, there's a simple solution: Do away with invocations altogether. Stop wasting time with prayer and get down to business. Otherwise, they should expect more of these in the future." No, that isn't the point. Atheists don't get to claim offense at having to sit through prayers and then say offense is OK because they wielded it. But it does show that this movement of removing crosses, seeking to ban prayers, and even barring school children from trying to help the poor is not at the fringes of the atheists' value system.

In commenting on the unbelievers of his day, Charles Simmons put it best:
Ridicule - a fool's first and last argument.

The ridiculous is what fools remember longest. Deists in general attack Christianity by ridicule. This is their most powerful, and perhaps their most successful, weapon. All persons can laugh but all cannot reason. This mode of attacking Christianity answers purposes which can be effected no other way; for ridicule is unanswerable. Who can refute a sneer? It is independent of proof, reason, or argument; and as well be used against facts as against falsehood.

Ridicule is no argument but rather a proof of the want of it and the weakness of a cause.2
Smith's mockery and contempt for the privilege of solemnizing a civic meeting should be derided. If you don't believe in prayer then please don't petition to pray before a town meeting. To do what Smith did is offensive to the values of the Constitution and even other atheists should rebuke him for it.

References

1.Mayo, Michael. "Mayo: Lake Worth Commissioners Walk out on Atheist Invocation." Sun-Sentinel.com. Tribune Interactive, Inc, 09 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2014. http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/michael-mayo-blog/sfl-mayo-lake-worth-atheist-walkout-20141209-story.htm
2.
Simmons, Charles. A Laconic Manual and Brief Remarker Containing over a Thousand Subjects, Alphabetically and Systematically Arranged. Toronto: R. Dick, 1853. Print. 463.
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