Believers who break their own rules – Part 72

September 2, 2006 | By | 3 Replies More

I recently ran into a site called the Biblelands project.  It was there that I found an article called “Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists,” by a man named Ron Rhodes.   This article was typical of many conservative sites set up to rally the believers. 

I often ‘dialogue’ with atheists,” I thought.  Maybe I should read Ron’s site.   And yes, I did notice the quirk in his title.  Interesting, how Rhodes assumes that anyone talking with an atheist would want to use his techniques. 

In his opening paragraphs Rhodes points out, “No one is born an atheist. People choose to become atheists as much as they choose to become Christians.” Fair enough.  But I’m tempted to think, then, that the “natural” state of human mindset would be agnostic.  Shouldn’t that remain the default position through life? 

But on with the methods of dealing with atheists.  Here are some of the things atheists say, according to Ron, along with how we should respond:

“There is no God.” Some atheists categorically state that there is no God, and all atheists, by definition, believe it.  And yet, this assertion is logically indefensible. A person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be able to say from his own pool of knowledge that there is no God. Only someone who is capable of being in all places at the same time — with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe — can make such a statement based on the facts. To put it another way, a person would have to be God in order to say there is no God.

In other words, the atheist has to know everything to know that there is no God. Hmmm.  I could understand this argument if God was only in one place, but most believers I speak with claim (with certitude) that God is everywhere.  Therefore, all I need to do is find that God is not in one place to prove them wrong.  How about in my trash can or in my nose, or in my bathtub drain?  Is God in any of those places?  If not, then traditional theism is in trouble.

Here’s another thought on this first argument.  Just substitute Allah, Balor, Loki, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster for God.  Since Christians don’t know everything either, they can’t disprove the existence of any of those gods any more than I can’ completely prove the existence of their God.  By their own logic, then, all Christians should be polytheists.  Nor do Christians usually know that there are no monsters in their closets while they sleep.  Therefore, all Christians should also be Monsters-in-their-Closetists, by Ron’s logic.

Here’s Ron’s answer to another typical atheist argument:

“I don’t believe in God because there is so much evil in the world.” Many atheists consider the problem of evil an airtight proof that God does not exist. They often say something like: “I know there is no God because if He existed, He never would have let Hitler murder six million Jews.”

A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: “Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world . . .

Insist that he tell you how he knows that some things are evil. He must be forced to face the illogical foundation of his belief system. After he struggles with this a few moments, point out to him that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good.  . . . if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.

Ron thinks he has me tied in horrible knots!  But he’s wrong.  For starters, his announced rule is that the person who brings up the issue has the burden of proving it.  Let’s apply that same logic to the theist claim that God exists.  “Whoever brings it up has the burden of proving it,” right?  Ron, you and Carl Sagan agree on something: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

I’m not going to evade Ron’s question.  I define evil as things that appall me because they are unfair or hurtful.  To prove the existence of evil, then, I’d simply suggest that Rhodes pick up a newspaper and read the headlines. 

By Rhodes’ logic, all atheists should be sociopaths, since they have no moral compass. They should all be going around committing arson and murder.  And shoplifting too.  But this just isn’t my experience.  Most atheists I know are law abiding, with as deep a sense of morality as most theists I know.  If you want to see a LOT of atheists behaving well, go visit China or Japan or Norway or Sweden.  Why don’t theists ever want to talk about those wonderful societies where crime is low, social services are high, empathy is high, education is treasured and people don’t feel the need to worship publicly or even worship at all?

Rhodes is undaunted only because he doesn’t consider these obvious bits of evidence.  In fact, he’s ready to make his run to the finish line:

At this point, the atheist may raise the objection that if God does in fact exist, then why hasn’t He dealt with the problem of evil in the world. You can disarm this objection by pointing out that God is dealing with the problem of evil, but in a progressive way. The false assumption on the part of the atheist is that God’s only choice is to deal with evil all at once in a single act. God, however, is dealing with the problem of evil throughout all human history. One day in the future, Christ will return, strip power away from the wicked, and hold all men and women accountable for the things they did during their time on earth. Justice will ultimately prevail. Those who enter eternity without having trusted in Christ for salvation will understand just how effectively God has dealt with the problem of evil.

And he’s off and running! Ron, if an omniscient and omnipotent God chooses to take his Mighty time while people are starving or getting buried in rubble as a result of earthquakes or wars, that simply is not moral leadership.  A human being who allowed such suffering to happen when he could have prevented it (New Orleans comes to mind) is unmitigatedly evil.  Same thing goes for Gods who fiddle while people suffer, in my book.

But I really feel compelled to comment on Rhodes’ final sentence (above).  Gee, if I don’t start bowing down and praising this omnipotent and omniscient Guy who allows kids to die of long drawn out horrible disease (one of many examples of the evil He is choosing to deal with “in a progressive way”), then He will condemn me to hell to suffer eternal conscious torment.  That’s not moral leadership either, Ron.  I cannot worship any person or God whose conduct is this detestable.  I’ve written about this particular problem before in a post called “Boycott Heaven.”

Every time I run into the kind of advice that Rhodes gives, I shake my head and wonder.  How is it that believers can’t see that the very same principles of logic they invoke at the beginning of their arguments comes back to destroy their own treasured belief systems?  They appear to be drunk on God.  One on one, their thought processes are already incoherent.  Let them gather together to rev each other up and they really go off the ledge.  It brings to mind Nietzsche’s quote:  Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations and ages it is the rule. (Beyond Good & Evil #156).

Caveat:  There are many believers in God who point to the heavens in a general way and always with humility.  They roll up their sleeves to do real life good works on earth while showing tolerance for the diverse philosophical and spiritual beliefs of their fellow humans.  They don’t claim to know everything.  They live and let live.  I count many of my best friends among them.  My frustration is not aimed at these good and decent people. 

On the other hand, I don’t know how much longer I can show restraint toward those people whose “reasons” for believing always involve a threat that if you don’t fall in line, you’ll be terrorized forever by flames and pitchforks and despair.   Ron, anyone (God or otherwise) who terrorizes anyone else, for any reason and for any motive, is evil.  Any being (or Being) is evil if it needlessly inflicts torture on others.  My definition applies to anyone (human or God) who tortures others because those others sincerely harbor doubts.  I can never bow down to the type of vicious, vindictive, insecure and megalomaniacal Being you claim to worship. No sane or self-respecting person should.

I often experience a sense of wonder as I contemplate the universe. Most atheists I know behold the universe with wonder, awe and humility.  Most fundamentalists I know fail on all these counts.  This is the biggest principle that fundamentalists turn on its head: the awe and wonder that originally inspired a belief in a God is snuffed out to accommodate an imaginary ogre God.

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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    Excuse me for splitting hairs- but I think humans probably have a "natural state" of agnosticism, but specifically ignosticism. Without a society that leans on and repeats the concept of religion on a regular basis, most of us would consider the notion of an invisible force of judgement and punishment as entirely out-of-left-field and absurd. For the same reason, we find the fairytales (and gods) of other cultures laughable or random, and we seldom ever question their veracity.

    This generalization admittedly ignores the fact that some people apparently have a stronger propensity for superstition than others.

    And as an aside, I find the phrase "drunk on God" very apt. Let's see, symptoms of drunkenness…lessened inhibitions, recklessness, diminished attention span, loss of one's sense of social appropriateness…that sounds about right.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika – the word Ignosticism is new to me and useful. Thank you. Yesterday, I was discussing with (Grumpypilgrim) that there are for more types of non-believers than can be covered by the terms agnosticism and atheism. It would seem that disciplined ignostics save themselves lots of wasted time and energy compared to agnostics.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Thank you, Erika, for mentioning the term "ignosticism." I also find it useful; in particular (from the link you provide): "…From this approach, the "I don't know" of agnosticism ceases to mean "I don't know if God exists or not" and becomes "I don't know what you're talking about when you talk about God."

    That nicely captures the issue: debate about the existence of God cannot begin until there is a mutual understanding of the term, "God." But do two people ever agree on this? Indeed, even the Bible doesn't define God in a coherent, consistent way.

    Going back to Erich's post, there are easy ways around the Biblelands' two arguments that Erich mentions. The first is, "…Some atheists categorically state that there is no God, and all atheists, by definition, believe it. And yet, this assertion is logically indefensible…."

    Athiesm is not logically indefensible if we require theists to define exactly what they mean by "God," because, indeed, everyone seems to have his or her own definition, which means that everyone is also an "athiest" with respect to everyone else's definition. Therefore, athiesm is not only logically defensible; it is an inherent component of theism. For more on this subject, see here (http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=260) and here (http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=174).

    The second argument is, "…it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good…if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it."

    That argument is also obviously ridiculous. All human societies, regardless of their religious traditions, draw distinctions between what they consider "good" and "evil." Indeed, other animal species do, too. Troops of wild monkeys and packs of wild dogs have rules of social behavior, and they also punish individuals who violate those rules…yet we don't see them building temples to invisible gods. Likewise, Hitler's behavior can readily be condemned without any reference to invisible beings. Why does anyone need to posit the existence of an invisible deity to conclude that slaughtering innocent people is wrong? Indeed, the Christian viewpoint is far more indefensible: slaughtering innocent people is OK unless some invisible being says otherwise. Is this what all those people sitting in church every Sunday secretly have running through their heads — that the one and only reason they don't bring their AK-47s into the streets and slaughter their neighbors is because God say's it's wrong?

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