On Sam Harris’ “New Atheist” Diatribe in a Can

So a friend of my wife’s on Facebook posted this to his wall and invited Christians and non Christians alike to discuss and ruminate on Sam Harris’ soundbite from his debate with William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame.  The fundamental argument of said debate was the question “Is Good from God?,” meaning of course, is God the foundation of our objective moral framework or is there some other entity that could possibly be the bedrock of our moral underpinnings.  I find it interesting that Dr. Harris did not feel the need to include anything else from the debate, such as his inability to answer Dr. Craig’s questions in regard to the false synchronicity Harris tries to create between the “moral landscape” and the “continuum of well-being,” or any of Harris’ other failings to address the arguments that Dr. Craig posed, while feeling that it would be best to add this particular diatribe to his soundcloud page.  I say that because this argument is ripped directly from the typical “New Atheist” playbook circulated between such “luminaries” as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and others.  So while I applaud Dr. Craig for not following the “red herrings” being laid out by Dr. Harris, I am intellectually “slumming it” today and decided I would take a shot at Dr. Harris’ angry “Atheist rant.”

First and foremost, let me be real about the first premise.  We, as Christians, don’t really spend enough time ruminating over this first objection to Christianity and the God of the Bible.

If there is a God who is all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving, why does He allow suffering to happen?

It’s a valid question.  I think about it at almost every funeral I go to.  I think about it when stories like the tsunami of 2004 appear in front of me, or the devastation in Haiti from several years ago.  I think about it when dealing with the implications of child slavery in the chocolate trade, or the idea of clothing being made for consumption by americans being made by children in another country who are often totally devoid of the creature comforts I give my children.  Dr. Harris does a good job of pulling our focus to the question of suffering and addressing it with a huge question mark and furrowed brow.

I guess the first place to start in this is to dissect a few premises here.  Dr. Harris used the argument of these things that “ought not to be” as an argument against God.  The general premise here is that

“If there is a God, and this bad stuff happens, then He can’t really be real or good or all powerful because of seeing the bad stuff.”  

The problem with this argument of the denial of God via the presence of evil is multidimensional.  For one, the very ability to understand an “oughtness” or “should be” is to express that there is some standard by which we understand that which is good and that which is evil.  We become outraged at the problem, and rightfully so, because we understand these things to be “not right.”  But, in the absence of some objective standard, how would you know this?  I would posit that the reason why we even have these kind of debates in the first place is because our Western, First World mentality has given us the luxury of riding on the coattails of God’s goodness without actually thinking through the origins of our understanding of good and evil.  So, we are essentially spoiled children.  But, I digress.  Back to the original argument, as Dr. Craig put it, if a police officer tells you to stop your car, you are, by law, obligated to stop.  Why?  The police officer has a grounded position of authority that is upheld by the law.  So, there is an authority to what he says.  If I tell you to stop your car, there is no reason to.  In the same way, the absence of an objective moral standard that is put in place by a higher authority would leave no grounds for moral authority to begin with, much less questions regarding the dichotomy between good and evil.  What one man would consider good could possibly be considered then evil, the same way pointing with your first finger is considered inconsequential by Americans, yet offensive by Chinese (or so my wife says.  I’m not sure myself.)  Objective moralism, just as objective good and objective evil, would be impossible without some standard upon which to base it.  Outside of God (or insert higher being of choice here for the current premise of the argument), there is NO standard of good and evil.  So, I would begin with the fact that the very conversation Dr. Harris is having about what we consider “good” and “evil” is a very poignant argument for the existence of God and against his own premise.

Secondly, it is a fool’s errand to sum up the problem of human suffering with a simple pat answer that covers everything.  Dr. Harris’ argument is based around natural disasters specifically, so we can stick there if necessary.  There is a fundamental problem with Dr. Harris’ argument, and it’s this:

While we view volcanos, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters as just that, disasters, we also need to understand that we are, in essence, riding a giant spaceship that requires maintenance and upkeep that tends to happen.  So, to put this into perspective a little better, let’s think of it this way…

I have a car.  That car has lots of moving parts.  Some of them present the possibility of laceration injuries, such as the radiator fan.  Others present the possibility of thermal injury, such as a nice hot exhaust manifold.  Still others present the opportunity for puncture wounds and the like, and we haven’t even discussed the possibility of grave injury from a car accident.  Now, I could look at my car and complain that there are so many things that could hurt or injure me and demand it be re-designed, or say that there could not have been a designer of the car because it was so poorly designed with obviously no thought given to how dangerous parts of it were.  But changing any of those things would drastically affect its ability to do that which it was designed to do, namely, get me from point A to point B.  Take away the engine, and suddenly I have no possibility of laceration or thermal injuries, which is great, but then the car doesn’t run.  Add an electric motor, and now I don’t have to worry about those either, and the car still runs, but I’ve introduced the possibility of being injured by electric shock.  Ultimately I have to be resigned to the fact that, in order for my car to be operational, I have to be aware that there are some precautions and possibilities that may occur.  In order to avoid injury, I don’t do some obviously stupid things, like grab the exhaust manifold when it’s hot, or allow my children to ride in the engine bay.  I obey the rules in terms of traffic (mostly) and then, at the end of the day, I still have to be aware that there is the distinct possibility of getting killed or mangled by another driver.

In the same way that my car can be dangerous, yet must necessarily be so in order to adequately function, so too is the earth.  Natural phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanos are simply part of the mechanisms that have been put into place for earth to be a habitable planet.  Plate tectonics is necessary for altering and regulating our climate and in fact contributes to the biodiversity and habitability of this planet.  So, yes, we can bemoan the tragedy of people being killed by a tsunami or an earthquake or volcano, but to use it as an argument against God would be the same as me being angry at Chrysler for the exhaust manifold burning me on my van and then saying “this thing couldn’t have been designed because I was hurt by it and that’s just EVIL.”  Of course it would be ridiculous.  So it is with using natural phenomena that happen to be dangerous as an argument against God.  Of course there is a possibility of a tsunami hitting the beach.  Of course there is the possibility of Mt. Saint Helens erupting and spewing hot ash and lava all over Washington.  But all of these things are inherently necessary for the survival of the world at large.  Could you or I envision a world that works better?  We think so, but that’s doubtful.  Limited by laws of nature, being allowed only to work within the confines of a logical and rational universe dictated by the precepts of physics and chemistry, it’s doubtful we could ever, ever, ever, ever come up with anything better.  So, we are left again, being whiny, spoiled children insinuating that we could have done far better, while never really understanding every facet of the equation.  How do we eliminate all natural phenomena and still have a world capable of supporting life?  In short, I think that’s unreasonable.  Should we mitigate the possibilities of collateral damage and loss of human life?  Absolutely.  That’s why I don’t own land near Mt. Saint Helens.  Should we be aware that, in spite of our best efforts to avoid disaster, they do still occur?  Absolutely.  But to fault God for not wrapping His creation in bubble wrap for us is to then argue against the very rational and logical properties that make our earth distinctly capable of supporting life in the first place.

We’ll take a look at Dr. Harris’ next premise, the evil behind the exclusivity of the Gospel, next post.


Christopher Hitchens: Someone I can disagree with and still respect.

I read an article in the Guardian UK by Richard Dawkins nominating Christopher Hitchens as his hero of 2010.  You can read for yourself here.

Let me say this:  I have a great deal of respect for both Richard Dawkins and Chris Hitchens.  Both of these men, in whatever venue I have heard them, are engaging and intelligent, and rarely do they not entertain or enlighten me to something I had not thought out before.  While (obviously) I disagree with them in the areas of Christianity and the validity of religion, I do have to say that at the very least, they are mentally engaged on the topic.

I bring up Mr. Hitchens because it bothers me that many Christians who know who he is look at him, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and others as the boogeymen who have come to scare away all of the Christians and make us all leave the faith.  I have a better idea.  Let’s look at what they actually contribute to faith.  I can tell you right now that few people have forced me to think critically about the questions of my faith than Hitch and Dawkins.  These two men have propelled me to rationally look at my faith, look at the evidence, and decide in favor of my beliefs (and yes, I know if I am ever privileged enough for either of them to read this, they will think I have obviously failed miserably at following the evidence, but I can’t help it 🙂 ).  When it comes down to it, I think that rather than vilifying these men, we should look at their questions of religion and answer them for ourselves.

Hitch, hats off to you, and yes, I am one of those people praying for you.  And Mr. Dawkins, although we disagree vehemently about Christianity, I am smart enough to give credit where it is due, and in the arena of biology, you have few competitors.  I respect you both.

Atheist ads take on the Bible

Atheists attack the Bible in a series of ads.I just read an interesting article at the Christian Post, which you can also read here.

In my opinion, this is yet another “straw man” attach by atheists/humanists.  The way it works is this:  take the worst stereotype (hate-spewing, venom-laden “Christians”), ascribe to ALL Christians the same thought lines, then attack them with your exceedingly wise and tolerant position.

The problem is this:  the arguments don’t hold up against genuine Christianity.  Christians don’t hate homosexuals.  We may not agree with homosexual behavior (just like we don’t agree with a lot of sinful behaviors, such as heterosexual sex outside of marriage), but we don’t condemn that person.  And yes, the Bible does mention all of these atrocities.  However, it does not support them, but merely reports on them.  At no point is slavery commanded, and war is only commanded against peoples who were greatly defying God and spitting in His face, essentially.

It would be nice if people thoughtfully considered the two sides and spoke/acted in a way that indicated that level of honesty and earnestness in the discussion.

An Anti-Christian Rant

Martin Luther once said `Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has.`

Buddha once said `Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.`

Why are Christians so bitter? Are they unhappy with themselves and their bigot of a God?

Why does their God kill and show admonishment towards his followers? Is it because he has held a grudge since the times of Adam and Eve?

Why is knowledge sinful? Is it because their God`s word should be accepted without question?

Why are most Christians closed minded towards scientific breakthroughs? Is it because they are taught from a young age that reason and the ways of self faith are wrong?

Why should one blindly believe in the most violent and hateful entity in religion, if one cannot have the ability to believe in themselves and question the world around them?

Okay.  How to answer that?  Well, this is how I look at it:

One thing I would consider is this:  Do not consider one person, i.e. Martin Luther, the spokesperson for Christianity.  The Bible over and over again presses the issue of using our minds.  A few examples:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  (Matthew 22:37)”

Come let us reason together…(Isaiah 1:18)”

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… (1 John 4:1)”

they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).”

Far from being a religion of blind faith and ignorance, Christianity offers itself to be tested for its historical veracity.  As far as Martin Luther goes, while he made many commendable contributions to our faith, he himself was not without his own faults (bouts of anti-Semitism and the like), and I certainly would not evaluate the whole of Christianity based off of one quote that may or may not be being used entirely out of context.

Also, I would ask, what do you mean that “Christians are so bitter?”  Everyone succumbs to the weight of a heavy heart every once in a while, but to say that “Christians are so bitter” is a bit of a faulty generalization.  Many Christians are very joyful indeed. Indeed, however, there are some who profess the name of Christ with their lips only to embrace a different path in practice.  Those people should not be looked at as an example of the faith of Christ.  Also, I would ask why do you consider God a bigot?  After all, Peter says

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance… (2 Peter 3:9)”

It is not God’s desire to kill and destroy everything that lives on earth, nor even is it His delight to eliminate certain races and peoples such as the Amalekites and the Ammonites.  God does not, however, tolerate unholiness, and a people as consistently wicked as those two examples (they sacrificed children to idols and engaged in horrid behaviors in worship to their gods) will eventually be given their just punishment.  To say that God is violent and hateful is to ignore the witness of scripture:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6)”

The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression(Numbers 14:18)”

And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country?  That is why I made hast to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (Jonah 4:2)”

There are 56 instances in the Bible where God is referred to as slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.

Knowledge is by no means considered a sin.  Again, God wants us to reason.  The church was the sole bastion of learning during the Dark Ages, and were it not for the efforts of the church, learning would have ground to a halt and would have been forever hindered during those times.  Most Christians are not closed minded to scientific breakthrough.  However, many times science is used in the hands of those who actually distort the evidence to prop up support of doctrines such as evolution (look at the number of faked fossils, the amount of academic dishonesty that goes into supporting evolutionary theory) and Christians guard themselves against such faulty science and equip themselves with a balanced view on Science.

Again, there are 56 references in the Bible to God that say He is slow to anger and loving.  Faith is not a blind jump into an abyss of stupidity.  For myself, faith has been something that I have developed in time based on a realization that there is historical support for the veracity of the Judeo-Christian God.

provided to http://www.gotquestions.org

Which Set of Standards?

I received an interesting response from a reader about a post I wrote on moral relativity.  The commenter brought up a good point in saying that with all the religions claiming truth, which one really is true?  Because of the number of religious systems available to people, which system is right?  Since there is such relativity in the world, the commenter’s opinion is that atheism is the best answer for developing a system of absolute morals.

First, I applaud this person for being a thinker and not merely parroting something he read from Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.  Thanks for really turning your brain on, because you are doing better than many atheists just in doing that.  I would hazard a guess, however, that to this person, the relativity in religion is at least in some part due to the lack of desire to judge or be intolerant of another person.

Tolerance has been redefined in today’s society to a level that is no longer tolerance, but the theater of absurdity.  Tolerance today means that everyone’s beliefs are equally valid, and that you and I are both right.  In reality, tolerance is the idea that the holders of the ideas are equal.  We should be egalitarian towards other people, but elitist in our thought and beliefs.  The new tolerance is a weird mixture of cowardice and noncommitment.  We don’t know enough about what we believe to stand for it, and we don’t know enough about another person’s beliefs to prove them wrong even to ourselves.  Therefore, we consider it easier, more tactful and tasteful, to not just agree to disagree, but agree to agree with no basis in agreement.

The problem with religion from the terms of relativity is this:  Religions in and of themselves require the adherent to make a value dcision, and religions in and of themselves are value/truth systems.  No one becomes a Hindu because “they didn’t have anything better to do.”  No one espouses Sufism or Islam because you get a cool turban.  There is a reason that resonates inside of the religion to the adherent.  The reason for that is that the religion is making some kind of truth claim.

With that in mind, one must consider this: if all religions make some kind of truth claim, there are going to be areas where these “truths” become contradictory and instead of harmonizing, compete with one another.  A Muslim and a Hindu by definition cannot agree with one another on the basis of Theism, because while Muslims are staunchly monotheistic, Hindus are polytheistic, and to an extent, pantheistic.  Therefore, it is impossible for these two religions to come to terms with one another.  With that in consideration, there are only two conclusions that are valid:  Either both are wrong, or parts of each one are right, and it requires one to blend some odd syncretism to reconcile the two.  This comparison can logically be drawn between all of the different religions of the world.

When this process is duplicated with Christianity versus any other religious system, a distinct pattern emerges:  Judeo/Christianity time and again proves itself historically verifiable, either by archaeology or historical writings.  The Judeo-Christian theology has proven itself venerable enough to convince men who are staunch skeptics, like Sir William Ramsey, C.S. Lewis, Simon Greenleaf, and Anthony Flew.  Like it or not, there is no skeptic alive who has proven one single statement from the gospel of Luke wrong, no one who has determined beyond a doubt that the bible contains fallacious reporting.  There exists proof of David, Solomon, the temple of Solomon, Omri, Ahab, Jehu, Hezekiah, and many other biblical figures.  Unlike many religious texts, the Bible does lend itself to be tested historically.  The same cannot be said of many scriptures, such as the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas.

It was the fact that Christianity makes truth claims and can be tested that drove me to make a decision to follow Christ.  While other religions contain some truth, Christianity offers a system that time and again has withstood the test of the archaelogist’s spade, the textual critic’s razor sharp brain.  For 2,000 years, Christ continues to be “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  As such, my response is that even the search for truth is not a relativistic nightmare, but a simple endeavor of reading the Bible and seeking after the mind of the One Who IS, Who WAS, and Who IS to come.

Craig and Hitchens

Bill Craig and Chris Hitchens debated at Biola University on Saturday night.  For those who don’t know the two men, Bill Craig is a Christian apologist, and Chris Hitchens is an atheist and editor for Vanity Fair magazine.  Hitchens is representative of the new breed of atheist, who are militant against religion in general and claim that religion is nothing more than a great source of evil.  Craig is one of the foremost Christian philosophers on the planet.

I regret that I haven’t been able to review the debate in full, but I was browsing through www.christianpost.com where I was able to read the review.  As usual, the same thing surfaced.  Mr. Craig offered his argument for the veracity of Christianity, while Chris Hitchens offered nothing solid for atheism.  As is typical, Mr. Hitchens spent his time attacking Christianity, attacking God, the cross, etc. and etc.  In the end, you are left with the same thing as usual:  atheists typically offer any kind of attack possible while refusing to understand that you can’t play skeptic without having anything concrete to offer on the contrary.  Typically, it goes like this:  “I am the atheist, I don’t have to prove anything, and its all up to you to prove God.  Otherwise, I can stick my fingers in my ears and sing and stay in my little atheist bubble!”

I challenge atheists to at least be intellectually honest:  in order to prove that there is decidedly not a God, you would have to be everywhere and know everything.  Guess what?  Then, YOU’RE GOD!  So you see, the only way to argue intellectually is to at least say you are agnostic and do not know whether or not there is a God.

Hitchens, Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and a host of others are out and about spreading vitriol towards religion in general, and Christianity in particular.  Their arguments are, for the most part, incoherent, illogical, and devoid of any philosophical and/or theological training.  Christians need to equip themselves to know the truth.  If you look at the site links on the right of my site, you can find any number of resources that can direct you to rational arguments against atheism.  One in particular, www.equip.org, offers several items to read in order to not fall for the new modes of atheism.  It’s called Confronting the New Village Atheists, and it is really a great resource.

The God Question and Suffering

One of the most disastrous questions for a Christian to encounter, even moreso than the questions of evolution, biblical inerrancy, and various other difficulties of the faith, is the question of suffering.  Why do people suffer?  Why does a good God allow bad things to happen to those who are His faithful?  Why, for that matter, does God allow atrocities every day that shatter the hopes and dreams even of those who are not His by word and commitment, but are still His by creation?  When the sobs of the heartbroken and painful mourning of those who weep reach the heights of Heaven seemingly unanswered or uncared for, where is this God who “neither slumbers nor sleeps?”

This question stops more Christians in their tracks, leaves more skeptics continually scoffing at the “love of God” and eats the faith of more people than any other question.  Why do we suffer?  Buddhists and other adherents to eastern religious philosophies maintain that suffering is but an illusion and only once we get past that illusion will we reach peace.  Legalists in the Judeo-Christian background of faith can sometimes point at suffering as the result of something we have done.  Stoics believed that suffering was “our fate” and only by letting go of our feelings can we reach peace.

What are Christians to make of suffering?  How do we answer that question?  Well, first and foremost, one way to counteract the idea that evil disproves the existence of a loving God is this fact:  In order to evaluate something as “evil,” there must be some standard by which we evaluate what is “good.”  By this I mean that without a standard, we can’t really evaluate evil as evil.  How would we know what evil is if there was no good.  There has to be some objective standard by which we measure “good” and “evil”.  Hence, the argument can work equally well in reverse:  Suffering proves the existence of God because if there is evil, there is good.  Therefore, the presence of good in the world is evidence for the existence of God.

Another way to look at suffering is that, in some ways, humans ARE responsible for human suffering.  Galatians 6:7 states that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  Very logically, there are actions that we partake in that lead to our suffering.  The unfaithful husband who is finally left lonely by his wife, love long dead from stupidity and selfishness, has rightfully reaped from the seeds which he has sown.  The young unwed mother now contemplating the future that she has carved for herself and now a child through her irresponsibility in tandem with the irresponsibility of her young lover has reached this point due to her own actions.  Indeed, some of the suffering we feel is due to our own behavior.

What do we do then, with suffering that is through no fault of our own?  What do we do with the pains that people feel that they never brought upon themselves?  The tragedy of starvation in Africa, the pain of the young mother holding a dying child in her arms, the grief stricken wife burying her husband, all her hopes and dreams dying along with the youthful man?  What then?  Where possibly can God be in that?  Who do we lift our hands to in anger?  Who do we scream to in the midst of all of this?

The easiest answer for the Christian to give and indeed, to hold onto in answer for their own faith is this:  God took the question of suffering, laid it upon Himself on the blood-stained nails of the old rugged cross, and dashed suffering to the ground in defeat.  You see, those who cry can know that Christ Himself, the living Lord and the God of Tears Himself stands waiting there.  He meets you in your suffering, this God of pain, this one and only Messiah.  Our suffering here, the death and despair, the agony and tears, are felt full force by that God-Man that lives for us, interceding moment by moment in front of our Father.  He assures us daily that in the midst of our failings and tragedies He is there, weaping with us, waiting for the time of divine restoration right along beside us.  Mother Teresa, the suffering saint of Calcutta, equated the awful sufferings of this world to no more than “a stay in an inconvenient hotel” when compared to the joys God’s saints will experience in heaven.  It is for the reason that we have this hope in Christ, the suffering messiah, for resurrection and restoration, that Paul says that “you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

God created a perfect world.  He created mankind in His own image of rationale, judgment, and the ability to choose for himself.  Mankind chose to bring evil into the world.  Despite our culpability in the problem of pain and suffering, God chose to insert Himself into this world, take all of the pain, suffering, and tears of our lives, take them upon Himself, and die with arms wide open.  If nothing else comes out of pain and suffering, there is the loving God who offered Himself as a balm for our pain.  How can you not love this God?

I don’t offer this as a pat answer.  As Christians, it is our call to be the hands and feet of the living God here on earth to salve the pain and hurt of others.  It is our responsibility to do the godly thing when it comes time to intervene in the lives of others.  God has already done has job by accepting our suffering upon himself.  That, I believe, is the only real answer necessary for the question of suffering.

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