Welcome to the third installment in what is sure to be a lengthy response to the claims and arguments made in the popular Christian iPhone app for debaters and apologists, called Fast Facts
In the first two parts, as well as this one, I will be tackling the section of the app under the "Challenges and Tactics" category. There are so many counter-arguments to supposedly popular claims and challenges, and so much to say about most of them, that it will take quite a while to poke at all of them.
It might be prudent at this juncture to inform readers that I have been skipping many of the challenges, because they aren't worth talking about, or because the challenge itself is a weak one that atheists shouldn't even be issuing, or for any number of reasons. Some of these include "There is no truth," "Who are you to say?" and "Christians are hypocritical and judgmental." There are many reasons why I haven't looked at these, the most important of which is that atheists should avoid getting into the muck in which they'll find themselves when they start making these arguments.
With no further ado, let's jump right in!
Challenge: "I'm basically good, so God wouldn't send me to hell."
I've included this argument/challenge because I must warn atheists to avoid any kind of argument that immediately assumes that the belief system against which they're arguing is true. When you say, "God wouldn't send me to hell," you are already conceding that there is a hell to which we can go, and that there is a God who will send us there. Anyway, here's the response from the app:
Ask what they mean by "basically good." By necessity they assume the existence of a standard by which goodness can be measured. They may compare themselves to someone like Hitler and decide they are pretty good. But neither Hitler nor any other human provides the standard against which we must measure ourselves. Holy God is the only standard. Compared to a morally perfect being, none of us look good. As the Bible says, "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). How many laws do we need to break before we're guilty? Just one! We break God's moral laws every day, disqualifying us from the "basically good" category.
Ah...so many things to address here. First, the writer is arguing that there is an objective morality set forth by God (the argument from morality). The common argument (paraphrased from memory) assumes the following two premises, followed by a conclusion:
► There exists an objective morality;
► There must be an arbiter of this objective morality;
► Therefore, God is that arbiter and he exists.
The wording might be off by a bit, but that is the gist of the argument from morality. First off, there is no evidence that an objective morality exists. On the contrary, by observation we can see that many cultures have their own, slightly different moral structures. Honor killings might be legal and moral in one culture, while all forms of murder (even self-defense) may be abhorred in another. There is no one set of moral rules that all human beings follow. Right away, the first premise can be falsified by observation alone.
However, we all understand that morals do exist, and most humans of the same cultural group follow similar a moral structure. Where did that moral code come from? It's simple: evolution. As a social species, it was necessary for humans to develop a set of moral rules that would ensure our survival as a species. If one person says, "Hey, I wouldn't like it if somebody else killed me," the next step is to surround him- or herself with other people who share that belief, since that would lower the chances of being killed. Morals are a logical emergent property of the processes of evolution and the status as a social species.
Morality can be observed in primates, as well. Even piranhas have a basic, rudimentary set of rules that could be seen as morality; when attacking prey, piranhas will never attack one another. This is almost an ancestral form of human morality, as piranhas have developed the instinct to not attack and eat each other. There are cases, of course, when these "morals" go right out the window. During periods of time where food is scarce, some species of piranha will turn on each other.
As for the "righteous" Biblical passage, that's a nice example of an internal contradiction present in the Bible (one of hundreds). In Romans 3:10 it is claimed that no man is righteous. Yet, in Genesis 7:1 Noah was considered righteous. In Job 1:1, 1:8, and 2:3, Job was considered righteous. In Luke 1:6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were considered righteous. James 5:16 says that some men are righteous, which makes their prayers effective. And 1 John 3:6–9 states that Christians become righteous; otherwise they are not really Christians.
Way to use a Biblical contradiction for evidence, app writer.
Challenge: "Jesus' life story resembles pagan mythologies and is likewise a myth."
This is a common argument that I believe has a great deal of merit. There are overwhelming similar details shared by the story of Jesus and the mythologies of Egyptian gods, Greek gods, and other deities of the distant past. Sure, there are differences in many of the stories of Mithra, Horus, etc. and that of Jesus, but the similarities are too great to ignore.
There is an ancient story of a man born of a virgin in a cave. He was a great teacher with 12 disciples. He performed miracles, sacrificed himself for the world, and rose again. We're not describing Jesus, but rather Mithra. Christianity's critics say Mithraism was an early pagan religion that was adapted to form Christianity. However, a close comparison between Christianity and Mithraism reveals profound differences. The similarities are exaggerated and in no way disprove Christian beliefs. Furthermore, evidence shows that Mithraism was not a widespread religion until after Christianity formed and spread like wildfire. If anything, Mithraism borrowed from Christianity, not the other way around.
Wow. So, basically, the myth of Mithra existed long before that of Jesus, but that doesn't matter because Christianity was first, so "neener-neener"? It's very interesting that the writer chose Mithraism specifically for its convenient timing as a religion emerging after Christianity. What's also interesting is that Mithra and Mithras (the latter of which is the basis for Mithraism) are two separate entities from what I can tell from researching it for this blog post. Yet another straw-man from Fast "Facts".
The response does not cover Horus, the Greek mythologies, Zoroastrianism, the true origins of December 25th as a date of celebration, and other details borrowed from other religions and sources. The writer basically takes the weakest example he can find, and uses that as his weapon against the claims of similarities to other mythologies.
Challenge: "Christians are guilty of the God-of-the-gaps fallacy."
It's not just Christians, of course, but since I chose a Christian debating app, all of the challenges are directed at Christians. For those who don't know, the "God of the gaps" fallacy is the application of god to explain anything not currently (or sufficiently) explained by science. Theists were guilty of this hundreds of years ago when we didn't have a firm grasp on what caused lightning, or what is actually was. God was used an the go-to explanation for thunder and lightning, since we couldn't find any other explanation. Of course, once we discovered that lightning was the release of static electricity in the atmosphere, we realized that God was not required to explain lightning.
Today, much like Spackle is used to patch up holes in a wall, God is used as the theistic Spackle to patch up holes in science. Where as Spackle is a good solution for patching up holes in a wall, the God Spackle is not a good long-term solution; just as science eventually explained lightning and did not give up just because we had a temporary "patch" that used God as the explanation, we must not give up and accept God as a "patch" for anything science can't fully explain today. Scientists are always working on learning more about the Big Bang, evolution, abiogenesis, and the universe as a whole. Just because we can't sufficiently explain the exact origins of the universe, doesn't mean one can just apply God as an explanation and call it a day.
Anyway, here is the app's response:
The ancient Greeks were ignorant about science. When they heard thunder, they concluded that the gods were angry. Critics say Christians make the same mistake today. We attribute to God anything we don't understand. For instance, we say God created the universe because we cannot imagine how else it could exist. But this misrepresents the Christian position. Rather than making a God-of-the-gaps argument, we make an inference to the best explanation. Inferences are a legitimate form of reasoning. This process requires examining the evidence and then inferring the best explanation. When we see signs of intelligent authorship in the natural world, we infer God's existence. Thus evidence, not ignorance, leads us to affirm God's existence.
Wha-wha-what!? Evidence leads us to affirm God's existence?
OK, first off, always blame the Greeks, eh? The ancient Greeks were ignorant about science. Yet it was the ancient Greeks who figured out the world was approximately spherical, and wrote many papers on astronomy, geography, technology (at the time), mathematics, botany, and earth science. How dare this writer call them ignorant about science. Was it the ancient Greeks who condemned people for putting forth theories that contradicted popular religious teachings at the time (*cough*Galileo*cough*)? Was it the ancient Greeks who clung to their religion so tightly that they halted all advances in medicine and science, killed thousands of people in the name of their religion, and declared war in their Gods' names?
What's funny is that I came up with the thunder-and-lightning example before I even read the app's response. I've read most of these entries beforehand, but some of them I have yet to read in detail. This is a common example used in debunking the "God of the gaps" fallacy.
Now let's move on to inference as a legitimate form of reasoning. There is such a thing as an incorrect inference, which is known as a fallacy. Claiming that God is the best explanation we can come up with is a fallacy, because there is no reason to believe that God is the best explanation we will ever have from this time forward. Fitting God into the origins of the universe because it is simply the best explanation we have at the moment is the actual definition of the "God of the gaps" fallacy.
Challenge: "Imperfection in the natural world is evidence against a Designer."
Basically, it is said that if there truly was an intelligence behind the supposed design of living things, then the efficiency, placement of organs, and overall mechanisms of things like the human body would be better than they currently are. For example, the laryngeal nerve in mammals travels from the brain, down the neck, around the aorta, then back up into the larynx. This roundabout path is the most apparent and striking in the biology of the giraffe, where the nerve travels an entire 15 feet more than it needs to. What kind of intelligent design is that? Well, our app writer has a response:
Opponents of intelligent design (ID) insist that a world designed by God should be perfect. They say apparent deficiencies in nature disprove ID. For example, they point out that the human eye is not optimally designed. But does it follow that no Designer exists if some things aren't perfectly designed? No. Just as man-made things are designed even if they are imperfect, so too the imperfection of the natural world does not rule out God's role as Designer. God was under no obligation to make things in a way that fit our ideas about optimal design. Furthermore, the natural world suffers under a curse due to human sin (Romans 8:22). Thus we should not expect creation to be perfect.
I have yet to meet an opponent of ID and creationism that expects the world to be perfect. At the very most, we expect it to be more efficient and sensible than it currently is. Also, the human eye? That's the best example you can find of an opposition to ID?
How about vestigial organs? Upper-limb claws in bird embryos? Useless muscles in a portion of humans? Limb buds in snake and slow worm embryos that are reabsorbed before hatching? Legs buds in dolphin embryos? Fused chromosomes in human DNA (explaining why we have one less than other primates)? Vestigial sexual behavior in asexual whiptail lizards? The existing transitional monotreme species (platypus) equipped with both a reptilian eggtooth and an avian caruncle? Flightless beetles with perfectly formed wings hidden beneath fused wing-covers? The appendix being far more harmful than beneficial? Wisdom teeth, required for our ancestors, but not for us? The plantaris muscle, useful for tree-dwelling primates, but useless for humans? Signs of an extended tail in the human embryo? Redundant and non-coding DNA? Remnants of ear-wiggling muscles in humans that serve a purpose in other mammals, but not for us? Non-functional yet existent olfactory genes in dolphins? Goose-bumps/pimples? Nipples in male mammals (like humans), and even the existence of mammary tissue, as well as the ability for men (with exposure to prolactin) to produce milk? The blind spot in the retina of vertebrate eyes (not present in cephalopods)? The exposed "funny bone" humerus nerve?
What does intelligent design and creationism have to say about all of that? Evolution can explain every last one of them.
Challenge: "There are so many options, we could never figure out which God is real."
I included this challenge despite the fact that it assumes that any god is real and asks the wrong question: "Why the Christian God instead of any other god?" The response to this challenge is why I included this entry; it uses a bad analogy that I want to tear to shreds.
In a world of many religious options, which God should we choose? Allah, Krishna, one of the millions of Hindu gods, or Yahweh? Skeptics say the sheer number of religions competing for our adherence makes finding the one true God impossible. But does this conclusion follow from the fact of religious diversity? No. The existence of many wrong answers does not mean no right answer exists. Critics who say otherwise are guilty of a logical fallacy, just like a doctor who decides he does have the right medicine to treat his patient just because his cabinet is filled with many different options.
Here is why his analogy is a steaming, fetid pile of fail: the doctor who looks into his medicine cabinet for the right medicine already has years of education and training so he knows what medicine to use. A more proper analogy would be for the doctor to look into a box filled with bottles of poison and wonder which one would be the best to treat the common cold. Atheists answer, "None of the them. Leave the cold alone and let it run its course. The patient's immune system will be strengthened by the process, and they will have learned to deal with the illness, rather than resort to a medicinal quick fix that only masks the symptoms."
Challenge: "God can't create a rock too heavy for Him to lift; so He's not all-powerful."
Some may say that this claim in itself is a paradox and is therefore not a good argument against God. But I say that it's the combination of an all-powerful and an all-knowing God that ends up being a paradox. You can't be all-powerful and all-knowing at the same time, because then you would know what you will do in the future, but if you are powerless to change it, then you are not all-powerful. However, if you can change what you will do in the future without knowing ahead of time, then you are not all-knowing.
This challenge attempts to show a logical inconsistency in the idea that God is all-powerful. However, the challenge itself suffers from a logical problem; it demands the performance of an incoherent task. Just as it is incoherent to demand that an all-powerful God created a square circle, it is likewise incoherent to ask Him to create a stone He cannot lift. God's omnipotence means he can do all tasks that are logical coherent and compatible with His holy nature. Thus God cannot crate a stone too heavy for Him to lift, put out a fire that never goes out, or beat Himself in arm-wrestling. So what?
"So what?" You've just demonstrated that not only is your God not all-powerful, he is restricted by the laws of logic! Is God so weak that he cannot circumvent the rules of logic and do the impossible? Is God also restricted by the term "impossible"?
There is a problem in defining an entity as "all-powerful". If you don't limit a being's power, then you open up a can of worms in introducing conflicting and contradictory abilities. Even Superman is limited in his power; while he can perhaps lift the heaviest object known to man, he can't create any objects from sheer will, thereby omitting the paradox of creating something that negates the ability to then manipulate it. Saying that God's power is infinite in nature is inherently contradictory and paradoxical.
And that ends our foray into the mind-numbing counter-arguments under the "Challenges and Tactics" section of Fast Facts
. In the next part (or perhaps two parts), I will delve into the garbage pile called "Fast Facts", which is a collection of supposed facts and trivial knowledge associated with Christianity. I can already tell you that apparently the Bible is superior to the Quran, has amazing prophecies that have come true, and has a righteous view of the evilness of homosexuality (ugh).
This blog post is also available in its entirety on my own blog here: Yet Another Atheist
. You can also read Part 1
and Part 2
, which are great reads (if I do say so myself!).
See you next time!