(This is part two of "The Religion Challenge", an exercise that I shared in with some Christian friends of mine. We agreed to analyze various resources and have an online dialog. I am posting a new entry each day but you can see the whole series at the bottom of this post).
- Religion arose because primitive man needed to explain things like storms and where we came from. - It is our human nature to want to have someone to report to. - Despite what you have been told, if you believe in religion you do not have free will. After all, God is watching your every move and listening to your every thought. You can not opt out of this even though you didn't ask for it.
Short Video (Part 1)
Short Video (Part 2)
_____________________________________________________ Response by Kristen and Brent
1. Religion arose because primitive man needed to explain things like storms and where we came from. In a broad sense, we would agree with you, that people seek religion to explain the unexplained. The same is true of philosophy, science, and just about any branch of knowledge. This does not make it false or primitive. The real question is which provides a more convincing explanation for the whole of human experience – not just naturalistic events like storms – but the whole range of important human questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What happens to us when we die? And how should we live? So that is the intellectual challenge here – which hypothesis (or worldview) - Christianity or Atheism - provides the best explanation for the whole of human experience and provides a better foundation for pursuing an intellectually authentic, moral, meaningful, and fulfilling life. Most atheists and skeptics that I’ve met can make a good argument about what’s wrong with the Christian worldview. But the question I always ask is, “are you applying the same standards of proof, the same degree of skepticism to your own worldview as you are applying to Christianity or theism?” If you are not, then you promoting an “atheism of the gaps” philosophy, shooting holes in the theist worldview, and arriving at atheism by default. When you apply the same standards of proof and skepticism, I think you’ll find many of the propositions that are accepted as scientific “truths” rest on unproven assumptions. Rather than take the chance of mischaracterizing your opinion, I think it's easier just to ask what you believe in, what your worldview is. When we talked in Washington, in many of your answers you referred back to the authority of science. Would I be correct in assuming that you believe the philosophy that Christopher Hitchens appears to be advocating – that science can offer a sufficient explanation for the world around us, that matter is all that exists, and that what is commonly understood as the soul or spirit are illusions – what philosophers call materialism.
We are under no illusion that we will be able to prove that God exists. We doubt that anyone can be argued into believing in God. Faith is a decision that comes when you’ve experienced the love of God, either directly, or through the love of others. But there are a few things I think can be demonstrated with reason alone: Faith and reason are not contradictory. Faith does not have to be blind faith. Belief in atheism, science, and anything else requires faith. There is good evidence to believe that the Christian worldview is true. This evidence is not conclusive or indisputable, but I’m as convinced of the existence of God as I am of the existence of gravity. 2. It is our human nature to want to have someone to report to. That begs the question of where did that innate quality come from. The Bible tells us that God created us with an innate desire to seek Him (Acts 17: 27). 3. If you believe in religion you do not have free will. After all, God is watching your every move and listening to your every thought. You cannot opt out of this even though you didn't ask for it.
We can opt out. Every atheist proves it. God gives us a choice to follow him or reject him, because without choice, our love for God is meaningless to Him. Even when he is watching us and listening to our thoughts, he still gives us the freedom to make decisions. In Genesis (chapter 3), God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of one tree in the garden, but He did not prevent them from doing so. He wants our obedience to be voluntary. Just so we have a better idea of where you’re coming from, do you believe in free will? Hitchens notes that some believers argue that religion may not be true, but it provides consolation, and argues that this sort of wishful thinking displays a serious lack of intellectual integrity.
We agree completely with that statement. To believe in something you know to be false just because it is comfortable is disingenuous. There is no doubt that some Christians are prone to such wishful thinking, but both of us have been in a lot of churches, and this is much rarer than you may think among Christians. God never asks us to shut off our minds to believe in Him, quite the opposite. God commands us to love him with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds (Matthew 22:37). It is Jesus who says, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).
Hitchens claims that the original claims of religion have been thoroughly discredited. That is simply false. A great number of scientists and intellectuals from all walks of life have seriously examined the evidence and concluded that the order in the universe must be the result of an intelligent designer. Moreover, the scientific and theological explanations for the origins of the universe are not necessarily incompatible. For now, I’ll leave it at that, as I’m sure we’ll take this issue up in some more depth in future sessions. Since Hitchens didn’t focus on this issue, I want to move on to what is the main thrust of his argument. Hitchens argues that religion is not ethical or moral. First, he argues that monotheism is inherently totalitarian.
A God that is all-powerful and all-knowing would, of course, be the worst of despots, if he were not also good. One of the best arguments for the goodness of God is that He does not use his power like you would expect a totalitarian to do. He has the power to control our every thought, and every action, but as noted previously, he gives us the free will to make choices, even when we choose to disobey him. That does not sound like totalitarianism to me. Hitchens also argues that it is not moral to believe the Christian concept that your sin can be taken away by the punishment of another. In this case, however, we’re talking about a voluntary act, by Jesus himself, to come to earth and bear the punishment for our sins. This is the ultimate proof of God’s goodness. What we could not do for ourselves, Jesus did for us, in a voluntary act. This is the only way that God could be both fully just and merciful. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met” (Romans 8:3-4), “but the gift of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
Hitchens claims that if the earth is at least 100,000 years old, then God must have done nothing for the first 96,000 years while he watched the misery of primitive humans only to intervene at the 11th hour. Hitchens argues that this demonstrates that if God is a designer, he is either lazy, inept, or cruel.
Hitchens makes some big leaps of logic to make this argument, melding together incompatible interpretations of Genesis. Regardless of whether you take the first several chapters of Genesis as a literal description of how God created the earth, theologists agree that God was there at the beginning as the driving force behind creation. From beginning to end, Old and New Testaments, the Bible talks about all the different ways that God uses to bring a wandering people back to him. This is a long way from the picture of an uninvolved, capricious God that Hitchens paints. To combine the scientific view of the age of the earth with the “young earth fundamentalist” view of when God came on the scene is dramatically oversimplifying a complex debate in order to create a straw man argument against God. You argued that Strobel’s use of the straw man technique undermined his credibility. (We’re still friends, right?)
Lastly, Hitchens claims that the Bible claims that we don’t have an innate sense of right and wrong, that we were just “wandering in the desert” before God gave us the law to show us the way.
That is a complete misrepresentation of what the Bible says. There are 34 references in the NIV (New International Version) translation of the Bible to the word “conscience” or some variant of it. Romans 2:14-15 talks about even the Gentiles who do not have the law have the law “written on their hearts” so that their consciences bear witness. Where does this innate sense of right and wrong come from? It is precisely because there are so many interpretations and misinterpretations of Christianity that we want you to go to the original source and read the Bible for yourself. Like you, we want no part of a religion that that sacrifices intellectual honesty for comfortable platitudes, that asks us to put aside our reason and embrace blind faith, or that compels us to love a cruel and absent God. Real Christianity is none of these things. _____________________________________________________
Response by Adam
Now we're getting somewhere! :-)
1. Religion arose because primitive man needed to explain things like storms and where we came from. First and foremost, atheism is not an ideology. It does not seek to explain where we came from. It does not have a set of morals. It is merely the belief that there is not a God that plays an active part if our lives (or that there isn't one at all, which is almost the same thing. I'll explain why in the near future). Thus, there is no "world view". What is wrong with Christianity or any other religion? Where to start? I'll also touch more on this in my upcoming articles. It is not my burden to prove that your worldview is invalid. As I said in my review of "The Case for Christ", it is up to the faithful to build a case for their belief. Thus, there is no "atheism of the gaps". Once again, you have discounted the thousands of gods that have come and gone. By your logic, couldn't they all say the same thing to you? "Hey, prove all of us wrong". I see the "world view" of Christianity every day in the paper. Yesterday it was the Pope warning of the dangers of godlessness. Today it was the UK finally apologizing for the WW2 hero that broke ENIGMA. His crime? Being gay. His sentence? Prison or castration (he chose suicide). The secular movement was key in the apology. So that is the intellectual challenge here – which hypothesis (or worldview) - Christianity or Atheism - provides the best explanation for the whole of human experience and provides a better foundation for pursuing an intellectually authentic, moral, meaningful, and fulfilling life. The whole of human experience? You are basing your entire belief system on a book written almost 2,000 years ago by anonymous authors in an anonymous land (and quite possibly about fictional people). Worse, all believers of this book cherry-pick through what they want to believe and what they feel they should believe. So which part of the human experience are we talking about? The keeping of slaves? The selling of daughters? The thousands of deaths ordered by a vengeful god? I know, the priests don't talk about that stuff on sunday. Hence the cherry picking.
And this is why the secular experience is growing. It isn't out to prove that there isn't a god. It is the recognition that one day religion will probably be the cause of the end of the world. It is the recognition that if we all bring our holy books to the table of humanity that we'll never get anywhere. And please do not pretend that the Bible is all about love and kindness because it isn't. 150 years ago the Christians used the Bible to justify slavery. 100 years ago they used it to keep women from having equal rights. They were just following what the book clearly says. By freeing slaves and giving women equal rights we are actually violating god's laws as defined in the bible. The inception of our country violated gods law as he said that people shouldn't rebel (and you doubt that the bible wasn't written by those in power?). And today, we try to get equal rights for gays. Who is against this? Christians, because they cherry-picked passages from the bible that suited their dislikes. Since its inception, humanity has been struggling to escape the shackles of religion. Ask Galileo - he was given house arrest for the rest of his life for saying that the earth wasn't the center of the universe. Darwin was condemned until well after his death. I believe Brent was 100% right when he said that you can slice the bible any way you want it. You follow the parts you like and declare them gods law and everything else was a cute/horrific story or a mistake by the (unknown) authors. We are under no illusion that we will be able to prove that God exists. We doubt that anyone can be argued into believing in God. Faith is a decision that comes when you’ve experienced the love of God, either directly, or through the love of others. But there are a few things I think can be demonstrated with reason alone: Faith and reason are not contradictory. Faith does not have to be blind faith. Belief in atheism, science, and anything else requires faith. I'm sure the Egyptians felt the same love from Amen-Ra and the Japanese felt the same love from their supreme leader as they flew their kamikaze missions.
Faith and reason aren't contradictory? Did someone change the definition of contradictory? Look, you can say that you have faith in something and do not need proof and that is the end of the discussion. But if you want to say that faith and reason are not contradictory you have a problem. Taking some on faith means that you do not need proof.
(from Websters) Faith: belief that is not based on proof.
The disbelief in something does not require faith. Science has absolutely, positively nothing to do with faith. Science is the search for truths. Not assumptions, not guesses. There are only two models: that which is proven and can be reproduced and that which can not. Gravity is a scientific fact. It can be reproduced every time so it is a law of nature. Miracles require the suspension of the laws of nature and we know this does not happen. Once again, religion requires you to believe the least likely scenario at every turn.
What amazes me is the pass that religion gets. We need more proof to send someone to jail. We require more proof to pick the right car. But the beliefs that are the very basis for our being? We rely on intuition and superstition (which are ironically the same "proofs" that people use to believe in ghosts, UFO's, bigfoot, etc).
It is our human nature to want to have someone to report to. That begs the question of where did that innate quality come from. I think this is more of the weak-mindedness of the human mind and it traces back to our ancestors (as do so many other traits that we are born with). The "need" to have the cosmos explained to us no matter how unlikely the explanation is another one.
We can opt out. Every atheist proves it. Sure, but according to your book I'll probably be in big trouble when I die. And of course I believe in free will because I do not believe that a supernatural force chooses to interrupt our lives (sometimes). I'd be more horrified if I did believe as he clearly lets a lot of bad things happen. I know, it is cute have the self-centered belief that "too many weird things have happened to me for me not to believe" (most Christians claim this) while billions of people starve every day. It is Jesus who says, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). Sure, but the "truth" is the Christian "truth". I know so many Christians that say that "my church encourages critical thinking". No, they don't. You're expected to look at the other side and then find "the truth". That's why the statement was made - the assumption is already there for you.
A great number of scientists and intellectuals from all walks of life have seriously examined the evidence and concluded that the order in the universe must be the result of an intelligent designer. Completely not true. First, Hitchens referred to "religion" and not a generic creator (and they are not the same thing). Sure, there are scientists from various fields feel that there had to be an instigator to all of this. I can't say that there isn't. What I can say is that I see absolutely no reason that this prime mover wants to be worshipped or plays a role in our lives. The belief in a supernatural first cause does not bolster the Christian claims.
Science does not have all of the answers and may never have them. But that is not reason to say "science can't explain this. Therefore, my God is the right one". We don't know what we don't know. The key here is that science isn't looking to disprove religion. We don't need it to come up with our values. But what it has done is brougth the untruths from Christianity and every other religion into the light. The old testament used to be taken as complete truth and now the ridiculous stories discredited by science are explained away as "cute stories" or "allegories". I'd love for someone to point out which stories are true and which are not. In this area I give the fundamentalists credit - they believe the book to be completely truth rather than picking through it as most Christians do. With every advance in science the Christians need to come up with a new way to fit it into their book. This is why religion and science can not co-exist - church has always fought advances in science only to re-write their position later and say that the scientific advance was further proof of god's work. “Since the Bible and the church are obviously mistaken in telling us where we came from, how can we trust them to tell us where we are going?” - anonymous quote
He gives us the free will to make choices, even when we choose to disobey him. That does not sound like totalitarianism to me. But it is not only your actions but your thoughts. I think that is worse than totalitarianism as at least one can die to escape a dictator. A dictator will also say that you'll be just fine as long as you do as your told. Hitchens also argues that it is not moral to believe the Christian concept that your sin can be taken away by the punishment of another. And as Hitchens pointed out, this (like so many other Christian beliefs) is derived from the ancient tradition of piling all of a town's sins on a goat and driving him into the wilderness to die. As I've said before, there are no original ideas in religion as they are all derived from other beliefs. Either way, I would agree with him - that is a pretty crappy idea. I wouldn't be very happy if someone cut off my leg and god forgave him.
Another point that Christians miss is even if you believe this story it really isn't a "gift from God". After all, he sent his son down from heaven and then called him back up later on (the Christians later decided that he was god but that's a story for another post). He then called him back up (or he called himself back up, which seems even sillier). I don't see any real sacrifice there.
I'll talk more about this in another blog but god sending his son to be crucified predated Christianity.
Hitchens claims that if the earth is at least 100,000 years old, then God must have done nothing for the first 96,000 years while he watched the misery of primitive humans only to intervene at the 11th hour. Hitchens argues that this demonstrates that if God is a designer, he is either lazy, inept, or cruel. I think many Christians have the absurd belief that we'd be nowhere without the Ten Commendments or the (alleged) teachings of Jesus. As Hitchens pointed out, our ancestors knew that murdering and stealing were wrong. This wasn't new. He is referencing the fact that God seemingly left us alone for 96,000 years before he intervenes. If you want to point to the horrific stories of the old testament as being proof of his intervention you then have the problem of the "loving god" bringing on widespread murder and other horrors.
Either way, I don't see why you would call this a straw man argument. If you believe that man has been on this planet for 100,00 years (even though the bible says 6,000) then God didn't intervene earlier. I don't know a Christian that doesn't believe this to be true. The issue is Hitchens claim that a loving god wouldn't have waited so long. Of course, looking at the pain and suffering in this history of our world even his style of intervention (if you believe, of course) is at best superficial.
Lastly, Hitchens claims that the Bible claims that we don’t have an innate sense of right and wrong, that we were just “wandering in the desert” before God gave us the law to show us the way.
I think you may have misunderstood what he was getting at here. He is referring to the claims that we would have no basis for morality if it weren't for the Bible. I think most people of all religions believe that people that do not follow their book are immoral. I'll talk a LOT more about this in my first blog "why it matters".
It is precisely because there are so many interpretations and misinterpretations of Christianity that we want you to go to the original source and read the Bible for yourself. I'll give it my best but I don't think that will change the fact that you can slice it any way that you want. After all, a fundamentalist can make a very very good claim that you're not a "real christian" because you have your own interpretation instead of following the literal word. One can justify just about anything by finding the right vague passage. This can not and should not be a code for living your life. You're judging "quality" by your interpretations just as they are by their interpretations. This is one more reason why we need to get away from these beliefs. You may want to not follow the more horrific things in the Bible but the book still says what it says.