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« Rick Warren to Interview Presidential Candidates on National Television This Saturday | Main | Stumbling toward Faith ... and Hope | Renée Altson »

August 20, 2008

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Atheist Bloggers Dialogue, post #3
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I think it just comes back to those same stumbling blocks theists and atheists run into in almost every debate... the "God is greater and more complex than we'll ever understand" argument.

But can't the same thing be said about science? Isn't science something we'll never fully learn-- fully perfect. There will always be mysteries to our existence.

But it's such a leap-- and I think a ridiculous one at that-- to assume that since something (like an eye, or the creation of the universe) is extremely complex or even (seemingly) impossible to understand, then it must have been the result of something supernatural.

Kudos to Chuck for the time-consuming response.

I'll also add that I find it generally contemptible when Christians say they wouldn't be doing such good things if they weren't trying to "do His bidding". I guess they are trying to say life would have no (or much, much less) meaning for them without a god.

But how ridiculous a statement is that, especially when many of the countries with the highest quality of life and greatest records of human and civil rights are largely atheistic?

Evan,

Which countries are you referring to?
What criteria are you using to assess human rights?
Any reports you can point to?
How do you define an atheistic country?

Thanks.

Keith:
> Any reports you can point to?

Take a look at this paper published in the Journal of Religion and Society, particularly the figures at the bottom
moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

The main conclusion from that paper is that the US is an oddball in many respects: we're a much more religious country than most other industrialized nations, and we also have more homicides, more child mortality, more abortions than they do.

Note, as usual, that correlation is not the same as causation. It might be that religion causes women to get abortions. Or it could be that having an abortion causes people to get religion. Or it could be that the conditions (e.g., poverty) that cause people to resort to abortion also push people toward religion.

Also, take a look at the 50-state comparisons at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:
www.thenationalcampaign.org/state-data/state-comparisions.asp

Unfortunately, they don't have statistics on sexual activity and religion, but if you look at the maps, you'll quickly see that the Bible Belt has nothing to brag about. (In fact, it looks to me as though the main factor is climate: the warmer it is, the more people have sex.)

Basically, it may be an overstatement to say that atheism and societal health go hand in hand, but it's obvious that religion does not improve societal health.

arensb, I don't think it's obvious at all--that's quite a leap, in my opinion. More data is needed on the belief systems of those involved in sexual behavior and abortion, etc. You do bring up an interesting point, and that is the apparent ineffectiveness of the church in influencing the culture. I think we've been rather ineffective as a whole, and I believe it's because we're not fully living out what it means to be followers of Jesus. If we were really serious about loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves (the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus), we'd be far more effective both in living what we believe and in influencing others to join us. Serious believers strive to do this, and I've seen the positive effect this has on their lives and the lives of those around them, whether those around them are believers or not.

Keith, you don't get to pick and choose your battles this way. To say "that religion does not improve societal health" is "quite a leap" and then to highlight "the apparent ineffectiveness of the church in [positively] influencing the culture" is absurd: if a church - any church - fails to positively influence a society, that suffices as proof that religion does not categorically improve societal health. And you can look up the religiosity levels of various European countries on your own to see that significant atheism doesn't bring ruin on a nation - I promise you Google works just as well for you as it does for us.

Now, to Colson's actual argument: it's worthless. He runs pretty much the whole bad-argument gamut, from out-and-out lies ("But no matter how far we go in being able to empirically validate the answers to these kinds of questions, we don’t even come close to understanding the mind, emotions, feelings, conscience, awareness of life and mortality"; "[altruism is] not plausible in natural selection") to reshaping the evidence to suit his desired conclusion ("if He is God, a personal source of creative power that brought everything we know into existence, it would be contrary to His very nature to give us that kind of intimate knowledge" - oh? So we can reject the Bible and all claims of divine revelation?) to randomly name-dropping a few philosophical theories without any thought to how he uses them ("until something is scientifically validated you have no reason to really trust it... this is Scientism, which is a very distinct worldview. The one thing of course it can never do is tell you what you ought to do. ...which his why I’ve argued that the only logical, ethical prescription in a naturalistic world is utilitarianism." Ah, I see: "Scientism" can never provide morality, but it's logical to accept morality on "Scientistic" evidence) to making utter straw men out of everything his opponents stand for ("I don’t think we can live in a world that has no basis for love other than erotic pleasures." Because yes, Mr. Colson, all atheist parents want to copulate with their children). To the credulous (our dear Keith above?), Colson's standard-issue rhetoric may be convincing, but there's really nothing worth believing in what he says. If his faith is really faith, then he ought not to defend it like this, because that makes it seem like a reasoned conclusion; if it is indeed such a conclusion, it needs be reasoned much, much more carefully.

A couple points:

-The complexity of the human eye did not give Darwin doubts about his theory. He used it as an example of something that it seemed, on the surface, like his theory could not explain, and then proceeded to describe exactly how his theory explained it. It is very difficult to credit someone for their reason or their devotion to research and the truth when they fall back on standard quote mining instead of reading for themselves.

-To that end, I highly recommend Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene," which is more than 30 years old and which describes, in depth, how altruism is likely to have evolved. Perhaps you have not read it because Dawkins gave it a thoroughly misleading title -- the book would appear, on the surface, to be about the genetic source of selfish, and not altruistic, behavior.

Regarding Dawkins, I believe that you misrepresent his views on Panspermia; he has never, to my knowledge, said that "life MUST have originated on another planet and gotten here somehow by traveling as space dust" (emphasis mine) -- only that this is the only even partially plausible mechanism by which life would not have originated on Earth itself. He still does believe that life originated on Earth -- he was speaking in hypotheticals.

Also, I disagree with your talk of "presuppositions." Rational thought makes no presupposition aside from the one that says that our capacities for observation (our senses) are generally trustworthy. Based on those observations, rational thought constructs an understanding of reality.

The idea of starting with a presupposition and seeking out supporting evidence is precisely what is wrong with the idea of "Faith" as discussed here.

Moving forward, you say: "I’ve spent the last 33 years working in prisons all around the world. I would have absolutely no motivation to do this if I didn’t believe that every single one of those prisoners is created in the image of God, and therefore has an inherent human dignity which must be respected. I would ignore the prisoners; they would be of no real value to our society."

To be blunt, you are a terrible person. If there is no God then human dignity is something that WE imbue in each other. To say you only have that sense because God tells you to implies that you may have trouble genuinely empathizing with others -- though it does explain your inability to understand non-theistic group behavior.

"I can’t imagine waking up in the morning and thinking about nothing, or that I’m the product of a chance process and it just happened to produce me."

As an atheist, I do not wake in the morning "thinking about nothing," and I never ever wake up thinking about natural selection. I wake up thinking about what I have to do during the day (and often how much I would rather just go back to sleep). You seem to fall into the trap of substituting "no God" for "God" into a theistic lifestyle and then pointing out how empty that is. A non-theistic lifestyle is not built around the notion/need of a deity and thus the lack of said deity does not leave gaping holes in one's worldview or self-image.

You say: "Why is it that we are made to want to connect to other people, as a recent study at Dartmouth showed, as humans have known from the beginning of history?...Humans know there must be a purpose."

But it is not a logical step from "Humans want to connect" to "There is a greater purpose." Humans are, essentially, pack animals. We fare better as a group than we do alone, and so evolution has favored those who play well with others.

And what would compel humans to work together? A sense of need for each other, a sense of love in a group and loneliness outside of it. Ancestral humans born without that need to belong would go off on their own, be at a survival/reproductive disadvantage, and eventually become the minority population if not entirely extinct, leaving therefore a population of humans with that group instinct intact. We have good reason to believe that a sense of belonging is biological, because we have plenty of documented cases of people born without that instinct -- and they are considered to have a "disorder."

As with altruism, natural selection has a perfectly rational -- and observable -- explanation for group behavior (and that overlaps in many essential ways with altruism anyway).

The rest has been addressed.

*...there are really only two choices in life, either God is, or He is not. (There’s actually a third in eastern religion, and that is that He’s an illusion.)*

This isn't even close to being accurate.

As far as Colson's pronouncements about science are concerned - Zondervan editors, if I were you, for Colson's sake, as well as your own, I'd prevail upon him to stop making pronouncements about what science does and doesn't assert. He really doesn't understand the concepts he's attempting to describe, and he's making the lot of you (including himself) look like damn fools.

Jeff,

From a philosophical perspective, the choices Chuck outlines are the starting point for many belief systems. I believe that is his point, as all belief systems begin with presuppositions of one kind or another. So, what presuppositions support your belief system? What has Chuck left out?

For the record, I've responded to this and two other posts in a three-part reply at:
http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/2009/02/kazims-compiled-responses-to-chuck.html

Has Colson ever responded to Glasser's reply, linked in the previous post? The posts may be long, but the "dialogue" is disappointingly short.

@Some Matt or other: I'll look into your question, thanks! -Adam

Oops, that should've read "linked in the previous comment".

@Some Matt or other: After looking into your question, I cannot find a direct response from Chuck Colson to Glasser's reply.


To your point regarding dialogue, the closest thing I could find is a recent short video from Colson about Christian dialogue in the public sphere. Here he argues that Christians are wise to rely on reasoned dialogue and historical example in discussion with non-Christians, rather than expecting Bible verses to end the argument: http://www.colsoncenter.org/twominutewarning/entry/33/18219 (video)

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