Fresh on the heels of the holiday celebrating arguably the most important event in Christianity, we have the lived spirit of Christ’s redemption: triumphalism of how much better Christians are than a disliked out-group. Specifically, the author is out to demonstrate that Easter somehow demonstrates the stupidity of atheism.
To an atheist, this comes off as “our zombie chocolate bunnies make you look stupid!”. Tongue less in cheek, it’s a pretty good demonstration of the number of cultural and philosophical assumptions, often unexamined, one acquires within what we think is a pretty specific belief system.
In a nation that once prided itself on its Judeo-Christian heritage, one out of every five Americans now claims no religious identity whatsoever; and the number of self-proclaimed Christians has declined by a whopping 15%.
Yes, those who believe in nothing seem to be winning more and more converts every year.
Not really. There’s a few bright-eyed souls, usually those that had a dramatic breakup with an evangelical background, who believe in “winning converts” to the side of atheism. Most of us really and truly don’t care. I’d say a much more realistic picture- especially that refusal to own a religious identity or call themselves Christian- is that the churches are losing people, not that we’re winning them.
Of course, it’s not quite fair to say that atheists believe in nothing. They do believe in something — the philosophical theory known as Materialism, which states that the only thing that exists is matter; that all substances and all phenomena in the universe are purely physical.
This is the first in a series of assumptions that do a rather impressive job of collapsing his own argument.
Atheism is the simple lack of belief in a god. Since it is a simple negative, it can and does have a lot of meanings depending on who’s using the term and why- everything from “none of the traditional gods exist” to “there is nothing supernatural whatsoever, anywhere”. In other words, atheism and philosophical materialism are related, but separate- philosophical materialism is the slightly harder and more concrete stance beyond “I really don’t think there’s an omnipotent cosmic entity that takes a personal interest in humans”, which is about as much as can really be applied to the vast bulk of atheists.
The problem is that this really isn’t a theory at all. It’s a superstition; a myth that basically says that everything in life — our thoughts, our emotions, our hopes, our ambitions, our passions, our memories, our philosophies, our politics, our beliefs in God and salvation and damnation — that all of this is merely the result of biochemical reactions and the movement of molecules in our brain.
Welcome to Argument From Because I Just Said So, That’s Why.
What he thinks he’s arguing is that one side has a lot more explanatory power and body of philosophy behind it and one doesn’t, and that this is a compelling argument. Technically speaking this is true; you can literally explain everything if you attribute anything you do not understand to “because God wants it that way”, and one has a body of philosophy behind it and the other doesn’t because one is a two thousand year old belief system upon which most of Western philosophy was built and one is a plain and simple lack of belief in the other’s starting premise. What atheists who are philosophical materialists are really saying is “there is nothing supernatural about life, there’s a lot we don’t know and may never will, but we might”.
Or, if I’m going to get snarky about how his argument reads from my chair:
“Atheists are stupid superstitious idiots because they can’t explain as many things as believing that an omnipotent cosmic entity created everything, spent several thousand years dinking around with humanity and being unsatisfied with it, then redeemed it with the blood sacrifice of a Jewish man who now serves as his intermediary can. What rubes.”
We can’t reduce the whole of reality to what our senses tell us for the simple reason that our senses are notorious for lying to us.
Therefore omnipotent cosmic entity/resurrected Jew.
Our senses tell us that the world is flat, and yet it’s not. Our senses tell us that the world is chaotic, and yet we know that on both a micro and a macro level, it’s incredibly organized. Our senses tell us that we’re stationary, and yet we’re really moving at incredible speeds. We just can’t see it.
Therefore… you see where I’m going with this.
If atheists were infamous for telling people that all you needed was the evidence of their senses and there weren’t no dad-blamed big-bearded guys in the sky ‘coz we looked, this line of argument might make some kind of sense, but as it stands it really, really doesn’t. The principles that we know explain the higher orders of organization of the world, and the general operations of natural law, weren’t discovered by theologians, but by people assuming whatever was being studied had a natural explanation consistent with other natural law.
But the most important things in life can’t be seen with the eyes. Ideas can’t be seen. Love can’t be seen. Honor can’t be seen.
See above, except now the argument seems to be “atheists don’t believe in anything that can’t be seen and touched and if they did they’d have to admit it was supernatural”. Ideas can’t be seen because they’re inherently abstract concepts, love can’t be seen because it’s an emotional state, and honor can’t be seen because it’s a cultural construct.
The apparent line of argument- anything you can’t touch must potentially be supernatural- is so far doing a rather good job of making the author look dim, not atheists.
This isn’t a new concept. Judaism and Christianity and Islam and Buddhism have all taught for thousands of years that the highest forms of reality are invisible and mysterious. And these realities will never be reducible to clear-cut scientific formulae for the simple reason that they will never be fully comprehensible to the human mind. God didn’t mean them to be.
Thank you for your rousing defense of unassailable anti-intellectualism. Anything we can’t understand today must obviously not have meant to be understood, and anything we understand today that we didn’t a hundred years ago obviously must have been an exception.
I think I see the point he’s trying to make, but again the problem comes from fundamentally misunderstanding the way atheists think. We don’t lock up like an artificial intelligence in a bad science fiction story trying to comprehend love or the beauty of a flower, we simply don’t assume that things and concepts that aren’t amenable to reduction and reconstruction must or could be supernatural. Reductionism isn’t a life philosophy, it’s just one tool in a toolbox to describe and try to understand the world.
Or, in far fewer words: emergent properties exist and this is not controversial.
Or, in fewer words with more internet snark: FUCKING MAGNETS, HOW DO THEY WORK?!
No less a genius than Albert Einstein once said: “The most beautiful thing we can experience in life is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: for his eyes are closed.”
I find quoting the discoverer of general relativity the very next paragraph after claiming that God doesn’t want the mysterious to be understood an absolute scream, I don’t know about you.
Again: atheists don’t disbelieve in wonder or mystery, they disbelieve in powerful supernatural entities with a direct interest in humanity, and think ascribing everything not understood to such entities just because it’s an explanation is silly.
Too many people go through life today with their eyes closed. They miss out on the mysterious because they’re so fixated on what they can see and smell and touch and taste and hear.
People are generally oblivious unless temperamentally inclined otherwise. While I have met one or two atheists this describes, the vast majority of them were so secure in their religious certainties everything that deviated came as a surprise to immediately deny, even things the rest of the civilized world considers well-known facts.
They’re so steeped in the “superstition of materialism” that they’re totally blind to the existence of another world — a radically different world than the one they’re familiar with, but a world nonetheless: a world of miracles, a world of grace, a world of angels, a world of diabolical warfare, a world where the highest values are completely opposite from those of our secular society — where weakness equals strength, sacrifice equals salvation, and suffering equals unlimited power.
Schizophrenics inhabit an exciting world full of mysteries and entities the rest of us aren’t privy to as well.
The last half of that statement is a bit theologically problematic. Christianity says suffering can be redemptive, not that it always is or inherently elevates you, let alone grants “unlimited power” to anyone but Christ.
The third thing that strikes me as odd about this paragraph is the way he’s talking as though Christianity weren’t the dominant cultural influence in the Western world. Sure, there’s a pretty big gap between the church and the world, but most of the values “secular society” has are derived from Christianity and its attendant culture. Including the idea that something being painful or unpleasant must make you a better person if you do it or put up with it.
Atheists, of course, claim that all of this is absurd. Christianity, especially, they say, with its belief in Easter and the Resurrection, is nothing but “wishful thinking” — the product of weak human psychology; a psychology that is so afraid of death that it must create “delusional fantasies” in order to make life on Earth bearable.
Some of them do. Some of us just stop at “divine blood sacrifice, really?” Life on Earth nowadays is really pretty bearable with or without it for most of us.
But is it wishful thinking to believe in hell, the devil and demons? Is it wishful thinking to believe we’re going to be judged and held accountable for every sin we’ve ever committed? Is it wishful thinking to believe the best way to live our life is to sacrifice our own desires for the sake of others? Is it wishful thinking to believe that we should discipline our natural bodily urges for the sake of some unseen “kingdom”?
I’ll actually just grant him this point, which he continues over the next few paragraphs. Not all atheists have leveled this particular charge at the religious, but enough have it’s a valid and true counter-argument.
And yet, atheists persist in this ridiculous notion that human beings “invented” God merely because we’re afraid of death and want to see our dead relatives again. Amazing.
Again, not all of us. Some of us think we did because we’re a designing, pattern-finding species that is deeply uncomfortable with the unexplained, and because a personalized and externalized moral code the entire society can refer to and judge themselves against is a useful cultural adaptation.
The rest of it is pretty stock “our team’s awesome and you won’t beat us because we’re right”. Which, fair enough, the difference between what he takes on faith and what I doubt is the entire point, though I actually do agree that atheists will never stamp out religious belief for pretty much the reasons in the above paragraph.
So, there you have it: it is trivially obvious that all of Christianity’s premises are true because the world would be more boring if not, mysteries are unsolvable and more fun that way, abstract concepts exist, and atheists are poopheads.
I’m still not convinced, me, but if you’ve got any of those Reese’s peanut butter bunnies, we can try those.