Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Video That Makes A Convincing Case for Atheism… Or Does It?



Before anything else, let me begin by pointing out what this video does exceptionally well. First of all, it correctly points out the problem with private revelation (i.e. the idea that "God spoke to me and told me to do such and such"). It may be true or not that God spoke to you, but that surely cannot be binding for everyone (at least not in the manner that it is presented here). The second rhetorically effective tactic (other than making everyone look as stupid and irrational as possible) is the video's critique of the divisions among religious groups. The scandal of division and the reality of sectarian violence is not an atheist plot, it is rather a painful fact that must be acknowledged in its own right. What is questionable is the suggestion that all religions are equally violent. You might just as well say that every philosophy is equally violent. To the contrary, some ideas are naturally more conducive to freedom and dignity than others (whether religious or secular). In any case, what I would like to offer here is a counter-response to what I would regard as a formidable challenge, a general defense of all religious groups (at least those who clearly profess a faith in a good God), as well as a more specific attempt to argue a unified theory of Faith/Truth. After all, is that not what this atheist is trying to argue; a universal objective norm without God; a Catholic Faith without Christ.    


1. What sort of atheist are we dealing with here?

I would not regard this atheist as a nihilist (at least not on the surface), for he clearly subscribes to a kind of positivistic view of the world, a belief that the most important answers to life are to be found in mathematical computations and scientific observation. From his perspective, science and empiricism are what unifies everyone, while religion and dogma are what divides us. Science is objective and universal, while religion is subjective and local. Interestingly, this self-proclaimed humanist wants us all to believe in a truly objective and "catholic" worldview…. so long as that worldview doesn't actually happen to be Catholic. In any event, there is only one problem with this kind of secular humanism: "man cannot live by math alone"!


2. Can life be reduced to a math equation?


To say that math and/or empiricism answers every big question in life is little bit like saying that the key to happiness is a good diet. "Dad, what's the meaning of life? Why am I lonely? What is beauty and why does it make me weep sometimes? How do you determine what is right and wrong? Why does love change everything? Well son, I'm not sure about all that, but what I can tell you is this: 2+2 = 4, and don't forget, too many carbs will cause you to pack on the pounds." Thanks so much dad… said the mechanical robot boy who did not have a soul. Look, who the heck disagrees with the proposition that math works, or that science can teach you many things about life, or even that technology can bring about cultural and social progress? Unless you are a Luddite, or you despise the intellect altogether, you are not likely to disagree with such things, religious or not. Still, does anyone really believe in their heart of hearts that you can live life without addressing these larger issues? One must live in an incredibly narrow world in order to believe that a biological explanations alone can address every important issue. Ironically, an individual who argues this will often mock religious fundamentalism, even while neglecting to see that he or she pretty much does the same thing on the opposite end of the spectrum.


3. Are religious people always anti-intellectual?


Pretending that most religious folks (with a few notable exceptions) despise science and math is a little bit like going to a Catholic school and ridiculing them for only teaching theology. If this were actually the case, then why would so many parents send their kids to such an institution (including atheist parents)? So the problem here is not that most religious schools are only focused on "religion", but rather that atheists are fixated on the sciences to the exclusion of every other subject. My question is: can you really regard yourself as a true "humanist," when by your own admission you have absolutely no interest in the "humanities" (i.e. literature, art music, history, and philosophy)?!

If ever there were a false syllogism, it is the following: I believe in math and science, therefore God does not exist. Well, I've got news for you, I believe in God precisely because math and science do work. In other words, if there were not a Higher Order or a Higher Rationality, then how would we even begin to create a systematic approach to these fields? Indeed, how would we even begin to invent formulas where no "form" really existed at all? Here is my formula. Where there is science, order is implied.  


4. Does diversity of creed effectively debunk religion?

According to the creator of this video, diversity of creed is tantamount to contradiction, and therefore the fomenter of violence. If everyone would simply pursue scientific uniformity most of the world's problems would immediately go away. We have seen already (thank you) what this sort of mechanized uniformity looks like, and its got totalitarian written all over it. Did nobody read 1984, Brave New World, and/or every other science fiction novel ever written? Or look at it this way, when scientists and mathematicians get together and decide that they are the absolute arbiters of what is right and wrong, should we expect anything less than a cold Darwinian view of life? "Springtime for Hitler and Germany...". In fairness, we have also witnessed such extreme uniformity and barbarism meted out in the name of religion (most recently the group ISIS comes to mind). Nevertheless, such totalitarianism has never cared much where its power or justification came from- only that it had a mandate to accomplish its cruelty.


"In the United States you call God 'Yahweh' (we do?), in India 'Vishnu'… This is not how truth works." he cooly declares. Let's follow this logic. In the United States there is one type of meat called "sausage"- in Mexico, it's called "salchicha". "That isn't how the truth works, therefore sausages do not exist!" Yes, 99.5% of the people that have ever lived on the face of this planet have believed in some kind of Deity, and finally the secular humanist comes along and declares that he can deliver us from our ignorance. And what does this man offer us in exchange for our belief in a personal immortality??? The truly exhilarating notion that we are all little more than a bag of meat, floating through space, destined to fall back into the nothingness from whence we came? Thank you atheism! Actually, when I consider this mentality, the band Pink Floyd comes to mind; "And did they get you to trade, your heroes for ghosts; hot ashes for trees; hot air for a cool breeze… And did you exchange, a walk on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?"


5. Is the "faith obeys borders" argument a solid one?


It is true to say, as the video clearly suggests, that a man often accepts the values with which he is presented. And your point? Sure, anybody who is raised with any values whatsoever will inevitably be raised with those values. You could say that about anything at all, math and science notwithstanding. However, if a society is to advance in any regard, someone from the outside (or inside) must propose a new and better way. Subsequently, if you critique religion with a criticism that would (and does in fact) apply to your own argument, then that qualifies as a weak argument.                   


6. Does the fact that various world religions contradict one another serve to undermine their claim to truth?

Perhaps the strongest argument he makes in this video is something that seems potentially impossible to refute… because in a sense it is impossible to refute. The argument goes something like this: Yes, there may be a few things in common among religions, but in the end they hold too many contradictory positions, and if God were real, then knowing him would/should not be so complicated. Therefore, as a consequence of this lack of clarity and simplicity, we can safely conclude that religion must be a lie.


To the contrary, the only thing this proves is that humanity has a difficult time figuring out precisely who or what God is (see Crash Test Dummies "God Shuffled His Feet"). One might attribute this failed communique to one of any number of things (sin and free will, for example). But whatever the reason for the breakdown, one thing is certain: if God is indeed the Author of all things, all sciences, all math, all knowledge, known and unknown (see quantum mechanics), would it not make sense that his full identity would elude our extremely diminutive minds? When imagining the prospect of coming face to face with the Author of Life, I can envision nothing short of a mind-blowing experience… quite literally (actually, I think of Raiders of the Lost Ark). So no, it is not perfectly obvious what God is, nor does it seem rational to think that the Maker of all things- both visible and invisible- could be summed up in a neat and tidy little formula. In fact, Jesus himself expressed it this way; "There are many things that I have to say to you, but you cannot bear them right now"(John 16:12-13). This would have to be the understatement for the ages.



7. Does the Christian Faith provide a unified theory of Truth?


Perhaps the best way to make my point is by using a metaphor that would be most agreeable to the one with whom I am disagreeing. How many fits and starts, valiant- though wildly inaccurate- efforts has the human race made (and continues to make) in the hope of figuring out precisely why the world and cosmos are the way they are? How much time is required to build a system of science which properly corresponds to the nature of reality, all while recognizing that our scientific models will never be wholly adequate? Indeed, modern scientists seem to have an incredibly short memory when it comes to this reality, for a great deal of what was presumed a verity only two hundred years ago, would be laughed at in many respects today. So yes, time is required to make this happen, not to mention common sense, a stable society, and reasonable thinking. If this is the case with something like science, how much more would it be true for a Being who is the one behind science itself (and everything else)? Therefore, it follows that in spite of man's best attempts (i.e. his best religious guesses) he could not bridge this gap on his own. Consequently, God recognized the necessity of revealing Himself and His plan to humanity. And no, you do not have to believe in God to recognize that if He does exist he would inevitably be far more complex and mind-blowing than anything he created.

Unlike what is depicted in this video, the purpose of God's revelation in Christianity is not for "private use only", it is fundamentally a public event. It is in the end meant to be the ultimate "unifying theory", a "truth without borders". Incidentally, no other religion is intrinsically evangelistic in this way (i.e. none really commands its adherents to spread the message to the ends of the earth). Furthermore, it is the only religion that is credibly founded on the notion that God Himself came in the flesh and spoke directly to mankind (as opposed to coming in the form of some some sort of disembodied voice).

This is the purpose of the Incarnation. It is not fundamentally a private experience, or simply a personal message, but rather a concrete historical event, a direct response to something very basic and universal: death and mortality. So the message itself was important, but even more important was the reality behind message: (i.e. salvation from death). The confusion within the Christian Faith is in many ways an in-house fight, consisting of differences that could be ultimately remedied. The question is would this video even exist were it not for the apathy and divisions within the Christian Faith itself (that's a question for Christians)? As primitive science is to modern science, so also is man's attempt to figure out who God is without revelation. Such a venture is impossible without God Himself personally articulating it to us. And since man did not make himself, he needs the one made him to come and tell him precisely who he is, not to mention what he was made for.


The confusion that comes from the proliferation of religions is without a doubt the Devil's best weapon, and the Gospel's greatest enemy. However, in a house of mirrors, the fact that you have trouble identifying the actual person who cast the original reflection does not therefore mean that there is no one casting it in the first place. Confusion, yes. Division, yes. But you cannot have division without the implication that there is some original Unity at the back of it all. This is the unified theory that the Catholic Church proposes to the world; this is the objective truth offered as a remedy to the universal scourge we call death; the notion that on his own, Man, much like Plato suggests in his "Cave" allegory, can only begin to guess at what all of the shadows projected against the wall of the cave might mean, or as St. Paul puts it, "For now I see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The truth is if Christ did not ultimately come to save humanity from sin and death, then not only is religion a hoax and a waste of time, but so is science and math, for what could be more tragic and pitiful than a man conducting a bunch of science experiments in a world that is little more than one giant mortuary.  



7 comments:

  1. Can anybody help about this on YouTube? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arJE7QoOdQ0

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  2. Hello Iowa/Kim. I just watched that video and frankly I think the above video is a far better challenge to faith because there is an actual argument involved, not simply a pure ad hominum mock fest (though there is plenty of that as well). In any case, what specifically would like to counter in this video. For what I see is a lot of "this didn't happen because its stupid, and why are Christians hypocrites, and why do we not follow the prescriptions of the Old Testament (which seems pretty obvious as to why not). Which is his "arguments" trouble you so much?

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  3. Sorry but this website keeps eating my long responses and I can't type them all over...but thanks for replying.

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  4. My concern is that people are perishing for lack of knowledge. They are so easily swayed by a Christopher Hitchens and the like because they don't understand Christianity NOR logic, nor how these do or do not interact with science.

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  5. Nice blog. If I could give you an advice: change the name of it and use your name. People search for your names, especially after seeing you on TV.
    Best,
    L.

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