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Unbelievable Belief

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

I read apologetics occasionally, to learn, to discover strengths in the writers’ reasoning and weaknesses in my own. I have no fear of having my head turned, unlike the typical Christian. My reading makes me ever more convinced of my tentative conclusions (and all conclusions in such matters should be tentative). I think it’s truly unfortunate that Christians are advised to avoid heretical material; there’s so much they could learn.

Recently I came a cross an interesting apologetics article titled “Unbelievable Unbelief” by Gregory Koukl. His main point is that it should be obvious to atheists that there’s a great deal of evidence for the existence of god; so much so that he finds their unbelief practically “unbelievable.”

What I find fascinating about this essay is that while it was written by an obviously intelligent and articulate man, its reasoning appears pathetically naïve. He makes a big deal about how the universe couldn’t just come from nothing, yet never recognizes that the only apparent alternative is that a god – a vastly more complex entity than a simple matter and energy universe - must have come from nothing. Concerning the possibility that the universe has always existed, he says, there are “serious problems both philosophical and scientific with that point.” Yet, he never mentions what those problems are, and never concedes that those same problems might apply just as well to the idea that a god has always existed. At any rate, the idea that the very first thing to ever exist was the most complex thing that ever could exist is, to me, a non-starter. Just how did that complexity arise?

Then, he writes, “Also, in the case of moral rules, they require a moral rule maker . . . You are also going to have to show me that moral rules either don't exist or they just happened by chance and still possess their weight and their incumbency.” Obviously, “chance” is not the only alternative, but this is a typical usage of the word “chance” by people who don’t understand evolution; they seem to think that evolution is all about chance, neglecting the even more important element of natural selection. It should be obvious to anyone at all knowledgeable in evolution theory that our most basic moral “rules” evolved, just as our physical characteristics evolved, by a combination of chance and natural selection. Other moral inclinations (like our modern abhorrence of slavery) evolved within the give and take of society. According to the Bible, homosexuals should be executed. Now, the fellow who wrote that, do you suppose he got it from that great “moral rule maker” in the sky? It seems obvious to me that nature and we ourselves are the moral “rule makers.”

Then, he trots out that tired old Pascal’s Wager argument. Here, he claims, “But you have everything to lose and nothing to gain by being an atheist.” It seems that Christians routinely think they have the gold standard argument here, and that atheists are so stupid as to have never thought of it. Well, once you tell us that there’s a god who sends people to eternal torture if they don’t believe in him, how could we not realize we might have a problem here? But the Christian doesn’t seem to understand that we don’t choose our beliefs. We cannot choose to believe in gods which don’t make sense to us any more than we can choose to believe in other fairy tales. So what are we to do? Fake it, as if we could fool an omni-present, all-knowing god? Personally, I’ve never worried about being wrong on this issue because I cannot believe any sensible god would punish me for not being able to believe the stories told about him. Any fool should be able to see that it’s not my fault that I don’t believe; if any error has been made, it’s the fault of those who told the stories so unconvincingly. Really, this argument is so porous it should probably be called the “colander wager.”

Well, he goes on to say, “You've got everything to lose if you are wrong, and if you are right, what have you gained? Nothing. Nothing of any significance or meaning.” So, he thinks that understanding how the world really works - that is, without gods - is “nothing of significance or meaning?” I’m hard pressed to think of anything that could be more important! Modern science would not exist if man had not come to doubt that “god did it” was sufficient explanation for why the world is as it is.

I cannot believe any sensible god would punish me for not being able to believe the stories told about him. His parting shots are downright insulting. He writes, “Man, who is separated from God, is so hostile to the notion of bending his knee that he would rather believe absolute absurdities, absolute idiocy, and put his entire eternal future on the line than to accept the idea that a personal God is responsible. Now this is self-destructive and suicidal. Why would somebody be so suicidal?”

One obvious problem with this argument is that by far the majority of men – and women - are quite willing to bend their knees in belief. And the rest? Can he really think that it’s merely our pride that keeps us from believing the god story? Wouldn’t that be a bit like walking out into the pasture to tease the bull? Now who the hell is going to do that (outside of those fools who run with the bulls at Pomplona)? Obviously, if I thought there was even the slightest chance that there exists a god who would punish me for not worshiping him, then I would worship my ass off! Any dolt who gives the matter 30 seconds of thought should be able to see that pride can have nothing to do with this as there is far too much at stake.

He claims that to not worship “is self-destructive and suicidal.” Do we detect a note of fear here? Isn’t he just saying, “You’re crazy, if you’re not afraid of god like I am!” Have we perhaps uncovered what drives his reasoning?

His closing sentence is a hoot. He, at last, tells us that our atheism is equivalent to pointless teenage rebellion, “So inbred is man's hostility and rebellion against God that they would rather risk their eternal destiny on idiocy than come to their senses and bend their knee in the face of a gracious but omnipotent creator.”

What bullshit! I’d like to ask him why a “gracious and omnipotent creator” would leave so few useful clues to his existence that an essay such as Mr. Koukl’s needs to be written at all. If that creator were “omnipotent,” then he easily could have proven his existence beyond a shadow of a doubt, and, if he were truly “gracious,” then he would have. “Gracious and omnipotent,” my arse!

I find it fascinating that here we have – in him and me - two reasonably intelligent and educated individuals, neither of which even begins to understand the other’s viewpoint. He thinks it’s obvious that I, the atheist, am a fool who is not using his head, while I’m just as convinced that he is the fool who is not using his head. We are looking at the same evidence and coming to diametrically opposed conclusions. What a fascinating world we live in!

When all is said and done, I can’t help but wonder whether the major difference between Mr. Koukl and me is just a bit of luck in the fact that I was raised in a non-religious home, where I learned to study evidence to find the truth rather than to justify my faith.