November 25, 2019 § 15 Comments
The Oatmeal, an online comic by Matthew Inman, published an amusing and illuminating illustrated treatise on the “backfire effect.” This is the natural, and often sinful, cognitive bias that causes some to resist evidence contrary to their beliefs. The amygdala (the emotional core of our brains) goes into defense mode when we’re presented with “facts” we don’t like. The sin (my observation, not The Oatmeal’s) comes in when we reject ideas without utilizing our God-given reason, or when we spiral into an emotional tirade at the presenter.
Using one of the examples in the comic, the suggestion that our beloved George Washington wore false teeth made from the teeth of slaves may illicit such a response. (There is evidence that Washington purchased teeth from slaves for false teeth, but it’s rather slim and inconclusive despite being presented here as “fact.” Or is that just my amygdala talking? You can investigate the sources cited in the comic yourself on that.)
The author says that the backfire effect “makes sense from an evolutionary perspective” and follows that up with an archetypal caveman scenario. But it also makes sense from a Biblical perspective. We are created to hold firmly to personal convictions. To believe. As fallen creatures though, we often let emotions get the best of us and set aside reason when our beliefs are challenged.
Because “we’re all going in the same direction”, the author concludes with the assurance that he’s “not here to tell you what to believe” before telling us what to believe: that it’s okay to stop, listen, and change. I’m not sure if the “change” encouraged is a change in how we respond—now that we know how our brains often handle new and unwanted information—or a change in our worldview when presented with new ideas about the world or ourselves. Both are good and healthy responses, the latter depending of course on the ideas.
In any case, the only reason to believe anything at all is if we are convinced that it’s true. This includes foundational or presuppositional beliefs, like the existence of God, or the tenets of naturalism, that we ultimately must accept or reject on faith.
Matthew Inman is neither shy nor particularly clear about his brand of atheism, but in this video he masks a sad, nihilistic worldview with plenty of jokes—some either profane, throwing shade at religious belief, or profanely throwing shade at religious belief—all while professing faith in “Jibbers Crabst”.
The overall aim of his post about belief seems to be the awareness of what’s going on when we learn new things, and realization that we don’t have to blow up at others who challenge our deeply held beliefs. Atheism and sarcasm aside, that’s an earnest and respectable goal.Sometimes the truth hurts. But the truth is meant to ultimately give us joy. The good news of the gospel—that Jesus Christ died to save sinners—begins with the bad news that we all are sinners who need a savior. There’s a classic example of new information that many an amygdala reject (1 John 1:9-10).
We should keep an open mind, even about our deeper convictions. But as G.K. Chesterton tells it, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. Otherwise, it could end up like a city sewer, rejecting nothing.”
(The “classroom-friendly version” of The Oatmeal comic is linked above, but there is a “regular version” with some profanity that really isn’t a necessary or funnier way to make the point.)
October 3, 2016 § Leave a comment
From the UC Observer Magazine, published by the United Church of Canada: “After nearly a week of deliberating, the sub-Executive of Toronto Conference voted to ask the General Council of The United Church of Canada to conduct a formal hearing to determine whether to fire Rev. Gretta Vosper — the last step in a long process that now seems increasingly likely to remove the atheist minister from her pulpit.”(1)
Ponder these things:
1. Somehow, there is a congregation that identifies as a Christian church that at some point actually hired a minister who identifies as an atheist.
2. Somehow, an atheist has been allowed to minister at a Christian church for 19 years.
3. Somehow, it takes a “long process” of “deliberating” and a vote to request a “formal hearing” to consider whether or not an atheist should continue to pastor a Christian church.
Does a doctor, while seeing a patient with a knife in his gut, deliberate for weeks over the decision to remove the knife (whether or not it was self-inflicted or allowed to fester for a long time)? This boggles the mind.
For sure, people are upset because bounds—that should never have been set—are being overstepped in the process, and some fear that “the United Church may be turning its back on a history of openness and inclusivity”—code words for theological compromise that began long ago. Obstacles that should never have been.
Gretta Vosper has fans in the church (she is also “a prolific blogger, author and guest speaker”). In fact “a petition in support of Vosper…calls on the church ‘to show loving kindness to everyone, irrespective of belief or no belief.'”
Loving kindness respects all people as human beings made in God’s image, regardless of their beliefs, and love calls us to seek God’s best for them. Loving kindness does NOT invite heresy, or entrust the preaching and teaching of God’s Word to someone who does not even believe in God or His word. This doesn’t seek God’s best for the congregation either.
“Vosper calls herself an atheist and has been serving her church for 19 years. She has stated that she does not believe in a Trinitarian God or a supernatural god. She said love is the most sacred value and that she had stopped using the word ‘God’ because it was a barrier to participation in the church.”
God is love. To exclude God from Vosper’s “preaching” is to exclude love. If “God” is a barrier to participation in this church, what can there be in this church that is worth participating in? The love of God? The truth of God’s Word? The good news of salvation from sin through God’s one and only Son? If “God” is not preached from Vosper’s pulpit, the silence of the name of “Jesus” will be even more deafening.
Thankfully, “others have been frustrated that the United Church has allowed someone to be a minister in a Christian church while disavowing the major aspects of the Christian faith.” At least someone sees the problem.
Vosper’s lawyer “called for Conference to put the review on hold for a year in favour of a structured dialogue or debate,” meanwhile Vosper would remain a minister. Structured dialogue and debate is a great thing, but if you’re expecting that process to take a year, you’re likely not looking to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”(2) You’re contending for theological liberalism or atheism, heresy we already know God detests and Jesus died for.
If a minister is an atheist, and a congregation is a Christian church, then the atheist belongs in the pew, not at the pulpit. The pairing makes no sense at all, and frankly there’s little to debate about that. Now if we want to debate the existence of God, let’s have a dialogue.
1) Milne, Mike. “Atheist minister Gretta Vosper one step closer to dismissal, formal hearing requested” UC Observer Magazine. United Church of Canada, 22 Sep. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016. (Link: http://www.ucobserver.org/faith/2016/09/vosper_atheist_minister/)
2) Jude 1:3: Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
January 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
A video attempting to address the Problem of Evil(1) prompted a Facebook comment from an atheist I’ve encountered before. Below is a brief conversation that followed.
He looks so proud of coming up with such a bad argument!
Cheesy video, and maybe an unfair dig against hippie hairstyles, but a good illustration. Whether the problem is “too much” evil and suffering (as the barber complains) or any evil and suffering at all, neither is evidence against the God described in the Bible.
First, objective evil (the only kind worth complaining about) only makes sense in light of objective good, which doesn’t make sense on atheism. Second, a good God creating humans with freedom to choose could not prevent our sin (the root cause of the world’s evil and suffering) without preventing our freedom to choose, and nobody’s okay with that idea.
And even if the world’s evil and suffering were a tiny fraction of what it is, the barber would still complain(2). God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ includes making all things new, so one day evil and suffering will be gone. The days the barber chooses to spend complaining and disbelieving are days that a good God has graciously given him as more time to come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3:9).
You’re not going to be able to dismiss the Problem of Evil that easily…even the most prominent Christian apologists can[‘t] explain it away. As C.S. Lewis conceded, it’s the most powerful argument against the Christian god.
The problem of evil is not “easy”. That’s why it’s a “problem.” But a problem is something to think about and work through, not to discard because it’s a problem (like this list of unsolved problems in all types of fields of study(3)).
There are no “easy” answers because we’re the ones who see and often experience evil and suffering. C.S. Lewis knew it wasn’t easy but knew the logic behind it was sound, that freedom to love requires the freedom to do evil, which he summarized very effectively in The Case for Christianity:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”
Even though it makes perfect sense why there is such things wrong with the world, it’s a problem because we don’t know why “we” or why “they” suffer the particular way that they do. It’s personal, so of course we don’t like it. But it also makes sense that we wouldn’t be able to fully know the mind of God and His ultimate plan for eternal good that can involve our temporary pain (like the pain of surgery in light of a better life afterwards).
God has an answer in redeeming evil through His Son, because He is a personal God that knows and loves us, desiring to save us from what are in the end the consequences of our own sin.
Most arguments for atheism based on the problem of evil assume a God who is not personal (deism) and just doesn’t care to intervene, or that He is just plain mean. Neither fit the description of the God of the Bible.
Have a great day!
I’ll counter with two words that have nothing to do with personal choice or ‘sin’: bacteria and earthquakes. Yet cause unmeasurable pain and suffering.
Actually, they are linked to sin. After their disobedience, God told Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you.” (Gen. 3:17) and Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning” as a result of man’s sin and “waits eagerly” for redemption (Rom. 8:19-22). The corruptive effects of sin reach everywhere in nature, which God created “good” to begin with (Gen. 1:31). Ninety percent of all bacteria are still good, non-pathogenic and necessary, but some became harmful to humans after the Fall. Likewise, most earthquakes are still harmless and too small to be detected without sophisticated seismography, and they were likely a non-issue before a cursed creation. We shouldn’t expect to know why God allows certain things to happen and how He works natural disasters or disease for ultimate good. But how much less natural disaster or disease would satisfy? And how do we know God hasn’t prevented many more disasters and disease? It seems He’s kept harmful bacteria at a mere 10% and stabilized the earth’s crust sufficiently that most earthquakes are non-destructive.
Well, I guess if you believe that all the problems in the world are the result of one bite of a fruit, then we are just going to have to disagree. There’s not much more I can say if you are just going to suspend reason like that.
That is a pretty common sentiment among atheists, but atheism is the cause of that sentiment, not the result. If there is no God, the only law we can break is our own, and “small” sins are no big deal because the foundation for authority is relatively small. If I were to, say, tell a lie to an infant, there would be virtually no consequences for me. If I tell a lie to my older child, I may lose his trust. If I lie to my wife, I may lose her trust and get banished to the couch. If I lie to my boss, I may get fired. If I lie to the government, I could face fines or prison. If God exists, He is infinitely higher in authority than any power on earth. Even a “small” sin like eating of the one tree God commanded Adam and Eve not to, a decision actually rooted in pride, arrogance and disobedience, is severe when all sin is an offense against an infinite Creator who wrote moral law on our hearts (and without whom all moral assessment is arbitrary and meaningless anyway). It’s not about the size of the sin, but the sovereignty of who we are sinning against. Sin is sin to God, and “all have sinned and fall short.”
But thank you for the discussion, I always learn something and appreciate you taking the time. I hope you have a good week.
(Related post: Too Much Evil and Suffering in the World?)
November 27, 2015 § 12 Comments
Noted author, lawyer and orator Robert G. Ingersoll, also known as “The Great Agnostic,” famously expresses his religious skepticism in his 1872 work, The Gods:
“We have heard talk enough. We have listened to all the drowsy, idealess, vapid sermons that we wish to hear. We have read your Bible and the works of your best minds. We have heard your prayers, your solemn groans and your reverential amens. All these amount to less than nothing. We want one fact. We beg at the doors of your churches for just one little fact. We pass our hats along your pews and under your pulpits and implore you for just one fact. We know all about your mouldy wonders and your stale miracles. We want a this year’s fact. We ask only one. Give us one fact for charity. Your miracles are too ancient. The witnesses have been dead for nearly two thousand years.”
This same sentiment and challenge is echoed by many atheists and agnostics today in different forms, distillable to something like, If God is real, why doesn’t He show Himself? Why doesn’t He make Himself more obvious? They look to Old Testament examples of God physically manifested in a cloud, fire, an angel, or an audible voice. Or the New Testament miracles of Jesus and His apostles healing the lame and raising the dead. If only God demonstrated Himself in the same way today, we might believe the Bible and decide that God, in fact, exists!
The reality is, no, they probably would not believe, no matter what evidence they see. For the many who believed God from the evidence, or followed Jesus because of His miracles, there were also many who remained in unbelief. Jesus acknowledged this in His parable of a man in Hades wishing to have Abraham send someone to warn his brothers of the same fate. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).
“Evidence” is always subject to interpretation through our worldview, the filter of what we already believe. Because of this, there were many atheists and agnostics despite living in a time of more “obvious” signs and miracles. And today, there are billions of theists living in a world with relatively far fewer “obvious” signs and miracles. Conclusion? Obviousness (and obliviousness) is relative.
Given the fact that most people in the world are theistic, is it more likely that most people are seeing something that isn’t there than the minority missing something that is there? Why is the reality the opposite of what we should expect if there is not some kind of God or supreme deity?
The problem isn’t lack of evidence, but lack of belief. There are plenty of good reasons to believe in God and ways to show that our faith is logical and coherent, that Christian Theism alone makes sense of the world(1). But if you’ve already determined there is no God or no way of knowing if He exists, nothing short of the power of God will open your eyes to the truth. Worldview always matters.
August 10, 2015 § 2 Comments
I love hearing Christian testimonies, but testimonies from those who have decided against a life of faith also have great value in Christian apologetics. ESPN published an interview with Arian Foster, running back for the Houston Texans, after he reluctantly admitted his atheism. He describes his struggle with his previous Muslim faith:
“Arian felt he was living a lie every time he knelt to pray. His prayers carried intensity only when he faced turmoil. If you can just get me out of this jam. It was meaningless and dishonest; he didn’t believe there was anything or anyone out there capable of helping him. He read the Bible and the Quran in search of evidence that would override his skepticism. The concept of an omnipotent being nagged at him. ‘Why is this relationship so one-sided? Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation?’ Foster felt like ‘a contestant in his game show.'”
Educated in Tennessee and employed by the NFL in Houston, Arian was immersed in the Bible Belt but at a critical time found himself without anyone to adequately answer his questions. Where were his Christian classmates who were “ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to tell him the Biblical truth? Was there no one in his life that took 1 Peter 3:15 seriously to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”?
When Arian announced his atheism, his father told him to “go find your truth.” So Arian did just that, following the path to relativism: “I’m digging deeper into myself and my truth…”
Surrounded by at least nominal Christians, Foster’s “free-thinking” found mostly passive aggressive opposition from teammates until he met the son of a preacher Justin Forsett at training camp in 2012. “They began to discuss religion, and morals, and whether one can exist without the other. Every day, it seemed, Foster presented Forsett with a different question, a new challenge. In Forsett, Foster found a friendly adversary, someone who wouldn’t cower, who could back his beliefs with both Bible verses and actions.”
Justin Forsett says this about Foster: “Arian pushes me to be a better man and a better man of faith… He’s going to ask questions, tough questions, and I take that as a challenge. I have to be prepared to give a response at any given moment. If I don’t have a response, he’s going to push me to go get it.”
(This faith-affirming quality of Christian apologetics benefits the Christian as well as anyone he’s trying to reach.)
Arian Foster says this about Forsett: “Here’s what I respect about him: Justin was never like, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to go to hell.’ He was like, ‘This is what I believe is the right way, and I’ll pray for you.’ I never feel arrogance or judgment. He never acted like he had something I don’t have. He said, ‘I would love for you to experience this,’ which is more divine than anything I’ve ever come across.”
Take time to read the full article (The Confession of Arian Foster by Tim Keown, ESPN Senior Writer) and consider: Are you pursuing friendships with unbelievers? Are you the “salt and light” in the life of someone who needs it? Christians responding to the call of apologetics should be the ones fielding the big questions, because Christianity has answers. When questions like these go unanswered, atheism often follows. Who’s Justin Forsett are you?
[Related post: Too Much Evil and Suffering in the World?]
December 6, 2013 § 3 Comments
Interestingly, Atheist “churches” are getting more popular. These are not churches in the traditional sense, but congregations of atheists gathering in a church-like setting to fellowship, sing, hear messages about celebrating life, and go out and serve their community.
The Sunday Assembly, started by two British comedians, is now an international network of atheist churches with US locations in New York and Portland, also listing 4 UK assemblies and one in Australia. The Sunday Assembly calls themselves “a godless congregation that celebrate life.”… “the one life we know we have.” The About page at SundayAssembly.com contains a “public charter” including 10 points of what we should certainly call doctrine. Ironically, point number 2 states that the Sunday Assembly: “Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.”
The obvious contradiction here is that excluding yourself as a rule from an allegiance to doctrine is itself a point of doctrine. This is the first most significant mistake many atheists makes about doctrine; atheism attempts to distance itself from it by saying it has none. If you are going to say anything, you are adhering to a set of principals which comprise your doctrine. Like any religion, atheism has a set of dogmatic principals too.
Making use of “wisdom from all sources” sounds inclusive but is dishonest. Would an atheist assembly allow the teaching of any text that was expressly theistic? They may be cordial and tolerate a certain amount of Biblical teaching. They are, after all, “radically inclusive” according to rule number 4. But how does a group remain “godless” and allow God in at all? Being “Godless” is a core tenet of atheism and therefore inviolable doctrine. And if Sunday Assembly were to somehow manage teaching “wisdom from all sources,” such a mixed bag of philosophy inevitably results in self-contradiction, since “all sources” will bring many opposing truths. Preaching everything means preaching nothing.
Maybe the first mistake atheists generally make about doctrine is assuming that it’s a bad thing, hence the perceived need to avoid it. Doctrine is defined as “a principle or body of principles presented for acceptance or belief, as by a religious, political, scientific, or philosophic group; dogma.” A group that outlaws doctrine is relying on doctrine to do so. The reason any group needs a “public charter” (a document outlining the principles, functions, and organization of a corporate body; a constitution) is because you can’t outline your purpose without some kind of doctrine. This makes doctrine good and necessary!
Addendum 1-12-14: Furthermore, churches split when they develop distinctions that the congregation can no longer tolerate. That’s exactly what happened with the New York Sunday Assembly in this recent report, which is splitting over “ideological differences.” Some members have decided that Sunday Assembly was not atheist enough. Thus, a new denomination of the atheist church is born. But of course, you can’t have differences and distinctions without doctrine.
According to Christianity, we are made to assemble in worship, evidenced by the fact that, historically, humans were doing this long before the church age (see Genesis 4:26, Deuteronomy 16:8, 1 Chronicles 29). Sunday Assembly and other atheist congregations are after much of the same things theistic congregations are supposed to be doing (zero points for originality). Along with this inevitably comes some sort of man-made purpose and a set of rules for assembling. And of course the object of worship in a “godless” church is something other than God, something inherently human like autonomy, wonder or logic—but atheists nonetheless worship.
“The Sunday Assembly is a godless congregation that celebrate life. Our motto: live better, help often, wonder more. Our mission: to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential. Our vision: a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.”
This group espouses love, good deeds, inclusiveness, and growth. All great things, but all doctrinal teaching. They try to exclude themselves from doctrine, purpose, and worship but cannot because they are not leading, but following higher doctrine than their own. Made in the image of God, we all can’t help but recognize God-given moral and intellectual intuition, even if we reject the God-given part. When we try, it’s often comedic—but there’s really nothing funny about wasting this one life in worship of ourselves.
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
“…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being…” (Romans 1:19-23)
September 13, 2013 § 7 Comments
This article cites a recent London Times interview with perhaps the world’s best known atheist Richard Dawkins that doesn’t even touch on atheism or religion. Instead the controversy over the article was spawned by Dawkin’s seemingly cavalier outlook on what he terms “mild pedophilia.”
“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”
I think this is unavoidably ABOUT the atheism that Dawkins subscribes to, which logically requires him to say that we “can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours.” In an atheistic worldview, moral standards are in constant flux because they are subject to popular opinion, not given by a moral law-giving God (a God Dawkins ironically chooses to morally judge by His actions in a much earlier era).
(Stemming from one blogger’s comment below, an extended debate about slavery in the Bible, and the origins of morality and logic, can be found here. )