Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Atheists' Unreasonable, Unrealistic Demands for Proof of God's Existence (Massive Miracles, Etc.)

By Dave Armstrong (11-15-06)

The following is an interaction with the atheist "DagoodS" (his words in blue):

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I find it even more intriguing how others will criticize the deconvert for doing it "incorrectly." As if there is only one proper way in which one can deconvert!

So what is that proper way? What steps must I follow to deconvert? Why is it that the way in which you are convinced; I must be convinced?

Obviously for one who is a Christian, there is no good or sufficient reason to reject Christianity, with the facts as we believe them to actually be.

This is, of course, a completely unremarkable and uncontroversial statement, given that you atheists do the same thing in reverse: for you there is no good and sufficient reason to become a Christian. Your "requirements" are such things as God personally appearing to every person in a concrete tangible way or performing massive miracles such that there is no evil at all left in the world. But these are irrational, unreasonable, unrealistic demands.

There are theoretical things that could create doubt as to the truth of Christianity (I've always maintained this), such as archaeological evidences, somehow producing the bones of Jesus, etc. It's certainly thinkable that Christianity could be falsified. But we think it has not happened in fact.

Out of curiosity, even if we could, how in the Blue Blazes do you propose we test that? It is not like we have DNA to compare!

Obviously, it would have to be evidence associated with the bones that would suggest they are from Jesus. E.g., we believe we have found Peter's bones under (appropriately enough) St. Peter's in Rome. And that is because there was an old inscription: "here lies Peter's bones" or some such. So it is possible to have firm evidence of that sort. We know on other grounds (historical accounts) that he was martyred in Rome.

Can you flesh out why it is "irrational, unreasonable" and "unrealistic" that God provide evidence that is persuasive to each person?

Well, first of all because it is internally inconsistent with atheists' other intellectual commitments, as I have argued in some papers on the problem of evil. Atheists, e.g., reject miracles out of hand, unless and until some HUGE unquestionable event like the Second Coming occurs, that even an atheist, in all his wisdom, would not be able to withstand or disbelieve.

No amount of legal-type testimony, eyewitness evidence of miraculous occurrences are ever sufficient for the atheist. There is plenty of that out there. Many miracles at Lourdes and Fatima, e.g., have been documented by scientists and doctors. There are dead saints whose bodies haven't corrupted. These are real things.

When it comes to science, the atheist (materialist) will argue that any event not in accord with natural laws cannot occur, almost (if not literally) by definition. They tend to think that even if there is a God at all, He is only minimally involved in His creation (more or less a deist conception). It's not just opposition to the Bible or a Christian worldview that causes, e.g., such vehement opposition to any form of creationism or even intelligent design. It is also the prior assumption that science and natural laws MUST be completely natural and not influenced at all by God.

So you have that mentality in the first place, but then on the other hand you have this idea that one will not and should not believe in God unless a massive miraculous proof is presented right in front of his face. The two don't exactly go together. If God is excluded from science because miracles are supposedly impossible (which cannot itself be proven, much less by science itself, which is unable to, by definition), then why is it made a requirement that there must be miracles galore to believe in Him at all?

Therefore, it's an unreasonable double standard. The atheist thinks one way over here and another over here, according to what suits his fancy. But requiring all these miracles that the atheist knows pretty well won't ever happen, is a convenient way of excluding God altogether by mere unreasonable theory and demands. It's a clever method for the atheist to rationalize his own disbelief. Just make a requirement to believe that you know will never ever happen, even within a Christian paradigm, so you can pretend that God doesn't exist because He hasn't done what YOU require Him to do before you will believe in Him.

Secondly, the Christian faith is not solely about rational demonstration. There is also faith required. There are reasons and bases for belief in things other than empiricism. Logic is not an empirical thing. Spiritual experience is not, etc. If there is such a thing as a soul or a spirit, that ain't empirical. God the Father Himself is not. The Holy Spirit isn't. Only Jesus has a physical body.

I would think (hope) you would agree it is within the Christian God's capability. It is not too large of a project for a God.

Of course, but that is far different from thinking that God is obliged to do such a thing in order for a person to claim that he has enough evidence to believe in God. I reject that as an intellectual cop-out and evasion, so that the serious issues in the debate can be avoided.

I would further think (hope) you would agree the Christian God is motivated to do so. That God has the desire for each person to be convinced He exists.

We believe that there is more than sufficient evidence, just from creation itself (teleological and cosmological arguments) and how human beings feel themselves to be; the presence of virtual universals in morality, the facts of Jesus' life and death, etc. There are plenty of miracles already well-established, if only one is open-minded enough to allow their possibility. But if you rule them out beforehand by your system, then of course no proof is sufficient.

It would appear to me Christians present a God with the physical capability and the desire - yet it does not happen. Obviously this comports with my conclusion no God exists.

I don't accept this line of reasoning at all. It is completely arbitrary; it starts with you and what yo think God should or shouldn't do. But on what basis do you do that? Yourself? Why should I think that is any compelling reason or basis for thinking that God should do this or that? Why would I not, rather, go to a figure like Jesus, Who (even if one denied He was God incarnate) was certainly at the least an extraordinary person and one who seems to understand spiritual matters and to be able to speak authoritatively on them. He presents a different God than you do.

Should I rely on the collective of atheists and all your vaunted intellectual firepower? Again, on what basis? You're a small minority in the world now and in world history. Why should I think you have a lock on truth about the question of God's existence or anything else? Many of the greatest thinkers in philosophy and science and other academic fields were and are theists or Christians. Atheists don't have a monopoly on reason. But I am supposed to listen to you when you say, "well, it is clear that God OUGHT to do thus-and-so in order to be adequately proven to exist."

But if such a God exists, there must be some concept, some item that is impinging on either his ability or his desire. What is that concept? What is it about that concept that is more rational, more reasonable and more realistic than the simpler idea that no such God exists?

That's too difficult for me to answer briefly. I believe in God and Christianity based on a cumulative argument of many different lines of reasoning and evidences. I've given a taste of my replies on this particular issue above.

For you there is no good and sufficient reason to become a Christian.
Not at all. Just as people have differing motives to deconvert, others have different motives to become Christians. The word "sufficient" is a loose term, quantifying an amount. What is "sufficient" for me, may not be "sufficient" for you. Four cups of coffee in the morning is "sufficient" for me - must I demand you drink an equal amount?

As near as I can tell there ARE both good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian. You become a part of a community. At the moment, you are the prevalent religion in the United States. You obtain an avenue to provide charity. You gain a sense of hope to meet loved ones after death.

I don't need Christianity for any of that; nor are these my own reasons at all (though they are for many, without a doubt). I could just as well be in YOUR community or in a band or pack of hippies in a commune or something. I can give on my own. I can pretend, as many atheists do, that it is irrelevant whether there is life after death or not.

There are concepts in the universe that are perplexing, and by believing in a God, you can satisfy an itch for answers. You can utilize Christianity as a basis for morality.

But I'm not talking about what people do in fact; rather, I wanted to know what an atheist thinks is an intellectually compelling reason to become a Christian? And then we're back exactly to where we were, as I said: massive, utterly undeniable miracles; which I have argued is an unreasonable demand.

No, there are plenty of good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian.

The above don't qualify for what I was referring to. I could say the same about atheists: it makes you feel smart; you can look down on dumb Christians and feel superior or whatever. You can maintain the pretense that you have a lock on rational thinking and so-called "free" thinking (I'm only using things I have actually observed here and elsewhere). There could be any number of sociological reasons. But I'm completely uninterested in those, because they have little or no relation to truth claims.

However, I have two strong caveats. First, those are not sufficient reasons for me.

Exactly. That's what I'm getting at. You're the more or less typical, hard-headed skeptical atheist.

I am a person that is used to dealing with the truth - whether it is pretty or ugly. I would prefer the true belief of no life after death, rather than the false hope of a heaven.

Yep, and I would prefer the true belief of heaven to the false belief of annihilationism.

For me, for my motivation, truth is more important than feeling good, no matter how great that feeling is. How many others have similar motivations?

You're interacting with one. And that is one thing we have in common.

Secondly, despite the good and sufficient reasons to become a Christian, it is too often accompanied with a vicious use of power, control and exclusion that has no mercy for its own, let alone non-believers. Christianity has become a religion of weaponry, designed to divide and then conquer.

More sociological analysis . . . if you say we're sinners; guilty as charged!

If Christians truly lived the life their Bible states - "Love your neighbor" I would be off Debunking Christianity in a heartbeat. Not what I see, though. Not by a long shot.

Why don't you read the stories of the saints, then, if that impresses you? We never said that lots and lots of Christians would live up to the almost impossibly high and sublime ideals. But some do. And that is why the saints are so important to study. That's what God CAN do in a human being, if we would only let Him.

If you want to talk about loving your neighbor, though, you should see that Christians lead in charitable efforts. It's always been that way. Historically, e.g., it was the Catholic Church that started hospitals and so forth. Christians were in the forefront of the abolitionist and civil rights movements (Martin Luther King being a Baptist pastor). There was even significant Christian influence in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (including, of course, Pope John Paul II).

That's love in action. And we Christians can be very proud of all that, despite the numerous counter-examples you atheists are always pointing out.

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