What’s Up, God?

 Posted by on 28 December 2005 at 12:19 pm  Religion
Dec 282005

I was not raised in a particularly religious home, and while my parents weren’t thrilled when, at the age of fourteen, I became an atheist, there wasn’t any significant pressure put upon me to recant.

But as proof that everyone needs a philosophy, my parents reached a point where — despite all the worldly success anyone could hope to achieve — they felt that something was missing from their lives. Seeking answers, they turned to religion. And then, feeling they had answers, decided I needed those answers too.

Recently, my parents read a book called I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek. It was a supposedly rational defense of Christianity, and my parents pushed me to read it. Personally, I have no interest in religion. Atheism has been a non-issue for me for years, but I finally agreed to read it on the premise that I would now be able to end any attempt to convert me by saying, “I’ve heard what you have to say, and I disagree.”

I just finished the book, and let me say: I was convinced. I must humbly renounce my former views and state publicly that I have discovered and accepted in my heart and mind the Truth that Jesus was born of God and died for our sins.

Oh, wait, never mind. What I actually discovered is how vicious religion actually is.

The basic thesis of the book is this: both Christians and atheists have faith, but atheism requires more faith than Christianity. Thus the title. What is gruesome is the method by which the authors try to justify that thesis.

Let me start by saying that this book has some virtues. It does pay lip service to reason, logic, and science and never explicitly assaults any of these. (In the end, that is what makes this book so much more evil than other defenses of religion I’ve read). It also has a heavy Aristotelian streak, and does a good job of rebutting skeptics and subjectivists. It is also the most sophisticated defense of Christianity I have read, avoiding the more obvious errors atheists usually encounter when discussing religion. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a non-Objectivist would probably have trouble answering many of their points.

That said, this book does not, in my view, represent a series of honest errors made in an attempt to defend religion, but an outright assault on man’s mind.

Its method is simple: assert that reason cannot lead man to certainty and that every idea demands faith; then claim that the only alternative to skepticism and subjectivism is religion; and finally, employ twisted science, pseudo-science, logical fallacies, and outright lies to establish Christianity as a more rational hypothesis.

The starting premise of the book is that reason cannot lead man to certainty. Why not? Because induction, the authors claim, leads man only to probable truths. What’s so fascinating is that in their efforts to condemn skepticism, the authors grant every one of the skeptic’s premises. Whereas the skeptic would say, “It is a leap of faith to say that man is mortal,” the Christian retorts, “That’s right, but it’s such a small leap! Sure, you can’t know for sure that all men are mortal, but you can know they probably are. It takes more faith to conclude that some men are not mortal than to conclude all of them are.” This means that man is obligated to accept conclusions that cannot be justified by reason. It means that reason demands the acceptance of ideas that cannot be proved by rational means. It means that reason demands irrationality.

Keep in mind that if no amount of evidence is sufficient to establish certainty, then there is no basis for judging probability. If you don’t know where your destination is, you can’t know how far you are from it. It also means that you have no means of determining what counts as evidence for or against a conclusion. Is the fact that all men have died evidence that man by his nature must die? Unless we know what proof would consist of, we have no way to answer that question.

This is illustrated by the next chapter of the book, where the authors break out the cosmological argument to prove God’s existence. Their arguments runs thusly:

P1: Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
P2: The universe had a beginning.
C: Therefore the universe had a cause.

Now, I am not a scientist, and I suspect that much of the science they use to defend P2 isn’t even accepted by today’s mixed up scientists. Moreover, that premise is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one. Or, more precisely, it can be ruled out philosophically: existence cannot come from non-existence. The big bang, if it occurred, represents the universe changing its form or organization, not coming into existence from nothing.

But what’s most relevant here is what Geisler and Turek do with the scientific evidence. They assert that science cannot now explain what happened at the time of the big bang or before, and conclude that the only reasonable explanation is that it was created by something outside of existence. In other words, they do not identify what would be conclusive evidence that God exists and thereby determine what would count as evidence of this conclusion. Rather, they posit that there is something science cannot explain and say that this is evidence for God. Evidence? By what standard?

In fact, as Leonard Peikoff pointed out in OPAR, “Inference from the natural can only lead to more of the natural, i.e., to limited, finite entities acting and interacting in accordance with their identities.” The key to every argument for the existence of God is the claim, “We don’t know X… and therefore God exists.” This is worse than a logical fallacy; it is the antithesis of logic. It makes ignorance the basis for certainty — the only basis for certainty.

Yet Geisler and Turek repeat this pattern again and again. Their second argument for God is the design argument. In that chapter, they engage in a full-out assault on evolution, raising the “Intelligent Design” claim that certain features of life are “irreducibly complex” and could not have arisen through natural causes. Apart from the fact that this point has been answered time and again by scientists (proving to my satisfaction that the authors are completely dishonest) the basic logical point still stands. From the fact that we cannot explain something, we cannot conclude anything. Only on the premise that all conclusions require a leap of faith can someone make such a demand.

And that is the whole point. That is why Geisler and Turek are so desperate to claim that every conclusion requires some amount of faith. If rational certainty is impossible, there is no way to determine what counts as evidence, and if there is no standard for what counts as evidence, then everything counts as evidence — including ignorance.

The third argument offered for God’s existence is the moral argument, in which they simply assert that without God there is no objective basis for morality. I trust I need not spend time refuting that, although I will point out that I think one of the best arguments against Jesus’ divinity was that the morality he preached is evil: faith, original sin, mercy over justice, love divorced from values, self-denial, self-abnegation, self-sacrifice… Aristotle was a more careful moral thinker than God Himself.

The rest of the book is spent defending the accuracy of the Bible. Reading page after page of trivia, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of what the authors are actually trying to prove: that even though we know people can err or lie, and that documents can be inaccurate (especially historical ones), and despite the fact that religion contradicts everything we do know, it is irrational to doubt the Biblical story and rational to believe that the Son of God came to the earth, performed miracles, and after telling people that murderers need not burn in hell but an honest atheist will, was crucified and awoke from the dead. Can I get a “Chutzpah”?

To be sure, I have only touched on the errors and absurdities (and viciousness) of this book. But the book does have one accidental virtue: it highlights how badly Ayn Rand is needed in today’s philosophical climate. It was Ayn Rand who saw that the alternative to materialism isn’t idealism. that the alternative to skepticism is not intrinsicism, and that the alternative to moral subjectivism is not religious authoritarianism.

Not enough faith to be an atheist? That’s true. I don’t have any faith at all.

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