Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sorry, But I'm Not Even a Little Stumped...

A gentleman by the name of Richard Bushey, who describes himself as a "a student of religion", though my investigation has so far revealed no actual source of formal education that the man has ever attended, has set a challenge to atheists.

When I first discovered his challenge, I decided that I'd give Mr. Bushey the benefit of the doubt in the hopes that maybe he'd turn out to be educated and intelligent.  Mr. Bushey runs a blog called "Therefore God Exists," the purpose of which he describes is "to help struggling Christians receive answers to the difficult questions, including God’s existence, the truth of the scripture, the truth in orthodox doctrines and so forth."

Laudible goal, I suppose.

Problem is how Mr. Bushey goes about it.

Turns out, I shouldn't have got my hopes up.  You see, after spending some time poking around his blog and reading what he has to say, I've been convinced that Mr. Bushey is just another semi-educated victim of the Dunning-Kruger Effect who has convinced himself that he is much smarter than he actually is.

Now to the point.

One of Mr. Bushey's blog entries is entitled 5 Ways To Stump An Atheist.  It can be found here:(

This piece of Christian apologist "reasoning" is yet another example of what I call "pigeon chess."  With this article, Mr. Bushey has effectively declared himself the winner of the argument before the argument has even started, in typical fundamentalist fashion.  Its easy to win an argument when what you're doing is cooking the books and rigging the game and declaring it over before the other side get's its shot.

Fundamentalist Christians suck at rational thinking, and Mr. Bushey provides a perfect example of what I mean.  The last line in the article reads, "Atheists are afraid to comment on this article because they are stumped by all of these questions."  But then you read the comments and you find several atheists responding clearly and intelligently to the questions, giving rational answers.  Several of the responses include a comment about how they "weren't stumped."  I'm not stumped either, for the record.  No intelligent person would be.

My friend Dave Foda, who brought this article to my attention, points out that Question #2 and Question #3 contradict each other, and that both questions are contradicted by Question #4.  Dave also points out, correctly, that all five questions are Straw Man Arguments, and as such are nothing more than logical fallacy.

Normally I don't bother answering logical fallacies, but I'm going to do it anyway, this time.  Here are my answers to Mr. Bushey's attempt to stump atheists. 

Question #1:  Ask how they (atheists) know that God has no reasons for allowing evil.

This question is based in a classic theological argument known as "The Problem of Evil."  This argument goes something like this:
  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
  3. God is omniscient (all-knowing).
  4. God is omnibenevolent (perfectly good).
  5. If God is omnipotent, he would be able to prevent all of the evil and suffering in the world.
  6. If God is omniscient, he would know about all of the evil and suffering in the world and would know how to eliminate or prevent it.
  7. If God is perfectly good, he would want to prevent all of the evil and suffering in the world.
  8. If God knows about all of the evil and suffering in the world, knows how to eliminate or prevent it, is powerful enough to prevent it, and yet does not prevent it, he must not be perfectly good.
  9. If God knows about all of the evil and suffering, knows how to eliminate or prevent it, wants to prevent it, and yet does not do so, he must not be all- powerful.
  10. If God is powerful enough to prevent all of the evil and suffering, wants to do so, and yet does not, he must not know about all of the suffering or know how to eliminate or prevent it—that is, he must not be all-knowing.A4. If evil and suffering exist, then God is either not omnipotent, not omniscient, or not perfectly good.
  11. Evil exists.
  12. Therefore, God is either not omnipotent, not omniscient, or not perfectly good.

I'd like to point out that this is not an argument atheists use to demonstrate that God does not exist.  Especially given that the first assumption in the argument is "God exists."  Personally, I can't think of anyone who's ever argued that, if God existed there would be no evil, and since evil exists, there is no God.  (That's not a very good argument, because it ignores the possibility that God is a sadistic asshole who enjoys tormenting people for His own amusement.)

On the other hand, I have personally made the argument that if there is a God, and he's the God from the Christian scripture, then he's ultimately the reason why evil exists.  This God of the Christians is supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omni-benevolent (all loving); not only that, He supposedly has a plan that determines the course of events for all eternity.  Thus, He not only created evil (which would not exist if he did not allow it), he planned for it and encouraged it.  Which means that God is the ultimate cause of all suffering and hardship.

Suffice to say, this has caused Christians a lot of heartburn; since their God is supposedly omni-benevolent, how could such a being allow pain and suffering.  Thousands and thousands of pages have been written trying to justify the fact that people suffer with the idea of a God who is all-loving, but no matter how you spin it, it always boils down to the fact that this supposedly all-loving deity is hurting people.

Mr. Bushey's question specifically asks, "How do atheists know that God has no reasons for allowing evil."  We don't.  We can't.  But we can guess.  And as I've said, the best guess is that he's not omni-benevolent, but is rather a sadistic bastard who gets his jollies out by hurting human beings randomly.

Question #2:   Ask what they would accept as evidence for God’s existence.

In his elaboration of this question, Mr. Bushey suggests that atheists are unreasonable people who will not accept any evidence that God exists.  The problem is, this is another Straw Man argument.  Its not that atheists won't accept any evidence, its that these sorts of Christians (the ones who think they are smarter than they really are) like to dress up logical fallacy and personal opinion as "self-evident proof" that their God is real.  They'll say things like "Nothing can be created without a creator; the world was created, therefore God," ignoring the fact that they haven't demonstrated that the world was created in the first place.  Or they'll base their entire argument on the Bible, and then defend the Bible's authoritative nature by referring to the Bible itself in a brilliant example of Circular Reasoning.

All that said, let me answer Mr. Bushey's question.  What would I, personally, accept as evidence for God's existence.  I've been asked this before, so many times I have an itemized list.

Verified, specific prophecies that couldn’t have been contrived.   If the Bible had a verse that read something like, "On the eleventh day of the ninth month, two thousand and one years after the birth of the Son of God, a great nation now unknown shall be attacked by the sons of Esau, destroying the center for world trade and laying that nation low and causing them to abandon their freedom for security; and the nation's leader during this attack shall be one of low-intelligence and cunning who shall work this tragedy to his personal advantage," I'd have become a firm believer on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center fell.Now, I should note that there are some restrictions on which prophecies I find believable and which ones I don't.
  • If the prophecy is vague and easily interpreted in a dozen different ways, I'm not going to be concinved.
  • If the subject of the prophecy is trivial (anybody can predict its going to be cold next winter), then I'm not going to be convinced.
  • If the prophecy is obviously contrived for other reasons than cooking the books to be accurate, I'm not going to be convinced.  Lots of kings had a court astrologer tell them that their reign would last forever and that they'd have many sons and never once mentioned the fact that the king was a tyrant and a rebellion was brewing, because the court astrologer knew better than to piss off the king.
  • If the prophecy is self-fulfilling (meaning the mere fact that the prophecy exists will cause people to try and make it come true) then I'm not going to be convinced.
  • I will not be convinced by prophecies that "predict" events that have already happened, if you cannot prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the writing of the prophecy predates the event it predicts.
  • I will not be convinced by prophecies that "predict" events that have already happened, if you cannot prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the events it predicts actually happened.
  • And lastly, if the prophecy is the lone success in a mountain of failed prophecies, I'm not convinced.  Throw enough mud at the wall, and eventually some of it will stick.
Personally, I think these conditions are reasonable and are only what would be expected of a true prophet, should one ever come along.

Scientific knowledge in holy books that wasn’t available at the time.  If the Bible contained an accurate description of some piece of scientific data that couldn't possibly have been known at the time of the writing of the Bible, I'd be a believer.  And I mean specific and accurate descriptions, not something vague that might possibly be interpreted as scientific if you tilt your head and squint.  I'm looking for something akin to a Bible verse that says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee that thine energy is as thine mass times the speed of light multiplied unto itself.”  And as with the prophecies, there has to be independent verification that this piece of knowledge was written well prior to when it was actually discovered by science.

Miraculous occurrences, especially if brought about through prayer.  And by "miracle" I mean something improbable and flashy.  Your mom's cervical cancer suddenly going into remission is wonderful news, but its not a miracle, especially if she's been seeing an oncologist since her diagnoses.  No, I mean something like the next time Pat Robertson says God will smite San Francisco because of its gay community, San Francisco explodes and leaves behind nothing but a crater.  If a plane crashes and all the Christians on board are surrounded by a golden aura of light that protects them from harm, leaving only the non-Christians to die.  If anything like this happened, I'd convert in a heartbeat.  One wonders why Christians find this so hard to accomplish.

Any direct manifestation of the divine.  I’m not that hard to convert, really.  If God shows up in person and tells me to get with the program, and does so in such a way that I can be convinced He's not a hallucination or an elaborate practical joke, I'm sold.

We meet an alien race who has the exact same religion as we do.  Yeah, I know this one sounds a bit weird, but think about it.  If humanity were to contact an extraterrestrial civilization, and those extraterrestrials were Christian before meeting humans, I'd become a believer in a heartbeat because obviously some next level shit was happening.

Question #3:  Ask if they would believe in miracles if they saw one.

I've already answered this one.  If I saw a true miracle, and there was absolutely no way that this miracle could be explained through any scientific means at all, I'd become a believer.  Now, that said, to be convincing a miracle would have to be genuine, verifiable, and represent a real and inexplicable divergence from the ordinary.  We're talking "tangible violation of the laws of physics" time.  Anything that can be explained by peer pressure, the power of suggestion, stage magic, favorable coincidences, courageous acts performed by normal human beings, or the placebo effect does not count as a real miracle.What I am saying is that a true miracle cannot be described by someone saying "Wow, that was close."  A miracle is about someone raising their hand and calling down the impossible.  Seeing the Virgin Mary on a water stained napkin or Jesus in a pug's ass isn't impressive to me.  Nor is speaking in tongues, "faith healing" (if a faith healer wants to impress me, have him restore a lost limb to an amputee), people falling over because they were "slain in the spirit", or anything that can be chalked up to showmanship and over-exuberance.

Question #4:  Ask them if the cause of nature could be natural.

This is a God of the Gaps argument.  "You don't have an answer for this question, therefore the answer is God did it."  We know nature exists.  We know the universe exists.  We have natural explanations for many of its functions.  The actual first cause of the universe and the singularity from which it formed may never be known, but science accepts "I don't know yet" as a perfectly acceptable answer.

The true problem with a God of the Gaps argument is that, over the last several thousand years, there have been many phenomena that we couldn't explain... until we could.  We used to not know how lightning worked.  Then we figured it out.  We used to not know how tides worked.  Then we figured it out.  Disease?  We figured it out.  Gravity?  We figured it out.  And on and so forth.  Just because we don't have an answer for a question today doesn't mean that we won't have one tomorrow.  And the truth is, we know a lot more about how the world really works than anyone who hasn't been specifically educated in science knows.  The gaps that these Christians insist their God inhabits are getting smaller and smaller and fewer and farther between.

Question #5:  Ask if they believe that people who do bad things deserve to be punished.

At the heart of this question is the assumption that God, and only God, is the source of moral and ethnical behavior.  That it is impossible to hold a standard of good and evil unless one concedes that the God of Christianity exists.  The problem is, there has never existed, in all of the long history of human society, a standardized definition of good or bad that has been universally held by all people and at all times.  And let's not even get into the problems with claiming that a God who, in the Bible, casually orders his followers to commit murder, rape, torture, and genocide.  Is a God who allegedly is punishing the entire human race for the actions of only two specific humans really moral?  Can we really accept the moral judgment of a being who clearly has no sense of proportion or justice when it comes to handing out punishment?

As I pointed out earlier, Mr. Bushey ends his blog with an arrogant assertion that these questions will stump an atheist.

Mr. Bushey, my name is Jack V. Butler, Jr.  I'm from Orlando, Florida, and I've been taking on people like you in the arena of ideas for a long time.

And I'm not stumped by any of your questions.

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