William Lane Craig’s blather about Ryan Bell

So I was thinking about what William Lane Craig (I know, I know) had to say about Ryan Bell and the his “year without God”. Spoiler alert: Ryan Bell now identifies as an atheist and we’re quite happy to have him. Shortly after Bell originally announced his experiment about a year ago, Craig had this drivel:

Oh, I think it is disastrous spiritually. But I wonder how he is going to live? A couple weeks ago we did a podcast on exploring the real consequences of an atheistic worldview and that, on atheism, things like civility, politeness, moral values, treating others honorable, marital fidelity are all illusions of human consciousness fogged onto us by the evolutionary process and social conditioning. I wonder what is Bell going to do? Is he going to also during this year quit working for peace and justice? Is he going to now no longer be concerned about the treatment of women – those issues that got him into trouble with his church? Just what does he think the consequences of atheism really are? Which ones is he going to try on? If he really comes to accept the view that atheism leads to the kind of moral nihilism that our other friend did, Bell is going to really have a disastrous year.

But let’s unpack this.

Oh, I think it is disastrous spiritually.

Oh of course! Honest and open inquiry is just no good at all. I’m confused though. We keep hearing about how obvious it is that a god exists, and that Christianity is obviously true. So why should this sort of thing be a problem? Why are the concepts of god and Christianity so frail as to fall apart given simple and honest questioning?

A couple weeks ago we did a podcast on exploring the real consequences of an atheistic worldview and that, on atheism, things like civility, politeness, moral values, treating others honorable, marital fidelity are all illusions of human consciousness fogged onto us by the evolutionary process and social conditioning.

I’m constantly amazed that apologists and their kind seem so intent on telling atheists what we should believe. Not only is it insulting, it’s just plain wrong, and it makes him look incredibly ignorant.

I wonder what is Bell going to do? Is he going to also during this year quit working for peace and justice? Is he going to now no longer be concerned about the treatment of women – those issues that got him into trouble with his church?

Now here’s where the mega-eye-roll starts, and this is sort of my main point. Among former believers who are now atheists, I know of no one who fits what Craig is saying. I know of no one who decided to care less about social justice after deconverting. Most former believers I’ve talked to care far more about those issues now (myself included). Realizing that we’re on our own, and have a responsibility for each other, and that there’s no sky daddy watching out for us, is a big realization.

Many atheists actually have a far better sense of social justice that includes, oh you know, LGBT rights and equality.

And is he actually serious about the treatment of women? That seems like a very poor choice for an example, given what the Bible has to say about treatment of women. I think we’ll stick with our non-biblical treatment of women as equal human beings, not property. I’d go into it but wow would this be a long article. But let’s see… here’s a short version and a long version.

Just what does he think the consequences of atheism really are? Which ones is he going to try on? If he really comes to accept the view that atheism leads to the kind of moral nihilism that our other friend did, Bell is going to really have a disastrous year.

And we come full circle, back to the appeal to consequence. This is such a ridiculous and fallacious argument. Even if it were true that atheism leads to moral nihilism and utter despair and kicking puppies, that doesn’t mean a god exists. Why Craig constantly insists on this argument is just baffling. It’s literally logic 101.

Now, a couple things. Yes, I realize that there are atheists who are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people. I don’t personally know any, but yes, they exist. There are people who think that atheism means they can do whatever they want and that nothing matters. Again though, that doesn’t mean a god exists. Those people are wrong, and if they harm others, we can correctly take action against them.

I also realize my tone toward Craig may be a little aggressive in this article, but wilful ignorance just really bothers me. I know some other atheists will disagree with me here, but William Lane Craig is a very intelligent man. I know it’s popular to talk about what a blithering idiot he is, but it’s simply not true. He’s very intelligent and accomplished, but that makes it all the more frustrating that he uses such obviously wrong arguments, and that he continues to use them after being told why they are wrong, based on facts and/or logic.

All in all, I think Ryan Bell had a pretty good year. I saw no disaster.

In Defense of Believers

I’ve been thinking lately about how a lot of atheists seem to view believers, and it’s not pretty. I’ve heard a lot of atheists call believers stupid, and there seem to be a lot of atheists who think studies have proven that believers have lower IQs. These studies are dubious, and even if there were some link, correlation is not necessarily causation.

Most religious people aren’t stupid. They don’t automatically have lower IQs. From my observation, many Christians in the US are generally ill informed about opposing views, or they have a strong need to believe for any number of reasons (they want to see grandma again, or they can’t understand morality without a god, can’t wrap their head around naturalistic origins, etc).

Most of them are indoctrinated (you could call it brainwashed) from a very young age, and religion certainly thrives on fear. Fear of hell, fear of being a bad person, etc. Fear is a strong motivator to do or not do something… or to continue in a belief in spite of doubt. Many believers never truly consider other points of view, but dismiss them out of hand. They are quite ignorant about other religious beliefs, and the fact that generally a person’s religion is overwhelmingly determined by their geography.

Again, none of this is meant to be insulting, nor is it meant as a blanket statement for all believers, but it is my observation. Cognitive biases can be very difficult to overcome, and when I talk about people being ignorant, that’s not an insult either. We’re all ignorant about a lot of things. With all the available knowledge in the universe, we’re actually all incredibly ignorant about most of what there is to know. I’m ignorant about knitting, nor do I have any desire to learn about it. Does this make me stupid? I don’t think so.

Some believers do realize that they should be able to rationally defend their beliefs, and venture into the dark forest of apologetics. Of those who do though, almost all of them seem go check out what apologists say, and it sounds logical to them, so they stop there. This is confirmation bias, and it’s a common thing for people to do, not just Christians. It’s human nature to group together with those who think like we do.

Those are just a few reasons why believers aren’t all big dumb stupid idiots.

I do want to make a distinction between religious idiots and the rest of them. There are those who I would call idiots, and some are idiots AND outright dishonest, like Ray Comfort and Eric Hovind. Ray and Eric and their ilk use deceptive tactics like quote-mining, emotional arguments, strawman arguments, and other fallacies. They have engaged in arguments and formal debates, and have been told so many times why they are wrong, yet still continue to say things those same things. That’s dishonest, and they are big dumb stupid idiots (or scammers, take your pick).

Now don’t get me wrong. This is all just my position on this, and I’m not the thought police or the tone police for atheism. I think we should stop calling religious people stupid as a blanket statement, but of course everyone is free to do as they like. I will say though, that dismissing people because you think they’re stupid isn’t likely to help anything. Do I occasionally go off and yell about creationists? Oh yeah. But in general I try not to. My views of religious people are evolving, and I think in a better and more productive direction.

10 Questions For Every Atheist

Well here we go again.  Another Christian website has come out with an oh-so-scary list of 10 Question For Every Atheist.  The list is actually ripped off from an atheist blogger, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that he DID answer them in his article.  They didn’t mention that, but only linked his original article at the bottom of their post.  I almost didn’t see it.

Ironically, the list as presented on todaychristian.net is preceded by “Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”  The key word here is “honestly”.  Unfortunately they have demonstrated that they have little interest in honesty.

But off we go with their questions.

1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

Finally understood the burden of proof, and realized no religion has any proof.

2.       What happens when we die?

We go back to what we were before we were alive: nothing.

3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

Oh look, Pascal’s Wager. Never heard this one before.

I’m guessing I probably won’t have much say at that point. Due the question being asked by Christians, I’m guessing they are assuming their version of the afterlife according to the Bible is the right one. In that case it seems that I’ll be unfairly judged as to whether or not I was gullible enough to buy into nonsense that has no evidence.

A question in return though: what if you die and it turns out out the Muslims were right, or the Jews, or the Hindus, or another of the thousands upon thousands of religions?

There are numerous other reasons why Pascal’s Wager fails, but I think that’s enough for now.

4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

The same place we all get it from: the evolution of our species into a social group that is better adapted to survival by cooperation, based on an understanding of the nature of reality, that our actions effect others, and a sense of empathy. All of this is a result of evolution.

5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

No, and if you need a god to tell you that, you’re broken. See explanation in #4. You’re less likely to want to cooperate with somebody if you think they’re likely to kill or rape you, which means they’re less well adapted to survive and pass on their genes.

6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

It has whatever meaning I choose to give it, which is far better than an arbitrarily assigned meaning.

7.       Where did the universe come from?

Big Bang.

8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

What miracles? Name one that can be objectively verified. How do you even define a miracle?

9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

Great people with great ideas, from whom I’ve learned a lot. I agree with most of their ideas but not 100%.

10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

While most societies do have some sort of religion, not all do or have. Religions seem to originate in order to explain things we don’t understand or cope with things that are scary.

Now, the questions that they’ve ripped off from an atheist blogger have been answered YET AGAIN, and are being answered by atheists all over Facebook now.  I get that they don’t LIKE the answers, but the questions have been answered ad nauseam, despite the claim that they can’t be.  I wonder if they’ll stop using the questions now?

Religious “crisis”

About 12 years or so ago when I was still religious, I had a “crisis”.  I had a sudden realization that I didn’t really know if God existed.  I was pretty upset and barely holding back tears as I talked to a friend about it.

He had a story about having a big crush on a woman he worked with and God helped him not cheat on his wife.  Now, it’s great that he didn’t cheat, but I now see that story means zero as to proving God’s existence.  But back then, I had what I wanted: a “reason” to keep believing.  So I went on my way with my confirmation of what I wanted to believe.

I didn’t know not believing in God was an actual option.  To the extent that I may have thought about that possibility, I guess I thought it would make you a bad person.  I don’t recall if I even knew the word “atheist”.

I don’t know if my faith ever really recovered after that.  I’ve come to see that belief is not a black and white issue.  We “believe” many things to varying degrees of certainty, and what we may think we believe… well, we may or may not.

I was recently in a discussion with a Christian pastor relative.  We’ll call him Bob.  Bob said he wished I had talked to him when I was “teetering” toward non-belief, and he could have answered the “intellectual obstacles”.  Could he have?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  My wife talked to her dad, a pastor with a doctorate in theology and an emphasis on counseling.  His answers to her “intellectual obstacles” were absolute garbage.  Then he got angry and stopped talking to her.  I had expected a better argument.

Bob has experience in apologetics though, while I don’t think my wife’s dad does.  It seems prevalent these days and is probably a standard part of theological training.  So could Bob have brought me back?  Again, I don’t know.  At that point I didn’t really have a big desire to believe.  I didn’t want to NOT believe, and I didn’t know then how vile religion and the god of the Bible are, so I really just wanted to know what was actually true.

After I deconverted, I started looking into the apologist arguments.  Some of them seemed like they could be valid.  Others I knew weren’t, but I couldn’t figure out why.  That’s the main strength (possibly only strength) of apologetics: to bamboozle with bullshit.  So I researched and found that none of the arguments for God are valid and sound.  They can sound good if you don’t understand them, but none of them hold up to scrutiny.  It could be true that what we might classify as a god does indeed exist, but regardless, all apologist arguments I’ve seen to date are invalid.

Obviously we’ll never know what could have happened.  My feeling is that my deconversion may have been delayed, but the train had left the station.

But this is why it is important to raise awareness of atheism.  Had I known it was an option, I may have left the faith all those years ago.  I probably knew people who were atheists but I didn’t realize.  Knowing that people you associate with: friends, family, co-workers are leading happy and productive lives without a belief in a god may be the most valuable tool there is.

Not everyone can openly state they are atheist.  Many could face reprisal, hostility, or outright aggression.  It is still not safe for everyone in every situation.  Some may lose friends or family or even jobs.  There are very real consequences.  All those who can be “out” and open help in working toward making the world a safer place for other non-believers.

I wonder how many people are out there, unaware that not believing in a god is an actual option?  I wonder how many do realize they don’t believe, but don’t feel safe?

No faith, no presuppositions

Since the Bill Nye debate with Ken Ham, we are yet again confronted with the idea that atheists have faith too. Ham loves to trot out this tired old argument that our faith is in the “religion” of naturalism, and his followers happily parrot it at us whenever they can. Of course, all Ham has is tired old arguments. It’s not like there’s anything new coming from the Bible. It is funny though that essentially what Ham is trying to do is to drag science down to the level of his religion so we’re on equal footing, then it’s just a matter of opinion or interpretation right?

This is what they have to resort to when all their arguments have failed and all available evidence is against them. Ham attacks reality itself, redefines words, and classifies as religion a position that involves reliance on reason and evidence and excludes things we cannot demonstrate to be correct. This is quite a strange usage of the word “religion”, and sometimes I think people like Ham do it just to annoy us. Trusting in what can be observed, tested, and/or demonstrated is what rational beings should be doing, but to Ham that’s a wild idea.

Presuppositionalism is related to this, and others like Matt Slick like to try to use it to claim that atheists presuppose their god doesn’t exist. We don’t (or at least shouldn’t) and we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Atheists have no faith and no presuppositions, (or at least shouldn’t). We all start off as blank slates. As babies we have no knowledge or understanding, just instinct. As we start to gain understanding of the world in which we find ourselves, we are presented with claims. “That burner is hot.” “If you knock that cup over the water will spill.” We test some of these claims, observe the evidence, and confirm they are correct. We find that there are trustworthy sources of reliable information, like our parents. It is not their authority that makes them trustworthy; if they provided us with bad information that lead to unreliable results, we would not see them as reliable sources of information.

So at some point we are presented with the god claim. Here’s how that exchange should go:

“Some god exists.”

“Cool, what reliable evidence is there for that?”

“Um…..”

“Okay, movin’ on.”

No presupposition involved. The claim was evaluated and rejected based on lack of evidence. Of course some bad evidence may be presented in place of “Um…..”, but that shouldn’t change the result.

We build knowledge of the universe around us built on previous knowledge, experience, and observation, including those of others. We build trustworthy sources of information, even when we may not fully understand some of the information presented.

I’m a trustworthy source of information for my kids because I’ve told them a lot of things they have confirmed to be correct. If I tell them something like “if you run out in front of a car it may hit you”, they don’t need to test that. Based on previous experience, they know they can trust me because I have demonstrated that I am a reliable source of information. Even if they don’t fully understand what being hit by a car means, they still trust what I tell them. Likewise, we know we can trust the scientific community based on previous experience that the scientific community has provided us with accurate information based on empirical evidence that we could also test or observe to verify. Even if we don’t fully understand what’s presented, we can still trust based on previous experience.

I don’t fully understand nuclear physics, but I understand that it works. I can see that it works. We have nuclear reactors and weapons and the like. I can understand the very basics and I could go to school for a long time to learn how to fully understand it, but I don’t want or need to because there are scientists who do understand and apply it. Based on their scientific credibility, I can see they are reliable sources of information even if it’s a field I don’t fully understand.

Do I understand evolution? Well I have a good grasp of the overall theory. Do I fully understand every part of it? No, that’s essentially impossible as it covers many different sciences including genetics, biology, anthropology, physics, paleontology, and many more. Are there scientists who do understand their parts of it who have demonstrated they are reliable sources of information? Yes, there are scientists in every field related to evolution who spend entire careers working on their small part of their particular field. We can trust based on previous experience.

Evolution is the best model for the evidence that we have. It is supported by all available evidence and contradicted by none. If there is ever reason to reject it and support another model, that will be based on evidence, and it will be scientists doing actual scientific work who will discover it. It won’t be discovered by intellectual vandals like Ken Ham trying to just tear down the hard fought discoveries of modern science, thinking that will prop up their failed ideas.

So again: no faith, no presuppositions. Can creationists and apologists stop saying it now? Yeah I know… no.