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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Possibility of Atheism (part 2 of 3)

Part 1 is here. Original article is here.

We have been examining an essay, "The Impossibility of Atheism" written by William Lane Craig, and posted in its entirety by Frank Walton. We will now look at the next section, the value of life. Unfortunately there is nothing of value in the arguments presented, as we shall see.

Value of Life
First of all, atheistic humanists are totally inconsistent in affirming the traditional values of love and brotherhood. For though he was an atheist, he was an outspoken social critic, denouncing war and restrictions on sexual freedom. The point is that if there is no God, then objective right and wrong cannot exist. As Dostoyevsky said, “All things are permitted.”
This is one of the most oft repeated logical fallacies made by Christian apologists -- read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and you will see it in its full blown glory. As it stands, this is just a summarized paraphrase of Lewis' argument.

It is also quite simple to break. 'objective' right and wrong is in the eye of the beholder, and he knows this to be true, even though he writes the opposite of that truth here. The deal-breaker example is Christianity itself. There are literally a thousand different Christian sects, liberal, fundamental, and conservative. Yet none of these groups can agree on what is 'objectively' moral and even go so far as to use the 'objective' Word of God to support their own moral views. Stem cell research, abortion, the death penalty, etc. All show that Craig is claiming something here he knows to be a lie. This is the problem that results though, it negates his entire argument and opens up the possibility that atheists can and do find morality outside God and the Bible. I have written on this before, but quickly it boils down to the fact that humans are social creatures, we live in societies. In order for those societies to function, certain ground rules must exist and be enforced. Without these ground rules (what he would call 'morals'), society would collapse. Rules against murder, theft, rape (one not listed in the ten commandments), perjury, etc. are all necessary for a society to function and prosper.

But Dostoyevsky also showed that man cannot live this way. He cannot live as
though it is perfectly all right for soldiers to slaughter innocent children. He
cannot live as though it is all right for dictatorial regimes to follow a systematic program of physical torture of political prisoners. He cannot live as though it is all right for dictators like Pol Pot to exterminate millions of their own countrymen. But if there is no God, he cannot.
This has to be the most ridiculous argument in Christian apologetics. He must be blind not to see the flaw here. So let me rewrite the above statement as a testimony of Christianity:
He cannot live as though it is all right for Christianity to follow a systematic program of eternal torture in hell of unbelievers. He cannot live as though it is all right for dictators like God to exterminate millions of his own creation (including women, small children, and infants).

Christians all profess to a creed where they believe that God is lord and master, that He demands strict adherence to his rules, demands worship, and threatens to punish for eternity through torture anyone who breaks his rules or improperly worships him. How is this any different than any of history's most brutal dictators? Every dictator claims to do what he does out of 'love' for his people and to protect them from outside evils.

The horror of a world devoid of value was brought home to me with new intensity a few years ago as I viewed a BBC television documentary called “The Gathering.” It concerned the reunion of survivors of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, where they rediscovered lost friendships and shared their experiences. [...]
Here is the obligatory story of the horrors of holocaust. What about the documentary about the survivors of Sodom and Gomorrah or the great flood? Oh, right there were no survivors, the bible says they were all tortured to death with either fire or water -- including small children, pregnant women, and infants.

And yet, if God does not exist, then in a sense, our world is Auschwitz: there is no absolute right and wrong; all things are permitted.
Craig solves his non sequetur with yet another lapse in logic. Because it is so easy to completely equate his God with the vilest of human dictators, the answer is equally trivial to reason out. Just like the dictator who arbitrarily decides right and wrong based on what is best for himself, so does God. Like the citizens who accept that as the final word or face the threat of torture, so do Christians accept God's dictates. But here's the kicker: the power of morality lies with the people not the dictator. The dictator thrives only if his dictates are acceptable. If the people rebel, then then dictator loses all power. The same is true of Christianity. All Christians simply agree to let God decide morality. The real morality lies in their choice, not the dictates of God. If all Christians decided to let some other source of morality become their moral values, then God loses all power of being the 'moral authority'. Thus even within Christianity the judge of right and wrong (morality) lies within Christians not God. Just because they decided to let God be the arbiter of morality, does not change that they are the ultimate deciders of what is and is not moral. (Of course, the morality of God is only to be found in the writings of the Bible.)

A second problem is that if God does not exist and there is no immortality, then all the evil acts of men go unpunished and all the sacrifices of good men go unrewarded.
This argument is based on a false assumption, one that if you reject the assumption, the logic of the argument fails. He assumes there is an afterlife, and that the nature of that afterlife is to be eternal reward or punishment. If you don't agree with that assumption, as atheists do not, then his argument makes no sense. It is reduced to "it is a real impossibility to reward or punish people while alive." If people live by the rules, work hard, then they can retire in southern florida, enjoy the grandkids, write a book, paint, or play golf. If they break the rules, prison.
One can come up with any number of extenuating circumstances where reward/punishment are not doled out on this mortal coil; car wrecks, sickness, war, poverty, failed justice system... But is that any different when there is an eternal reward/punishment in the afterlife? For example, you are a good Christian your whole life, you die, go to heaven, only to find out out that your neighbor in heaven is Jeffrey Dahmer, who had just prior to dying turned his life over to Christ. Or while you were still alive on earth, your then neighbor and friend, who was always a good moral person, who helped his community every way he could; also died, and to your great surprise, he was a closet atheist, and now in hell.

The fact is, that the reward/punishment issue is made worse when an eternal component is thrown in, it throws justice on its ear, making right and wrong worthless. If only justice here on planet Earth is considered, it is indeed imperfact, thus some evil deeds go unpunished, but the reality is, it is not possible to predict when evil will be unpunished and when it will. So the fear of justice hear is not different than justice in the eternal sense. When an eternal punishment is added, as Christians are wont to do, then justice becomes torture. Imagine being given a life sentence for by a judge for a minor rule infraction like a traffic ticket. Yet having sex before marriage (for example) and not being repentent for it will send a person to hell forever. That is not justice. It is made even worse, when no Christian here on planet Earth can agree on what is a sin and what is not, even given the bible as the sole moral guide from God.

Richard Wurmbrand, who has been tortured for his faith in communist prisons,
says, The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe when man has no faith in the
reward of good or the punishment of evil. There is no reason to be human. There
is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man.

The English theologian Cardinal Newman once said that if he believed that all evils and injustices of life throughout history were not to be made right by God in the
afterlife, “Why I think I should go mad.” Rightly so.

This is another case of bad assumptions. Let me first give you a little analogy. Suppose you were writing a sentence in ink on a piece of paper. You realize that you had written the wrong sentence down. All you could do would be cross it out and rewrite the sentence. The mistake will always be there, but it was later corrected and thus now right.

History cannot change, all that can be done is correct it in the future by not repeating the mistake. Honor the victims of past injustices by not allowing them to happen again.

Now the bad assumption is that past injustices can be 'fixed' by reward and/or punishment. This is false. Reward or punishment of the guilty does not erase, replace, or undo the original injustice, all it can do is 'make up' for it or provide 'closure'. The status of the victim, either living or dead, does nothing to change this fact. Reward or punishment is more often than not intended for the survivors of the injustice than it is for the victim or the perpetraitor.

And the same applies to acts of self-sacrifice. A number of years ago, a terrible mid-winter air disaster occurred in which a plane leaving the Washington, D.C. airport smashed into a bridge spanning the Potomac River, plunging its passengers into the icy waters. As the rescue helicopters came, attention was focused on one man who again and again pushed the dangling rope ladder to other passengers rather than be pulled to safety himself. Six times he passed the ladder by. When they came again, he was gone. He had freely given his life that others might live. The whole nation turned its eyes to this man in respect and admiration for the selfless and good act he had performed. And yet, if the atheist is right, that man was not noble–he did the stupidest thing possible. He should have gone for the ladder first, pushed others away if necessary in order to survive. But to die for others he did not even know, to
give up all the brief existence he would ever have–what for? For the atheist
there can be no reason. [..] devoid of value
First I would like to point out that nowhere does he actually discuss 'value'. He speaks of morals (also called 'values') but not of value. Value in this context is worth. An atheist values human life greatly -- arguably even more so than a Christian. The proof is again in the Christian creed; humans are fallen, corrupt, sinners, evil, worthless, dust, vile, etc. How can a person who describes himself thusly turn around and say they value life? How can they hold that terrible a view of humanity and still say that an atheist, who rejects all that, values life less? The only way they get away with it is to misconstrue 'value' (worth) to be the same as 'values' (morality).

Atheists have no afterlife, so they must make the most of their time while alive. This is true, but only half the story. The proof is rather complex, so I will explain by example. Most Christians agree that only humans have souls, and it is this soul that enters the afterlife. As such, animals do not have souls and so they just die. But many times animal behavior has been observed that a parent will not only risk its life, but die to protect their offspring. If Craig is right, then this is impossible. His contention becomes even more absurd when we move away from animals to humans, who in addition to instinct have rational and logical cognative abilities as well. An atheist, in addition to having the same instincts as the animal example above, can reason beyond himself, and see a greater good. It is this greater good that allows selfless acts to occur. Sometimes what is best for society is what's worst for the individual. But the relationship between society and self is flexible, at times leaning towards society and other times towards self. When that flexibility is broken, as happens, we have judges and prisons.

Next Time: part 3, the purpose of life.

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