An Astute Analysis

“About twenty years ago, when I first developed an interest in apologetics, I thought the people I should engage were atheists. I assumed that people who claimed to have such a love for reason and science would be reasonable and open to empiricism. How wrong that proved to be. There are very few atheists that have thought deeply about their own beliefs—and even fewer who have tried to fit them into an intellectually coherent framework. I had assumed that atheism was an intellectual position but, as many people are beginning to recognize, it is an emotional response. That is why I think it all but useless to try to dissuade atheists based on logic and reason. If they were logical and reasonable they wouldn’t subscribe to atheism (like Anthony Flew, I think they’d have to accept a minimum of deism).”

Joe Carter at First Things

Amen to that. It amazes me how quickly (and it happens with increasing frequency amongst the New Atheists) atheists abandon reason, empiricism, and logic in any discussion and devolve into screaming incoherent rants. 99% of what comes from the most well known atheists today in any debate or discussion is some form of ad hominem – even if it is a discussion amongst atheists. They have become a caricature of themselves.  Of course, this isn’t the first time that has happened.

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8 Responses to An Astute Analysis

  1. John Gault says:

    It’s funny, but I seem to find the same problem when trying to converse with Christians. Perhaps we can both change the other’s perspective…

    What, in your opinion, is the single-most effective and persuasive argument that favors the existence of God? I know you have many–just as I have many reasons to support my own worldview–but I think that a narrowly focused discussion centering on the absolute best that both points of view have to offer is easier to keep on point. We can then both serve as police to the other and keep out any hint of emotional bias or logical fallacy.

  2. jackhudson says:

    Hmmm…good question. And incidentally, I agree there are many unreasonable Christians – one of the reasons I write what I do is because as a former agnostic, I rarely found Christians that were either willing or able to defend their views. Since then I have of course found many that can (many more ably than myself) and so I know my first perception wasn’t completely accurate, but it certainly is an experience many have had, sadly.

    And to be clear, I have known and had discussions with a number of thoughtful, reasonable and friendly atheists – given the right circumstances.

    As far as the ‘best argument’, what I am about to say might seem like a bit of a cheat, but I will explain.

    The best argument for me that what I believe is true is that multiple independent lines of evidence consistently and coherently point to what the veracity of what I believe as a Christian.

    That is, when I consider my personal experience of transformation through faith in Christ, philosophical proofs which support the necessity of a eternal, uncaused cause, historical evidences for Christ’s life and resurrection, the universal spiritual nature of humanity and the human propensity to both be concerned with morality and unable to live morally, the fine-tuning of the universe for life, and the specific complexity of life itself, as well as the historical consistency of Scripture with all these other realities – when I take these together, I find they add up to consistent proof of the Christian faith.

    And that is the best way to prove a case isn’t it? I mean whether one considers the law, or one considers science, rarely is it the case that there is one ‘best’ piece of evidence – but rather that multiple independent lines of evidence point to one conclusion. That is what we would expect when investigating reality from the perspective of the limited human mind.

    On the other hand, I find atheism to be horribly inconsistent in some fundamentally flawed ways.

    Hope this response is useful as a starting point.

  3. John Gault says:

    I understand what you are saying. As proof of this fact, allow me to briefly rephrase. Essentially, you are saying that there is no single piece of evidence, no single philosophical argument, or no single personal experience which causes you to follow Christ. Instead, it is the entirety of all these things which has led you to your current place in life.

    That is perfectly valid–but it presents a problem. If the two of us were to engage in debate, then we would inevitably do each other a disservice. You would outline many reasons for your belief–ontological, teleological, cosmological, scriptural, personal, etc. I would inevitably refute those which I feel most confident in my own point of view–let’s say ontological, scriptural, and personal. You would then, in turn, refute my refutations–again targeting those which you feel you have the best retort for–this time, scriptural. We would then argue back and forth for a while until we realized we had come to a fundamental impasse and walk away unsatisfied. All the while, we would be intentionally ignorant to the fact that our own “mental sieve” had caused us to walk away from the most important argument known to man over a disagreement about what is inevitably the weakest argument from the original list–because we purposefully CHOSE each other’s weakest arguments as the target of our rhetoric. All the best of us would have been lost in the process of narrowing-down.

    There is a solution, however. Enter the debate with the understanding that you will not change my mind–and I will not change yours. That way, you have no obligation to present me with ALL your reasons for faith. Our discussion wouldn’t be one of conversion but of understanding. We both realize that if you present me with the single STRONGEST argument for faith that I will still go to sleep tonight an atheist–but by concentrating on the best that our respective worldviews have to offer, we can perhaps move the other’s ideological needle a slight tick in the opposite direction. Surely, if you have any experience debating matters of religion, you would agree that even THAT would be a minor miracle of accomplishment.

    Perhaps, however, it is not a defense of Christianity that you are interested in. Perhaps it is a deconstruction of atheism that truly excites you. That’s fair enough as well–as long as you realize that discrediting your opponent’s point of view does nothing to bolster your own. Following the same formula I proposed before, what is the single MOST flawed tenet of atheism, in your opinion?

  4. jackhudson says:

    Actually, I don’t necessarily disagree with that approach – in fact I like putting out the strongest arguments I can muster for Christianity and theism not only because I see them to be strong arguments, but because I believe the criticism of an essentially accurate argument has the effect of strengthening it further. The ‘inoculation principle’ if you will. And in the interest of full disclosure, I am not that interested in ‘convincing’ atheists, because I don’t believe the acquisition of truth to be a matter of mere intellect – my primary purpose here is to encourage the faithful – that is, demonstrate to other Christians that their faith is capable of being defended. The other motivation is just to find a repository of the ideas that rattle around my head.

    And while my primary pursuit isn’t to deconstruct atheism, I do think that its arguments should be answered – and while that doesn’t necessarily make Christianity true, it makes one alternative less likely. This I think has value, particularly in an age where the alternatives have been narrowed considerably.

    But one of the things I find to be essentially flawed about atheism (at least of the materialist variety) is that it undermines confidence in the primary means by which we develop a belief system to begin with – i.e our ‘noetic equipment’, that is our brains. If our brains exist as the result of a series incidental modifications to previously existing living systems, and if the ability to believe in the truth of any precept is merely the product of the function of that brain, then there is no reason to think that anything I believe – even that God or gods don’t exist – is true. In short, materialistic atheism undermines the ability to coherently assert the truth of a precept, and so contradicts itself.

    However, if I have been given the ability to perceive truth, I can confidently assert the truth of my beliefs – and my belief in God as Creator is consistent with this reality.

  5. John Gault says:

    Again rephrased for the benefit of simplicity…

    “If my brain is the product of evolution over time, and my ability to recognize truth is a function of that brain, then I can’t trust my brain when it tells me something is true. Therefore, when my brain tells me that atheism is true, the very tenets of atheism require that I mistrust that truth.”

    I hope that I have fairly characterized your point of view. I fail to see, however, why a brain that has developed as a product of unguided evolution is necessarily an “untrustworthy” brain. Since natural selection favors those modifications which make survival morel likely, isn’t it reasonable to assume that an accurate recognition of reality and it’s true nature would be an advantage? If a lion sees a gazelle on the planes of the Serenghetti, isn’t that lion more likely to eat (and therefore survive to pass along his genes) if he can trust that the zebra is actually there? I believe that I recognize truth when I see it because my brain has evolved to make connections–between cause and effect, between evidence and conclusion, between true and false. Since human beings are not particularly strong, fast, or agile, since their senses are dull, they can’t fly, and their hide is soft, it is unlikely that we would have survived as a specie if our one asset–our rational mind–were untrustworthy.

  6. jackhudson says:

    Well, you characterization of the argument is missing one thing – it’s not the ability to discern merely that something is ‘true’, that is observably and factually true, but the ability to develop a belief about one’s observation that is at question here. That is what sets our minds apart, and in fact makes us either atheists or theists.

    You example is a good place to start – lions don’t have ‘beliefs’ about gazelles. That is, they aren’t considering certain precepts about the value of chasing and eating gazelles, as in, “If I eat this gazelle, it will give me nutrition and allow me to survive and pass on my genes”. However, a human might have such a belief – in fact we spend an inordinate amount of time discussing and debating what is true about good nutrition for example. We have ‘beliefs’ about food and whole host of other things – that is we have come to conclusions about certain things not merely through direct observation, but through the development of ideas based on observations – or the observations of others. Or through our own imaginations. As far as we know, we are unique in this respect.

    So given that we are a belief forming creature, the question than becomes, ‘What confidence do we have that our beliefs are accurate conclusions about reality?’

    Now if we know for certain we can have wrong beliefs and survive quite well. In fact, an atheist believes that most of the rest of the world lives and survives just fine while believing something fundamentally wrong about the nature of the universe. So wrong beliefs aren’t necessarily detrimental to our survival. In fact, given the proliferation of religious humanity, it might well be beneficial to believe what is fundamentally wrong, as long as it doesn’t directly impinge on one’s survival. So our rational minds can be, in fact, demostratably untrustworthy in the view of an atheist. So as far as that goes there is no reason from the view of survival to claim that our brains have the ability to discern a true belief.

    There is of course if we were given that ability.

    By the way, I always try to thank someone when they conduct themselves with reasonable decorum – so thanks.

  7. John Gault says:

    No thanks necessary…civilized discussion is reward unto itself…

    What you are calling “belief” is, in my opinion, just another word for the human ability to draw conclusions. Certainly, those conclusions may be wrong. In fact, they are often wrong. I “believe” that orange juice is good for me because the evidence I have seen indicates that to be true–so I drink O.J. It may turn out, however, that OJ is actually bad for me. So, in that sense, your original premise is true. We can’t always trust our ability to recognize what is true and develop a belief upon that truth. We can never trust our conclusions to a certainty of 100%. I’m comfortable with that margin of error, however, and I still believe that that ability (the ability to draw conclusions or develop “beliefs”)is an advantage over our animal brethren in the competition for survival–even if it is flawed.

    Isn’t the fact that our ability to develop beliefs is demonstrably flawed, however, an argument AGAINST God? Bear with me…

    If my ability to recognize truth, develop beliefs, trust those beliefs, and act upon them is a divine gift from God, then shouldn’t that ability be more accurate? Take religion as an example. No matter which religion you subscribe to, there are FAR more people on Earth who believe something OTHER than what you do. That means that the majority of the planet has developed an erroneous belief in their deity of choice. That doesn’t sound like a divinely-gifted ability to me. That sounds like a NATURAL ability that is subject to error and misinformation. How can you trust YOUR brain if most of the world disagrees with you on your choice of religion? Either your brain is untrustworthy, or theirs is…and according to your belief system, we all came from the same creator, so there shouldn’t be ANY untrustworthy brains in the bunch.

  8. jackhudson says:

    What you are calling “belief” is, in my opinion, just another word for the human ability to draw conclusions. Certainly, those conclusions may be wrong. In fact, they are often wrong. I “believe” that orange juice is good for me because the evidence I have seen indicates that to be true–so I drink O.J. It may turn out, however, that OJ is actually bad for me. So, in that sense, your original premise is true. We can’t always trust our ability to recognize what is true and develop a belief upon that truth. We can never trust our conclusions to a certainty of 100%. I’m comfortable with that margin of error, however, and I still believe that that ability (the ability to draw conclusions or develop “beliefs”)is an advantage over our animal brethren in the competition for survival–even if it is flawed.

    I don’t dispute that the ability to believe is an advantage over the inability to believe – I dispute whether the ability to discern a true belief is an advantage over the inability to do so. If I believe that orange juice is good for me because orange is a happy color that makes people feel more positive about their day, and so invigorates their minds and inclines them to positive activities like exercise, it doesn’t matter whether this is true because the effects of drinking orange juice on my health would be the same as someone who drank it because it contained the essential daily allowance of vitamin C.

    The point being, we can survive without the ability to have beliefs at all (all other organisms do) or having wrong beliefs. And as much as this is true, there is no warrant for the confidence that our minds have the ability to discern truth from the materialistic atheistic perspective.

    Isn’t the fact that our ability to develop beliefs is demonstrably flawed, however, an argument AGAINST God? Bear with me…

    If my ability to recognize truth, develop beliefs, trust those beliefs, and act upon them is a divine gift from God, then shouldn’t that ability be more accurate? Take religion as an example. No matter which religion you subscribe to, there are FAR more people on Earth who believe something OTHER than what you do. That means that the majority of the planet has developed an erroneous belief in their deity of choice. That doesn’t sound like a divinely-gifted ability to me. That sounds like a NATURAL ability that is subject to error and misinformation. How can you trust YOUR brain if most of the world disagrees with you on your choice of religion? Either your brain is untrustworthy, or theirs is…and according to your belief system, we all came from the same creator, so there shouldn’t be ANY untrustworthy brains in the bunch.

    Well yes, I could be wrong and our basic cognitive equipment could be fundamentally flawed and no one would have the ability to discern the truth, and we are all hopelessly confused about the nature of reality. But this would not be an argument about the existence or non-existence of God or gods (as we couldn’t discern either) and so both the theist and the atheist would be equal in this respect, and a belief in any truth would be an act of complete faith.

    However I am talking about our cognitive equipment – our brains. One can have good equipment for drawing conclusions, and still reach the wrong conclusion because one is using the equipment incorrectly or using bad inputs. I can have a capable calculator and use it wrongly and get the wrong answer. However, I can’t say with any confidence that my answers are correct if I am unsure the equipment works to begin with – and that is what materialistic atheism does, undermines our confidence in our equipment. So an atheist can’t say, “I am confident I have come to the correct conclusion” while admitting that their calculator may be terribly flawed.

    Well, they could, but not reasonably.

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