Thursday, March 1, 2007

Debating Christians: The Final Frontier

What follows is the final part in a My Case Against God series of discussions between me and assorted Christians I have encountered on popular theology-based internet forums. Today’s exchange took place in a thread I started with my recent essay “Modern Man, Primitive Beliefs.” The Christian quoted here picked apart one of my responses and, in turn, I picked apart his reply. That portion of the discussion is several thousand words in total, so I have chosen not to re-publish it here. Rather than going point-by-point with me again, the Christian chose to issue a single, multi-paragraph response addressing my core arguments generally. The meat of this entry consists of the Christian’s final post, broken up by my concluding response to him. He chose never to rebut the text you are about to read.

As ever, I have not modified the Christian’s spelling, grammar or syntax. However, I have edited my own copy slightly.

Christian: Clearly, your expectation for hard evidence is quite reasonable. There is a fundamental flaw in your reasoning however. You rely entirely on science for your understanding, that is limiting, and you discredit the entire canon of scripture based on a select few "absurdities".

Nihilist: I do not rely solely on science for my understanding. But, indeed, I consider science clearly to be the most reliable method by which truthful information can be discerned. The single statement that best summarizes my philosophical stance is, "The road to truth is paved with evidence." I believe this fully. When it comes right down to it, biblical claims are basically 2000-year-old anecdotes contained in a book many believe is comprised largely of metaphors, poetry, fables, morality plays, folklore, etc. As you obviously read, I cite a few particular claims that, to me, smack of outright absurdity. Some are minor; for example, the donkey speaking after witnessing an angel. Some are major; for example, the bodily resurrection. Nevertheless, it is tremendously difficult for me to take seriously biblical claims that are surrounded by metaphor and poetry, nonscience and absurdity.

We have hard, tested, written-about evidence that brain death is irreversible. We also have hard evidence attesting to the centrality of spermatozoa in a woman becoming pregnant. We have hard evidence that donkeys and serpents do not have the physiological tools to speak human language. We have hard evidence that humans are not physically cut out to live to be 930. So, what you are asking me to do is look past the hard evidence we have and take a leap of faith on a book of Jewish folklore being the actual truth. It is not in me to do that.

Christian: I don't say you should just accept things that are scientifically inexplicable, or even contrary to science. What I am saying is it is not reasonable to chuck the whole lot out based on a couple of events that challenge your view of reality.

Nihilist: But, it is much more than simply challenging my view of reality. What you are asking me to do is set aside the scientific knowledge I have been fortunate enough to gain and take a leap of faith to believe biblical claims for which no hard evidence exists. What’s more, many biblical claims are wholly extraordinary and contrary to known natural principles, which makes hard evidence an absolute necessity in order to gain any degree of confidence in the claims’ veracity.

Realize that there are about 10,000 distinct religions in the world today, all vying for my adherence. Most, if not all, include nonscientific, extraordinary claims which flatly contradict known natural principles and established hard evidence. Should I take a leap of faith and give credence to the claims of all 10,000? You seem to admit that Christianity does not have actual hard evidence for some (if not most, if not all) of its extraordinary claims. I assume this is the case for almost every world religion, too. When one discounts the centrality of hard evidence, how does one decide which nonscience to take on faith, and which to write off as the absurdity it appears to be?

Christian: I'm not trying to mince words here and argue for the sake of it. We have to admit that science has its limits, which you have done. That means that you have a twofold flaw in your reasoning:

1. You assume if it cannot be explained by science, or is contrary to science, it is not possible.

2. You generally dismiss the entire canon based on a select few events (you alluded to the fact there are more than the few you mentionedbut the point remains). This is flawed because there may be context that lends credibility to the parts you dimiss.

Nihilist: I am not the dogmatic follower of “scientism” that you might perceive me to be. I do not write off everything contrary to science. But, I never stray from my demand for hard evidence (whether testable in a laboratory setting or not). My belief in anything has a direct relationship with the amount of good evidence presented to me. You might consider something being written in the Bible evidence in itself. However, going back to the 10,000 distinct religions in the world (nearly each of which having its own sacred texts), that would leave me with 10,000 equally plausible alternate realities, none of which is particularly endowed with hard evidence to substantiate it. And, again, I would stress that the examples on which I chose to harp are firmly in the mainstream of science. It is extremely doubtful scientists will soon discover that brain death easily may reverse itself, or spermatozoa are optional to achieve pregnancy. I feel very comfortable standing my scientific ground on those four key absurdities.

I do not mean to “throw the baby out with the bath water” when I cite my short-list of absurdities. That, in itself, does not disprove Christianity. [I never claimed to disprove your religion, by the way.] Rather, it is a cumulative thing. There are multiple nonscientific absurdities. There is admitted use of metaphor, poetry, fable, morality play, etcetera within the body of the “factual” text. There is a dearth of hard evidence to substantiate the more extraordinary claims within the text. And, there are 9,999 other religions, boasting starkly different worldviews, and possessing equally cocksure adherents. I keep thinking back to the days of Enlil (Ellil) and Ninlil—gods worshipped all over the ancient civilized world for years. Those believers, too, took a leap of faith. Tellingly, nobody believes in those gods anymore.

No matter what the actual truth is (either a single religion is correct or none at all is correct), many people clearly are wasting their time….

Christian: Maybe I can relate to your evolution frustration. You claim evolution to be a fact. I say there is disputable. You firmly believe there is sufficient evidence to assert it is a fact. I dispute that because I believe there is insufficient evidence. You may be able to plug the holes in evidence with perfectly reasonable and scientifically acceptable extrapolation, interpolation and other reasoning but there are still holes in the evidence.

Similar tension in the debate of the scripture. You can dispute the claims all you like with scientific reasoning. The fact is you don't know for a fact that these things did not happen. So you claim is based entirely on reasoning and extrapolation. Not on hard evidence. You weren't there to say it didn't happen. You are extrapolating based on evidence that is not directly related to the event.

Nihilist: I do not think these are precisely analogous. When "evolutionists" and creationists debate, at least they are discussing hard evidence one way or the other. They discuss the fossil record, transitional species, mutation, speciation, exaption, the Tree of Life, etc. Some of these things are philosophical, to be sure, but at least they are firmly grounded in the hard sciences of anthropology, archaeology, biology, chemistry and ecology. Very seldom are evolution debates mired in anecdotes and first-hand accounts unsupported by actual evidence or data.

The Bible, at its core, is a collection of claims. Some are ordinary; some are wholly extraordinary. Since the events of the Bible are alleged to have happened millennia in the past, there is very little hard evidence for many of the claims (both ordinary and extraordinary assertions). There is no data about Jesus’ resurrection, the Virgin Mary’s spermless impregnation, Adam and Eve rising from the dust, Noah’s unreasonably long life, etc. There is no video evidence of (the substantially decayed) Lazarus rising from the dead as Jesus called to him. These are stories—possibly true but probably false. Every religion has them, to be sure. Christianity is not alone.

When faced with 10,000 religions, all equally unburdened by hard facts (at least with respect to their extraordinary nonscience assertions), and then, on the other hand, one set of agreed-upon natural principles, boasting magnificent mountains of supporting data, I must choose the way of nature. I know that people can be delusional, deceptive, deceived and credulous. I know that man is a story-telling animal. For these reasons, and so many others, I must hold to the fact that the road to truth is paved with evidence.


Blogger Chris Bradley said...

My favorite part is always where they try to say that science had insufficient evidence, therefore we should be religious, hehe.

Sure, science has incomplete evidence. But to abandon it for something that has no real evidence is really, really daft.

10:59 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...


It's all about hard evidence and testable hypotheses. Faith has no place in the rational mind.

12:57 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Noah was a 500 year old virgin!

As for the remains of the ark being on Ararat, even if we assume that the story is true, when the flood waters receded there would have been no trees to build shelters or burn for firewood. They would have had to have dismantled the ark for these purposes, so it would follow that there would be no remains of the ark even if it did exist, which of course it did not.

11:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Donny said...

I became a Christian after looking into Christian claims. I used science and logic as my guide that Christianity is a solid reality. I am still a Christian 20-years later. With even more evidence to support my choice. Atheism is strong only when using purely atheistic dogma and doctrine, egotism, selfishness and emotionalism.


11:11 AM EDT  

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