Friday, September 28, 2007

Atheist Musings for the Fundamentalist Christian "Soul"

The following seven questions/challenges/musings are intended for fundamentalist Christians. Liberal believers may not recognize themselves in this address.


1. The historical evidence for biblical truth-claims is thin, to be sure. I know of no secular historian who reports on Mary undergoing parthenogenesis, for example. Because this is the case, it seems to me that Christians ought to present some credible secular historical evidence to support their most cherished folklore. It is in this spirit I request the names and relevant works of at least two secular record-keepers—who lived at the same time as Jesus—who specifically mention Jesus as well as at least one of his alleged miracles (for example, bringing dead-long-enough-to-stink Lazarus back to life). Despite persistent requests, I have yet to be presented with any qualifying names.

2. Biblical-literalist Christians generally reject evolutionary theory, in spite of its near-universal acceptance in the scientific community. Evolution teaches us that various orders of animal roamed the planet (and, indeed, went extinct) before other orders of animal even came to be. Creationists argue that all orders of animal were created at about the same time; that is, humans and dinosaurs co-existed. As luck would have it, Young Earth Creationists have a way to falsify Darwinian evolution: the geologic strata. It is in this spirit I request at least two examples of horse fossils found in the Paleozoic strata (among trilobites and other such life forms). Alternatively, I, along with the late Dr. J. B. S. Haldane, request at least two examples of fossil rabbits found in the Precambrian.

3. According to fundamentalist Christians, the Bible is the word of god. That is, the Bible’s very words were directly inspired by him. Because the Christian god conception incorporates omniscience, a fundamentalist Christian must conclude the Bible boasts omniscient authorship. However, I think the evidence for such a conclusion is lacking. It is in this spirit I request two examples of biblical passages that provide brand new information about the natural order, which previously had been unavailable to humans living during biblical times. I shall relate an example: If the Bible had mentioned the true age and size of our universe, that would qualify as brand new information about the natural order, because first century commoners did not already possess this information. If the Bible lacks brand new information about the natural order, its claims of omniscient authorship are groundless.

4. The Yahweh-worshipping crowd’s delusion truly would have been convincing and persuasive if Yahweh-worship had appeared independently in several different cultures, rather than spreading when one population actively attempts (forcibly or not) to convert another. Consider the following example: The atheist would have had a difficult-to-defend position if, when Christian European explorers arrived in North America, they had discovered a significant percentage of Native Americans was already worshipping Yahweh. The odds of that deity (with his fantastical nature, distinct characteristics and unique demands) coincidentally being invented by two different populations are vanishingly small. If the Clovis people had worshipped Yahweh, it would have been good evidence that the deity revealed himself separately to at least two populations. It is in this spirit I request at least one well-evidenced example of Yahweh-worship being discovered in a geographically isolated population, which never previously had been exposed to a Yahweh-worshipper. [Editor’s Note: Credit goes to frequent commenter Tommy, who planted the seed from which this idea sprang.]

5. Our universe is a breathtakingly vast space. There are about 130 billion galaxies, each containing as many as 400 billion stars. Nobody is certain of how many planets are in our universe. A reasonable (albeit very rough) estimate is about 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, which is reached by multiplying 130 billion (galaxies), 400 billion (stars per galaxy) and one—representing planets (because an as-yet-unknown percentage of stars has planets, whilst some lack them). When one examines reality through the lens of cosmology, it seems laughable to think this entire creation is for us. After all, our planet is an infinitesimal speck within our own galaxy—let alone our entire universe! The corners of the cosmos hospitable to humans are exceedingly few. One would think that, if our universe was designed with us in mind, we would be able to explore it a bit, rather than being trapped on a metaphorical sidewalk square within an endless Metropolis. It is in this spirit I ask why, given the enormity of our universe, fundamentalist Christians think god crafted the cosmos for us.

6. Our universe is incredibly old. The best scientific estimates indicate that our universe is 13.7 billion years old. Allow me to quote Dr. Victor Stenger, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado: Referencing the deity, he says, “Instead of six days, he took nine billion years to make Earth, another billion years or so to make life and then another four billion years to make humanity. Humans have walked on Earth for less than one-hundredth of one percent of Earth’s history.” This being the case, why should humans conclude everything was made for us? I shall put a finer point on this: Why would any god, who created a vast cosmos existent for nearly 14 billion years, containing roughly 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets, care about what human primates do whilst naked?

7. Homo sapiens sapiens have existed for tens of thousands of years, or more. The earliest inklings of the Abrahamic monotheism came several millennia ago—probably about four thousand years. Bearing this in mind, why did god wait tens of thousands of years to introduce hominids to the One True Religion? Assuming that the fundamentalist Christian ideology is sound, hominids living 25,000 years ago would have benefited from knowing about Yahweh and his regulations regarding behavior. Lacking god’s revelation, these primitives probably descended into all manner of silly superstition and false belief. If humans truly are god’s children and everything was created for us, why wait until 2000 BCE to roll out the correct religion?

15 Comments:

Blogger John Morales said...

Good post, JN.

I rate it 6/7.

I disagree with #4, as you've currently expressed it.

It is being pedantic, I know.

7:24 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Hi John,

I respect your opinion, so I'd like to know why you think #4 is lacking.

Perhaps I can improve this post by considering your input.

JN

9:20 AM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Thanks for the hat tip Jolly!

I too would be interested in John elaborating on why he disagrees with #4.

In bringing the argument up with a couple of fundies, they did claim that missionaries going to remote jungle areas were told by the isolated natives they encountered that the natives were "expecting" someone or that there were elements of Christianity in their beliefs.

I would chalk such things up either to mistranslation, or the missionaries likely did a lot of coaching. Kind of like Frankie Pentangeli in The Godfather 2.

"So they said to me Michael Corleone did this and Michael Corleone did that. So I said, 'Yeah, sure he did!'"

12:31 PM EDT  
Anonymous merkur said...

6/7 tops. Number 3 is a non-starter - absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Why would God bother talking to Abraham about quantum electrodynamics?

3:55 AM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...

JN, sure.

Right away the term "The religion of Yahweh" bothers me. I take it you're not referring to Judaism here.

Look at the innumerable churches, sects and so forth Christianity has splintered into.

Go back in time, before the various historical schisms, and pick a point at which Christian European explorers arrived in North America, [and] they discovered that Native Americans were already worshiping Yahweh. So, at that point in time, what exactly happened to heretics?
(ref the 1200's and the Albigensian Crusade).

Anyway, that's pedantic, pointing out there historically hasn't been a monolithic "religion of Yahweh" since perhaps the first codifications. But it could be said you're looking at the historical record and assigning significance after the fact (his ways are mysterious being the likely argument).

The relevant issue is that it's far easier to explain your scenario by the premise of previous (though unknown) missionary explorers.

If that were ruled out, there are yet several levels of naturalistic explanation one could examine before making any sort of judgement.

To be jovial, I could say I'd sooner believe in a Douglas Adams style Galactic tri-D show where Earth is seeded with religions and amusing wars ensue than in the biblical Jawa. Ahem.

Also, I don't like you're using a probabilistic argument in the first place. I prefer the contradictions.
The odds of Yahweh (with his fantastical nature and distinct characteristics) coincidentally being invented by two different populations are vanishingly small. If those Native Americans worshiped Yahweh, it would be indisputable evidence ...
How does that emphasis read to you?

That's my initial, ad-hoc take on #4, for what it's worth.

re #3, it's one of those cases where the "interpreters" will never concede, but I think it belongs.

OOT
Rhology never did respond to you, did he?

7:38 AM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...

...

-> 6+/7? ;)

You know I only quibble.

Tommy, it's a valid point, but honestly I don't think it's in the same category as the others.

For JN's purposes, he obviously considers it suffices.

JN, edits to your main post after the fact should be obvious, if you wish to be transparent.

9:46 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Hi John,

First of all, thanks for your explication. Indeed, I have edited my OP slightly after considering your points. I'm not sure whether you think I've made it "better" or not, but I do think it warrants publication, even if it's not as good as I hope the other parts are.

As for edits, you'd be amazed at the perfectionist I am. I edit all my posts at least once, generally speaking. I've edited my last two posts three times each. But, you're probably right - I should make a note of each edit, at least the date and time of the change.

And, yes, Rhology never responded. But, that's fine. I was getting a little weary of that debate anyway.

JN

11:39 PM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...

JN, I want to make it clear I think your blog is a valuable resource. The title and the postings are uncompromising, your passion and patience show, and you raise many points of interest.

If I were, say, a teenager, thoughtful yet raised religious and came across this blog, it would make a positive impact on me.

In passing, I also think theists who have commented here have rarely helped their cause, in my opinion.

2:13 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

No, I haven't responded b/c I've been short on time and was getting a little tired of the debate anyway. In fact, as I expressed in the relevant combox, I was more or less happy with the way the JN responded to my arguments. And I'm gone all this week. :-\ I'll try to get sthg out there after I get back.

And just for the record, I might be able to make a comment on this post too. It's full of problems.

Peace,
Rhology

9:10 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Greetings, Rhology!

I find your comment about this posting being "full of problems" intriguing. I know my science is solid - I double-checked all my facts. Therefore, I must assume you are referring to my attempts to wed science with theology. You might be right on that count; attempting to blend physics with metaphysics (or chemistry with alchemy) is sticky and perhaps an exercise in futility.

My previously announced hiatus notwithstanding, I will be sure to stop by and read any response to this posting that you might proffer.

Who knows, you might have those Young Earth-supporting fossils for which I asked. Well, then again, maybe not....

Signing off,
JN

6:49 PM EDT  
Blogger Mark W. Altman, M.I.S. said...

JN,

I happened upon your blog looking for something else; but now that I have found it, I just had to respond.
Your argument does have several problems, but some “setting of the stage” is important here. I am not by any stretch a fundamentalist; in fact for me, uneducated fundamentalism is only second to atheism (agnostics will not recognize themselves in this statement) in raising my level of disdain. To believe that God cares what we think is the height of arrogance, and then to believe that because we can’t prove he exists demonstrates that He doesn’t is the height of logical fallacy and misses the point of faith.
On to the problems I mentioned: 1. Mary may have undergone what we call parthenogenesis; this concept may be OUR explanation for how God begat Jesus, this explanation doesn’t prove God didn’t commit the act itself, it just means we have a word for it. Given that neither she nor her contemporaries, understood neither the concept nor had a word for the concept, is likely why you haven’t read of a secular historian reporting such a thing. As to a secular historian mentioning Jesus, I am told that much exists (I do not read any of the ancient languages, so I have to rely on the word of scholars who do read those languages). The three people are Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, Tactitus the Roman historian who not only mentions Jesus by name but also explains who the Christians are and last is Suetonius. You have to remember Rome was the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, Jesus was a lowly carpenter and many people were crucified by the Romans. That Jesus is mentioned at all in history suggests he was very out of the ordinary. Last, many people performed magic tricks and illusions that would have amazed the simple people of those times (how would Chris Angel be perceived back then). So many magicians and charlatans were running around performing what people thought of as miracles, that a few more miracles would not have been worthy of historical note. And even if it were mentioned by some observant historian, there is certainly no guarantee that record would have survived to today and if it survived we would have to discover it and realize what it is.
2. and 3. Your science is spot on here, and in fact I also believe in evolutionary theory. I believe the Bible tells us what happened and how God wants us to live; science on the other hand, tells us how the natural world works. Can you imagine how thick the Bible would have to be to give the scientific explanation for what God explains in one book of the Bible? Besides, the scientific explanation for such things was not germane to the message God wanted us to know.
4. You (and by extension Tommy) make a fine argument here except for one crucial point, God never wanted ANY people to be his. The early Jews had to convince God to take them on. They told God they would worship him and do as he asked if God would protect them and love them. God kept his end of the bargain and of course they did not keep their end. Next, there is a growing number of authors who believe that in fact God did reveal himself to the different peoples of the world and spoke them in a way that they could understand. One part of their evidence for this line of thought is the fact that every known culture has the basic idea of the “Golden Rule” (no I am not referring to the cynical “anti-Golden Rule” we hear bandied about today). For a good book on this line of thinking, try Huston Smith’s book “The World’s Religions”.
5. Parents give their children a home. In this case we were given a very large home. This fact does not negate that we have celestial brothers and sisters out there that we have never met. That god doesn’t mention these brothers and sisters doesn’t mean they aren’t out there; now, in the past, or won’t be in the future. We are finding planets constantly, increasingly those in the “Goldilocks zone”; we may find other species out there one day, or we may just develop the ability to visit those other worlds.
6. God is the Alpha and the Omega. Time means nothing to Him as he exists outside of the concept as we know it. He gives us time references four OUR benefit, not His. To address your “finer point”, God cares about everything that goes on in His universe, and has to ability to do so. So yes, he can make the system of laws of physics and other sciences that guide the universe AND he can care about our souls individually.
7. I have no idea why God allowed us to develop the way we did. Again did God just speak to his different children in different ways and then those children through jealousy fight with each other as to who was right and who is loved best? I don’t know, but the one thing I am certain of: as bad as believers’ arguments can be (and usually they do themselves no favors), the arguments for atheism are always worse. Just because you can’t prove something exists doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

12:34 PM EST  
Anonymous Incognito JN said...

To believe that God cares what we think is the height of arrogance, and then to believe that because we can’t prove he exists demonstrates that He doesn’t is the height of logical fallacy and misses the point of faith.

If you scour this blog carefully, you will notice that I never said we can be sure god is non-existent because theists are unable to prove god. I believe extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Lacking extraordinary evidence, I set aside extraordinary claims as unlikely and, at the root, unworthy of my attention.



On to the problems I mentioned: 1. Mary may have undergone what we call parthenogenesis; this concept may be OUR explanation for how God begat Jesus, this explanation doesn’t prove God didn’t commit the act itself, it just means we have a word for it. Given that neither she nor her contemporaries, understood neither the concept nor had a word for the concept, is likely why you haven’t read of a secular historian reporting such a thing.

It doesn’t matter whether ancient primitives had a word for virgin birth or not. What matters is that no secular record-keeper of the time said, “A woman named Mary, who had never laid with a man, birthed a child.” There is simply no corroborative evidence. Again, I say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Lacking such evidence, I must tentatively set aside the claim and spend my time on worthier pursuits.



As to a secular historian mentioning Jesus, I am told that much exists (I do not read any of the ancient languages, so I have to rely on the word of scholars who do read those languages). The three people are Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, Tactitus the Roman historian who not only mentions Jesus by name but also explains who the Christians are and last is Suetonius.

Jesus (7–4 BCE to 26–36 CE)

Josephus (37 – sometime after 100 CE)
Tactitus wrote around 110 CE.
Suetonius wrote around 120 CE.

Thus, none wrote during the time Jesus is alleged to have lived. Thus, none fits my standard.



You have to remember Rome was the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, Jesus was a lowly carpenter and many people were crucified by the Romans. That Jesus is mentioned at all in history suggests he was very out of the ordinary. Last, many people performed magic tricks and illusions that would have amazed the simple people of those times (how would Chris Angel be perceived back then). So many magicians and charlatans were running around performing what people thought of as miracles, that a few more miracles would not have been worthy of historical note. And even if it were mentioned by some observant historian, there is certainly no guarantee that record would have survived to today and if it survived we would have to discover it and realize what it is.

Your reasons for the utter absence of evidence are reasonable. However, let us not forget the part about “utter absence of evidence.” Not a single secular record-keeper, who lived simultaneously with Jesus, thought to mention him—even in mocking tone, such as, “Some wacko named Jesus is making batshit claims about miracles.”



2. and 3. Your science is spot on here, and in fact I also believe in evolutionary theory. I believe the Bible tells us what happened and how God wants us to live; science on the other hand, tells us how the natural world works. Can you imagine how thick the Bible would have to be to give the scientific explanation for what God explains in one book of the Bible? Besides, the scientific explanation for such things was not germane to the message God wanted us to know.

What I care about is evidence. It’s an extraordinary claim to allege that god authored a book. Indeed, it’s extraordinary even to claim god directly inspired a book. For me to take such a claim seriously, I would need devastatingly convincing evidence. A good example of such evidence would be a biblical passage that read, “The universe, of which Earth is a tiny speck, came into existence about 13.7 billion years ago. Earth, itself, formed in the cosmos 4.54 billion years ago, while the human species first appeared in current form about 100,000 years ago.” Nobody in ancient times possessed that information. Thus, if such information was in a book from that time period, it would be evidence of omniscient authorship (or inspiration).



4. You (and by extension Tommy) make a fine argument here except for one crucial point, God never wanted ANY people to be his. The early Jews had to convince God to take them on. They told God they would worship him and do as he asked if God would protect them and love them. God kept his end of the bargain and of course they did not keep their end.

You are using the Bible as a reference source here. I am not inclined to respond to an argument built upon an unproved foundation. Can you demonstrate, with evidence, any of the narrative you just spun?



Next, there is a growing number of authors who believe that in fact God did reveal himself to the different peoples of the world and spoke them in a way that they could understand. One part of their evidence for this line of thought is the fact that every known culture has the basic idea of the “Golden Rule” (no I am not referring to the cynical “anti-Golden Rule” we hear bandied about today). For a good book on this line of thinking, try Huston Smith’s book “The World’s Religions”.

I am familiar with this line of argumentation, as it is the basis for atheistic moral codes. Many atheists and evolutionists believe that, through human nature, our species is endowed with an innate moral sense. That innate compass would explain why certain moral precepts are omnipresent in all human societies. To me, the human nature explanation is much more convincing (and economical) than appealing to divine revelation. By contrast, if Yahweh-worship were discovered among a geographically isolated population—which had NEVER met a Yahweh-worshipper before—that would be utterly inexplicable in natural terms. Then, one might need to revert to supernaturalism. That would be the extraordinary evidence for which I yearn.



5. Parents give their children a home. In this case we were given a very large home. This fact does not negate that we have celestial brothers and sisters out there that we have never met. That god doesn’t mention these brothers and sisters doesn’t mean they aren’t out there; now, in the past, or won’t be in the future. We are finding planets constantly, increasingly those in the “Goldilocks zone”; we may find other species out there one day, or we may just develop the ability to visit those other worlds.

Your response there wasn’t exactly Christian in nature. Most Christians believe that humans are very special in god’s eyes; indeed, most Christians believe humans were made in god’s own image. Therefore, it makes no sense from a Christian perspective for humankind to be relegated to an infinitesimal speck of the cosmos. From the grand cosmic perspective, humans probably comprise one in 100 thousand billion billion parts. If we were central to the universe, that wouldn’t be the case.

Speaking of visiting other worlds, let me quote Victor Stenger:

“Suppose we were able to build a spaceship that could accelerate at a constant one ‘g,’ that is, at the acceleration of gravity on Earth, which would also nicely provide artificial gravity for the astronauts. That ship would reach Alpha Centauri in five years’ Earth-time while only a bit over two years would elapse in ship-time. In eleven years’ ship-time, it could reach the center of our galaxy. But during that time, almost 27,000 years would have passed on Earth. In fifteen years’ ship-time, the astronauts could reach Andromeda, 2.4 million light-years away. By then, since most of the trip was at near the speed of light relative to Earth, 2.4 million years would have gone by back on Earth. After experiencing the passage of twenty-three years, the astronauts would actually pass the edge of the universe currently observable from Earth, but 13.7 billion years would have elapsed in the reference frame of a long-dead Earth.”

He concluded, “Basically, any humans traveling to the stars would forever leave behind their families, their society, and even their species.”



6. God is the Alpha and the Omega. Time means nothing to Him as he exists outside of the concept as we know it. He gives us time references four OUR benefit, not His. To address your “finer point”, God cares about everything that goes on in His universe, and has to ability to do so. So yes, he can make the system of laws of physics and other sciences that guide the universe AND he can care about our souls individually.

This is explanation more than evidence. Can you evidentially support your religion (and your preceding truth-claims), or must you appeal to faith? Faith is the trump card which kills rational conversation and nips consciousness raising in the bud.



7. I have no idea why God allowed us to develop the way we did. Again did God just speak to his different children in different ways and then those children through jealousy fight with each other as to who was right and who is loved best? I don’t know, but the one thing I am certain of: as bad as believers’ arguments can be (and usually they do themselves no favors), the arguments for atheism are always worse. Just because you can’t prove something exists doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Let us get our terms straight:

Theists possess a belief in a supernatural, creative deity.
Atheists lack a belief in a supernatural, creative deity.

This being the case, theistic arguments are positive in support of theists’ beliefs. Atheistic “arguments” are merely criticisms of theistic arguments. Atheism is a wholly negative stance, proffering no positive foundation, principles, tenets or beliefs. Atheism denotes only a lack of theism.

And, because the Bible portrays god as an angry and jealous ogre, it seems unlikely to me that Yahweh would have seeded the world with competitive god characters, with whom he would have to share human adulation.

7:40 PM EST  
Blogger Upward said...

Not a comment- just a question. Why do people who believe that there is no God spend so much time talking and use so much space writing about Him?

Anyway I was just wondering. What do you think? Any ideas

Upwared

12:11 PM EST  
Blogger Lui said...

"Why do people who believe that there is no God spend so much time talking and use so much space writing about Him?"

Easy; because all too many of those who do believe in God try to corrupt science, impose hypocritical restrictions on other people's sexual behaviours, equate morality with religious belief (thus retarding true moral progress), indoctrinate innocent children who are too young to know where they stand on such matters, and sow divisions in the furtherance of their God, often leading to hatred and violence. Each one of these by themselves are excellent reasons to speak up.

2:31 AM EST  
Blogger at the edge said...

I don't normally visit sites such as yours, as you wouldn't surf in mine, but I bumped into it - so I'll leave my two cents worth.

There's too much here for me to read or make sense of - but a quick glance gave me the feeling that much is faulty with your reasoning.

One case, just to make my point. You say,"Homo sapiens have existed for tens of thousands of years, or more. The earliest inklings of the Abrahamic monotheism came several millennia ago—probably about four thousand years. Bearing this in mind, why did god wait tens of thousands of years to introduce hominids to the One True Religion? ".

The age of the world according to Judaism is 5,770 years old. When Adam was created, he was already a grown adult of high intellect. He wasn't created as a embryo to undergo ontogentic development. Similarly for the geological levels that you use for "scientific" evidence.

The age of the universe by "scientific" sources is anything but absolute. Science is but a bunch of hypotheses. When I went to college, the smallest particle was the electron in an atom. Today the smallest "particle" is no longer a particle at all. Some physicists think it's a reverberating string.

You're looking at the world withing your 4-dimensional space. Are you so sure there are no other dimensions in this grand universe? Are you so sure you understand science when science speaks of matter and anti-matter; about local phenomena and non-local, simaultaneous phenomena; Is quantum mechanics so clear to you? Yet you rely absolutely on those that study it?

As for your own intellectual assessment of events, let me draw a parable. Suppose you live on a spot in the 2-dimensional space of a sheet of paper. Can you "see" inside the circle on that page? No, because it's circumference acts as a border to your "vision". But such imagine now that you have 3 dimensions to float in, and you can rise up an inch or two from where you are. Suddenly you see everything inside that circle.

My point is there's much more that meets the eye than just simplistic views of a complex world.

Cheers!

3:01 PM EDT  

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