It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and that means a holiday, a turkey dinner and people thanking god for just about everything. Thanksgiving actually has a fairly complex history but it didn’t become an annual tradition until 1863 when Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by Lincoln during the middle of the Civil War (Thanksgiving). There is little doubt that Thanksgiving was primarily religious in nature. It was a day to reflect on the blessings and providence of god. For the religious, the day is a myopic one in that it focuses on the “good” things that have happened while ignoring or justifying the “bad” things. For some reason, the sovereign god gets a pass on calamity even though he says:
This is the second in a series rebutting Ravi Zacharias’s 2004 book titled The Real Face of Atheism. It’s taken me a while to write this post partly because Zacharias gets so much wrong it’s infuriating. Either he is knowingly lying and misleading or he doesn’t have a clue about atheism or in this chapter – science (“Is there not a Cause”). In either case, I have a hard time respecting him.
Zacharias starts off this chapter, once again, with a complete misunderstanding of atheism. He says:
“Postulating the nonexistence of God, atheism immediately commits the blunder of an absolute negation, which is self-contradictory. For, to sustain the belief that there is no God, it has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, ‘I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.’”(Kindle location 427)
Atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist It does not postulate “infinite knowledge.” Most atheists don’t believe in deities because there is no compelling evidence for them. Given evidence most atheists would become theists. Evidence based on a “holy” book is not evidence. Besides, I could easily turn the tables and say the theists are claiming “infinite knowledge” based on believing in a god in spite of there being no evidence. This argument is a non sequitur and It only sounds good to the believer. (If you still don’t believe me, substitute "pink unicorns” for “god” in the quote above. No one can prove absolutely that pink unicorns don’t exist but most people think they are fables because their is no evidence of their existence. No one is claiming “infinite knowledge” in regards to pink unicorns. However, if one was found – evidence – then we would believe in them.)
I think Zacharias’ major premise for this section can be summed up as follows:
“Scientific facts have often been discarded with fresh discoveries, old laws have surrendered with the advance of new hypotheses. The divergent views of dissenting voices over the last century have been many, and deep-seated conflicts remain.” (Kindle location 508)
He says this as if it were a drawback to science and with the implication that religion is immune from this. First and foremost – hello – this is how science works!!! This is the strength of science. Hypotheses are formulated and tested. As data comes in and re-evaluations are made, old hypotheses are discarded and new ones are made. Fraud is rooted out. Evidence is king. A body of well supported hypotheses are formulated into a Theory. (A theory is not the nebulous thing used in common vernacular, but the closest thing science has to truth and fact.) At this point a Theory is so well supported it is highly unlikely that it will be overturned – modified and refined, yes. All truth in science is supported by evidence. Not so in religion or theology.
In fact, Zacharias is sorely mistaken if he thinks there are no “deep-seated conflicts” within the realm of his beloved Christianity. Christianity had many battles trying to iron out its belief (e.g. Lost Christianities, Jesus Wars). In fact, I would venture to say that what most Christians believe today would be considered heresy to the early Church. Even today, with some 38,000+ “denominations” the Christian world can’t agree on such key doctrines as how to be saved, baptism, church government, the role of the Old Testament, worship, the end times, evangelism, and a host of other topics. Many doctrines that evangelicals hold dear, such as Jesus as friend and buddy and the rapture, are relatively recent inventions. Christianity evolves with society (often lagging far behind). It is not immune to it. The problem with Christianity, and religion in general, is that there is NO evidence to support their theology. There is just a “holy” book subjected to varying interpretations and, for some, tradition. Evidence be dammed, it is faith that counts. I’ll throw my lot in with evidence and science any day over the subjective whims of theology.
Zacharias, obviously hates evolution, recycling the same tired uninformed fundamentalist Christian arguments:
“The progress in microevolutionary processes and the extrapolation into macroevolution, with particular application to origins, is neither scientifically nor metaphysically sound.” (Kindle location 445)
“For example, Sir Fred Hoyle has argued in his book The Intelligent Universe that the idea that life originated by the random shuffling of molecules is “as ridiculous and improbable as the proposition that a tornado blowing through a junkyard may assemble a Boeing 747.” He calculated that the likelihood of life beginning in such a way is one in ten to the power of forty thousand.” (Kinde location 532)
Sigh. There is no fundamental difference between micro- and macroevolution. The terms are used by “creationists” to try to get around the fact that organisms evolve – they change. The mechanisms are the same. The only difference is time. (see Micoevolution vs Macroevolution for a good summary). Sir Hoyle’s 747 analogy and his probabilities have been answered many times. Simply put, while genetic mutation is random, Natural Selection is anything but random. Advantageous traits are selected! This makes all the difference. It is not analogous to a tornado in a junkyard. Far from it. For a good layman’s account of evolution I recommend Dawkin’s book The Greatest Show On Earth. For Zacharias to make and include these statements in his book shows either dishonesty or ignorance.
Zacharias goes on to use the anthropic principle as evidence of a god:
“The exactness of our universe argues for the anthropic principle, which basically states that the existence and sustenance of man is not brought about by a random universe but is dependent on a universe with a very particular character in its basic laws and circumstances.” (Kindle location 622)
At best, this argument can only be used formulate a case for a deist type god, not a personal creator that is concerned with his creation and wants to have a relationship with it. Such a god, a creator that sets the universe in motion and then stands back and watches, is essentially indistinguishable from no god at all. I readily admit that I can’t rule out such a deity but, again, there is no compelling reason to believe that such a being exists. As Hawking and Mlodinow point out, the universe is explainable purely from the laws of physics:
“ "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.." (I highly recommend their book The Grand Design as well as Chapter 5 in John Loftus’s book Why I became an Atheist for readable information on the anthropic principle.)
Finally, I think we get the the heart of Zacharias’ problems with science:
“Science cannot answer the how, much less the why of there being something rather than nothing." (Kindle location 546)
Actually science can. This is what science does best. It answers the HOW and sometimes the why of things based on evidence not an ancient “holy” book. If, however, Zacharias means that science can’t answer the question of purpose – what purpose is there to the life, the universe and everything, he is correct. While this may make him uncomfortable, I have no problem. Life is enough; although, I hear 42 is a good answer.
Christianity is not alone among the religions of the world in placing an emphasis on faith. Faith is a highly regarded virtue. In fact, Rom 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin” and Heb 11:6 makes it clear that “without faith it is impossible to please him.”
However, when anyone says we must believe something based on faith, warning bells should go off. The question one should ask is WHY? Why is faith necessary for religious belief and, in the Christian world, why is faith required for salvation? Without it, you are “toast” – dead in your sins and heading toward hell. But again, we must ask: “Why faith and not evidence?” After all, to quote Jubal Harshaw in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land: “I’ve never understood how God could expect His creatures to pick the one true religion by faith—it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.”
Of course, if you have no evidence, faith is the only option. Least you think faith is based on evidence, think again:
[Faith is] belief that is not based on proof.
From Wikipedia,[Faith is] a belief not resting on logical proof or material evidence. You can also see from this entry the number of religions that rely on faith. What makes the Christian think that their unfounded faith is any better than another religion’s unfounded faith? Faith of course!
Strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
Even the Bible defines faith as:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:-14)
As Bertrand Russell said: "We may define ‘faith’ as a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. When there is evidence, no one speaks of ‘faith.’ We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence." (Human Society in Ethics and Politics)
Coupled with the requirement for faith, Christianity has to downgrade and even villainize those who find faith inadequate. This is done by making the “wisdom of the world” (rationality) out to be foolishness:
“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” (1 Cor 1:18-27)
“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, "He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness"; and again, "The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless." (1 Cor 3:19-21)
If a Buddhist or Hindu or a person from any other religion said the same thing, the Christian would immediately see through the ruse. They fail to see the deception because their own religion is special. I have even known Christians that smugly and confidently see faith (at least religious faith) as superior to being rational. Yet, I think, this eventually grates on the average Christian and such an individual will eventually say that faith is necessary but that faith is based on evidence. As we have seen, this is not the definition of faith, but let’s look at this claim. What evidence does the Christian usually point too? I have often heard that resurrection of Christ is that evidence. In fact, some Christian apologists suggest that the “resurrection of Christ is the best attested event in ancient history.”
I beg to differ. The resurrection is attested to in only 4 religiously biased Gospels and a few epistles. Outside of the Gospels, there is no undisputed contemporary, secular account of Christ’s resurrection. Even the Gospels were written at least 2 or more decades after the event. No one thought it was important enough to write down the words of “eternal life” until 20+ years after the event! Furthermore, the Gospels are internally inconsistent. They disagree on the day of the crucifixion, the last words Christ spoke, the witnesses who saw the empty tomb, the time they came, why they came, who they saw and what they did after they saw the empty tomb. They also disagree in other details. Did zombies actually rise from the tombs and enter the city? Did the sun darken? Was the curtain in the temple torn in two?
David Edwards wrote: “It has proven impossible to construct a fully harmonized version of the resurrection stories despite many attempts to do so.” John Shelby Spong agrees: “When we embrace all of their versions in our minds at one time, we discover that all we have in the Bible about Easter is an inconsistent, contradictory, mutually exclusive witness.” (both quotes from “Why I Became an Atheist” by John Lotus. I do not have the original source material to verify the quotes.)
Paul says that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17-18). Given the importance of this event and the “inspired,” “inerrant” word that some claim the Bible is supposed to be, you would think the Gospel writers would get their story strait. They didn’t because the resurrection account has all the earmarks of myth, legend and fiction.
I agree with Christopher Hitchens who recently said:
“[All religions] make the same mistake. They all take the only real faculty we have that distinguishes us from other primates, and from other animals—the faculty of reason, and the willingness to take any risk that reason demands of us—and they replace that with the idea that faith is a virtue. If I could change just one thing, it would be to dissociate the idea of faith from virtue—now and for good—and to expose it for what it is: a servile weakness, a refuge in cowardice, and a willingness to follow, with credulity, people who are in the highest degree unscrupulous.” (Hitchens-Berlinski Debate)
Faith isn’t a virtue. It is closing ones eyes to the evidence and jumping across the abyss hoping for an unseen bridge that will save. There isn’t one. No one should determine their eternal destiny based on something as tenuous as faith. Everyone should require evidence. I’m an atheist because I find no compelling evidence for a god or supernatural realm.
(A special thanks to Tom Voegeli for finding the Bertrand Russell quote and the definitions of faith.)