Friday, December 27, 2013

In Which I Answer 10 Questions Designed to Challenge Atheists

Mr. Richard Bushey is a young student of religion, a follower of Christian apologetics, and is for all intents and purposes a very enthusiastic fellow. I had the pleasure of stumbling across one of his recent Twitter posts, posing ten questions he has listed on his website -- questions designed to require atheists to be very clear on their arguments or explanations in relation to the genesis of the universe and The Invisible Sky Wizard (my words, not his, obviously). At first, I must admit a strong reticence to even reading them, based on a familiarity with such ploys by the faithful in the past that result in semantically indecipherable hogwash masquerading as logic -- per contra, Mr. Bushey's intro was so genuine in his search for legitimate discussion, and his questions so distinct in their interpretation, that I felt I could not be a gentleman nor a proper atheist banner-man if I did not take the time and effort to provide him answers to the best of my ability. To Mr. Bushey, and to all, I hope you find them entertaining if not enlightening.  

1 – Could the cause of all nature, space, and time, be natural, spacial, and temporal?
MR. BUSHEY: It is my stance that it should be impossible for nature, space, and time to be intrinsic to the cause of nature, space and time, because that would imply that they existed, prior to their existence. But that is obviously absurd, prior to their existence, nature, space, and time… did not exist, and as such could not stand in causal relations with themselves.
From this it should follow that if nature, space, and time had a cause, it should transcend nature, space and time, which is to say that it would be supernatural, immaterial, and eternal. I suppose the only way around this conclusion would be to say that the universe is eternal, which lead to logical absurdities, (such as Hilbert’s Hotel) and contradicts scientific discovery.
JK: It is both possible for the cause of nature, space, and time to be natural, spacial, and temporal as well as  unnatural, etc. -- at least, it is reasonable to think so without any other information in support of either. We do, however, find ourselves in desperate need of Occam's Razor when asking ourselves a question like this. If the natural causes can't exist before nature (which isn't by your logic or any other conclusively decided), it does not by omission suddenly present that an unnatural solution is present. This is not a semantic argument, though it sounds like one. I mean to say: the natural causes of the origin of the universe may be unfamiliar as they are unknown, as was the idea of the nuclear power of the sun until the awareness of it was made manifest. To we who think of the universe in natural and spacial and temporal dimensions, it may be difficult for us to hypothesize an event in universal history which either bends or warps those perceptions, but it is almost assured that we will discover (if we have not begun to discover already) the variations of natural laws and universal physics that do make such events possible. It is far more likely that an event based in natural law occurred that is either currently undiscovered by man or, with the changing of the universe since the moment of "natural" genesis, so too has the natural laws which made its origination possible also changed. 
This observation is actually the lesser of my two points -- it is here we strop the Razor: everything we know to have happened in the universe within provable or observable reality has occurred within the scope of nature, space, and time. It is therefore more illogical to assume that anything happened outside of these parameters without express evidence to the contrary. As before, the origin of natural law does not necessarily exempt a different kind of natural law previous to allow for the creation of the universe as we now understand it, but what we can deduce is that with natural law as our baseboard of universal understanding, we can sooner hypothesize a logical variant of natural forces acting in assumedly unnatural ways than we can the outright unnatural. We see examples of this every day: if a virgin bears a child, do we assume parthenogenesis occurred or do we more readily think that a Palestinian vixen told a lie? Naturally, I'm well and wide open to be proven wrong, but if we have to mold our hypotheses to logical assumption, we should bear our course to the actions of the universe that we know and understand: natural and not supernatural forces. 
As a side note, I do take slight umbrage with your definition of transcending natural causes. As I hope I have illuminated: it does not mean we jump to supernatural conclusions, but rather variations of natural laws that we have not yet discovered or have changed immutably since the birth of the universe as it now behaves. 
2 – Is there an objective moral difference between the pro-choice stance and the pro-life stance?
MR. BUSHEY: When the term objective morality is applied in this context, it is taken to mean moral values which are valid and binding, independently of whether anybody agrees with them or not. The question, therefore, is whether the pro-choice stance is intrinsically a more moral stance than the pro-life stance. If there is, that implies that there is a transcendent standard of morality that is beyond ourselves. But that is in stark contrast with what most atheists believe, which would be a position of non-objective moral values and duties.
Be careful to note that this is not the claim that atheists cannot be moral or that they make their moral decision arbitrarily. Rather it is the claim that atheists carefully and thoroughly apply reasoning to their moral decisions and do so out of love and empathy. The problem with this is that in the absence of a transcendent standard of moral values and duties, these moral decisions become unjustified, and this is precisely the conundrum that most atheists find themselves in.
As Richard Dawkins wrote, “There is at bottom, no good, no evil, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
JK: No, there is not an objective moral difference between one and the other. In either instance, we are dealing with the civil liberty of a sovereign being. A person, devoid of all exterior or religious influence on their decision, chooses a side solely on which life they think necessitates such liberty the most. The reasons further for such a decision are ultimately fluff because they mirror each other in all things reasonable. Religion intoxicates the argument by providing divine mandate for the choice rather than an objective reason for it, but that can be easily ignored if a follower merely states that they are campaigning on behalf of a defenseless human. 

I can't say I'm properly knowledgable as to why this question might be included in your fine list, except perhaps to require an atheist to define their point of moral compass, or elucidate from whence they received it. I don't want to speculate without your input too far. However, I would be remiss not to point out that the subject of abortion waffles widely on both sides of the cosmological fence and many atheists and believers have differences in opinion within their own factions. No matter the answer, it doesn't establish the subjective morality of either side, nor whether an objective, moral standard on the subject exists. I, myself have conflicting feelings about the practice and none of my at-war thoughts are influenced by my non-belief, as I would have to assume they would be not influenced by my belief should I be of the opposite persuasion. 

3 – If you are a mythicist (a person who believes that Jesus never existed), is it possible that your position is influenced by your opposition to religion?

MR. BUSHEY: I have found that many atheists are very quick to jump on the Jesus never existed bandwagon, and I cannot help but suspect that this is a consequence of their dislike for religion. Due to their claim to respond to evidence, one must assume that they just have not been exposed to any of the scholarly work on this topic. It is the consensus of virtually all secular scholars in the field that the person of Jesus Of Nazareth did, in fact, exist. If we are to ignore the scholarly evidence in favor of some webmaster, then it seems to me that a more likely motivation is not evidence but an opposition to religion.
JK: Sir, it is not the consensus of virtually all secular scholars on the subject that Jesus existed -- I'm surprised you can propose so without blush. But, supposing it was, I would have private reservations outside of the works of such a hypothetical majority about the existence of the anointed: namely that no work exists in his own hand and that a host of historical documentarians of the time recording in and around Jerusalem make no mention of Jesus in their work (a lengthy list is presented in my book), whereas the much-followed accounts of his life are contradicting and composed decades after his death by the hands of people who arguably had never seen him. These mere observations (equally contested in a field you claim is overwhelmingly in agreement), would be enough to give me pause on the question of his life no matter what my other cosmological feelings are. (Note that by this same logic I must concede that Socrates also did not likely exist in the flesh, which is a sad thing for me to admit.)
As to your question, I think that the previous paragraph could serve as a decent answer. But to further clarify my position, my opposition to religion is not dependent on any of its claims being true. Without reiterating my entire argument from its current book form, I could simplify by saying the entire enterprise of religion (including the existence of Christ) would be all the more terrible and insufferable if it were true, and therefore would be at odds with my thoughts on the nonexistence of Christ. 
4 – What would you accept as evidence for the existence of a transcendent Creator of the universe?
MR. BUSHEY: This is a question which I regard as important but never really hear a good answer for. Most atheists and non-believers will think of something absurd, or absolutely unreachable. In fact, one person told me that if the clouds were to randomly form the words, “The Bible is the word of God,” he would not believe it, he would regard it as an unusual cloud formation.
What about you? If the clouds formed this sentence, would this convince you? What would convince you?
JK: We are all compelled and manipulated by our cognitive dissonance, Mr. Bushey: when presented with clear signs of the non-existence of god the believer equally responds with the absurd: "God works in mysterious ways!" or "His manifestation is more complicated that we could have dreamed!" These are logical capitulations that, to the credit of the atheist, don't carry the same degree of possibility (however slight) that clouds bearing such a message either aren't random, or the hallucination of our unhealthy brains, or a complicated and admirable hoax. What can be said about this question is that the requirements for believing in god for the atheist are absurd because the idea is absurd. I don't mean this as a slight -- I mean it to say that the manifestation of god in convincing reality would need to bend the rules of our perception in such a way that we couldn't rationalize it to any other point of possibility however small. His appearance, in other terms, would need to be so dominant that the point of Occam couldn't slice it. 
I could, in all honesty, never be sure that an event I am witnessing that makes me question my non-belief wouldn't be informed by bad logic, a hallucination, or any other material occurrence. (The Razor is mightier than the Word in all previous instances.) I can, however, give you the good answer you are searching for and say that what would change my mind would come in the same material premise. The absurd would only compel me to thoughts of absurdity -- I have no respect of the rabbit-hole. The existence of evidence of god, if it is to be found, would be discovered within the scopes of science and not through revelation. 
5 – If natural determinism is true, then would it be the case that your beliefs and non-beliefs are just a consequence of a previous natural cause; a chemical reaction in the brain, and not necessarily reason?
MR. BUSHEY: As Doctor Sam Harris pointed out, we do not cause our causes, there is no actual free will on natural determinism, but only a very severe illusion of it, even in lower animals, but especially in humans. As such, we are just dancing to our DNA.
But if that is the case, then it seems to me to follow that the decisions we make, whether to believe, or to not believe, would just be a product of our DNA, a chain of chemical reactions in the brain, rather than a product of reason.
JK: Yes. 
I would elaborate, but further thought follows the same premise as my answer to Question #1. If our belief and non-belief is of natural cause, then the believers only score a point if the origin of this natural process was divine. Ergo, see Answer One. 
6 – Is it possible that the cause of genetic similarities would be that there is a common designer?
MR. BUSHEY: The most frequent evidenced cited of common ancestry is the genetic similarity between all organisms, indeed human beings share DNA with mice, lower primates, and vegetables, and this is a point that I happily concede. But I cannot help but think that this is precisely what we would expect if there was a common designer. Often architects and engineers use similar design blueprint and apply similar patterns and structures, so why could not the same be said of the designer of human beings?
Now I am not saying that this proves that there is a designer, but if it is possible, I have trouble seeing why, that when applying as an argument for common ancestry, this would not be a case of what Jared Orme of Conversion Points Radio called evolution-of-the-gaps, which is to say that we appeal to evolution because we do not know the answer.
JK: Again, you half-prove your own point and half-support mine: we do appeal to evolution because a more elegant answer is not yet known to us that resonates in the natural laws of the universe. However, appealing to the reasoning listed earlier (I swear I am not being lazy): the explanation for the similarity in common genetic traits are logically going to be of natural origin and the added variable of an unnatural string-puller is, as Laplace said, unnecessary. If we don't yet know why common traits exist (and I'm not sure that we don't -- I have only a layman reading in the field), we can rest more easily in the idea that it has a natural rather than a divine ignition. In order to go against this, we would need the proffering of evidence of design rather than the absence of natural explanation. Refer again to Answer One. (I must apologize for that, but some of these questions follow very similar logical themes.)
7 – Is it possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering?
MR. BUSHEY: Often when talking about the problem of evil, or the claim that there is so much evil and suffering that a good and omnipotent God could not allow it, this is a point that is often overlooked. What we have to remember is that as an argument against the existence of God, from a logical angle, it bears a burden of proof. It must disprove the claim that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering.
Therefore my question is whether it is possible that God has morally sufficient reasons, and if not, how do you know?
JK: Mr. Bushey, you betray an unfortunate piece of your moral reasoning with this question. Also, you present an a logically impossible challenge in that you ask us to know the unknowable, to literally divine the will of god (which should be unfathomable even if one doesn't take nonexistence into account), a task which, while many in the past have had the audacity or ambition to attempt (the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Gospel-writers, perhaps), I find myself happily unable to boast of tackling. I with regret must answer the question with a stipulation: if you (or anyone) could provide a moral reason for god's most evil actions (assuming god isn't going to provide one himself) that does not appeal to the mystery of god's plan or any other ambivalent phraseology, I would concede the argument in a heart-beat. Keep in mind that in so doing one is not only attempting the impossibility I have just illuminated, but taking up the position of defense attorney for the being who is quite literally responsible for every bad thing that ever happened in the universe. In all my rumination, discussions, and debates upon this very subject, I've never heard nor conjured an answer that did not unsettle my stomach. 
Is it possible? As with all arguments concerning the hypothetical, of course it is possible. But I've never heard someone profess an answer legitimating god's most inhumane work without, I think, a personal shudder of regret. 
8 – If Christian theology were true, would you become a Christian?
MR. BUSHEY: Be careful to note the conditional, namely, if Christian theology were true, would you become a Christian? If Christian theology were true, that would imply that the atrocities of the Old Testament were not a product of the wicked hearts of men, but of the righteous judgments of God, a God who was taking the lives that he gave in the first place. If Christian theology were true, that would mean that there was a being who was worthy of worship, who was omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and so forth.
If this were the case, would you become a Christian?
JK: Fuck no. 
This is evidence to my previous point that the legitimacy of the claim is no parent to my agreement with it. A similar question in my mind would be: "If you were  German in late the late '30s, would you do the will of your Furher?" If Christianity were as real as Nazism, I would still find myself morally opposed to every one of its basic tenets: a hypocritical dictator, a salvation based in blood sacrifice, an eternity of praise-giving, the possibility of eternal punishment for indulging in the nature with which I was created… the list goes on. Again: the idea of it being real makes it all the more repellant.
9 – Many claim that they know the risen Lord lives because he lives in their heart. Would that be an inadequate way of coming to know truth?
MR. BUSHEY: The most common religious epistemology is the claim that we have had an encounter with the risen Lord through the witness of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that this is a valid approach to coming to know God, for it is an approach which appeals to the five senses. At what point do we begin to deny that which our five senses is telling us, and moreover, if God really were to reveal himself in this way, how much more tragic would it be for us to deny him?
Something could be said of other religions, other people coming to know different conceptions of God in this way. I would just say that in the absence of an overriding defeater, people are perfectly within their rational rights to follow what their senses tell them. For example if I claimed to have experiences of the Almighty Square Circle, you would quickly point out that this was incoherent. But insofar as God so revealed by Christian theology is concerned, there is nothing incoherent about him, and so, why should it be invalid that we follow our five senses?
Indeed I might even go as far as to argue that it would be foolish to deny what we can see plainly.
JK: The insinuation of slightly offensive, as you seem to claim that all roads lead to Rome. But regardless of that, it bears relation to the corollary: if I believe with all my heart to the existence of leprechauns, are you going to respect the possibility of their existence based on my resignation? Of course not. The circumstance of one does not define an objective reality -- least of all their unsubstantiated thoughts. It's very important for the faithful to realize that when we make these comparisons, it's not in terms of comparison with the ridiculous, but that the substantiation is parallel. Believers make the assertion that god is real -- that's all very well. I think you can easily respect that in order for anyone to be persuaded, replying with such feathery garble as: "the Risen Lord lives in my heart" is not going to do the trick. 
10 – As an atheist, you support the claim that there is no evidence for God’s existence. That, in itself, is a claim which bears a burden of proof. So have you looked at all of the arguments?
MR. BUSHEY: This is to say that to claim that there is no evidence for God presupposes that you have looked at all of the alleged evidence in existence and studied it thoroughly to conclude that there is no evidence of God’s existence. If you have not looked at all of the evidence, perhaps consider more modest claims, such as I have never seen any evidence…
But this basically goes as an implore to take another look at the arguments with an open heart and an open mind, for if there are rebuttals which satisfy your objection, and Christian theology is true, I can conceive of no greater tragedy than missing that truth out of an opposition to religion.
JK: Has anyone read every letter on the argument of god? It would require the study of every religion back to the inception of the divine. It would be physically impossible to read every thought on the subject within one lifetime. It seems to me that you are basically asserting that all those who decide to participate in the discussion should take heed before casting the first stone and keep an open mind. A call to arms, if you will, of continuous study and non-bias. To this, there can be no disagreement. I don't wish to insult you, but this is impressive in its platitudinousness. Everyone comes to a conclusion after 'x' amount of material is presented to them. All we can do is continue evaluating the evidence and change our minds as compelling facts arise. 
It would be unfair of me not to highlight, however, that you have pointed out the very thing which makes atheists the more fair of fighters on this field. Most do claim that they have never seen any evidence to inspire them to concede to the faithful. The only absolutists in this fight are theists, who claim to know not only the answer to the creation of the universe, but indeed the mind of its creator. The atheist mentality is mandated to change, not with the Zeitgeist or the Tenderwende, but with the current of knowable fact. You will find that every study, theory, or hypothesis is by the nature of the scientific method required to be falsifiable. The only assertion I have ever seen stamped with the title of "inerrant" in all human literature is (and I think forever will be) the Bible. 

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