Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist blog recently put up a post titled “A Powerful Case Against God.” It links to the opening remarks of one Austin Dacey, an atheist, prior to what I’m sure was a lively debate hosted by Purdue University. Dacey’s points are outlined succinctly in this opening bit, and serve nicely for my own outline of rebuts. See, Dacey’s arguments really are the cream of the crop as far as atheistic arguments go, and yet still they fall short of sealing the deal, which both Dacey and Mehta won’t acknowledge. So much for intellectual honesty, I suppose. Both sides dispense with it at will, but here at the Backroom Catholic, you know we’re all about it. I’ll go through each argument below, demonstrating that belief in God can be a rational and reasonable conclusion (and that’s a rare commodity on the interwebs). If you don’t want to watch the video or can’t, Dacey’s argument is that if we look for what we would expect to see given a theist’s god, but based on the lack of “evidence,” we can reasonably conclude that the god is not there. He looks at five areas where he would expect to find a god.
Hiddenness of God
Dacey’s argument here:
1) The fact that there can be reasonable unbelief is evidence against God.
2) We should have an expectation of God’s assurance that He is there. Countless people have lived and died not knowing Christ, believing in non-theist religions (Hinduism, Daoism, etc.). The prevalent existence of these non-theisms is evidence against the existence of a god who loves us.
My response: God cannot reveal Himself for the reason Dacey himself provides in the video: Everyone would accept it. There would be no faith required, and no one would choose to love God. It would essentially nullify our free will as it pertains to God and our journey toward God. Your reasonable unbelief is evidence that we have free will, which simply means that our God wants us to love Him and His Truth, not be forced to bow to His supreme majesty. In addition, the people who have “lived and died not worshipping God” are not precluded from loving God. Christ died for all men, not just the ones that have heard His name. There is a matter of natural law (our conscience and essentially a moral order imprinted on our soul) which allows non-theists in a state of invincible ignorance to love God through their devotion to Love.
This stuff is on the internet, guys; it’s not buried anywhere. You can look it up too.
Success of Science
Dacey’s argument here:
1) Natural sciences seek to explain phenomena by reference to natural causes, not reference to God.
2) Because science works without taking God into account, God must not be there.
3) We expect God to act upon the world in ways that science must take into account.
My response: That’s just kind of a silly expectation. Since this is a reasonable discussion, let’s have you assume a theist’s premise (because the only way to “disprove” someone is either by working from within their system or by demonstrating their premises false. Everyone knows that). So, there is a God who created the universe and everything in it. If this all knowing, all powerful God created an ordered universe, with all sorts of natural laws and whatnot, why would He need to act in the world in ways science must take into account? He made the laws exactly how He wanted them, and since God transcends time, He is immutable. As immutable (meaning He doesn’t change), He wouldn’t have to do anything other than what His laws were set up to do.
When God does act in ways that science can’t explain it’s for a special circumstance, such as demonstrating his favor or displeasure with someone or something. We call that a miracle. The miracles are for people who already believe (again, so as not to cause you to bow before God’s majesty, but to allow you to find Him), as when God wants to directly address the faithful. Atheists dismiss claims about miracles as a matter of course, which is fine. Your buddy Marc Barnes has a great piece over at Bad Catholic about this phenomenon: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2012/01/if-god-was-real-hed-prove-himself-to-atheists.html
Dacey’s argument here:
1) Mind/Body dualism is what we expect if theism is true.
2) Dualism is rejected because a) how can an immaterial soul affect changes in a human body? And b) there is correlation between mental phenomena and brain activity. If the mind were independent of the brain, this would not be the case, so dualism is wrong.
My response: Agreed. Dualism is wrong. The soul, however, can be something other than our emotions and other mental activity. The soul of a human is the most important part of the human: his agency, his free will. The brain stimulates the leg when you want to kick something, but what stimulates the brain? What causes the brain to want to send that impulse? I posit that it is this that comprises our soul.
We are not a mind and a body. Equating the mind with the soul is wrong: someone who is neurologically handicapped due to an accident has a tragically damaged mind, but their soul remains intact. It is this agency that is the grounding of our belief in the dignity of all humans, and it is this agency that is the basis for both our intellect and will, our two God-like features. The problem is that you have conflated mind and soul, and then equated mind with brain. My mind, I would put forth, is only my intellect. My brain manages the body (which includes my emotions) but my mind manages thoughts. My thoughts can affect my body and vice versa, because I am not a small person in an automaton; I am a human being, body and soul, with integrity, (literally, the two things are not so distinct). Both are important to the definition of a human.
What my brain doesn’t do is make decisions for me. It merely carries out my instructions, much like an arm carries out the brain’s instructions. But it is I, my will and soul, that makes decisions for me.
Evolution (Oh dear sweet Lord, this again?)
Dacey’s argument here:
1) Evolution is sloppy. Intelligent design should be pristine.
2) Evolution is like an engineer who tries to build a bridge by configuring the materials randomly until one functions as a bridge.
My response: This really is mostly dealt with in my rebuttal of the success of science. If “God”, then “natural order that God made”, thus “it’s exactly how He wants it.” He doesn’t want a world where it’s obviously made by a God because that interferes with the person’s ability to freely choose to love God.
Let’s look and see what things would be unlikely given atheism here. What could we see in evolution that makes atheism unlikely? How about life? Where did that junk come from? At what point did something go from inanimate object to animate object? It’s a question that most scientists have no idea how to answer, and the ones with ideas have no meaningful consensus. So it’s reasonable to conclude, according to Dacey’s own logic, that there must be another explanation for lack of evidence. Perhaps something bestowed the spark of life to make some single cell amoeba somewhere? I could also ask about human beings’ interest in making art, and how that helped them genetically, but then you’d just respond with that vague response like “genetic drift” (aka, “weird things happen, I dunno?”). We theists appreciate that answer about as much as you appreciate our response “Because God said so.” Trust me, the two make about the same amount of sense.
And to Dacey’s “engineer” analogy: a much more apt one would be a programmer, who sets up the parameters of his program and lets it run through all of its possible configurations and permutations until the right answer is spit out—the “True” answer. Just with a very slow computer.
Dacey’s argument here:
1) A completely good, completely powerful God would not allow suffering.
2) There appears to be no benefit for suffering, which would order it to the good.
3) If God loved us, he would at least tell us why there is pointless suffering.
My response: He has told us why there is pointless suffering, but atheists don’t accept the reason. It is, in fact, ordered to the good.
Suffering is a terrible, terrible thing, but I can only imagine how much worse it would be if you thought that this life was all there is. I am not saying “Forget the dying children, they’ll go to Heaven and it’ll be great.” (Though they will go to Heaven, and it will be great.) All people owe it to the world to alleviate as much suffering as we can.
But suffering can be a good. After all, we believe that Christ suffered more than any human being could possibly suffer by taking on the weight of the world’s suffering—all that was and will be. And good came from it! We are saved, and the gates of heaven are open to us! Whenever you suffer, you have an opportunity to join Christ on that path up to Golgotha. To carry His cross with Him. It is an opportunity to bring us closer to God, though oftentimes that is easier said than done.
Now, having said all that, God did not “put” suffering into the world. We believe that this is the most perfect world God could make for us, given free will. Because we have free will, we can choose to turn away from God, which results in the evil that God allows in order to make our choice free. To do otherwise would be to contradict His creation. In the same way that God will not reveal Himself because He wants us to choose to love Him, God cannot remove suffering from the world without negating our free will, the only thing which makes our love of God and Truth valuable.
As a final point, I would simply point out the difference between the atheist and theist responses to the question of suffering. The atheist says “Screw it! There’s no reason! We’ll just try to alleviate it where we can.” (There’s nothing morally wrong with this response. In fact, working to alleviate suffering is a noble endeavor.) The theist says “In suffering, there is an opportunity to draw closer to God, to participate with Him in His Passion, and so there is redemption to be found both in suffering and in alleviating suffering.” Everyone suffers, some physically from disease and poverty, some psychically from loneliness or mental illness. So if suffering can bring out something good, is that not an emboldening comfort?
This concludes your Rebuttal portion of this week’s programming. Take these thoughts into yourself and out into the world, and stop letting those mean old atheists push you around, guys. (And to those of you being mean old Christians, stop it. We want to enlighten, not intimidate.)