This post is a follow up to my previous post. In the first part of this series I answered the first five of Braxton’s 10 Questions for Atheists. I’ll be continuing my answers for the remaining five questions.
6 - Of the arguments for God's existence is there one that to you seems more interesting than the rest? Is there one that for you actually does weigh in favor of theism? which one?
Honestly, I’ve never heard an argument for God that is at all interesting to me, and I find that the vast majority most of them are really bad. Every single argument I’ve ever encountered appears to suffer from some of problem that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. None of them come anywhere close to being compelling, let alone weighing in favor of theism. The best argument appears to be the fine tuning argument, but why would an all powerful God need to fine tune the universe for life?
Frankly, even if it did convince me that there is some kind of creator, at best you’d convert me to Deism, and would be unlikely to get me any closer to coming back to Christianity. Now, for the record, I see no reason to believe that the universe, life, or anything else, needs a creator God, even if I have no explanations.
Here’s my problem with presenting argument: At the end of the day, was it an argument for God that convinced you, or was it something else? How many people do you know have become believers simply because of an apologetic argument? I’m going to guess that the number is small and most believe either because they’ve been indoctrinated since they were children, or because they had some kind of religious experience.
7 - Most atheists I've met humbly admit that they don't think they can have absolute certainty about much of anything but what they want from the Christian is a demonstration that God exists. or that Christianity is true, when we offer the reasons to believe that we do have those are typically deemed "not good enough." So what sort of evidence, if any, would be enough to convince you?
I’ll start by saying that I agree that we probably cannot be absolutely certain about anything, and I think the best we can achieve is what I’ve heard referred to as maximal certainty. In the end, we’re fallible creatures and our reasoning could always be wrong, even if the risk of that is very small. But I’m not looking for absolute certainty when I’m looking for evidence that your God exists, or that Christianity is true.
I’ve stated before on this blog that there are three things that I need to know are true, or at least be able to show are very likely to be true, before I’d believe that Christianity is true. They are:
1. That Jesus is God
2. That there is an afterlife
3. What happens to me in my afterlife is primarily affected by my beliefs about Jesus
This is the Christianity I was raised with, and I would hazard that it’s the Christianity that most people are raised with. I’m sure there are extremely liberal Christians who hold some other idea of what Christianity entails, but then we’re talking about something else.
Now, if any of the above three conditions is false then Christianity (at least as I understand it) is false. This is where the problems start, because I think we have pretty good reason to believe that #2 isn’t true, and is really little more than wishful thinking (and no, NDE’s aren’t evidence of an afterlife.) Also, given what we have recorded in the Bible, I’m pretty well inclined to believe that Jesus wasn’t anything close to a god, otherwise we wouldn’t have passages like Matthew 16:28, and we’d have much better advice from Jesus. Literally nothing Jesus is reported to have said is anything that couldn’t have been said by somebody else living at the time. While the gospels are interesting literature, they are unremarkable for what they contain if they contain the words, sayings, and life story, of a supposed god-man.
Frankly, since most definitions of God go beyond the natural, and I lack any ability to access the supernatural, the only way I could be convinced that a supernatural explanation is necessary is if you can show that every possible natural explanation has been exhausted, but I’d also have to be a lot smarter than I am now to know that every possibility has been exhausted – but that’s not really my problem.
8 - To what extent did social and moral issues start you down the path toward your atheism? that is to say the typical Christian or religious views on sexuality, gender rights, and acts and commands of God in the Old Testament, it seems that many deconversion stories online begin with, or at least include LGBT issues, purity culture, or hell, as instrumental in the deconversion process. It strikes me that what should matter most is the truth and not what we might prefer that the truth were. I honestly wonder how much those issues, and ones like them, motivate the deconversion rather than all this talk about evidence?
While I stopped attending church when I was 14, I didn’t stop believing until I was into my 20’s, largely because of who I was dating. I stopped attending church, and have described myself at the time as an apatheist, because I no longer saw it as being relevant in my life.
The Catholic Church had views that conflicted with my own and I felt that if they were so wrong on important social issues then I wasn’t sure that they could be believed on other supposedly important topics. When my own morality is the only compass I have on social issues, and when I feel that what the Catholic Church tells me goes completely against my sense of right and wrong, I’m left with no choice but to abandon them and their authority. I could not, in good conscience, override my moral views. I thought they were morally wrong then and I think they are completely morally bankrupt now, especially in light of the residential school scandals.
9 - Can you name the last three academic books you read by theists on the subject? How long ago did you read them or is most of your understanding of apologetics and atheism from non-scholarly internet sources, pop level books, and let's face it YouTube videos? And be honest with yourself about this. Anyone can google up a list of books and paste them in the comments section but i want to know are you getting the best from the other side?
This will depend on what you classify as “pop level” and what you consider “academic.” I’ve read several books by Ehrman about the Bible and the history of Christianity.
I’ve also read Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which would probably be considered pop-level, but many Christians told me to read it, so I did. I regard it as absolute gutter trash that should only be read to understand what most fundamentalist evangelical Christians believe, and that’s about it. The reality is that most of the “facts” presented are not in line with what the majority of scholarship has to say on those subjects. I wish Christians would stop acting like this book is so great.
I’ve also read plenty of works by supposedly “professional” Catholic (Thomist) philosophers like Dennis Bonnette (from Strange Notions), and Edward Feser, and find they often rely on ideas that have long been discarded by modern philosophy and science. I’ve listened to professional apologists give their best arguments and they always either come up lacking or start with assumption that I do not believe are justified.
Even if I listed off dozens of books by big name academic philosophers and theologians, would it ever be enough? I know that other atheists have been accused of not reading enough material and told “just read this too.” I think that apologists will always accuse non-believers of not reading enough to understand why they’re supposedly wrong, but rarely listen to the criticisms raised by us in return.
My biggest problem is at, in the end, do you believe that God wants to have a relationship with me? You’re an evangelical Christian, so I’m assuming this is probably true. If so, why is God so hidden? Why should I need to read books when God should be able to deliver the goods? Shouldn’t God’s existence be so much more obvious and indisputable than it is? I never felt any connection to the divine even when I was a believer, so should I really need to read more academic books on the subject in order to have a relationship with an all powerful, all knowing, being?
The way I see things, either God doesn’t want me to believe, doesn’t know that I don’t believe, doesn’t care that I don’t believe, or doesn’t exist. None of these should be particularly attractive to you.
10 - If you found out today, to your satisfaction, that Christianity were true would you accept God's authority, repent of your sins, and trust Jesus as your king?
In part my answer here is going to be dependent on “what are my alternatives?” Because it does not follow that if God exists that I should worship it, or obey God’s will. We certainly haven’t established that God is even worthy of being called good.
As Christopher Hitchens put it, heaven would likely be some kind of celestial North Korea, and doesn’t sound at all attractive to me. If my choices are either “be consciously tortured forever”, or “accept Jesus as king and live in celestial North Korea forever”, I think I’d almost certainly take heaven. I wouldn’t be doing that because I think God is worthy of worship, but because the alternative is so dreadful that I’d do it only to save myself from an eternity of even worse torment. Endlessly praising Lord Jesus sounds like a better alternative to all kinds of eternal torture, but that really doesn’t say much, does it?
If, however, my alternative is to be annihilated, then choosing heaven becomes much less attractive, and would depend on whether I believe that God is actually good and worthy of being worshiped. As far as I can tell the God of Christianity is not worthy of worship. After all, what kind of being stands by as so many suffer horribly, or worse has actually prescribed this suffering as a test for humanity? In such a case I would happily choose annihilation, as I have no desire to live forever. For other choices it would depend on what the consequences of not loving Jesus are.
 Apatheist: A person who couldn’t care less about God or religions.