Atheism, Philosophy, and Bill O’Reilly

If you asked an atheist what their version of the Bible was, they would probably say they didn’t have one; but more often than not, they’re going to pull out their chemistry textbook and proclaim, “Science!” (You know, because all atheists carry around chemistry textbooks.)

For some reason, when science explains something which was formerly inexplicable, Christians and theists feel defeated. However, this sorrow is unwarranted. Science has not explained away God; science has just uncovered the mechanism by which God operates.

Suppose you come home from work one day and you find a pot of boiling water on the stove. You see your spouse tending to the pot and you ask, “Why is the water boiling?” At this point, your spouse can give one of two answers: the philosophical answer or the scientific answer. If he/she were to give the scientific answer, they would say, “When electric current runs through this metal coil on the stove, it creates heat. When I place the water filled pot on the hot stove, the metal conducts heat and when the water reaches 212º Fahrenheit, it reaches its boiling point and becomes a gas.” That’s quite a mouthful isn’t it?

Now, if your spouse wanted to give the philosophical answer, as he/she normally would, they would simply say, “Because I love you and I wanted to make you dinner.”

The question of “Why?” is exactly where science ends and metaphysics and philosophy begin. In fact, literally translated, metaphysics means beyond physics. Now, what does this have to do with God?  Because God is not physical or material, but metaphysical, He is beyond science’s explanatory power. So when the atheist confidently whips out his chemistry textbook and says, “Science!” he/she has simply misunderstood what science can and cannot do.

This being said, I think it’s time for us Christians to stop pointing to inexplicable things in nature as evidence for God. In fact, there’s an entire series of memes dedicated to this fallacious theistic reasoning. Bill O’Reilly conducted an infamous interview with American Atheists president Dave Silverman, in which he states, “Tide comes in, tide goes out. You can’t explain that” as if this somehow proved God existed. The internet has had a good bit of fun with this; here are a few of my (clean) favorites:

bo1

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On Causation and Geography

It seems that my audience has shifted to a more philosophically inclined crowd, so I’ll adjust my focus for this post and maybe a few more.

I’ve stopped doing the cookie thing for now to focus on following up with the people I’ve talked to. I’ve had some interesting and lengthy discussions covering a broad range of topics; and after all of these discussions, I’ve noticed something from the atheist/agnostic side of the ring: their arguments are all bad. When I say bad, I mean logically invalid. This can mean one of two things: 1) One or more of their premises are false; or 2) The conclusion given does not logically follow from the premises given. Moreover, their arguments are all the same. I’m going to list and respond to the most common objections that I have come across. If we Christians can get skeptics past these “problems,” they will be more likely to listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
religion geography

Your geography determines your religion.

“If you were born in Iran, you would be a Muslim.” Statements like these are a favorite among laymen atheists. Not only is this statement pure conjecture, the atheist himself is subject to this argument. The theist could easily retort back, “Had you not been born in 21st century America and been a heavy internet user, you wouldn’t be an atheist.” Arguments like these generally turn nasty and result in ad homenim fallacies. Most of the time the discussion stops here, but I’ve also come across the atheist that claims he/she has “risen above” the geographical religious boundaries by recognizing this and becoming an atheist. To get past this, we need to dig a bit deeper. When formulated in premises, their argument follows as such.

P-1) Religion is determined by geographical and cultural boundaries.

P-2) People can’t determine where they are born and raised.

P-3) A loving God would not allow these boundaries to determine religion.

C-1) Therefore, God does not exist.

Admittedly, there is an undeniable correlation between geographical/cultural boundaries and different concentrations of different religions. That being said, P-1 is not our target.

P-2 is true as well.

This leaves us with P-3.

Where you are born on the globe is a big factor in determining your religion. The question is, “Who is responsible for your birthplace?” This argument assumes that God is responsible. This is clearly not true. People are responsible for your birthplace, people are responsible for other religions, and people, not God, are responsible for the socio-religious boundaries present today. It turns out that this is really a question of free will. God cannot make someone freely do something; that’s logically impossible. Such logical absurdities are comparable to a square circle or a one ended stick. That being said, God can’t make you freely choose Him, and God can’t make you freely not worship that idol or not sin. As long as people have free will, this argument fails.

What created God?

When talking about God, by definition God must be uncaused. God is the greatest conceivable being; because being uncaused is greater than being caused, God is uncaused. This argument reveals just how small the atheist idea of God is. Surely when the atheist is thinking of a god that is capable of being caused he/she has not conceived of the greatest possible being. This objection is easily remedied by a proper definition of God. If the atheist still won’t accept the idea that God is uncaused, he obviously hasn’t grasped the concept. Also, we’re not defining God in a question begging way, even atheist philosophers accept this definition of God.

This is the typical ‘trump card’ that’s put forward by the layman atheist and even some notable scholars like Richard Dawkins, Ayn Rand, and Christopher Hitchens. Defining your terms goes a long way.

“Asking what caused God is like asking to find the end of infinity.” (Paraphrase) – Glenn Chicoine

“In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed” – William Lane Craig

[ http://www.reasonablefaith.org/richard-dawkins-argument-for-atheism-in-the-god-delusion#ixzz2EKxcck3L ]

At first, these awful arguments were encouraging. I thought, “If I can philosophically refute their arguments, and if they cannot refute my arguments, they will become Christians!” But after successfully refuting point after point, their position remained unchanged. Why is this? Am I doing it wrong? I haven’t been degrading or pushy, they’ve even assured me so. After much reflection, I discovered that their position was not based on logic and reason as they claimed. Rather, they had an innate and deep angst against God and against Christians.

Moreover, their views of homosexuality and marriage seemed to be a big stumbling block. They ask, “how can a loving God be so homophobic?” This is clearly a misrepresentation of the actual biblical position on homosexuality, but this is what the media, and sadly other Christians, have led them to believe. Also, when the discussion shifts from natural theology to Christian doctrine, the conversation becomes confused and ineffective. It’s going to take more than argument to win people to Christianity. A powerful testimony and living consistently with the Christian worldview are more effective witnesses than good arguments. If skeptics don’t have any “bad” Christians to point to, they have nothing left but inconsistent, logically invalid, and refutable arguments.

I also hope to tackle these issues in future posts:

How can God have absolute foreknowledge and humans have free will?

The problem of evil.

The problem of miracles.

The success of science.

The explanatory power of evolution.

Jesus was a myth.

We can’t trust the Bible.

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“I’m a scientist.”

Right now, I’m sitting in Sabine Hall of Richland College. Sabine is the science hall with a coffee shop and heavy traffic, so it’s ideal for Free Cookies For Non-Christians. Admittedly, it was hard to do the cookie thing here. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t be here right now. I tried to leave, but I had this burning conviction to come back. I kept making excuse after excuse in my head as to why I should just go home and eat lunch, but eventually I caved and set up shop next to the campus bookstore.  I even forgot my “Free Cookies*” sign at home, so I had to make the sketchy looking one above.

The reason it’s hard to do the cookie thing here is because Richland is intimidating. Richland is the most ethnically diverse community college in north Texas. I bet I pass about 10 Muslim women every time I come here; that’s not even counting the less obvious Muslim men. What am I to do if a Muslim girl approaches me? Do I just straight up tell her, “you’re doing it wrong?” I know all the right things to say to Muslims, but it almost feels wrong to do so. Why is this? If we really believe in the Truth of the Gospel, shouldn’t we specifically seek out people who willingly label themselves as non-Christians? And thus, my dilemma. Although intimidating, Richland’s diversity sure does make an interesting blog post.

Today, I met my first Buddhist; which is very timely, considering that just yesterday the topic of my Major World Religions class was Buddhism. In Buddhism, human desire is the enemy. Which is correct! We Christians just call it “the Flesh.” But, instead of seeking forgiveness for this innately wrong and sinful desire, the Buddhist will try and eliminate desire altogether. (Which is ironic, because the desire to eliminate desire is a desire itself.) Supposedly, once you’ve eliminated all desire, you reach Nirvana, an enlightened state of consciousness. There’s no heaven, no hell, and no God. Just you. That’s basic Buddhism in a nutshell.

There are many sects of Buddhism, some that chant, some that reincarnate, some that believe in Karma, etc. However, the Buddhist I met today (Alex) didn’t believe in any of that. When I asked him his thoughts on these things, he scratched his head and wondered why I would think he believed in that kind of thing. To Alex, Buddhism was a path to happiness. He gave me some weird examples, but basically he explained that you determine your own emotions and no outside force or event is capable of taking your happiness from you. He tried to explain that he didn’t really believe in the popular form of Karma, but realized that he couldn’t do it in his limited English. Instead, he gave me an exciting analogy. I won’t go into detail, but essentially he said that you harvest what you plant. How cool is that? He already believed in some key Biblical principles! If I had more time, I think I could make Christianity a viable option for him. If he’s willing to appeal to and defend an impersonal, unintelligent, nebulous, universal, spiritual force for which there is no evidence for, how appealing the God of Christianity must seem.

When I asked Alex about his belief in God, he told me, “I’m a scientist, I believe in evolution.” I tried to make the point that evolution does not demand atheism, but his English was quite limited and I’m not sure I got the point across. I have my own set of views on evolution, and I’ll let you have yours. However, to anyone who holds fervently to Darwinian evolution or naturalism should check out the video below. If you’d like to have a discussion on evolution, feel free to leave a comment below.

After we exchanged phone numbers and e-mails, he asked me if I liked making new friends. I think I’ll be hearing from Alex soon.

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“I just say big words…”

One of the most common objections I’ve come across is the demand for empirical evidence for God’s existence. For this particular objection, I’ve found the Kalam Cosmological Argument to be immensely useful. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Kalam Cosmological argument, it follows as such:

1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
2) The universe began to exist.
3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.

At first glance, the argument seems quite simple; but each premise has a plethora of information that goes with it. The person I discussed this with wasn’t particularly familiar with cosmology, so I didn’t have to bust out the evidence for the Big Bang Theory via red-light shift or anything like that. For more info on the Kalam Cosmological Argument and other basic apologetics, I highly recommend On Guard by William Lane Craig. This was the book that got me into apologetics.

I’ve also used the Kalam Cosmological Argument in my discussion with the atheist I mentioned in my former post. Gabriel was actually very familiar with cosmology; I had to do quite a bit of research for this one. He agreed with the argument, with one exception: the universe goes through several cycles of Big Bangs. He contended that the universe has been going through big bangs and big collapses for eternity past. With this model, there’s no need for a God or for an absolute beginning of the universe. It’s called the Oscillating Model; but take courage, there are various problems with this model that make scholars skeptical to adopt it. He wasn’t aware of these problems and was surprised that I even had something to rebut with. He even said:

“…honestly I had to think about that response and it was not as well informed as it should have been, usually I just say big words and people leave. I can tell our discussions are going to be great. For now lets change topics.”

I’d reached his limit of cosmological knowledge and he had nothing left to say. What’s frustrating to me is the obvious lack of apologetics among other Christians he had come into contact with. Is this what Christians have become? Ill-informed people who cower and run at the slightest hint of an expanded vocabulary? Does anyone read anymore? It’s not like he was a expert on this topic, (nor am I,) he just had something he normally said to theists to scare them away.

Defending your faith is an essential part of Christianity. In fact, we’re commanded to do so. 1 Peter 3:15-16

15 but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. 16  However, do this with gentleness and respect…”

However, there’s a fine line between defending your faith and defending your pride. If the discussion you’re having with the skeptic turns into an argument, it needs to stop. There is no ground to be made when tempers flare and pride is in the way. You could have irrefutable evidence of God’s existence in your hand, but if you present it with pride and without “gentleness and respect” you’re going to get nowhere. This is not a competition, it’s evangelism.

This is the toughest part of doing the cookie thing. It’s easy to say that not everyone will inherit the Kingdom of God; but when you put a name and a face to that particular situation, it hurts.  It’s tough, it’s maddening, it’s depressing. Even worse is when you’re trying to help this person but their heart is so hard and their pride so great that no information will persuade them. It’s hard to “shake the dust from your feet.” If knowing a handful people like this hurts this much, how heavy God’s heart must be when He is rejected day in and day out by billions of people.

P.S. Mad props to JoAnn for the Andes chocolate chip cookies!

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“He wants to watch us squirm…”

I’ve learned quite a bit in just two sessions of doing “the cookie thing.” First, I’ve found that people really enjoy talking about themselves (shocker) and about their beliefs. Second, I’ve found that almost everyone believes in some sort of “higher power.” It’s almost as if everyone believes in God, whether they know it or not, by default. I’ve only met one atheist so far, Gabriel (ironic, right?), and he made the typical empirical evidence spiel. He grabbed a cookie and jetted, so I didn’t get to talk to him much. However, we are Facebook friends now so maybe we’ll keep talking. I almost always try to mention the term “atheist” when the cookie recipient explains his/her beliefs. They don’t like me applying that term to them; for whatever reason, the title of atheist scares them.

Another thing I’ve learned is that some people don’t want to be sincere about this conversation right off the bat; but if you work them enough, they’ll open up. I’ve met two pastafarians so far; i.e. members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’m not joking, that’s what they told me when I asked them about their beliefs; although I didn’t give them cookies until they were sincere about our discussion. One of the pastafarians, his name escapes me, talked with me for about 10 minutes. When we got down to the bottom of it, he really did believe in a Higher Power; but like so many, he lacked the Christian framework.

Once we established his basic beliefs, I asked him “Who was Jesus?” I got the usual “teacher,” “good man,” etc. All of the people I talked to said something along the lines of teacher, careful to allow his existence but deny his deity. I asked one of them how we know these things about Jesus, he told me “The Bible.” It’s odd to me that he would respect the historicity of The Bible but deny Christ’s deity. At this point in the discussion, I try to work in the Gospel. I usually say something similar to, “If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christianity is false; if He did rise from the dead, Christianity is true.” I haven’t had one person dispute this point. This is where I bring in the martyrdom of the disciples. I explain that the disciples genuinely believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and they all eventually died for this cause. Now, why would they all go to their graves defending Jesus if he had died and stayed dead? What motivation do they have for this? There was no pay, no glory, no physical benefit to preaching Christianity in the 1st Century. One answer I got to this argument was, “Because they wanted to force their beliefs on other people.” I told him that he was very much going against the scholarly grain when he held this belief, but he seemed to like that. He was the constantly sarcastic type. Overall, this approach seems to work pretty well; it makes Christianity sound more reasonable.

Disturbingly enough, I’ve met three people who were not Christians, yet grew up in church or currently go to a church. One of them told me he was a Catholic, but not a Christian. This was an odd, sad discussion. We established that this title of Catholic was more of a culture title than a reflection of his beliefs. He didn’t like the way the catholic church “crammed their beliefs down your throat.” I asked him (Omar) if he believed in God, he told me, “If there is a God, He just wants to watch us squirm, or He’s too lazy to help.” What a depressing view to hold. Omar is currently looking to Buddhism, and he seems to like it. In Buddhism, you control your own destiny. I tried to make the case that if Karma were real, then successful evil people would not exist. He replied, “Karma doesn’t happen instantly; it might take a while.” There are too many problems with the idea of Karma to list here, but it was clear that he was going to hold to Karma no matter what I said. When you allow an infinite amount of time for Karma to punish someone, it’s easy to believe in. Even if the evil dictator dies in luxury, the Buddhist will say, “Don’t worry, he’ll be Houston Astros fan in the next life.” Jokes aside, this peace of mind that evil will ultimately be punished makes Karma easy to believe in and tough to overcome.

The problem is not with people believing in God, seeing as most do. The problem is with the secular perspective of Christianity. They see it as equal to one of the many religions of the world, rather than truth, or even possible truth.

Not counting the first session, I talked to 9 people. It only took about an hour and a half. Honestly, If I had all day and 50 cookies I’m confident that I would leave with zero cookies and 50 stories about non-Christians. At one point, I had about 5 people around my table, listening to my discussion with the first person that grabbed a cookie. It seemed to interest them. This is where the atheist came in; he was one of the last to join, so he left when the others got sick of standing around.

This method isn’t perfect. I’m not sure what to do once the discussion is over. I’ve friended a few of them on Facebook, but I’m timid to contact them and don’t want to seem overbearing or pushy. I’m thinking of starting a Facebook page or group where a group discussion can take place, although I don’t know how many would actually participate. Feel free to suggest something.

If you read this, please pray for myself and the people I talk to.

Just a cool side story, when I first sat down and laid out the cookies, I prayed specifically for this person wearing a hat would come talk to me. He did.

Also, I haven’t heard back from Alec. Hopefully I’ll see him around campus.

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The First Bite

After a few weeks of procrastination and excuses, I finally mustered up the strength to do “the cookie thing.” I don’t know exactly what to call it yet; it’s kind of an awkward thing to describe. It’s a weird combination of verbs that don’t quite fit together. As for now, I’ll call it “doing the cookie thing.”

Initially, my plan was to do homework while the cookies and sign were out. I decided against this, I felt that people would be less likely to approach me if I seemed super focused on an assignment. Instead, I watched a live-blog of HTC’s Windows Phone 8 announcement (sweet looking phones, btw.) The key here is being approachable. Also, I’ve nixed the second sign. I’d rather start a dialog with someone than have them awkwardly stand next to me and read a piece of paper. Additionally, I’ve changed what I’m going to open with. When they ask “what’s the catch?” I’ll tell them they must explain to me “what they believe and why they believe it.” If they tell me they’re a Christian, no cookie.

You get quite a few stares carrying a big box of m&m bedazzled cookies through Eastfield’s campus center, or The Pit, as we Harvesters call it. Getting gawked at gave me a little bit of confidence that this idea had at least some potential. It made me realize everyone likes cookies, and everyone likes free stuff.

As I was walking to my table, everyone suddenly became intimidating. I was needlessly self-conscious, nervous, and anxious. I started to make excuses as to why I shouldn’t do it. However,I knew I would feel this way coming into it, so I powered through the negative emotions, knowing that the feeling of regret would be far worse than any humiliation or embarrassment I would experience by giving out free cookies. Once I set up the plate, cookies, and sign, I felt relieved. The hardest part was over.

Sure enough, someone asked me about the cookies, noting the asterisk. Hankering for the cookie, he (his name is Alec) reluctantly agreed to share his beliefs. When I asked Alec what he believed and why he believed it, he didn’t really know what to say. It’s almost as if he’d never asked himself that question. After a few attempts at an explanation, he settled on “I believe there’s a God, but I don’t know anything about him.” I mentioned the term agnostic, and he seemed to think that term fit him pretty well. He also struggled with his view of God being a personable God. Starting from here, I walked him through a watered down argument for sufficient reason. I explained that if God created the universe we live in today, He created with the intention of it supporting life, and if he created a universe sufficient for life then he must be personable. Furthermore, we are moral beings. We don’t act solely on our physical needs like in the animal kingdom. From this fundamental moral argument, I concluded that morality’s existence demands that God is personable and that He genuinely cares about what we say and do. Once I said this, he nodded and said “True, true.” He didn’t really have a rebuttal or a way around what I said. Heck, he even seemed to agree with me; all he lacked was a Christian framework to support his beliefs. He obviously wanted to grab his cookie and go, so I awarded him one. We exchanged e-mail addresses and will hopefully continue this discussion later. I genuinely feel Alec would be open to Christianity if it were presented correctly.

It worked, I couldn’t believe it worked. I just had a meaningful, evangelical discussion because of a free cookie. Is it really that simple, that easy? Is a cookie all it takes? Why am I not doing this everyday? How many people believe in some sort of God, but not in Jesus?

I used to think evangelism was reserved for missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not anymore.

Please be in prayer for Alec!

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Who Doesn’t Like Cookies?

You’re probably wondering why Christians aren’t allotted a free cookie. I’ll get to that, but first, some background. The other day, I was reading David Platt’s Radical, and about how  he evangelized in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Next to all the tables of fortune tellers and palm readers, David set up his own table with a sign that read “We’ll tell you your future for free.” When someone would ask for their fortune to be told, David would ask them a series of questions designed to show them that they were sinful; once he got them to realize that they were sinful and needed forgiveness, he would share the Gospel. This strategy intrigued me. With this method, the people approach you. I’ve decided to take the same technique and tweak it a bit. Every time I need to go to a coffee shop or the campus center to do homework, I will set out a plate of cookies with a sign above them stating “Free Cookies*” Next to the plate of cookies, I’ll place another sign explaining the fine print. It will read something along the lines of: “*Cookies are for non-Christians only. In order to receive your free cookie, you must give me 10 minutes of your time. No purchase necessary.” During this 10 minutes, I’ll ask them why they don’t associate with the title of Christian, and go from there.  I won’t take Platt’s approach and show them that they are sinful, but rather answer their objections to Christianity. I’m a bit of an amateur apologist, so I’m eager to see what specific reasons people have for not associating themselves with Christ. This could be a total flop, but it’s worth a try. I’ve recently been struggling with the fact that I rarely evangelize. Everyday I choose to sit and basically do nothing when there are real, living, people that do not have the security of Christ; people that if they died tomorrow, would not inherit the Kingdom of God. I’m assuming that I’m not the only one who regularly frequents coffee shops, so if this works, I challenge you to do the same. I’ll post the results of what happens here, and create a new post asking for prayer for each of the people I talk to. (If any.)

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