A friend recently sent me a critique of my testimony by someone named James of “Reasonably Faithless.” After I read James’ response to my testimony about how I made the journey from hostile atheism to a belief in Jesus, I was at first inclined to ignore it. Christians should generally resist the temptation to allow themselves to be sucked into the black hole of atheist discourse by feeling the need to respond directly to every attack on Christian belief. However, I think readers of this blog can benefit from what follows.
As I read James’ critique of my testimony, I marveled at how much misrepresentation, hypocrisy, nit-picking, taking things out of context, incoherent philosophy, and false science he packed into a few paragraphs. If you’re ever faced with such a response, you may feel the temptation to respond to each and every point, but I’m here to tell you that’s a waste of time. Instead, focus your efforts on helping other Christians withstand such assaults on reasonable belief.
To that end, there are two criticisms of my testimony, one logical and the other scientific, that can serve as useful exercises in how to refute atheist nonsense masquerading as legitimate criticism, logical thinking, and genuine science.
First, the logical argument James raises in his concern about the pain of human existence:
She also reveals some extremely offensive views about suffering: essentially, people are “made to suffer for the bad things [they’ve] done”, and there is always “a reason for suffering”. This seems especially insensitive to the people who have lived a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place and/or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind.
The basic atheist argument about the human condition is that all the pain people experience in this world is proof that there cannot be a God, because a loving God would not allow people to experience so much suffering. In the secular humanist protests against the unfairness of pain you can hear the voices of children furious at their parents for imposing consequences for bad behavior. C. S. Lewis answers this as well as anyone can in The Problem of Pain. James demonstrates his foolishness when he says that it is “extremely offensive” to point out the obvious truth Lewis demonstrated in his book about human suffering, which is that most of the pain people experience in life is the result of the bad choices they freely make.
James, however, makes one claim that deserves serious consideration — some people experience terrible suffering simply because of the place or time of their birth. There is some truth to this; a significant amount of pain that some people experience cannot be easily explained as the consequence of their actions. But, even when atheists manage to raise a valid point like this, they immediate veer off into incoherence.
As dedicated secular humanists, atheists are essentially children in their understanding of human existence. Most of them don’t so much disbelieve in God, but resent or feel anger towards God for being ‘mean.’ Those of you who are parents will recognize in the atheist mindset the child-like determination to avoid all discomfort and unpleasant consequences. The reason for this is that atheists need to believe in the possibility of ‘paradise’ on earth. As a result, they also need to believe that no one should ever have to feel bad and there should never be negative consequences for anything people do.
As long as we exist in this world, people will never fully understand their place in the grand scheme of things. But if you give some thought to James’s claim of my insensitivity about the mystery of human pain and suffering, you realize his logic is not only backwards, but leads to a conclusion that is fundamentally quite vile. It reminds me of something Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion. He quotes the famous geneticist, James Watson, who said in response to a question about the purpose of life:
“Well, I don’t think we’re for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.”
To which Dawkins adds, “We did have a good lunch, too.”
When I read that I thought, “What a couple of jerks.” What kind of people can look at life as meaningless and bleak and then distract and comfort themselves with food? A ‘good’ meal or any other kind of material pleasure is small comfort to those who live a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind. Atheists take away all hope for those who suffer. So, who is being insensitive?
Every time I hear nonsense like this, I wonder whether humanists ever bother to work through to the logical conclusions of their beliefs. If they did, they would realize it is vastly more insensitive to tell people who suffer terribly through no apparent fault of their own that there is no reason for it. It is cruel to tell people that this one life of misery is all they get until they are annihilated by a cold and indifferent universe.
Then there is the scientific criticism of my testimony:
After reading Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, Sarah became convinced that the book of “Genesis is literally true”. (The word “literally” is used in a pretty non-literal sense here, since Schroeder’s theory is that the first “day” of creation was 8 billion years long, the second day was 4 billion years long, etc – the thesis of Schroeder’s book is really that Genesis can be squared with our modern scientific understanding of the universe, apart from a few teeny little details like evolution.)
If I was the type of person inclined to dictatorship (which I am not), the first thing I would do is make it a state crime to comment knowingly on a book you have not actually read. I mean, I’m assuming he hasn’t read Schroeder’s book, because he’s made two very basic blunders about Schroeder’s model that could’ve been rectified by reading the chapters on the age of the universe and evolution. It’s possible James has actually read the book, in which case he is either deliberately misrepresenting Schroeder’s argument or has failed to comprehend it.
In any case, I used “literal” in a very literal sense in my testimony. Schroeder makes a compelling case for reconciling actual 24-hour Genesis days with a billions year-old universe. It works because, as every good physicist knows, you have to specify from whose frame of reference those 24 hours elapse. You can read Schroeder’s book to see how this works or go through my slide show presentation for an explanation.
James goes on to demonstrate that he is unaware of the science behind Schroeder’s explanation:
So, does Schroeder’s book constitute a good reason to think that “Genesis is literally true”? Most definitely not. Here are several scholarly reviews of the book…
Whereupon he cites a few critical “scholarly” reviews of Schroeder’s book, including one by historian, Richard Carrier, a man who is best described as the court jester of the New Atheist movement and an utter embarrassment to intellectuals everywhere.
When I first read Schroeder’s book, I spent a lot of time verifying its claims. Contrary to James’ assumption, that meant investigating criticisms of Schroeder’s model — the very ones James cites — which I found to be not only wrong, but surprisingly inept. For ostensibly smart people (most of them, anyway), these critics failed to understand the basics of Schroeder’s argument. I was especially taken aback that someone with credentials like those of the late mathematician, Mark Perakh, could fail to understand the straightforward physical argument laid out by Schroeder. I will write a separate post about this, because it deserves serious attention.
But James’s criticism of my testimony gets worse from there:
… Sarah came to believe (for whatever reason) in the truth of Genesis, and then deduced that the gospels were true. Think again about her words: “I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis.
This is a lie. He conveniently omits the statement in my testimony just before this one — “I knew of the historical evidence for [the Gospels’] truth” — which clearly implies I investigated the truth of the Gospels independent of Genesis.
However, Christians do have reason to believe in the general reliability of the Bible based on Genesis. It was chosen as the first book of the Bible for a reason. Among other things, it immediately establishes the reliability of the Bible in general because Genesis 1 performs a miracle right in front of our eyes – it gives a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe and life on earth over 2500 years ago when no person could have possibly known how the universe formed and life came to be. At the very least, this miracle of information that anticipated so many modern scientific discoveries should lead one to consider the truth of the other parts of the Bible.
James concludes with a common bit of atheist dogma about the Bible:
The book of Genesis was composed by unknown authors. It’s a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions.
Having once been an atheist, myself, and now observing them from a Christian vantage point for a number of years, I’ve noticed patterns in their behavior. James presents us with a perfect example. What happens is this: one atheist will come up with an idea — say, that Genesis is just a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions — and then others pick it up, repeat it (often verbatim), and the idea gets passed around and around, and meanwhile nobody bothers to investigate whether the claim is actually true. They just repeat it mindlessly and accept its truth blindly, because they are emotionally invested in it being true.
If any of them bothered to check, they would discover that the idea that Genesis is just a mish-mash of other faith traditions is provably false. One of my colleagues, who is deeply informed on the topic, refers to this claim as “traditional [theologically] liberal blather” dating back to the 1800s and based on little more than pure imagination. All you have to do is compare Genesis with one of these alleged sources, the Babylonian Enuma Elish, to see that they could hardly differ more. This is another topic I will address in more depth in a separate post, because it’s an intensely stupid notion that needs to die a horrible death. [Update: Uniqueness of Genesis is discussed here.]
To my Christian readers, here is what you should take away from all this. Do not waste time trying to convince atheists of the foolishness of their arguments. They make these arguments for highly emotional reasons and will not part with them on account of either reason or science. Atheist emotions are in turn rooted in a deep desire for self-indulgence, which is in eternal conflict with God’s intention that we overcome earthly desires. Instead, spend time becoming totally familiar with atheist assaults on Christian beliefs and faith so that you can help shield yourselves and others, especially children, from the deceit and temptations of atheism.