Worldviews in Conflict
Our old friend Bob Seidensticker has decided to weigh in on the old theism/atheism debate with a post that seems to want to settle the matter once and for all. Titilatingly titled, “Why the Atheist Worldview Beats the Christian Worldview,” Bob lays out his case.
Bob opens the piece, firing the first volley, by writing,
Christian apologists, perhaps knowing that they won’t do well in the arena of argument and evidence, try instead to beat the atheist worldview by arguing that it’s more pleasing or happier.
Being an apologist, I would just love for someone to show where I, in any apologetic context have appealed to Christianity being “more pleasing or happier”. However, numerous studies have linked religious involvement with well-being (here and here for example), and there may be many underlying factors for this. Given that, I would never argue that because of the correlation between religious participation and wellbeing that Christianity was true. That’s an absurd argument to make. But I will argue that Bob is setting up a straw man in an attempt to leverage his bias and front-load his conclusion. In fact, he seems to be setting up to make an argument very similar to one that I responded to a few weeks ago from Godless Mom.
What I will say is that atheists have no response to the arguments and evidence for Christianity aside from engaging in hand-waving. I say this because Christianity is an evidential religion. Our claims are based on historical facts, namely the resurrection of Christ. In fact, the key argument is if Christ has not been raised, as a fact of history, then we ought to be pitied. Let’s keep that in mind as we proceed.
Bob relates several posts where he makes a variety of questionable claims, many of which I’ve responded to either directly or indirectly in the years that I’ve been operating this blog, many of which I addressed in the largest response/refutation series that I have yet to do. However, he has to make certain concessions, primarily under the heading, “Positives of Christianity (and negatives)” where he writes,
The church can create community for its members, and it can catalyze their good works and charitable giving. As such, it is an important social institution.
Thanks, and I mean that, because that’s a powerful admission. But here’s the question: what makes creating community good? If the atheist is going to assume that any of these things is in fact good then the atheist should be able to provide a coherent justification for the claim. The tacit assumption of the atheist is that human beings recognize that fact and “just so” assumptions will not cut it when it comes to explaining those facts.
Bob then writes that in spite of those good things—even though he fails to provide a meaningful justification for the claim—there are problems,
[…]the supernatural side doesn’t hold up as well.
Well, considering Bob’s flagrant anti-supernaturalism we shouldn’t be surprised. He continues,
And you’re told that God is eager for a relationship, but he won’t even meet you halfway when his very existence isn’t obvious.
“Isn’t obvious” to those who are suppressing the truth. But I would never say that God is “eager” for anything, especially a “relationship”. He offers a relationship to every one who will repent and believe.
Laying your problems at the feet of Jesus might be comforting, but they’re usually still there when you go back to check. Why are prayers answered at a rate no better than chance?
There’s just sooooo much that could be said here to demonstrate the false assumptions, but it will suffice to say that Jesus is Lord, and placing our problems at his feet is an act of submission to his will, but that same Jesus tells us that he didn’t come to take us out of the world. Yes, I still have to deal with whatever problems that I have, but I do not do so as one mastered by them but as one who has been given mastery over them.
One of Christianity’s strongest selling points, we’re told, is that salvation doesn’t require works but is a gift. All you need is faith. But with so many interpretations of correct belief within Christianity, how do you know the Jesus you have faith in is the right one? You may be headed for hell if you guess wrong.
Well, Bob, there are beliefs that are adiaphora, that is they are second or third tier matters where Christians can disagree and then there are primary matters. And that’s why we have the Scriptures, and there we find that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, through Jesus alone. Usually, when there is an issue that presumes to differ with the plain reading of the text, it is usual applied from outside the text. We know one thing by the same way we know the other.
What is God’s goal when he allows bad things to happen to people—tsunamis that kill hundreds of thousands or childhood cancers, for example? As an omnipotent being, he could achieve any goal without causing suffering.
I seem to remember something about God’s wrath against sin, of which we are all guilty, and this thing about a curse because of human rebellion, and how suffering leads to patience. I mean I believe that God uses means and that the same action (eg a tsunami) can have multiple equally significant results in multiple categories. But then I have a Worldview that provides the necessary categories to handle and interpret the situation.
Christians might deal with issues like these by compartmentalizing, by not asking questions, or by denying their doubt. But not being able to honestly raise your concerns, let alone resolve them, creates mental stress, not a healthy relationship.
Does Bob actually believe that Christians don’t ask these questions? The thoughtful readers of this blog should find that moderately insulting. I mean, Christians have an entire book of the Bible dedicated to the difficult questions of loss, difficulty, and suffering. We ask the tough questions and, if you have been following the blog for a long time, we work through them together. What Bob seems to have a problem with is that Christians don’t fall apart, we take heart and trust God.
Under the heading “Facing Reality (and the positives of atheism)” Bob sets out to make his case, writing,
When challenged with some of these concerns, a common Christian response is to argue that the atheist worldview is bleak and empty (as if “that worldview is depressing” is any argument against it being correct). But let’s consider that worldview—a world without God. This would be a world where praying for something doesn’t increase its likelihood; where faith is necessary to mask the fact that God’s existence is not apparent; where no loving deity walks beside you in adversity; where natural disasters kill people indiscriminately; where far too many children live short and painful lives because of malnutrition, abuse, injury, or birth defects; and where there is only wishful thinking behind the ideas of heaven and hell.
Gee, Bob. Tell us what you really think. But we need to take each of these in stride.
First, the atheist worldview is bleak. What is “adversity” in a worldview where your entire existence is an accident? What does it matter if accidents of nature die regardless of how or when, or even if they do so in pain? For cosmic accidents, all thinking is wishful thinking.
Evidence for that…
Look around, because that’s the world you’re living in.
That’s a claim that you haven’t substantiated there, Bob.
But this [world] isn’t anarchy, it’s a world where people live and love and grow, and where every day ordinary people do heroic and noble things for the benefit of strangers.
Why isn’t it anarchic, Bob? Why aren’t we, like all the other animals, at each other’s throats, scratching out a living? Why is it that every day ordinary people do heroic and noble things? More importantly, what makes anything “heroic” and “noble”? Pointing to facts is not an explanation of those facts, Bob.
Where warm spring days and rosy sunsets aren’t made by God but are explained by science, and where earthquakes happen for no good reason and people strive to leave the world a better place than they found it.
Again, Bob is clearly confused: just because you have a scientific explanation for something (eg internal cobustion) you cannot discard the maker of the internal combustion engine, Étienne Lenoir. (And, yes, I had to look it up.) Further, what is “better”? Show me, on atheism, where such a definition can be found.
God isn’t necessary to explain any of this.
Note: another unsubstantiated claim made by Bob.
Said another way, there is no functional difference between a world with a hidden god and one with no god.
Except that the latter wouldn’t exist, because of that whole causation/unmoved-mover thing that Bob seems to keep forgetting about.
It’s not that the atheist worldview finds no value in life. In fact, the opposite is true: the Christian worldview is the one that devalues life.
There’s 100 million dead as the result of atheist regimes in the 20th century that would disagree with you, Bob. Just sayin’. But, I’ve noticed that this seems to be a new argument that begs certain questions, like about “value” and “life”, that I haven’t seen any coherent justification for. He continues,
Of what value is tomorrow to the Christian when they imagine they’ll have a trillion tomorrows? What value are a few short years here on earth when they have eternity in heaven?
Of what value is tomorrow for a cosmic accident? What value is there in a few short years for the descendant of pond scum? It has no value, Bob. Keep smuggling those Christian presuppositions in, I’ll keep pointing them out.
There are consequences. If the atheist is right, the Christian will have missed seeing their life for what it truly is—not a test to see if you correctly dance to the tune of Bronze Age traditions; not a shell of a life, with real life waiting for you in the hereafter; not drudgery to be endured or penance paid while you bide your time for your reward; but rather the one chance you have at reality.
Bob paints Christians like they’re pot-smoking navel-gazers, who run around wearing loin cloths and carrying spears. Bob, straw men don’t make your arguments better, they just make them bad.
Let’s be clear here: it’s the fact that the Christian is concerned about tomorrow, and knows that it’s not guaranteed to anyone that we’re doctors and nurses and scientists and engineers. That we have worked to harness nature, that there’s a reason to believe that nature can be harnessed and even understood. The consequence of the Christian worldview is the modern, civilized world. What’s the consequence of the atheist worldview? Google a picture of North Korea at night. What’s the consequence of the Christian worldview, more than likely you’re holding it in your hand.
Bob goes on to wax poetic about travel and flower-filled meadows and an inability for learning new languages after he dies, he’s an atheist, what makes any of those things worthwhile while he’s alive? What’s so special about a flower-filled meadow? All that it is, is a cosmic accident, just like human beings. Why does it matter if you travel if all that you will see is collations of stardust? Languages are just the noise made when air passes through the structures in the human head. He continues,
Life is sweeter when that’s all you’ve got. Sure, there’s a downside to having a finite number of days on this earth. It’s a downside, but that’s why it’s an upside. (emphasis original)
So, why not spend those finite days raping, pillaging, and murdering? Why spend any finite days at all living? Why not put a shotgun in your mouth and turn your head into meat pudding? I’ll wait for that answer.
Atheism is far from being a depressing worldview—just ask any ex-Christian atheist.
Anyone else think that Bob is trying too hard? I’ve been following him for some time, and if he’s not bitter and depressed, I don’t know who is. All the guy does is complain, and misrepresent Christians. That’s not what happy people do, it’s what people do when they are trying to make themselves feel better.
He closes, writing,
They’ll tell you how empowered and free they feel now that they can honestly ask questions and follow evidence where it leads.
I’m sorry, couldn’t they do those things before? I’ve never been in a place, as a Christian, where I couldn’t ask questions. Maybe it’s because I made choices that put me in a position where I had to ask questions, especially when I was trying to figure out what and why I believe what I believe. I have never been told “don’t ask questions, just believe,” and I’ve never told my kids that. When I was teaching Sunday School, I abandoned the denominational curriculum because of its simplicity and fideism and began writing the studies myself, one of which I converted to a series on this blog, just so I could ask the tough questions and try to find a coherent answer, answers which actually exist. If you weren’t free to do that, you weren’t in Christianity, you were in a cult.
As far as “following evidence where it leads”, it all leads ultimately to the foot of the cross.
Bob wants to presume that he made his case, that atheism somehow “beats” Christianity, but at every level he assumes the truth and explanatory power of the Christian worldview to even begin to reason. He assumes his conclusion, which is circular reasoning, and makes claims that he doesn’t substantiate. In a contest of worldviews, atheism comes out looking like a chump.