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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Atheist Delusion?

Have you ever read any of the articles, excerpts or other materials posted by the authors of The Christian Delusion? If not, you should. The people behind this material have impeccable credentials and are obviously knowledgeable about Scripture. Indeed, they make many of the same points about Scripture that I have made in various posts on this blog. They, however, reach some conclusions that are very different from the ones reached by this blogger. Hence, although I would argue that many of the points that they make about Scripture are valid, the reasoning and logic employed in using those points to discredit God is flawed.

Like them, I have argued that many of the traditional conceptions of God are based on false premises (found in Scripture or Christian teachings), which has prompted me to advocate for a more expansive and rational view of God. As part of that effort, I have pointed out the ignorant and arrogant attitudes that exists within some Christian circles regarding their belief system (i.e. "We have the truth!"). The authors of The Christian Delusion, however, appear to be guilty of the same hubris as their Christian counterparts (maybe this has something to do with the fact that many of them used to be believers). In short, they have discovered the "truth" that God does not exist.

Like their Christian counterparts, they have a very high opinion of their "truth;" and a very low opinion of anyone who professes a different "truth." In the time honored tradition of proof-texting, they trot out scripture after scripture to demonstrate the foolishness of believing in God. But I have to ask: How logical or rational is it to base your conclusions about God's existence on a book that you have rejected as illogical and irrational?

In their discussion of "The Will of God," they point to twenty-four passages of Scripture that portray God as a monstrous entity that any rational person would reject. Nevertheless, while I agree with every one of their interpretations of the passages cited, I do not accept them as a basis for rejecting God. The Bible does teach that it was God's will that: Humankind (along with billions of animals) be annihilated by a flood, people commit genocide on his orders, it was acceptable to make female prisoners of war into sex slaves, homosexuals be executed, it was acceptable for God to be jealous, angry and vengeful and use natural disasters as retribution and punishment, etc. How do the opinions of these biblical authors regarding God's will prove that God does not exist? The only thing that they demonstrate to me is that their opinions about God's will are crazy and invalid!

Likewise, John Loftus' chapter on "The Bible and the Treatment of Animals," points out that Scripture is at odds with our modern understanding that animals should be protected from mistreatment and extinction at the hands of humankind. Mr. Loftus references the passages in Genesis where God gives mankind dominion over the earth and instructs him to subdue it (including all of the other organisms on this planet). He then makes a convincing case that these passages are the basis for many of the attitudes that have led to modern ecological problems. He goes on to point out the cruelty and waste of animal sacrifices outlined in the Torah, and the apparent indifference of God to the suffering of the organisms employed by him in the plagues of Egypt. Loftus concludes that the prophetic writings are not any better in their treatment of animals or insistence on the superiority of man. He also points out that Christ cusrsed a fig tree for not bearing any fruit, and that he was indifferent at best to the plight of animals.

Although Mr. Loftus acknowledges a few passages in Scripture that present animals in a favorable light or advocate for their humane treatment, he concludes that these should not distract us from the overall barbaric and egocentric character of the majority of biblical passages. Thus, after an impressive review of several proof-texts, Loftus issues two challenges to the Christian community: "What best explains the fact that Christians must continually seek out these minority voices in the past to defend what they believe?" and "Why didn’t God reveal the truth about the intrinsic worth of everything from the environment, to other races of people, to women and to animals from the very start?" Both of his challenges are based on the assertions made by many Christians that God revealed essential truths about everything in the pages of the Bible.

In answering these challenges, it must first be stated that not all Christians assert that God revealed essential truths about everything in the Bible (this blogger being among those who would not assert such a thing). I believe that the Bible was written by men who did not always follow the guidance of Divine inspiration. Inspiration is not dictation. I see Scripture as a joint venture between human and Divine. Thus, while the Divine part of that equation could be said to be perfect, the same claim could not be made about the human side of the project. Hence, it is clear to me that the biases, prejudices and faulty reasoning of the human authors found their way into Scripture. So, yes, there is a great deal of barbaric and egocentric garbage that has found its way into the Bible; but that fact only discredits the human authors of Scripture, and the folks who assert that they are infallible. It is an unwarranted leap of logic to attribute these failures to God or conclude that "He" doesn't exist because of them.

I would say that the minority voices got it right in these instances, and that the majority was clearly in the wrong. I don't see any inconsistency between my belief in God and embracing Darwinian evolutionary biology or its implications for the proper treatment of other species by humans. Moreover, I can't see how anyone who truly embraces Darwin's thesis could criticize Jesus Christ for not being a vegetarian! There are a great many organisms on this planet that are not vegetarians (lions, tigers and bears, oh my!). I guess one could characterize the natural world as having evolved into a cruel and indifferent place; but how rational and useful is it to find fault with the fundamental basis of the ecology of life on this planet?

As to the second question/challenge posed by Mr. Loftus, it appears to this blogger that God has revealed the intrinsic worth of all other organisms on this planet - at least to some of us. It appears that God has revealed this "truth" to Mr. Loftus, and it appears that "He" has revealed it to me. Unfortunately, some folks reject inspiration and appeal to their own faulty reasoning or the faulty reasoning of others - I cannot speak for them. Hence, Mr. Loftus' assertion that there has been a lack of Divine guidance on this subject rings hollow to this blogger. Is Mr. Loftus suggesting (like the Fundamentalists) that the only way for God to reveal things to us is through Scripture? Doesn't Scripture indicate that the natural world can reveal many things to us about God's character and what "He" wants or wills?

I would agree with Mr. Loftus that there is good reason to believe that a large number of Christians are deluded, but it appears to this blogger that atheists are also not immune to the phenomenon.

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