Atheism is a Form of Cognitive Dysfunction

A Shot of Faith {To the Head} by Mitch Stokes PhD.

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Atheism is a Form of Cognitive Dysfunction

Dr. Stokes includes the section heading above in the closing chapters of this excellent book, not in a provocative sense or to garner cheap attention, but to emphasize the strength of the logical and philosophical arguments in favor of God and Christianity. While the modern Atheists have descended to conclusion that anyone who proclaims a belief in God is suffering from a mental illness at best, and a severe cognitive deficit at worst. Why, they say, one might as well believe in the The Flying Spaghetti Monster just as easily as a deity who created and maintains the world in which we live.

A Shot of Faith is not a casual read. Dr. Stokes writes at a high academic level from three perspectives: rationality, design, and absolute standards. Each theme addresses modern Atheism’s common positions that attempt to disprove God’s existence. The lead argument that he dissects is the position that Christian belief is irrational based upon the lack of evidence. Stokes does a magnificent job of not only outlining the Atheist position, but also in addressing it using the same logic and philosophical tools that they use to arrive at their conclusion. The results are devastating to the foundation of the Atheistic belief system, knocking out the foundations that undergird its fragile construction. 

Stokes’ book may be intended for a wide audience but the concentration and consideration required to work through his epistemic process and to make the information your own. For the reader willing to put in the time and reflection necessary, the knowledge contained in these pages is sufficient to face down any emotional Atheist who chooses to resort to the common memes in challenging their faith in Christ. The thread that weaves through all of the pages is perhaps the most important; we need not be afraid of challenging the bellicose voices that attempt to diminish faith to myth or fairy tale.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.

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God IS Great – The Hitchens Challenge

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The trouble one encounters in reading God is Not Great is the Voice. After watching and listening to Christopher Hitchens speak, the words peal off of the page in his contemptuous English sneer. Your mind processes the words, sentences, and paragraphs but, all the while, your MIND hears the voice surreptitiously attempting to corner you for interrogation. Certainly, you agree with me about all of this god silliness, don’t you? You’re not one of those believers are you? – leering pompously over his glasses for assent from the sycophantic atheists in the distance who lap these prickly rants up. Hitchens is far more erudite than Sam Harris and even a bit less irritable but their two recent works are similar in theme and tenor. Both plow the same ground, germinating from the casual assumption that there is no God of any stripe and that the religious people of the world range from simply ignorant to downright evil and dangerous.

I agree with Mr. Hitchens as he observes that much evil is promulgated in the name of religion. Religious practice is a human endeavor and unlike the hopes of the progressivist dream, humans cannot be perfected. To indict broad swaths of people through the actions of a few adherents should cause us to examine Hitchens’ general arguments more closely. To argue that evil practitioners of a faith are representative of the whole requires that we move our examination to a lower strata and ask, are the theological foundations of the religion inherently wicked? Once established, the follow up question is whether or not a person roots their evil in this theology. Does the pederast priest locate his acts in the Bible? If not, intellectual honesty in making ones argument requires a separation of the man from the belief. Hitchens consistently fails to kick over this stone since it threatens to trim the broad brush with which he paints.

This broad swath extends to Mr. Hitchens’ presentation of God in general. He would have the reader accept his expansive definition of ‘god’ as being the same deity represented by all of the faith groups he excoriates. The enlightened reader will see through this facade immediately. Without a careful evaluation of the apologetic for faith traditions one might be tempted to step into this trap but the thoughtful reader will not. Simple logic (which Hitchens demands we practice on nearly every page) leads one to conclude that all views of God cannot be true. If one is correct, the others then must be false according to the apologetics of each.

The final pages of God is Not Great provide a reading group guide composed of 19 questions meant to gauge your assent to Hitchens’ arguments. I propose that we examine these one by one and see how they hold up. It might be that we discover that God is great while people, in their fallen state, are not. The two should not be confused.

Argument Adjourned, Atheism and Amorality

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In his book Why Be Moral, Atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen admits the position that the new, angry Atheists like Sam Harris cannot bring themselves to do, that “Pure practical reason, even with good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.” Bertrand Russell, who above all things devoted himself to attempting to live according to reason alone, admitted that he could not account for morality by this method. If reason cannot complete the equation, where are we left to turn?

In every instance of moral decision, there is an evaluation of the opposite positions of good and bad. Moral affirmation cannot be an abstraction. The person who makes a moral evaluation assumes the intrinsic worth in himself and sees that intrinsic worth in the lives of others. In a world of matter alone, there is no intrinsic worth. A moral framework is necessary for the declaration of right and wrong, one which sets the standard for good and bad.

The existence and continued affirmation of a moral framework can lead us to only one conclusion. God exists and is the provider of this moral framework. We can lay it out as:

P1 Objective moral values exist only if God exists

P2 Objective moral values do exist

C God Exists

The arguments from reason for the existence and practice of morality (without God as the lawgiver) trend along the line of humanity doing things in the interest of the community and cooperation for the good of all. The problem is circular though; with an objective source of good and bad how will the billions of sovereign creatures agree on what is good and bad? Since one life (of matter alone) is of no more value than any other life, why would a person ever do anything but in their own self interest? These questions always lead us back to the top of the page.  

 

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Atheism, Amorality, and an Argument Against Again

imageYesterday we left off exploring two important questions that Atheists must answer in a universe composed of nothing but matter:

– When referring to the ‘rights’ of others, where do these rights come from in a world of cellular masses?

– When talking about right and wrong, who defines the meaning of these terms?

Let’s bring another Atheist voice (cheer?) into the discussion. Sam Harris (remember his little book) makes repeated use of moral language throughout his Letter to a Christian Nation. He describes things as good and evil. God especially falls under his moral evaluation as he considers the horrors of the world—disasters, child rape, murder, various evils—and asks why, if there is a God who is presumably good, these evils exist in the world. The trouble that Harris runs into is that, in order to evaluate anything as bad/evil one must have an objectively ‘good’ exemplar. Without that good that all can agree on, who has the authority to define good and bad? Harris? Pol Pot? Stalin? Doug Henning?

This is the main problem that the Atheist runs into when proclaiming their morality and even, superior morality. In order to make such a proclamation, the Atheist must borrow from an objective moral framework in order to make a judgment. Without that framework or its admitted existence, the atheist must defer to his or her feelings to make the call. Bertrand Russell admitted as much,

In a debate with a Jesuit priest, Russell had made a failed attempt to explain the source of his ‘objective’ morality. When the priest asked him how he differentiated between good and bad, Russell answered, “I don’t have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow…I can see they are different.”

The priest noted “You distinguish between blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty.”

“By my feelings,” Russell replied.

Of course, the follow up question is obvious (but was not asked in order to save face for Russell.) The priest pointed out the corner into which Russell had backed himself by posing this dilemma. “Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors; in other cultures they eat them. Do you have a personal preference, and if so, what is it?”

At least Russell is more honest about his agnosticism and the ambiguity of his own views on ethical values than is Mr. Harris. Sam enjoys a morality developed in his own mind but he never answers the question, from where does his intuition as to what is right and wrong come? The Atheist never provides an adequate explanation for how an intuition toward morality can develop from nothing but matter and chemistry.

So, the question we are left with today is, can morality exist apart from a Moral Lawgiver? Discuss amongst yourselves until next time.

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Amorality, Atheism, and an Argument Against

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Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov gives voice to a well known idea, that without God, everything is permitted. In an era and culture in which moral relativism is the norm, the very statement of this idea may seem unnecessary; anyone who deigns to judge the actions of another as right or wrong brings the full weight of criticism and labeling against themselves. The Atheist community will point out that they have a morality without God that is sometimes claimed to be superior to that of religious people. The monotheist will claim otherwise, that moral law is sourced in God alone. Can one side or the other adequately defend their proposition or is the discussion really two different discussions, one designed to camouflage its futility?

Watch the language carefully. Professional Atheist David Mills, for example, writes, “I do believe, though, that the terms “right” and “wrong” usually lack a clear unbiased definition when employed by most speakers. Personally, I prefer to label behavior as either “considerate” or “inconsiderate” of someone else’s rights.” (Atheist Universe, 53) Mills uses interesting words here:

– Right & Wrong

– Considerate & Inconsiderate

– Rights

Because most people are unable to attain his level of specificity with regard to the vocabulary of right and wrong, Mills shifts his statement of morality to the more flexible ‘considerate’ and ‘inconsiderate.’ The that cannot escape scrutiny however, is rights. In the atheistic view of the world, nothing is more than a variously evolved collection of cells created by chance. From where do these cellular masses become imbued with rights?

The more sophisticated Julian Baggini presents a similar position; “Morality is more than possible without God, it is entirely independent of him. That means atheists are not only more than capable of leading moral lives, they may even be able to lead more moral lives than religious believers who confuse divine law and punishment with right and wrong.” (Atheism, 37) Baggini leaves us with the same question to be answered, from where do notions of right and wrong come?

Eyes on your own paper and present your answers in essay form.

Dostoevsky image by Mathew.Hickey

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Arrogant Atheist’s Semantic Subterfuge

imageIn an attempt to mask the ultimate conclusions of their beliefs, the Atheist community continuously suggests the notion that there should not even be a word for atheism since it is the natural and normal state of affairs. In other words, it is not necessary to label the condition of no-God since there is no God? In the great tradition of Chomsky and Lakoff and the deconstructionists, this is semantic infiltration in order to evade the need to clarify what one believes.

The belief in God (in a variety of forms) is the majority condition in the world, and has been throughout history, continuing despite the countless scientific discoveries that have occurred through the centuries. Contrary to their heartfelt desire, atheism is not the normal state of affairs. A word and label are certainly necessary to describe a condition that is contrary to the majority belief, even if the adherents to that system of belief don’t like being named as such.

Their desire may have something to do with the constantly shifting definitions of atheism that the adherents tend to proffer. That discussion, is for another day.

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A Morality All My Own

Coincidental to my posts this week on ethics and morality from the perspectives of Atheists and Christians was this post purporting to provide evidence not just of the existence of a standard for morality within Atheism, but of the superiority of Morals among Atheists. After reading it a couple of times and attempting to give it a fair analysis, I have to say that this piece once again demonstrates the deficit logic of the atheist writers which they attempt to mask with vituperative commentary aimed at discrediting Christianity rather than providing evidence of contrary truth.

The author, ‘Neece’, prefaces her schedule of superiority proofs by providing a telling summary of her foundational knowledge of the Bible and its contents. She says

In my experience, the bible goes on, especially in the old testament, about how to treat people who are different than you. It’s full of hate and cruelty, with some arbitrary rules thrown in. Only a few of those rules are sensible. The rest are about control.

It would appear that she has not spent any measurable time reading and studying the Bible since the Old Testament is not predominantly about ‘how to treat people who are different than you.’ Having studied the OT in depth, I fail to see this as a dominant theme. The author does not provide any citations for us to refer to so we have to assume that she is operating from her impressions of what the Bible contains rather than its actual content. What we find in the OT is God’s movement toward the restoration of His most precious creations. A large part of this restoration is the need for humans to recognize their lack of holiness which prevents their full relationship with God. Is there violence in the OT, without a doubt but is it rooted in hate? No, the violence is a necessary cleansing of unholiness. Uncomfortable to deal with but not about hate of people who might be different.

She goes on to say that addressing the specifics of her problems with the Bible ( I assume NT as well as OT ) because it’s not “worth her time or aggravation.” We can assume that she avoids the details because a) she doesn’t know them and b) the Bible is just a straw man that she is going to knock down in an attempt to portray her personal morality as somehow superior to mine. The pejorative rant that follows gives me no reason to doubt my assumptions,

If you believe that the bible is the divinely inspired word of god, you’re only going to skim this article, find a few points to attack me while you brew up a cup of moral and righteous indignation, and then try to shove your fundamentalism down my throat because you’re scared of people who think for themselves and don’t have blind faith in fairy tales from the Fertile Crescent like you do. You don’t listen anyway, you just find ammunition then viciously attack. What great role models you are. How very christ-like.

Would Christ not correct Neece in her incorrect thinking? Perhaps she should read again how He addressed those who perpetrated incorrect beliefs. She makes an interesting statement,

The atheists who read this probably have already read that awful book, because as a general rule, we need to be more educated on religious matters than those militant religious folks that try to tell us how we should believe.

but apparently it is easier to say than to do. Actually, since she is telling us what we should believe, the burden is upon her to provide the evidence of the correctness of her positions. As you will see, her moral stands appear to be little more than emotional outbursts rather than reasoned, evidential proofs that can be independently verified. In other words, the morals she claims to be superior are of her own making. The logical problem that she fails to recognize in her own statements is that in a world where she is the sole judge of morality, I am also the sole judge of morality for my world. Who is right Neece? You have no position to criticize my morals since, like you, I proclaim them to be superior. Ooops!

Here are the authors reasons for her claim of moral superiority.

1. No god tells me to hate gay people, so I have no reason to hate them. In fact I think if gay people love each other and want to get married, more power to them. Why should we stop love and caring based on gender? I encourage loving and caring any way it manifests itself.

The God of the Bible does not tell me to hate gay people either. The Bible has two statements that address sexual relations that are contrary to the natural order. Since she encourages loving and caring any way it manifests itself, her morality has just come out in support of pedophilia and necrophilia.

2.No god tells me that women are inferior and should subject themselves to men. So I’m equal to a man. Except getting spiders out of the house. He can be superior to me in that department. Oh, and opening jars. He can have that one too.

The God of the Bible does not tell me that women are inferior or to treat them as second class humans. The imago dei infuses each gender and makes both equally valuable to God and therefore me. Since the rest of her statement is just a joke we can assume she has no moral statement to make on this point. Perhaps the author would be better served in her understanding of this issue by further study so that she can differentiate between which ideas are timeless and which are temporal.

3. No god tells me to pray instead of seeking medical attention. I believe in all kinds of scientific research and medicine. I even believe in stem cell research. I also think a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body. This probably goes up under the ‘women are equal’ entry as well, because I think it’s ridiculous that an old man I will never meet gets to decide what I can and can’t do with my body. Oh, and euthanasia should be considered an option, although it would have to be properly done so that no one gets murdered. But come on, if life is so freaking precious, why make some sick and dying person go through agony and humiliation and endure countless medical procedures just to stay alive? That’s insane.

The God of the Bible does not tell me to pray rather than seeking medical attention. (I’m beginning to wonder if the author has ever read the Bible since each of the points so far have just been commonly voiced memes by those who dislike Christianity but know nothing about it.) Without getting into a much longer discussion of abortion, I too believe that women have the right to choose what to do with her body. She can choose not to have unprotected sex. If she does, she has the responsibility to recognize the possible consequences of her activities. Interesting that she jumps to euthanasia. Since her world has no objective judge of right or wrong, who gets to decide when life should end, me or you?

4. No god tells me to hate people who believe in the same god but in a “wrong” way. Ok, that’s just stupid. At thanksgiving dinner my cousin was harassed by the fundamentalist methodists there because she went to 3 different bible camps from 3 different churches. She said, it’s all the same god, why does it bother you so much? I had to agree with her. They’re so hateful and ignorant.

I don’t mean to be offensive but I doubt that the author has the theological chops to get into this discussion. The Bible (as God’s revelation) does not tell Christians to hate one another for believing differently though it does insist on correct doctrine. Christians have multiple levels of doctrine, some essential and some non-essential. If there is disagreement on the fundamentals there is abundant tradition and history that can be examined in order to reconcile the differences. To continue to adhere to a belief contrary to historical doctrine means that one is not worshipping the same God in a different way. That person is worshipping a different God. Examples would have been useful but that is not the author’s style. She should be cautious though about claiming morality and then labeling others “hateful and ignorant.” Her earlier sarcasm toward Christians places her in the first camp while the issues I have addressed thus far threaten to push her into the latter family. 

5. No god tells me to be fruitful and multiply, then says that sex for fun is bad, then tells me that only sex between married people is ok, then denies me any kind of way to turn off my insatiable teenage sex drive except to come up with abstinence and praying as a lame solution. Which means that I am all for teaching teenagers and anyone who might think of sex how to be safe and protected. Nothing is more dangerous than ignorance. Proper education and access to prophylactics are real ways to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of STD’s. Also, as noted above, I also believe that mistakes happen, and so do horrible crimes against women. The morning after pill should be available to girls and women who need them to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and abortions, while not the ideal solution, should be legal and safe. Sometimes they are necessary, and a woman or girl shouldn’t be bullied or forced into carrying a baby to term. Oh, and back to the ‘be fruitful and multiply thing’. I didn’t even have to have kids in the first place because I’m strong enough in myself that I don’t need some namesake to carry on for me or continue to overpopulate the planet simply because a god said I had to, thousands of years ago. Or worse, I am not starving in some third world country, having babies one after the other for my whole short life because the christians forced their god on me long ago and imposed their ridiculous rules and told us stupid lies.

I’m not sure how to address this rant or how this contributes to her case of moral superiority. Again, she demonstrates her ignorance of the whole of the Bible and the sexuality of professing Christians. Have you read the Song of Songs Neece? What biblical morality reinforces is that the sex without relationship that the authors claims to be superior has long term affects on the human psyche. Does your ethical stand allow me to view you as simply a sexual object so long as you are willing? Remember, you and I get to define our own personal morals not matter how they might affect one another. Have you taken your atheism to its eventual and irrefutable nihilism?

6. No god tells me to hate people who look different than me, so I am free to see everyone as equal and the same, just with different packaging. No need to be racist. (Oh, yeah, Hitler was religious. So don’t even bother with that one, christians. He’s yours, not ours.)

Again, I struggle to find any Christian doctrine that tells me to hate people who look different than me. How do we evaluate a moral stand which rests upon nothing but the vapors of an overheated imagination? Hitler (and the Nazis) were actually more driven by their Anti-Semitic views, occultism, and the application of Norse mythology in support of their views of Aryan superiority. I’m glad that we finally agree on an ethical standard in the lack of need to be a racist.

7. No god tells me to start a war over another land having the wrong god or the wrong types of people (see the one above), so I don’t have to support pointless wars that justify some ridiculous ancient prophecy or for other silly reasons, like god talking directly to the leader of my country. (Don’t even get me started on how scary that is. At least he’s gone now!)

These “moral” reasons seem to be getting worse and worse in the logic. Since she doesn’t provide any sort of citation, it is difficult to discuss this ethical stance intelligently. From her clues we can assume that she is referring to Iraq and President Bush. Perhaps Neece, you can provide evidence of the reasons you give for the initiation of this war being based in a) having the wrong god, b) the wrong types of people, c) ancient prophecy, and d) various silly reasons. Ethically, war is a difficult and long conversation. I would refer you to my posts on the four main positions that Christians take with regard to war and then you can challenge the ethics of one or all. Until then, we’ll have to dismiss this immature statement.

8. No god makes promises to me about being a martyr, so I have no reason to strap a bomb to myself and blow up a train station or whatever kills the most innocent people.

Since the life of the Atheist has no ultimate meaning other than the fact that you took up space and resources on the planet for a period, the author is correct in her assertion that she has no reasons for blowing herself up. Since the Bible does not condone this, we’ll have to assume that she is referring to the Koran as the source of this direction. The trouble here is logical, how do you judge the morals and ethics of those who blow themselves up since, as the author propounds, each to his own. Their moral standard is as good as yours so don’t be hateful.

9. No god makes open-ended promises that will never come true about armageddon and going up to heaven soon, so I am responsible about the environment, and try my best to have a small impact on the planet, and also support research into making things better for everyone through science and smarter living.

The “morals” discussion has obviously degraded. Is the author trying to make the point that Christians don’t take creation care seriously because we are simply waiting out the rapture or something? This assertion display’s a profound ignorance of what is going on within the Body of Christ so it would be uncharitable to be critical. I’ll offer this; since Christians do not know the time or the date of the end of the world (despite some cultic claims) we also seek to live in a healthy world and to that end, there are many Christian scientists seeking ways to live smarter. Remember though, should I choose to live a morality of waste and obscene consumption, you have no right to be critical since there is no objective way to determine right or wrong.

10. No god promises eternal life to me, so I understand that this life is precious. I take personal responsibility seriously, and I live my life the best way I can because it’s the only one I’ve got. I value the lives of others too, for the same reason.

Actually, God does promise eternal life to you but you have chosen to turn down that offer. You are free to do so.

Here is the final repetition of the logical problems with the author’s manifesto. Her initial thesis is that her personal morality (and that of all atheists) is superior to that of Christians. She has not proven that thesis or provide any evidence that supports her assertion other than her angry, meandering statements. Logically, she would like us to read the statements as follows (using the last paragraph as an example):

  • She understands that his life is precious. If this is the truth we can base moral truth on then it must be true that Christians do not believe life is precious.
    • Since Christians do believe life is precious, her implied statement is false.
  • She takes personal responsibility seriously. If this is the truth we can base moral truth on them it must be true that Christians do not take personal responsibility seriously.
    • Since Christians take personal responsibility seriously, her implied statement is false.
  • She values the lives of others. If this is the truth we can base moral truth on then it must be true that Christians do not value the lives of others.
    • Since Christians value the lives of others, her implied statement is false.

Given these logical inconsistencies, how can I place any confidence in her system of morality? She provides no evidence of her assertions and no objective source on which we can judge the validity of her moral arguments and yet she spends hundreds of words professing their superiority to a moral system thousands of years old. Sadly this represents much of the Atheist argument. It represents the continued desire to be one’s own god and to set ethical standards of their own without judgment by others. I believe Charles Manson held to this same argument.

Neece, you say “Yeah, I’d say most atheists are definitely morally superior to religious fundamentalists.” I’m sorry to be the first to point this out to you but you have failed to make points sufficient to support this assertion.  Being a free-thinker is fine but it comes with the responsibility to be support your positions when challenged by other free thinkers. I don’t think you’d be very happy in a world where each of us also gets to determine morality for ourselves based upon what we each think is best.

 

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