How to Respond to a Supercilious Christian
Not all Christians are supercilious, of course. Many are
content to live and let live, and some even grant that science (despite
its lack of supernatural entities) does some good. But Christianity as
an organized, evangelizing movement has been on the offensive lately.
Witness the new wave of evangelicals and their leaders such as Rick
Warren, Lee Strobel, and William Lane Craig with their aggressive
stance against scientific materialism and their bestselling books
attempting to refute science. So, assuming you're an atheist, what do
you say to the theist who asks, "You don't (chuckle) believe in a god (snicker)?"
Anybody familiar with the original article will see that the preceding
paragraph is the same paragraph as the opening to "How to Respond to a
Supercilious Atheist" by Alan Roebuck. By changing a few words, the
same attack can be launched right back at him, and the rest of the
article isn't much better. It appears to be a primer in projection.
After all, when in doubt, just accuse them of being just like you.
Roebuck advises his fellow theists to take a different approach to
defending the faith-instead of coming up with actual evidence, you
should just tell atheists how our worldview is the one that is based on
assumptions and presuppositions. He eschews using the First Cause
argument and the defense of miracles because, "No matter what evidence
you give, the supercilious atheist finds a way to dismiss it." I wonder
if he has ever considered that it may be dismissed because it is not
The First Cause argument doesn't work
because, at best, it can only be used to show that something created
the universe, and that something is not necessarily Yahweh. It could be
another god or a multitude of gods. Even that is questionable, though,
due to the fact that they have yet to show that the universe itself is
contingent upon some necessary being and not the necessary "being"
itself. I would also advise theists to drop this argument from their
arsenal, but not in favor of Roebuck's plan.
Roebuck states that, "it is not
the case that your evidence for God is valid but nevertheless is
cancelled out by his superior evidence against God." Gee, Sherlock,
where can I find this "evidence against God?" How about the absolute
penury of evidence for god? Theists have not yet grasped the concept of
the burden of proof, apparently. It's really simple, so I find it
astounding that it is so easily dismissed-the one who makes the
positive claim (ie-god exists) is the one who has to prove that claim,
not the person who is in the default position of suspension of belief
due to lack of evidence (ie-as far as we know, god does not exist). As
much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, if you believe something
without sufficient evidence, you are irrational.
Roebuck claims that atheism's vulnerability lies in the "false
worldview" that we hold that only material, objectively verifiable
things exist. First of all, this is not true. Not all atheists are
scientific materialists. There are many who believe lots of different
wacky theories that don't involve a god and there are others with other
notions of how the universe operates. This argument is only applicable
to a portion of atheists who also hold a materialistic worldview.
Roebuck then claims that scientific materialists assume this and have
come to their conclusion before examining the evidence. (Is the
projection evident yet?) The only evidence that exists is physical,
material, verifiable, and falsifiable. The existence of god is none of
the above. Any religious statement can be considered factually
meaningless by virtue of the fact that it doesn't meet the
falsifiability criterion. The only assumptions being made here are that
god exists and it's up to atheists to disprove that. Obviously, Roebuck
doesn't understand that this is impossible, and that is the very reason
why we can say that no evidence for such an entity exists.
He uses an example of a blind man dismissing the existence of color
because he cannot sense it, and likens that to the atheist who can't
sense god. First of all, the blind man knows he is blind. He recognizes
this sensory deficiency and doesn't believe that everybody on earth is
also blind. Furthermore, Roebuck is demonstrating his lack of
understanding of the functioning of the brain by asserting that color
exists in some more than abstract sense. Color appears as it does to us
in the small portion of the light spectrum that we are able to
perceive. For other creatures, the world around them is entirely
different, and we can study how this process operates, what causes
disorders such as blindness or the inability to perceive color and from
where it stems.
Is Roebuck suggesting here that atheists
suffer from a sensory deficiency as well? Does he believe that theists
have been endowed with a "sixth sense" that enables them to make
contact with the supernatural? If so, I'd like him to demonstrate what
part of our anatomy is causing this problem so that it can be
rectified. Blindness stems from either the brain or the eye itself not
operating properly. Where does "spiritual blindness" originate? Seen as
how all of our senses are processed in the brain, and also have an
external organ by which the information is received, he should be able
to show where our malfunction is occurring.
that the theist must challenge our "assumptions" to properly expose the
atheist as a pedant, and says that first we have to define our criteria
for making the determination that there is no valid reason to believe
in god and how we know they are correct. He must be talking to
different atheists than I, as most people that I know would respond
with the criteria being objectively verifiable evidence, and that we
know this method of validation to be the most accurate due to hundreds
of years of making advancements as a society thanks to the scientific
He moves on to what kind of evidence would be
needed to verify the occurrence of an actual miracle. This would be a
difficult question because most people with a scientific mindset would
not know what it would take because even unexplained phenomena could
potentially be explained in the future. Not knowing the answer right
now doesn't imply that the answer is unknowable. Besides, an
omniscient, omnipotent being would know exactly what was necessary and
could provide it if he chose. Unless, of course, we are his "vessels of
wrath" created only to go to hell and demonstrate god's wonderful mercy.
He again misconstrues the position of atheists who allow for the
possibility of the supernatural, although I personally feel that any
knowledge of such a plane of existence is impossible to ascertain, by
positing, "How do you know that a super-naturalistic explanation,
involving a God who intervenes from time to time, cannot be the correct
explanation? Wouldn't one have to be, for all intents and purposes,
omniscient in order to know that God could not have been involved?" We
don't know for sure that it couldn't be the correct explanation, and he
is shifting the goalpost from his particular god to "a
super-naturalistic explanation." This is a common tactic in
apologetics, and it should be pointed out that he doesn't know that the
supernatural being that started it all wasn't Zeus. As far as the
omniscience goes, we can answer that we do not have to be omniscient to
say that at this time, there is no evidence for such a being and no
need to appeal to one. Making up an answer when there is none is called
argumentum ad ignorantium.
He attempts to take on
the issue of the logical contradictions inherent in the attributes that
his god is given but misses most of the salient points. He deals
momentarily with omnipotence and claims that god can do "anything that
can be done." Didn't god make the rules to begin with? Could he not
have made them different than they are? What's the point of having an
omnipotent creator of the universe who was beholden to some other
rules, and from where or whom did those mandates come?
dedicates a measly three sentences to theodicy, and just says that a
god who allows evil for some unknown reason could exist, but never ties
it back into the real contradiction, which is how could that god be
considered omnibenevolent? Again, god either created atheists
specifically to be tortured for all eternity by no fault of their own,
having been given the gift of faith or not, or he just chooses not to
intervene for some mysterious reason. Either way, how can one argue
that this being loves me? He will send me to hell purposely, either
because it's my destiny, or because he just doesn't intervene because
we need faith, which is a gift from him that we are supposed to somehow
give ourselves. That's not circular or anything.
He moves on
to what he calls "arguing presuppositionally", and gives an inadequate
explanation of an axiom, which he then changes slightly to allow for
the existence of god to be a non-axiomatic axiom. He claims that all
knowledge is based upon one foundational principle that cannot be
proven, but is intuited. He is muddying the waters here by the use of
the word "intuit", as an axiom is just something that is self-evident.
I feel he chose that word for the specific purpose of misleading the
reader and priming them for the upcoming shift in definition.
He claims that axioms can be tested by deducing whether or not the
system is "logically, morally, and existentially consistent." He
asserts that the atheist worldview fails because the "nature of
knowledge cannot be validated empirically." People have many different
epistemological views, and the use of scientific methodology to
determine the validity of anything is necessarily going to have some
starting point and then system of experimentation. That is all we have
with which to work, and he is attempting to negate the materialist
worldview by using a point that he himself believes regarding his
own-that not everything can be empirically validated.
claims that one cannot live a purely naturalistic life as that implies
that you define your own meaning, and that makes everybody's meaning
invalid. We couldn't "stick to it when the going gets rough." I have no
idea what kind of data he is using to determine this, but the search
for meaning is an individual endeavor-even for the religious. People
may claim that they "live for god", but in reality, nobody does. If all
they are living for is the promise of an afterlife in paradise, then
they logically would all just commit suicide to get there faster.
Instead, what we observe is christians not following the dictates of
their own belief system and living their daily lives in much the same
way that we heathens do. They also use their families, their
responsibilities, their hopes, dreams, and future endeavors as
"meaning." Being handed a blanket "meaning" for your existence only
serves to cheapen the very concept.
He claims the existence
of god is axiomatic, but cannot be "intuited" like other axioms. These
are, after all, "subtle and cosmic questions." If it is not
self-evident, it is not an axiom. Period. He says that any proposition
"must be judged true or false in light of what we already know to be
true." I'm with him there, but how on earth does that prove the
existence of god as axiomatic? His writing goes from merely ignorant to
absurd at this point.
Perhaps the most amusing quote is
this one: "...some people are content to believe without having any
proof of their beliefs, and you can't argue with someone like that."
You're telling me. Again, this is an example of projection at its
finest. He claims that theism excels at "accounting for the facts of
reality", but I'm not sure exactly what type of reality to which he
refers. Reality is that which can be observed and generally agreed
upon. Imaginary sky-daddys don't fall into that category.
His final snafu is that he comes around full-circle to admit that the
foundation of religious belief is faith-that which is believed but
cannot be proven. Did he not just spend 5 pages attempting to prove
that his god belief is logically superior to a naturalistic worldview?
I feel as if I missed the middle ten pages of this argument and walked
into the conclusion of a completely different one. He claims that by
pointing out our assumptions, theists can claim victory over atheists,
but all he is really saying here is that he has the opinion that we do
the same thing that they do. If that's true, why is it acceptable for
them and not for us? It seems to be a very odd contradiction to say
that atheists are wrong because we work from our presuppositions, but
then to base your own worldview on presuppositions. How exactly can you
determine whose presuppositions are correct? If they cannot be proven,
how can anybody know? Given his own argumentation, how does he know
that our supposed presuppositions, while I don't believe that a
naturalistic worldview implies presuppositions, aren't the correct
ones? Can we not take every argument here and turn it around on
religion with no difficulty?
To put the nail in the
coffin, his endnotes declare that the true impediment to our belief is
that we hate god. This laughable notion is constantly used against us
and is by far the most ridiculous assertion in their repertoire. It is
nothing short of an attack that attempts to discredit our use of
rationality by claiming that it is an emotional issue at its core. If
anybody is rationalizing their emotions, it is the theist whose fear of
death overwhelms him to the point that he makes up fairy tales to
assuage the constant anxiety that life in an unknown, unpredictable
universe can induce. This article was a pathetic attempt to discredit
atheism, or more accurately, scientific materialism, by ascribing to it
all of the properties of religion. That alone is enough to demonstrate
the intellectual vacuity of their belief.