So what are the big guns of modern theology? And what do atheists have to say to them?
I spend a fair amount of blogging time shooting down arguments for religion made by ordinary Joe and Jane Believers. As do other atheists. But many believers say this is unfair. They argue that we’re shooting fish in a barrel; that we’re arguing against stupid, simplistic, outdated versions of faith, and we’re not willing to take on serious, educated, advanced theologians.
I have a lot of responses to that point. (Most powerfully, “I don’t care that much about how a handful of theologians practice religion, I care about how religion is practiced by the overwhelming majority of believers.” Not to mention, “Why am I obligated to spend a decade studying your faith before rejecting it, when you reject thousands of other faiths with barely a second thought?“) But my mind has been set even more at ease on this question — by a surprising source.
Over at the Friendly Atheist blog, Hemant has been running a series of pieces by Christian apologist Lee Strobel. Yesterday’s edition addressed the question, “What questions do you want to ask atheists?” Or, “What argument is most convincing to plant the seeds of doubt (or, rather, faith) in an atheist’s mind?” Lee got some theologian friends and fellow apologists together, to collectively come up with a good- sized set of questions for atheists that they apparently feel are stumpers.
And I was shocked at how totally identical their arguments were to the ones I see every day, from ordinary Joe and Jane Believer arguing with the atheists. I was shocked at how unfamiliar many of these apologists seem to be with some of the most basic facts of current science; especially since some of that science sheds crucial light on the heart of their arguments. I was shocked — and oddly disappointed — at how familiar their questions were, how unoriginal… and how easy they were to shoot down.
Here’s what I mean.
Historian Gary Habermas: Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself.
These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul; (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother; (5) The empty tomb of Jesus. These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t have quite the same virtual universal consensus, it nevertheless is conceded by 75 percent of the scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.
First: You’re assuming one of the major things you’re trying to prove — namely, that the historial Jesus lived, and that the New Testament is an accurate description of his life and the events that followed it. Contrary to your assertion, these are questions about which there are serious scholarly doubts. Given the internal contradictions within the New Testament; the lack of corroboration of the major events described in the Gospels by contemporary historians of the time; and the fact that the New Testament was written decades after the events it supposedly describes, by people were themselves convinced of Jesus’s divinity and who wrote the books with the express purpose of recruiting others into the faith… none of that adds up to the New Testament being a reliable source. I see no reason to accept your “facts” as a given.
Second: Even if I did concede the accuracy of these events… so what? Re #1-4: The followers of the Heaven’s Gate cult were convinced, too. Convinced enough to die for their beliefs. As were the followers of Jim Jones, and Charles Manson, and so on. History is littered with true believers who believed utterly wacky things, and believed them whole-heartedly — enough to devote their lives, and even sacrifice them, to their beliefs. The supposed conviction of the apostles proves exactly nothing.
As to #5: Again, so what? The “empty tomb” thing doesn’t require a paranormal explanation. Even if it happened — which again, I don’t remotely concede — there could be any number of natural explanations for it (the body was stolen, hidden, etc.)… explanations that don’t require a supernatural entity. Any competent stage magician could manage it.
Philosopher Paul Copan: Given the commonly recognized and scientifically supported belief that the universe (all matter, energy, space, time) began to exist a finite time ago and that the universe is remarkably finely tuned for life, does this not (strongly) suggest that the universe is ontologically haunted and that this fact should require further exploration, given the metaphysically staggering implications?
You’re making what I call the “puddle fallacy” (an idea stolen from Douglas Adams). A mysteriously conscious puddle says to itself, “This is an amazing hole I find myself in, it fits me perfectly — it must have been designed to have me in it!” No. The hole wasn’t made for the puddle; the puddle formed to fit into the available hole. And the same is true for life in the universe. Life developed because conditions in the universe allowed it to happen. If that hadn’t happened, something else would have happened instead… something equally astronomically unlikely. We just wouldn’t be here to see it.
An analogy: The chances that I, personally, was born, out of the billions of children my parents could have had, and the billions of children their parents could have had, and so on… it’s beyond astronomical. Does that mean I was fated to exist? Of course not. I’m sitting here rolling a die ten times, and it came up with the sequence 4632236245. The odds against that sequence are over 60
Show that those big gun of theologys put out empty smoke to show no God = keel hauling the arguments for His existence, which means that either way, we naturalists don’t have to discuss the other, although I relish doing so! Neither arguments for Him nor theology otherwise arises to the level of reality!