The Soundbites of the Sloganeers

Are soundbites a skeptics favourite argument? When even a professor depends on them I think that’s a good enough reason to take a hard look at them.

A few days ago I stumbled across a seemingly sincere comment from an atheist skeptic who goes by the name of Professor Wilfred Wingnut. I thought I’d take a serious look at what he has to say. His comments will be in italics followed by my response below.

“Imagine giving your life to worshipping a fictional being and then you die and…nothing. There’s no heaven, afterlife, anything. Wouldn’t it be easier to just live free?”

There are two sides to this objection. The main problem I see is that our skeptic thinks “worshipping a fictional being” is an entirely religious idea. It isn’t, it’s a problem that’s been affecting our society for quite some time now (most prominently on social media). People worship fictional images because they long for the hope that they too can achieve the societal standard of perfection. We “worship” an avatar because we believe we can achieve the same image, so we post pics on facebook that show us having the ideal lives to others when many times the reality behind them is far from ideal.

I bring this up because it appears our skeptic believes Christians worship Christ for the same reason, that we’re denying the harsher reality behind the “perfect” picture. The love of Christ doesn’t work that way. When we say “Your sins are washed away,” we aren’t saying you no longer have problems and struggles. Ask any Christian and that view becomes glaringly false. What we’re saying is that you’re no longer identified by those problems, so there’s no need to hide behind a wall and pretend everything is fine. That fear of being perceived as something other than “normal” no longer exists.

This is more philosophical than I normally go, but it’s an important distinction. We worship and hide behind avatars because we want to be identified the same way. On the other hand, we don’t worship Christ because we have an obsession to be like Him so that people see no fault in us, we worship because we realize our reality is both known and shared and that it isn’t the end. It’s a recognition and a redemption as opposed to a lie and a cover-up. With this distinction cleared up our skeptic’s objection turns itself on its head. Living with the burden of fulfilling a fictional avatar isn’t “free” at all, but living in the hands of someone who bares nail-scarred wrists is the most freeing existence imaginable.

Our skeptic is also implying one should live as they please as opposed to following religious laws; with the exception of destructive vices like hedonism or selfishness, and hurtful wrongdoings like adultery, the law is no different to what our authorities uphold. Our skeptic’s invitation isn’t tempting at all as he’s offering nothing more than paths to addiction (funnily enough, acts that are meant to mask our problems). Our skeptic continues with this line,

“Being good because YOU choose to be, not because something that has never been seen told you to.”

The professor attempts to make a humanitarian speech here but it’s nothing more than a vague soundbite. Before we can choose to be good we need to define what good actually is. For example, when I see a good film, what do I mean by that? Am I making a moral statement regarding the film or am I simply speaking of its quality? Fellow believers (and indeed even myself a few years back) often define good by stating that the good is God’s nature, but that still leaves us in the dark. Skeptics have long held the Euthyphro dilemma as a defeater to the Theistic argument (is something good because God says it is or does God say it is good because it is good; there’s a standard above Him?) but that’s just as much a problem for the atheist as it is for the theist (does society say something is good because it is or is something good because society says it is?). Either way, we’re left with questions. But here’s a fact skeptics don’t let you in on. Plato’s own student, Aristotle, already answered the dilemma. He did so by defining goodness itself. He started by saying the good is that at which all things aim.

Thomas Aquinas took this a step further. He said that all things aim for perfection. They aim to be, and this is called actualization. In Aquinas’s eyes, all created things have potential and actuality. Potential is the possibility of change and actualization is when that change takes place. Goodness then, for Aquinas, is pure being. It is the essence of all created things. If it is, it is good. This is why evil is described as “inhumane,” as it’s the act of taking essentially good traits (desire, intelligence, passion) and misusing them for acts that take away our being or in some way defile it.

How does this relate to the skeptic’s objection? God is described as “I AM,” in other words, pure being. To know what it means to be one only need look at God, the limitless actualization of that which we all aim for. Every created thing is dependent on Him and without Him life, the experience we have of it, and the very concept itself, ceases to exist.

Our skeptic’s objection is thus misplaced. He’s saying we have the ability to do good independent of God, but if God is described as pure being, his objection becomes non-sensical. God isn’t a set of instructions, He is the essence of life, and without Him, there would be no life to speak of. Those who wish to dive deeper will want to read Edward Feser’s Aquinas, but I hope I’ve at least done an adequate job of explaining it all. Let’s continue with the arguments,

“In a book in which people lived to be over 900 and entire seas split in two?”

A common tactic amongst skeptics is to describe the Bible as a book filled with seas split into two and talking snakes and donkeys to make it sound unbelievable. It’s nothing more than an attempt to skew the real picture. My friend Logician Bones goes more into the sciences than I do, so here is what he has to say regarding the first one,

“Genetic decay (esp. through a bottleneck) makes sense for things to be worse now than before. Incidentally, having looked into the “his days shall be 120 years” statement, that means God was saying the purpose of the Flood was to bring about the shorter lifespans, and that is indeed what it did, through a bottleneck, and scientists today say that the lifespan decrease attested in the passage fits a natural decay curve. Plus, today the approx. upper maximum just happens to be 120 years. That’s at least two curious things the text got right if it was really just made up (among many others).”

Regarding the “seas split in two” comment, if he’s talking about Yam Suph, otherwise known as the Red Sea or the Sea of Weeds, it’s not as far-fetched as our skeptic makes it out to be. The latter name for this sea is important as it implies that the sea is fairly shallow. The verse in question, Exodus 14:21, says that “the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” Even if God didn’t have a hand in controlling the wind one could argue this was simply a miracle of timing. It’s hardly impossible.

Moreover, if one accepts the possibility of God’s existence, miracles like these are non-problems. God can work in nature any way He pleases. Our skeptic then goes on to ponder how Christians could possibly exist,

“Why oh why would any rational person devote any of their precious, finite life to a myth?”

Maybe because it isn’t a myth and we are rational people. New atheism prides itself on calling Christians delusional, so admitting there are intelligent and rational people who adhere to the faith doesn’t sit well with their activism. This isn’t an argument.

“I believe in things I can see & that can be proven.”

Believing based on evidence is the very thing Christianity is based on and tells us to do, so this isn’t much of an objection. Aside from that, it’s important to note that seeing something isn’t always the most reliable evidence. The truth of Christianity lies in the historical claim that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead.

Before skeptics turn red and shout “circular reasoning!” we don’t approach the Bible as a sacred or inspired work to prove Christianity. We read the Bible as we read any other historical work that claims to be a record of objective history and it’s withstood the harshest scrutiny.

“If I’m punished for that when I die, so be it. If I’m not, then I’ve had one wonderful life and not bowed to any fairy tale creature, which is essentially what god is.”

I believe Hell is merely death and nonexistence, so this argument is not relevent to us (see the link below).

And that’s the end of Professor Wilfred Wingnut’s arguments. The main problem is that everything argued here is from a fundamentalist’s perspective, even going so far as to make elementary mistakes. These are nothing more than effortless soundbites.

Article on “Hell.”