I’m stuck at the Louisville airport again for a few more hours because my flight was canceled… so I’m going to write some more.
To continue on with the series where I address popular but fairly unsophisticated atheist arguments, I’ll move on to the simplistic notion that Occam’s (or Ockham’s) Razor easily dismisses belief in God. Occam’s Razor is attributed to the Franciscan friar William of Ockham. Though there is some debate about how he actually viewed the “razor” principle, he is generally understood as saying that additional entities do not need to be postulated beyond what is necessary to explain. In the present, Occam’s Razor is understood as a simplicity principle; generally speaking, people think that if a simple explanation does as good a job of explaining something as a more complex one, it should be preferred. For example, let’s say your Coke is missing from the fridge. It is possible that a group of ninjas broke into your kitchen and covertly stole your Coke but, if all things are equal, it is far more parsimonious to theorize that someone else in your family drank it, so that is the more rational thing to conclude.
Where Occam’s Razor comes into play for many lay atheists can be illustrated by this animated gif:
Basically, the idea is that because the argument “The universe just exists” is apparently simpler than “God created the universe, and God just exists,” then belief in God is superfluous and should be cut out. You’ll see memes or gifs just like this one littered throughout the Internet by atheists who think it is clever. Is it really that easy?
When I was considering seminaries to apply to, I started to whittle them down by not only location but also their seriousness about Scripture, even though I have a heavy interest in philosophy of religion. I have no desire to leave Texas right now, so that contributed to me stalling on applying to outside seminaries, which is why I missed Southeastern’s deadline. However, I was able to apply on time to Southern, which may sound odd to some because I am clearly a critic of Calvinism and Southern is about as Calvinistic as a Southern Baptist seminary can get. However, on my trip here to meet the faculty and take the entrance exam, all I will say is that I would recommend this seminary with confidence to someone who is looking for a seminary where the professors care about the Bible, scholarship, and the students.
If you engage in the debate regarding Calvinism for any length of time, one of the names that will pop up is Michael Servetus. Servetus was a contemporary of John Calvin, a brilliant young man like Calvin… and a guy that was burned at the stake in Geneva for being a heretic. And he was no doubt a heretic for his anti-Trinitarian teachings, so the Catholic Church didn’t like him either. In fact, he was on trial in Lyons for heresy before escaping to Geneva, where he was eventually caught and tried there as well.
Why Servetus comes up is because Calvin’s role in his brutal execution is oft debated. Many critics of Calvinism charge that Calvin had immense power in Geneva and threw around his weight to get Servetus executed. This is further supported by the fact that he seemed to boast about his role in the execution later and never hinted at any remorse over it. These critics then angrily accuse Calvin of being a murderer, and since false prophets will be known by their fruit as it says in Matthew 7, Calvin is shown to be a false teacher. If he’s a false teacher, then this whole system of theology which adopts his name, Calvinism, should be rejected as false theology from a false, murdering teacher.
Continuing the series on popular atheist arguments, in this post I’ll address not so much an argument but the notion that the atheist comes into the discussion with a completely objective and open mind compared to religious people.
A while ago, I saw a post on Facebook by an atheist that can be paraphrased like this: “The one thing I hate about apologists is that they’re defending a position that is important to them. When I engage in discussion, I WANT to be eviscerated. If I don’t believe in the truth, then I want to be proven wrong. They don’t enter discussion with the same open-mindedness.” This post was followed by a large number of likes by like-minded folks.
On the surface, this sounds so noble. It sounds like a guy who is going into a discussion with complete objectivity, following only where pure logic and evidence lead, even if this means his utter embarrassment. In contrast, religious apologists have ulterior motives that make them unfit for true, open-minded discourse. Clearly, atheists rely on reason why religious people only pretend to use reason. Another rendering of this notion is something like, “I would LOVE to be religious, but I just can’t due to reason.”
I’ve begun a series of posts addressing arguments from atheists on the popular level. I’ll reiterate that these are not arguments that more philosophically sophisticated atheists will normally make, but they are still worth talking about because they are so prevalent and serve to block discussion.
The second argument I’ll address can be paraphrased as, “You’re an atheist too with regards to all of these other gods; I just choose to believe in one less god than you.” There are, I believe, two distinct ways this is presented, one a bit better than the other (though neither holds water). Some atheists use this to try to be clever, basically saying, “Aha! You’re basically an atheist too! You just need one more step to reject this one last God.” This is, frankly, enormously foolish. Theists are not atheists simply by definition; atheism is not defined as, “You are an atheist with respect to such and such god,” but rather atheism properly defined is a rejection of God or gods completely. Playing word games like this is quite useless. I remember during one Q&A session, some atheist tried to use this on William Lane Craig who merely told him that, by definition, Christians are not atheists, and the atheist amusingly tried to accuse Craig of just playing with semantics. The only person playing semantic games here are atheists who use this nonsense because they’re trying to make “atheist” mean something that it clearly does not. One might as well tell a married man, “You’re a bachelor with respect to every other woman out there.” His response may very well be, “Um, so what? I’m not actually a bachelor because I’m married.” It’s pretty stunning how silly this line of thinking is.
I may start a series addressing some popular forms of atheistic arguments because, like it or not, you’ll run into them frequently. This is due to the popularity of guys like Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, random Youtube atheists, etc. These arguments are not exactly philosophically sophisticated, nor are they used by all atheists, but it is nonetheless helpful to discuss why they are mistaken and even flat naive sometimes. In any case, I’ll start with the “You can’t prove a negative” complaint by many atheists.
Often, when one asks an atheist to present positive arguments for his worldview, he resorts to saying that proving a negative is impossible. In other words, it is allegedly unreasonable to expect a positive case for atheism because it is not possible, in principle, to prove that God does not exist (a negative statement). Because it is the theist who posits the existence of God, he is the one who has to present positive arguments while all the atheist must do is refute the arguments given by the theist. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, it is normally easier to refute a position rather than build a positive case for a position, and therefore it is advantageous, from a debating perspective, to avoid the burden of proof and place it on the opposition. Second, it gives the impression that atheism is the default, rational position that one must take. Many atheists think that this suffices to place the burden of proof squarely on theists while they can happily avoid giving positive reasons for their own worldview. Atheists may also attempt to tell people to refute the existence of obviously absurd things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster to try to show that it’s an unreasonable thing to ask.