f The Wittenberg Door: The Lazy Atheist?—Part 1

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Lazy Atheist?—Part 1

Penn Jillette, of the popular magic duo Penn and Teller, spent some time pontificating on the existence of God over at NPR’s site. Doug TenNapel does a masterful job (with a little salty language) at his blog of dismantling the confused Vegas trickster, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel. But I would like to offer an observation:

Atheists Tend to be Intellectually Lazy When it Comes to Defending Their Atheism

I believe that there is no God. I'm beyond Atheism. Atheism is not believing in God. Not believing in God is easy -- you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do.

Penn Jillette

What a wonderful world it must be where you can simply make metaphysical proclamations without bothering to support them with any arguments. To be fair, Penn is not alone in this; this is typical of atheists—but is it justifiable?

Atheism assumes a naturalistic worldview—only material things exist. This is the point where we need to start asking questions.

Is the proposition that only material things exist itself material?

If so, where did they discover it? Under a microscope? Did they trip over the proposition in a parking lot?

If not, the game is over. (That is, of course, unless they’d like to try their hand at proving that material things produce non-material things.)

How about morality? Are moral laws merely human conventions?

They must be. Then by convention Nazi Germany can institute its final solution. The civilized world might not like it, but hey, who are they to judge?

By the way, if morals are culturally defined by the majority, then the moral reformer is by definition amoral. That means people like Martin Luther King should be spurned not praised.

How is science possible in an atheistic universe?

Science depends upon the regularity of the universe. We talk about the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, ect., but how can there be such laws in a world were everything comes about by random chance? All they can do is describe what has happened in the past. They have no foundation for drawing conclusions about future events. Atheist philosopher David Hume’s Problem of Induction makes this very point.

It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so.

David Hume (1711 - 1776)

Does the Emperor Have Clothes?

What about love? Is there an intrinsic difference between love and hate? Or are they simply different chemical reactions in the brain? Is there a thing called beauty? Is it objective? Is there really a difference between a sunset and a pile of dung? Penn tells us of his enjoyment of both these things (love and beatify that is, not chemicals and dung). He also seems interested in the plight of his fellow man. I’m sure that Penn is sincere, and I don’t question his compassion.

But in a world where we are simply matter in motion, where survival of the fittest reigns, why ought we care about anyone else? Is there really a difference between feeding a starving child or strangling him? If so, how do you account for such distinctions in an atheistic universe?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more could be raised, but these are a good start. It’s time for Penn and his ilk to stop ducking the debate with copouts like, “you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do.” Atheists are putting forth a worldview that is radically counter-intuitive—that doesn’t fit the facts. It’s time for them to step-up to the plate and take a shot; and they can start by answering the questions above.

Part 2

For any worldview to be viably considered, it must be able to make sense of reality. This, of course, would include Christianity. In part 2 I’ll make the case for Christianity by considering the aforementioned questions.



Anonymous Rob said...

I have to agree that, indeed, many atheist seem to be lazy in the defense of their faith. They seem to think that it is up to believers in God to prove to them the existence of God. Of course this demand for proof is in the face of all kinds of evidence in nature which they ignore.

As to this laziness, I am reminded of something which Charles Hodge wrote about the anti-theist in his Systematic Theology:

"Atheism…is in itself purely negative. It affirms nothing. It simply denies what Theism asserts. The proof of Theism is, therefore, the refutation of Atheism."

6:33 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Thanks for the comments, Rob (and the great quote!)

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must be joking. You're an adult and you still have imaginary friends?

You're born an atheist, and you're taught to believe in a god based on faith. If you or anyone have any evidence whatsoever, bring it on.

You don't believe in flying purple elephants, do you? You certainly don't need to provide any evidence or arguments for that. It would be up to a flying purple elephant believer to do so if he were claiming they existed.

10:31 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Ridicule instead of argumentation, eh? Thank you for making my point.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mean it as ridicule AT ALL.

I'm certainly not pussy-footing around because I do not have respect for anyone who believes in any god, but I am not ridiculing.

Instead of taking it personally and making it about feelings, consider offering any evidence.

If you admit that you believe based on faith, we agree.

10:02 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Anonymous, I've argued against Atheism and for Christianity. If I'm wrong, prove it. You can start by answering the questions I've put in this post. Otherwise, by only asserting Atheism and not presenting a positive case for it, you are making my point that Atheists are intellectually lazy when it comes to their Atheism.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a deep misunderstanding of science. There is no burden for me to prove non-existence of anything. Do I need to prove to you that there are no 4-headed green monkeys that can fly? No, because there is exactly the same amount of evidence for that as there is for a god (s).

You believe on faith. It's very simple.

12:52 AM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Again, you've made my point. I'll leave you with something I wrote towards the end of the first post on this topic:

"It’s time for Penn and his ilk to stop ducking the debate with copouts like, “you can't prove a negative, so there's no work to do.” Atheists are putting forth a worldview that is radically counter-intuitive—that doesn’t fit the facts. It’s time for them to step-up to the plate and take a shot; and they can start by answering the questions above."

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What part doesn't fit the facts?

You're not saying you're a creationist, are you?

If so, end of conversation.

Keep the faith.

12:06 AM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

What part doesn’t fit the facts? Read my post. I stated each part plainly. I’ll make it easy for you. You said that I “have a misunderstanding of science.” I don’t know why you made this comment (it didn’t fit the context of what you wrote, unless you think the natural sciences can prove a universal negative), but I’ll play along.

In order for science to be possible, David Hume’s Problem of Induction must be answered (see my first post). Atheisim has yet to provide an answer. (Christianity does answer it, however, as I showed in my second post.) Do you have an awswer to the Problem of Induction?

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really don't have time to educate the ignorant. I encourage you to do your own research. Please realize that lack of evidence or answers does not require you to answer with something "supernatural." "I don't know" is a FINE answer in science.

There is no "answer" to the problem of induction - it's not a scientific problem, it's one of philosophy.

Keep the faith.

11:43 PM  
Blogger The Wittenberg Door said...

Anonymous, thank you for taking the time to leave comments. These issues are the most important we’ll face as we sojourn here on this planet. They impact how we live our lives (what moral code we live by; does life have meaning?) and what we believe about the hereafter (is there an afterlife? Do we simply cease to exist?)

As you know I’m a Christian, so I believe that we’ll all stand before our God and righteous judge and have to give account. It’s because of this that when I speak with people such as yourself, it’s not merely an intellectual exercise. I actually care about you and what happens to you.

My hope is that you’ll take some time to read my two posts on this topic and give the arguements serious thought. (Can you answer the question in the first post? Can you refute my answers in the second?) If you’re going to be an Atheist, do so because you’ve weighed the evidence and considered the arguments, both pro and con. The stakes are high.

Thanks again for coming by. I hope that we can dialog again in the future. Be well, and take care.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Mariano said...

Fascinating discussion that ends up proving the Door’s point: no answers.

If “you're a creationist…end of conversation” (no wonder Prof. Dawkins refuses to debate creationists [see the comments on # 8]).

“‘I don't know’ is a FINE answer” (reminds me of the way that atheists fill the gaps in our knowledge, by appealing to time, chance, matter, imagination and even “faith”).

Apparently the problem of induction is not a problem because it is not a scientific problem but a philosophy problem which makes it a problem nonetheless. He was probably touching upon the fallacy that the only appropriate epistemology is scientific verification a concept which has not been scientifically verified and therefore fallacious by its own standards.

Are we all natural born atheists? Is this admitting that atheism is only as intellectually sophisticated as that which a newborn can muster? Nay, even though we are not born believing in God, we are also not born believing in God’s non-existence.

Please note how different the Biblical use of the term and concept of “faith” is than that which some religious people and atheists alike have made it. For example, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham offered Isaac “by faith” meaning: by basing his actions upon knowledge, rational and intellect. But how so? Because it states that he was willing to offer him up with the foreknowledge that it had been promised to him that his descendants would be wrought though Isaac. How could this be if Isaac dies having produced no seed? Thus, Abraham reasoned that “God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.” Is it any wonder then that “Abraham said to his young men [who had traveled with him], You stay here with the ass. And I and the boy will go on to this way and worship, and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5). “I and the boy will go…and come again to you”—we both will go and we both will return.

Overall Door is right: the point is not to brush off people such as Anonymous but to “let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18).


8:36 AM  

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