• Why I am an Atheist

    Randal Rauser, with whom I have had a radio debate about the Nativity, is running a series on his blog asking atheists why they are atheist (or not Christian). He has asked several atheist bloggers and authors, including myself, to produce a paragraph. Justin Schieber, Counter Apologist and Ed Babinski did a little more than that, so I added a tiny bit extra to mine, but it still remained more concise than theirs! See what you think – it is hard to be super concise:

    My name is Jonathan MS Pearce and I am a teacher, philosopher, author and blogger. I am an agnostic atheist in that I believe there is probably no God, though cannot prove it any more than a theist can prove that there is (it’s difficult to prove anything past cogito ergo sum). I came from a religiously apathetic house – no real persuasion either way. For this I am hugely grateful, now. This allowed me to make up my own mind, swinging from a confirmed Christian in my school days to rejecting God in my late teens. This was based initially on living and travelling around the world and seeing pain, suffering, inequality (I’m drinking a cup of tea now whilst thousands are starving in sub-Saharan Africa, none of which can be justified by compensation in heaven) and diverse beliefs first hand (later understood as the Problem of Evil and the Outsider Test for Faith). I realised my beliefs were a product of where I was brought up. This cast serious doubts. Living at university with scientists as a lone Arts student gave me a greater understanding of empirical arguments against God (they were all atheists). Later in life, as someone who has studied the arguments in depth, and as part of the Tippling Philosophers group which has included a notable published Christian philosopher and a theologian, I have interacted in great depth with all of the arguments for the existence of God. I find none persuasive, including (and, perhaps especially, the historical ones). I cannot even understand why an ontologically perfect being would have any needs or desires at all, especially to create something so apparently imperfect as us and this universe.

    In one of my books, I set out a cumulative case against the existence of God in 501 questions directly to him. One of my favourite questions for its simplicity in exposing design flaws and the Problem of Evil is this: Why don’t humans and all animals photosynthesise? Quite simple for an omniGod. In fact, due to the vastness of pain, suffering and death over millions and millions of years due to carnivorousness just so organisms can survive, why is it that organisms be designed to need energy at all? This kind of panoply of pain, designed in and actualised by a Creator, is surely unnecessary and best explained by a naturalistic universe.

    The core to my disbelief, though, is the philosophical incoherence of the idea of free will, upon which a personal deity supervenes. This should be THE most prevalent topic of debate in theology. Arguing about whether the dead saints really did parade around Jerusalem, meeting many people, never to be reported by anyone else on earth but Matthew; about whether it really happened is irrelevant if you can’t establish free will.

     

    Category: AtheismPhilosophical Argument Against GodPhilosophy of ReligionProblem of Evil

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    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • Hi mate! This post has no title – IDK if you are aware, so I better let you know.

      Great post, BTW.

      Cheers.

    • Jeff H

      Well written piece, and you make some excellent arguments in it. I particularly like your statement about the inefficiency of energy transfer in the biosphere. That plants are the only things using the sun directly for energy in the whole of Earth’s biosphere denotes a biosphere created by either a drunk deity, a deity with several neurons missing, or by evolution over hundreds of millions of years with no thought by anything or anyone being put into it. Certainly not a sign of perfection any way you look at it. I also like your term “Agnostic atheist” and feel it best describes my thoughts as well. Nicely done.

    • GearHedEd

      Arguing about whether the dead saints really did parade around Jerusalem, meeting many people, never to be reported by anyone else on earth but Matthew; about whether it really happened is irrelevant if you can’t establish free will.

      You must have at least skimmed that thread on DC…

    • John Grove

      Thanks for sharing Johnny, awesome.

    • John Grove

      Johnny,

      You are the first I have ever encountered to use the facts of determinism as an argument against God and/or Christianity. Of course I agree with you 100% on most everything, but, I’m not sure this could be really a strong argument against Christianity per say since there are so many reformed, who don’t even accept free will anyway. For example, this was written by a Christian:

      http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/libertarian.html

      I certainly concede it can be used as an argument against Christianity. I just don’t think it is an effective one. At most, it would show the Christian that God is biased and chooses who He wants, elects who he wants, and saves who he wants. Thoughts?

      • I think it is very useful against any non-Reformed position. It clearly show God not to be judgemental, and defies omnibenevolence, as well as heaven and hell. It also contradicts all of the agency talk in the Bible. The fact is that most Christians worldwide think the reformed are wrong. This shows that most Christians are therefore themselves wrong.

        • Andy_Schueler

          I think it is very useful against any non-Reformed position.

          And if I understand the reformed position correctly – they need libertarian free will as well because they do believe that you can freely choose which sins you commit, you just can´t freely choose not to sin ;-).

          • I wasn’t aware that Calvinists could – is that Arminian?

            eg

            The fundamental difference between Calvinists and Arminians is this: Calvinists believe that human beings repent and believe because God causes them to do so by choosing them to be saved. Arminians believe that the ultimate reason people believe is our free will. Perhaps the clearest way to explain the difference is to contrast the five points of Calvinism and Arminianism. TULIP is a common acronym used to describe Total Depravity,Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace, and Perserverance of the Saints.

            Calvinists believe in total depravity. It is the teaching that a person is completely touched by sin in all of what he is: heart, mind, body, soul, emotions, intellect, etc. It does not mean that people are as evil as they can possibly be. However, it does mean that the sinner is a slave of sin and cannot choose to choose to be saved (Rom. 8:7-8). Arminians believe people are touched by sin as well, but still have the ability to choose to be saved.

            Calvinists believe in unconditional election. God from eternity past chooses from his own good pleasure whom will be saved (Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 9:10-23). Armininans believe God looks ahead and sees who will believe in him and then chooses those whom he foresees will have faith.

            Calvinists believe in limited atonement, or what is better described as particular redemption. That means Christ’s death is particularly for the elect and that he has purchased their faith (Rev. 5:9). Arminians believe in unlimited atonement, which means that Christ died for all people, and those who trust in Christ will be saved. Some people are four point Calvinists and reject limited atonement.

            Calvinists believe in irresistible grace. This doesn’t mean that no one ever resists God’s grace, but that God overcomes the resistance and hardness of those whom he has chosen (John 6:37, 44, 65; Rom. 8:28-30). Arminians believe that God’s grace is not effectual and can be successfully resisted.

            Calvinists believe in perseverance of the saints (John 10:28-30; Rom. 8:28-39; 1 John 2:19). All those whom God has chosen will never fall away from the faith. Arminians teach that believers can lose their salvation.

            • Though this is an odd sentence:

              It does not mean that people are as evil as they can possibly be.

            • John Grove

              [[Though this is an odd sentence: It does not mean that people are as evil as they can possibly be.]]

              I think it simply means that sin has affected the will to such a degree that the person is unable to choose God under any circumstance.

            • John Grove

              Yes, Johnny, that is how I understand Calvinism in a nutshell.

          • John Grove

            Andy,
            Not sure that is the position Calvinist take. They believe that man has a will. But it is enslaved to sin. That “will” will however, always reject God and is completely incapable of understanding spiritual things without God doing a work in them.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Yup, I probably got that wrong. I remembered talking to two Calvinists who told me that they do not deny free choices – but that men are enslaved to sin and can thus not choose to follow God´s will without divine intervention (which I understood as free choices, but limited in scope so that you can only freely choose which sins you commit, but not freely choose not to sin).
              But anyways, I trust you guys on that one – you know much more about theology than I do ;-).

            • John Grove

              Well Andy, its all horseshit anyway! LOL. I’m just playing devil’s advocate and suggesting that Determinism which we all accept doesn’t seem to be (at least to me) a very strong argument against a god. I think the simply fact there is no evidence and the holes in the philosophical arguments are what we should focus on.

              The reason being, is when Johnny shows the facts of determinism, a reformed will say, I agree with you 100% Johnny, what of it?

            • Andy_Schueler

              The reason being, is when Johnny shows the facts of determinism, a reformed will say, I agree with you 100% Johnny, what of it?

              My (very limited) experience with Calvinists is that they can´t be reasoned with at all (JohnM-level deluded…), The few times I discussed with Calvinists, I asked them how they reconcile the view that God is good (not necessarily omnibenevolent, just “good” would be problematic enough) with their view that God created the overwhelming majority of all people that ever lived only to torture them for all eternity. And since Calvinists cannot try the standard “they doomed themselves by not accepting Jesus as their savior” defense – Calvinism seems to be transparently self-refuting to me (unless their theology would include the view that God is infinitely evil and unjust). But as soon as I asked this question, they always changed the topic immediatly.

            • John Grove

              This would have been my response as a former Calvinist:

              The bible doesn’t say that God is omnibenevolent. That is a made up attribute by Arminians. They tend to think of God as a complete sovereign, and all powerful, but not of necessity omnibenevolent.

              Remember, I presented the quote from the Rabbi that debated Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens who said that the attributes that many Christians tend to think of God are based on Aristotelian errors.

            • Andy_Schueler

              I didn´t know you were a Calvinist – so what made you become a heathen then? ;-)

            • John Grove

              I begin to think………

              Actually I caught many apologists lying when I started to double check on their work. This caused me to read more and more, and when I did, I found that I could no longer hold what I held honestly. And the rationale the apologists used were highly unsatisfying.

            • Andy_Schueler

              I see. I think exposing the dishonesty of the apologists for fundamentalist christianity is a very good approach, but it only works for people that are curious and like to read. And the demonization strategies of professional liars like the people from Answers in Genesis (“scientists are liars, they just deny God because they want to sin, don´t listen to them!”) is unfortunately very effective in keeping people in the dark.

            • John Grove

              True Andy. For people who value honesty and truth, it appalled me to no end that the people who boast of an objective morality seemed to me to be the least moral.

            • John Grove

              I’m not a very good author like Johnny, so that is in brief a good sum, but there are parts I could have made more clear, but I didn’t think many would read it anyway.

            • Andy_Schueler

              Ah, I read that back then – didn´t realize this was “our” John!
              Btw, I read the posts in Randal´s “Why they don´t believe” series (your story went up today), and I noticed again that there is one kind of story that always seems to be missing in this context – the second- and third-generation atheists that never believed in God at all. Our stories are probably not as interesting as the stories of those that struggled with the christian faith, but I think it is an important perspective that apologists usually seem to ignore completely (I think that most of the second and third generation atheists “reject” Christianity for different reasons than most former believers do, and “reject” is probably not even the right word here…). Would you be interested in hearing a “real life non-deconversion story”?

            • But reformists like that are barely representative of the religion, no? I mean, they hardly exist in the UK, it seems.

            • John Grove

              [[But reformists like that are barely representative of the religion, no? I mean, they hardly exist in the UK, it seems]]

              I don’t know, as far as I know, 99% of all Presbyterians are reformed and many Baptists are also. Many dispensational and many others. So I have no idea what the actual number is within Christendom. But it may be larger than you think.

        • John Grove

          Well isn’t it well known to even Christians that God is judgmental? After all, he choose Israel over the nations. So that fact will not disturb many. As far as omnibenevolence, you have a point. Though, according to most Christians God is not under any obligation to save anyone. And if one is a universalist, he will save everyone.

          But
          as far as the agency talk, I am not sure you have a major point, in
          that God also commanded men to keep his commandments knowing full well
          that not one person could. Did he not know they couldn’t? The answer
          from a Christians point of view is that he did it for other reasons. To show men that they couldn’t keep them and to show how corrupt they were.

          • The whole idea that God would create a universe of automatons to do EXACTLY down to the very molecule what he knew in advance, and that, being omni, he would have that Nagel (bat-style) knowledge of that experience of the future, then there is absolutely no point in creating whatsoever. And that is what most Christians believe. It appears patently problematic!

            • John Grove

              That is an argument to be made, sure, though in essence what it is criticizing is the very mind of God, not the impossibility of the proposition of his/her existence. And perhaps the mind of God is like that. But I think you are on to something by arguing against a god’s omnipotence. Perhaps that is how you argue to a Calvinist, since to them, that is the end all be all, i.e (God’s sovereignty)

      • If he chooses who is elect and who is not, he is by definition unfair. Thus he is not ontologically perfect, if fairness is a great-making property, which I imagine it must be, especially since it has a strong moral dimension.

        • John Grove

          [[If he chooses who is elect and who is not, he is by definition unfair.]]

          That reply has a biblical answer. Romans 9:20

          “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?”

          Interesting, this is the answer Paul gives AFTER assuming that free will does not exist.

          vs 15, “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”

          vs 16, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

          vs 18, “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

    • This comment came from Russ on facebook:

      I put this comment here because disqus won’t allow me to post my comment on your blog, even though I’m already signed in through google, until I allow it to take more personal data from my google profile. I might have to abandon commenting on disqus sites altogether.

      Johno, does Rauser think he is going to refute all the “Why I Am An Atheist(or not a Christian)” paragraphs that you and the others wrote?

      If he thinks he can do that why does he not just produce evidence which supports his claim that his god exists while it also refutes other’s claims, ancient or contemporary, that their god exists? In comments on DebunkingChristianity Rauser has stated that he has evidence of answered prayers, for instance. But, his evidence does not even convince Jews or Muslims that Jesus was what is claimed for him. Rauser has a PhD in Jesus-ness, but it buys him nothing but his own personal opinions, which even the other Abrahamic types are unimpressed by, dismissing them out of hand.

      I am an atheist, including not a Christian, because it is obvious that even the elites among religious thinkers do not know what they are talking about. I know this because they do not agree among themselves, either within or between major religious group names. They even contradict themselves as they change their minds about their gods. Rauser is a great example of this.

      For much of his life, Rauser thought(believed?) that the theologically correct conception of Bible-god included the idea that it would torture transgressors forever. In recent years he has changed his mind, and, along with it his definition of his god, so, now, he imagines(believes?) that his god does not torture transgressors forever. At one time, Rauser would have rhapsodically effused about how his loving god burns it’s problem children forever, but, today, he will effuse, undoubtedly just as rhapsodically, about how his god doesn’t hand down sentences of eternal torment. Rauser is himself all the evidence we need to reject Christianity. That he can so freely and comfortably change his mind and his definition of his god tells us that his ideas are merely intellectual playthings that he unabashedly tinkers with to achieve ad hoc intellectual playtime objectives.

      Why am I an atheist, including not a Christian?: because I refuse to claim to believe ideas that are incoherent, inconsistent, mutually contradictory, and observably wrong.

      • What a wonderful piece, Russ. Thanks so much for that – quote of the day stuff.

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